Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chelsea Sights

Goethe Girl and Rick took Loretta and Dick to Chelsea for their last evening in the Big Apple. Not many galleries were open on Thursday evening, but what could be seen was actually pretty good. The paintings by Melinda Hackett (at Charles Cowles Gallery), like the one above, reminded me of the radiolarians on which I posted recently. 

The myriad forms in Hackett's paintings don't have the symmetry of the intricate mineral skeletons found in the ocean depths, as in the beautiful illustration at the left of "Stephoidea" from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904). Still, in their dreamy profusion they are so undersea-like that they also brought to mind a beautiful sonnet by Elizabeth Bishop entitled, simply, "Sonnet." Here is the second stanza:

There is a magic made by melody,
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading waters deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea
And floats forever in a moon-green pool
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

After our gallery viewing, we marched off to the Village for dinner. All in all it was a good week for the visitors from Louisville.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Be Erhard!

Rick and I took our Louisville visitors to the financial district yesterday, starting with Wall Street. And look at what we saw there, this huge sign for Ludwig Erhard. (Click on picture for larger view.) I bet this is a man no one has thought of for a long time. Well, Goethe Girl was not born yesterday, and he was very much a familiar figure when she was a student in Germany. It is to Ludwig Erhard that the German economic recovery after World War II is attributed. 

Back in those far-off student days, when I was contending with that coal stove (of which I have written) in my small basement room in Marburg, there were signs that Germany was taking off. People spoke then about the "Wirtschaftswunder," or economic miracle, the rapid reconstruction of the economies of West Germany and Austria after World War II.

And here we were on Wall Street, in the year 2009, where it was suggested that the world could benefit from the lessons of the German economic success initiated by Ludwig Erhard, namely, the social market economy. Thus, the promotion, "Ludwig Erhard at Wall Street," which included a lookalike of the portly former economics minister and chancellor wandering in the canyons of the financial district.

No doubt there are lessons that the "social market economy" can offer in the current financial crisis (has anyone thought about not spending for a change? living within our means?), though I am always suspicious when people suggest that America should follow the model of another country. Every country, as Herder reminded us, has its own history, especially its own institutional history, and it is not as easy as the idealists imagine to transplant an idea into a lived reality. True, democracy was transplanted to Germany after World War II (and also to Japan), but the Western world in any case was behind this venture. Not to mention the presence of 250,000 Allied soldiers in Germany. The world was a much different place back then. Fifty years later, the transplanting of Western institutions, as we are learning in Iraq, is much more difficult, and it might even be said that we should not have tried.

I am of two minds. One part of me says, let the Middle East go its own destructive way. Unfortunately, its destructive ways are not limited to the countries within its own geographical scope. We would have to draw up the bridges, so to speak, like a medieval castle a thousand years ago. No, this is the year 2009, and the other part recognizes that the world economies are interconnected. Even if the Middle East itself produces very few of the products that are on the shelves of our supermarkets or on the racks of department stores, the ordinary folks living in the Middle East would like to participate in the economic processes that have brought the West such a good standard of life. Those processes, however, have a long-established institutional structure and legal protection, both of which are lacking in many parts of the world, not only in the Middle East. I'm not sure that Ludwig Erhard would have had a solution for this problem, but I much enjoyed seeing his figure on Wall Street.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Manhattan Scenes

Goethe Girl's sister Loretta and Loretta's husband Dick are visiting from Louisville, so Goethetc. will be neglected to some extent for a few days. Visits, however, mean I also get to look at Manhattan with new eyes. Moreover, Loretta and Dick are great walkers. We put them through their paces yesterday. And when we get home, Rick always prepares something great to eat. Herewith some recent sights.

You don't find these in Louisville!

Live long enough, and this is the future! (There are worse ones!)

Cast-0ff furniture on West 90th Street.

Talking parrot in Riverside Park.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Goethe and Ernst Haeckel

I recently posted on a Victorian "scientific materialist," John Tyndall, who, like his friend Thomas Carlyle, was a Goethe enthusiast. Goethe was a great poet, but it was his reach into so many areas of human life, especially science, indeed the seeming comprehensiveness of Goethe's vision, that must have impressed the Victorians. By the mid-19th century scientific exploration of the earth and empirical science had come up with some pretty astonishing results. Scientific men and women, too, were figuring out all the secrets of material life, in the process demystifying God's creation. As for the spiritual side of things, well, there was literature, and who better to provide inspiration than Goethe? For instance, his poem "Prometheus," in which indeed man is shown pushing God aside.

