Ignoring Goethe's Faust: A Critical-Theoretical Perspective on American Ideology

  • Harry F. Dahms University of Tennessee
Keywords: Sociology, Critical Theory, Social Theory, Literature, Goethe, Faust, American Ideology


The neglect of Goethe, his work in general, and Faust in particular, in English-speaking countries, is notorious.   While Shakespeare's plays have been prominent and widely performed in German-speaking countries, the same is not true for Goethe in the English-speaking world.    Focusing non-exclusively on Faust, and cutting a link to Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, I will endeavor to delineate problematic aspects of American ideology, and what it would take, within U.S. sociology, to be cognizant of the latter.   Georg Lukacs wrote about Goethe and Faust, and so did Theodor W. Adorno and Leo Loewenthal, highlighting its importance to critical theory.   The goal is to delineate a critical theory of American ideology that cannot be developed from a perspective from within the US alone, and of the role Shakespeare's work has been playing in normalizing the prevalence and workings key aspects of this ideology.

Author Biography

Harry F. Dahms, University of Tennessee
Harry F. Dahms is a professor of sociology working in social theory, critical theory, philosophy of social science, and sociology of science fiction at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, where he is also co-chair of the Committee on Social Theory and co-director of the Center for the Study of Social Justice. He has been an affiliate in Sociology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria since 2010, and previously taught at Florida State University and the University of Göttingen, Germany. He is the editor of Current Perspectives in Social Theory and director of the International Social Theory Consortium, and currently in the process of completing a book, Modern Society as Artifice: Critical Theory and the Logic of Capital (Routledge).


Adorno, Theodor W. [1951] 1974. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott. London: Verso.

Adorno, Theodor W. [1958] 1992. On the Classicism of Goethe’s Iphigenia. Pp. 153-170 in Notes to Literature, vol. 2, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, New York: Columbua Inversity Press.

Adorno, Theodor W. [1959] 2005. The Meaning of Working Through the Past. Pp. 89-103 in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, trans. Henry W. Pickford. New York: Columbia University Press.

Adorno, Theodor W. [1967] 2019. Aspekte des neuen Rechtsradikalismus. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Adorno, Theodor W. et al. [1969] 1976. The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, trans. Glyn Adey and David Frisby. New York: Harper and Row.

Adorno, Theodor W. [1970] 1997. Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Allen, Amy. 2016. The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

Alt, Peter-André. 2009. Schiller. Leben – Werk – Zeit, vol. 2. München: C. H. Beck.

Anders, Günther. [1970] 1994. Über Wernher von Braun. Pp. 185-190 in Der Blick vom Mond: Reflexionen über Weltraumflüge, 2nd ed. München: C. H. Beck.

Anders, Günther. [1956] 1992. Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen: Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution (vol. 1). München: C. H. Beck.

Anders, Günther. [1980] 1992. Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen: Über die Zerstörung des Levens im Zeitalter der dritten industriellen Revolution. München: C. H. Beck.

Baehr, Peter. 2001. The “Iron Cage†and the “Shell as Hard as Steelâ€: Parsons, Weber, and the Stahlhartes Gehäuse Metaphor in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. History and Theory 40 (2):153-169.

Bahr, Ehrhard. 1989. Georg Lukács’s “Goetheanismâ€: Its Relevance for Literary Theory. Pp. 89-95 in Georg Lukács: Theory, Culture, and Politics, ed. by Judith Marcus and Zoltán Tar. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Biddle, Wayne. Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race. New York: W. W. Norton.

Benjamin, Walter. [1924-25] 2004. Goethe’s Elective Affinities. In Selected Writings, vol. 1: 1913–1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Bischof, Günter, Jason Dawsey, and Bernhard Fetz (eds.). 2014. The Life and Work of Günther Anders: Émigré, Iconoclast, Philosopher, Man of Letters (Transatlantica vol. 8). Innsbruck: StudienVerlag.

Blacker, David. 2013. The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame. Alresford, Hants, UK: Zone Books.

Block, James E. 2002. A Nation of Agents: The American Path to a Modern Self and Society. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Block, James E. 2012. The Crucible of Consent: American Child Rearing and the Forging of Liberal Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Blunden, Andy. 2018. Goethe, Hegel and Marx. Science & Society 82(1):11-37 (January).

Böhme, Gernot. 2013. Goethes Faust als philosophischer Text, 3rd ed.. Kusterdingen: Die graue Edition.

Böhme, Gernot. 2015. Goethe und die Modern Zivilisation. Goethe Yearbook 22:133-141.

Bonefeld, Werner. 2017. Authoritarian Liberalism, Class and Rackets. Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture 16 (1-2) April 13. Online: http://logosjournal.com/2017/authoritarian-liberalism-class-and-rackets/.

