Postmodernism, Part 28: Frankfurt Fumbles

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor; Bismarck and the German Empire, by Dr. Erick Eyck; Freedom and Organization, by Bertrand Russell.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Revolutionary Disappointment


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleon.  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism sprung from the same German Counter-Enlightenment roots, plus a dash of romanticism and (disgraceful) industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution – morality, not so much.  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists Marx and Engels thought so, and concocted their “scientific socialism” (that prophesied a Communist destiny).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

The Revolutions of 1848 would be a big letdown.  They were driven by hunger (crop failures), nationalism (growing cultural and ethnic identities), and economics (growing industrialization).

bastiatFrederic Bastiat

The French Revolution of 1848 led to a republic and socialist experiments that quickly flopped, triggering (the usual) radical leftist uprising.  (To prevent another Reign of Terror, the uprising was quickly crushed.)  Frederic Bastiat blamed France’s recurring revolutions (1789, 1815, 1830, 1848) on a public deluded by leftist charlatans and their impossible promises (free stuff without taxation).  He rejected the (postmodern) ideas of (totalitarian collectivist) Rousseau, (murderous) Robespierre, and (socialist) Louis Blanc: that the state constructs everything (human nature, society, and property).  (This idea leads to slavery, Bastiat warned.)  He argued that people, society, liberty, and property are natural institutions.

Marx hoped the French Revolution of 1848 was a class uprising.  He was in Paris, at the time, but was focused on German revolution.  (The Communists would be disappointed, as usual).

Prussia Stirs

Germany was divided.  There was Austria (under Emperor Ferdinand I), Prussia (under King Frederick William IV), and the German Confederation (assorted German states, under Austria).  Austria and Prussia competed for German leadership.

In 1847, Prussia was already dealing with liberal revolutionaries.  King Frederick William needed to borrow money to build railways (for military and economic purposes).  An 1820 law compelled the King to get approval for the loan by convening the Estates of the Realm.  (This was similar to how French finances compelled Louis XVI to convene the Estates General, starting the French Revolution of 1789.)

bismarck-1847Bismarck (1847)

The estates met in the United Diet of 1847 (“Prussian Diet”).  The King allowed the press to report on their proceedings (a break from standard censorship).  The public cheered on the Prussian liberals (who demanded a constitution and national representation). The public jeered at the conservative Junkers (hereditary aristocrats), especially the unpopular and obnoxious medievalist, Otto von Bismarck.  (Bismarck preferred popularity with the King over popularity with the people).

The Prussian Diet rejected the railway loan (for legal reasons).  The King dismissed the Prussian Diet (but the political pot had been stirred).

Austria Rumbles

Austrian power was getting shaky.  Emperor Ferdinand (“Ferdy the Loony”) was mentally challenged.  The real ruler was (the legendary) Chancellor Metternich (formidable, but past his prime).  By 1848, Metternich’s 1815 European governance masterpiece had fallen apart.  (He had orchestrated the carving up of Europe, among its hereditary sovereigns, at the Congress of Vienna.)

In March 1848, Metternich (the power behind the throne) got booted out.  In Vienna, revolts broke out (inspired by the French Revolution of 1848).  Students and protestors took to the streets, invading parliament (French-style).  Troops fired on protestors (German-style).  Ferdinand folded.  He announced a constitutional assembly, and gave Metternich the boot. (This was huge!)

Prussia Grumbles
frederick-william-ivFrederick William IV

In Prussia, protests broke out in Berlin.  Protestors took to the streets (demanding free speech, a free press, and a constitutional government).  Troops fired on them.  On March 18, humiliated Frederick William folded (for now), agreeing to the revolutionaries’ demands, and calling for German unity.  “I want German freedom and German unity,” declared the King, “Prussia will henceforth be merged with Germany.”  (Of course, German freedom meant national freedom, not individual freedom).

The Prussian Diet met one last time, to prepare for constitutional rule.  In a speech, (indignant) Bismarck slammed the King for his weakness (and did again, to his face).  A new Prussian National Assembly was elected (minus the unpopular Bismarck).  Bismarck and conservative Junkers conspired in a shadow government, to undermine and plot counter-revolution.

Frankfurt Fumbles

In Frankfurt, the German Confederation (the other German states) got proactive (facing calls for constitutional reform).  They declared popular sovereignty, and convened the first National Parliament of Germany to discuss German governance and unity.

Republican revolutionaries got impatient and frustrated with the constitutional monarchists, and staged an insurrection.  They were quickly defeated..

karl-marxKarl Marx

Elsewhere, radical leftists fomented revolution.  The Jacobin (Rousseauist) Arnold Ruge published leftist propaganda, in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Cologne.  Marx and Engels did the same in Cologne.  However, the Communist Manifesto and their ideas of class conflict alienated German workers.  Also, the German labor movement was quite fond of private property.  Marx was bitter.

Meanwhile, the Parliament at Frankfurt debated German unity.  The republican minority opposed the constitutional monarchist majority.  The “Small-Germans” wanted Germany united without Austria.  The “Great-Germans” wanted Germany united with Austria.  The Protestants opposed the Catholics.  Prussia and Austria were wary of the whole thing.

Elsewhere, ethnic nationalist revolts broke out.  The Poles revolted.  (The communist revolutionary Bakunin was there, fomenting revolution.)  Prussia put down the revolt.  The Czechs revolted.  (Again, Bakunin was there, fomenting revolution.)  Austria put down the revolt.  The Danes revolted.  Prussia (urged on by Frankfurt) put down the revolt, invading Denmark.  Russia and England intervened, pressuring Prussia into a treaty (giving up the disputed territory).

The Parliament approved the treaty, but most were furious over the territorial concessions.  In the September uprisings, protests broke out across Germany.  In Frankfurt, radical leftist mobs threw up barricades in the streets (French-style).  Mobs stormed the parliament and murdered two members (French-style).

In Vienna, the National Assembly fled riots and insurgency.  Austria got serious.  They crushed the insurgency and executed the leaders.  “Ferdy the Loony” abdicated the throne.  The young Francis Joseph became Emperor.

In Frankfurt, the Parliament decided that Prussia should lead united Germany, electing Prussian King Frederick William to the job of hereditary emperor (Kaiser).  (Austria voted nay.)

Thanks, but no thanks, said Frederick William.  He hated revolutions, especially this one.


Germany missed her chance for unification (for now).  The republicans and radicals had underestimated the powers that be.  The Revolutions of 1848 fizzled out, and the conservatives regained power.

The Marxists missed their proletarian uprising.  The communists (Marx, Engels, Bakunin) would end up exiles.

Communism had shown its nationalist and ethnic stripes: Marx and Engels were (unabashed) German nationalists.  Bakunin was pro-Slavic.  Marx was (ethnic) Jewish and anti-Slavic.  Bakunin was antisemitic.  So much for the international brotherhood of man.


Austria struggles to hold its empire together.  Next: Part 29, Young Italy.