Kurt Riezler
Kurt Riezler was a German philosopher
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and diplomat
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...

. A top-level cabinet adviser in the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 and the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, he negotiated Germany's underwriting of Russia's October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 and authored the 1914 September Program
The Septemberprogramm was a plan drafted by the German leadership in the early weeks of the First World War. It detailed Germany's ambitious gains should it win the war, as it expected...

 which outlined German war aims during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The posthumous publication of his secret notes and diaries helped precipitate the "Fischer
Fritz Fischer
Fritz Fischer was a German historian best known for his analysis of the causes of World War I. Fischer has been described by The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing as the most important German historian of the 20th century.-Biography:Fischer was born in Ludwigsstadt in Bavaria. His...

 Controversy" among German historians in the early 1960s.

Early life

Riezler was born in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 in 1882 to a prominent Catholic family; his grandfather had co-founded the Bayerische Hypotheken- und Wechselbank (now HypoVereinsbank
UniCredit Bank Aktiengesellschaft is the sixth-largest private German financial institution, with a strong presence in Bavaria. The company is based in Munich, and together with Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Commerzbank and Deutsche Postbank, it belongs to the Cash Group...

, UniCredit
UniCredit SpA is an Italy-based, pan-European banking organization, with aprox 40 million customers and operations in 22 countries.- Geography :...

 Group). He studied classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 at the University of Munich
Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich
The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich , commonly known as the University of Munich or LMU, is a university in Munich, Germany...

 and was granted his doctorate with highest honors in 1905. His prize-winning thesis on the Oikonomika, a classical Greek treatise once attributed to Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, was soon published. After working as a journalist for the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a semi-official newspaper, he joined the press section of the German Foreign Office in 1907 and attracted the attention of Wilhelm II
William II, German Emperor
Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe...

. When Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg became chancellor of Germany in 1909, Riezler became his chief adviser and confidant.

Political career

Riezler's duties in the chancellor's office concerned primarily, but not exclusively, foreign policy. In 1914 he authored the September Program
The Septemberprogramm was a plan drafted by the German leadership in the early weeks of the First World War. It detailed Germany's ambitious gains should it win the war, as it expected...

 which proposed as possible German war aims limited annexations, a hard peace for France, and a Belgian vassal state
Vassal state
A vassal state is any state that is subordinate to another. The vassal in these cases is the ruler, rather than the state itself. Being a vassal most commonly implies providing military assistance to the dominant state when requested to do so; it sometimes implies paying tribute, but a state which...

. In October 1917 he was posted to the German embassy in Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 to arrange a cease-fire on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

, and then to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 as the top aide to Germany's ambassador to Russia, Count Wilhelm von Mirbach
Wilhelm Mirbach
Wilhelm Graf von Mirbach-Harff was a German diplomat.- Biography :Mirbach was born in Bad Ischl in Upper Austria. He participated in the Russian-German negotiations in Brest-Litovsk from December 1917 to March 1918...

. Riezler was an eyewitness to Mirbach's assassination by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries
Left Socialist-Revolutionaries
In 1917, Russia the Socialist-Revolutionary Party split between those who supported the Provisional Government, established after the February Revolution, and those who supported the Bolsheviks who favoured a communist insurrection....

 on 9 July 1918, having unwittingly ushered the gunman Yakov Blumkin
Yakov Blumkin
Yakov Grigoryevich Blumkin was a Left Socialist-Revolutionary, assassin, Bolshevik, Cheka agent, State Political Directorate spy, and adventurer, executed as Trotskyist.-Early life :...

 into Mirbach's presence.

During this period, Riezler served as the conduit for German subsidies to the Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

s and personally negotiated these with Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

's representatives Karl Radek
Karl Radek
Karl Bernhardovic Radek was a socialist active in the Polish and German movements before World War I and an international Communist leader after the Russian Revolution....

 and Alexander Parvus
Alexander Parvus
Alexander Lvovich Parvus , born Israel Lazarevich Gelfand , was a Marxist theoretician, a Russian revolutionary, and a controversial activist in the Social Democratic Party of Germany...

. Riezler later claimed privately that it had been his own idea to transport Lenin in the famous "sealed train" from Zurich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

 through Germany to Russia in April 1917.

Following the war, Riezler became a staunch supporter of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

. He joined the German Democratic Party, contributed regularly to the pro-Weimar newspaper Die Deutsche Nation, and served as the Foreign Office's representative during the drafting of the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

. From November 1919 until April 1920 he was chief of cabinet to President Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert
Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany .When Ebert was elected as the leader of the SPD after the death of August Bebel, the party members of the SPD were deeply divided because of the party's support for World War I. Ebert supported the Burgfrieden and...

 and played a central role in suppressing the Kapp Putsch
Kapp Putsch
The Kapp Putsch — or more accurately the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch — was a 1920 coup attempt during the German Revolution of 1918–1919 aimed at overthrowing the Weimar Republic...

 and the Bavarian Soviet Republic
Bavarian Soviet Republic
The Bavarian Soviet Republic, also known as the Munich Soviet Republic was, as part of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, the short-lived attempt to establish a socialist state in form of a council republic in the Free State of Bavaria. It sought independence from the also recently proclaimed...


Academic career

In 1927 he was named Kurator of the University of Frankfurt, to which he attracted a distinguished faculty that included Ernst Kantorowicz
Ernst Kantorowicz
Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz was a German-Jewish historian of medieval political and intellectual history, known for his 1927 book Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite on Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and in particular The King's Two Bodies .Kantorowicz was born in Posen to a wealthy, assimilated...

, Adolph Lowe
Adolph Lowe
Adolph Lowe born Adolf Löwe was a German sociologist and economist.- Major publications of Adolph Lowe :*Arbeitslosigkeit und Kriminalität, 1914....

, Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim , or Károly Mannheim in the original writing of his name, was a Jewish Hungarian-born sociologist, influential in the first half of the 20th century and one of the founding fathers of classical sociology and a founder of the sociology of knowledge.-Life:Mannheim studied in Budapest,...

, Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich
Paul Johannes Tillich was a German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century...

, and Max Wertheimer
Max Wertheimer
- External links :* * * * *...

. Riezler consequently played a crucial role in the 1930 inception of the Frankfurt School
Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory, particularly associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main...

; for example, it was Riezler who recommended Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse was a German Jewish philosopher, sociologist and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory...

 to Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer was a German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. His most important works include The Eclipse of Reason and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment...

. Because of his concurrent appointment to the philosophy faculty, Riezler was also prominent in German philosophical circles. In 1929 Riezler sided with Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

 during the famous "Davos encounter" with Ernst Cassirer
Ernst Cassirer
Ernst Cassirer was a German philosopher. He was one of the major figures in the development of philosophical idealism in the first half of the 20th century...

 and wrote an eyewitness account of this event, "Davoser Hochschulkurse 1929," for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung is a major German language Swiss daily newspaper based in Zurich.One of the oldest newspapers still published, it originally appeared as Zürcher Zeitung, edited by Salomon Gessner, from January 12, 1780, and was renamed to Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 1821...


Riezler was forced out of the university in April 1933 by the Nazis but, having been allowed by them to draw his pension, remained in Germany for the next five years, publishing books on aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

 and Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...



In late 1938 he contacted the Kreisau Circle
Kreisau Circle
The Kreisau Circle was the name the Nazi Gestapo gave to a group of German dissidents centered on the Kreisau estate of Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. The Kreisauer Kreis is celebrated as one of the instances of German opposition to the Nazi regime...

, an aristocratic anti-Nazi faction, and soon emigrated to the United States to accept a professorship in philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He was to remain at that institution until his retirement, interspersed with visiting professorships at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 and the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. During this period he became a close friend and colleague of the political philosopher Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss was a political philosopher and classicist who specialized in classical political philosophy. He was born in Germany to Jewish parents and later emigrated to the United States...

, who devoted the final chapter of his book What is Political Philosophy? to Riezler. Noting that Riezler's philosophy was "shaped by both the influence of Heidegger and the reaction to him," Strauss concludes that it "was ultimately because he grasped the meaning of shame and awe that Riezler was a liberal, a lover of privacy."

Kurt Riezler returned to Europe in 1954, lived for some time in Rome and died in Munich in 1955. He was preceded in death by his wife Käthe (1885-1952), daughter of the German impressionist painter Max Liebermann
Max Liebermann
Max Liebermann was a German-Jewish painter and printmaker best known for his etching and lithography.-Biography:...

. His survivors included their daughter Maria, wife of Howard B. White (1912-1974), a New School professor of political philosophy who had been Leo Strauss's first graduate student; and his brother Walter Riezler (1878-1965), a prominent musicologist, art historian and associate of the Deutscher Werkbund
Deutscher Werkbund
The Deutscher Werkbund was a German association of artists, architects, designers, and industrialists. The Werkbund was to become an important event in the development of modern architecture and industrial design, particularly in the later creation of the Bauhaus school of design...


Selected works

  • 1906. Das zweite Buch der Pseudoaristotelischen Ökonomik. Berlin: Norddeutsche Buchdruckerei und Verlagsanstalt.
  • 1907. Über Finanzen und Monopole im alten Griechenland. Berlin: Puttkammer & Mühlbrecht.
  • 1913. Die Erforderlichkeit des Unmöglichen: Prolegomena zu einer Theorie der Politik und zu anderen Theorien. München: G. Müller Verlag
  • 1914. Grundzüge der Weltpolitik in der Gegenwart (pseudonym J. J. Ruedorffer). Stuttgart & Berlin: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.
  • 1920. Die drei Krisen; eine Untersuchung über den gegenwärtigen politischen Weltzustand (pseudonym J. J. Ruedorffer). Stuttgart & Berlin: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.
  • 1924. Gestalt und Gesetz; Entwurf einer Metaphysik der Freiheit. München: Musarion Verlag.
  • 1928. "Die Krise der `Wirklichkeit`." Die Naturwissenschaften, 16
  • 1929. Über Gebundenheit und Freiheit des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters. Bonn: F. Cohen.
  • 1934. Parmenides. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
  • 1935. Traktat vom Schönen. Zur Ontologie der Kunst. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
  • 1940. Physics and Reality; Lectures of Aristotle on Modern Physics at an International Congress of Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • 1941. "Play and Seriousness." Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 38, No. 19
  • 1943. "Comment on the Social Psychology of Shame." American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 4
  • 1943. "Homer's Contribution to the Meaning of Truth." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 3, No. 3
  • 1943. "On the Psychology of Modern Revolution." Social Research, Vol. 10
  • 1944. "The Social Psychology of Fear." American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 6
  • 1944. "What Is Public Opinion?" Social Research, Vol. 11
  • 1944. "Forward" to Max Wertheimer
    Max Wertheimer
    - External links :* * * * *...

    , "Gestalt Theory." Social Research, Vol. 11
  • 1948. "The Historian and Truth." Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 45, No. 14
  • 1949. "Reflections on Human Rights." Human Rights, Comments and Interpretations, UNESCO.
  • 1951. Man, Mutable and Immutable: The Fundamental Structure of Social Life. Chicago: Regnery.
  • 1954. "Political Decisions in Modern Society." Ethics, Vol. 64, No. 2
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