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was another famous Victorian, who also was much influenced by Goethe and by German Romantic writers. Yes, he was actually Prussian, but I think it's fair to extend the term to intellectual figures like Haeckel, who has so much in common with famous Victorians like Charles Darwin. Indeed, it was Haeckel who explained "Darwinism" to the world, in his book Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (Berlin, 1868), which was a bestseller in English as The History of Creation (1876).

I have mentioned before on this blog Robert Richards' book on German "Romantic science." Richards has also written a biography cum intellectual history entitled The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought. I have not had a chance to look at it yet, but Steven Marx recently drew my attention to Haeckel, who is the subject of the film Proteus, an animated documentary that explores the 19th-century's engagement with the oceans and the undersea world. Haeckel's name is particularly associated with the microscopic life form known as radiolarian, one-celled creatures with intricate mineral skeletons found in every ocean. They exist in unimaginable numbers -- about 6,000 varieties have been identified -- and the decaying bodies form an ooze that covers the sea bottom. Remains of radiolarians date to the beginnings of the Cambrian period, ca. 530 million years ago. I include one of Haeckel's illustrations of radiolarians here, but others can be found in Kunstformen der Natur or, in English, Art Forms in Nature.

I thought the use of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in Proteus a bit far-fetched and indeed not even really applicable, but the film nicely brought together the polymathic endeavors of the 19th century, in this case Haeckel, Darwin, and the 70,000 nautical-miles journey of the Challenger Expedition of 1872-76. The report of the Challenger expedition included catalogues of 4,000 previously unknown species. The publication of its results has been described as "the greatest advance in the knowledge of our planet since the celebrated discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries."

As the film Proteus points out, another mammoth Victorian project in this same period was the laying of a transatlantic telegraph cable, the work of another amazing Victorian, Cyrus West Field, an American businessman.
The Challenger expedition discovered that the deepest part of the world's oceans was the Mariana trench, which is also the deepest natural location of the earth's crust.

Haeckel, according to Richards, detected "archetypal structures" as the basic forms of different animal groups, forms that could be comprehended only by the mind's eye: Anschauung, as Goethe called it. Haeckel believed, however, that the essence of such forms could be rendered by the artistic hand, and it is the very beauty of his own paintings that made Haeckel's many books so popular.

Haeckel was also something of a controversialist, up to our own day. Even though his works were banned by the Nazis, biologists like Stephen Jay Gould have claimed that Haeckel's works contributed to their racial theories. More on that another time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Goethe Überall

Whenever I pick up a book I find myself consulting the index to see if there is an entry for "Goethe." It is an indication of his influence that Goethe is so frequently cited, say, in a book I just chose randomly from Rick's bookshelf, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (1982), by Ernst Mayr, which leads off the discussion on Naturphilosophie with Goethe. It's a reminder of how many areas of thought Goethe worked in. In a recent post on Sylvia Townsend Warner I mentioned finding in her correspondence with the writer and New Yorker editor William Maxwell letters between them in which they discussed Wilhelm Meister. But even in books that have no immediate reference to Goethe's own pursuits, Goethe himself still resonates. For instance, in Escapism by the cultural geographer Yi-fu Tuan (a writer in whom I like to dip for escape as well as for wonderful insights), one finds Goethe embedded in a discussion of human anxiety: "History can make unbearable reading because it exposes the extent and weight of misery among humbler folk. As to the individual life, even the favorites of the gods, such as Tolstoy or Goethe, claim that they have known few moments of genuine happiness."

Goethe is still a touchstone, though sometimes as a product of the past or maybe only as a catch phrase rather than a figure of continuing relevance. I was reminded of this by a collage entitled "Frankfurt" (at the top of the post) by the artist Maureen Mullarkey in which she utilizes a scrap from the spine of an old edition of Goethe's works. The work is in an exhibition of her collages at the Kouros Gallery in Manhattan, in a show entitled, appropriately enough, "Gutenberg Elegies": all the works in the show are made from scraps of old books.

