The Swansong of the Mandarins: Humboldt’s Idea of the University in Early Post-War Germany

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Abstract

In the wake of the Second World War, Germany saw an intensive debate about the idea of the university and its future role in society. All were agreed that the country’s universities had to be revitalized after the ravages of Nazism, but the question was what weight should be given to the classical German heritage, and the Humboldtian tradition in particular. The mandarins, the older humanist scholars, dominated the public debate about the fundamental principles of research and higher education, and this article focuses on the contribution made by three of them—Karl Jaspers, Gerhard Ritter, and Werner Richter. In making their points, they all revealed a strong historical orientation, but equally very different views on the Humboldtian legacy. This article argues that their ideas about the German university must be seen against the background of the specific experiences of their generation. In the event, the immediate post-war period was the last time their academic ideals were to gain much of a hearing. The university debate proved to be the swansong for Germany’s intellectual elite.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History

Keywords

  • the Humboldtian tradition, Wilhelm von Humboldt, mandarins, Werner Richter, Gerhard Ritter, Karl Jaspers, de-Nazification, the Second World War, university, post-war period, Germany, intellectuals
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387–415
Number of pages29
JournalModern Intellectual History
Volume13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jun 30
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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