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Thomas Mann

George Lukacs

The text below is an extract from Lukacs essay In Search of


Bourgeois Man, written in 1945 in honour of the seventieth birthday
of Thomas Mann. In it, Lukacs traces Manns development from
Buddenbrooks to the war-time Lotte in Weimar. His perspective is
the whole ulterior development of German history. After 1933, Lukacs
was haunted by the eclipse of German culture, which had been perhaps
the richest and most vital in Europe in the formative years of his youth,
and which had collapsed in barbarism. He returned to this theme again
and again. In Search of Bourgeois Man is a tribute to Mann for his
prescience and his resistance to fascism. Mann, who had often stayed
with Lukacs parents in Budapest before 1914, reported an early
encounter with Lukacs characteristically: I have met Lukacs personally. He once spent an hour in Vienna giving me his ideas. He was
right so long as he was talking. Even if afterwards I only remembered
an impression of an almost unbearable degree of abstractness . . .
More than thirty years later he wrote a direct testimonial to the
intelligence of the mature Lukacs: There is no doubt that this birthday
essay, In Search of Bourgeois Man was a sociological and psychological portrayal of my life and work grander in scale and manner
than anything I have ever yet received . . .
The essay opens with an examination of Buddenbrooks and Manns
work before 1914. The sections below follow.
This was the frame of mind in which Thomas Mann drifted into
the First World War. It was a frame of mind which reflected the
development of his country. He was, of course, in a dubious situation
philosophically speaking. When we look back on this period from
the vantage-point of the present we can see just how paradoxical a
situation it was. Manns fictional criticism of Prussianism reached its
peak at the very moment when the national crisis broke outand
when his personal and political attachment to the Prussian cause was
at its height. With the historians prophetic hindsight we are horrified
to see how little Thomas Mann followed his own literary development through to its logical conclusion at this period. How passionately he drew false conclusions from his own work!

Thomas Mann

But it is not sufficient to stare with platonic wonder at contradictions in a philosopher. We must try to understand the problem
sympathetically. This is not to defend Manns war writings. If, as
still happens in England and America, later works like The Magic
Mountain (1924) are interpreted in the light of the Reflections of an
Unpolitical Man (1918), the result is necessarily a reactionary caricature. We must realise that Manns political outburst in the First
World War was not simply a chance phase in his search for bourgeois
man; it must be understood as an inevitable stage in the disastrous
general development of modern German thought.
Up to this point we have followed the problematical elements in
Manns work as these were posed for their creator. But that was their
social basis? (not that Mann was aware of it at the time). Some
ten years after the First World War Mann gave an excellent description of the relationship between most of the major German thinkers
and their countrys political development. He was writing about
Richard Wagner and his participation in the revolutionary upheavals of 1848, which cost him twelve years of tortured exile and
which he later minimized and denied as much as he could. He repented of his heedless optimism and confused to the best of his
ability the fait accompli of Bismarcks Reich with the realisation of
his early dreams. This was the path of the German bourgeoisie itself,
from revolution to disillusionment, to pessimism and to a resigned,
power-protected, emotional solipsism.
This last attitude has a long history behind it, which is deeply
rooted in the miserable political development of Germany. I have to
touch on it here since it not only throws light on Mann himself but
also clarifies his relationship to the German middle class.
To summarize: apart from exceptional figures like Lessing, the
whole of German classical literature and philosophy grew up in an
atmosphere of power-protected emotional solipsism. No doubt
the semi-feudal absolutism of the petty principalities seemed
questionable to German thinkers and writers of the time; and often
they were sincerely opposed to it. But when Napoleons invasion
thrust real power onto the scene, power bent on transforming
political and social conditions, the best Germans were fiercely
divided. Goethe and Hegel opted for Napoleon and were prepared to
see the whole of Germany turned into something like the Confederation of the Rhine. The Phenomenology of Mind, completed at
the time of the Battle of Jena (1806), described the French Revolution
and the new bourgeois society it had created as the climax of modern
history and admonished the Germans that it would be their task to
create an ideological superstructure appropriate to the new conditions. This was power-protected solipsism with a vengeance. This
power meanwhile guaranteed those political and social reforms
which Napoleon was to introduce against the wishes of the princes
of the Confederation of the Rhine. (Some years later Hegel was to
call Napoleon the great constitutional lawyer of Paris).
There is no need to waste much time to-day pointing out the
Utopianism of these conceptions. Goethes ideas were very similar.

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It was clearly pure Utopianism to imagine that Napoleonic Frances


hegemony over Europe could be permanently stabilized, without
awakening a desire for freedom amongst these peoples whom its own
tyranny had purged of feudal dross and restored to national selfawareness. It was equally Utopian to imagine that Germany could
achieve the ideological leadership of this new world without even
trying to become politically independent herself.
Oddly enough, however, all this was no more unrealistic than
were the dreams of those honest Prussian reformers who for their
part hoped to achieve in their own country the positive gains of the
French Revolution simply by liberating Prussia from Napoleons
yoke, but without any upheavals in Germany herself. Their Utopianism extended to imagining that they could abolish the social foundations and political consequences of Prussian feudal absolutism
without removing the Junkers from power and without breaking down
the Hohenzollern absolutism. The inadequacy of this broken-backed
Utopianism was clearly demonstrated in the power-protected
solipsism of the Romanticism which emerged after Napoleons
defeat. One Utopia rivalled another in demonstrating that Germanys
philosophers were the rankest bystanders (or not very effective actors)
in the drama of the forging of their countrys destiny. This intellectual period continued up to the 1830 July Revolution in France.
A more realistic development set in from this date, but was cut short
by the tragedy of 1848 and the tragi-comedy of 1870. In 1848 the
Germans really did have the choice between freeing themselves
democratically and continuing in their old miserable political routine.
In 1870 the intellectuals capitulated once more to the growing power
of the Prussianized German Reich, a state created and developed
under the insignia of Reaction.
Thus the German intellectuals, as Mann rightly wrote of Wagner,
continued to live in a state of power-protected emotional
solipsism. But history does not repeat itself exactly; similarities are
more often formal than real. Hence we must distinguish between
Goethes power-protected solipsism in the time of Napoleon and
Thomas Manns in the period of Wilhelmine imperialism. In all
essential respects Goethes outlook was progressive; but it was
Manns fate to be born into the age of Decadence, which tinged
everything he did with pathos; he could only transcend this decadence by exaggerating its ultimate ethical consequences. Moreover,
Goethes reaction to Napoleons power involved no real obligation
to defend reactionary tendencies, which might have conflicted with
his better nature. But the outbreak of the First War turned the situation of Mann and the German middle class inside out: those whose
solipsistic lives had been protected by state power now had to take
up arms and actively defend with their philosophy the power which
protected them, i.e. reactionary Prussian-German imperialism.
Manns situation in the First War was paradoxical and close to
tragedy. As a great artist he too was bound to examine, in this
situation, the case of bourgeois man. He was bound to find the
heart of the matter in the spiritual sufferings of the middle class.

Thomas Mann

He was to make a thorough prognosis of the present contradictions


between what they were and what they thought they were. This
in itself was, to quote a judgment of Schillers on Goethe, such a
great and truly heroic idea, that even the greatest of geniuses might
be forgiven for making mistakes; all the more so, since his errors
were not subjective but arose from his passionate patriotism, partially
warped though this was by a miserable political heritage.
Thomas Mann was therefore quite right when, a few years later,
he characterised his wartime writings thus: (They were) intended as
a monument and (have), if I am not mistaken, become one. (They
are) a rearguard action fought in the grand mannerthe last and
latest rearguard action of the Romantic German middle class
traditionfought in the full knowledge that the battle was lost; a
battle not without nobility, therefore. Fought, even, with some
appreciation of the moral ambiguity and morbidity of feeling compassion for doomed institutions. But, unfortunately, underestimating
health and virtue out of feelings that were, alas, too aesthetic in
origin. Health and virtue I analysed and mocked at as the very
essence of the things I was really fighting shy of, politics,
democracy . . .
The passage is an accurate autobiographical commentary. To
place it correctly in the wider framework of German history, it must,
however, be studied as it was meant to befrom the standpoint of
Manns further development. It was only because his rearguard action
was followed by advance towards democracy that it can be called
not without nobility. If a writer to-day were to advocate desperate
defence of a hopelessly (and rightly) lost cause; if he were to cling to
a doomed past without believing in its right to prevail; then he
might well expect to be laughed at as the Don Quixote of an utterly
vapid code of chivalry.
But, what is worse, this would turn his chivalry into nihilistic
hypocrisy. One could then call this rearguard action a preparation
for the advance of a new-style reactionary Bourbonism. It would be
wilful destruction of new growth, a crucifying of civilization and
ethics in order to give a parasitic pseudo-existence to something
history had long buried. Compared with this, Manns noble farewell
address to his peoples more than problematical past was a real
farewell. It indicated departure along a new road, the road to
democracy.
Manns conversion to democracy during the post-war years was
the outcome of a great national crisis. It was a decisive turning
point, moreover, in his personal development. Yetthough this
may astonish the superficial observerit was what one might have
expected, given the inner logic of his previous development. The
new development placed him (and us) in a fresh situation vis-a-vis
that Bourgeois Man we are seeking.
The sole difference between the Thomas Mann of this period and
the best of his fellow-Germans lay in his deeper feeling for, and
capacity to work out more logically, the problems they all shared.
Intellectually and morally, however, he was made of the same stuff

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as they were: even the most outlandish and sharply etched of his
characters had therefore a familiar quality which his fellow-Germans
could also savour. When Mann placed his early work by citing the
names of Platen, Storm and Nietzsche, he characterised this remarkable situation with great precision. It was a body of work which
was exceptional in its strict logicality of form and content. Yet though
it far surpasses any other contemporary work, it is still engendered
and nourished by the best and worst of his time.
The relationship between Mann and the German middle-class
altered radically after his post-war philosophical, ethical and political
change of heart. The German middle-class now pursued a path which
diverged radically from the writers. The one idea that the Germans
salvaged from the collapse of their first attempt at world domination
was front-line experiencethe hope of achieving, another time,
with improved methods, what had failed this time. One method
was to be a thorough-going settling of accounts with democracy.
Thomas Mann, for his part, however, not only broke completely
and wholeheartedly with German imperialism; he also understood
perfectly the importance of democracy for the future rebirth of
Deutschtum (no matter how much he had spurned democracy
during the War as un-German). Further he at last grasped the
connection between the ideological and emotional vagaries of
Decadence and previous German political development. The struggle
for democracy was now transformed into a struggle against decadence. This is the paradoxical continuation, the fruitful contradiction,
of his wartime confessions. For the book had defended, as well as
the German war-effort, Decadence, the fascination with disease and
decay, with night and with death. But Thomas Manns defence
became so deeply enmeshed in the bewildering tangle of pros and
cons that, at the end of his frenzied attempt to justify German
Decadence, his own experience in 1918 convinced him that he was
utterly wrong.
This turn of events brought education into the forefront of Manns
writing. But, before we consider this development, we have to ask
whether this did not also mean the end of his ruling passion, his
peculiar genius, the anti-Utopian nature of his talent? Yes and no.
And rather more no than yes. For the mature Thomas Mann became
an educator sui generis, not simply by virtue of the ironical reservations in his narrative technique and the delicate good humour of his
story-telling. Though these were typical of his ease of mind, they
connect at a deeper level with his vital aims. He was not an educator
in the sense of imposing some lesson (albeit one thoroughly mastered)
on his students. He was an educator in the sense of Platos anamnesis:
the student himself is liberated to discover the new idea in himself,
so that it is he himself who brings it to life.
Having become the educator of his people, Thomas Mann was
now willing and able to look for Bourgeois Man at even deeper
levels. His search had now found a concrete incentive: he was looking
for the spirit of democracy in the mind of the German citizen. He
sought for hints and signs of this new idea in order to awaken and

