Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

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Contextual Quote

"Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973) is the lesser-known half of an intellectual tandem (bringing to mind Marx-Engels, Charbonneau-Ellul or Deleuze-Guattari) with Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), who was induced to rediscover his Jewish faith by his friend’s attempt to convince him to convert to Protestantism, as he had done at a young age. Rosenzweig has often expressed his gratitude to Rosenstock for this pivotal July 7, 1913 Leipziger Nachtgespräch (“nocturnal conversation in Leipzig”) that was part of his introduction to the new “speech thinking” (Sprachdenken) his friend had formulated the previous year. They would both develop it in opposition to academic philosophy, remaining in close dialogue (true to an inherently dialogical stance) as existential religious thinkers of rival yet complementary faiths, as they saw it. If their correspondence on this issue remains a touchstone of ecumenical thinking, it is usually from this document of Rosenzweig’s biography that Rosenstock-Huessy is known, often cast in the unflattering role of the proselytizing assimilated Jew.3 His radical Christian existential thought has thus long failed to get the attention it deserves in its own right."

- Christian Roy [1]

Intellectual Bio

ERH Fund:

"While still teaching at Breslau in 1931, Rosenstock wrote and published the first of his major works: Die Europäischen Revolutionen—Volkscharaktere und Staatenbildung (The European Revolutions and the Character of Nations; 1931). This book, the vision of which had come to him before Verdun in 1917, showed how 1,000 years of European history had been formed by five hundred years of church upheaval and five hundred years of national revolutions that collectively made up a single that era that came to an end in World War I.

On January 30, 1933, Germany fell to National Socialism. Rosenstock resigned from the university at once, but stayed in Germany to arrange an extended leave of absence from the university. With the help of C. J. Friedrich, professor of government at Harvard University and the only person Rosenstock knew in the United States, he was invited to Harvard as a guest lecturer in government; he was subsequently appointed Kuno Francke Lecturer in German Art and Culture and then taught in the history department.

It was at Harvard that Rosenstock-Huessy encountered the strongest opposition to his ideas in social history, based as they were on the pivotal role in world history of Christianity. Rosenstock-Huessy frequently spoke of faith in class and attacked the myth of pure, objective academic thinking (in his ensuing disagreements with the Harvard history department, Alfred North Whitehead was his staunch supporter). In 1935 Rosenstock-Huessy accepted an appointment as professor of social philosophy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He made his home in nearby Norwich, Vermont. He taught at Dartmouth until his retirement in 1957, inspiring a generation of students.

Rosenstock-Huessy had made important friendships in Cambridge that sustained him through his “exile” in New Hampshire. Henry Copley Greene and his wife, Rosalind Huidekoper Greene, helped him reforge his earlier book on revolutions for an American audience; the reimagined book became Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (1938). Their son-in-law, George Allen Morgan (one of Whitehead’s students and the author of the classic What Nietzsche Means) helped assemble The Christian Future or the Modern Mind Outrun (1946). At the urging of prominent figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Thompson, President Roosevelt asked Rosenstock-Huessy to lead the creation of a special training camp for leaders of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Vermont. Involving students mostly from Dartmouth, Harvard, and later Radcliffe, its purpose was to train young leaders for an expanded program that, instead of isolating unemployed youth in work-service programs, would bring volunteers from other walks of life to join them. A pre-existing CCC “side camp” near Sharon, Vermont, was chosen and named Camp William James, in honor of that philosopher’s search for a “moral equivalent of war.” The camp enjoyed a short term of success but was disbanded when the United States entered World War II. Camp William James’ model of voluntary work in service to communities in need has been cited in connection with the development of the Peace Corps.

After World War II, Rosenstock-Huessy was a frequent guest professor at universities in both the United States and Germany, lecturing and writing well into his 70’s. In 1956 and 1958, he published a revision of his early Soziologie, incorporating in the second volume his work on a universal history for mankind which runs through his Dartmouth lecture courses. In 1963 and 1964, he published a two-volume compendium of his work on speech, Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts: eine Leibhaftige Grammatik in vier Teilen (The Speech of Mankind: An Embodied Grammar in Four Parts, 1963-1964). His work includes 40 books and hundreds of essays and articles, as well as the hundreds of hours of recorded lectures."



Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's Speech Thinking

Wayne Cristaudo (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

"The greater part of Rosenstock-Huessy’s work was devoted to demonstrating how speech/language, through its unpredictable fecundity, expands our powers and, through its inescapably historical forming character, also binds them. According to Rosenstock-Huessy, speech makes us collective masters of time and gives us the ability to overcome historical death by founding new, more expansive and fulfilling spaces of social-life. Rosenstock-Huessy also belonged to that post-Nietzschean revival of religious thought which included Franz Rosenzweig, Karl Barth, Leo Weismantel, Hans and Rudolf Ehrenberg, Viktor von Weizsäcker, Martin Buber, Lev Shestov, Hugo Bergmann, Florens Christian Rang, Nikolai Berdyaev, Margaret Susman, Werner Picht (all of whom were involved in the Patmos publishing house and its offshoot Die Kreatur) and Paul Tillich. Common to this group was the belief that religious speech, which they saw as distinctly not metaphysical, disclosed layers of experience and creativity (personal and socio-historical) which remain inaccessible to the metaphysics of naturalism."


Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy on Oswald Spengler

Christian Roy:

"Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West was for Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy a paradigmatic example of the latter posture’s foreclosure of the most distinctive traits of human and specifically historical experience, so that, while admiring its scope and ambition as a historian, he positioned it as a foil to argue against time and again. If Rosenstock-Huessy developed his central insights as “inimical friends” with Rosenzweig, he ascribed a symmetrical role to Oswald Spengler as a kind of “intimate enemy.” If anything, as comes out mostly from his correspondence with Rosenstock’s wife Margrit Huessy while reading The Decline of the West in 1919, Rosenzweig was even more sympathetic to “evil genius” Oswald Spengler as an ally (like Martin Heidegger later on) of the anti-academic New Thinking, and at the same time a sobering reminder of what he risked becoming as a Hegel scholar before his turn to Judaism. Rosenzweig thought The Decline of the West could provide a fitting substitute for the first part of his Star of Redemption to lay out the “honest paganism” of closed cosmologies that was a necessary first step on the way to the world thinking opened by Biblical religion. All that needed to be added to The Decline of the West was iotas to harness it to the cause of the New Thinking. Indeed, it has been argued that Spengler’s own dialogical understanding of language as future-oriented Verantwortung or “response-ability” hardly differs from speech thinking5 (of which it may provide a legitimately “pagan” version, subsuming language under mastery as per Der Mensch und die Technik), despite Rosenstock’s critique of Spengler as stuck in the scientific posture of the detached observer even of speech phenomena. Coming from a fellow German world-historian, this critique remains a formidable one, highlighting deep-seated conflicts between pagan and Judaeo-Christian approaches to life and language, space and time, as I will show in this article based largely on a search for Spengler’s name in the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Digital Archive, turning up countless references.


This in a nutshell is Rosenstock-Huessy’s indictment of Spengler: that his “objective” diagnosis of The Decline of the West amounts to a prescription for the assisted suicide of Europe, i.e., of the eventful conversation of its many historical layers. The scientific posture of clinical detachment has its roots in the philosopher’s stance above the fray, both being epitomized by Spengler’s claim to observe the death of his own civilization like that of any other such organism. Alluding to it in a class about (actually against!) “Greek Philosophy,” Rosenstock-Huessy said he knew Spengler’s words to that effect by heart since the first and only time he read the Decline in 1918, modestly adding: “Well, I wrote such a wonderful review about it then that I don't have to reread it, […]. I know […] everything that is in it.” It is on “Der Selbstmord Europas” that I will first mainly dwell to follow Rosenstock-Huessy’s Christian rejoinder to Spengler as the Mephistophelean figure who tempts Faustian man away from Margaret’s religion, to fall for the deceptive Helena of natural philosophy as a pagan Greek seduction, related to war (via Troy, to borrow a further metaphor from Goethe’s Second Faust). Written under the twin impacts of Spengler’s work and the Great War, this text constitutes a call to Western man not to allow the owl of Minerva or the dove of Spirit to be confined within the surveyed outlines and crumbling battlements assigned to discrete cultures by world-weary depression under the guise of stoic pride, and to instead release their unpredictable flight into the wider world pried open in space and time by the historical workings of the Cross of Reality, bringing its four directions into conversation in fresh combinations. "



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