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The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp.

133147, 2005

Enemy of the People: Simmel, Ibsen, and the Civic Legacy of Nietzschean Sociology
Ralph Leck

Abstract The fall of Communism continued an ongoing weakening of Marxist ideology, which had been hegemonic among the European Left since the Great War. While the decline of Marxist thought can be justly seen negatively as the historical correlative of globalization, this decline has also produced cultural space for a re-evaluation of non-Marxist critiques of capitalist civilization. One example of a powerful non-Marxist critique of capitalist civilization is Georg Simmels sociology of money culture. Before turning to Simmels radical critique, this essay explains how Simmel came to be viewed as a conservative. Simmels presumed conservatism is challenged via a re-examination of the civic implications of his Nietzschean sociology. A central question is whether Simmels ethical individualism is conservative. This question is finally answered through an analysis of Ibsens Enemy of the People. The choice of Ibsen is not random, for it amplifies the close ethical and historical affinity of Naturalist drama and Simmels philosophy.

I. Introduction
In Germany today, Georg Simmel is widely remembered as a political and cultural conservative. This perception is remarkable, because it distorts Simmels cultural reputation within Wihelmine society. Among the cultural avant-garde, he was seen as the greatest cultural critic of bourgeois conservatism. He was the primary disseminator and intellectual sponsor of Nietzschean philosophy, and his Philosophy of Money was referenced by Max Weber as a foundational sociological critique of capitalist culture.1 Indeed, many of his intellectual progeny became prominent left-wing critics. His students included Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Kurt Hiller, and Georg Lukacs. In addition, he made important contributions to German feminism, and his philosophy was cited by literary Expressionists as the philosophical inspiration for their iconoclastic movement.2 Why, then, is Simmel largely perceived as a conservative enemy of the people? The first part of this essay provides an interpretive answer to this question. Particularly important is the transformation of Simmels legacy in the context of the Great War and the Russian Revolution. The second part of this essay seeks to redress the perception of Simmel as a cultural conservative by recounting the legacy of his

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ISSN 10848770 print/ISSN 14701316 online/05/0313315 2005 International Society for the Study of European Ideas DOI: 10.1080/10848770500084747


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negative sociology. The neologism negative sociology here refers to the Nietzschean underpinnings of Simmels sociology of modernity. It will be demonstrated that his sponsorship of Nietzschean individualism contributed to his academic identity as a conservative. The third section of this essay undertakes an analysis of Henrik Ibsens drama An Enemy of the People. This analysis serves several purposes. First, it amplifies Simmels interpretation of Naturalism as a sociological aesthetics.3 Second, it connects Simmel to the culture and aesthetics of Naturalist drama. Naturalism, with its simultaneous emphasis on civic responsibility and individual freedom from convention, not only influenced Simmel; its rebelliousness and ethical individualism symbolize his philosophy of life. More specifically, An Enemy of the People dramatizes the civic validity of Nietzschean individualism and demonstrates the relevance of ethical elitism within a capitalist democracy. In so doing, An Enemy of the People provides a trial case for Simmels negative sociology. It metaphorizes the nodal extremes of Simmels critical sociology: critical individualism as a rejection of convention, on the one hand, and the social connectivity of civic responsibility, on the other.

II. Simmels Conservatism and the Great W ar

Prior to the Great War, Simmel was widely recognized by the cultural vanguard as Wilhelmine Germanys most trenchant cultural critic. Two events would radically alter his legacy: (1) his public support for the Great War; and (2) the cultural hegemony of Marxism after the Russian and German Revolutions. After August 1914, ones decision to support or oppose the Great War became a decisive political marker. Simmels public lectures and publications in support of the war recast his political reputation. Although his conservatism was short livedby 1918 he had renounced national ethnocentrism and was supporting the fight against bourgeois conservatism4it was real and decisive for his legacy. Several of his wartime essays foster and affirm chauvinistic nationalism. In his wartime text, The Idea of Europe, Simmel criticizes cosmopolitanism and internationalism.5 These were code words for French culture and socialism respectively. The cultural enemies of cosmopolitanism and internationalism were contrasted to Simmels affirmation of the true deep roots of the German soul and the reawakened voice of (German) blood.6 The conservative inflection of Simmels pro-war pronouncements recalls nothing so much as Thomas Manns brilliant, if reactionary, wartime defense of German militarism. In Reflections of an Unpolitical Man, Manns politics, like Simmels, turn out to be a form of cultural imperialism. In fact, Mann cites none other than Georg Simmel in arguing that German culture must define any future world culture.7 Manns and Simmels conceptions of a post-war future Europe turn out to be nothing other than a Europe under the hegemony of German culture. A generous reading of Simmels wartime politics would point out that his conception of nationalism contained an immanent vision of a transnational Europe. This certainly was the goal of his essay, The Idea of Europe, wherein he argues that German culture transcends nationalism and points toward a European identity. One could interpret this conception of nationalism as an instance of what Ernst Bloch called the occupation of the irrational.8 Was Simmel occupying the spirit of German nationalism

