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Embracing Democracy

Hermann Broch, Politics and Exile, 1918 to 1951

Donald L. Wallace

Hermann Broch wrote two of the most significant novels of German modernism, The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Virgil, which established his importance to German literature. His writings on democracy, mass delusion and internationalism are more obscure. Embracing Democracy examines the central political, social and psychological tenets of Broch’s concept of «total democracy» as an expression of the synthesis of his European intellectual development – his Viennese Bildung – and his new position as an exile from fascism.
This book chronicles Broch’s experiences from the founding of the Austrian First Republic to his exile in the United States (1918 to 1951). The author traces two seemingly contradictory narratives in Broch’s political consciousness. On the one hand, Broch held an intellectual position in his post-exile political theory that was consistent with the philosophy of history, psychology and epistemology of his Viennese milieu. On the other hand, he significantly reconceived the utility of politics for his theory of value construction, while also becoming more involved in political activism. This book provides new perspectives on the work of Hermann Broch beyond his literary œuvre and offers insights into the development of political theory among exiled European intellectuals in the United States.
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Chapter 4: Politics of Engagement, 1936 to 1951

Extract

CHAPTER 4

Democracy cannot abandon its foundation, the concept of a human soul and of human dignity.1

There are two geographical orientations to this study; in the first three chapters the orientation was Viennese and European. For the remainder of the book, I examine Broch’s political thought in an American context. This second context is, however, more complex than simply American. During the 1930s and 1940s, the United States became the centre for democratic political theorization and did so under a strong influence from European thinkers. Many European intellectuals replaced the concept of ‘European’ with that of ‘Western’ in their ideologies of state, civilization and empire. The notion of ‘the West’ had existed in European intellectual thought well before this point, but that idea of the West functioned more as an antipode to the invented idea of the East – the product of classical philology, orientalism and European new imperialism.2 Starting in the 1930s, however, this definition of Western was replaced by one that was much more contemporary and American centric.3 America became the last bastion of ← 151 | 152 → democracy and the last safe harbour for European intellectuals to continue their intellectual or artistic critiques of modernity. This is not to imply that European intellectuals embraced US culture or foreign policy in positive or uncritical ways. Thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Hannah Arendt and indeed Hermann Broch saw their role in the United States as a critical guide to democracy and freedom.4

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