Timeline: Siegfried Landshut
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Prof. Dr. Rainer Nicolaysen ist Leiter der Arbeitsstelle für Universitätsgeschichte der Universität Hamburg und Landshut-Biograf. Am 22. Oktober 2018 hat er im Rahmen der Tage des Exils einen Vortrag zu Siegfried Landshut am HIS gehalten.

Siegfried Landshut redivivus (by Rainer Nicolaysen)

When political scientist Siegfried Landshut died fifty years ago in December 1968, he left behind a widely scattered body of work, some of it written under the most adverse circumstances, that can be considered stimulating and of fundamental importance for political science to this day. And yet, because it was incompatible with any kind of mainstream thinking, Landshut’s work was rarely recognized and engaged with during his lifetime and largely forgotten after his death. Wilhelm Hennis pointed out, in an academic commemorative speech given in 1969 for his former Hamburg colleague, that he could hardly name another German scholar whose work had been so impaired in its impact by “the adversity of the times”. Even Landshut’s closest academic colleagues knew only that he had been the editor of a volume of Karl Marx’s early writings and of an excellent selection of Tocqueville’s work.1 Looking back in 1998, nearly thirty years later, Hennis described Landshut as the least known of the “founding fathers” of his discipline while at the same time the “leading mind” of the first generation of political scientists in West Germany after 1945.2

Despite the media attention stimulated by the publication of a biography of Siegfried Landshut3 in 1997 and of the two-volume selected edition of his works in 2004,4 Landshut is still at times ignored today, even in relevant contexts. When Jürgen Habermas spoke at the conference “Jewish Voices in the German Sixties” in 2011, recalling the significance of returned emigrant philosophers and social scientists for young West Germany’s political culture and for himself personally, he named all the names expected—except Landshut’s. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung reprinted an otherwise impressive lecture by Habermas titled “Grossherzige Remigranten” the same week5 and supplemented the article with information on the missing person—unintentionally—by printing a photo from the 1964 Deutscher Soziologentag [Congress of the German Sociological Association] in Heidelberg showing Siegfried Landshut next to Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and Jürgen Habermas. Landshut was not mentioned in the caption. Held on the occasion of Max Weber’s one-hundredth birthday, this congress became a historic landmark in the discipline and was described by Habermas as a major intellectual event of the 1960s; Landshut participated as a noted scholar of Weber’s work. As early as 1929, Landshut had devoted a significant part of his book Kritik der Soziologie to a discussion of Max Weber’s work. Habermas himself acknowledged many years ago that this publication by Landshut was one of the most important contributions made to sociology in the second half of the Weimar Republic.6 If Landshut remained anonymous and unrecognized in the Habermas newspaper article, this was neither intentional nor accidental, but rather symptomatic of a difficult history of engagement with Landshut that persists to a certain extent to this day.

There are primarily two reasons why it was not easy for Landshut’s work to assert itself in academic discourse. Firstly, the break that a seventeen-year exile meant for his academic career was reinforced by the fact that he did not emigrate to the United States like so many other social scientists expelled by the Nazis but lived in the Middle East, in Egypt and in Palestine, and was largely cut off from research and relevant academic interaction. Secondly, because his work was oriented towards Aristotelian political thought, it tended to remain marginal, even after his return, in West German political science as it became established in the postwar era.

More consistently than almost any other political scientist in the twentieth century, Siegfried Landshut attempted to reestablish political science from its own tradition, which was already more than two thousand years old. For Landshut, political science was not only one of the oldest fields of scholarship but also a royal discipline in the Aristotelian sense, because it addressed the decisive questions of human coexistence and was oriented, as a practical discipline, towards a specific goal: realizing the common good, the good life. Landshut’s entire body of work aimed to demonstrate the loss of such a concept of the political— as a concept that had nothing to do with the struggle for power or merely administering and securing life—through retrospective and enlightening studies that were meant to reawaken public awareness of this loss.

In this respect, it was a programmatic and, with respect to his academic career, courageous act, when Landshut submitted his completed thesis to be granted his Habilitation in 1928 at the University of Hamburg, as the first German researcher in the twentieth century, for “the discipline of politics”, an academic discipline that did not exist at the time at any university in Germany. His thesis, Untersuchungen über die ursprüngliche Fragestellung zur sozialen und politischen Problematik was not accepted, due to the veto from sociologist Andreas Walther, but was published in 1929 under the title, Kritik der Soziologie7. The title Apologie der Politik would have been more apt. As a fundamental methodological critique of social science, the volume was the focus of broad and fierce debate in the field at the time. After it was reprinted in the selected edition of Landshut’s writings in 2004, Michael Th. Greven claimed that Kritik der Soziologie must “be read as a founding document of neo-Aristotelianism in political science and Landshut himself must be recognized as being one of its most profound representatives throughout his life”.8

Landshut was one of the “founding fathers” of political science during Germany’s postwar years. In 1950 he returned to the university from which he had been expelled as a Jew in 1933. In 1951, nearly 54 years old, the returned emigrant assumed the newly established professorship for political science at the University of Hamburg, one of the first in West Germany. Landshut represented the academic discipline of political science for fourteen years in Hamburg, and for over ten years he was the only professor for this subject. Rejecting the widespread view that this was a new field imported after 1945 from the United States, he insisted once again that politics was one of the oldest disciplines of all: “[…] the concept of politics wasn’t just invented yesterday. Next to physics, metaphysics, and ethics, it is one of the oldest terms used to describe an academic discipline, the discipline of the polis, the political community, the res publica.”9