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for the purposes of a peaceful future Europe? Certainly, Simmels theorization of a European, as opposed to a narrowly German, identity was unusual among pro-war intellectuals. His reflections upon German nationalism as an immanent supranationalism may have been a desperate attempt to salvage some larger conception of an international Europe. At a minimum, his reflections upon a future Europe distinguish his brand of nationalism from more militant, parochial forms. Simmels pro-war nationalism, then, was politically progressive in one very important sense. Even in his earliest expressions of support for the war, he lamented the insanity and senseless destruction of the conflagration.9 In response to the war, he sought to avoid future conflagrations by demanding that the authorizing agents of warcultural identities and nationalist sentimentscontain a form of immanent transcendence.10 This generous reading of Simmels pro-war politics reverses certain sociological and cultural realities. We must say forthrightly that it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any form of cultural ethnocentrism, and especially not an essentialist nationalism, as a mindful foundation for peaceful coexistence and cooperation between European nations. The best contemporary example of this impossibility is, of course, the present foreign policy of the United States of America and its disregard for numerous international agencies and treaties. No variant of a nationalistic reawakening of the voice of bloodnot even one that claims to immanently exceed itselfwould prepare European soils for a flowering of peace and cooperation.11 Cultural ethnocentrism and bio-political conceptions of a blood-state are a contradictory foundation for international dialogue. In this regard, I am inclined to interpret Simmels Idee Europa as a performative contradiction. Its conservative, ethnocentric presuppositions preclude the establishment of a peaceful, multinational Europe. The ambiguity of Simmels pro-war politicsfor instance, that his support for the war was understood as a renunciation of capitalist mammonism12is, to a great extent, beside the point. Scholars of the culture of the Great War must not reify pro-war thought and assume that all pro-war intellectuals assigned an identical meaning to their support for the war. However, such distinctions were largely irrelevant in the context of war. This was especially true for those brave few who opposed the war. Young critical intellectuals and former students of Simmelespecially Ernst Bloch, Kurt Hiller, and Georg Lukacs were shocked by his political conservatism. Bloch, who had studied with Simmel in Berlin, attended one of Simmels pro-war public lectures in 1914. Thereafter Bloch was compelled to compose a letter that he never sent to Simmel: You have avoided the Truth your whole life long, because you have seen it. Now you locate the Absolute in the trenches. No, not that!13 Lukacs retrospective political analysis of Simmels philosophy was even more scathing. He associated Simmels philosophical legacy with egoism, irrationality, and political reaction.14 This political ascription is highly problematic. Simmels close connection to the avant-garde (Naturalism and literary Expressionism), affirmation of feminism, and critique of capitalist mammonism are consistent with his self-conception as a critic of bourgeois conservatism.15 How, then, does Lukacs recalibrate Simmel as a cultural conservative? In part, Lukacs political conclusions follow from his Marxist shibboleths. However, the cultural hegemony of Marxism in Europe after the Great War is only part of the story. Simmels public support for the war was also crucial. Imagine, if you will, the hypothetical reaction of left-wing activists in the USA to the prospect of Noam Chomsky giving public lectures in favor of


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the recent US imperialist war on Iraq, and you will get some sense of the confusion and disappointment felt by Simmels radical, anti-war pupils. Simmels support for the war not only altered his reputation; the war also radically transformed the inflection of Simmels civic philosophy. According to Simmel, a sociological understanding of total war reveals a heightened mindfulness of civic connectedness. This is the positive consequence of war culture. For example, Germanys Inner Transformation, a lecture Simmel delivered in Strasbourg in November 1914, emphasized the degree to which war culture had raised cultural decisions to the level of life and death matters.16 He describes the culture of war as a context wherein one has only one existence; therein the most individual and the most social aspects of life interpenetrate and accomplish a living unity.17 This construction is both prescriptive and, as we shall see, highly conservative. Prior to the Great War, Simmels philosophy of life presumed a tragic tension between the individual and society. In fact, the distance between the individual and traditional values was prescribed and fostered by Simmels existential sociology. The basic logic of Simmels negative sociology was this: individual free will required the sociological study of social norms and structures. Only a thorough understanding of social determinism would facilitate the creation of new civic values. Simmels philosophy, then, was premised on a Nietzschean rejection of herd mentalities. Simply put, Simmel prescribed the critical disunity of the individual and society. In the context of war, Simmels proposition of a life unity of the individual and society assumed a thoroughly different and demonstrably more conservative meaning. A philosophy of life that prescribes the rejection of naturalized traditions, the creation of ones own individual values, and the praxis intended to institutionalize this new critical vision is quite different from the oppressive demand that individuals sacrifice their critical faculties and affirm the collective culture of war. We might say that these are diametrically opposed visions of the unity of self and society. In the culture of the Great War, Simmel initially embraced an oppressive rendering of this prescribed unity. The inner transformation (of German consciousness resulting from the outbreak of the war) attaches itself at first to a new emotional connection between the individual and the whole nation.18 Simmel embraced this conservative political feeling and called on others to do the same. Conversely, Simmels radical students sought to detach the civic intensity of wartime consciousness from the nefarious tendency of the human mind to glorify blind obedience and traditions that authorize war. They wanted to ensure that the spirit of civic responsibility did not place itself at the service of the basest human passionsavarice, the desire for domination, dogmatic prejudice, and the sanctification of war. From their perspective, Simmel had become a shill in the service of chauvinistic nationalism and the authoritarian destruction of critical reason. In addition to Simmels pro-war politics, the Russian and German Revolutions dramatically reshaped the way his radical contemporaries understood and experienced his legacy. Marxism became the master code of left-wing cultural critics. This had not been the case prior to 1917. Simmel and Weber gained towering reputations among the academic left due to their critical sociological accounts of capitalist culture in the Philosophy of Money and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism respectively.19 The sociology of Simmel and Weber provided sophisticated cultural accounts of capitalism. This cultural sociology possessed an anti-bourgeois ethical content. However, Simmel and Weber consciously distinguished their anti-bourgeois sociologies from

