Arnold Hauser: Between

Marxism and Romantic Anti-Capitalism

In a well-known essay of 1974 T.J. Clark cites two sentences from Georg Lukács’s great work History and Class Consciousness: ‘And yet, as the really important historians of the nineteenth century such as Riegl, Dilthey and Dvořák could not fail to notice, the essence of history lies precisely in the changes undergone by those structural forms [Strukturformen] which are the focal points of man’s interaction [Auseinandersetzung] with environment at any given moment and which determine the objective nature of both his inner and outer life.1 But this only becomes objectively possible (and hence can only be adequately comprehended) when the individuality, the uniqueness of an epoch or an historical figure, etc., is grounded in the character of these structural forms, when it is discovered and exhibited in them and through them.’ While acknowledging that this statement proposed ‘a difficult and fertile thesis about history… that art historians might care to contemplate again,’ Clark used it mainly to make a contrast between the lofty intellectual stature of art historians in the early twentieth century and that of their British counterparts in the 1970s.2 In this essay I want to explore Lukács’s ‘difficult and fertile thesis about history’ as a way in to the art history of his sometime friend Arnold Hauser, whose The Social History of Art has been seen as a landmark in Marxist approaches to the discipline since its first publication in 1951.3 In the process I will argue that Hauser’s divided loyalties between Lukács and another early friend, Karl Mannheim, help to explain the complex weave of Marxist and romantic anti-capitalist motifs in his work.4

To begin with, it is necessary to say something of the figure who accompanied Riegl and Dvořák in Lukács’s statement, namely the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), whose ideas were hugely influential in German language social thought in the early twentieth century. Dilthey’s lifelong project was to complement Kant’s critique of pure reason with a critique of historical reason. In realizing this Dilthey introduced a psychological dimension to cognition that Kant’s system had eschewed in its critique of empiricism. For Dilthey knowledge of the social world falls largely outside the domain of pure reason and is grounded in the Erlebnis (lived experience) of the subject. A complex concept, Erlebnis encompasses both inner experience and the ways this is shaped by external circumstances; it is also constantly informed by a socio-historical component of the mind that Dilthey called ‘acquired psychic nexus’ (erworbener seelischer Zusammenhang). In contrast to the natural sciences, what Dilthey designated as the Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences) – a term that covers both the social sciences and humanities – establish their truths not through mathematical proofs, the positing of cause and effect relationships, and the establishment of law-like regularities, but through reflective judgments and hermeneutic procedures that are empathetic and intuitional. While Dilthey was strongly affected by Hegel’s historicization of philosophy, he rejected the metaphysical scheme in which Hegel framed it and insisted that all philosophies are grounded in lived experience. In Dilthey’s conception of history there are three recurrent types of metaphysics, or Weltanschauungen, which he designated as naturalism, the idealism of freedom, and objective idealism. None of these has more than relative validity and they cannot be reconciled through synthesis.5

Kant’s aesthetic was central to Dilthey’s concept of historical judgment. But he was also deeply interested in the arts, and especially in literature, to which he accorded high cognitive status and about which he wrote extensively. His Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung – a volume of essays on Goethe, Hölderlin, Lessing, and Novalis published in 1906 – sought to demonstrate a consistent Weltanschauung in each author that arose out of their individual life experiences and penetrated the form of their work. Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung made a large impact and was one of the models for the pre-Marxist work Die Seele und die Formen (1911), which established Lukács’s reputation.6 Weltanschauung and style are the ‘structural forms’ that Lukács was referring to in the quotation with which I opened this essay.

It was Dilthey, Lukács wrote in 1918, who had awakened ‘my interest in cultural-historical interconnections.’7 But his positive reference to Dilthey in History and Class Consciousness stands in stark contrast to the evaluation of him in his 1954 book The Destruction of Reason, where Dilthey’s Lebensphilosophie represents a key stage in the succession of irrationalist philosophies that make up ‘Germany’s path to Hitler in the sphere of philosophy’, and is seen to correspond with the needs of German imperialism under the Second Reich.8 Although Lukács conceded that Dilthey was ‘a man of exceptional knowledge and genuine learning,’ his attempt to maintain a suprahistorical conception of human character while at the same time asserting the inherent relativism of philosophical systems effectively brought him to an antinomy that he was unable to resolve.9 In Lukács’s words, ‘His efforts led only to the achievement of a psychological and historical typology of philosophical outlooks.’10 The denial of any principles behind history or of any ascertainable progress within it removed all circumstances, his methodology offered no instruments for comprehending them.11

Lukács’s critique of Dilthey was not new. He had attacked the idealist tendencies in German thought as preparing the ground for the ‘fascist counterrevolution’ twenty years before in a self-criticism of History and Class Consciousness delivered before the philosophical section of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and explicitly associated Dilthey with the course of reaction in a manuscript essay on the historical origins of German fascist philosophy written contemporaneously.12 As such, Lukács’s change of mind on Dilthey belongs with the renunciation of his greatest work for its ‘disharmonious dualism,’ that is for the way in which it registered ‘the objective internal contradictions’ that marked his transition from what he called the ‘romantic anti-capitalism’ of his ethical critique of bourgeois society in the pre-1917 period to his embrace of Marxism in December 1918.13

Yet in fact it was partly the presence of romantic anti-capitalist elements in History and Class Consciousness that made it such a fertile source for the development of Western Marxism, and that both contributed to its renaissance of key themes in Marx’s own work occluded within the positivistic Marxism of the Second International, and at the same time supplemented the Marxist corpus with new insights into the ideology and culture of capitalism. Correspondingly, we may acknowledge the rightness of Lukács’s critique of internal contradictions in Dilthey’s philosophy without sharing his view that it played a necessary role in an ineluctable line of descent in German thought that could only issue in fascism. At the same time we may question whether Lukács’s distrust of the role of intuition in Dilthey’s thought led him to put certain kinds of productive cultural analysis out of bounds.

