Romanticism joins the German Enlightenment, Philosophical Idealism (as the Hegelian tradition is known), and early nationalism as the fourth great flowering of culture in the eighteenth century. It expressed the emotionalism and subjectivism that Protestant Pietism and Baroque Catholicism had earlier valorized. It drew, especially in the genial poetry and prose of Goethe, on the eighteenth-century attainment of a sovereign modernity of the German language. The young Goethe gained widespread fame as the irresistible voice of early Romanticism, and though he later sought to transcend Romanticism, it matured in him more than it paled. It coexisted in his consciousness, and that of his great Romantic co-titan Friedrich Schiller, with a reverence for the artistic achievements of Classical Greece. These achievements inspired, especially through the writings of Winckelmann, a virtual cult of Greek antiquity among the German intelligentsia. The ancient Greeks were a mirror into which early German nationalists, imagining their historical affinities, preferred to gaze instead of joining in the veneration of Rome characteristic of French and Anglo-American political culture.
Romanticism embraced the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the claims of the individual, unburdened by traditional Christianity’s Original Sin, to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But it also broadened the meaning of happiness to include the acceptance of “irrational” passion and exaltation and the meaning to be discovered in emotional pain and even death. Beethoven’s music, though it is more than Romanticism, expresses this expansion of aesthetic-philosophical sensibility. It was not difficult for Novalis, and other Romantics who followed him in the nineteenth century, to rediscover Christian faith, if often idiosyncratically. Equally, German nationalism fit Romanticism like a glove. Indeed, Romanticism’s ability to fuse with expressions of both hyper-individualism and communitarianism qualify it, alongside social-political utopianism, as the commanding mentality of modernity.