The Romantics and other cultures

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Isaiah Berlin has argued that Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) introduced a notion of pluralism into German intellectual and cultural history that was profoundly innovative and of great consequence for later generations, in particular the Romantics. Berlin defines Herder's concept of pluralism as not only the belief in the ‘multiplicity’, but in the ‘incommensurability, of the values of different cultures and societies, and in addition, in the incompatibility of equally valid ideals’. Following Herder's trajectory, the Romantics rejected what they perceived as the Enlightenment's outdated emphasis on universalism to embrace a notion of alterity that, at least on the surface, seemed to be more open to ‘irrational’ elements in the world views and belief systems of other cultures. Berlin's assessment has found widespread support and in fact, one could argue, the idea that cultural pluralism is a counter-Enlightenment phenomenon represents the consensus of the field. This chapter will revisit the issue of Romantic pluralism and revise Berlin's theories. One problem is that Berlin, and many other scholars after him, highlights the importance of Herder's 1774 essay Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit (Another Philosophy of History for the Cultivation of Humanity), with its emphasis on the incompatibility of cultures and the significance of cultural differences, but neglects the importance of Herder's four-volume Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91; Ideas on the Philosophy of History of Humanity).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism
Subtitle of host publicationGerman Romanticism
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002554
ISBN (Print)9780521848916
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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