Thomas Mann

foster it through exemplary fictionsalthough such exemplary


fictions were not new to Germany. He wished his fellow-countrymen
to discover them as their own experience of life. This gave his work
a purpose which it had always subconsciously had, but which Mann
had at last consciously realised.
This is more or less the reason why Mann the great writer stood
so alone under the Weimar Republic. The reforms of Stein and
Scharnhorst were not inspired by a popular movement in Prussia but
by Prussias defeat at the Battle of Jena. In the same way German
post-1918 democracy was not something striven and fought for, but
the initially unwelcome gift of a malevolent destiny. This newborn
and never very deep-rooted democracy had bitter enemies, some
time-serving hangers-on, but few real friends and supporters. These
last, for their part, mostly took things as they came and made no
efforts to find a precedent for democracy in German history, even
when they felt inspired to reappraise that history. In other words,
Thomas Manns isolated position under the Weimar democratic
system was precisely the result of his search for such a precedent.
As a literary educator he was looking for a maturing sense of
democracy sprung from a German ethos. This is why he was the
only German writer of this period for whom democracy became a
matter of Weltanschauung, and indeed a problem specifically for
German Weltanschauung.
Here the struggle for German democracy merges into a vast
philosophical background. It is the struggle of light and darkness, of
day and night, of health and sickness, of life and death. And Thomas
Mann, linked closely with Germanys past, realised very acutely
that he was here taking up the cudgels in an age-old German battle
of ideas. We need only go back to Goethes attitude to the
Romantics: Classical I call what is healthy, Romantic what is sick,
said he; and he refused to acknowledge Kleist, calling him a body
which Nature intended well but which has been wasted by an
incurable disease. When in The Magic Mountain the spokesman of
the reactionary, fascist, anti-democratic Weltanschauung, the Jesuit
Naphta, exposes his ideas, he does so almost in the words of Novalis:
Sickness was something very human, Naphta immediately replied;
to be human implied being sick. Indeed Man was essentially a sick
creature; it was his being sick which made him human. If you tried
to cure him, inciting him to make peace with Nature, to return to
Nature (actually he never had been natural) . . . your Rousseaus
would achieve nothing but a kind of dehumanising, animalising
effect. . . . In the mind, therefore, and in sickness lie Mans dignity
and superiority. To put it bluntly, Man was the more himself, the
sicker he was; the afflatus of sickness was more human than the
afflatus of health.
This marks a decisive change in Thomas Manns Weltanschauung.
He firmly took up his defence of democracy against the specifically
German Decadence, which arose out of the reactionary social backwardness of the country. Though the literary means which he used
to suggest his new awareness are both subtle and intelligent, he still

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however failed as a thinker to realise that, objectively, his new stage


of development represented a break with the teachers of his youth,
with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Naturally he could see the existence
of this kind of connection. He was, for example, perfectly correct
in his judgment of Hamsun: My great colleague, Knut Hamsun,
for example, in Norway, although already an old man, is an ardent
fascist. He makes propaganda for this party in his own country and
has not been ashamed publicly to jeer at a world-famous victim of
German fascism, the pacifist Ossietzky. This is of course not the
behaviour of an old man who has stayed young in heart. It is the
behaviour of a writer of the 1870 generation whose critical literary
influences were Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche and who has stuck
without moving at the stage of revolt against liberalism, not
understanding what is happening to-day and not realising that he
is besmirching his genius by his politicalor rather his human
behaviour.
Despite such insights Thomas Mann still wanted to preserve
Nietzsche for the world of democratic ideas.
But in his creative work Mann was much more clear-sighted. The
important novel The Magic Mountain is devoted to the ethical
struggle between life and death, health and sickness, reaction and
democracy. With his usual touch of genius in the invention of
symbols, Mann removed these conflicts to a Swiss luxury sanatorium.
Sickness and health and their physical and moral consequences in
such surroundings are no longer abstract theories; they are not mere
symbols. They grow organically out of physical, mental and
ethical living. For superficial contemporary readers when the novel
first appeared, the richly painted and fascinating tableau of the
physical existence of the sick might indeed have obscured the deeper
problems of politics and Weltanschauungbut only in the first
instance.
Looking more closely at the novel, it is plain that this milieu
was an ideal literary device for illuminating all sides of the theoretical
arguments. The remoteness of life in the sanatorium has, too, another
even more important artistic function. In details of character Mann
has always invented relatively little, like most really important
epic writers. He has an infallible instinct for plots and surroundings,
which set off the problems he examines in the clearest and most
meaningful way, with the greatest emotional impact and the profoundest irony. This makes his work a delightful mixture of invented or half-invented overall design and earthy detail (which can
even be traced back to its real-life source).
Thomas Mann was continuing in this sense the work of Chamissos
Peter Schlemihl, E. T. A. Hoffman and Gottfried Keller, but in his
own idiosyncratic way and not as their direct imitator. We describe
everyday events, he once said, but these everyday events become
odd if they are built up on odd foundations. Such a half-fantastic
background produced the miniature court in Royal Highness, designed to illustrate the problems of a code of behaviour, and it
produced the sanatorium in The Magic Mountain in the same way.