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Marxism and socialist politics. This dissociation was a cultural requirement of academic life in Wilhelmine Germany. It was also an asset. It enabled Weber and Simmel to gain reputations as forceful cultural critics without alienating the elitist sensibilities of faculty and students who came disproportionately from bourgeois and upper bourgeois backgrounds. Simply put, the university system was characterized by class hierarchy and cultural elitism and therefore was distant from proletarian realities. Nonetheless, many radical students seized upon the cultural critique of bourgeois society that was present in early German sociology. Indeed, Simmels simultaneous sponsorship of Nietzschean philosophy held a special appeal. By embracing Nietzsches conception of a moral aristocracy, one positioned oneself (1) as a moral critic of bourgeois prudery and materialism, and (2) as a member of an ethical aristocracy that was more meritorious than the traditional aristocracy of blue blood. Simmels anti-bourgeois Nietzschean sociology held a special elitist appeal for radical bourgeois students who aspired to become the future vanguard of cultural critique. After the Great War, however, early sociology, and especially the Geisteswissenschaft of Dilthey and Simmel, became discredited. Students who had admired Simmel before the warBenjamin, Bloch, Hiller, and Lukacsall became self-identified Marxists or closely allied with Marxists during or after the Great War. Generally, the Russian Revolution pulled these social critics into a left-wing political orbit whose cultural gravity was Marxist politics and philosophy. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, all systems of thoughteven anti-bourgeois ones like Simmels philosophy of lifethat lacked an articulate link to proletarian politics and support for socialism were often denoted by Marxists as reactionary. In essence, the very characteristics (radical individualism and distance from Marxist variants of anti-bourgeois thought) which made Simmels anti bourgeois philosophy appealing before the Russian Revolution made it appear passe and reactionary after 1917. For example, Hiller was the most Nietzschean and least Marxist of this group. During the Weimar Republic, he nonetheless worked closely with the communist Richard Linsert and socialist Magnus Hirschfeld at Berlins Institute for Sexual Science. Simmel died in 1918 and Weber in 1920. Their passing was not only literal but symbolic. The cultural separation of anti-bourgeois sociology and socialist politics expired with them.

III. Negative Sociology and the Legacy of Aristocratic Morality

The foundational premise of Simmels Nietzschean sociology bears an elective affinity with Socratic thought. For Socrates, the Good was not synonymous with a mindless affirmation of tradition. One arrived at the Good through a critical dialogue with traditional religious and civic dogmas. In other words, the revelation of the Good requires the rational individual to assert a civic right and responsibility to evaluate tradition. Simmel came to very similar conclusions through his affirmation and sponsorship of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Like Socrates, the Nietzschean Simmel maintained that ethics were incompatible with the uncritical acceptance of traditional values. Slave morality, as Nietzsche called it, was a case of traditional thought thinking individuals. Such individuals very likely feel as though they are making independent ethical decisions, but, in fact, their decisions are directed by the mental force of authoritative doctrines.


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Simmels philosophical sociology rested on a critique of tradition. In Soziologie, for instance, he analyzed the living objectivity of the society and how supra-subjective powers establish a norm for the individual; he concludes: all of intellectual history shows the extent to which the intellect of the individual fills . . . the contents of its notions of truth with traditional, authoritative points of view that are accepted by everyone. Connected to this habituated acceptance of traditional authorities is the removal of any sense of responsibility; this removal is remuneration for the individuals loss of (ethical) autonomy.20 Ultimately, Simmels civic philosophylike that of Socratesderives from an argument about civic responsibility and free will. Parrot-like repetition of traditional norms is not so much immoral as an amoral renunciation of free will and civic responsibility. But Simmels civic philosophy rejected Socrates presupposition that a dialogical engagement with tradition would produce a rational, universal ethics. Simmel maintained that the aristocratic project of creating ethical form would not produce a universal Truth but multiple, incompatible modes of ethical existence. If, as Kant argues in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, the a priori of ethics is free will, then for Simmel ethical free will is impossible in the absence of a rigorous sociological analysis of tradition.21 In order to acquire the mental autonomy required to give ethical form to oneself, one must first deracinate and make conscious those portions of the self that are constituted by unconscious obedience to traditional authority.
Present man should be overcome; this is one of humanitys fundamental desires. In our deepest recesses lives hostility to all of the actuality of our existence. This hostility more or less clearly calls us to struggle against ourselves, and this struggle gives rise to an ideal whose hue is generally negative.22

This ruthless negation of reified traditional values, Simmel maintained, was the necessary precondition for social responsibility. It was the means to advance humanity beyond its present institutional configurations and rigid habits of mind.
The Nietzschean ideal (of aristocratic morality) is connected to . . . the feeling of responsibility as an integrated, absolute, and essential ingredient . . . No one would have been more enraged than Nietzsche by the misuse of his concept of the superman, which transforms his liberation from altruistic-democratic and deferential morality into a right to libertine pleasures, rather than understanding Nietzsches morality as a duty to tread a new path towards an objectively higher level of humanity.23

