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Gustav Landauer


Gustav Landauer was a German philosopher and writer. Landauer, the son of a wealthy Karlsruhe merchant, was drawn toward anarchism in his youth, and as a student in Berlin became editor of the anarchic socialist periodical, Der Sozialist. In 1893 – the year in which his first book, a novel titled Der Todesprediger, appeared – he was sentenced to 11 months' imprisonment for incitement. On his release he found it impossible to reenter a university, and became a free-lance journalist. He resumed writing for the Sozialist, which continued publication until 1899 and which he himself revived ten years later. In 1899 Landauer was again sent to prison, this time for six months, as a result of his agitation on behalf of a man whom he believed to have been wrongly convicted of murder. Shortly after his release, having divorced his first wife, he married the poetess and translator Hedwig Lachmann. Among the books he published in 1903 were Macht und Maechte, containing the two short stories, "Arnold Himmelbeber" and "Lebendig tot"; and a version, in modern German, of the writings of the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart. The political articles he wrote in the Sozialist between 1909 and 1914, published posthumously as Rechenschaft (1919), revealed his fears of a world war, and by June 1914, with a group that included his friend Martin *Buber, he had made a certain amount of progress in the formation of an international association that might express the voice of a united Europe and avert the tragedy. They were overtaken by events, and when war broke out in August, Landauer and Buber were unable to salvage the group. During the war, Landauer devoted much of his energy to the Berlin popular theater, and his lectures on Shakespeare were published after his death as Shakespeare, dargestellt in Vortraegen (2 vols., 1920). In 1918 he became editor of the Duesseldorf theatrical periodical, Masken. When the Bavarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in 1919, Landauer accepted an invitation of Kurt *Eisner to become minister of public instruction, but following the overthrow of the Bavarian Socialist government, he was brutally murdered by counterrevolutionary soldiers in the streets of Munich.

Landauer's philosophical views were influenced by the critical theory of language of his friend Fritz *Mauthner. He believed that Mauthner's work had opened the gate to both philosophical pluralism and a new mysticism by eliminating the possibility of any one philosophy claiming absolute truth. His own semimystical philosophy of the organic interrelationship of all being is expressed in his book Skepsis und Mystik ("Doubt and Mysticism"), published in 1903. Landauer's importance as a social philosopher was that, in opposition to Marxism, he wished to construct a new form of society based on the individual. He expressed his ideas mainly in his books Die Revolution (1907) and Aufruf zum Sozia lismus (1911, 19192), and summarized them in 12 principles which became the program for the "Socialist Alliance" which he hoped would replace states and a capitalist economy. He wanted a revolution in which individuals, and not the proletariat, would help to fashion a new mode of cooperative living through personal example rather than through politics and party. Under Landauer's editorship the revived Sozialist had considerable educational influence as a result of his practice of publishing personal documents from earlier revolutionary eras. Some of these he published in book form as Briefe aus der Franzoesischen Revolution (2 vols., 1918). Landauer's attitude to Judaism and Jews, from the evidence of his first stories, was unsympathetic, but it gradually underwent a change, apparently under the influence of his wife and Buber. A letter to Hedwig Lachmann as early as 1900 shows a growing consciousness of his relationship to his ancestors and when, in 1913, the Prague students association, Bar Kochba, published the book Vom Judentum, it contained an important essay by Landauer titled "Sind dies Ketzergedanken?" ("Are These the Ideas of a Heretic?"). In this he wrote: "For all of us, when we began to be Jews out of full consciousness, it was an enrichment, an elevation, and strengthening of our existence." In the same article he defended the multiplicity of loyalties in the heart of the Jew, which he regarded as "a sign of the mission which Judaism fulfills in relation to humanity and within humanity." After Landauer's death, Martin Buber had his scattered articles compiled into several books. Those on literary subjects appeared as Der werdende Mensch (1921), and the ones on the attainment of Socialism as Beginner (1924). Throughout the years more of Landauer's essays were collected in volumes such as Erkenntnis und Befreiung (1976), edited by R. Link-Salinger Hyman, and Dichter, Ketzer, Aussenseiter (1997), edited by H. Delf. His letters, edited by Buber, appeared as Gustav Landauer, sein Lebensgang in Briefen (1929). Another correspondence, edited by H. Delf, appeared years later as Gustav LandauerFritz Mauthner Briefwechsel 18901919 (1994). Documents on his relationship with Erich Muehsam, edited by C. Knueppel, appeared under the title Sei Tapfer und wachse dich aus (2004).


J. Bab, Gustav Landauer (Ger., 1919), includes bibl.; M. Buber, Gustav Landauer: sein Lebensgang in Briefen, 2 vols. (1929); A. Mitchell, Revolution in Bavaria 19181919 (1965), index; G. Kressel, Madda'ei ha-Ḥevrah (1948), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Breines, LBIYB, 12 (1969), 75–84; R. Link-Salinger Hyman, Gustav Landauer: Philosopher of Utopia (1977); idem, in: Shdemot, 18 (1982), 27–33; W. Siegbert, Gustav Landauer zur Einfuehrung (1988); H. Delf and G. Mattenklott (eds.), Gustav Landauer im Gespraech (1997).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.