This brings me on to Arnold Hauser and the role of Diltheyan motifs in his thought, motifs that I will argue were partly mediated to him through Karl Mannheim and Max Dvořák. I will begin with Mannheim, since he has precedence in terms of his role in Hauser’s formation and may have influenced his reception of Dvořák’s work. Mannheim has been described as being, with Lukács, the ‘spiritus rector’ of the Freien Hochschule für Geisteswissenschaften (Free University of the Human Sciences) that emerged out of the famous Budapest Sonntagskreis (Sunday Circle) in 1917-18 – although Lukács himself was, Hauser recalled, its unquestioned leader from beginning to end.14 Born in 1893, Mannheim was eight years Lukács’s junior, and one year younger than Hauser. He and Hauser met as students at the University of Budapest and became best friends,15 while Hauser and Lukács did not meet until 1917.16 Mannheim had studied with Simmel in Berlin and was a fervent proselytizer for the Geisteswissenschaft school of German sociology, on which Dilthey had such a formative influence.

At first Lukács and Mannheim were bound in a kind of master-pupil relationship, with the latter accepting a commission to translate Lukács’s 1911 History of Modern Drama from Hungarian into German, although this was never realized.17 Both Mannheim and Hauser were ardent admirers of Lukács’s Theory of the Novel, first published in 1916, a book that its author himself later admitted was written under the spell of the Diltheyan method.18 However, personal relations between Mannheim and Lukács subsequently cooled and by Hauser’s account eventually transformed into something approaching animosity.19 Although all three were forced into exile after the Hungarian counter- revolution of 1919, neither Hauser nor Mannheim took anything like the prominent role Lukács played in the Council Republic, and neither joined the Communist Party.20 In 1938 when Hauser fled Austria after the Anschluss, he went to London at Mannheim’s invitation to compile an anthology of writings on the sociology of art, for which he was also to have written the introduction. (Mannheim had settled in Britain after being forced out of his professorship at the Goethe University in Frankfurt after the Nazi takeover in 1933 and held a lectureship at the London School of Economics). According to Peter Christian Ludz, Mannheim’s friendship gave Hauser the courage and strength to begin his The Social History of Art in 1941. However, while Mannheim explicitly distanced himself from Marxism, Hauser presented himself as a nonorthodox Marxist – in that he separated Marxism as a science from Marxism as a political practice – but as a Marxist none the less.21

More than thirty years after the Hungarian counter-revolution Lukács would attack Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge (particularly as represented in his widely read 1929 book Ideologie und Utopie) as representing, like the sociology of his University of Heidelberg mentor and colleague Alfred Weber, the ‘defenselessness’ of German liberal sociology in the face of the reactionary tendencies of German imperialism and fascism.22 Symptoms of its functions in the downward drift of German thought were the relativism of the sociology of knowledge and Mannheim’s notion of a ‘free-floating intelligentsia’ (freischwebende Intelligenz) able to rise above the partisanship of other social groups in the realm of ideas, as well as his recommendation in later writings of social planning by an elite of experts as the way of the future.23 In the early 1920s, however, Mannheim’s thinking was still oriented to a romantic anti-capitalist project of redeeming the fragmentation of society through philosophy and culture and he did not posit the sociology of knowledge as a political solution to the crisis of the bourgeois liberal state as he would in the very different circumstances of 1929. While he subsequently placed far more stress on the social determination of cultural production than on its redemptive powers, in his first years of German exile Mannheim advocated a verstehende (interpretative) approach to art and other cultural products grounded in the principles of the Diltheyan Geisteswissenschaften.24

The Mannheim texts I am particularly concerned with are two articles published in 1923 and 1924 respectively, that is, while their author was based at the University of Heidelberg and Hauser was studying in Berlin. The first of them (which may have been written even earlier) is titled ‘On the Interpretation of Weltanschauung,’ and was published in the Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte. The second, ‘Historicism,’ was published in the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, the journal edited by Edgar Jaffé, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber, in which Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism had first appeared.25 What makes the ‘Historicism’ essay especially pertinent in relation to Hauser is that Mannheim takes as the paradigmatic statement of contemporary historicism Der Historismus und seine Probleme (1921) by the theologian, philosopher and historian Ernst Troeltsch, whose lectures Hauser attended in Berlin in the early 1920s and whose Die Sozialgeschichte der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen (1912) he cites a number of times in The Social History of Art.26

For Mannheim, the historicist outlook is the Weltanschauung of the age in that it ‘not only organizes, like an invisible hand, the work of the Geisteswissenschaften, but also permeates everyday thinking’; it is an ‘organically developed basic pattern’ that has ‘the same universality as that of the religious Weltanschauung of the past.’27 Like all Weltanschauungen, it not only dominates ‘our inner reactions and our external responses, but also determines our forms of thought.’ All of which partly means that ‘our view of life has… become thoroughly sociological.’28 A basic consequence of this is a rejection of the static Enlightenment conception of reason with its false claims to universality and the replacement of epistemology by the philosophy of history.29 However, this does not make historicism itself a transcendent truth, since it will in turn be superseded: the ‘fact’ is that ‘sociology and all the other cultural science must necessarily always be written anew.’30 Truth has a dynamic character, although within a given ‘historical constellation only one perspectivistic conclusion can be correct’ and historicism is not an absolute relativism.31