I first encountered Maureen Mullarkey through her columns in The New York Sun, the now defunct conservative New York daily, which had the best arts and literary writing of any New York newspaper (and that includes The New York Times). It was via the Sun that Rick and I would read of the openings in Chelsea to which the Sun devoted so much coverage. We met one of the former publishers of the Sun at Maureen's opening. When we lamented the Sun's demise, he said it would take only $20 million to start it up again. Surely there must be something in the Stimulus package for that!

Maureen, by the way, is also a wonderful painter. I like this portrait of a rather androgynous figure. It has a Weimar Republic quality to it (in contrast to the Goethe-period Weimar). I look forward to a show of her paintings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Goethetc. on the Net

I was contacted a month or so ago by Isabel del Rio, the cultural editor of a bilingual (Spanish-English) cultural magazine called Yareah. Each issue of the on- and off-line magazine focuses on a single topic. Recent issues, for instance, were devoted to James Joyce's Ulysses, the Niebelungenlied, and 1,001 Nights. The May issue was to be on Romanticism/ Romanticismo, and I was asked if one of my Goethetc. posts could be included. Actually, I have not yet posted on Goethe as a Romantic, but apparently the world considers Goethe one. The magazine's contents are drawn from websites and blogs. Besides my post on Goethe and America, another one of Yareah's pages in this issue was on The Sorrows of Young Werther ("Amor y Muerte: Goethe") by Alberto [!] Javier Maidana, an Argentinean. As Alberto writes: "La asociación de amor y muerte es una caracteristíca del romántico. Werther es romántico y como tal el amor atrae como sentimiento puro. Pero no alcanzará la armonia en el amor. El ama el amor por el amor mismo." He adds this quote from Novalis: "Todas las pasiones terminan en tragedia, todo lo que es limitado termina muriendo, toda poesía tiene algo de trágico." So have the literary Germans been Hispanicized.

There are small essays on Novalis and Hoffmann as well as on Byron and the other usual suspects in this issue, written by many young bloggers. All the bloggers (including Goethe Girl) are pictured with small thumbnail-sized photos.  One of my favorites among the contributors is the Chinese teacher pictured here, who contributed an essay to Yareah on the differences between American and European Romanticism. His name is Zhang Huaming who, judging from his biography, has never left China. More power to him.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Eminent Victorian on Goethe's Color Theory

"It might be thought that Goethe had given himself but little trouble to understand the theorems of Newton and the experiments on which they were based. But it would be unjust to charge the poet with any want of diligence in this respect. He repeated Newton's experiments, and in almost every case obtained his results. But he complained of their incompleteness and lack of logical force. What appears to us as the very perfection of Newton's art, and absolutely essential to the purity of the experiments, was regarded by Goethe as needless complication and mere torturing of the light."

Rick, the scientist in our family, has been studying Goethe's scientific works for a while now. Indeed, when Amazon delivered my copy of Robert Richards' book on "romantic science" in Germany, it was a year before I had an opportunity to read it. As a physicist, however, Rick is more interested in Goethe's work on optics, in particular Die Farbenlehre, the so-called color theory. Thus, he recently brought to my attention the work of the eminent Victorian physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893), from whom the above quotation is taken.

The British Dictionary of National Biography describes Tyndall as "physicist and mountaineer." According to his obituary in the Times of London on December 5, 1893, "Although not the first to reach the summit of the Matterhorn, he was intimately associated with the early attempts on that remarkable mountain." A peak near the Matterhorn is named after him.

As an impecunious young man Tyndall went to Marburg, where he attended lectures on experimental and practical chemistry in the laboratory of Robert Bunsen and on mathematics and physics with C.L. Gerling and K.H. Knoblauch. He graduated doctor of philosophy in 1850, after two years, an achievement that seems to have been par for the course among some Victorians. In 1851 he went to Berlin and did diamagnetic research in the laboratory of Gustav Magnus and became acquainted with many German scientists, including Helmholtz.

It was also in 1851 that he began a friendship with T.H. Huxley. In 1853 Tyndall was chosen professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution in London, which made him a colleague of Faraday. If those weren't famous friends enough, he and Thomas Carlyle were also friends, and it was at Carlyle's instigation, according to Tyndall, that he decided to undertake an investigation of Goethe's color theory, which appeared as a two-part essay in Popular Science Monthly (vol. 17) in 1880. It begins by drawing attention to his hesitations concerning the color theory:

My reverence for the poet had been awakened by the writings of Mr. Carlyle, and it was afterward confirmed and consolidated by the writings of Goethe himself. But there was one of the poet's works, which, though it lay directly in the line of my own studies, remained for a long time only imperfectly known to me. My opinion of that work was not formed on hearsay. I dipped into it so far as to make myself acquainted with its style, its logic, and its general aim; but having done this I laid it aside, as something which jarred upon my conception of Goethe's grandeur.

