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Reason and Existenz by Karl Jaspers

By Karl Jaspers

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The ideas of French socialism were chiefly introduced in Germany through Lorenz von Stein’s book The Socialism and Communism of Present-Day France (1844). Marx went to Paris in 1843, when he met some of the French socialists and was impressed by the evidence of working-class political activity. The influence of Saint-Simonianism, to which Marx was exposed, was extraordinarily ramifying, for it was a protean movement with many aspects. For the authors of the Young Germany movement it had meant, as we have seen, primarily the doctrine of free love and human brotherhood, a kind of secular religion, seen as the successor to Christianity.

A. Hobson, Vilfredo Pareto, V. I. Lenin, Peter Kropotkin, Benedetto Croce, Heinrich von Sybel, Hugo von Hofmannsthal … and many others. But a line has to be drawn and it has been dictated here, I am sure not uncontroversially, by the need to keep a balance between thematic discussion and examples, making the choice of the latter a partly arbitrary one. A final caveat is called for by the word ‘European’. I have used advisedly the phrase ‘European Thought’ rather than ‘European intellectual life’.

Shelley made him the subject of a poem; Mary Shelley subtitled her novel Frankenstein ‘The Modern Prometheus’; Beethoven named an overture for him. Bakunin, who wrote ecstatically of fire as an instrument of revolution, seems an even clearer case of the Promethean as revolutionary than Marx himself, while Wagner was to write fire music as no one had done before, and in his Siegfried created a hero whose role was not merely to challenge the chief of the gods but to overcome him, and thus to bring about the end of the era of the gods and to inaugurate that of mankind.

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