January 18, 2005


Force of nature: The wandering exile is a common Romantic figure. But why was it so inspiring to 19th-century German artists? Robert Hughes on how a nation rediscovered itself (Robert Hughes, January 15, 2005, The Guardian)

It sometimes happens that a great cultural movement goes hand in hand with the self-discovery of the country in which it takes place, and so it was with German Romantic painting. The early 19th century in Germany was tough on intellectuals; in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna came a fierce persecution of democratic ideas and those who held them, so that to assert one's "German-ness" as an artist, one's allegiance to folk culture and local history, was in some ways a radical act. If a painter portrayed himself or others in altdeutsch (old-fashioned German) costume, that too was a political statement. Gothic was traditional, Greek was modern. "We are not Greeks any more," wrote Goethe, and the implications of this thought went deep.

You see them, for instance, in the extraordinary landscapes with Gothic churches, attended by devout pilgrimages from the whole region, back-lit in all their staggering complication of tracery, by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841). Beyond comparison the greatest neo-classical German architect of the 19th century, Schinkel simply vaporised the boundaries between the classic and Romantic sensibilities; Prussia might think of itself, through his architecture, as a reborn Doric Greece, but his paintings equally celebrate the nationalist continuity of the Gothic past.

You can see Schinkel's paintings as a call to nationalist self-confidence. But there was also an inwardness, whispering and pleading to be let out. So the exemplary Romantic was partly an enraptured patriot and partly an exile within his own culture. This chimed with the preferences of Romantic painting for the wanderer, the solitary figure turning his back on his society to better contemplate the distant moon, the silent bay or the landscapes of a foreign land.

And that was where Caspar David Friedrich came in, quiet, clear and (eventually) dominant. Friedrich was the son of a soapmaker, born in the insignificant provincial seaport of Griefswald in 1774. He died obscure and more than slightly mad in Dresden in 1840.

His modernity isn't due so much to the "look" of his paintings, carefully composed, thinly laid and breathlessly static, as to the ideas behind them. The question they ask is the one asked by his contemporary, the philosopher Friedrich Schlegel: "Can mankind be understood divorced from nature, and is it so very different from other manifestations of nature?"

The answer from Schlegel and Friedrich, as from a congregation of ecologists and earth people since, was no and no again. Friedrich did not believe he, or anyone else, was "outside" of nature, and when he painted images like the Nationalgalerie's Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon , 1818/1824, that was the point he was making.

It's a remarkably direct line from such ideas to the applied Darwinism of the Third Reich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2005 1:32 PM

In reality, darwinism was the antagonist of naturphilosophien, but don't let facts stand in your way.

Jeff's guess that you never really read Mayr turns out to be right. Nobody who had read Mayr could have written what you wrote today.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 18, 2005 3:14 PM

And your point is?

The idea that there were favored races did not originate with Darwin but with whoever wrote the Old Testament.

In its express dogma, Christianity offered a way out of that trap, by asserting that all men had an equal chance; but in practice, no Chrisians ever believed that.

To blame Darwin for what had been going on for thousands of years before him seems hard cheese.

His views about race were inherited (from Christians) and, given the lack of relevant ethnographic data (he came before Tylor), he had little evidence to jettison them.

The evidence did accumulate, and the logic of darwinism forced the junking of the concept of race.

So far, it's pretty much only darwinists who have got that far.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 18, 2005 7:18 PM

Christianity eschews race as the basis for judging men. Darwinism proceeded from it. Hitler applied it. Hitler despised Christianity and embraced Darwinism. Darwinists deny race now, despite its being a necessary outgrowth of the theory, out of a becoming shame at what it wrought. Makes them incoherent, but sympathetically so.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2005 7:52 PM

That's not correct.

Judaism introduced the concept of the guilty, and therefore to be exterminated race.

One of the commendable statements of Jesus would have allowed his sectaries to back out of the OT trap and catch up with the pagans, who did not know the concept guilty race.

Unfortunately, Christians did not accept that teaching of Jesus but simply adopted the OT version, turning it upside down.

Darwinism arose from the cesspit of Christian racism and soon transcended it.

It remains true that while it is very difficult to exterminate a large human population, it can be done if enough time and effort is expended. Christians have done so at least three times.

I am not aware that anyone else has ever done it.

However, to get back to your original post, whatever darwinism was or wasn't, it was an antagonist of German Romanticism.

I agree, German Romanticism had a great deal to do with German militarism. But nothing to do with darwinism, then or since.

If you were actually to read a darwinist history, you would find, if it were detailed enough, ridicule of the wandervogel and naturphilosophien.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 19, 2005 12:28 AM

So now Harry you are reduced to blaming the Jews for their own extermination. (You really must be a still-seething descendant of Amalek!)

Posted by: Randall Voth at January 19, 2005 6:43 AM


Christians aren't Jews--they broke the racial constraints. You may have read about it. Darwin latched them back on.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 7:44 AM

Christianity eschews race as the basis for judging men.