This is an elitist philosophy in that it assumes that the progress of humanity rests not with proletarian agency or democratic institutions but evolves through the iconoclasm of societys most progressive individuals. Again, it is important to note the dialectical relationship between negative sociology and civics. In Simmelian thought, a ruthless critique of traditional values was not anti-social or selfish. It was a precondition of enlightened, free thought and ethical action. This is the spirit in which Simmels sociology should be engaged. However, this was not the spirit in which his thought was received by his academic colleagues. The ruthless denaturalization of conventionespecially capitalist ideology and Christian theologyis not a neutral practice. It is a threat to traditional hierarchies and conservative cultural codes. Not surprisingly, then, the practice of critical sociology

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had a tremendous impact on Simmels career and legacy. In response to Simmels 1908 application for a professorial position at Heidelberg University, a university official, Dietrich Schaefer, stated that Simmels candidacy should be opposed because it contradicts our German, Christian, classical educational culture (Bildung).24 Dekan Hampe, a government official in Karlsruhe, likewise noted that Simmels candidacy was hindered by the fact that he did not appear to possess a sufficient belief in the Bible.25 Simmels inability to land a professorial position in Heidelberg should not be seen as tragic but heroic and prescriptive. Like Socrates, he was placed on trial by the forces of conservatism and found guilty of corrupting the youth of his era. Simmel should be feted not pitied, because his rejection by the priests of academia was a symbol of his success as a social critic. (Furthermore, retrospective pity for Simmel would be counterproductive and anti-Simmelian. It would simply relieve us of a painful act of self-critique: have we been welcomed into the bourgeois church of academia, because we, unlike Simmel, pose no threat to the forces of cultural conservatism?) Most importantly, we must recognize that it was not the absence of scholarly merit which prevented Simmel from receiving a professorial position for so long. Simmel was barred from the bourgeois church of academia because his social philosophy was, by design, a revolt against the bourgeois world.26 If Simmels secular analysis of culture made him appear as a radical to some university officials, it produced the opposite perception among his sociological colleagues. Two of his sociological contemporaries, Ferdinand Toennies and Wilhelm Dilthey, interpreted Simmel as a conservative. By asserting the relevance of Nietzschean philosophy, Simmels philosophy was an egotistical enemy of progressive politics and civic consciousness.27 This casting of Simmels thought is remarkable, because it demonstrates no awareness of Simmels civic interpretation of Nietzsche. Simmels basic refrain was that Nietzsches individualism is not the individualism of (economic) liberalism.28 Here, he is contrasting ethical individualism and the monetary individualism of capitalist society. This distinction, although prevalent in his thought, was lost on his critics. Now, I do not intend to defend Nietzschean philosophy from the intelligent and justified criticism of Toennies and Dilthey. Nietzsches disavowal of compassion and social equality are problematic for several reasons. On the other hand, Toennies and Dilthey did not understand the civic meaning that the sociological Simmel ascribed to Nietzsches aristocratic theory of values (Vornehmheitsideal ). While they tended to associate Nietzsches immorality with libertine individualism and crass self-interest, Simmel emphasized the positive civic meaning of negative sociology. Freedom from the traditional bearings of morality, was not synonymous with lawlessness; Nietzsches individualism, Simmel demanded, prescribes a higher social ideal.29

IV. Simmel, Immoral Enemy of the People

There can be no question as to the effect likely to be produced on the individual by his conversion from the ordinary acceptance of current ideals as safe standards of conduct, to the vigilant open-mindedness of Ibsen. It must at once greatly deepen the sense of moral responsibility. (George Bernard Shaw)30


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Several practical questions arise from Simmels Nietzschean sociology. If we accept the proposition that free will and civic responsibility require the transgression of uncritical traditions, we are left with a problem. How are the civic values of the moral vanguard realized positively in social institutions? Simmel asserts that the hope of the doctrine of (human) evolution rests . . . upon the soil of the social aristocracy . . . as law givers.31 How might the progressive individual law of cultural elites be converted into a collective politics?32 Simmel, as far as I can tell, never addressed the means by which a cultural aristocracy would dispense these laws. Do the Nietzschean underpinnings of Simmels philosophy of lifethe elitist distance from egalitarian doctrines like democracy and socialismmake Nietzschean philosophy an enemy of the people?33 Simmels sponsorship of the Nietzschean ideals of heroic individualism and artistic genius made him appear as an apologist for anti-social elitism. Simmels elitism might be seen conversely as (1) the highest expression of civic devotion, and (2) as a useful and, perhaps, necessary philosophical component of capitalist democracies. In order to amplify this civic conception of elitism, Simmels philosophy of life will be evaluated through the lens of Henrik Ibsens An Enemy of the People. This lens is not arbitrary. In 1889, Simmel rebelled from the respectable bourgeois culture of Berlins Theodore Fontane Circle and formed a smaller and more radical social club.34 Among the groups members were Germanys champions of Ibsens dramas: Otto Brahm and Paul Schlenther.35 Simmels ascension to the status of Wilhelmine Germanys greatest cultural philosopher owes much to his early association with the intellectual giants of German Naturalism: Brahm, Schlenther, Ibsen, and Gerhardt Hauptmann. Indeed Naturalist drama and Simmelian thought share a similar philosophical and cultural spirit. Both presume that the negation of oppressive traditions and critique of social injustice are the prerequisite for the emergence of individual freedom and the politics of social justice. An Enemy of the People might best be read as a parable of the civic-minded individual within a modern bourgeois democracy and, that is, as a parable of Simmels civic philosophy. The plot centers on Dr. Stockmann who returns to his provincial home town from the countryside, where he worked as a humble country doctor. After his return, he initiates a revitalization plan to build therapeutic public baths. The plan is endorsed by city officials, municipal stocks were sold, and the Doctor is named the medical officer of the soon-to-be-opened town baths. In that capacity, he eventually has the waters tested, because he is committed to public safety. His scientific tests find that the citys water supply is polluted with bacteria from regional tanneries, so he writes an article to the local newspaper, The Peoples Courier. He is assured by his politically radical, freethinking, journalistic friends that the article will be printed. His friends initially express glee at the prospect of Dr. Stockmanns article, because they see it as a blow against the high and mighty. The drama takes an ominous turn when the Mayor, fearing political fallout, forbids Dr. Stockmann from notifying bath officials and the public that the water is poisonous. When Dr. Stockmann informs the Mayor that this knowledge is already circulating amongst the towns people, the Mayor orders him to make a public statement declaring his confidence in the current board of directors and affirming the quality of the water. When Dr. Stockmann replies that it is a citizens duty to inform the public, the Mayor replies that the public is best served by the good, old, time-tested ideas its always

