The Romantic Attitude

The romantic attitude is most clearly characterised by means of a singular concept, that of the occasio. This concept can be rendered in terms of ideas such as occasion, opportunity, and perhaps also chance.

It negates the concept of causa, in other words, the force of a calculable causality, and thus also every binding norm. It is a disintegrative concept. This is because everything that gives consistency and order to life and to what takes place – regardless of whether it is the mechanical calculability of the causal, or a purposive or normative nexus — is incompatible with the idea of the merely occasional. Wherever the opportune and the accidental become principles, an immense preeminence over such binding forces arises.

Romanticism is subjectified occasionalism. In other words, in the romantic, the romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity [...] an occasional relationship to the world is essential to it.

Instead of God, however, the romantic subject occupies the central position and makes the world and everything that occurs in it into a mere occasion. Because the final authority is shifted from God to the genius of the “ego," the entire foreground changes, and that which is genuinely occasionalistic appears in a pristine fashion.

It is true that the old philosophers of occasionalism, such as Malebranche, also possessed the disintegrative concept of the occasio. However, they recovered law and order in God, the objective absolute. And in the same way, a certain objectivity and cohesion always remain possible whenever another objective authority, like the state, takes the place of God in such an occasionalist attitude.

It is different, however, when the isolated and emancipated individual brings his occasional attitude to realization. Only now does the occasional display the total consistency of its repudiation of all consistency. Only now can everything really become the occasion for everything else. Only now does everything that will happen and all sequential order become incalculable in a fantastic manner, which is precisely the immense attraction of this attitude.

That is because this attitude makes it possible to take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and the incomprehensible - either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically malicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic. 

A world that is ever new arises from ever new opportunities. But it is always a world that is only occasional, a world without substance and functional cohesion, without a fixed direction, without consistency and definition, without decision, without a final court of appeal, continuing into infinity and led only by the magic hand of chance.

In this world, the romantic can make everything into the vehicle of his romantic interest; he can have the illusion, which here as well may be harmless or perfidious, that the world is only an occasion.

In every other intellectual sphere, including that of everyday reality, this attitude would immediately become ridiculous and impossible. In the romantic, on the other hand, a special aesthetic achievement takes place: Between the point of concrete reality that serves as an incidental occasion and the creative romantic, an interesting, colorful world arises that often has an amazing aesthetic attraction. We can assent to it aesthetically, but taking it seriously in a moral or objective fashion would call for an ironic mode of treatment.

It is only in an individualistically disintegrated society that the aesthetically productive subject could shift the intellectual center into itself, only in a bourgeois world that isolates the individual in the domain of the intellectual, makes the individual its own point of reference, and imposes upon it the entire burden that otherwise was hierarchically distributed among different functions in a social order.

In this society, it is left to the private individual to be his own priest. But not only that. Because of the central significance and consistency of the religious, it is also left to him to be his own poet, his own philosopher, his own king, and his own master builder in the cathedral of his personality. 

The ultimate roots of romanticism and the romantic phenomenon lie in the private priesthood.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 16-20

The decision however, — the complete incompatibility of the romantic with any moral, legal, or political standard — follows only from the structure of the romantic as an occasionalist consent oriented to aesthetic productivity.

Here experience is no doubt in quest of an artistic expression, but not logical-conceptual or moral-normative clarity. This is why the romantic lacks any sense of the limits of the efficacy of the state as well as the limits of the individual.

Adam Müller's amoral appreciation of everything and its opposite; his passion for mediating everywhere; his "cosmic tolerance," which so alarmed Gentz because in that case "there is no longer anything that one could love and honestly hate”; his effeminate passivity, to which he knew how to bend the aversion of Burke, de Maistre, and Bonald for artificial “fabrication”; and his emotional pantheism, which is basically always in agreement with everything and approves of everything - all this can probably be explained in an individual-psychological fashion as well, as a consequence of his feminine and vegetative nature.

For romantic aestheticism, however, all these factors amounted to the appropriate psychic and physical disposition. That is because they referred the subject entirely to its own emotional states and to the aesthetic productivity that is satisfied with the elaboration of affect.

Müller can do nothing but pursue an occupation with himself, regardless of whether he is engaging in astrology (or today in psychoanalysis, or at some future point perhaps in astrology again) or composing his rejection of the aestheticism of others. He was always ready to surrender himself. Nevertheless, he at least wanted to extract portentous words and images from the emotional state of surrender. This was his activity.

For the rest, he stood with his material at the immediate disposal of every powerful suggestion. Because he was without his own center of gravity and was not constrained by matter-of-fact experience and his own responsibility, the consistency of the view that impressed him at any given time easily carried him to the extremes of its program.

He can understand everything and approve it at his pleasure. That is because everything can become material for his work of aesthetic formation.

The master of the Lehre vom Gegensatz was incapable of seeing any polarity except that of an aesthetic contrast. Neither logical distinctions, nor moral value judgments, nor political decisions are possible for him. The most important source of political vitality, the belief in justice and an indignation over injustice, does not exist for him.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 127-9

The historical discussion of those developments which made the victories of emotivism possible has now revealed something else about these specifically modern characters [the aesthete, the therapist and the manager, the bureaucratic expert], namely the extent to which they trade and cannot escape trading in moral fictions. But how far does the range of moral fiction extend beyond those of rights and utility? And who is going to be deceived by them?

The aesthete is the character least likely to be their victim. Those insolent scoundrels of the philosophical imagination, Diderot's Rameau and Kierkegaard's 'A', who lounge so insolently at the entrance to the modern world, specialize in seeing through illusory and fictitious claims.

If they are deceived, it is only by their own cynicism. When aesthetic deception occurs in the modern world, it is rather because of the reluctance of the aesthete to admit that that is what he is.

And if over-indulgence in despair seems to be injuring his capacities for enjoyment, he will take himself to the therapist, just as he would for over-indulgence in alcohol, and make of his therapy one more aesthetic experience.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.87

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