David Kettler (Research Professor in Social Studies, Bard College)

The following comments (and links) aim to provide a context for the attached excerpts from two invaluable documents in the Hannah Arendt Collection at Bard College, Arendt’s annotated copies of two publications by the Hungarian-born sociologist, Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), whom she first knew in Heidelberg and later in Frankfurt, where he was Professor of Sociology between 1930 and his dismissal by National Socialist decree in 1933, and where she participated for some time in a workshop on early liberalism, which Mannheim conducted with several colleagues. The first source is an offprint ofKarl Mannheim, “Die Bedeutung der Konkurrenz im Gebiete des Geistigen.” Verhandlungen des Sechsten Deutschen Soziologentages vom 17.-19. September 1928 in Zürich. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1929[English:Karl Mannheim, “Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon.” Pp.399-437 in Kurt H. Wolff, ed., From Karl Mannheim. New Brunswick: Transaction. 1993], inscribed with a hand-written, polite expression of regards, “Frl. Arendt mit den herzlichsten Grüßen. KM.” The second is an unbound and undated copy of what appears to be an advance reviewers’ copy of Karl Mannheim, Ideologie und Utopie. Bonn: Cohen, 1929[English (Expanded and Revised): Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge,introduction by Louis Wirth. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1936.] The annotated texts are in German, and it is not feasible to transfer the markings to the English translations, especially since the philosophical terminology of special interest to Arendt is not precisely rendered in the accepted English versions. The brief commentary and the three linked articles, however, are in English, and they will give some idea of what is at issue between Arendt and Mannheim to readers without German.

These documents are unusually interesting because they allow us to follow the trail of Arendt’s reading of two texts, which she made the subject in 1930 of a review [Hannah Arendt,“Philosophie und Soziologie. Anläßlich Karl Mannheims Ideologie und Utopie,” Die Gesellschaft, Bd. 7, 1 (1930) 163-176 (Reprinted Pp. 515-531 in Volker Meja and Nico Stehr, eds., Der Streit um die Wissenssoziologie, 2. Band. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1982; in English: Hannah Arendt, “Philosophy and Sociology,” Pp. 196-208 in Volker Meja and Nico Stehr, eds., Knowledge and Politics. The Sociology of Knowledge Dispute. London and New York: Routledge, 1990) -- View PDF] and which are the subjects of her only published writings on texts in sociology, a discipline about which Arendt nevertheless later expressed fairly strong, usually derogatory opinions.  The noted Arendt scholar, Peter Baehr, has authorized a link to an as-yet unpublished article on Arendt’s writings on Karl Mannheim and his sociology of knowledge. [Link: Peter Baehr - Sociology and the Mistrust of Thought: Hannah Arendt’s Encounter with Karl Mannheim and the Sociology of Knowledge - PDF]

No fresh attempt is made here to summarize the life and works of either Arendt or Mannheim, although some help will be provided to characterize the aspects of Mannheim’s book that Arendt deliberately does not address.  Nor is this the place to evaluate Arendt’s philosophical standpoint in general or her judgment of Mannheim in particular. Specialists will bring familiarity with Heidegger, Jaspers, Dilthey, Lukács, Max and Alfred Weber, as well as others important to either or both of the principals, and they will discern intriguing details in Arendt’s strategic design and perhaps gain a revealing perspective on Mannheim. For the non-specialist, this presentation offers above all an insight into the force, focus, and economy of Arendt’s reading, at age 24. In annotating the transcript of a talk that caused a sensation when it was delivered and a clever, esssayistic, and interesting book that touches provocatively on many topics widely discussed among the intellectuals of the time, she focuses only on the things that matter to her own prime intellectual project. Most important—and perhaps surprising in view of her later dismissal of sociologists in general and Mannheim in particular—the things that matter are not limited to those that give her an occasion to display her contrasting views. They also include challenges from which she is evidently prepared to learn. Her reading at this formative time is a respectful negotiation, however fundamental her disagreements. She treats him as interlocutor, not merely as foil.

Although it is usual to think of the Weimar Era as nothing but the prelude to Hitler, War, and Holocaust, the most recognized urban intellectuals of the generation born around 1900, many of them Jewish, had reason to hope, as the 1920s proceeded, that they were contesting the terms of a new cultural foundation for a new republic that was drawing strength from the crises that they saw as generating its novel forms. [Link: David Kettler - “The Secret of Mannheim’s Remarkable Success” - PDF] Karl Mannheim’s Ideologie und Utopie (1929) is a unique document of those hopes; and the widespread lively dispute that followed its publication shows the vitality of the intellectual life of that moment. The rise of Hitler and the vicissitudes of exile abruptly reshaped memories among participants in that generational undertaking and not rarely engendered in them a mix of self-blame, finger-pointing, myth-making, and barely coherent nostalgia. Although not wholly exempt from such distortions, the remarkable group of mostly young thinkers who responded critically to Mannheim in 1930 went on to enjoy exceptional careers and reputations. In addition to Hannah Arendt, reviewers included Max Horkheimer (whose review was his first publication), Herbert Marcuse, Paul Tillich, Hans Speier, Gunther Stern (Anders), Waldemar Gurian, Siegfried Kracauer, Otto Neurath, Karl August Wittfogel, and Béla Fogarasi. An understanding of the dynamics of those encounters, as well as their aftermath, suggests that the confrontation with Mannheim served as an important rite de passage and conditioned the later work of at least some of these figures.

In the highly politicized setting of 1929-30, the condition which is itself the underlying subject of Mannheim’s work, almost all of the reviews appeared in periodicals with political designs. On the Left, the main target was Mannheim’s depoliticization of the Marxist ideology concept, while on the Right, the reactions ranged from a commendation for recognizing the bankruptcy of liberal idealism and the primacy of action to a more conservative attack on his supposed reductionist relativism. Arendt’s review also appeared in a political journal, Die Gesellschaft, which was an organ of the Social Democratic mainstream; and the acting editor at the time, Albert Salomon, recalled years later that he had meant to put out a “collective issue against Mannheim’s Ideologie und Utopie--against the weakening of radical thought.” [Draft Memoir in NYC Leo Baeck Institute archives] Yet Arendt not only stayed clear of criticisms that could be aligned with any of the political partisans of the time—except insofar as her manifest disagreement with Marxist philosophical premisses is taken as expressing a political commitment—but also disregarded Mannheim’s effort to intervene therapeutically in the threatening political impasse of the time. [Link: David Kettler -"Karl Mannheim (1893-1947)“ - PDF] But that disregard should not be misunderstood. There is actually no way of knowing what she thought about the political side of his undertaking and no good reason to think that she disagreed at the time with his pragmatics in the public sphere, which she then considered to be without intrinsic meaning from the standpoint of the philosopher’s higher calling. In contrast to Arendt’s later deep immersion in political philosophy and the constitution of the public sphere, the issue in her dispute with Mannheim is the unique ahistorical and unsocial solitude (Heidegger) or marginality (Jaspers) where the human spirit (Geist) can be made present. Mannheim, she believes, gives this up for lost, although he cannot consistently adhere to this assumption. His Sociologist denies the Philosopher. Yet he must be read, in her view, since he represents a grim warning of what may in fact be impending in a world where the spirit is rendered ever more homeless by the social domination of thinking. Arendt says all this quite clearly in her review, but the underlinings and occasional annotations show the prime sources of this characterization.

Hannah Arendt Marginalia (doc)

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