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The Intellectual History of Europe, by Friedrich Heer

- Abstract

Professor Heer—who teaches at the University of Vienna—has been kind enough to provide us with a guide to an inordinately compact and perplexing book. This introduction, which figured as an epilogue in the original German edition of 1953, specifies the main themes, twelve in number, which run through his work. Of these the first alone need be quoted in extenso:

There has always been a struggle between “above” and “below” in Europe’s inner history. The “upper” culture of Christianity, educated humanism, and rationalism has struggled against a “lower” culture of the masses. This cultural “underground” included both the deeper levels of the individual personality and the customs, manners, and faith of the people. During the 19th century, which really means the era that ended for Europe in 1945, this struggle entered a new phase. For the first time, movements from below broke the surface of the upper culture. Whether these movements were rationalist or irrationalist, spiritualist or naturalist, they were marked by great fanaticism and enthusiasm. Their leaders were determined to create a new salvation from the midst of the people or from the depths of the human ego.

In short, the pre-Christian emotional life of the European masses—which found its expression in the Middle Ages in the “volcanic natures” of the great heretics and reformers—finally exploded in our own time in the abominations of Communism and Nazism. Encouraged by the tolerant attitude of democratic governments, the “underground” for a brief period was able to gain the mastery of Europe. Its political and military ravages have now been checked; but the future of the civilized European remains doubtful in the extreme.

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