Den intellektuelle og politiske Georg Brandes


  • Erik Svendsen


Georg Brandes, den intellektuelle, modernitet & modernitetskritik, første verdenskrig, demokrati, aristokrati


Georg Brandes is mostly known as a literary critic, while there has been much less focus on his comprehensive political writing. Thus, more work needs to be done here, not least because Brandes presents himself in these texts as an intellectual who thinks internationally and unites an ability to defend enlightenment values with a critique of modernity. The analytical focus of the contribution is Brandes' two late monographs Verdenskrigen (1916) (The Great War) and Tragediens anden Del. Fredsslutningen (1919) (Part Two of the Tragedy. The Peace Treaty). In these two books, Brandes reports and reflects on militarism, imperialism, nationalism, free trade and communication across borders. While the young Brandes optimistically regarded the Enlightenment as having advanced humanity, he became much more sceptical in his later years. The First World War and its aftermath proved to him that there was a general lack of interest in rationality, internationalism and freedom. On the one hand, Brandes argued in favour of modernity but, on the other, he was also a sharp critic of modernity's double standards and hypocrisy, which he found on both the winning and the losing sides. Objectively, Brandes observed that the war changed society after 1918. Western societies were deeply internally divided, which manifested not least in the class struggle. Brandes cannot be accused of sympathizing with either Lenin or the Danish labour movement; however, he happily accepted invitations to give educational speeches to the workers. As a citizen, and a liberal regarding financial policy, Brandes was frightened at the thought of Communism spreading to Europe, but defended Russia against international sanctions, which he thought was the incorrect way to respond to Lenin. The contribution considers that Georg Brandes' writings are not devoid of self-contradiction. However, it is argued that he actually manages to speak with two voices without betraying his fundamental belief in the ideal of enlightenment. In his time, he was criticized for his persistent defence of neutrality. However, what is exemplary in Brandes' work as an intellectual is that he managed to criticize all parties who, in different ways, betrayed the ideal of progress. Thus, le citoyen and the free intellectual defeat le bourgeois in Brandes.