Isaac Deutscher on Lukács, rationalism, irrationalism, & Nazism

The antithesis of self-confident rationalism and irrationalist pessimism is, of course, deeply rooted in bourgeois ideology. In Victorian England Macaulay and Carlyle embodied the contradiction. Marxism, at its best, has not identified itself with one of these elements and rejected the other, but has absorbed what was vital in each of them and transcended them both. Marx and Engels themselves had just a little more tenderness for Carlyle’s ‘rebellion against reason’, despite its dark implications, than they had for Macaulay’s brilliantly superficial optimism. Lukács’s predilections go the other way. He argues primarily from his German background and sees the ideological sources of Nazism in Schopenhauer’s, Wagner’s and Nietzsche’s Zerstörung der Vernunft, even though he senses at times that he may be doing Nazism a quite undeserved honour by attributing to it such ancestry. Actually, Nazism, insofar as it appropriated any philosophical tradition of the ‘rebellion against reason’, only parodied it in the most repulsive manner, just as, on a different level, it caught the anti-capitalist emotions of the ruined middle classes of the 1930s only to exploit them and deceive them. It appropriated even the name and the symbols of socialism; it called itself Arbeiterpartei – worker’s party; and in this way it harnessed to its counter-revolutionary cause many immaturely revolutionary moods floating about in German society. Indeed, it derived an immense dynamic momentum from its identification with every kind of rebellion against the bankrupt ‘reason’ of the capitalist establishment. It managed to do so because the parties of the working class failed politically and spiritually to make a common stand against it. In any case, the task of Marxists was not to invoke against Nazism the ‘reason’, the ‘patrician dignity’ and the respectable traditions of the bourgeoisie; still less was it to denounce all the immature and irrational forms of rebellion. Marxism could prevail, if at all, only by restating convincingly its own programme and principles and by demonstrating their relevance to the terrible crisis of those years. Yet Lukács’s literary critical work consisted precisely in invoking against Nazism the rationalism and the respectability of the bourgeois tradition. His approach reflects the failure of his party to see its task and even to grasp its error after the event.

SOURCE: Deutscher, Isaac. “Georg Lukács and Critical Realism” (1966), in Marxism in Our Time, edited by Tamara Deutscher (Berkeley: The Ramparts Press, 1971), pp. 283-293. Review of Georg Lukács’s Essays on Thomas Mann (Grosset, New York, 1965), originally broadcast on the Third Programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation, March 1968. Boldface added by RD.

See also:

Lukács, Georg. The Destruction of Reason, 2nd. ed., translated by Peter Palmer, introduction by Enzo Traverso. London; Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2021. (1st English ed., 1980; original German, 1952.)

Sabato Danzilli, “Traverso and Lukács: notes for discussion,” Verso blog, 31 January 2022.

Marcuse, Herbert. “The New German Mentality” (1942), in Technology, War and Fascism, edited by Douglas Kellner (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 139-190. (Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse; v. 1)

Georg Lukács on Irrationalism and Nazism: The Unity of Cynicism and Credulity

Georg Lukács on Relativism, Feuerbach, Nietzsche & Spengler

Engels (& Borges) on Carlyle

Georg Lukács’ The Destruction of Reason: Selected Bibliography

Anti-Nietzsche Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Nietzsche as Founder of Irrationalism in the Imperialist Period
(Chapter III of The Destruction of Reason) by Georg Lukács

The Georg Lukács Internet Archive

Internationale Georg-Lukacs-Gesellschaft e.V. [in German]

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