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had.36 The Mayor makes additional comments about the economic viability of repairs to the water system and admits that his reputation as a moral authority would be harmed by the revelation of polluted water. Structurally, then, the Mayor personifies the incompatibility of economic selfinterest and civic Good. Again and again, leading members of the community require Dr. Stockmann to jettison what he perceives as his duty to the people and embrace economic self-interest.37 In order to command his obedience, the Mayor threatens to remove him from his job. It turns out that this is simply one manifestationand there are many in An Enemy of the Peopleof the irreconcilability of economic self-interest and a reflective, critical, and civic individualism, an ethical irreconcilability that Simmel expounded upon in numerous works. Despite the threats to his livelihood, Dr. Stockmann persists in his ethical conviction that he must use his freedom of speech to fulfill responsibilities to society. To this the Mayor replies: youre not entitled to express any opinions that contradict your superiors.38 The forces of conservatism and capitalism, what Simmel calls reified culture (vergegenstaendlichter Geist), were intent on suppressing the individuals right to a critical, civic self-consciousness.39 The climax of the play in Act IV is prefigured in the exchange between the Mayor and Dr. Stockmann in Act II. The latter concludes that if the poisoned water is left untreated then the future affluence of this community would live by marketing filth and would have its roots in a lie! The baths would be marketed as a health facility, but the community would know that it was threatening the health of prospective customers. The Mayor replies: Any man who could hurl such nauseating charges at his own home town must be an enemy of the people. Call me an enemy of society! responds Dr. Stockmann. So help me God, Im not going to swallow that.40 At this point, Dr. Stockmann is still confident that his left-leaning friends at The Peoples Courier will protect the public interest and publish his report. In Act III, however, the freethinking journalists inform him that, in view of public opinion, his article will not be printed.41 The self-described left-wing journalists turn out to be more dedicated to their economic self-interestthe circulation and popularity of the newspaperthan to their collective values. Not only is Dr. Stockmanns report suppressed, but the paper prints an exculpatory article written by the Mayor. In response, the angry Dr. Stockmann declares that he will convene a mass meeting, and this meeting is the subject of the dramas climax in Act IV. The purpose of the public meeting is undermined from the start. The Mayor and other civic notables demand that the proceedings be mediated by a chair. After the appointment of a chairman-moderator, the Mayor moves that the Doctor not be allowed to speak. It is not only economic threats that are used to deny Dr. Stockmanns freedom of speak but parliamentary procedures as well! The audience, swayed by the majority feeling and by the Mayors article in The Peoples Courier, howl in support of the Mayor when he explains that the Doctor is afflicting the taxpayers with a needless financial burden. The people are mobilized and swayed by an appeal to economic self-interest. Dr. Stockmann insists on his right to speak, but the public events have produced a desire to expound not on the sanitary conditions of the baths but on spiritual and ethical contamination of humanity. He demands to speak on the discovery that all the sources of our spiritual life are polluted.42 He identifies the enemies of what Simmel might call critical civics: the consummate stupidity of the authorities . . . (rests upon) relics of a dying world of thought . . . (but) theyre not the most insidious enemies of truth and