Landshut tried to revive political science in precisely this sense, while at the same time subjecting modern developments—which had led to the break with tradition—to a fundamental critique. As a diagnostician of modernity, he drew in particular on the work of Tocqueville, Marx, and Max Weber. Landshut’s “most successful and momentous work”10 was his interpretation of Marx, which focused on the early philosophical works of Marx and his concept of the “alienation of human beings from the self”. Landshut’s two blue volumes on Karl Marx’s early writings in the Kröner pocket edition published in 1932 immediately generated international attention;11 the single-volume edition from 1953 of this work is still available today in its seventh edition.12 Above all, Landshut’s discovery and publication of Marx’s Ökonomisch-philosophischen Manuskripte aus dem Jahre 1844, the so-called “Paris Manuscripts”, were a sensation and marked a turning point, especially for Western research on Marx.

In view of the dimensions of Landshut’s body of work, only briefly outlined here, his considerable role in the history of scholarship, and his life story as one of the few Jews to return to academic life in West Germany, it is astounding to see the degree to which Landshut was forgotten after his death. It is not without a certain irony that the political scientist who sought to accentuate the tradition and significance of his field later fell victim to the historical oblivion he criticized, especially in his own academic discipline.

Siegfried Landshut was an original, independent, and for some an uncomfortable thinker. He was critical but not resigned; he worked from a historical perspective but always with an eye to contemporary developments. To work through his theses and arguments is still worthwhile. It is hardly surprising that his works raise questions and problems without offering quick solutions. Some of Landshut’s interpretations were related to his times and seem outdated today, but the fundamental nature of almost all his writings gives his work astonishing relevance and poses an intellectual challenge that can still be inspiring in many ways.

1 Wilhelm Hennis, “Zu Siegfried Landshuts wissenschaftlichem Werk,” Zeitschrift für Politik N.F. 17 (1970): 1–14, quote 1–2.

2 “Politikwissenschaft als Disziplin: Zum Weg der politischen Wissenschaft nach 1945. Wilhelm Hennis im Gespräch mit Gangolf Hübinger” [interview conducted on 11 November 1998], Neue Politische Literatur 44 (1999): 365–79, quote 370.

3 Rainer Nicolaysen, Siegfried Landshut: Die Wiederentdeckung der Politik. Eine Biographie (Frankfurt a. M.: 1997).

4 Siegfried Landshut, Politik: Grundbegriffe und Analysen. Eine Auswahl aus dem Gesamtwerk in zwei Bänden. ed. Rainer Nicolaysen (Berlin: 2004).

5 Jürgen Habermas, “Grossherzige Remigranten: Über jüdische Philosophen in der frühen Bundesrepublik. Eine persönliche Erinnerung,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung No. 152, (2 July 2011) 21–2; revised text reprinted as “Jüdische Philosophen und Soziologen als Rückkehrer in der frühen Bundesrepublik: Eine Erinnerung,” in Jürgen Habermas, Im Sog der Technokratie, Kleine politische Schriften XII, (Berlin: 2013) 13–26.

6 See Jürgen Habermas, “Soziologie in der Weimarer Republik,” in Wissenschaftsgeschichte seit 1900: 75 Jahre Universität Frankfurt, with contributions from Helmut Coing, Lothar Gall, Jürgen Habermas, Notker Hammerstein, Hubert Markl, Wolfgang J. Mommsen (Frankfurt a. M.: 1992) 29–53, quote 41–3.

7 Siegfried Landshut, Kritik der Soziologie: Freiheit und Gleichheit als Ursprungsproblem der Soziologie (Munich and Leipzig:1929); reprinted in Landshut, Kritik der Soziologie und andere Schriften zur Politik, Politica, Vol. 27, (Neuwied am Rhein and Berlin: 1969) 11–117 and in Werkausgabe (see Note 5), Vol. 1, 43–188. The book was also published in Japanese and Italian.

8 Michael Th. Greven, “Siegfried Landshut: Ein Gründungsvater des politikwissenschaftlichen Neo-Aristotelismus,” Neue Politische Literatur 49 (2004) 216–19, quote  217.

9 Siegfried Landshut, “Politik,” in Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon: Kirchlich-theologisches Handwörterbuch, Vol. 3. ed. Heinz Brunotte and Otto Weber, (Göttingen: 1959) 248–50, p. 248; reprinted in Landshut, Werkausgabe (see Note 5), Vol. 1, 293–296, quote 293–4.

10 Jürgen Dennert, “Siegfried Landshut – in memoriam,” Hamburger Jahrbuch für Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik 14 (1969) 209–20, quote 212.

11 Karl Marx, Der Historische Materialismus: Die Frühschriften, 2 vols., ed. Siegfried Landshut and Jacob Peter Mayer with Friedrich Salomon (Leipzig: Kröners Taschenausgaben, 1932).

12 Karl Marx, Die Frühschriften. ed. Siegfried Landshut (Stuttgart: Kröners Taschenausgabe, 1953, seventh edition, 2004).