The article offers a detailed and in-depth insight into the use and meaning of the concept “modern” by Georg Simmel. From the late 1880s onwards, Simmel presents himself as part of the Naturalism movement – which he also calls “movement of the new culture” – and he continued using the word “modern”. In reviewing his oeuvre, it is noticeable that ‘modern’ was first used by him in the late 1880s, and then excessively so in the early 1890s, with a view to a concrete object, namely the “modern worldview”, or “modern philosophy of life”; from the mid-1890s ‘modern’ ceased in his works, and he now focused on “modern culture” in the broader sense and on “modern lifestyle” in “The Philosophy of Money” (1900). The positive connotation of the term ‘modern’ is almost completely lost in Simmel’s publications as well as in his private letters during the war years 1914 to 1918, and if so, the time frame of ‘modern’ extends over decades, even centuries, probably with the function of making the shortcomings of the present comprehensible. After ascertaining what Simmel meant by ‘modernity’, the author addresses three fundamental aspects of Simmel’s conception of modernity, namely his remarks on lifestyle and his method of investigation that starts directly from the simply given object or ‘thing’ and connects it with the last spiritual meanings. Two closely related characteristics of Simmel’s further work are based on this method: he was the first sociologist who was able to start with things – the handle, the frame, the ruin, the jewellery, the bridge, the door, the chair, etc. – so that he was praised as the inventor of “thing sociology”, and in the 1890s he found the type of text that seemed appropriate for his thinking: the philosophical essay.
The development of academic sociology in Germany can be dated to the late 1880s. During this time, some scientists offered sociological lectures at German universities for the first time. These, mostly younger scientists came from a wide variety of disciplines; e.g. economics, political sciences, ethnology, psychology of the people (Völkerspsychologie), or philosophy, but didn’t had much in common, except using the word sociology labeling their efforts. Publications for a wider public useing the term sociology had also been available in the past, but were rather attempts at understanding or affirmative legitimizations for the new social policy in the German Empire. Georg Simmel was the first scientist of this ‘sociological generation around 1890’ founding successfully sociology as a new academic subject. The study explores the influence of the then well-known and established economist and political scientist Gustav Schmoller, who also acted at the Berlin University, on the young Simmel.
The focus of analysis is the reconstruction of the relationship between the philosopher and sociologist Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) and Hans Simmel (1891–1943), Georg Simmel’s first son. Its basis is an unpublished folder at the Universitätsarchiv, Frankfurt am Main. Under review is the attempt by Horkheimer to arrange a visa for Hans Simmel to travel to the US. On the one hand, a testimony is revealed of an intellectual debt (Horkheimer’s to Georg Simmel), which was transformed into a biographical debt toward Hans; on the other hand, we sketch a tragic link with the rise of the Nazi party and the consequences of the persecution and diaspora of Jews from Germany, as well as the Institute for Social Research (New York) commitments to help German intellectuals. Consequently, there are two principal aims: firstly, to reconstruct the biographical events which connect Hans Simmel and Max Horkheimer at a specific period (1936–1943), furnishing details about concrete aspects of their historical situation; secondly, in the background we examine the ambivalent relationship between Georg Simmel’s thought and the former Frankfurt School authors, who appreciated Simmel’s innovative style, yet distanced themselves from his irrational-bourgeois approach (due to the stigmatization of Korsch and Lukács).