Thomas Mann

The characters in the sanatorium are out of school. They have


been torn away from their everyday cares, their normal struggle for
existence. Their everyday cares have already moulded them,
spiritually and ethically. But in this milieu they become beings who
can express themselves with perfect freedom and without embarrassment; they become unnaturally clearsighted about the deepest
philosophical problems. This gives us a quite unusually percipient
picture of the contemporary bourgeois, caricatured in places and at
times slipping over tantalisingly into fantasy. Yet the final effect is,
in actual fact, profoundly realistic. The moral emptiness and ethical
unscrupulousness of the bourgeois is displayed before our eyes,
expanding at times into entirely grotesque forms. At the same time,
however, the better characters gradually become aware of those sides
of their nature which their everyday life in the capitalist world
would never have given them time to recognise.
This is the basis for the educational-novel aspect of The Magic
Mountain, which is the story of the education of an average pre-war
German, Hans Castorp. Its main intellectual theme is the symbolic
duel between the representatives of light and darkness, between the
Italian humanist democrat Settembrini and the Jesuit-educated Jew,
Naphta, spokesman of a catholicising, pre-fascist ideology. These
two wage war for the soul of an average German bourgeois.
It is impossible in this small compass even to hint at the richness
of these duels, which take place on intellectual as well as on human,
ethical and political, moral and philosophical levels. It is enough to
say that the intellectual duel ends in a draw. After all his spiritual
struggles to battle through to political and philosophical clarity,
Castorp is swallowed up by the tawdry and mindless everyday life of
the Magic Mountain. For the holiday which is made possible by
abandoning material cares has two sides to it. It allows greater intellectual elevation, but it also allows the inmates to sink by degrees into
cultivation of the animal instinctsto a greater extent than is
possible in the everyday world down below. In the rarified air of
this half-fantastic milieu, people do not gain new and greater
powers. The powers they do have simply develop very much more
thoroughly. Objectively the scope for their innate abilities does not
become any greater. But we see themthough in a natural, unartificial wayas through a magnifying glass. It is true that Castorp
saves himself in the end from complete engulfment into passive
meditation by joining the German army in August, 1914. But from
the standpoint of the dilemma of the German intellectual and of the
German middle class, of all those who could reach no final satisfaction within their power-protected solipsism, participation in
the war in word and deed was, as Ernst Bloch once trenchantly
put it, just one more monstrous holiday.
Though Thomas Mann was strict in his criticisms of antidemocratic ideas, he was justifiably sceptical of the way his books
presented the efficacy of his newly-discovered view of the ethos
of the German burgher. So he returned to these two themes and
depicted them in even stronger colours, in the Novelle Mario and

