The Conception of Popularity in the Enlightenment and Romanticism
It can hardly be disputed that the theme of popularity is central to the Enlightenment. Popularity is the sociality equivalent to the individual appeal: ‘Dare to know.’ Parallel to this runs the following imperative: ‘Dare to encourage your neighbour and your fellow man and woman to think on their own – even though they do not belong to the erudite elite.’ It is also undeniable that Romantic authors and philosophers polemically attempted to tear down the popularity project of the Enlightenment, their main criticism being its tendency towards mediocrity. It is less well known that Romantic authors and philosophers themselves, around the turn of the nineteenth century, made popularity their central concern. To quote Friedrich Schlegel in the journal Athenaeum: ‘The time of popularity has come.’ This article explores the Romantics’ alternative conception of popularity, with especial reference to Johann Gottlieb Fichte and the Grimm brothers. To this end, it is helpful to reconstruct the background of the Romantic attempt to create an independent
concept of popularity: the debate between Immanuel Kant and the German popular philosopher Christian Garve on the necessity, possibilities, and limits of popularity.
Copyright: The authors and Aarhus University Press