Essay 103: “Nervous Breakdowns” for Countries or Regions?

Hannah Arendt who became world famous with her Eichmann in Jerusalem 1960s book, says in her essays that Europe in the twentieth century was determined by a kind of national “nervous breakdown” in and centered on Germany.

If we allow for the fact that this is a “façon de parler” (way of expressing something) and not a rigorous comparison (a country is not one person writ large) Arendt’s figure of speech is suggestive and evocative.

Here’s an example. In 1919, Walter Gropius (died in 1969) gave a speech to students of his “Bauhaus” school, which sounds like a person picking up on a kind of national nervous breakdown:

First of all, Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, who, along with Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modernist architecture. He is a founder of Bauhaus in Weimar.

Gropius says (July 1919, speech to Bauhaus students):

“We find ourselves in a tremendous catastrophe of world history, a transformation of the whole of life and the whole of inner man.
We now have to forget the time before the war, which was totally different.

The more quickly we adapt to the new changed world, to its new, if austere beauties, the sooner the individual will be able to find his subjective happiness.
We will be more spiritual and profound as a result of the German distress.
As the economic opportunities sink, the spiritual ones have already risen enormously.”

(quoted in German Expressionism, University of California Press, 1990, edited by Rose-Carol Washton Long, page 250, “July 1919 Gropius speech to Bauhaus students”).

We are reminded of Kierkegaard’s (died in 1855) anatomy of the kinds of human despair in his The Sickness unto Death.

The Gropius despair is a bit different because it mirrors a real or imagined German national catastrophe which is folded into a “catastrophe of world history.”

World War I and its aftermath loom as a kind of infinite “desolation row” for Gropius and we cannot judge what percentage of the despair is German and what percentage has to do with Gropius’s subjective state of mind.

In any case, we do have the sense of a “nervous breakdown” atmosphere, nationally and personally.

Might we also wonder if Anglo-America is flirting with such a “nervous breakdown” in 2019?