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freedom in our society . . . The most insidious enemy of truth and freedom among us is the solid majority.43 The leftist editor of The Peoples Courier immediately responds to the critique of the herd by hurling the epithet aristocrat at Dr. Stockmann. Stockmanns response prefigures Simmels Nietzschean sociology. He declares himself one of the members of a vanguard that is out there holding their positions like outposts, so far in the vanguard that . . . theyre fighting for truths too newly born in the worlds consciousness to have won any support from the majority.44 Conformity is so systemic that society is unable to make an analytical distinction between the conventional mind and the civic spirit, and in a society like that, people loose all capacity for ethical thought and action. The public meeting concludes when the chairman puts forth a public resolution branding Dr. Stockmann an enemy of the people. The votes are collected, and all in the assembly of citizens, save a drunken man, favor the resolution. Through democracy, individuals who are most dedicated to social interest are branded enemies of the people. Several aspects of this drama thematically overlap with Simmelian sociology. First, the denouement of dramatic events masterfully encapsulates Simmels sociological conclusions in Excursus Concerning Out-Voting. According to Simmel, the phenomenon of outvoting is a social process enabling social convention to take on the patina of an impersonal, objective principle.45 Democracy rests upon an indemonstrable dogma: the majority possesses ethical authority. Dr. Stockmanns plight at the hands of the tyranny of the majority is, from the perspective of Simmels sociology, an inevitable consequence of the autonomous individuals ethical freedom. Second, both Naturalist drama and Simmelian philosophy operate under the trope of tragedy. Sociologically, that is structurally, the conflict between the self-constituted individual and the traditionbound herd is tragic. There is a poignant interpenetration of the tragic conclusion of the play and Simmels sociology of outvoting. Outvoting is a symptom of the deep and tragic bifurcation which pervades . . . every societal formation . . . (W)e stand internally under two conflicting and alien norms: the (normative) movement around our own (ethical) centerwhich is something totally different than egoismand the (normative) movement around the social center of life. Both demand to be the definitive and decisive meaning of life.46 Here Simmel interprets outvoting as a proto-typical case of the irreconcilability of the autonomous life of Nietzschean civicswhose ethical center is internal and self-createdand the traditional demand that individuals derive their identity from something outside themselves, namely, social convention. Tragedy is as central to Simmelian thought as it is to Naturalist drama. The thematic epicenters of Naturalist dramathe tragedy of fate and the revolt against the exploiterwere, according to Simmel, the eras most poignant social politics. Naturalismespecially the dramas of Gerhardt Hauptmannconstituted the aesthetic education of the people.47 Simmels civic philosophy was not identical to Naturalist presuppositions. For instance, he disdained the social determinism found in much Naturalist drama.48 Nonetheless, Simmels generational cohort and cultural environment were stamped by the cultural influence of Naturalism. And, like much of Naturalist drama, Simmels philosophy recognized the individuals often tragic resistance to the oppressive dictates of society as the basis of social ethics. Third, beyond the important theme of civic consciousness arising from a renunciation of a herd mentality, An Enemy of the People offers a ruthless critique of

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the progressive bourgeoisie, and this anti-bourgeois content resonates in Simmels oeuvre as well. During the course of the public meeting, Dr. Stockmann called on his radical journalist friends for support. Instead, his radical allies betray him. In essence, the journalist, Havstod, publicly denies the anti-establishment values that he had affirmed privately to the Doctor. In another episode, the Doctors radical daughter, Petra, is fired from her teaching position by Mrs. Busk. Dr. Stockmanns sins of transgression redound upon his children. It is important to note the liberal source of this punishment. Petra generously defends the decision by recalling that Mrs Busk had expressed some pretty liberal ideas, when its just the two of us talking.49 Here we see two examples of the discrepancy between the progressive bourgeoisies private self-conception and their public function. In private, they affirm the virtues of radical change and collective interest, but in public they serve as intellectual buffers protecting hegemonic traditions and social conformity from justified criticism. These criticisms of the bourgeoisie resonate in Simmels work as well. Beginning with Introduction to Moral Science and continuing through his life work, one can find a simple but profound argument: economic self-interest is rarely synonymous with social ethics. Or, to put it another way, economic self-interest and ethics are two distinct forms of individualism. The former is selfish and the latter is dedicated to the creation of a superindividual value system. This distinction is a master code of An Enemy of the People. Here, ethical integrity is undermined by and sacrificed to monetary egoism. But egoism need not be an individual phenomenon. One of Simmels brilliant sociological realizations was that egoism could be group-based.50 Repeatedly, critics of Dr. Stockmann call on him to act on behalf of traditional group identities, such as the family and the local community. These are forms of group self-interest which stand in opposition to a more expansive ethical sphere of concern. The irreconcilable tension between group self-interest and a more inclusive sphere of ethical responsibility (one that includes future visitors to the baths, for instance) emerges from the encounters between Dr. Stockmann and his father-in-law, Morten Kiil. The latter owns industrial tanneries that are a source of the citys polluted water supplies. Kiil has invested heavily in the stocks sold to finance the baths. He will suffer a substantial loss of profits if repairs cause a delay in the opening of the baths. In order to get Dr. Stockmann to cease his fight on behalf of sanitary baths, Kiil tells him that he is putting all of his daughters inheritance into the purchase of additional bath stock. Hence, if Dr. Stockmann persists in defending the publics right to healthy water, then his immediate family (due to the dramatic reduction of his wifes inheritance) stands to lose a tremendous amount of money. What Simmels sociology reveals is that the key dramatic and ethical tension is not between economic egoism and social interest. Dramatic tension arises from competing collective identities. For instance, the economic interest of the local community is repeatedly presented as an ethical argument against Dr. Stockmanns wider civic concerns. Similarly, Dr. Stockmann is called upon by several people to focus narrowly on the interests of his family. In this way, broader questions of social virtue are diverted towards a traditional group identity. This dramatizes a powerful element of Simmelian sociology. Simmel deftly notes that collective identities (e.g. racial, familial, sexual, national, regional, class, or religious) pose as ethical absolutes. Additionally, people experience these absolutized group identities as an institutional form of altruism and selflessness. Simmels great sociological discovery is the frequency with which group identities


