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The death of civilization : ethics and politics in the work of Hermann Broch, 1886-1951


My dissertation examines Hermann Broch and his political theory on democracy. Hermann Broch (1886-1951) was one of the three or four greatest modernist writers of the first half of the twentieth century. His polyhistorical novel, The Sleepwalkers (1931-33) and his stream of conscious, prose-poetry novel, The Death of Virgil (1945) broke new ground in terms of narrative structure, playing with the relativity of time, and exploring the unconscious through words. His contributions to democratic theory is less well known but from a historical point of view equally as valuable for understanding the possibilities for intellectual engagement with the modern world. In the dissertation I explain how Broch's lifelong concern for ethics and value construction transformed into a political theory of human rights and Total Democracy. Broch's theory centered on the individual as the source for political stability; for the individual's cognitive automony allowed for an antidote to the modern tendency for outbreaks of irrational, mass hysteria. It is a theory I describe as "critical humanism." My dissertation further examines how Broch's critical humanism reveals a sustained commitment to the Enlightenment Project--how that commitment developed and was challenged in the context of Vienna 1900 and in exile in the United States, how that commitment shaped Broch's theory of social value construction, and finally how it impacted his conception of United States democracy. The ultimate source of Broch's critical humanism was his experience of dislocation in the modernist world of Vienna 1900 (assimilation, anti- Semitism, and identity crisis). The relativism he experienced in his youth developed into a theory of value relativity. In his exile he connected his ideas on ethical relativism to the struggle of democracy and fascism. Broch left behind 1000s of pages of material on his impressions of democracy and freedom in the United States. Broch's European view, which was pro-American and pro-democratic, allows for an interpretative approach to liberal democracy that is devoid of nationalism and free from the debates over positive and negative rights

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