Rudolf Eucken

Rudolf Eucken

THE LAUREATE: Rudolf Eucken was born in 1846 in Aurich, which at the time was East Friesland and has since become Germany. He studied ancient philology, philosophy and history. He eventually became a professor at the University of Jenna, and lectured at New York University in 1913 and 1914. He received the Nobel Prize in 1908 and died in 1926. Sorry, there’s not a whole lot of free biographical information about him.

WHAT I’M READING: Socialism: An Analysis

REVIEW: Well, I can see right off the bat why Rudolf Eucken won the Nobel. As you’ll no doubt recall, the early Swedish Academy took Alfred Nobel’s will to mean that they should reward people who write in an idealistic vein, meaning the philosophical school of idealism. That sure is Eucken. His critique of Socialism is essentially that, as a political and philosophical body of theory, it cannot actually accomplish its goals. It is excellent for criticism, but terrible for coming up with usable ideas. (Incidentally, this is how I feel about socialism and communism. Great critics, terrible advisors.) And really, that’s the book in a nutshell. The first section is a description of socialism on its own terms, which is almost as abstract (and obnoxious) as Jean Barois. His point by point deconstruction of socialism is more grounded in reality, but he is clearly a product of his times; namely, the last half of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries. (An amusing quote: “We are threatened with a terrible chaos, and in the end the force of some strong personality may have to be brought in to put an end to it.”) Eucken, in the end, admired the social possibilities that socialism created, but felt that it lacked the spiritual (but not necessarily religious) muscle required to really make people emotionally invested in it.

RECOMMENDED?: Eh. If you’re interested in early 20th century philosophy and all the optimism it could muster (you know, before World War 2 put twenty five million bodies in the ground), go for it. I can’t say I disliked the reading experience. I just know that most of my audience is probably interested in fiction, and this is not it.

WHAT’S NEXT: Probably Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun. If not, it will be a selection of Czeslaw Milosz poems. Depends on what I get started on tomorrow morning

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