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camouflage egoism. Individuals are indoctrinated to promote the self-interest of their group. Consequently, social recognition of more expansive and inclusive spheres of ethical responsibility is precluded. In An Enemy of the People, we see this dynamic writ large. Narrow spheres of civic concern, such as the family, constrict ones spheres of compassion by displacing and discrediting more expansive conceptions of ethical responsibility. However, since the family, the nation, and other pillars of society are experienced as spheres of collective caring, the egotistical function of the group identity is never experienced. Instead, group egoism is experienced as compassion. Simmels sociology of group egoism and An Enemy of the People are, perhaps, best understood as commentaries on the irreconcilability of capitalism and democracy. Time and time again, the bourgeoisie turns democracy into a means for the pursuit and realization of self-interest or social egoism. Those rare individuals who pursue civic virtue will be disciplined, ostracized, and stigmatized as enemies of the people. Ibsen theatricalizes the irony of this civic burlesque. Simmel explains the social psychology of the process, namely, how the bourgeoisie experiences its self-interest as social interest and thereby exorcises the specter of civic conscience.

V. Conclusion
Although members of the Activist movement (like Ludwig Rubiner) and Simmel described the culture of war almost identically as a culture of decisions, in August 1914, the cultural avant-garde and Simmel stood on different sides of the crucial question of the era.51 This divide was widened by a correlative political transformation of Simmels negative sociology. Simmels pre-war philosophy presumed a necessary tension between the individual and naturalized collective institutions. Moreover, the tension between the individuals ethical freedom and societys demand for conformity could not be resolved by the merging of the individual and society. Simmel maintained that this tension is foundational. It is the a priori of moral free will and civic responsibility. Without it, citizens could not gain a critical vantage point from which to create higher social ideals. Conversely, Simmels war essays conservatively proposed a Hegelian resolution to this productive and necessary tension. In the culture of war, Simmel essentially renounced the civic individualism that was the basis of his critical philosophy of life. Now, instead of a critical opposition to the herd mentality of war, Simmel proselytized on behalf of a war culture which, in essence, denied the individuals right to criticize authoritarian collective institutions. In the end, academic perceptions of Simmel as a promoter of liberal individualism, the ascendancy of Marxism among the cultural avant-garde, and Simmels war-time abandonment of his critical sociology combined to create a conservative image of his legacy. This essay is intended to recapture the critical spirit of his philosophy and pre-war countercultural persona. We should not forget that his negative sociology was the intellectual fulcrum that the literary Expressionists used to pry themselves from the conventions of conformity. This fulcrum also provided the Activists with the critical leverage to oppose powerful conservative forces that coalesced to legitimize and authorize the Great War. An interpretive reading of Ibsens An Enemy of the People offers a critical reading of Simmels legacy. Simmel decried Nietzsches ironic description of himself

Enemy of the People


as an immoralist.52 This designation, Simmel thought, dangerously reinforced herd moralities that arrogated all moral authority to themselves by defining value systems outside their own as immoral. What must be understood, according to Simmel, was that a critique of authoritarian conventions was the a priori of civic judgment. In the Simmelian tradition and in An Enemy of the People, we see this conviction connected to the notion of an ethical vanguard. Like Simmel, Dr. Stockmann realizes that his vanguard conception of the Good demands mindful opposition to citizen-sheep. Ibsens drama points to the immeasurable relevance of Simmels civic philosophy within contemporary capitalist democracies. Conservative values, the tyranny of the majority, social egoism, and the threats of economic retribution combine to bludgeon civic individualism, an individualism that clearly distinguishes economic self-interest from the Good. If we, like many of his radical students after WWI, brand Simmel as an immoral enemy of the people, then we must do so ironically. His civic philosophywith its renunciation of herd mentalities and economic egoismchallenges us to earn, as Dr. Stockmann did, the appellative, enemy of the people, through a courageous, iconoclastic struggle for higher values. Towards the end of his life Simmel remarked: All of social history shows that (critical) individualism and world citizenship . . . belong together.53 Of course, most of social history demonstrates the opposite, namely, the capacity for individuals to sheepishly conform to convention and embrace group self-interest. No, it was not social history which brought together the extremes of individual freedom and civic responsibility. Simmels engaged, anti-bourgeois sociology did that.

1. See the second footnote of Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Butler & Tanner, 1956), 185. 2. Concerning Simmels influence on literary Expressionism, see Friedrich Markus Huebner, Der Expressionismus in Deutschland, in Expressionismus: Der Kampf um eine literarische Bewegung, ed. Paul Raabe (Zuerich: Arche Verlag, 1987); and Emil Luwig, Geschenke des Lebens: Ein Rueckblick, in Buch des Dankes an Georg Simmel, ed. Kurt Gassen and Michael Landmann (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1958). 3. Georg Simmel, Soziologische Aethetik, in Bruecke und Tuer: Essays des Philosophen zur Geschichte, Religion, Kunst, und Gesellschaft (Stuttgart: K. F. Koehler Verlag, 1957), 2007. 4. Letter to Graf Keyserling. 5. Georg Simmel, Die Idee Europa, in Der Krieg und die geistigen Entscheidungen (Munchen: Duncker & Humblot, 1917). 6. Ibid., 72. 7. Thomas Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Frankfurt a/M: Fischer, 1991), 75. 8. Ernst Bloch, Erbschaft dieser Zeit (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp, 1985). 9. Simmel, Die Idee Europa, 67. 10. Simmels wartime essay Die Dialektik des deutschen Geist unfolds a similar argument. Here Simmel argues that the trajectory of a German cultural identity leads beyond itself to world citizenship. However, this essay, unlike Die Idee Europa, contains few, if any, chauvinistic statements. 11. Simmel, Die Idee Europa, 72. 12. Georg Simmel, Deutschlands innere Wandlung, in Der Krieg und die geistigen Entscheidungen, 14.