Well, except for conversos. And blacks. All kinds of Christians have had, and still have, real problems coming to terms with the assertion that we are created in God's image--see The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.

When Christians have chosen to persecute Jews, just how did they figure out who the Jews were?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 19, 2005 7:55 AM


Those were States, not the Church. the Church protected conversos because they were Christians, no longer Jews.

Believing Jews are, of courtse, fair game because that's belief, not race.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 9:03 AM

I hereby propose that "Christian" be defined as those who accept the Nicene Creed. The idea that Christianity can be held accountable for the actions of those who do not follow the teachings of Christ is preposterous and beneath the dignity of the people who post here. Does anyone here actually suggest that Jesus Christ would have condoned the murder of Jews? or anyone?

Darwinism is nothing but a feeble attempt to deny the existence of God. So let me conclude with a quote from Epicurus, "Non deos vulgi negare profanum, sed vulgi opiniones diis applicare profanum." /or/ "It is not profane to deny the gods of the vulgar; but it is profane to apply to the gods the beliefs of the vulgar."

Posted by: Randall Voth at January 19, 2005 9:25 AM

Randall, I second your proposal.

I believe that Jesus Christ has been quite upset w/Christians over the generations for their anti-semitism. He would not condone murder. He was probably upset w/the crusaders and also the Jesuits who made slanderous and heretical statements and hindered relief efforts after the 1577 Lisbon earthquake.

Posted by: Dave W. at January 19, 2005 1:50 PM


I assert Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of God.

Please find something in Evolution to negate that assertion.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 19, 2005 2:36 PM

Harry, I'm not Christian and I don't have a direct dog in this fight; and I know I've harshed on you plenty so maybe I've no business saying this. But statements like this :

In its express dogma, Christianity offered a way out of that trap, by asserting that all men had an equal chance; but in practice, no Chrisians (sic) ever believed that.

are just plain crazy; they tell us way more about you than about the targets of your bile. There have been what, a couple of billion Christian souls so far? All died-in-the-wool racists? Including Dr. King, I have to suppose? I know it feels good to vent (that's half the reason I come here), but wipe the spit off your chin from time to time.

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 19, 2005 5:03 PM


Capitalization. It's your god.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 5:56 PM

As Orrin sometimes says, ideas have consequences.

It was the Jews who introduced the idea of an Unchosen People. Until then, as far back as we have evidence (Sumer), every society was self-centered and looked to its own god to advance it, but also respected (even adopted) other people's gods.

Being a Chosen People made the Jews obnoxious and dangerous neighbors, but only locally, because they were only monotheistic and salvationist.

Christianity added the last element of a system of permanent religious nass murder -- universalism.

It is true, as I said and Randall seems to have missed, that Jesus's teachings (mercy) offered a way out of this mess, which would, if Christians had followed him, have allowed them to reach the level of pagans as regards tolerance and humanity.

The problem was that, as an arbitrary system of morals, Christianity was (and is) incoherent and contradictory.

Their Saviour explicitly told them they should spread his Gospel to all nations, but a universal, salvationist monotheism implies that anyone who rejects proselytization has committed the gravest sin, he has rejected god.

No punishment short of death would do for that.

In practice, it was not even enough to accept Christianity. Belonging to a minority Christian sect was just as much a rejection of the True God as staying pagan, and just as likely (in the early years, more likely) to get you killed.

Christians managed to exterminate the Avars, Cathars, Guanches, almost all the Prussians.

They exterminated the Jews in England and Spain, decimated them elsewhere.

The reason there are still Jews, and there are no Avars, is that the Jews cleverly made themselves useful. Most often, there was a greedy secularist ready and able to step in and restrain the Christian ferocity in exchange for whatever the Jews had on offer. The Avars, to take a notable example, stubbornly refused to offer the Christians anything, and Christianity's greatest military hero killed them all, though it took him over 20 years.

The development of color racism among Christians is more complicated but dates at least to the early 15th century and the Portuguese encounter with black African pagans whom they mistook for Muslims.

Anyhow, this was all pre-Darwin. The Darwinists came to the same conclusion that Jesus did, that we're all the same under the skin.

Now, if they could just persuade the Christians of that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 19, 2005 6:35 PM

Avars deserved what they got.

Posted by: h-man at January 19, 2005 6:45 PM


To the contrary, universalism eliminates race as a consideration. Darwin gave it a place of honor for secularists--indeed, in diminishing the potential of ideas and elevating mere genes, it virtually requires genocide.

Universal religions, on the other hand, elevate ideas. Nothing wrong with killing people for their bad ideas--see under War on Terror, Cold War, WWII, WWI, Spanish-America War, Indian Wars, Civil War, Mexican-American War, War of 1812, Revolution....

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2005 7:45 PM

Jeff, I did not equate evolution and God. I said "Darwinism is a feeble attempt to deny the existence of God."

Scientists very obviously do not require the same burden of proof regarding evolution as they do their other pursuits because they want it to work so badly; they cannot accept the existence of God. The only thing I can think of that has the same kind of fanatical devotion to a theory, at all intellectual cost, is the pursuit of cold fusion.

