[A note of 22 May 2018: http://positivisten.de, quoted below, has undone its web-presence – and we are happy about the statements we could save before they disappeared. If you need something slightly different under the very name visit http://die-positivisten.de/. They do things like “Familienaufstellung/systemische Aufstellung, Meditation und Homöopathie”, i.e. “family and systematic constellations, meditation and homeopathy”.]
Positivisten Deutschland, die Vorandenker
Präsidentin: Renate Spiering,
Kultureller Leiter: Prof. Gottfried Böttger
Technischer Leiter: Andreas Bösch
Hallo! Willkommen auf der Seite der Positivisten!
Wir, die Positivisten, wir sind ein Kernteam und ein schnellwachsendes Team von Freunden, Mentoren, Mitdenkern, Mitfühlern, Querdenkern, Inspiratoren und Möglichkeiten-Erfindern.
Im Kernteam gibt es Gottfried Böttger. Er ist unser Schutzengel für gelungene Kultur. Andreas Bösch achtet auf die gute Technik und ich, Renate Spiering, suche, finde und sammle die Perlen, die wir hier [im LebensWerte Weblog — Experimentarium für Kommunikation von + mit Renate Spiering] zeigen wollen. Perlen, das sind für mich unter anderem, hervorragende Beispiele, von denen Heilkraft ausgeht und Inspiration, Perlen, die Horizonte und Herzen weit werden lassen. Humorvolles, Denkwürdiges wird hier ebenso gesammelt, wie Interview-Ausschnitte mit Führungspersönlichkeiten, die nicht nur Menschen in Wirtschafts- und Arbeitswelt voranbringen, sondern auch unsere Gesellschaft mit Ideen und Leitbildern versorgen. Vorgestellt werden auch Wissenschaftler, gelegentlich Politiker, inspirierende Menschen aus allen Bereichen, die Schwung geben, Mut und Vertrauen schaffen. “Vorandenken”, das bedeutet für uns: Suche nach Lösungen – Lösungen mentaler und emotionaler Blockaden.
Wer macht mit?
Positivismus, not exactly a German invention
It is perplexing that Germany did not surrender to Positivism already back in the 1840s, when it became clearer what Comte was about to create. Brazil and Turkey embraced his philosophy and his utopian aims while Germany, the country of order, of progress and secularism remained strangely immune, disinterested, puzzled at best.
Order is more than a national virtue in Germany. Germans adorn their private property with all kinds of demarcation lines. They love signs that show who is responsible for what, even if the grass is cut as assiduously on both sides of the individual fence. They assume that the Leitz Aktenordner is a German invention (as indeed it is). They spend their Friday evenings cleaning the sidewalks in the villages; and in the cities they will sweep their staircases in weekly turns. They are proud of the garbage containers in front of their houses: black for “Restmüll”, yellow for polycarbonates, blue for paper. (And they separate their waste even more religiously at home. Most beverage containers can be returned to the shops, all other glass goes into different containers for green, brown, and white glass. Tins are also collected.)
And progress comes with order. Germany is getting rid of its nuclear power plants – no one wanted this particular waste. Wind turbines are lining up alongside the autobahns. Trains run smoothly, fast, and punctually between all bigger and smaller cities (Germans will disagree and claim that only Swiss run a punctual network).
The desire to see everything in neatest order has its unwanted side effects. Most playgrounds remain empty – not because Germans have stopped to propagate, but because they tend to forget that their offspring is not born with this particular agenda imprinted in their minds.
A history of its own
Where did this love affair begin – this idea that order could be the foundation of collective prosperity? Not under the Nazis who turned genocide into a well ordered industry. Not in the Wilhelmine Empire that created a special brand of Kadavergehorsam, of obedience without further question. Germany began to export German cities as model communities back in the Middle Ages and these are still seen as model communities of order and progress whether in the Russian Hinterland or in Transylvania. Potentates granted Magdeburg city rights to Germans if they should risk to build cities just as they built them at home in the uncharted lands – the legal framework on which any such city would act as an independent legal and economical unit. Those who built these cities preserved their language in foreign territories over the centuries — and not only their language but their particular ideals of life. Ask Romanians what they associate with Sibiu, Hermannstadt, a city which could be located anywhere in southern Germany but which happens to be planted on Romanian soil, and they will speak of the particular order and punctuality observed by its inhabitants.
What is so special about the German city? France and Britain developed cities and influential capitals. They became colonial powers while Germany remained Europe’s centre of provinciality with the German small town as the omnipresent focal point. The special thing about the German city is that it does not look up to a German centre. Other countries have capitals, Germany has a grid of cities and of fragmented territories – all endowed with a massive ambition to prevent any further centralisation. Economic growth was ruled out in these prosperous centres. The number of businesses was strictly limited in order to prevent all detrimental competition. The ideal city would allow all its tradesmen to prosper as a collective (and the archives of these cities abound with law suits of citizens who felt that their fellow citizens did not what or far more than they were supposed to do. Protestantism boosted this particular love of stability with the promise to establish a local consensus between secular and religious authorities. The new ideal was the small model state – a state that was bound to fail with the arrival of modern capitalism, something that was developed in London and Amsterdam rather than in Gotha or Jülich and Cleve.