From the perspective of historicism, ‘every segment of the spiritual-intellectual world… [is] in a state of flux and growth.’32 It is the role of historicist theory to establish an ‘ordering principle’ in the seeming anarchy of this flux, that is, to identify ‘an ultimate basic process which is the real “subject” undergoing the change.’ And this cannot be determined merely by establishing the causal relations behind events, but only by asking what they mean, since for Mannheim, following Dilthey, the problems of philosophy arise out of life, in which fact and value are inextricably interwoven.33 According to Mannheim, the decline of religion, ‘the hierarchical determination of all the departments of life in the Middle Ages,’ led to both the dominance of ‘an historico-philosophical vision’ and the emergence of seemingly autonomous spheres of life that have become hypostatized. Correspondingly, historicism undertakes to show that ‘the individual historico-cultural spheres, in art history, in the history of religion, in sociology, etc.,’ are each ‘an integrative part of a totality.’34 Such thinking wreaks havoc with all static categories of reason because it assumes that content and form are an inseparable unity, so that the model for thinking their relationship must be that of the Gestalt and the life and growth of plants. The ‘analyzing, atomizing, isolating tendency’ of the natural sciences, the model in which complex forms are compounded from ‘the simplest elements’ will not work since totalities are ‘primary and irreducible.’35

Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano): Portrait of a Young Man (1530s). Oil on wood, 95.6 x 74.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16). Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano): Portrait of a Young Man (1530s). Oil on wood, 95.6 x 74.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16). Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Drawing on Troeltsch’s Der Historismus und seine Probleme (1922), Mannheim points up the distinction between the historicism of Hegelianism (now ‘accentuated’ in the historicist Marxisms of Lukács and Karl Korsch)36 and that of Lebensphilosophie thinkers such as Dilthey and Simmel. Whereas
Hegel’s dialectic makes history ‘too logical,’ the irrationalist thinkers excel in ‘the intuitive assimilation of concrete phenomena,’ which permits them to establish ‘the subtle correlations between various manifestations of life within the same epoch.’ But they are unable to discern any ‘meaningful evolutionary pattern’ in history as a whole. The ‘conceptual- systematic method’ of the first is best suited to representing the ‘evolution of philosophy,’ but is not suited to the analysis of the history of art, for example. Any ‘extreme logification does… violence’ to spheres such as ‘religion and art, ethos and erotic,’ which are ‘actually understandable less as systems than as “parts” of the unified psychological Gestalt of the various epochs.’37

While Mannheim maintained (wrongly) that ‘technology or exact science…“progresses” in a straight line and merely develops one and the same system,’38 philosophy could be adequately comprehended only through a quasi-Hegelian dialectic, and ‘“irrational” fields of culture’ such as art through ‘Gestalt type concepts’ in which the key question was not that of causality but of the relation of part to whole. The measure of adequacy in such analysis was the degree of penetration into the object the analysis achieved, and the test here lay in an engagement with the ‘“material” evidence.’ From such a perspective Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness represented a one-sided ‘elaboration of the rational dialectic method, expressed in an absolutist language,’ and Mannheim – contradicting the key claim of that work – explicitly rejected the idea that any one class was ‘the bearer of the total movement.’ Mannheim’s assertion that ‘the harmony of the whole can be grasped only by taking into account the whole contrapuntal pattern of all the voices’ points towards his essentially liberal conception of politics and the parting of ways with his one-time mentor.39

If Mannheim’s ‘Historicism’ essay establishes the type of science to which art history belongs, ‘On the Interpretation of Weltanschauung’ speaks more directly of the discipline’s conceptual tools. Mannheim starts by saying that he will not provide ‘a substantive definition’ of the concept ‘based upon definite philosophical premises,’ since experience is resistant to theory’s categories and ‘many things are “given” of which no clear theoretical account can be rendered.’40 As an object of this type, the concept of Weltanschauung ‘lies outside the province of theory,’ or at least theory understood as ‘the methodological principles of the natural sciences.’41 This is because the ‘ultimate object of historical knowledge… is the historical process as a whole,’ and abstraction always tends to do violence to the ‘the concrete experiential whole.’42 Mannheim explicitly associates Dilthey with the formulation of these insights and with the spread of ‘the anti-rationalist movement’ in the Geisteswissenschaften.43 However, he also associates Weltanschaaung and the imperative to totalize specific phenomena into a ‘global historical scheme’ with the style researches of Riegl, which epitomize ‘the essence of the procedure of interpretation which has no counterpart in the natural sciences – the latter only “explain” things.’44

Theory, Mannheim argues in a fine phrase, ‘must achieve something else besides chilling the authentic experience with the cold blast of reflection.’ In fact, the life of the mind continually oscillates between theoretical and a-theoretical poles, and Weltanschauung belongs to the latter in that as ‘an unformed and wholly germinal entity,’ it is beyond rationality and exceeds every cultural objectification.45 So if Weltanschauung is defined as something ‘a-theoretical,’ the question that remains is ‘whether and how the a-theoretical can be “translated” into theory.’46 To this question Mannheim responds by asserting that while aesthetic and religious experiences are not formless, the types of form they take are radically different from those of theory as such.47 Works of art may be a-theoretical and a-logical, but they are not irrational in that they are endowed with ‘explicitly interpretable meaning.’48 They issue from a ‘submerged culture’ that is ‘meaninglike in structure’ and which can be apprehended through ‘intellectual intuition.’49

In a schema that anticipates Panofsky’s tripartite levels of analysis in Studies in Iconology,50 Mannheim proposes that there are three types of meaning in the ‘intentional object’: (1) an ‘objective meaning,’ which in the visual arts is the ‘purely visual content’ as defined by Konrad Fiedler’s notion of ‘pure visibility’ – although since this is a meaning it is not simply optical and Mannheim does not propose ‘some unique and universally valid “visual universe”.’51 (2) ‘Expressive meaning,’ which comprises ‘a second stratum of meaning superimposed, as it were’ upon the first, and arising from the specific experiences of the individual subject.52 It is inescapably historical and has to be analyzed as such.53 (3) ‘Documentary meaning,’ which is distinguished from ‘expressiveintentional’ meaning by the fact it is unlikely to be wholly present to our consciousness and may indeed appear strange to us. This is the Weltanschauung, the totality that represents the ‘“genius” or “spirit”’ of an epoch,54 as it is present in the ‘“ethos” of the subject which manifests itself in artistic creation.’55 Documentary meaning pervades the work in its entirety and can be arrived at through fragmentary aspects of it, since in documentary interpretation, ‘we understand the whole from the part, and the part from the whole.’56 Such interpretations are so ‘profoundly influenced’ by the positioning of the interpreter in his or her own culture that they must be ‘performed anew in each period.’