Braun, Wernher von. 1952. The Mars Project. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Braun, Wernher von. 1971. Space Frontier, new and rev. ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Braun, Wernher von, and Frederick I. Ordway III. 1976. The Rocket’s Red Glare: An Illustrated History of Rocketry Through the Ages. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

Brown, Wendy. 2019. In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cabbage, Michael, and William Harwood. 2004. Comm Check... The Final Flight of the Shuttle Columbia. New York: Free Press.

Claussen, Detlev. [2003] 2008. Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius, trans. Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Collins, Randall. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Cambridge, MA.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Conze, Edward. [1932] 2016. The Principle of Contradiction: On the Theory of Dialectical Materialism, trans. Holger H. Heine. Lanham, MD: Lexongton Books.

Cook, Deborah. 2004. Adorno, Habermas and the Search for a Rational Society. London: Rouledge.

Dahmer, Helmut. 1994. Pseudonatur und Kritik: Freud, Marx und die Gegenwart. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

Dahms, Harry F. 1999. Postliberal Capitalism and the Early Frankfurt School: Towards a Critical Theory of the Inner Logic of Social Value Spheres. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 19:55-88.

Dahms, Harry F. 2005. Does Alienation have a Future? Recapturing the Core of Critical Theory. Pp. 23-46 in Lauren Langman and Devorah K. Fishman (eds.), The Evolution of Alienation: Trauma, Promise, and the Millennium, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Dahms, Harry F. 2008. How Social Science is Impossible without Critical Theory: The Immersion of Mainstream Approaches in Time and Space. No Social Science without Critical Theory, ed. Harry F. Dahms (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, 26), pp. 3-61

Dahms, Harry F. 2017a. Critical Theory, Brexit, and the Vicissitudes of Political Economy in the Twenty-First Century. Pp. 182-192 in Outhwaite (2017).

Dahms, Harry F. 2017b. Critical Theory in the Twenty-First Century: The Logic of Capital between Classical Social Theory, the Early Frankfurt School Critique of Political Economy, and the Prospect of Artifice. Pp. 47-74 in Daniel Krier and Mark Worrell (eds.), The Social Ontology of Capitalism. New York: Palgrave, 2017.

Dahms, Harry F. (ed.). 2019. The Challenge of Progress: Theory between Critique and Ideology (Current Perspectives in Social Theory vol. 36). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Dahms, Harry F. Forthcoming. Modern Society as Artifice: Critical Theory and the Logic of Capital. London: Routledge.

Dahms, Harry F. (ed.). In preparation. Planetary Sociology:

Dahrendorf, Ralf. [1965] 1969. Society and Democracy in Germany. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books

Dawsey, Jason. 2014. Fragile Apprehension: Günther Anders and the Poetics of Destruction. Pp. 21-34 in Bischof, Dasey and Fetz (2014).

Ehrenberg, Alain. 2012. Das Unbehagen in der Gesellschaft. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

Erne, Lukas. 2013. Shakespeare as a Literary Dramatist, 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fischer, Joachim, and Direk Spreen (eds.). 2014. Soziologie der Weltraumfahrt. Bielefeld: Trabscript.

Freud, Sigmund. [1919] 1961. Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton.

Fromm, Erich. [1947] 1990. Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. New York: Owl Books (Henry Holt).

Fromm, Erich. 1955. The Sane Society. New York: Rinehart.

Giang, Vivian. 2018. How Language Shapes Our Perception of Reality. Fast Company (June 28, 2018). Online: https://www.fastcompany.com/40585591/how-language-shapes-our-perception-of-reality.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. [1774] 2012. The Sufferings of Young Werther, trans. Stanley Corngold. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. [1808] 1988. Faust: First Part, rev. ed., trans. Peter Salm. New York: Bantam Books.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. [1811-1833] 1994. From My Life: Poetry and Truth (Goethe's Collected Works) in Two Volumes, ed. Victor Lange, Eric Blackall, and Cyrus Hamlin. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1999. Gesammelte Werke (Hamburger Ausgabe), 14 vols. Munich: dtv.

Haus, Heinz-Uwe, and David W Lovell. 2016. Goethe's Faust I: The Making and Impact of a Contemporary Performance. Newcastle upon Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Hedstom, Peter, and Richard Swedberg (eds.). Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Camridge: Cambridge University Press.

Horkheimer, Max. 1947. Eclipse of Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hauck, Gerhard. 2003. Die Gesellschaftstheorie und ihr Anderes: Wider den Eurozentrismus der Sozialwissenschaften. Münster: Wetfälisches Dampfboot.

Hodgson, Godfrey. 2009. The Myth of American Exceptionalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hösle, Vittorio. 2014. Dantes Commedia und Goethes Faust: Ein Vergleich der beiden wichtigsten philosophischen Dichtungen Europas. Basel: Schwabe Verlag.

Immerwahr, Daniel. 2019. How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Jacobsen, Annie. 2014. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Jouet, Mugambi. 2017. Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kerry, Paul E. 2001. Enlightenment Thought in the Writings of Goethe: A Contribution to the History of Ideas. Camden House. 2001.

