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The Seduction of Culture in German History
Wolf Lepenies

Wolf Lepenies, Winner of the 2006 Peace Prize, German Booksellers' Association

Paperback | 2014 | $25.95 | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780691164618
272 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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During the Allied bombing of Germany, Hitler was more distressed by the loss of cultural treasures than by the leveling of homes. Remarkably, his propagandists broadcast this fact, convinced that it would reveal not his callousness but his sensitivity: the destruction had failed to crush his artist's spirit. It is impossible to begin to make sense of this thinking without understanding what Wolf Lepenies calls The Seduction of Culture in German History.

This fascinating and unusual book tells the story of an arguably catastrophic German habit--that of valuing cultural achievement above all else and envisioning it as a noble substitute for politics. Lepenies examines how this tendency has affected German history from the late eighteenth century to today. He argues that the German preference for art over politics is essential to understanding the peculiar nature of Nazism, including its aesthetic appeal to many Germans (and others) and the fact that Hitler and many in his circle were failed artists and intellectuals who seem to have practiced their politics as a substitute form of art.

In a series of historical, intellectual, literary, and artistic vignettes told in an essayistic style full of compelling aphorisms, this wide-ranging book pays special attention to Goethe and Thomas Mann, and also contains brilliant discussions of such diverse figures as Novalis, Walt Whitman, Leo Strauss, and Allan Bloom. The Seduction of Culture in German History is concerned not only with Germany, but with how the German obsession with culture, sense of cultural superiority, and scorn of politics have affected its relations with other countries, France and the United States in particular.

Wolf Lepenies is one of Germany's foremost intellectuals. He served as Rector of the Wissenschaftskolleg, the German Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (1986-2001), where he is now a Permanent Fellow. Lepenies is also Professor of Sociology at the Free University in Berlin, and he spent several years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of numerous books and writes regularly for the German national newspaper Die Welt.


"Lepenies's reflections on French-German and American-German culture wars suggest that cultural interpretation is as much a part of the social world as any social or political fact. . . . [H]is history of an idea . . . contains important political lessons for both Europe and the United States. The substitution of culture for politics is a dangerous road to travel."--Andreas Huyssen, The Nation

"At times German cultural pride has become so obsessive that it's distorted the development of society. In an audacious new book, The Seduction of Culture in German History, . . . Wolf Lepenies blames the catastrophes of 20th-century German politics on a tendency to overrate culture at the expense of politics."--Robert Fulford, National Post

"The Seduction of Culture in German History, by Wolf Lepenies, offers fresh insights into the causes of the Nazi lunacy. Erudite and richly detailed, it traces the pathology of nationalist and cultural fixations, with implications for our own nervous and jingoistic age."--Peter Rose, The Australian

"A highly thought-provoking . . . series of 'history of ideas' vignettes. Lepenies traces the evolution of the Kulturnation, a nation united by culture rather than by political institutions, from the 18th century, when it emerged in the absence of a central German reunification in 1990. . . . Lepenies concludes with a cautiously optimistic view of Germans' reconciliation of culture and politics. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

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