If, as Mannheim claimed, Weltanschauung was a kind of ‘submerged culture which also is meaninglike in structure,’ then it was ‘located beyond the level of cultural objectification’ and could not be ‘conveyed by any of the cultural spheres taken in isolation.’ This left the problem of how to develop concepts that would be applicable across the whole range of cultural spheres, and be pertinent to ‘art as well as literature, philosophy as well as political ideology, and so on.’57 Dilthey’s model of Weltanschauungen was too narrowly philosophical to be of much use in the ‘elucidation of a-theoretical fields’ such as the visual arts and in any case Dilthey had explicitly denied the validity of philosophical models in interpreting the visual arts of the modern period.58 To Mannheim, it seemed more promising to ‘start from art and analyze all other fields of culture in terms of concepts derived from a study of plastic arts.’59 This sounds today like a startling claim, but when we consider it in relation to the quotation from Lukács with which I began, one can see that from the perspective of early twentieth-century romantic anti-capitalism it did not appear so. As an early step in the realization of such a method, Mannheim cites Riegl’s ‘heroic’ attempt to link the developmental stages of late Roman art to Weltanschauung in his Die spätrömische Kunstindustrie. But he found Riegl’s exposition too logical and theoretical, lacking in that quality of vital intuition that linked part to whole and whole to part.60 Instead he recommended the example of ‘“synthesizing” historians’ such as Dvořák and Max Weber, who though they were specialists in particular fields, had ‘a strong sense of universal history which impels them to correlate their chosen subject with the “total constellation.”’ While Weber sought to establish the relation between ‘various cultural fields’ in terms of ‘causality’ and ‘function’ – and Mannheim acknowledged such explanations had their place – he made clear that Dvořák, with his preference for ‘correspondence’ or ‘parallelism,’ practiced the kind of interpretative method that was both distinctive of the Geisteswissenschaften and fundamental to their truth claims.61

Earlier in the essay, Mannheim had illustrated his claim that in documentary interpretation ‘we understand the whole from the part and the part form the whole’ through Dvořák’s argument concerning the significance of the compositional structure in El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586; Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain) in an article published in the same issue of the Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, where ‘an exposition of the layer of objective meaning in the shaping of both the subject-matter and the medium is immediately followed by a specification of the corresponding documentary meaning.’62 According to Dvořák, the disappearance in El Greco’s picture – and other works by him – of ‘the solid spacious structure, which, since Giotto, had formed the essential basis of all pictorial representation,’ together with their anti-naturalism and visionary qualities, were symptomatic of the artist having undergone a spiritual crisis symptomatic of the larger religious and theological crisis of the Reformation, one that led to ‘skepticism and doubt as to the value of any theory of moral law based on reason, and to a keen awareness of the limitations of man’s perception and the relativity of knowledge.’ 63 That which found expression in mannerism was ‘not something limited to art,’ but was rather ‘the very criterion’ of the artist’s age.64

Dvořák’s essay supported Mannheim’s thesis that ‘to understand the spirit of an age we must fall back on the spirit of our own,’ so that documentary interpretation must be ‘performed anew in each period.’ At several points Dvořák remarked on the similarity he perceived between the spiritual crisis of the fifteenth century and that of his own time – the former issuing in a revulsion against the ‘widespread spirit of materialism’ within the church and the latter in a revulsion against capitalism.65 He concluded by suggesting that two centuries dominated by ‘the natural sciences… mathematical thought and a superstitious regard for causality, for technical development and the mechanization of culture’ explained the long-term neglect of El Greco.

Correspondingly, it was contemporary circumstances that made possible the reappraisal of his art and of mannerism more generally, since ‘today this materialistic culture is approaching its end.’ In both art and literature there had been ‘a turning towards a spirituality freed from all dependence on naturalism, a tendency similar to that of the Middle Ages and the mannerist period.’66 Dvořák was of course referring to Expressionism; in 1921 he wrote a foreward to a book of reproductions of Kokoschka’s work.67

* * * *

This evaluation of mannerism seems to have made an enduring impression on Hauser, who reiterated Dvořák’s key claims in The Social History of Art, and then expanded on them at length in his 1964 book Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art.68 In an interview of 1973 Hauser recalled that initially art history had been for him a history of forms and structures on the Wölfflinian model, and that he began to comprehend the visual arts as a historical product only through the influence of Dvořák’s writings. In retrospect Hauser judged Dvořák ‘a thoroughly undialectical thinker,’ an art historian who for all his sensitivity in analyses of form and expression lacked any sense of art’s sociological grounding.69 Nonetheless, in his 1964 book he credited Dvořák with the fundamental insight that mannerism could not be comprehended solely as a reversion to a medieval ‘other-worldliness,’ and that its spiritual side was interlocked with ‘the empiricism of the new scientific age.’70 The movement thus represented a contradictory unity – ‘a union of apparently irreconcilable opposites’ – that encompassed artists as different as El Greco, Bruegel, and Bronzino, and entailed conflictual stylistic elements of both ‘naturalism and formalism,’ corresponding to the dual impulses of ‘sensuousness and transcendentalism.’71

