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Thomas Mann, "Culture and Socialism" (1927)

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The word culture is of one origin with the word cult. Both mean care: the one in the sense of reverence for, and ritual attendance on, the articles of salvation; the other in the sense of a purely human, aesthetic and ethical refinement, divorced from the religious—an ennobling, an enhancement of the individual, a process which, without directly aiming at it, is supposed to advantage the world at large. And just there, in the involuntariness and personal unawareness of the individual as to its super- and extra-individual hearing, there enters into the conception an element of the marvelous and mythical which re-emphasizes its near-religious character. For "culture" is, contrasted with cult, a secular conception; but coupled with the idea of civilization, it reveals its religious, in other words, its essentially unsocial, egotistically individualistic character. "The religious man," says Nietzsche, "thinks only of himself." That is, he thinks of his deliverance, the salvation of his soul, and, originally, at least, of nothing else; yet privately he pays homage to the faith, and trusts in the promise, that the inward working of his own salvation will in some mystical way redound to the salvation of the whole. And the same is altogether the case of the believer in culture.

[ . . . ]

German socialism, the invention of a Jewish social theorist brought up in western Europe, has always, in the mind of the culturally conservative German, been considered foreign to the country and antagonistic to the people, as the devil's work pure and simple, and cursed accordingly; with good reason, for it means the dissolution of the cultural, the antisocial folk- and community-idea, and its replacement by that of the social class. This process of dissolution is, in fact, so far advanced, that the cultural complex of ideas contained in the words folk and community must today he considered to be purely romantic. Life, with all that it holds of present and future, is beyond any doubt on the side of socialism, No mind turned lifewards—be it only on deliberately moral grounds, and without reference to its romantic and perhaps death-bound nature—but is driven to side with it and not with the party of bourgeois culture. And the reason is this: that whereas originally the intellectual, in the shape of individualistic idealism, was bound up with the conception of culture, while the social concept, the class idea, never denied its purely economic origins, it is in these days the latter that entertains toward the things of the mind far friendlier feelings than do its folk- and middle-class opponents, whose conservatism has almost lost touch with the living spirit and its patent claims. I have, and not long ago, referred to the morbid and dangerous state of tension which has been set up in the world between the spirit, the height which the peak of humanity has already reached and made its own, and material reality and the state of enlightenment thought to be possible and attainable therein. It is the Socialists, the workers, who display an undoubtedly stronger and more vital will toward the relaxing of this humiliating and dangerous tension than do their cultural opponents; whether the field be legislation, the nationalization of the life of the state, the international constitution of Europe, or whatever you like. The socialist class, in direct opposition to the cultural, is, in economic theory, alien to intellect, but in practice friendly to it—and that, as matters stand to-day, is decisive.

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Thomas Mann, “Culture and Socialism” (1927), in Past Masters and Other Papers, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter. Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1968, pp. 201-14.

Source of original German text: Thomas Mann, “Kultur und Sozialismus” (1927), in Thomas Mann, Essays, Volume 3: Ein Appell an die Vernunft 1926-1933, edited by Hermann Kurzke and Stephan Stachorski. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994, pp. 57-63.

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