The cipher of Simmel’s actuality is expressed by the concepts of “tragedy of culture” and “crisis,” which still assume profound explanatory value in his opinion. By crisis the author means the end of the absolute claims of metaphysics – according to an interpretation that was already Wilhelm Dilthey’s – that is, the discovery of thought’s inability to embrace the totality of life and the consequent yielding of the field of philosophy in the face of the development of the natural and human sciences. Simmel is one of the first significant examples of overcoming the traditional language of philosophy and metaphysics thanks to the centrality that “metaphor” assumes in his thought, of which the Philosophy of Money is an excellent example. In fact, monetary relations are taken up here as a metaphor for the whole of modern culture, and this allows Simmel across disciplinary boundaries to discuss decisive aspects of modernity, such as the autonomization of scientific knowledge, changing lifestyles, etc. From this point of view Simmel becomes central to rediscussing the status of the sociological discipline as such. It is not a matter of comparing Simmel with the other classics of sociological theory – making him wear the too narrow shoes of the sociologist – but rather of reading his philosophical and aesthetic contributions also from a sociological perspective. This perspective appears to be not only the hermeneutically most respectful but the one that helps to broaden the often too narrow terrain of social theory.
A significant step in trying to understand the different philosophical and political orientations of Simmel and Benjamin consists in analysing the very concept of “critique” and “criticism” that is implicit in their thought and its relationship with the concept of experience. Even if Simmel and Benjamin share a common neo-Kantian background and they were both influenced by German romantic culture, the development of their thought follows very different paths. While Simmel moves from a reflection on the principle of “form”, which belongs to Kant, to the principle of “life” that is typical of Goethe, Benjamin – coming from a similar neo-Kantian background – moves toward a very eclectic form of “redemptive criticism” (rettende Kritik). A fruitful comparison therefore should consider that Simmel and Benjamin are unified by a common reference to the concept of experience and the theory of knowledge (Erkenntnistheorie) in relationship with the philosophy of history, or, to express it in Benjamin’s words, with the concept of history. This conceptual basis allows us to better perceive their fundamentally different philosophical and sociological approaches to modernity and their different judgement on the destiny of individuality in the modern context.
Despite Simmel’s idea of a secondary qualitative significance of money, the paradigmatic figure of the “financial aristocrat” (Geldaristokrat), owner of a great amount of money, is conditioned by the external reality, the technical intellectualisation and the quantitative reduction of life contents. The problematic nature of such an expression lies in the fact that Simmel, like Nietzsche, sees a strong opposition between money culture (Geldkultur) and the aristocratic ideal (Vornehmheitsideal). However, such an expression seems rather fitting to the contemporary phenomenon of the emergency of cryptocurrencies, that can be considered as the actualisation of Simmel’s “perfect money”. Thus, it is hypothesised an aristocratic-cosmopolitan consideration of the miners as guarantors of perfectly desubstantialised money where the connection between money and technology comes to a hybridisation. Starting from these considerations and taking into account the importance of the financial aristocrat in Simmel’s framework, a phenomenological observation of the XXI century Geldkultur could be put forward..
Art sociology may be simply seen as a specialised domain of sociological research. Yet the article suggests that it has also an overarching diagnostic significance to gain a better understanding of ongoing societal transformation trends. It analyses the classical contribution of Weber, Simmel and Bourdieu to the topic. Weber develops a causal-historical explanation for the development of occidental music. It becomes a key to the interpretation of the specific occidental form of rationalism beyond religion and economy. Simmel has a different approach. Art is for him one of the expressions of the modern times that he wants to describe to understand the transformation of the society in which he lives. The diagnostic function of art is at the centre of interest. Bourdieu, on his side, proposes a historical reconstruction for the development of the intellectual field in France during the 19th century. In this frame, art contributes to a symbolic revolution that establishes autonomous societal fields and promotes a qualitative differentiation of complex societies. Yet, Bourdieu’s researches on art have also a diagnostic potential. Building on the analytical heritage of the classics, the article inquiries into the loss of autonomy of the art field in the contemporary art market and contributes to the debate on the heuristic significance of art sociology.