The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 24, 2014

February 24, 1984

Helmut Schelsky (October 14, 1912 to February 24, 1984) trained as a sociologist in Germany (the Universities of Leipzig and of Konigsberg) between the wars, finishing a post doctoral thesis on Thomas Hobbes, in 1939. He was drafted into the German army and so could not take up his career until the war was over. According to thinkers like Eric Voegelin, (who himself fled Europe and the Nazis) the situation we call war time chaos illuminates the basic nature of reality in an unavoidable way. So it is not surprising that books like Helmut Schelsky's Zur Stabilität von Institutionen, (1952) (translated as On the stability of institutions) was among his respected works.

Although I do not read German, the title suggests the effect the 20th century presumably had, of stressing the transience of that which people typically assume does not change. This is particularly the case in view of the fact the Nazi insanity occurred in a country which only decades previously was widely viewed as a model for pedagogical style and substance. That inconsistency was one of many which posed questions for scholars. I can see where sociology must have been an especially interesting topic and source of answers in postwar Germany. 

Schelsky was highly regarded in this field, until the student revolts of the 1960s which challenged traditional authorities across the western world,  in many areas of academe. His experiences in educational structures challenged by the students is said to have embittered the author. 

One of the traditions German scholarship gave to the European world was the "Festschrift" which is a collection of essays saluting a particular scholar, essays written by his students and others influenced by, or particularly admiring of, the person being honored. Helmut Schelsky was the focus of such a volume, the constituents of which  need not obviously relate to the honoree. The volume we reference was Recht und Gesellschaft: Festschrift für Helmut Schelsky zum 65. Geburtstag (1978). This translates as Law and Society: Festschrift for Helmut Schelsky the 65th Birthday.

Only one essay in this book was written in English, and that was by  R.W. M. Dias, of Cambridge, who wrote an essay entitled "Gotterdammerung: Gods of the Law in Decline." Here we find a point made with a feline parallel:

Many unfortunate results are rooted in obsession with a mere word as if it were some incantation....The word "cat" covers a domestic tabby and a tiger, but for the purpose of sleeping in the same room as one it would be suicidal to ignore the difference.

Care must be taken in the choice of words, and this is most important in legal language.  This commonplace point is made memorable by the vivid feline reference. 

Carl-Goran Heidegren's essay, "Helmut Schelsky's "German' Hobbes Interpretation" in a different publication, could be a next step in pursuing an assessment of Helmut Schelsky. I base my post on the fact Schelsky was a high ranking member of academia in West Germany from 1948 to 1978.  For anyone interested in pursuing a closer analysis of Schelsky's association with Nazi ideology, the essay I link to is highly recommended. 

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