Hans Ottomeyer – The reason of nature: The new cosmos around 1900







Event Date: 18-20 July 2012
Hotel Solstrand
Solstrandveien 200, Postboks 54,
5201 Os, Norway

Modernism, Christianity, and Apocalypse

A conference organised by the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Bergen, Norway; funded by the Bergen Research Foundation through the ‘Modernism and Christianity’ research project.

Professor Hans Ottomeyer –  The reason of nature: The new cosmos around 1900

The turn of the century 1900 was a enigmatical date for a renewal when everything had to change for better. How should the new century be constructed? How should life change? Where should the new ideals come from? The answer was always the same: Following nature and its reasons seemed to be the only way. This dominant belief in nature had become the way of modern thinking and behavior, not excluding religious feelings, but agnosticism, dogma and materialism. Since late enlightment positive knowledge is only possible by visual proof. „Wahrnehmung“ and „Erkenntnis“ are deeply rooted in German philosophy. „Anschauung“ became in teaching at schools and universities the main didactic feature appealing to common sense.

Many thoughts were given in the second half of the 19th century how and by what means civilization and culture could survive the impact of industrialization social misery and an imminent revolution.

An often repeated proposal was to renew the human way of life not as back to nature, but in subtle accordance and harmony with nature.

The perception of nature is a mainstream in German Reform movement.Many biographical lines have references to Weimar as Van de Velde, Obrist, Haeckel where the work of Goethe was still manifest. The French philosopher Henri Bergson and Charles Darwin were elementary impulses for a creative attitude towards art and life. Nature and individual forms of growth as well as the evolution of species became the focus of interest of modern thinking. Central were the reasonable principles of forms „ Principien vernunftgemässer Gestaltung“ (1887) describing movements of growth, tension and power.

After Lamarck (1805), Darwin (1859), the zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1908) was for the German speaking countries of most importance by his writings „Generelle Morphologie“ 1866, „Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte“ 1868, „Antropogenie“ 1898, „Der Monismus als Band zwischen den Wissenschaften“ 1892, „Welträtsel“ 1899 and „Kunstformen der Natur“  1900. All of them reached many editions, millions readers, many translations and lasting acceptance. He developed a system of „Monism“ contradicting Dualism and Materialism by suggesting that there is only one substance which is body and spirit, nature and god.

Nature became the only possible base for all forms of life. It is not the rich material of microcosm and macrocosm, but the laws of nature, which can be understood and laid open „as a style of reasonable understanding“ (Van de Velde 1924). Modern life can only be renewed out of this reason and following the principles if nature. Nature was regarded as gods own garden or as a dome build to the praise of god. This did not change when evolutionist science in nature and the arts showed that creation was not the matter of seven days, but of the ages of the world each of them lasting many millions of years. Lines of evolution and morphology were illustrated in simplified and easy structured patterns. Haeckel took strong positions against Rome the catholic Church and the pope and was crowned in Rome 1904 during a

„Freidenker-Kongress“ as the antipope. The reformation is for him the renaissance of reason, but bound to freedom and liberty of thought. Biological forms were translated to art and influenced European modern style in many ways. The aspect of proof by visual facts triggered of these ideas. Haeckel was close to the early peace-movement of Bertha von Sutter and worked on reconciliation with France. He propagated pity and social engagement as ultimate aims „Monism“ became a wide

spread belief in the principles of life and the origin of mankind.

Hans Ottomeyer is Former Director of the German Historical Museum, Berlin, and Honorary Professor at Humboldt University.


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