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Georg Lukács 1934 Hölderlin’s Hyperion Written: 1934; Translator: Robert Anchor;

Georg Lukács 1934 Hölderlin’s Hyperion Written: 1934; Translator: Robert Anchor;

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Georg Lukács 1934Hölderlin’s Hyperion Written: 1934; Translator: Robert Anchor;Source: Goethe and His Age Merlin Press 1968; Transcribed: Harrison Fluss for marxists.org, February 2008.Oh! were there a banner ... a Thermopylae upon which I could spill my blood with honour, allthat solitary love for which I can have no use.[O gab’es eine Fahne . . . ein Thermopyla, wo ich mit Ehre sie verbluten konnte, all die einsameLiebe, die mir nimmer brauchbar ist].Hölderlin’s glory is that he is the poet of Hellenism. Everyone who reads his work senses that hisHellenism is different, more sombre, more tortured by suffering than the radiant Utopia of antiquity envisaged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. But his vision of Hellas hasnothing in common either with the tedious, trivial, academic classicism of the nineteenth century or with the hysterical bestiality with which Nietzsche and the imperialist period envisagedGreece. The key to Hölderlin’s view lies then in the understanding of the specifics of thisconception of Hellenism. With inimitable clarity Marx uncovered the social basis of the veneration for antiquity during thegreat French Revolution.“As unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nonetheless had need of heroism, the spirit of self-sacrifice, terror, civil war, and wars between nations in order to engender it. And it is in therigorous classical traditions of the Roman Republic that its gladiators found the ideals and the artforms, the illusions which they needed to conceal from themselves the limited civic content of their struggle and to keep their passion at the pitch of the great historical tragedy.” The peculiar situation of Germany during the transition of the bourgeoisie from its heroic to itsunheroic period consists in the fact that the country itself was still far from being mature enoughfor a real bourgeois revolution, but that in the minds of its best ideologists the heroic flame of these “illusions” was bound to flare up; in the fact that the tragic transition from the heroic ageof the polls republic dreamed by Robespierre and Saint-Just into capitalist prose had to beeffected in a purely Utopian and ideological manner without a preliminary revolution.In the Tubingen seminary three young students witnessed with enraptured rejoicing the greatdays of the revolutionary liberation of France. With youthful enthusiasm they planted a tree inhonour of liberty, danced around it, and swore eternal loyalty to the ideal of the great struggle forliberation. Each of these three youths- Hegel, Hölderlin, Schelling-represented in his laterdevelopment a typical possibility of the German reaction to the course of events in France. Toward the end of his life, Schelling lost himself in the narrow-minded obscurantism of anabject reaction, of a revived Romanticism during the preparatory period of the ‘48 revolution.Hegel and Hölderlin did not betray their revolutionary oath. But when it was a question of realizing it, the difference in their interpretation reveals clearly the ideological courses which thepreparation of the bourgeois revolution could and had to follow in Germany. The intellectual absorption of the ideas of the French Revolution by Hegel and Hölderlin was
still far from being accomplished when in Paris Robespierre’s head fell, and Thermidor andafterwards the Napoleonic period came into being. The consolidation of their Weltanschauung had to be achieved then on the basis of this turning-point in the revolutionary development of France. With Thermidor, the -prosaic content of the heroic form of antiquity in bourgeoissociety, with its progressiveness and also-inseparable from this- its frightfulness, appeared moreand more clearly in the foreground. And the altered heroic character of the Napoleonic periodplaced the German ideologists before an insoluble dilemma: on the one hand, NapoleonicFrance was a radiant ideal for the national greatness which could flower only on the soil of a victorious revolution, but on the other hand, this same French imperium brought on Germany acondition of the deepest national disunion and degradation. Since the objective conditions werelacking in Germany for a bourgeois revolution, which would have been capable of opposing tothe Napoleonic conquest a revolutionary defence of the fatherland similar to that of 1793, theembryonic bourgeois-revolutionary longing for national liberation and unification faced aninsoluble dilemma that was destined to lead to reactionary Romanticism. “All the wars of independence waged against France bear the common stamp of a regeneration which is coupled with reaction” (Marx).Neither Hegel nor Hölderlin lapsed into this Romantic reaction. But their intellectual coming-to-grips with the post-Thermidorian situation develop in diametrically opposed directions. To bebrief, Hegel comes to terms with the post-Thermidorian epoch and the close of therevolutionary period of bourgeois development, and he builds up his philosophy precisely on anunderstanding of this new turning-point in world history. Hölderlin makes no compromise withthe post-Thermidorian reality; he remains faithful to the old revolutionary ideal of renovating polis democracy and is broken by a reality which had no place for his ideals, not even on thelevel of poetry and thought.In a contradictory manner, both approaches reflect the unbalanced development of bourgeois-revolutionary thinking in Germany. And this unbalanced development-which Hegel himself designates in an idealist and ideological manner as the “ruse of reason"-manifests itself especially in Hegel’s