Home Psychology Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought
Weimar Confucianism and Weimar Orientalism
Driesch is not the only Weimar-era intellectual to articulate a vision of East-West unity. The engagement of Eucken and Driesch with the East, as well as figures such as Buber and Misch considered in other chapters of this work, occurs in the context of the development of German Orientalism and a broad array of German interpretations of Chinese discourses.
The short-lived crisis-ridden Weimar Republic saw a fascination with the Orient in a Germany isolated in Europe, as Driesch noted in his Beijing lecture on “The Unity of West and East" The German Orientalism of the 1920s continued and reshaped the Orientalism of turn-of the-century Jugendstil in its openness to being influenced by Asia in more than merely ornamental ways. German-language writers such as Brecht adopted East Asian motifs, images, and elements in their writing, seeing in it a naturalness and spontaneity of emotional and expressive life in contrast to the alienated artificiality of Western modernity. German intellectuals such as Wilhelm, Lessing, and Keyserling (who each had political or intellectual relations with Driesch) argued for opening the West to the East in a new spirit of learning, adopted teachings from Asian philosophies, and called for Asians to retain and reinvent their own intellectual and cultural discourses in response to the forces of Westernization.
There are three additional significant figures in the Weimar Republic who advocated the importance of Chinese and Eastern philosophy for the West. They should be briefly discussed to help understand the context of the German reception of China in the 1920s.
The first figure is the highly influential Sinologist and translator Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930). He initially traveled to China as a Protestant Christian missionary in 1899 and would return to Germany as a missionary of Chinese philosophy. Wilhelm translated Chinese classics such as the Analects, his famous edition of the Yijing ШШ- that has been translated into multiple Western languages, and the Zhuangzi ®^. Wilhelm—who likewise shared the idea of the affinities between Confucius and Kant—worked together with Hans Driesch, Zhang Junmai, and Qu Shiying on a German-English-Chinese philosophical dictionary during Drieschs visit to China in 1922-1923.90 They describe in the preface the idea of a “fusion” (ronghe ^^) uniting Eastern and Western philosophy that would serve as the basis of a new common philosophy of humanity.91 Wilhelm promoted the study of China through directing the China Institute at the University of Frankfurt from 1925 to 1932, which hosted Chinese intellectuals (such as the Buddhist Tai Xu Ж^, the poet Xu Zhimo Ш^Ж, and the philosopher Hu Shi) and interacted with German intellectuals (notably Buber and Jung) in encouraging the study of China in the German speaking world.92
The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961) described, in his forward to the second 1938 German edition of the work, the decisive development of his phenomenology of a structural collective unconscious that occurred through his reading of Wilhelm’s translation of the early Qing Daoist alchemical work The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taiyi ]inhua Zongzhi ^жн) in 1928. Wilhelm himself unfolded the idea of a structural “collective humanity" informed by a particular reading of Kant, which revealed itself in Chinese philosophy in The Soul of China (Die Seele Chinas: Geburtswehen einer neuen Zeit, 1926), arguing that there are no inherent restrictions on the potential of Europeans to learn and adopt from the teachings of Confucianism or Daoism.93 Wilhelm critiqued Western prejudices concerning Chinese culture and thought such as the myth of a despotic uniformity and monolithic conformity. Wilhelm was criticized by establishment Sinologists for being too sympathetic with his subject matter and too enthusiastic for the Chinese. He undoubtedly interpreted Chinese philosophical traditions through the lenses of German Idealism, repeatedly rediscovering the German philosophical and humanist tradition of Kant and Goethe in Chinese Confucian and Daoist incarnations, enthusiastically describing the Analects as a Chinese critique of practical reason and the Zhuangzi as an epistemic critique of the boundaries of reason.
Driesch and Wilhelm both expressed optimism in their works about China from (respectively) 1925 and 1926 and their sympathy toward the development of a “new” or “young” progressive republican China that was fusing together traditional Chinese thought and culture with a new democratic and scientific spirit adopted to their own circumstances.
