chapter  23
22 Pages

‘Flaubert and Weber: Post-Heroic Consciousness in France and Germany’, Theory and Society, 10, pp. 81—102

This essay contains a psychohistorical comparison of two intellectuals who are so different that they do not, at first glance, bear comparison with one an­ other. Yet I would contend that such comparison is not only possible, but can also offer striking insights into the similarities and differences between their two cultural situations. My initial assumptions are that macrosociological questions of class and historically-shaped ethnic character can only be properly illustrated by individual case studies, that historical biography is no more than anecdote if not discussed in a macrosociological context, and that both the broader sociological and the narrower individual approaches become more comprehensible if unified within a psychohistorical interpretation of the sig­ nificance of class and individual relationships. This essay will consequently move back and forth across several levels of historical, sociological, and psy­ choanalytic interpretation. One framework will be the relationship to the pro­ cess of modernization and rationalization of the historically given aristocratic and bourgeois elites of France and Prussian Germany and, within this frame­ work, the dependent relationship of the bourgeois elites on the social codes of their aristocratic predecessors. I argue that the Junker aristocracy of Prussian Germany was compelled in the modern era by military, bureaucratic, and economic exigencies to adopt an ascetic ethos that was compatible with the process of modernization and rationalization and ultimately with the utilitarian code of bourgeois society. Conversely, the French aristocracy of the post-ren­ aissance period, drawing on medieval traditions of courtly love and excluded from its local political prerogatives by the intendants o f Richelieu, largely re­ treated from the sphere of bureaucratic rationalization and withdrew into an anti-utilitarian position based on aesthetic cultivation, libertinism, and other varieties o f aristocratic sport. These essentially different aristocratic ethoi im­ printed the initially dependent bourgeois cultures of France and Germany with qualitatively different levels of commitment to the ideas of modernization and rationalization, particularly among the critical bourgeois intellectuals. Crucial in this respect was the availability (or non-availability) of aristocratic models

capable of being opposed, as alternative cultural codes, to nineteenth century utilitarianism.