Theory of Retreat

The project was 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 examined 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 †


Wolfgang Schivelbusch †

Geschichten eines Tabus

Carl Hanser Verlag, München 2019, 112 pages
ISBN 978-3-446-26228-7

Media Response

20 Aug 2019
Auch der Rückzug ist eine Kunst

Siege und Helden, darüber redet jedes Land gerne. Militärische Rückzüge dagegen werden eher verschwiegen – dabei gäbe es gerade über sie sehr viel zu sagen. Das zeigt eine kleine Skizze des Historikers Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Review by Rolf Tanner, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 20 Aug 2019

07 May 2019
Ein kulturhistorischer Blick auf den Rückzug

Review by Martin Halter, in: Badische Zeitung, 07 May 2019

08 Apr 2019
Vom Rückzug zur Exit-Strategie. Buch von Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Review by Steffen Richter, in: Der Tagesspiegel, 08 Apr 2019

19 Mar 2019
Der Rückzug als Stiefvater aller Dinge

Review by Franziska Augstein, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19 Mar 2019

16 Mar 2019
Sieger wie Verlierer haben ihre Legenden

Review by Jürgen Osterhammel, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 Mar 2019