Hauser’s fundamental claim is that ‘the spirit of modern times’ did not begin in the Renaissance, but in the crisis or ‘break-up’ of Renaissance humanism.72 Out of the ruins left when this ‘faith in man’ collapsed, ‘there arose the anti-humanist spirit of the Reformation, of Machiavellism, and of the mannerist sense of life.’73 In a kind of dialectical movement, the ‘spirit of modern times’ is like the Renaissance (and unlike that of medieval times) in being ‘rationalist, empirical, anti-traditionalist, and individualist,’ but is also unlike it in that ‘it tends irresistibly towards irrationalism, anti-naturalism, traditionalism, and anti-individualism,’ leading to repeated crises.74 In line with the conception of Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte – to borrow Dvořák’s term – Hauser posited what is essentially a Weltanschauung that stretched across the domains of what would come to be called the natural sciences, philosophy, religion, and politics, and encompassed equally the visual arts, literature, and theatre. Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Montaigne, Luther, Machiavelli, Cervantes, Donne and Shakespeare – the ‘first modern thinkers’75 – are as much mannerists as Pontormo, Parmigianino, El Greco, and Tintoretto. As if echoing Mannheim, he claimed that priority was only given to the visual arts because in no other field can ‘the relevant historical processes be so immediately and vividly displayed.’76

For Hauser, ‘the key to mannerism’ is alienation. Following Werner Sombart, he dated the beginnings of capitalist economic relations to around 1300 and presented the Renaissance as corresponding to the first stages of the capitalist Weltanschauung. Mannerism, by contrast, coincided with the moment at which capitalist accumulation first became ‘perceptible’ in the sixteenth century, that is, when ‘capitalism in the real sense of the word’ came into being. And that which really marked out the capitalist economy was not so much changes in the structure of economic relations as the ‘completely new outlook’ of ‘economic rationalism,’ which superseded any respect for tradition and led to a culture in which ‘every factor in the process of production was considered on material grounds alone,’ quite independent of larger human concerns. Increasingly viewed solely in terms of the abstractions of the market, the commodity’s value became divorced from the complex tissue of human relations through which it was produced. Not only is this a position that in its stress on rationalization is as much indebted to Weber and Simmel as to Marx, it also renders capitalism inseparable from Weltanschauung and ‘a much broader trend of the age towards complication and abstraction.’ 77

Already in the sixteenth century, then, the reification of life was so advanced that the products of human action assumed an apparent autonomy that rendered human beings dependent on their own creations, so that ‘the self loses itself in its objectifications.’ Essentially, ‘alienation means the loss of the wholeness or… the universal nature of man’ in that ‘men whose world is still homogenous and undivided are not yet alienated and are still whole.’ To face a world made up of ‘independent and autonomous cultural phenomena’ such as the state, the economy, the sciences and art, is to experience it as a fragmented and alienated self.78 For Hauser, such alienation is seen ‘in its most unmistakable form’ in the portraits of Bronzino, Salviati, or Coello, with their ‘cool, rigid, glassy expressions’ and ‘lifeless “armour-like” masks,’ which suggest both ‘mystery’ and ‘a complete withdrawal from the world.’ Lack of concern with character representation is matched by the care lavished on ‘incidentals,’ with the result that ‘it is impossible to feel at home among the things of this world or to make friends with them.’79

A key register of the mannerist outlook is the representation of space. Thus, discussing how murals by Andrea del Sarto in the courtyard of the Compagnia dello Scalzo prepared the way for the treatment of space in Pontormo’s work, Hauser pointed to their effect of spatial dissolution: ‘The principal figures are displaced to one side, and unimportant subsidiary figures are excessively emphasized by assonances or contrasts; symmetrical and axial arrangement is disturbed by lights irregularly distributed over the whole composition; and the main action takes place in a shallow plane right in the foreground.’ These features combine to impart ‘an abstract, unreal, inhospitable character to space, which becomes a medium in which men move as in an alien world; figure and space, man and his environment, do not really belong together.’80 Hauser was clear that the space of mannerist painting cannot correspond to the infinite space of the seventeenth century Scientific Revolution; one must wait for the landscape space of baroque art to find an equivalent to that. However, following Dvořák, he saw the landscapes of both Bruegel and Tintoretto as figuring a new ‘cosmographical vision’ that ‘burst the bonds of the category of space in classical painting.’81 In Tintoretto’s case it is space presented ‘on a scale that surpasses ordinary experience,’ but that does not for all that ‘overstep the limits of the human intelligence and imagination.’82

Although Hauser presented the depersonalization of social and legal relations and the rise of bureaucratic institutions as causes of alienation, he posited the key to its specifically modern form of reification in explicitly Marxist terms, as arising from the fetishism of commodities. This is truly a Weltanschauung in that ‘the way of thinking of the whole of society was based on the ideology of commodities.’ Alienation entered into artistic production too, in that the middle years of the sixteenth century saw the beginnings of the art trade and the subjection of art itself to the commodity form. Correspondingly, it is the period that represents ‘the birth hour’ of the modern artist.83 The new uncertainty and contradictoriness in the realm of ideas was matched by an unprecedented degree of uncertainty in relation to artistic style; for the first time in the history of art there was no single artistic path ahead for artists, and the question of choice between different styles became acutely problematical.84 This unsettled the relationship between the individual personality of the artist and the character of his works.85

