The Reactionary

We know that Count Leinsdorf is a reactionary. He blames the rootlessness of modern times on “that fateful year 1948 that drove a wedge between the middle class and the aristocracy, to the loss of both sides.” (I,202) Ulrich, too, rejects the incoherence of modern times, making him something of an ally of Leinsdorf.

But I’ll grant you something quite different,” Ulrich went on after some thought. “The experts never finish anything. Not only are they not finished today, but they are incapable of conceiving an end to their activities. Even incapable, perhaps, of wishing for one. Can you imagine that man will still have a soul, for instance, once he has learned to understand it and control it biologically and psychologically? Yet this is precisely the condition we are aiming for! That’s the trouble. Knowledge is a mode of conduct, a passion. At bottom, an impermissible mode of conduct: like dipsomania, sex mania, homicidal mania, the compulsion to know forms its own character that is off-balance. It is simply not so that the researcher pursues the truth; it pursues him. He suffers it. What is true is true, and a fact is real, without concerning itself about him: he’s the one who has a passion for it, a dipsomania for the factual, which marks his character, and he doesn’t give a damn whether his findings will lead to something human, perfect, or anything at all. Such a man is full of contradictions and misery, and yet he is a monster of energy!”

“And–?” Walter asked.

“What do you mean, ‘And–?”

“Surely you’re not suggesting that we can leave it at that?”

“I would leave it at that,” Ulrich said calmly. “Our conception of our environment, and also of ourselves, changes every day. We live in a time of passage. It may go on like this until the end of the planet if we don’t learn to tackle our deepest problems better than we have so far. Even so, when one is placed in the dark, one should not begin to sing out of fear, like a child. And it is mere singing in the dark to act as though we knew how we are supposed to conduct ourselves down here; you can shout your head off, it’s still nothing but terror. All I know for sure is: we’re galloping! We’re still a long way from our goals, they’re not getting any closer, we can’t even see them, we’re likely to go on taking wrong turns, and we’ll have to change horses; but one day–the day after tomorrow, or two thousand years from now–the horizon will begin to flow and come roaring toward us!” (I,231-232)

Walter feels a sense of triumph over Ulrich and his abandonment of knowledge.

“Do you realize what you are talking about?” he shouted. “Muddling through! You’re simply an Austrian, and you’re expounding the Austrian national philosophy of muddling through!”

“That may not be as bad as you think,” Ulrich replied. “A passionate longing for keenness and precision, or beauty, may very well bring one to prefer muddling through to all those exertions in the modern spirit. I congratulate you on having discovered Austria’s world mission.” (I,233)

 

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