Adam Müller’s Afterlives

This guest post is written by Jonathan Green (PhD student, Trinity Hall), and describes his discovery of a copy of Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie. This copy has had an interesting ownership history before coming to the Cambridge University Library.

In the course of my doctoral research into the German reception of Edmund Burke (1731-1797), I’ve become particularly interested in the Roman Catholic political economist and social critic Adam Müller (1779-1829). One of Burke’s closest readers in the early 1800s, Müller is often credited with outlining a uniquely ‘Romantic’ critique of the French Revolution. He warned that the Revolution had unleashed a radical form of individualism into European political discourse, which was corroding customary mores, undermining religious belief, and subverting the political autonomy of local communities – dissolving all that was solid into air. In the wake of this liberalizing process, he feared that post-revolutionary Europe would splinter into an anarchic, atomized world of superficially ‘liberated’ individuals who were in practice deeply confused, disoriented, and lonely. Without shared values to bind men together, political community would be impossible, and alienation would supplant an earlier era of Christian moral consensus. The aim of his ‘Romantic’ politics was to ward off this dystopian scenario by reconciling the liberty of modern, commercial society with the moral foundations provided by Roman Catholicism. The Church, Müller believed, was in a position to provide a moral ‘glue’ that could hold society together.

The cover of Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

The cover of Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

Müller’s arguments were largely ignored in his own day. In the early-twentieth century, however, in the wake of Germany’s defeat in WWI and especially in the aftermath of the economic crash of 1929, Müller enjoyed something of a revival among German-language political theorists, as they began to share his doubts about the moral and political viability of liberalism, and began casting about for alternatives. Especially in southern Germany and Austria, he became an important inspiration for a generation of right-leaning corporatist and communitarian thinkers such as Othmar Spann, Jakob Baxa, and Georg Quabbe. In the same years, he became the bête noir of more Machiavellian theorists such as Carl Schmitt, who saw Müller’s Catholicism as an insufficient foundation for a more robust, authoritarian conservatism.

One of the major controversies that these Weimar debates brought to light concerned the relation between Müller’s religious views and his (alleged) nationalism. After Napoleon’s conquest of continental Europe in 1807 Müller began calling for a pan-German resistance to the French Empire, arguing that the Germans had a unique vocation to throw off the Napoleonic yoke and restore Christianity to the heart of European civilization. Looking back on this argument after 1871, it was not hard to situate Müller among the first exponents of modern German nationalism. (In the early 1900s, intellectual historians like Friedrich Meinecke claimed precisely this.) In the 1920s and ’30s, there arose a running debate about how seriously Müller meant his case for a post-Napoleonic Christendom to be taken. Was his religious case for resistance to Napoleon merely rhetorical window-dressing to a more fundamentally political argument? Or conversely, was his real priority the revival of Christian society, and his call for national unity merely a means to this end? Was Müller firstly a German or a Christian?

All this is a roundabout way of explaining the context and significance of an extremely interesting item that I discovered in the UL’s German-language collection in the course of my research a few months ago. In 1923, a prominent Polish-German Jesuit theologian, social critic, and, later, anti-Nazi activist named Erich Przywara wrote an introduction to a new edition of Müller’s political essays. Przywara was among the Catholic writers and activists in the early-twentieth century who were invested in finding a ‘third way’ between communism and liberalism. Przywara and his allies often drew on the Catholic social thought of the later nineteenth century, and I was curious to see if Pryzwara’s introduction to Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837) would try to place Müller at the root of this later tradition.

Notes inside Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

Notes inside Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

And indeed it did. Przywara’s introduction situates Müller’s ‘Christian state-philosophy’ as a critique of ‘the present age, drunk on an ancient pagan nationalism’ and aligned him with a longer-running tradition of theological skepticism about modern liberalism. (Even more conspicuously, in retrospect, his introduction presented Müller as a critic of anti-Semitism, and ends by quoting St Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’) But what was most interesting about the particular version of this book held at the UL is that before it got to Cambridge, it was in the private library of Prof Paul Kluckhohn of Tübingen, one of the leading Weimar scholars of Romanticism and a key figure in the interwar debates over Müller’s religious views. Kluckhohn’s copy of the book is filled with his marginalia and notes, which indicate that he took a particular interest in Müller’s political theology (and was far less interested in his ‘nationalism’). On the question of whether Müller should be viewed as a ‘German Christian’ or a ‘Christian German’, it is probably fair, therefore, to place Kluckhohn in the first camp. After 1945 it was easy to look back at Weimar discussions of Müller’s Catholicism with a good deal of cynicism. Certainly the real reason for the renaissance of interwar interest in Müller lie in his proto-nationalism? Kluckhohn’s notes to Müller’s Schriften suggest that for at least some of these scholars, Müller was attractive in the 1920s because he seemed to point towards an alternative to the ‘pagan nationalism’ that ultimately overwhelmed Germany.

Donation label and written note inside Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

Donation label and written note inside Adam Müller’s Schriften zur Staatsphilosophie (9007.c.3837)

It was a sheer stroke of luck to come across this copy of Müller’s Schriften in the UL. The frontispiece indicates that it was donated to the UL by E.C. Stopp of Girton College, a very good scholar of German Romanticism in her own right, in 1999. Stopp must have either known Kluckhohn personally and inherited the book from him directly, or else she must have purchased the book after his death in 1957. When Stopp herself passed away in 1996, her library was then donated to the UL. I don’t know who the librarian in charge of German-language holdings was in the late ’90s, but it is a testament to the quality of the relationships that he or she must have developed with the Modern Languages faculty that a book like this found its way into the university’s permanent collection. The UL’s collection of primary and secondary sources in my field is excellent – Müller and the other figures I’m studying aren’t exactly household names, even among German historians of political thought, so it is quite impressive that almost all of the books I need are available here in Cambridge. But it’s items like this one, and the histories that stand behind them, that make the UL’s collection truly unique.


Guest author: Jonathan Green

One thought on “Adam Müller’s Afterlives

  1. Elisabeth Stopp was my doctoral supervisor in the late 60s. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t at that time work on one of her Romantic authors. However, I am pretty sure that she did know Kluckhohn personally — she often spoke of him and would quote his insistence that the literary pseudonym of Friedrich von Hardenberg, Novalis, should be stressed (as Kluckhohn had reported the family’s tradition to be) on the first syllable to yield a dactyl, and not on the second. This mispronunciation has, of course, prevailed.

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