Entrepreneurs of Ideology

Gary Stark’s work on German neoconservative publishers from 1890 to 1933 focuses on the German radical right and the role of publishers in the formation of cultural movements. From the outset, Stark acknowledges that neoconservatism is a general and perhaps artificial term, and the neoconservative movement amorphous; nevertheless, he defines neoconservatism as a movement of insecure segments of the middle class whose apolitical modernism led them to seek a total and utopian transformation of life. To substantiate his contention that publishers were instrumental in forging an identifiable neoconservative movement from disparate streams of thought, he examined the roles of five well-established German publishing houses that disseminated neoconservative literature during this era. The companies were the Eugen Diederichs Verlag (EDV) of Jena, the J. F. Lehmanns Verlag (JFLV) of Munich, the Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt (HVA) of Hamburg, the Gerhard Stalling Verlag (GSV) of Oldenburg, and the Heinrich Beenken Verlag (HBV) of Berlin.

The German book industry considered itself the nation’s tutor, and the presses attempted to impose their own views on their reading public. Conceiving of themselves as bearers of culture or transmitters of ideas, the neoconservative houses published literature reflecting their own ideas, occasionally regardless of profit. Diederichs and Lehmann, for example, published respectively Die Tat and Deutschlands Erneuerung, journals with insufficient circulation to make them profitable, but which served as important parts of a network of neoconservative groups and organs.

The very organization of Stark’s book—a disproportionately long chapter on Eugen Diederichs and the EDV—makes it evident that Diederichs is its central focus, with Julius Lehmann and the JFLV a distant second. Although the study examines the other neoconservative publishers, the EDV, which ranked first both in intellectual quality and quantity of literature produced, receives the lion’s share of Stark’s discussion. This concentration is appropriate in the light of the EDV’s preeminence, but it leads to a certain imbalance in the book. Despite Stark’s efforts to integrate his material, one might be left with the impression that this is primarily a study of Diederichs and the EDV. Stark devotes a moderate amount of attention to Lehmann and less to the HVA, a press that was linked to the German National Union of Commercial Employees, an anti-Semitic, antisocialist, and anticapitalist white collar employees association. The Stalling and Beenken houses receive scant attention and seem to have been rather inconsequential.

The individual entrepreneurs Eugen Diederichs (1867-1930) and Julius Lehmann (1864-1935) were the motivating forces behind the presses that bore their names, and Stark correlates well their publishing efforts to their predilections. Other than the fact that both men were self-educated, they had little in common. Diederichs had high intellectual aspirations and consequently produced refined works of philosophy, literature, and religion in his effort to make his house a respected cultural force in Germany. Lehmann disdained theory and produced agitational tracts and more concrete works on social, political, and military topics for a broader and less educated readership.

Eugen Diederichs was greatly influenced by the works of Jakob Burckhardt and Friedrich Nietzsche, who were pessimistic about the pernicious effect on European civilization of the rise of the masses, and of Paul de Lagarde, who was particularly concerned with German cultural decline. Diederichs’ publishing efforts before World War I reflected his pessimism about modern civilization, his apprehension about Germany’s lack of spiritual and cultural unity, and his opposition to current materialistic and rationalist trends of thought. He introduced Henri Bergson’s work to Germany with its insistence on the primacy of intuition over intellect; he published numerous works on vitalist philosophy, with its emphasis on a mysterious life-force based on instinct. He countered what he perceived to be the bankruptcy of orthodox Christianity with the publication of Lev Tolstoy’s works, which coupled a simple religious outlook with the rejection of modern society. In this vein, Diederichs also introduced Søren Kierkegaard’s work to Germany and popularized Eastern mystery religions.

In the tradition of Julius Langbehn and Richard Wagner, Diederichs considered art as the antithesis of reason and consequently as a redemptive agent for modern man. His pioneering work in book graphics and popularization of Jugendstil aided his dissemination of ideas. He helped to launch the Neo-romantic movement in Germany, with its emphasis on feeling, emotion, the...

(The entire section is 1960 words.)


Library Journal. CVI, May 1, 1981, p. 973.