Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Vincent P. Pecora's "Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age"

Vincent P. Pecora is the Gordon B. Hinckley Presidential Professor of British Studies at the University of Utah. He is the author of Self and Form in Modern Narrative (1989), Households of the Soul (1997), Secularization and Cultural Criticism: Religion, Nation, and Modernity (2006), Secularization without End: Beckett, Mann, and Coetzee (2015), and he is the editor of Nations and Identities: Classic Readings (2001), and a founding co-editor of the on-line Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.

Pecora applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age, and reported the following:
From page 99:
nineteenth-century question of the state as institution' (Staat als Anstalt)—a question dependent on the modern assumption that the German nation-state only found its origins in the liberal opposition between state and society:
Today this question has lost its meaning. Why would one want to confine the beginning of this "institutionalness" [of the Reich] to a particular point in time? I believe that Herman Hempel was right when he attributed this institutionalness to something already belonging to the German state, because it had been borne by the people. Here what is actually going on becomes clear. It is not about the state in the modern sense, as an institution, the state as an invisible juridical person, but rather the Reich as an eternal idea, borne by the German people. For in its essence, the Reich is the Reich of the German people and it remains so, throughout all transformation and all decline right up to our own day.
What actually happens in Brunner's account of the rise of the modern nation-state, with its sharp distinction between society and state, is the creation of a bureaucracy designed to administer territory within an absolutist political framework. While he acknowledges that the modern German Reich could be seen as an administered territorial state, consisting of a state apparatus that is an important tool of political order, and presenting all the dangers of a possible statism—a special irony, one might say, given how often the Third Reich has been seen as an example of statism rather than conventional nationalism—Brunner insists that the modern Reich should still be understood instead as an "alliance state" like that of medieval Austria, where the people and not the state are the true bearers of the Reich. Brunner's anti-statism, and his conception of the Relch as an alliance" of peoples resistant to an institutional state bureaucracy, are also what definitively separates his work from the Hegelian conception of the state as the unified, rational/dialectical representation of the eternal spirit of a people, a conception that had its fullest flowering in I. G. Fichte's influential Addresses to the German Nation (1808). Brunner's rejection of this Hegelian unfolding of spirit Into state is of a piece with his rejection of the nineteenth-century consolidation of liberal, capitalist Germany itself. The shift from alliance state to Institutional territorial state is the great historical drama of Brunner's research, one that involves a shift
Page 99 lies near the end of my chapter on the Austrian historian, Otto Brunner. Largely forgotten today outside academic circles, Brunner became an enthusiastic Nazi and supporter of the Anschluss (the 1938 unification of Germany and Austria). His major book, Land and Lordship in Southeast Germany (1939), was a sophisticated historical justification of the Nazi ideal summed up by the phrase Blut und Boden—blood and soil. Brunner’s argument was that the nation-state which eventually came to dominate European political organization was antithetical to the German spirit. Denying the appropriateness for Germany of sovereignty vested in princes, monarchs and finally republics, Brunner claimed that the German nation was essentially rooted in the Volksgemeinschaft—the people’s community. And this community should be guided only by “the good old law” (as in the Old Testament and tribal custom), derived from an innate bond between the German people and their native land. Page 99 summarizes Brunner’s sense that the modern liberal state (the “administered territorial state”), which separated the state as a centralized bureaucracy from the private interests of society, as in the Weimar Republic, is thus inherently anti-German. Instead, he argued, the German spirit demanded an organic “alliance state” of the federated Germanic peoples, for whom no distinction between political state and private society existed.

My discussion of Brunner’s argument on page 99 is more technical than other parts of the book, and is thus somewhat atypical. But the finer details are necessary if we are to grasp the intellectual respectability of nativism in the 1930s—that is, the sense that “we” belong on “our” lands, while other peoples (such as Jews and Roma) do not. This point is central to my book as a whole, which argues that the modern age is less cosmopolitan than we like to think. My account is also an object lesson for our own moment, however, when natively belonging to a region, nation, or civilization has once again gained political respectability.
Learn more about Land and Literature in a Cosmopolitan Age at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue