2018-03Thematic Section
The Politics of Regression: The Idea of the Nation State in the Thought of Ernst Cassirer and Aurel Kolnai


The aim of this paper is to compare the approaches of Ernst Cassirer and Aurel Kolnai on the idea of the nation state in its most radical form, which consists of identifying national sovereignty with an unrestricted right of the nation to political, external, and internal self-determination. What the comparison attempted here focuses on, is the criticism on the conditions for the possibility of specific German nationalism, presented by Cassirer in his Myth of the State and by Kolnai in his War Against the West. According to the main thesis of this paper, insofar as both Cassirer and Kolnai recognized the role played in politics by emotions and considered political phenomena as being constituted by not only rational or at least calculable mechanisms, but also affective factors, like beliefs, religion, and myth, they tended to consider nationalism in terms of the politics of “regression,” understood, psychoanalytically, as a reversion of mental life, in some respects, to a former, or less developed, psychological state, characteristic of not only individual mental disorders, but also social psychosis. It will be argued, that Cassirer and Kolnai, not unlike the representatives of the Frankfurt School, considered the contemporary preponderance of mythical thought in political philosophy to be an expression of the dialectic, which consisted in “relapsing” of the Enlightenment into mythology. As a main motive for the comparison of their political philosophies, an assumption will be presented in the paper, that, while taking into account the contemporary tendency to oppose national sovereignty to the sovereignty of international law, the approach to the idea of nation state, as presented by Cassirer and Kolnai, seems to be by no means out of date.


political philosophy, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, theory of symbolic forms, neokantianism, conservatism, nation state, myth, communism, Nazism

How to cite:

Gniazdowski, Andrzej. “The Politics of Regression: The Idea of the Nation State in the Thought of Ernst Cassirer and Aurel Kolnai.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 2, no. 3(5) (2018): 27–41. https://doi.org/10.26319/5813.


Andrzej Gniazdowski
Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
72 Nowy Świat Street, 00-330 Warsaw, Poland


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