Theory of Retreat

Project description

The project is concerned with backward movement as the inversion of progress. The dynamics of moving backwards accord with Aristotle’s law of action and reaction. Action spends itself on its (passive) object which in turn becomes the recipient and beneficiary of this transfer of force. Clausewitz applied this law to the military relationship of attack and defense (declining energy of the attack increases defensive energies). This law can be interpreted as a key to understanding historical tidal changes. The project examines how the initiators-bearers of a forward movement react to its decline, and how they rationalize their loss of energy, power and face. The locus classicus for a backward-movement may be said to be the retreat of the Romantics in the wake of the precipitous French Revolution. In modernity’s most recent present, populisms react towards globalization and digitalization. In most cases, the so called losers of progress are responsible for making moving backwards attractive. The romantic legacy of aestheticizing politics comes in handy for them, which might account for the pendulum’s reliable tendency towards the Right.

Head researcher(s): Wolfgang Schivelbusch