Following Dvořák, Hauser claimed that it was similarities between the crisis of the Renaissance and his own times that had made the ‘rehabilitation’ of mannerism possible. Expressionism, surrealism and abstract art permitted the qualities of earlier ‘non-naturalistic and anti-naturalistic art’ (art that does not set out from nature but from earlier art) to be valued.86 Indeed, modernism and mannerism share a kindred attitude to medium in that in both ‘the instrument of expression and the element in which the representation moves is to an extent end as well as means, content as well as form,’ with the result that ‘all kinds of mannerist representation are in a sense metaphorical.’87 Although Hauser made this point more in relation to literary style than style in the visual arts, he also asserted – as indeed the spirit of holistic analysis required – that metaphor ‘more or less performs the function of irrational treatment of space, distorted proportions, and twisted forms in the visual arts.’88

Particularly revealing of Hauser’s relationship to Lukács’s pre-Marxist vision is his characterization of the ‘symbolic naturalism’ of Bruegel’s work, with which, he claimed, the history of modern art began. Bruegel’s style ‘originates in the mannerist view of life, its dualism, its dialectic, its paradoxical combination of opposites, and involves on the one hand the complete overthrow of the blissfully naïve faith, say, of the Homeric age in the homogeneity of things, the meaningfulness of life, and the presence of the gods in this world, and on the other the end of the clean and neat distinction drawn by medieval Christianity between the true and the false, the real and unreal. The world is no longer meaningful just because it exists, as in Homer, and works of art are not the truer the more they depart from ordinary reality, as in the Middle Ages. But, because of their imperfection and inherent meaninglessness, they point towards a fuller and more meaningful whole, which is not there for the taking, but has to be striven for.’ 89 This was clearly written with the argument of Lukács’s Theory of the Novel in mind, but with the difference that while shortly after the composition of that work in 1914-15 Lukács came to the view that the fate of humanity under the condition of modernity could be remedied – with negative implications for his evaluation of modernist art – Hauser was less confident about human prospects, leading him to a position that was more affirmative of modernism’s (and mannerism’s) Weltanschauung.

At two points in the book Hauser made clear that his defense of mannerism and modernism was directed against Lukács, something that in any case might be guessed from his long enthusiastic analyses of Proust and Kafka.90 Thus, near the outset, he conceded that while irrationalism in philosophy and science led to what Lukács called ‘the destruction of reason,’ the ‘artistic intelligence’ and the ‘theoretical intelligence’ are quite different things, so that irrationalism in the realm of philosophy and political thought does not necessarily lead to bad art, as ‘left wing art criticism’ too often assumed.91 In contrast to the classical model of the work of art as a ‘synthesis’ and a whole, Hauser emphasized the fragmentary character of the mannerist artwork: ‘In contrast to this synthesis, the objective of an anti-classical mannerist work of art is the analysis of reality. Its aim is not the seizure of any essence, or the condensation of the separate aspects of reality into a compact whole; instead it aspires to riches, multiplicity, variety, and exquisiteness in the things to be rendered. It moves for preference on the periphery of the area of life with which it is concerned, and not only in order to include as many original elements as possible, but also to indicate that the life it renders has no centre anywhere. A mannerist work is not so much a picture of reality as a collection of contributions to such a picture.’92 As if to affront the ideologues of Socialist Realism, in addition to treating aestheticism and surrealism as stages in a revival of the mannerist sensibility appropriate to the age, Hauser explicitly affirmed the formalism of mannerist art, interpreting it in a quite different way from its realist critics, not as reflecting a ‘belief in the predominance of form over matter,’ but as a ‘compensation, or rather an overcompensation’ for the lack of a sense of order in the social world.93 This is not to say that mannerism is only ‘a symptom and product of alienation… an art that has become soulless, extroverted and shallow.’ Although there may be many works that unreflexively manifest alienation, the artist’s sense of his alienation could also lead to ‘the most profoundly self-revelatory creations,’ becoming the ‘raw material’ of the work – a conclusion that points towards an Adornian rather than a Lukácsian aesthetic.94

Despite all his efforts to connect the sixteenth century to the present, when Hauser’s Mannerism was published in English in 1965, it seemed a book out of time – as Francis Haskell observed in an acerbic review.95 Seemingly unaware of much recent literature, Hauser appeared locked in the mindset of an earlier age of German language art historicalscholarship. Historians in the English-speaking world were becoming increasingly skeptical of mannerism as a category; John Sherman’s 1967 study – which made no reference to Hauser’s work – seems like the concept’s last hurrah.96 Moreover, to read through Hauser’s endnotes to The Social History of Art or Mannerism is to be confronted everywhere with the names of Simmel, Sombart, Troeltsch, and the Webers. In other words, not just with Marxists but with representatives of the tradition of German social thought whose tenor Michael Löwy has described as one of ‘resigned romanticism,’97 to characterize its simultaneous aversion to and resignation before capitalist development. Such thinking in all its philosophical complexity was deeply alien to British empiricist art history. But Haskell was certainly correct that Hauser’s grand generalizations needed to be tested against detailed research of individual cases. Confident in the principle of holistic critique Mannheim had laid out in the early 1920s, Hauser had delivered a tour de force of premature totalization.98 The immediate future of the social history of art lay not with such grand ‘intuitive analogies between form and ideological content’ as T.J. Clark put it, but with detailed studies of ‘the network of real complex relations’ between them and the ‘concrete transactions’ on which they rested.99

Yet despite the seeming anachronisms of Hauser’s argument and his failure to support his claims with detailed analyses of patronage relations or other evidence, even Haskell acknowledged that the problems he tried to tackle ‘are amongst the most interesting and important that can face any student of cultural history.’100 And the challenge of what Clark called Lukács’s ‘difficult and fertile thesis’ remains for us today. If its realization seems more difficult than ever – and vastly more complex than Hauser imagined – that may be because the acute fragmentation of our own world has made us too leery of totalizing critique despite the elusive truths it promises.

El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos): The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586). Oil on canvas, 460 cm × 360 cm. Church of Santa Tomé, Toledo.
El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos): The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586). Oil on canvas, 460 cm × 360 cm. Church of Santa Tomé, Toledo.

