Georg Simmel’s political thought: Socialism and Nietzschean aristocratism in Journal of Classical Sociology

Stephan Moebius (2021)
Georg Simmel’s political position has rarely been discussed explicitly – perhaps because many scholars have assumed that Simmel was ‘apolitical’ before 1914. The present article shows that even before 1914 Simmel held a distinct political position, to wit a peculiar kind of liberal-Nietzschean aristocratic individualism. This individualism is the result of a passage through ‘the hard school’ of egalitarian socialism in order to reach true individuality. It is closely related to Simmel’s central theorem of the so-called ‘individual law’. After a socio-historical contextualisation of Simmel’s political thought, the article follows this motif in detail through his diagnosis of the times, his theory of socio-cultural development, his engagement in cultural politics, his ideal of personality formation and his engagement in the bourgeois women’s movement. Simmel’s thought culminates in a conception of ‘dialectic aristocratism’. In this respect, the normative core of Simmel’s political standpoint is very close to Max Weber’s position. The last section argues that Simmel’s war writings do not mark a break in his political thinking, but rather apply the same theorem of the ‘individual law’ to the German state. Through its various stages, the article shows that Simmel’s political orientation, linked to key theoretical concepts, is deeply rooted in the educated bourgeoisie’s worldview and habitus.