The second figure who should be mentioned in this context is Theodor Lessing (1872-1933), a German-Jewish life-philosopher and anti-nationalist writer assassinated by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1933, who collaborated with Driesch in the anti-fascist “League for Human Rights" Lessing accentuated the wisdom of the East as the source of Greek and Western philosophy and as an orienting point for a battered and decayed modern Western civilization in his popular work Untergang der Erde am Geist (Europa und Asien) [The Dawn of the Earth by the Spirit (Europe and Asia)] that was published in four different editions between 1918 and 1930. Lessing inverted German virtues by identifying Germany and the West with alienated spirit (Geist), artificial culture (Kultur), and the impersonal external social organization (Gesellschaft); and Asia with rootedness in the earth (Erde), naturalness (Natur), and organically interrelated community (Gemeinschaft). Hans- Georg Gadamer later described the emancipatory impact of Lessing’s book on his generation: it was a “second rate” work that had a revolutionary effect in the 1920s in displacing and reorienting its previously provincial European perspective of the world.94
A third significant figure writing about Chinese and Eastern thought during this period was Keyserling an anti-democratic and pro-aristocratic life-philosopher who was—despite some initial fascination with the personality of Hitler—opposed to National Socialism and forbidden to speak publically and travel abroad after the Nazi seizure of power. Keyserling published the popular work The Travel Diary of a Philosopher (Das Reisetagebuch eines Philosophen) in 1919.95 In what might now be called public philosophical writing, Keyserling’s work deployed travel descriptions and personal experiences as touchstones for philosophical reflections, conjoining Western and Eastern philosophical sources to engage contemporary issues and conditions such as the mechanization and technization of life and death. Thus, for instance, he reflects on the naturalness and spontaneity of Cook Ding (Pao Ding ЖТ) from the “Nourishing Life” (yangsheng zhu ^^^) chapter of the Zhuangzi in the context of the mechanization of animal butchery in the Chicago stockyards.96
Keyserling uses this work of travel-philosophizing through Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, China, Japan, and the Americas to propose that the West ought to be open toward and learn from the East, in particular the aristocratic societies that alone heighten the mind and enable high cultures, and for the East to renew its own aristocratic traditions for the sake of its present life. Keyserling encouraged the idea of an elite aristocratic global culture that would draw on all philosophies, religions, and cultures, transcending ethnocentrism and nationalism that he associated with the masses and the popular will.
Keyserling argued in the chapters on China that Confucianism, which he admired for its capacity to heighten and complete moral character, faced a paradoxical situation in modernity: the potential for contemporary Chinese renewal (Erneuerung) must occur in relation to Confucianism, and this possibility is accordingly interlinked with the revitalization of Confucianism. In Keyserling’s analysis, the form of existing Confucianism had paradoxically become a philosophy hindering the very renewal that Confucian sources could alone bring about in Chinese life.97
After his return to Germany, Keyserling founded the “School of Wisdom” (Schule der Weisheit) in Darmstadt in 1920 to encourage the study of Eastern and Western philosophy as wisdom traditions, hosting scholars such as Leo Baeck, Nikolai Berdyaev, Driesch, Jung, Scheler, Tagore, Ernst Troeltsch, Wilhelm, and Leopold Ziegler.98
Frank-Lothar Kroll has examined how German intellectuals interested in engaging Chinese and Asian philosophy and culture were among the opponents and victims ofNational Socialism.99 Their cosmopolitan and universalist projects, whether conceived of in progressive (Driesch) or conservative (Keyserling) terms, came into conflict with radical racial and nationalist ideology of National Socialism. As will be seen in Chapter 7, in relation to the Western reception of Zen Buddhism, there was also an engagement with the East by thinkers connected with National Socialism. There is the complicated case of Heidegger as well as the National Socialist commitments of Eugen Herrigel, a philosopher who taught in Japan in the 1920s and who wrote the popular work Zen in the Art of Archery (Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens) first published in German in 1948.100
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