The wrong dream at the right moment
The idea of progress arrived in the last decades of the 18th century when Germany had to realise that Napoleon could just overrun all their countries together with their network of prosperous Imperial cities. The ensemble of petty potentates formed all kinds of alliances to the dismay of Germany’s intellectuals. The British were, once Napoleon was defeated, even worse: they exported goods – new industrial products to a market of antiquated manufacturers. Germany stepped into a desperate race of modernisation and Germany’s intellectuals orchestrated this race with breath-taking complementary romantic yearnings. Biedermeier painters sold depictions of sunny small town provinciality, romantic artists added forests and vistas of a depopulated countryside for more ambitious art investors. Germany’s students turned nationalist and dreamed of a new barbaric, Teutonic, Germanic strength. Wagner brought the Middle Ages and Germanic Gods onto the stages, Nietzsche celebrated the Dionysian dissolution of all order and progress – in the very decades that witnessed the rise of the new German Empire of Prussian efficiency, the central European Leviathan that would soon attack all its neighbours.
The Illuminati had been the dream of Germany’s intellectuals back in the 1780s – a secret order whose members spent their time writing school essays on the intellectual benefits of the enlightenment. Kant’s idealism was fashionable before the arrival of the first wilder romantic dreams of Germanic strength around 1800. The 19th century was soon divided between a minority movement of radical change that supported Marxism and the mainstream of nationalists who would lead Germany into the upcoming global confrontation over resources and word wide influence.
Positivism had no appeal – not among romantic and Biedermeier paintes, not among German students who organised in radical nationalist Burschenschaften, not among communist intellectuals, nor among the new industrialists who would invest their money in factories and romantic art and who promoted the emerging nation. Comte would not even reach the hidden German dandies who preferred to live in London, in Paris or Rome. His entire idea of positivism was neither a utopia to promote nor a reality to grasp. Germany began – at the turn into the 20th century – to indulge in fantasies of a last heroic battle in which the new nation would either die, gloriously on the field of honour, or become the new global spiritual power. What was almost ridiculous about Comte: His utopia was Roman Catholic while progress was undoubtedly protestant. Max Weber would explain why. One had to get rid of hollow rites and the massive pantheon of saints – in a new world of inner, individualistic values and here one had a sad Frenchman creating his personal religion after the model of the most conservative of all religions – in order to achieve what? secularism? Germany created already in the 1830s its own new national and secular (if not openly heathen) religion on strictly national grounds in the forests above the Danube under the name of Walhalla, the hall where the nation’s heroes would await the final battle. The Greek temple gathered the busts of the nation’s greatest men. Germany’s art and Germany’s “Wesen” its very identity would heal the world. Germany’s cities received new national theatres and museums that looked like Greek and Roman temples while the city fathers promoted the building of in new churches in all European styles before the nation began to think of military expeditions into these countries.
An avant-garde of scientists became eventually interested in positivism in the last decades of the 19th century and avoided the p-word. They spoke of Empiriocriticism, they avoided all that labelling altogether and spoke of scientific thought before they eventually dared the affront with “logical positivism” in the 1920s and 1930s – at a time when this label could suddenly gain the appeal of a Bauhaus movement for philosophers. Neither Nazis nor the resistance could do much with this philosophy a couple of years later.
This is the story of the German translations of Works by Auguste Comte until 1930 and it gives basically that very timeline:
- Cours de philosophie positive / German: Auguste Comte’s Einleitung in die positive Philosophie, translated by G. H. Schneider (Leipzig: Fues, 1880), IV, 80 pp. [an Exract]
- Philosophie positive / German Die positive Philosophie, Extract edited by Jules Rig; translated by J. H. v. Kirchman, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Weiss, 1883/84)
- Catéchisme positiviste / German: Katechismus der positiven Religion, from the 2nd edition of the original translated by E. Roschlau (Leipzig, 1891), 405 pp.
- Principes de philosophie positive / German: Der Positivismus in seinem Wesen und seiner Bedeutung von August Comte (Leipzig: Reisland, 1894), XII, 384 pp.
- Système de politique positive ou traité de sociologie / German: Soziologie von Auguste Comte. translated by Valentine Dorn and introduced by Heinrich Waentig (Jena: Fischer, vols. 1-2: 1907, vol. 3: 1911, 2nd edition: 1923).