Tyndall thus decided to abandon the "Farbenlehre" and to look up to Goethe "on that side where his greatness was uncontested and supreme." In May of 1878, however, Carlyle paid him a visit. "He was then in his eighty-third year, and looking in his solemn fashion toward that portal to which we are all so rapidly hastening." As a "farewell gift," Carlyle presented him with "the two octavo volumes of letter press and the single folio volume, consisting in great part of colored diagrams," that Goethe had sent to Carlyle in June 1830.

By 1880 Tyndall (pictured here in a portrait by George Richmond), along with Huxley and Charles Darwin, were the most famous scientists in Britain, and Tyndall is in fact associated with the same scientific materialism. Some of his scientific work touches on areas of Goethe's interest. For instance, the "Tyndall effect" concerns the scattering of light particles in the atmosphere. Among the research cited by the Dictionary of Scientific Biography are Tyndall's efforts to verify the high absorptive and radiative power of aqueous vapor and to explain the selective difference of the atmosphere on different sounds.
 Like Goethe, Tyndall seems to have been interested in practical matters. His investigations on sound, for instance, attempted to establish efficient fog signals upon British coasts.  Also in a sense replicating Goethe is Tyndall's The Glaciers of the Alps (1860), based on his measurements of glaciers of Switzerland.

For anyone interested in Goethe's color theory, Tyndall provides the most lucid of introductions as well as an analysis, from the point of view of a scientist, of where Goethe went wrong. He truly grappled with Goethe's way of thinking, and comes to a conclusion with which many of us can identify: "I can not even now say with confidence that I fully realize all the thoughts of Goethe. Many of them are strange to the scientific man. They demand for their interpretation a sympathy beyond that required or even tolerated in severe physical research." He gives full credit to Goethe's industry ("The observations and experiments there recorded astonish us by their variety and number"). He goes right to the center of Goethe's thinking and to his missteps.

This question of turbid media took entire possession of the poet's mind. It was ever present to his observation. It was illustrated by the azure of noonday, and by the daffodil and crimson of the evening sky. The inimitable lines written at Ilmenau ["Über allen Gipfeln/ Ist Ruh'/ In allen Wipfeln/ Spürest du/ Kaum einen Hauch"] suggest a stillness of the atmosphere which would allow the columns of fine smoke from the foresters' cottages to rise high into the air. He would thus have an opportunity of seeing the upper portion of the column projected against bright clouds, and the lower portion against dark pines, the brownish yellow of the one and the blue of the other being strikingly and at once revealed.

As long as Goethe remained in the region of fact, Tyndall finds that his observations are of permanent value, "but by the coercion of a powerful imagination he forced his turbid media into regions to which they did not belong, and sought to overthrow by their agency the irrefragable demonstrations of Newton." In the end, "his turbid media entangle him everywhere, leading him captive and committing him to almost incredible delusions."

Tyndall finds it natural that such a singular "character" as Newton would have arrested Goethe's attention and that he must "add it" to a theory of Newton. And here, according to Tyndall, "the great German is at home," prefacing his sketch of his rival's character "by reflections and considerations regarding character in general. Tyndall concludes that the ethical image Goethe draws of Newton --  "vehement persistence in wrong thinking" -- may perhaps coincide with Goethe himself.

I think this provides some flavor of the great Tyndall. He was among the great popularizers of science in the Victorian era. (The illustration at the top of the post is one of his experimental apparatuses for showing that sound is reflected in air at the interface between air masses of different densities.) Tyndall's popular lectures were published as Fragments of Science for Unscientific People. Something of the character of the man can be seen from the fellowships he endowed for students at three American colleges after his lecture tours in the U.S. in 1872-73.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Manhattan Scenes

I walked through Central Park yesterday on my way to the East Side. There are always some good photo-taking opportunities, including the three gals above, all wearing green helmets. At the southeast end of the Park, at 59th Street, there are some new sculptures, which always provide tourists their own photo occasions.