intellectual accommodation to the post-Thermidorian reality which led him into themain current of the ideological development of his class, from which point further intellectualdevelopment was possible until the transformation of bourgeois-revolutionary methods of thinking into proletarian-revolutionary methods was achieved (i.e. the materialist inversion by Marx of Hegel’s idealist dialectic). Hölderlin’s intransigence ended in a tragic impasse. Unknownand unmoumed, he fell like a solitary poetic Leonidas for the ideals of the Jacobin period at the Thermopylae of invading Thermidorianism.On the one hand, of course, Hegel’s accommodation leads to a defection from the revolutionary republicanism of his Bern period. It leads him from his enthusiasm for Napoleon to anintellectual reconciliation with the wretchedness of a Prussian constitutional monarchy. But onthe other hand, it leads-although in an ideal-istically distorted and inverted manner-to theintellectual discovery and elaboration of the dialectic of bourgeois society. In Hegel, classicalEnglish political economy appears for the first time as an element of the dialectical conceptionof world history which is only an ideological form, an idealistic reflection of the fact that forHegel the dialectic of capitalism itself became the foundation for the dialectic of the present. The Jacobin ideal of the struggle against the inequality of wealth and the Jacobin illusion of theeconomic levelling of a society based on capitalist private property disappears in order to giveplace to a cynical realization of the contradictions of capitalism inspired by Ricardo. “Factoriesand manufacturing are founded precisely on the misery of a class,” Hegel writes a few years afterhis turning to an evaluation of contemporary events. The polis republic disappears as an ideal tobe realized. Greece becomes a thing of the past, irrevocably gone, never to return.
 The world historical significance of Hegel’s accommodation consists precisely in the fact that hegrasped-as only Balzac beside him -the revolutionary development of the bourgeoisie as a unitary process, one in which the revolutionary Terror as well as Thermidor and Napoleon were only necessary phases. The heroic period of the revolutionary bourgeoisie becomes in Hegel-just asantiquity does -something irretrievably past, but a past which was absolutely necessary for theemergence of the unheroic prose of the present considered to be progressive; for the emergenceof advanced bourgeois society with its economic and social contradictions. The fact that thisconception is marred both by all the faults of an accommodation to the wretchedness of thePrussian and German situation and by all the mystifications of the idealist dialectic cannotdiminish its world-historical significance. But with all its defects it is one of the great paths whichleads to the future and to the elaboration of the materialist dialectic.Hölderlin always refused to recognize this as the correct way. But even his thinking could notremain unaffected by the reality which emerged after Thermidor. Hegel’s Frankfurt period, theperiod in which he turns to historical methodology, is precisely the period of their second, moremature association and collaboration. But for Hölderlin, the post-Thermidorian developmentsuggests only a sloughing off of the ascetic elements of the ideal conception of Hellenism, only agreater accentuation of Athens as a model as opposed to the unbending Spartan and Roman virtue of the French Jacobins. He continues to remain a republican. Even in his later work,Empedocles, the hero answers the Acragantines who offer him the crown: “This is the age of kings no longer,” and he preaches-in mystic forms it is true-the ideal of a radically revolutionary renovation of mankind: What is told and taught you from the lips of the fathers, Laws and customs, the names of theancient gods, Boldly forget them and, like new born men, Lift your eyes to divine Nature![Was euch der Vater Mund erzahlt, gelehrt, Gesetz’ und Brauch’, der alten Gotter Namen, Vergesst es kiihn und hebt, wie Neugebome, Die Augen auf zur gottlichen Natur! ] This Nature is that of Rousseau and Robespierre, the dream of a transformation of society  which-without Hölderlin’s raising the question of private property in a clear manner-restores theperfect harmony of man with a society which is adequate to him, with Nature itself through asociety which has become natural again. “The ideal is what Nature was,” says Hölderlin’sHyperion some- what in the manner of Schiller, but going far beyond him in revolutionary fervour. And for Hölderlin, Hellenism is precisely the ideal which was living reality, Nature.“Formerly the peoples started from a childlike harmony,” Hyperion continues. “The harmony of the spirits will be the beginning of a new universal history.”“All for each and each for all!” This is Hyperion’s social ideal when he enters the revolutionary struggle for the liberation of Greece from the Turkish yoke. It is the dream of a revolutionary  war for national liberation which is supposed to become also the war of liberation for allmankind: almost what the radical dreamers of the great revolution itself-Anacharsis Cloots, forexample-hoped from the wars of the French Republic. Hyperion says: “No one must recognizeby its flag alone our people to come; it is necessary that all be rejuvenated, that all be radically different, that joy be filled with seriousness and all work be gay! Nothing, not even the leastsignificant, the most commonplace without spirit and the gods! Love, hate, and every sound weutter must astonish the vulgar world, and not once are we to be reminded, even for a moment,of the insipid past!”Hölderlin thus takes no notice of the limitations and contradictions of the bourgeois revolution.

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