- Plan des travaux scientifiques nécessaires pour réorganiser la societé / German: Entwurf der wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten welche für eine Reorganisation der Gesellschaft erforderlich sind (1822), translated and introduced by Wilhelm Ostwald (Leipzig: Unesma, 1914), XV, 213 pp.
- Appel aux conservateurs / German: Aufruf an die Kommenden von Auguste Comte. translated by Eduard Lippmann (Neufeld a/Leitha: Lippmann, 1928), XXXIX, 133 pp.
Germany’s post war era came in two versions: Eastern Germany was about to fail as an atheist utopia of Soviet ambitions (while it is actually not that clear whether Comte would not have loved the aesthetics of socialist realism – he loved Antoine Etex’s revolutionary sculptures). Western Germany became on the other side of the well protected fence a democracy after the US-American model, though under all the particularly German ideals of a consensus driven secular society. This particular secularity is not immediately apparent. Germany is a country where the religious establishment gets its degrees at state universities; bishops are paid by the state; religious education is offered at all state schools even Islam – all this does not look secular and remains to be praised as the most perfect integration of the religious in structures of a wider national consensus.
Positivism has become an increasingly flexible term in this complex history. Many Germans will profess their personal “positivism”: learn to reject all “negative thoughts” and you will live a happier (and more successful life) as a leader of a department or as the subordinate female secretary with esoteric leanings who will spend here afternoon hours in the fitness studio. German intellectuals will shake their heads. Positivism is for them the epitome of lame 19th-century research that may get the facts right while it is otherwise impotent to make a contribution in theory driven debates.
Positivism has become particularly odious in Germany’s post war discussion of moral responsibilities. Germany’s Nazi jurisdiction pleaded not guilty in the Nuremberg trials: they had only followed the laws as legal positivists, so the realisation. The new democratic Germany contradicted and introduced “unalienable human rights” and “natural law” in a 1950s move towards values of the humanist tradition – it is another question whether the new constitution, the institution that has the greatest support in Germany, is anything but a bold attempt to establish laws, positive laws that will run the country.
Shakespeare 13, 223*: The day when positivism finally became the national topic
Positivism is – literally – not a big issue in Germany. The Wikipedia article Positivismus attracts some 250 visitors per day — today. Back in 2011 this number was about 50 visitors smaller; a situation that changed dramatically on September 22, 2011 when Pope Benedict XIV, the first German intellectual on the papal throne delivered his address to Germany’s Bundestag and the nation behind the television screens. The secular assembly had not been absolutely sure whether it was right to offer a Pope the place behind the microphone, but Benedict was eventually friendly welcomed. He could have attacked the New Age, the rise of atheism (if Richard Dawkins had not been such a British subject with his protestations of an atheism anyone can adopt freely in Germany), the godless nation (one third of the population will actually claim its disbelief in any census). He could have attacked greed, the seven sins, abortion, a society that sees consumption as its main aim, the disorientation of modern man… But to the surprise of the media and of the wider public he turned positivism into the enemy not only his church would have to withstand – and into Germany’s hitherto unheard of reality.
Germany’s official positivists under Renate Spiering had anticipated the move. Their website www.positivisten.de professed (and still professes) philosophical depth with the intensely personal mission-statement of self-improvment:
Wahrnehmung schafft Wirklichkeit.
Verändere die Linse, durch die du schaust,
und du veränderst, was du siehst.
Wenn du veränderst, was du siehst,
veränderst du, wie du darauf reagierst.
Wenn du dein Verhalten änderst,
veränderst du die Welt.
Wir selbst können die Veränderung sein,
die wir in der Welt erleben wollen.
Wahrnehmung ist Wollen.
Wollen ist Können.
(“Perception creates reality. Change the lens through which you look, and you change what you see. If you change what you see, you will change how you react to it. If you change your behaviour, you change the world. We ourselves can be the change we want to see in this world. Perception is willingness. Willingness is ability.“) The Pope had studied the German Wikipedia article before he had made his address. His take on positivism was broad. He saw – just as the Wikipedia-article – legal positivism and scientific positivism as two sides of the same medal: both imply that we formulate the laws whether moral or scientific. The Catholic alternative was particularly German: a plea for a green economy, Germany’s Energiewende, that would protect the natural environment and a plea for natural law – a law given with nature. Both was only guaranteed under the guidance of a strict religion, a religion that insists on a reverence towards the very God who created this nature, the creation we are supposed to preserve.
It is, and this is what the Pope’s address made clear, more or less obvious that Germany is the heartland of modern positivism – though of a positivism that can hardly be defended on its historical grounds at the moment.
- Die Rede Papst Benedikts XIV. vor dem deutschen Bundestag am 22. September 2011. Deutscher Text
- Pope Benedict’s adress to the Bundestag, September 22., 2011. English Text
- Deutsche Positivisten, website: http://positivisten.de
- Pope remains philosophical in historic speech to German parliament. Deutsche Welle