Later I met Rick and we went to the Museum of Biblical Art, outside of which is a sculpture by Lincoln Fox honoring Jeremiah Lanphier. Move over George Segal!

We had gone to the Museum for a talk by a professor of religious studies, who will remain unnamed. He gave an awful talk on the "structural similarities" between religion and film -- totally deconstructive and desacralizing (both religion and movies offer "prescriptive tools" for living, etc.), what one can expect nowadays in humanities departments. (The Purple Rose of Cairo is "the most religious film ever made." Go figure.) The talk was in connection with a really cool exhibit at the Museum, however, featuring many vintage movie posters and other film memorabilia, including the pectoral worn by Ramses (Yul Brynner) in The Ten Commandments., designed, according to the wall label, by Edith Head. As a child, one of my favorite TV shows was the annual Academy Awards; I loved the sight of Edith Head on stage receiving another Oscar. For a review of the exhibit, with some illustrations, see here and here. I also took some photos, charmed by the claims on the posters. I wonder if this is where Europeans got their opinion that Americans were "uncultured"?

"Taken from the Life of Christ"! indeed.

And the poster for the Passion Play, below, besides advertising "the world's greatest Christus portrayer and His family," also promises performances by "the original German company," which, as Rick says, would make it about 700 years old! "America," as Goethe said, "you have it better"!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Goethe and Politics Anew

I have been mulling the issue of Goethe and politics since my last posting. From the letters he wrote from Leipzig as a student, it seems clear that Goethe felt that it was his vocation to be a writer. Those letters of the 16-year-old from Leipzig show him working at his craft, reading and imitating other writers, trying to find his own voice. The literary life absorbed him. After all, two of the most important men of letters in Germany were in Leipzig at that time: Gellert and Gottsched. And so his apprenticeship continued in the following years, until he went to Weimar.

I am reminded of another writer whom I have been studying lately, V.S. Naipaul who has said of himself that, even when he didn't know how to write, his goal in life was to be a writer. I am now rereading The Enigma of Arrival, in the second chapter of which ("The Journey") Naipaul recapitulates his early struggle to find his subject and to craft a style, what he calls "a long preparation for the writing career!" In the early decades in particular he never had enough money, but he continued to persevere. But the struggle did not end when he became established:

"I discovered that to be a writer was not (as I had imagined) a state -- of competence, or achievement, or fame, or content -- at which one arrived and where one stayed. There was a special anguish attached to the career: whatever the labor of any piece of writing, whatever its creative challenges and satisfactions, time had always taken me away from it. And, with time passing, I felt mocked by what I had already done; it seemed to belong to a time  of vigor, now past for good. Emptiness, restlessness built up again; and it was necessary once more, out of my internal resources alone, to start on another book, to commit myself to that consuming process again."

Perhaps in his early years Goethe had taken his desire to be a writer too lightly. It seems to have come all too easy to him. The idea that the writer's life should be difficult is in any case a modern one. But that Goethe almost abandoned his poetic gift to become a bureaucrat in the service of the duke of Weimar is hard to understand. Still, there was a pattern in Goethe's youth that might serve to explain partly what happened in Weimar.

Beginning in Leipzig Goethe had a poetic mentor in  Ernst Wolfgang Behrisch (1738-1809). In Strassburg Goethe eagerly accepted instruction on literary matters from Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). In 1771 he got to know Johann Heinrich Merck (1741-1791), whom Goethe later acknowledged (in book 12 of Poetry and Truth) as having had the greatest influence on his life. Acccording to Jochen Golz, who wrote the entry on Merck (pictured below) for the Goethe-Handbuch, Merck's first important influence on Goethe was in the matter of poetic production, in particular encouraging him while he was reworking Götz von Berlichingen. In any case, from all of these relationships flowed a variety of literary productions. By late 1774, when he met Carl August, Goethe appeared to be on the verge of not only a German but also a European literary career.

Of course, at the very time of his fame with Götz and The Sorrows of Young Werther Goethe was still living at home in Frankfurt with his parents. And during all the years in which he had been working at his literary craft, he had also been training to be a lawyer. He had gone to Leipzig to study law; likewise Strassburg.  Back in Frankfurt, while he was writing Mahomet and Von Deutscher Baukunst and contributing to the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen, while he was getting to know Sophie von la Roche, Lavater, and F.H. Jacobi, he was preparing legal opinions under the direction of his father. Again quoting Ekkehart Krippendorff, Goethe's legal internship in Wetzler in 1772, at the Imperial Cameral Court, acquainted him with the legal and political structure of the "Reich."