1. T.J. Clark, ‘The Conditions of Artistic Creation,’ Times Literary Supplement (24 May 1974): pp. 561-2; Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, tr. Rodney Livingstone (1923; London: Merlin Press, 1971), p. 153.
2. This essay began life as a paper delivered at the Colloque international: ‘L’histoire de l’art:
généalogies et enjeux d’une pratique,’ Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Paris, 11 December 2009.
3. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, tr. Arnold Hauser and Stanley Godman, 2 vols.
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951).
4. The most compendious account of romantic anti-capitalism is Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre,
Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity, tr. Catherine Porter (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2001).
5. My presentation of Dilthey draws heavily on Rudolf A. Makkreel, Dilthey: Philosopher of Human Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975). For Dilthey’s conception of Weltanschauung, see Dilthey’s Philosophy of Existence: Introduction to Weltanschauungslehre, tr. William Kluback and Martin Weinbaum (New York: Bookman Associates, 1957). I have followed Makkreel’s translations of most of Dilthey’s key terms.
6. For the chapters on Goethe and Hölderlin, see Wilhelm Dilthey, Poetry and Experience, ed. Rudolf
A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi, Selected Works, vol. 5 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), part 2. Georg Lukács, Soul and Form, tr. Anna Bostock (London: Merlin Press, 1974).
7. In the Curriculum Vitae Lukács prepared to support his bid for Habilitation at the University of Heidelberg in 1918. See Judith Marcus and Zoltán Tar (ed.), Georg Lukács: Selected Correspondence, 1902-1920 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 286.
8. Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, tr. Peter Palmer (1954; London: Merlin Press, 1980), pp. 4, 434.
9. Ibid., pp. 430, 432-4, 440.
10. Ibid., p. 436.
11. Ibid., p. 439.
12. Michael Löwy, George Lukács: From Romanticism to Bolshevism, tr. Patrick Camiller(London: New Left Books, 1979), pp. 169-70, 170 n.7.
13. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, x, xiv. For Lukács and romantic anti-capitalism, see Michael Löwy, ‘Naphta or Settembrini? Lukács and Romantic Anticapitalism,’ New German Critique 42 (Fall 1987), pp. 17-31.
14. Löwy, Georg Lukács, p. 86; Arnold Hauser, Im Gespräch mit Georg Lukács (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1978), p. 54. The fullest picture of the circle is given in Éva Karádi and Erzseébet Vezér (ed.), Georg Lukács, Karl Mannheim und der Sonntagskreis (Frankfurt a.M.: Sendler, 1985).
15. Hauser, Im Gespräch, pp. 29, 49. Although Mannheim’s published correspondence provides testimony of his warm friendships with the art historians Lajos Fülep and Charles de Tolnay (both members of the Sonntagskreis) it contains no mention of Hauser. See Selected Correspondence (1911-1946) of Karl Mannheim, Scientist, Philosopher, and Sociologist, ed. Éva Gábor (Lewiston: Edward Mellen Press, 2003). Neither does Hauser feature in the most substantial historical account of his intellectual formation: Colin Loader, The Intellectual Development of Karl Mannheim: Culture, Politics, and Planning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).
16. Hauser, Im Gespräch, p. 112.
17. This is confirmed by the tone of the eight letters from Mannheim from 1910-16 in Georg Lukács: Selected Correspondence. On Mannheim and Lukács, see David Kettler, Volker Meja, and Nico Stehr, Karl Mannheim (Chichester: Ellis Horwood Ltd., and London: Tavistock Publications Ltd., 1984), pp. 35-9.
18. Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel: A Historico- Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, tr. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971), pp. 12-13.In 1887, Dilthey had described the ‘theory of the novel’ as ‘the most pressing and important task of contemporary poetics’ – Dilthey, Poetry and Experience, p. 172. Mannheim’s review of The Theory of the Novel reveals just how intellectually close he and Lukács were at this time. See From Karl Mannheim, ed. Kurt H. Wolff, second edition, introduced by Volker Meja and David Kettler (New Brunswick and London: Transaction, 1993),pp. 131-35.
19. Hauser, Im Gespräch, p. 58. For a rather different picture, see Michael Löwy, ‘Karl Mannheim and Georg Lukács. The Lost Heritage of Heretical Historicism,’ in Frank Benseler and Werner Jung (ed.), Jahrbuch der Internationalen Georg- Lukács-Gesellschaft, vol. 6 (Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2002), pp. 61-77. Loader emphasizes their intellectual differences – see Intellectual Development, pp. 62-65, 96-101.
20. For this phase in their lives, see David Kettler, Marxismus und Kultur. Mannheim und Lukács in den ungarischen Revolutionen 1918/19 (Neuwied and Berlin: Luchterhand, 1967).
21. Hauser, Im Gespräch, pp. 37-38, 115, 14, 16. Significantly, Hauser rejected Mannheim’s notion of a free-floating intelligentsia (pp. 43-44).
22. The English edition, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, tr. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1936), differs in important respects from original German text. See Kettler, Meja, and Stehr, Karl Mannheim, pp. 111-16; Loader, Intellectual Development, pp. 95-96. Mannheim was a student and then Privatdozent at Heidelberg from 1922-30.
