wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Frederick Beiser

The Romantic Imperative

What had been given to early man on a naive level—moral and religious belief, unity with nature and society—had been destroyed by the corrosive powers of criticism; the task now was to recreate it on a self-conscious level through the powers of art.

Art could restore moral and religious belief through the creation of a new mythology. It could regenerate unity with nature by 'romanticizing' it, that is, by restoring its old mystery, magic, and beauty. And it could reestablish community by expressing and arousing the feeling of love, which is the basis of all social bonds, the natural feeling joining all free and equal persons.

This aesthetic credo was the romantics' response to the crisis of the Aufklarung at the close of the eighteenth century. The ideals of Bildung and radical criticism could coexist, in the romantic view, provided that the task of Bildung was left to the creative powers of art. A conflict arose only when reason presumed to play a more positive role in Bildung; for such a presumption did not square with the essentially destructive powers of criticism. Like many critics of reason at the close of the eighteenth century, the young romantics tended to limit reason to a strictly negative role: its task was merely to combat prejudice, dogmatism, and superstition. They seem to agree with one of the fundamental points behind Kant's and Jacobi's critique of reason: that reason does not have the power to create facts, but only the power to relate them through inference; the facts themselves must be given to reason from some other source. For the romantics, this source could only be the productive imagination.

There was, however, a deep ambiguity at the bottom of the romantics' program of aesthetic education, an equivocation reflecting their own uncertainty about the powers of reason. It was unclear whether they intended their program of aesthetic education to replace or to support the authority of reason. Was its task to establish the moral, religious, and political principles that reason seemed only to destroy? Or was its aim to provide only a stimulus or incentive for the moral and political principles that reason could create but not bring into practice?