No doubt, Goethe would have been an excellent legal adviser for any ruler of the time to have around. And for a young ruler like Carl August, Goethe was also a jolly companion. But for Goethe, who since his youth had wanted to be a writer, the question remains: why?

I can't help thinking that the early pattern of mentor and student played a role here. It is always said that Goethe wished to train the young Carl August to his duties as a ruler. Moreover, in Weimar Goethe seems to have fallen into the worst kind of mentor-student relationship with Charlotte von Stein. Unlike most everyone else, she seemed unimpressed with the young genius Goethe, and took it upon herself to train him in the ways of the court. Goethe, the ready pupil, took her instruction gratefully. For a decade he remade himself at the Weimar court, a process that went against his nature since he literally fled Weimar and Charlotte von Stein in 1786. (I owe the silhouette of Frau von Stein's family -- her father stands behind her, while she plays chess with her brother -- to a Gilbert Stuart blog, which says: "Note the formality.")

As far as politics goes, if one accepts Krippendorff's definition of politics, then Goethe was in the decade before he went to Rome, "ein Mann der Politik": "all behavior that has as its goal the forming, ordering, and permanent [!] structuring of social conditions and activities" (Wenn wir unter Politik alles Handeln verstehen wollen, das die Gestaltung, Ordnung und dauerhafte Strukturierung gesellschaftlicher Verhältnisse und Tätigkeiten zum Ziel hat). That "dauerhaft" (permanent) gives me a chill, for it sounds like the worst sort of bureaucrat. (Anyone for "remaking America"?) Of course Krippendorff does not leave the matter there. He stresses Goethe's aversion to the "power politics" of his day and his interest in cultural politics: after the French Revolution, according to Krippendorff, Goethe focused on the education establishment (das Bildungswesen), especially the university in Jena, museums and collections, the theater. As a minister Goethe still had a role to play.

Ever since I wrote my dissertation on Goethe's pre-Weimar oeuvre, I have felt that Weimar was a direction at odds with his poetic talent. Last night I was rereading his letters to Kestner from 1772-73, and was struck anew by the vitality of the young Goethe. Thus, even if his "politics" were of a sort that contributed to the general weal of the duchy of Weimar, as Krippendorff claims, there seems to have been much that was lost, especially in Goethe's empathy toward others. He became in the end an official person. The young man at the left turned into the stately minister pictured at the top of this post. There is of course much to admire in Goethe's later poetic oeuvre and also in his scientific pursuits, but in these accomplishments Goethe seems to have remade his nature into art.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Goethe and Politics

"In the fatal circumstances in which he is now trapped, it seems as if his genius has completely abandoned him. His power of imagination seems to have burned out; instead of the invigorating warmth that he used to exude, there is political frost all around him."

This morning I came across the above quote from Wieland, writing to Merck about Goethe on July 13, 1777. It was a serendipitous discovery. Yesterday, after two weeks of writing, editing, and rewriting, I finally finished a draft of my introduction to the book of essays on free speech. Goethe was occasionally on my mind as I was writing, yet as I immersed myself in the historical material in preparation for writing the introduction he never seemed relevant to the issue.

Yesterday I consulted the Goethe-Handbuch entry on "politics." It was written by Ekkehart Krippendorff, a retired professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin. He writes that the "political dimension" of Goethe's oeuvre and life is a "stepchild" of scholarly study and that, from the point of view of the ordinary person, Goethe's role as a politician ("als nicht nur nomineller, sondern aktiver Angehöriger der politischen Klasse seiner Zeit") is practically unknown.

Krippendorff himself has written two studies on this political dimension. The first, as far as I can tell, was Goethe: Politik gegen den Zeitgeist, which appeared in 1999. The other was a "duography," namely, Jefferson and Goethe, from 2001.

For those familiar with Goethe, his service as minister in Weimar is well known, including his administrative duties, whether these be oversight over the mine at Ilmenau, improvements in canal and road construction, at the university in Jena, and so on. This is not politics as we know it, but rather the work of what we might call today a cabinet member. Krippendorff underlines Goethe's aversion to the power politics of his day and sums up Goethe's political attitude as one "principally of administrative activity in the service [of others]" (vorrangig dienende Verwaltungstätigkeit).

