In 1900 Carl Hilty, the Swiss legal expert whose self-help guides used to lay on the nightstand of Konrad Adenauer, poked fun at his northern neighbors by casting doubt on the line from Bismarck that “We Germans fear God but nothing else in the world.” In reality, Hilty thought, the Germans didn’t fear God much, but they were anxious about everything else. The pathological symptom of the so-called nervous age, one self-diagnosed en masse starting in the 1880s, was the decline of old concrete fears and the rise of new diffuse ones. This diagnosis led increasingly to a positive revaluation of the passions, a revaluation that had been in the making in Germany since Sturm und Drang. For over two thousand years, surmounting the passions was considered the path to wisdom. Now passion itself was supposed to save us from those diffuse fears and desires, whose symptoms were called “neurasthenia” at the time. Max Weber, well known for his nervous constitution, thought passion was the origin of true science.
Joachim Radkau has been Professor of Modern History at the Universität Bielefeld since 1980. Previously, he taught at the Pädagogischen Hochschule Westfalen-Lippe. Professor Radkau has written on a wide range of topics. His research interests include German emigration to the USA in 1933, the nuclear industry, the history of technology in Germany and its effects on ecology, the history of anxiety, and Max Weber. He is the author of Technik in Deutschland. Vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart (1989); Das Zeitalter der Nervosität. Deutschland zwischen Bismarck und Hitler (1998); Natur und Macht. Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt (2000); Mensch und Natur in der Geschichte (2002); and Max Weber – Die Leidenschaft des Denkens (2005).