German Ideology: From France to Germany and Back

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In this comparative anthropological analysis, Louis Dumont illuminates German and French ideology, European culture, and cultural interaction. His analysis of texts by Troeltsch, Thomas Mann, Goethe, and others, against the background of previously gathered evidence and of French common notions, specify the differences—otherwise frequently but vaguely alluded to—between French and German cultures.

Anyone interested in the fate of national ideology and the concept of the individual will benefit from this radical reinterpretation of modern values and the place of modernity in history.

"What François Furet did for French history, Dumont did for anthropology, turning it away from engaged politics and towards the sober study of the modern age." —Mark Lilla, London Review of Books

"There are many fine things in Dumont's study. Beyond any doubt, his cultural anthropology of the modern spirit highlights some of the key energies of the of the last two centuries. . . . [An] impressive . . . detailed analysis." —Martin Swales, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[An] unsettling, rich, demanding, profound study." —Publishers Weekly

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With this volume, Louis Dumont's decades-long research into modern ideology reaches a new level. Following his chronological study of the development of individualism, what Dumont calls "the individualist configuration" (see Essays on Individualism, and his book devoted especially to the economic ideology, From Mandeville to Marx), Dumont now turns to comparing different national forms of modern ideology. By means of precise studies of chosen German texts by Troeltsch, Thomas Mann, Goethe, and others, against the background of previously gathered evidence and of French common notions, he pinpoints the differences - otherwise frequently but vaguely alluded to - between French and German cultures. While the basic social ideology of France was largely fashioned by the Enlightenment and the Revolution, the main formative influences in Germany were the Reformation and Pietism. While for the French a universalist view of mankind comes first, what is paramount for the Germans is German culture. In Dumont's words, the Frenchman sees himself "as being a man by nature, and a Frenchman by accident" while the German feels he is "a German in the first place, and a man through his being a German". Furthermore, while individualism in the French fashion stresses equality and centers in the sociopolitical domain, in Germany it focuses on the uniqueness, the irreplaceability of the individual subject and the duty to cultivate it by self-education (Bildung). As opposed to the French, German notions of individualism are entirely a matter of culture having little or nothing to do with politics.

Language Notes:

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

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