Keyserling, Hermann Graf

(1880-1946)
   philosopher; among Ger-many's conservative elitists. A "Baltic Baron," he was born in Konno, Livonia, and grew up on the ancestral estate of Raykuïll (now in Estonia) in a feudal atmosphere wherein the family exercised broad prerogatives over a non-German peasantry. A cultivated aristocrat, he was in his late thirties when the Russian Revolution compelled his emigration to Germany, where he married a grand-daughter of Otto von Bismarck. Although geological studies brought a doctorate in 1902, he soon abandoned the sciences, spent three years in Paris, and came under the influence of Houston Stewart Chamberlain.* He claimed to reject the English expatriate's racism and pan-Germanism, but he was enchanted by his hostility to democracy and liberalism. A 1906 attempt to write his Habilitation at Berlin* met with failure, despite intercession by Wilhelm Dilthey. He returned to Rayküll; his growing aversion to the older man's pettiness led him to break with Chamberlain in 1910.
   Keyserling's cosmopolitanism set him apart from the typical conservative. He advocated the rule of an elite that carefully included members of Germany's old aristocracy while being solicitous of the middle class and hopeful that the masses would discern their inferiority. His aim, he claimed, was creation of a conservative socialism, not to be confused with the "muddled ideas" of Karl Marx. Akin to Edgar Jung,* he was more enamored of the past than Oswald Spengler,* Ernst Jünger,* and Hans Zehrer.* His random reflections, Reise-tagebuch eines Philosophs (Travel diary of a philosopher), written after a world tour in 1911, brought him immediate fame.
   As a member of the Baltic nobility, Keyserling grew up with little interest in the nation-state. While he was committed to German culture, he prided himself on coming from a family lacking in military tradition (an idiosyncrasy that distinguished the Baltic Barons from their Prussian cousins, the Junkers*). In 1920, augmented by support from Grossherzog Ernst Ludwig, he founded the Schule der Weisheit (School of Wisdom) in Darmstadt. While the school spread his fame and helped sell his works, it failed to enhance his life; with its fuzzy program, it focused on annual scholarly convocations. His ideology, like that of Henri Bergson (a friend), stressed a "life philosophy" (Lebensphilosophie) that valued "becoming" over "being." He judged positivism and rational analysis inferior to intuition and the "reality of the irrational." Taking inspiration from his travels, he championed a synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophies designed to temper Europe's materialism with the Orient's spiritualism, thus restoring balance between spirit and intellect.
   Amid Germany's growing chauvinism, Keyserling's urbanity isolated both him and his school. His failure to focus on the Republic's political crisis made him, moreover, increasingly irrelevant. Supportive of Heinrich Bruïning,* he advised the Chancellor to turn his cabinet into a nonpartisan directory that could prevent the NSDAP from coming to power. Having warned of the Nazis' lack of spirituality, he encountered problems once Hitler* became Chancellor; in July 1933, for example, he was temporarily stripped of his citizenship. Although he eventually endorsed the Third Reich, his support was based on a desire to secure freedom of movement; nevertheless, by 1937 he was a virtual prisoner in Darm-stadt.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Keyserling, World in the Mak-ing; Struve, Elites against Democracy.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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