A Commentary (Oct 1932)
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498 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 12 (Oct 1932) 73-79 It is greatly to the credit of the intellectuals of post-War Germany, living in a country which has been more politics-ridden than any other of Western Europe, and in an atmosphere which one might suppose most discouraging to dispassionate thought, that they have been able to produce so much that is first rate. It is a pity that work of this kind finds little appreciation in England; the spring comes slowly up our way, and modern Germany is only known by some of its novels and by a few books of topical interest. Writers of more permanent importance than Spengler are unknown.1 Such names as those of Heidegger in philosophy and Heim in theology are known to only a handful; Friedrich Gundolf and Max Scheler are slightly known to some of our readers.2 Ernst Robert Curtius is in a different category from any of these, and is already much more widely known, although we must admit that he is, like other important German writers, better known in Paris than in London. One justification for his being less known here – except to readers of The Criterion – is that he has occupied himself very largely for many years with the task of interpreting French civilization and French literature to Germany, as a number of books: his Balzac, his Proust, his Franzözischer Geist im Neuen Europa, and the book which has been recently (and not too well) translated under the title of The Civilization of France (Allen & Unwin: 12s. 6d. net) all attest.3 But as one of those men such as Gide and Larbaud in France, Hofmannsthal in Austria and Ortega yGassetinSpain,whohavesteadilylabouredintheinterestoftheEuropean spirit, his work deserves as much attention from us as from the French.4 His recent small book, Deutscher Geist in Gefahr (Deutsche-VerlagsAnstalt , pp. 131) is perhaps not a book to be translated, inasmuch as it is a direct appeal to his German readers, but it is certainly a book to be read by everyone who can follow a simple and lucid German style, and who can also appreciate the problems of our time as being more serious than such as can be eased by national or imperial nostrums. It consists of five essays, of which the most valuable to foreigners are perhaps the last two, “Soziologie oder Revolution?” and “Humanismus als Initiative.” The second of these is one of the best and most reasonable expositions of a “humanist” attitude [ 499 A Commentary (oct) that I have ever read.5 But it was by a passage in the first that I was especially struck. Dr. Curtius is concerned with the views of a contemporary sociologist named Mannheim, of whose work I am ignorant, and who has hitherto been only a name to me.6 “Indeed,” says Curtius, “for many contemporary thinkers, Mannheim among them, there seems to exist a crude antithesis between Change and Value on the one side, and Permanence (Dauer) and Valuelessness on the other.”7 The antithesis is not a new one. It is at least as old as pre-Socratic philosophy , and metaphysics has struggled with its conundrums ever since. It is the form in which it is accepted to-day, not only by technical philosophers like Mannheim, but as an unconscious assumption of popular philosophy, that makes it interesting and important for us. One might expect it, in its crudity , to have become out-dated; it seems to belong to the year 1910, with the pleasant essays of William James (as popular a writer for his time as are Eddington and Jeans in ours) and with the epidemic of Bergsonism.8 But the course of events has led it to take less obvious forms. We cannot deny thatthewords(soimpressivebecauseoftheirassociationwithphysics)static and dynamic are popularly used almost always, the one disparagingly, the other eulogistically. We may have forgotten the philosophy of James, we may even sneer at the idea of “progress” (and perhaps “progress” has only becomeunfashionablebecausewehavebeenabletoqualifyitas“Victorian”); but we are still over-valuing the changing and ignoring the permanent.9 As Curtius remarks, the Permanent has come to mean Paralysis and Death. One of the consequences, as it seems to me, of our failure to grasp the proper relation of the Eternal and the Transient, is our over-estimation of the importance of our own time. This is natural to an age which, whatever its professions, is still imbued with the doctrine of progress. The doctrine...