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13. Michael Landmann, Ernst Bloch ueber Georg Simmel, in Aesthetik und Soziologie um die Jahrhundertwende: Georg Simmel (Frankfurt a/M: Vittorio Klostermann, 1976), 271. 14. Georg Lukacs, Die Zerstoerung der Vernunft: Der Weg des Irrationalismus von Schelling zu Hitler (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1988). 15. Georg Simmel, letter to Graf Hermann Keyserling, May 1918, in Das individuelle Gesetz (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp, 1987), 2456. 16. Simmel, Der Krieg und die geistigen Entscheidungen. 17. Simmel, Deutschlands innere Wandlung, 10. 18. Ibid., 10. 19. See, for instance, Simmels thoughts on how capitalism has turned us into slaves of products; Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, 674. 20. Simmel, Soziologie, 2378. 21. Although greatly influenced by Nietzsches philosophy, Simmel was much more concerned with the connection between individual values and sociological understanding of society than was Nietzsche. Immanuel Kant, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, in Volume 4 of Kants Werke (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1968). On the connection between Nietzsche and Kant, see R. Kevin Hill, Nietzsches Critiques: The Kantian Foundations of his Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003). 22. Simmel, Schopenhauer und Nietzsche, 281. 23. Ibid., 318 and 317. 24. Dietrich Schaefer, 26 February 1908, cited in Bausteine zur Biographe, by Michael Landmann, in Buch des Dankes an Georg Simmel, ed. Gassen and Landmann. On Schaefers anti-Semitism, political conservatism, and relationship to Simmel, see Woodruff D. Smith, Politics and the Sciences of Culture in Germany, 18401920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 2135. 25. Dekan Hampe, 17 February 1908, cited in Bausteine, 256. 26. See Fritz Heinemann, Neue Wege der Philosophie: Geist/Leben/Existenz (Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1929). 27. Ferdinand Toennies, Der Nietzsche-Kultus (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1990); Wilhelm Dilthey, Philosophie des Lebens (Stuttgart: B. G. Tuebner, 1961). 28. Simmel, Schopenhauer und Nietzsche, 278. 29. Ibid., 302 and 278. 30. George Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1904) (New York: Dover Publications, 1994), 67. 31. Simmel, Schopenhauer und Nietzsche, 280, 293 and 301. 32. Georg Simmel, Das individuelle Gesetz, Chapter IV of Lebensanschauung (Munich: Dunker & Humblot, 1918). 33. In many of his writings, Simmel uncritically emphasizes the anti-democratic and anti-socialist aspects of Nietzschean philosophy. See, for instance, Georg Simmel, Friedrich Nietzsche. Eine moralphilosophische Silhouette, in Vom Wesen der Moderne: Essay zur Philosophie und Aesthetik (Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 1990), 6182. 34. A description of the split can be found in Fritz Mauthner, Georg Simmel, Vossische Zeitung, 18 October 1918. 35. See Otto Brahm, Theater, Dramatiker, Schauspieler (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1961). In the extensive section on Ibsen, see especially Henrik Ibsen in BerlinPersoenliches und Sachliches (21525); Paul Schlenther, Gerhart Hauptmann: Sein Lebensgang und Seine Dichtung (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1898). Schlenther compares Hauptmanns theme of modern family conflict and his dramatic treatment of the tragedy of the human soul to similar elements in Ibsens works (111 and 156). 36. Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, in Henrik Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays (New York: Penguin Books, 1978), 317. 37. Ibid., 322. 38. Ibid., 319. 39. Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, 645.

Enemy of the People 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48.


49. 50. 51. 52.


Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, 321. Ibid., 344. Ibid., 353. Ibid., 3545. Ibid., 356. Simmel, Soziologie, 228. Ibid., 2278. George Simmel, Gerhardt Hauptmanns Weber (1892), in Vom Wesen der Moderne, 1636. For instance, Simmel maintains that Naturalism failed to sustain the critical duality of reality and the (individuals) values of life. This duality was the core feature of his Nietzschean sociology. Georg Simmel, Nietzsches Moral, in Aufsaetze und Abhandlungen 19091918 (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp, 2001), 170. Similar arguments can be found in Georg Simmel, Vom Realismus in der Kunst, in Vom Wesen der Moderne, 31128. Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, 363. See Simmels analysis of social egoism (Sozialegoismus) in Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft, Vol. I, 148; see also his analysis of group egoism (Gruppenegoismus) in Soziologie, 445. Ludwig Rubiner, Kameraden der Menschheit (1919) (Leipzig: Philip Reclam, 1971). See Simmel, Nietzsche und Kant, in Das Individuum und die Freiheit (Frankfurt a/M: Fischer Verlag, 1993). Aber ein Immoralist . . . ist er (Nietzsche) darum keinwegs. Er ist es so wenig, dass er, um den moralischen Wert der Menschheit zu retten, alle bisherigen Inhalte der Moral preisgibt (47); a similar line of thought can be found in Georg Simmel, Zum Verstaendnis Nietzsches, in Aufsaetze und Abhandlungen 19011908, 5763. Georg Simmel, Die Dialektik des deutschen Geistes, in Der Krieg und die geistigen Enscheidungen, 40.