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the Magician (1929). In between, in Disorder and Early Sorrow (1926),


he had given a deliberately ironical picture of the melancholy preoccupation with death of a typical bourgeois intellectual of the prewar vintage, who feels himself completely deserted under the Weimar
Republic so far as ideas and morals are concerned, although he has a
glimmering of an idea that his own behaviour actually does leave a
great deal to be desired. He knows, Mann wrote about this hero,
Professor Cornelius, that professors of history do not like history
in so far as it deals with real events but in so far as it deals with
events rolling by. They hate the contemporary upheaval because
they feel it to be lawless, unconnected and irregularin a nutshell
unhistorical. What they love is the past which is safely dead, connected and historical. . . . What is past is immortalised, i.e. it is
dead. And death is the source of all piety, of all the instincts of
preservation.
In Mario, written in Weimar times and setby no means accidentallyin Italy, we are already dealing with fascisms tactical use
of the masses, with mass-suggestion and hypnosis. To befog the
intellect and break the will is the philosophy of militant reaction,
once it leaves the libraries and the bohemian cafes and goes out on to
the streets, when Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are succeeded by
Hitler and Rosenberg. Again Thomas Manns genius for finding
symbols gives fine literary shape to this new stage. He invents a plot
which displays with subtle touches of graded colour and in very
varied ways the helplessness of the German middle class faced by the
hypnotic power of fascism.
A gentleman from Rome provides one striking example. He
refuses to submit to the magicians suggestive invitation to dance,
only to succumb after a tough but short resistance. In this pointed
comment Mann sums up his defeat: As I understand what
happened, the gentleman was beaten because he took up a posture
for the struggle which was too negative. It would seem that the mind
cannot live by not wanting to do something. It is not sufficient in the
long run not to want to do something. Indeed there is, perhaps, such
an uncomfortable closeness between the ideas of not wanting to do
something and of not wanting to be bothered to make any longer the
effort of wanting not to do it, i.e. being prepared to do what one is
told, that between the two the idea of freedom is gravely endangered . . . The defencelessness of those German bourgeois who
did not want Hitler, but who obeyed him for over a decade without
demur has never been better described. What then was the reason for
this defencelessness?
One one occasion Hans Castorp tells Settembrini, the democrat,
You are frankly a windbag and a barrel-organ man, but you do
mean well. You are straighter, and I like you more, than that beastly
little Jesuit terrorist, the little Torquemada with his flashing glasses,
even though he does nearly always get the better of you when you
argue . . . when you play out your exemplary battles for my miserable
soullike God and Satan fighting for the human race in the Middle
Ages . . . Why can Naphta beat Settembrini in argument? This

Thomas Mann

question is very plainly answered in the novel. At one stage, when


Castorp is ill, he has an interesting conversation with his democratic
tutor about the capitalist world down there. Castorp sums up his
own disillusioned ethical experience in the words, You have to be
rich down there . . . Woe betide you if you are not rich or cease to be
rich . . . This fact has often struck me unpleasantly, as I now see,
although it is my world and although I never personally suffered in
that respect . . . What were the expressions you usedtough? And
quick on the mark and energetic. All right. But what do they
really mean? They mean hard and cold. And what do hard and cold
mean? They mean cruel. The air down there is cruel. It is inexorable.
When I lie here and look at it from a distance I get the shudders.
But Settembrini calls this sentimental nonsense, the kind of thing a
sensible man leaves to intellectual weaklings. He, for his part, is a
herald of progress without qualification. He has not a trace of selfcriticism and no reservations. This is whyalthough he has no personal stake in ithe is such an uncritical booster of the capitalist
system. And so he has no really effective intellectual weapons with
which to fight Naphtas anti-capitalist demagogy.
Such is the way in which Thomas Mann brings out the basic
weakness of hum-drum, modern bourgeois democratic thinking
as compared with the demagogic appeal of reactionary anticapitalism. This also throws light on Castorps own indecision and
his unwillingness to act. In his case, we have here the equivalent of
the purely negative position demonstrated in the unavailing resistance of the gentleman from Rome.
Thomas Mann also shows us the inner social workings of the neoGerman middle-class mind when he describes the hero of The Magic
Mountain. He has this to say about Hans Castorp: Man does not
only live a personal life as an isolated individual; whether he is
conscious of it or not, he also lives the life of his epoch and his
contemporaries. He does this even if he looks on the general and
impersonal foundations of his existence as immutable and selfevident. But even if he is as far from any thought of criticising them as
poor Hans Castorp was, it is very likely that he will feel his moral
rectitude vaguely tarnished by their faults. Individuals usually have
only vague personal aims, hopes and prospects floating round their
minds. But these do affect them sufficiently to stir them to make
violent efforts and to be extremely active, even if the impersonal
world around them, their own time (which, despite its busy rushing
about, does not encourage hopes or ambitions) whispers secretly to
them that it is all hopeless, planless and helpless, and presents only
a mocking silence when asked (consciously or subconsciously), as it
always is, to state the ultimate supra-personal meaning of all this
activity. The people who are paralysed by this confusion are invariably the most honest people. The pointlessness starts by numbing
the mind and the moral sense and goes on until it strikes at the very
physical organism. If a man is to be ready to do more than he is
asked to do, even though his age give him no satisfactory answer to
his what for?, he must either have a rare degree of spiritual isolation