Evolution cannot explain anything without hoping that further evidence will show up. It cannot predict anything. It is useless, except as a pike against the baileys of the faithful.

Compare to nuclear science. Even in its theoretical state, it can predict the size of an explosion and be used to cure diseases. If nuclear science were bunk, at least it would be useful.

Evolution, however, can be equated with the theory of ether.

Posted by: Randall Voth at January 19, 2005 8:56 PM

Furthermore, Harry, if you can convince us that Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, [...], Genghis Khan, Alexander, Darius, [...], were all Christians, your theory would be almost as complete as Darwinism.

Posted by: Randall Voth at January 19, 2005 9:58 PM

What Randall said. I understand a little better now, Harry: you're white-lipped with anger that Christians (yourself included?) were never Christian enough; and you've devoted yourself to (a somewhat eccentric reading of) history, at least in part to build your case for prosecution. In other words, you're the freaking Grand Inquisitor.

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 20, 2005 12:03 AM


Darwinism is a feeble attempt to deny the existence of God.

Please point out for me which part of the Theory of Evolution attempts to deny the existence of God.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 20, 2005 6:44 AM

[T]heory of [E]volution.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 7:16 AM

Orrin, universalism, tout court, would eliminate racism, and, in fact, that's how darwinism works.

Universalism allied with salvationism and monotheism seems to require mass murders.

Anyhow, it has always resulted in mass murders, wheeras religions that lack one or two of the three elements are far less dangerous.

To state that the Avars deserved to die requires first a statement of what is the minimum that gets you the right to live. When it comes to unborn people, you've been an absolutist about that.

Once you're born, all bets are off, I guess.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 20, 2005 1:39 PM


Folks who think finch beak sizes and moth spotting to be significant differences are obvious racists. I admire you for ditching those portions of the theory that make it so even though it renders you incoherent.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 3:42 PM

Folks who think finch beak sizes and moth spotting to be significant differences are obvious racists. I admire you for ditching those portions of the theory that make it so even though it renders you incoherent.

Congratulations, that is positively the most pointless, inaccurate, statement you have yet made on this subject.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 20, 2005 3:54 PM


Harry is in denial about what he is. He is a "flamming" Catholic. Perhaps he will come out of the closet some day and make peace w/his soul and w/God.

Posted by: Dave W. at January 20, 2005 4:13 PM

I believe that Jesus is very dismayed that more of those who say they follow him have not truly practiced what he taught over the years.

Posted by: Dave W. at January 20, 2005 4:14 PM

Ah, yes, the old he-talks-like-a-freethinker-now-but when-it-comes-time-he'll-rush-to-Jesus argument.

I heard that before.

Don't bet anything you cannot afford to lose that it'll work with me.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 20, 2005 11:46 PM


It's not prospective. The rage against God shtick is obviously a cry for attention from Him.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 11:51 PM

Yes, you've heard "that" before, Harry. This time LISTEN and HEAR!

Posted by: YHWH at January 21, 2005 12:11 AM


If you have been paying the slightest attention, or granted even the slightest meaning to the words Harry has written, you would realize that Harry is not angry at God, but rather at the manifest predations of universalist, monotheistic, salvationist belief systems claiming (at least all but one of them fraudulently) to be repositories of His Word.

There is a difference, and it is glaring.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 21, 2005 6:47 AM


It's just between him and God. Whereas with you it's between you and your Dad. Both are classic psychological problems, easily healed.

Posted by: oj at January 21, 2005 7:37 AM


What's glaring is the connection! He's angry w/God. He reminds me of the prophet Jonah.

Posted by: Dave W. at January 21, 2005 2:50 PM

I'm just trying to get you guys to believe in a better-quality phantasm. The one you've got is so rotten.

If I were going to worship a deity, she would be like Inanna, the loving and protecting mother. And the first god.

It's been downhill ever since.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 22, 2005 2:03 AM

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Jeff: ask yourself what all salvation might encompass, and where the bounds of monotheism might lie, and whether universalism is really safer in the hands of the new clerisy than the old. To survey the world, as you and I and Harry can, from that vantage point of the end of the 20th century, sitting on a pile of what? a hundred million skulls? killed for the worship of the One State; in the name of the latest mode of salvation, that is, collective and social and material, as opposed to individual and spiritual, salvation; in the name of purifying a corrupt world, not through the Christian sacrifices of poverty and chastity, but through the secular one of radical equality, enforced at bayonet point (as it must be); to hear the cold laughter of our modern priesthood -- the bureaucrats and professors and network newsmen -- as they nod and wink and lift their glass to all this; to live through this and witness this kind of slaughter, and then to point an enraged finger back at ... Charlemagne; is a bit, as I've said, eccentric. As I've also said, I'm no Christian. And Harry's no dummy. He's right, and righteous in his anger, as far as it goes. Christians have behaved, as humans do, with bottomless cruelty. Seculars have done no better, nor will they in the long run.

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 22, 2005 2:33 AM


No, he's you.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2005 8:55 AM