Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

THE CULTURE OF VIENNESE SCIENCE AND THE RIDDLE OF AUSTRIAN LIBERALISM*

  • MALACHI HAIM HACOHEN (a1)
Extract

Vienna's scientific culture has long attracted historians' attention. Impressive though the scientific accomplishments of Viennese scientists were, and recognized by numerous Nobel prizes, they alone do not account for the historians' interest. Rather, Vienna's culture of science was imbedded in broader humanistic visions and invested in political and educational projects of major historical significance. Viennese philosophy placed humanity's hopes in science and articulated its historical ramifications to the public, drawing out the political implications of competing scientific methodologies and tying them to dramatic historical events. This philosophy of science still reverberates nowadays in debates on liberty, markets, and government that quickly reveal their underpinning in the methodology of science. Vienna's scientific culture, it seems, has never ceased to capture the imagination, far beyond Austria.

Copyright
References
Hide All

1 von Hayek, Friedrich, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952); Popper, Karl, The Open Society and Its Enemies, 2 vols. (London: Routledge, 1945).

2 Coen, Deborah, Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Page references are subsequently given in parentheses in the text.

3 Schorske, Carl, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: A. Knopf, 1980).

4 Beller, Steven, Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

5 Rossbacher, Karlheinz, Literatur und Liberalismus: Zur Kultur der Ringstraßenzeit in Wien (Vienna: Jugend und Volk, 1992); idem, Literatur und Bürgertum: Fünf Wiener jüdische Familien von der liberalen Ära zum Fin de Siècle (Vienna: Böhlau, 2003).

6 Schedel, James, Art and Society: The New Art Movement in Vienna, 1897–1914 (Palo Alto, CA: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 1981).

7 Boyer, John, Political Radicalism in Late Imperial Vienna: Origins of the Christian Social Movement, 1848–1897 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1981); idem, Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897–1918 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995).

8 Judson, Pieter, Exclusive Revolutionaries: Liberal Politics, Social Experience, and National Identity in the Austrian Empire, 1848–1914 (Ann Arbour, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

9 Höbelt, Lothar, Kornblume und Kaiseradler: Die deutschfreiheitlichen Parteien Altösterreichs 1882–1918 (Wien: Verlag für Geschichte und Politik, 1993).

10 Janik, Allan and Toulmin, Stephen, Wittgenstein's Vienna (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973); Janik, Allan, “Vienna 1900 Revisited: Paradigms and Problems,” in Beller, Steven, ed., Rethinking Vienna 1900 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2001), 2756.

11 Hacohen, Malachi, Karl Popper—The Formative Years, 1902–1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), esp. 3461.

12 Rider, Jacques Le, Modernité viennoise et crises de l'identité (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990).

13 Steven Beller, editor of Rethinking Vienna 1900, a volume assessing the Schorskean paradigm, disagrees (esp. 11–20).

14 Exner, Serafin, Vorlesungen über die physikalischen Grundlagen der Naturwissenschaften (Leipzig und Wien: F. Deuticke, 1922).

15 The locus classicus is Landes, Joan B., Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).

16 Michael Stoeltzner, “Causality, Realism and the Two Strands of Boltzmann's Legacy (1896–1936),” Ph.D. diss., Universität Bielefeld, 2003, available at http://bieson.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/volltexte/2005/694/; idem, “Vienna Indeterminism: Mach, Boltzmann, Exner”, Synthese 119 (1999), 85–111. Hiebert discusses similar themes under the rubric of the “Austrian Revolt in Classical Mechanics.” See Hiebert, Erwin N., “Common Frontiers of the Exact Sciences and the Humanities,” Physics in Perspective 2 (2000), 629.

17 John Beatty has written (email to author, 29 Sept. 2008): “Probabilistic laws do not really solve problems of determinism vs. freedom . . . If alleged laws of societal development, or the course of human history, were probabilistic, one might still feel very uncomfortable about the odds of things turning out for the worse.” Indeed. After World War I, the Exners felt exceedingly uncomfortable about the odds. But the problem continued to be debated in these terms at least throughout the interwar years.

18 The episode is recounted in detail in Michael Stoeltzner, “Franz Serafin Exner's Indeterminist Theory of Culture”, Physics in Perspective 4 (2002), 267–319. Responding to German historical relativism and determinism, Exner sought to rescue a glimmer of hope for liberal culture.

19 Berlin, Isaiah, Four Essays on Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).

20 Schmitt, Carl, Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, 2nd edn (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1926); idem, Der Begriff des Politischen (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1933).

21 Coen uses Friedrich Adler (1879–1960), son of Victor, the founder of Austrian Social democracy, and Bettina Gomperz (1879–1948), daughter of the famous liberal classicist Theodor, as examples of a generational rebellion. They rebelled but they do not belong in the Exner story. Neither became Nazi (both were full Jews under Nazi racial laws); Bettina was not even a nationalist (from World War I on, she lived in Switzerland). Adler served until 1946 as secretary of the Socialist International and went into exile in the US during World War II. Bettina's oldest brother, philosopher Heinrich Gomperz (1873–1942), would have served Coen better to illustrate the transition from liberal parents to nationalist children. One of the few diehard Jewish Pan-Germans, he refused the to join, in 1934, Dollfuß's Vaterländische Front (Fatherland Front) on account of its opposition to German unification. He was retired from his Vienna professorship, and, from his US exile, he endorsed the Anschluß. His brother Rudolf Gomperz died in a concentration camp in 1942. Rudolf declared his two sons illegitimate to protect them under racial laws. Both became Nazi and at least one served in the Waffen-SS. The Gomperzs encapsulate the ironies of Jewish Austro-German liberalism. The Exners look conventional by comparison. Rossbacher, Literatur und Bürgertum, 533–84.

22 Popper, The Open Society, 2: 48. For Arendt see Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1958), 267–302: “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man.”

23 Karl Popper, “Zur Philosophie des Heimatgedankens” (1927; on the philosophy of the Heimat idea), in Frühe Schriften, Gesammelte Werke in deutscher Sprache, ed. Troels Eggers Hansen, vol. 1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 10–26.

24 Ingrid Belke, Die sozialreformerischen Ideen von Joseph Popper-Lynkeus (1838–1921) in Zusammenhang mit allgemeinen Reformbestrebungen des Wiener Bürgertums um die Jahrhundertwende (Tübingen: Mohr, 1978), 5–56; Fuchs, Albert, Geistige Strömungen in Österreich, 1867–1918 (Vienna: Löcker, 1949), 133–62.

25 Gruber, Helmut, Red Vienna: Experiments in Working-Class Culture, 1919–1934 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

26 Karl Popper, Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie (1930–33) (Tübingen: Mohr, 1979), 136; revised as Logik der Forschung: Zur Erkenntnistheorie moderner Naturwissenschaft (Vienna: Julius Springer, 1935), 66–7; translated into English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery, trans. Karl Popper (London: Hutchinson, 1959).

27 Popper, Karl, The Open Society, American edn (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), 170.

28 Victor Adler (1852–1918) was the leader of Austrian Social Democracy.

* My thanks to John Beatty (UBC, Vancouver), Steven Beller (Washington, DC), Oliver Hochadel (CEHIC, Barcelona), Mi Gyung Kim (NCSU, Raleigh), Lutz Musner (IFK, Vienna), Anthony La Vopa (NCSU, Raleigh), Julie Mell (NCSU, Raleigh), Michael Stoeltzner (USC, Columbia), and Roger Stuewer (University of Minnesota) for critical readings.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed