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Carlo Schmid. The intellectual as a political actor between individuality and management of the public narrative


Intellectual history can be considered a prime terrain on which to investigate modernity, which is conceived here as an era (extending from humanism to the present day) that was rationally structured and developed as a field of tension between the sphere of the individual and the sphere of power.[1] As Norberto Bobbio wrote in his entry “intellettuali” for the Treccani Enciclopedia del Novecento published in 1978, “the problem of intellectuals” can be essentially defined as “the problem of the relationship between them - with all that they represent of ideas, opinions, worldviews, life programmes, works of art, intelligence, science - and power (understood as political power)”. Considered thus, the figure and function with which the term ‘intellectual’ is generally associated have always existed in all ages and in all societies, ancient and modern. After studying the (re)establishment of political science in Western Europe, especially in West Germany and Italy, and its relationship with the development of democracy after 1945 [2013, 2014, 2016], my attention has shifted to those intellectuals (or Kulturträger) who have not restricted themselves to declining political science as knowledge applied in order to rationalize and govern change, but who have assumed an active political role by placing themselves at the service of the community.

The biography of Carlo Schmid (1896-1979) furnishes an interesting, albeit very partial, basis for reflection on the intellectual as an actor of post-1945 modernity. He personified an intellectual figure sui generis in twentieth-century German and European history: that of the ‘intellectual politician’. This is a category of analysis that enables explanation of Carlo Schmid’s greater influence in society and the public narrative than that of many intellectuals who adhered to the idea of the separateness betweenGeist andMacht. Schmid developed a series of ideas that in retrospect appear to connote the political and cultural experience of the Federal Republic of Germany and are generally regarded as falling within the historiographicaltopos ofErfolgsgeschichte. His analyses ranged from the politico-constitutional sphere to discourse on political parties, from foreign and European policy to philosophical-existential questions such as modernity or the relationship between the sphere of the individual and the sphere of power. This aim of my research is to reconstruct the transformative process whereby the humanist, academic and social-democrat politician Carlo Schmid became a proponent of ideas recognized as authoritative and able to reach a broad and diversified audience. At the centre of the analysis are the years between 1945 and 1949, which also marked the beginning of Carlo Schmid’s political career and probably also the most remarkable phase of his life. Through identification of the public space occupied by Carlo Schmid and analysis of his political discourse in the early postwar years, an attempt will be made to determine the more general significance of the cultural and political cleavage of 1945 for twentieth-century German and European history, and the possibility that it engendered a ‘second modernity’.

[1] P. Pombeni and G. Haupt (eds), La Transizione come problema storiografico. Le fasi dello sviluppo critico della modernità, Il Mulino 2013/ P. Pombeni (ed.), The Historiography of Transition, Routledge 2016; C. Dipper and P. Pombeni (eds), Le ragioni del moderno, Il Mulino 2014; C. Cornelissen and P. Pombeni (eds), Forme del potere e spazi dell’individuo, Il Mulino, forthcoming.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015