Politics of usefulness is probably the case with Goethe, and it may also be why Krippendorff himself would be drawn to this aspect. I discovered a review of his 1999 book (subtitled "politics against the 'Zeitgeist'") that was titled "Attorney for the Underprivileged." Krippendorff, despite a successful academic career, appears to have been in his formative years influenced by the German student movement. He claims not to have been a "68er" (though see this report of a "Rudi Dutschke" conference, quoting Krippendorff). Thus the appeal of a great figure who was free of the compromises that plague politicians in a democracy.

I am not criticizing Krippendorff so much as pointing out a distinctive difference between the political system of the Old Regime and that of the modern liberal order. This difference struck me very forcefully while I was writing my introduction to the volume of essays on free speech in the 18th century. A characteristic of the Old Regime was that rulers did not make a distinction between themselves and their subjects. A phenomenon of the 18th century was the "enlightened monarch." Among these were Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia. Thus, these monarchs introduced certain reforms in their realms, mostly in order to improve technology and economic life and in that way provide benefits to their subjects. All very admirable, of course, and it certainly seems a better way of ruling than, say, that of the Spanish monarchs, who simply taxed and plundered and thereby prevented any economic growth or improvement.

In this period there was also a growing class of men (and they were principally men) who were interested in the moral improvement of the masses. Some of these advised sovereigns (e.g., Voltaire); some labored in universities. Gottsched is a good example, from his seat in Leipzig seeking to improve the Germans linguistically and otherwise. It was all a very admirable Enlightenment project. It would seem, at least following Krippendorff, that Goethe was in this mold. He quotes from Maximen und Reflexionen (967): "Herrschen lernt sich leicht, regieren schwer" (ruling is easy to learn, governing difficult). Goethe's "political ethics" derives from the principle of renunciation, according to Krippendorff: "The only one [I am quoting Krippendorff here] who has the qualifications for political activity and for governing is [the man] who has the inner strength -- and the outer independence, not least of all economic -- that make it possible to resist the temptations that are connected with the privileges of power." In attributing such an attitude to Goethe, Krippendorff makes Goethe sound very Old Regime. I'm sure a lot of our contemporary American politicians, especially those who have served five or six terms in Congress or the Senate, have the same attitude. The public can't do without their selfless service ("dienende Verwaltungstätigkeit"?) to our nation, right?

Helena Rosenblatt, in her contribution to the free speech volume, writes that it was Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) who would rearticulate the issue of free speech by introducing skepticism about power, no matter who wields it. Thus, Constant made individual rights the cornerstone of liberal government. His crucial role was to argue that it was not the role of government to regulate morals or to mold public opinion through education or to "enlighten" citizens. If Rousseau wished for the reign of virtue, to be established by a unanimous will, Constant extolled the collision of opinions.

In 1814 Goethe sent back to Karl Ludwig von Knebel Benjamin Constant's anti-Napoleonic treatise De l'esprit de conquête et de l'usurpation. In his letter to Knebel Goethe said that he had not been able to read it; indeed he resisted the ideas in it. Later Constant visited Weimar with Madame de Staël. There are references in Goethe's diaries to these visits, without details. Goethe had a very retentive memory, however, and it strikes me that his later (not until the 1820s) concept of "world literature" derives from a less paternalistic attitude toward the masses. World literature, after all, concerns the free movement of ideas among peoples. Goethe could not foresee the explosive "collision of opinions" that characterizes the early 21st century. I am not even sure that he would really have admired it, though one must be cautious in attributing opinions post hoc facto to him.

The liberal political order that began to take shape in the early 19th century was based on the concepts of individual rights and little government interference. This means that people would be free to craft their own individual destiny, for good or bad, in association with other individuals. In the West in recent years, however, there is less confidence in this order, especially as we have seen the failures of attempts to transplant it to non-Western countries. This failure has allowed the "do gooder" class, 21st-century versions of Gottsched and Voltaire, to reemerge, seeking to impose a kind of enlightened moral consciousness on citizens. One sees this in particular in the universities, which should be bastions of free speech but in which reigns instead a pervasive uniformity on otherwise contentious issues. Thus, my hat is off to Miss California, who was so incautious recently as to express her true opinion on marriage. And she gave up being Miss USA! A heroine of free speech is a beauty pageant contestant.