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and a rare reserve of strengthor he must possess enormous animal


spirits. Hans Castorp had none of these and so he was what you would
call mediocre. But he was, of course, mediocre only in the most
honourable sense of the term.
In the novelthe quotation occurs quite early and describes
Castorp at the stage when he is developing from his student days into
becoming an engineerthis mediocrity caused by lack of obviously
positive aims may very well be defined in the most honourable
sense, though even here Mann reveals a trace of irony. For when the
Castorp type is confronted by questions of national destiny, his
reactions must be judged, not in themselves, but according to their
adequacy in dealing with the situation, which in itself is constantly
changing. Honourable mediocrity is all very well; it is possible to
respect the fact that Castorp cannot summon up sufficient enthusiasm
to be publicly active, and to admire his being drawn to Settembrini
(even though he is still powerless to defend himself intellectually
against Naphta). But this is, from the point of view of German
history, guilt. For, though the gentleman from Rome was honest
in his attempt to fight for the dignity of the human race, he
was still beaten. He joined the other Saturnalian dancers whose wills
had been benumbed, and danced to the piping of the fascist hypnotist.
And in real life this wild dance came within an ace of becoming the
dance of death for the whole of civilisation.
If, therefore, Thomas Mann had really found his German burgher
in Professor Cornelius, Hans Castorp or the gentleman from Rome,
or rather, if his search had stopped with his successful and
masterly portrayal of that German bourgeois who let himself be
swallowed up by Hitlerism, the outcome of his work would have
been the deepest pessimism ever to permeate the work of a German
writer. For this German bourgeois, this gentle creature, fellowtravelled throughout Hitlers unscrupluous and aggressive wars;
he plundered and raided like the others, even though to himself he
behaved the whole time as though he were merely doing his duty as
an honest soldier.
But Mann was not content with this portrait. During the bad
years of Hitlers tyranny, in the time of the descent into fascism
of the German people, he wrote his great historical story, Lotte in
Weimar (1939). Here he created a figure of the highest rank and
brought to life again the best in the way of progressive thought that
the German middle class ever produced. This was the mighty figure
of Goethe, the Gulliver in Lilliputian Weimar, the man striving for a
self-perfection in the fields of intellectual, artistic and moral endeavour which, though perpetually menaced, he stubbornly and
persistently defended.
German writers and scholars had tried for decades to twist Goethe
into becoming an accomplice of their fashionable obscurantism.
Mann now cleaned the reactionary varnish from this portrait. Whilst
the German bourgeoisie allowed itself to be dragged down to the
very depths, whilst it was bathed in the bloodstained swamps of a
drunken barbarism, Mann raised aloft an image of its unrealised

Thomas Mann

potentialities. He lovingly depicted a humanism which, for all its


questionable elements, was both genuine and forward-looking.
This was a considerable achievement, one worthy of our gratitude
and respect. It served indeed to defend Germanys honour at a
time when the Germans were engaged in giving themselves the most
horribly humiliating of characters. Yet the Goethe-novel was more
than a monumental lullaby designed to soothe a frenzied people
intent on immolating itself in the abyss of fascism. It returned to the
past in order to give promise for the future. By re-creating the best
the German middle-class mind had yet achieved, Mann wished to
rekindle possibilities buried in the debris, lost and overgrown. Manns
novel was rilled with a primal moral optimism which urged his
fellow-countrymen to remember that what was possible once could
always be done again.