23. Lukács, Destruction, pp. 632-41.
24. For Mannheim’s intellectual trajectory in this period, see Loader, Intellectual Development, chapters 2-4. Although Mannheim presents Ideologie und Utopie as an attempt to define a science of politics, romantic and holistic themes remained central to his thinking, and correspondingly Weltanschauung continued to be part of his conceptual armoury.
25. ‘Beiträge zur Theorie der Weltanschauungs-Interpretation’ and ‘Historismus,’ to give them their German titles, in Karl Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, ed. Paul Kecskemeti (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952), pp. 33-83, 84-133. The German text of the former is reprinted in Karl Mannheim, Wissenssoziologie. Auswahl aus dem Werk, ed. Kurt H. Wolff (Berlin and Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1964), pp.91-154.
26. Mannheim, Essays, p. 97-108. For Troeltsch, see Carlo Antoni, From History to Sociology: The Transition in German Historical Thinking, tr. Hayden V. White (London: Merlin Press, 1959), chapter 2.
27. Mannheim, Essays, pp. 84, 85.
28. Ibid., pp. 84, 85.
29. Ibid., pp. 87-8, 91, 97. Cf. p. 100.
30. Ibid., p. 126.
31. Ibid., pp. 130, 104-5. My emphasis.
32. Ibid., p. 86.
33. Ibid., pp. 86, 87.
34. Ibid., pp. 94, 95.
35. Ibid., pp. 91-2, 95-6.
36. Ibid., p. 106 n.2.
37. Ibid., pp. 106, 107, 109. 111.
38. Ibid., pp. 116-17.
39. Ibid., pp. 121, 122-23, 124, 125.
40. Ibid., pp. 33, 39.
41. Ibid., pp. 36, 37.
42. Ibid., pp. 34, 36.
43. Ibid., p. 38.
44. Ibid., p. 36.
45. Ibid., pp. 40, 41, 42.
46. Ibid., pp. 38, 39.
47. Ibid., p. 39.
48. Ibid., p. 41.
49. Ibid., pp. 66, 67.
50. Erwin Panofsky, ‘Introductory,’ in Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (1939; New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), pp. 3-31. Mannheim refers to Panofsky’s writings twice in the essay – Mannheim, Essays, pp. 58 n.1, 73, n.1. For the interplay of Panofsky and Mannheim, see Joan Hart, ‘Erwin Panofsky and Karl Mannheim: A Dialogue on Interpretation’, Critical Inquiry 19, no.3 (Spring 1993), pp. 534-66.
51. Ibid., pp. 43, 51.
52. Ibid., pp. 46-47.
53. Ibid., pp. 49-50.
54. Ibid., p. 48.
55. Ibid., pp. 55, 56, 58.
56. Ibid., p. 74. Dilthey was profoundly influenced by the hermeneutics of Friedrich Schleiermacher –on whom much of his early scholarly work focused – but advocated a more open and less deterministic theory. See Makkreel, Dilthey, pp. 255-72.
57. Mannheim, Essays, pp. 66, 74.
58. Dilthey, Poetry and Experience, p. 5. On the attempt of his student Herman Nohl to correlate pictorial styles with Weltanschauungen, see Makkreel, Dilthey, pp. 410-12.
59. Mannheim, Essays, pp. 75, 76.
60. Ibid., pp. 76-80.
61. Ibid., pp. 80-82.
62. Ibid., p. 56 n.1. Mannheim refers to the lecture ‘Über Greco und den Manierismus’, published in the Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 1 (XV), 1921/22, and reprinted in a revised form in Dvořák’s Kunstgeschichte als Geistesgeschichte (Munich: R. Piper and Co., 1924), pp. 261-76. See Max Dvořák, The History of Art as the History of Ideas, tr. John Hardy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), chapter 6. For Dvořák, see Matthew Rampley’s fine article ‘Max Dvořák: Art History and the Crisis of Modernity,’ Art History 26, no.2 (April 2003), pp. 214-37.
63. Dvořák, History of Art, pp. 98, 99.
64. Ibid., p. 104.
65. Ibid., pp. 103, 104.
66. Ibid., p. 108.
67. ‘Vorwort’, in Oskar Kokoschka: Variationen über ein Thema (Vienna: Richard Lányi, 1921). On the perceived affinity between Expressionism and Gothic, see Magdalena Bushart, Der Geist der Gotik und die expressionistische Kunst, Kunstgeschichte und Kunsttheorie 1911-1925 (Munich: Verlag Silke Schreiber, 1990).
68. Arnold Hauser, Die Manierismus. Der Krise der Renaissance und der Ursprung der modernen Kunst (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1964); Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art, tr. Eric Mosbacher (1965; Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1986).
69. Hauser, Im Gespräch, p. 35.
70. Hauser, Mannerism, p. 16.
71. Ibid., pp. 12, 17.
72. Ibid., p. 31.
73. Ibid., pp. 7, 8.
74. Ibid., p. 33.
75. Ibid., p. 36.
76. Ibid., pp. xvliii-xix.
77. Ibid., p. 55-56.
78. Ibid., pp. 95-96. See also pp. 105-08, 108.
79. Ibid., p. 114. Cf. pp. 119-200.
80. Ibid, p. 189.
81. Ibid., pp. 230, 51.
82. Ibid., p. 230.
83. Ibid., p. 102.
84. Ibid., pp. 23-4, 28.
85. Ibid., p. 33.
86. Ibid., pp. 3-4, 29, 40.
87. Ibid., pp. 286, 291.
88. Ibid., p. 291.
89. Ibid., pp. 245-6. Cf. p. 295.
90. Lukács acknowledged the greatness of both authors, but argued that their vision of contemporary society was partial and limited. See Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, tr. John and Necke Mander (London: Merlin, 1963).
91. Hauser, Mannerism, pp. 15-16.
92. Ibid., p. 25.
93. Ibid., p. 27.
94. Ibid., p. 111.
95. Francis Haskell, ‘Generalisations,’ Encounter, vol. 25, no. 1 (July 1965), pp. 78-82.
96. John Sherman, Mannerism (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967).
97. Löwy, Georg Lukács, pp. 30-49.
98. Ironically, Hauser acknowledged the dangers of this – Mannerism, p. 108.
99. T.J. Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973), pp. 10, 12.
100. Haskell, ‘Generalisations,’ p. 80