Kreutzer, Leo. 2011. Goethes Moderne: Essays. Hannover: Wehrhahn-Verlag.

Langman, Lauren, and George Lundskow. 2016. God, Guns, Gold and Glory: American Character and Its Discontents. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Lemert, Charles. Thinking the Unthinkable: The Riddles of Classical Social Theories. Boulder, Col.: Paradigm.

Levine, Andrew. 2004. The American Ideology: A Critique. London: Routledge.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1996. American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword. New York: W.W. Norton.

Löwenthal, Leo. [1982] 1989. Goethe and False Subjectivity. Pp. 86-97 in Critical Theory and Frankfurt Theorists: Lectures – Correspondence – Conversations. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Lukács, Georg. [1936] 1969. Goethe and His Age, trans. Robert Anchor. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, The Universal Library.

Malczewski, Eric. 2013. Durkheim’s Sui Generis Reality and the Central Subject Matter of Social Science. Social Theories of History and Histories of Social Theory, ed. Harry F. Dahms (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, vol. 31), Bingley, UK, pp. 161-175.

Mann, Thomas. 1947. Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag.

Mann, Thomas. [1947] 1948. Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, as told by a Friend, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Mann, Thomas. [1947] 1999. Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn As Told by a Friend, trans. John E. Woods. New York: Vintage Books.

Mann, Thomas. 1949. Die Entstehung des Doktor Faustus: Roman eines Romans. Amsterdfam: Bermann-Fischer.

Marietta, Morgan. 2011. A Citizen's Guide to American Ideology: Conservatism and Liberalism in Contemporary Politics. London: Routledge.

Marietta, Morgan, and David C. Barker. 2019. One Nation, Two Realities: Dueling Facts in American Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marx, Karl. [1844] 1978. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Pp. 67-125 in Tucker, Robert C. (ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed.New York: W. W. Norton.

McDonald, Allan J., and James R. Hansen. 2009. Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Neufeld, Michael J. 2007. Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Outhwaite, William (ed.). 2017. Brexit: Sociological Responses. London: Anthem Press.

Piszkiewicz, Dennis. 1995. The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Piszkiewicz, Dennis. 1998. Wernher von Braun: The Man Who Sold the Moon. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Plesser, Helmuth. [1935] 2001. Die verspätete Nation: Über die politische Verführbarkeit bürgerlichen Geistes. Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp.

Röhrlich, Elisabeth. 2014. “To Make the End Time Endless:†The Early Years of Günther Anders’ Fight against Nuclear Weapons. Pp. 45-58 in Bischof, Dawsey and Fetz (2014).

Safranski, Rüdiger. [2013] 2017. Goethe: Life as a Work of Art, trans. David Dollenmeyer. New York: Liveright.

Schiller [1795] 1983. On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature, trans. Helen Watanabe O'Kelly. Manchester, UK: Carcanent.

Siteseen Limited. 2017. US Immigration History Statistics. Online: http://www.emmigration.info/us-immigration-history-statistics.htm.

Sombart, Werner. [1906] 2001. Why is there no Socialism in the United States? Pp. 263-297 in Economic Life in the Modern Age, ed. Nico Stehr and Reiner Grundmann. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Stone, Tanya Lee. 2009. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. Somerville, MA.: Candlewick Press.

Taylor, Astra. 2019. Democracy May not Exist, but We’ll Miss It when It’s Gone. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Teitel, Amy Shira. 2016. Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA. New York: Bloomsbury Sigma.

Tiryakian, Edward A. 1981. The Sociological Import of a Metaphor: Tracking the Source of Max Weber’s “Iron Cage.†Sociological Inquiry 51 (1):27-33.

Turner, Stephen P. 1982. Bunyan’s Cage and Weber’s Casing. Sociological Inquiry 52 (1):84-87.

Vaughan, Diane. 1996. The Challenger Lauch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Vazsonyi, Nicholas. 1997. Lukács Reads Goethe: From Aestheticism to Stalinism. Rochester, NY: Camden House (Boydell & Brewer).

Weitekamp, Margaret A. 2004. Right Stuff, Wrong Sex. America’s First Women in Space Program. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wuthnow, Robert. 2006. American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to be a Better Nation Fall Short. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Anonymous (2011; Columbia Pictures); dir. Roland Emmerich (U.K.)

Fantasia (1940; Disney); dir. Samuel Armstrong. (U.S.)

Faust (1994; Athanor); dir. Jan Swankmaier. (Czech Republic)

Faust (2007; Belvedere), dir. Peter Stein. (Germany)

Faust (2008; Classics in Miniature); dir. Hoku Uchiyama (U.S.)

Faust (2011; Proline Film); dir. Aleksandr Sokurov (Russia)

Macbeth (1971; Columbia Pictures); dir. Roman Polanski. (U.S., U.K.)

Ran (1985; Greenwich Film Productions); dir. Akira Kurosawa. (Japan)

Cultural Reflections of Capital: A Symposium