Among the many signs that show us the death throes of the life order under the power and direction of which we still live, I see none as persuasive as the deep alienation in the face of this life order that fills the best heads and strongest hearts of those who inhabit their own particular orders. The history of this alienation is still recent. I find the new attitude that I have in mind firstly – as one might expect – among the scholars and poets – worldly men might say dreams – as for instance Gobineau, Nietzsche, J. Burkhard, Stefan George.”
Scheler was impressed with the work of Sombert, Tonnies and Weber on the “capitalist spirit”, which he took to be a particular social mode of the life order. He sensed something new in the fact that these sober sociologists, surely, if anyone, the inheritors and promoters of liberalism in the German sphere, seemed to have arrived at conclusions that echoed those of the names in the above passage. Although he didn’t use the phrase, what Scheler was talking about was liberal alienation – a dissent, I would say, from the culture of happiness. In January I wrote a post analyzing the dissents, in the nineteenth century, from happiness triumphant, and I tucked them into three classes roughly corresponding to the traditional European tripartite class division – the pessimists who, keenly aware of the irrevocability of the decline of the aristocracy, attacked the ‘decadence’ at the root of that decline; the revolutionaries, who in the name of the working class attacked the bourgeois notion of the consumerist ideal, the salaryman bound in the circle of self-advantage; and then, a much more conflicted group, the bourgeois thinkers themselves – Hazlitt, Mill, Tocqueville, Heine. At the time I wrote that post, I hadn’t read Scheler’s essay, which nicely sets up my point.
So, it is time for me to do a few posts on this essay.