The zeitgeist is a concept from 18th- to 19th-century German philosophy, meaning “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. It refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history.
The term is now mostly associated with Hegel, contrasting with Hegel’s use of Volksgeist “national spirit” and Weltgeist “world-spirit”, but its coinage and popularization precedes Hegel, and is mostly due to Herder and Goethe. Other philosophers who were associated with such ideas include Spencer and Voltaire.
Contemporary use of the term may, more pragmatically, refer to a schema of fashions or fads which prescribes what is considered to be acceptable or tasteful for an era, e.g. in the field of architecture.
As the conceptual creator of the poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, who first wrote in 1769 in his published in Riga Scripture Critical Forests or Reflections, concerning the science and art of beauty, according to recent writings of the “Zeitgeist” wrote. In this work, Herder polemic against the philologist Christian Adolph Klotz and his writing genius seculi that around 1760 in Altenburg had appeared. In his work had Klotz strives to develop across time instrumentation and measurement criteria to track the peculiarity of a particular era. The turngenius saeculi (“spirit of the age / century”) was – in contrast to genius loci (“spirit of the place”) – unknown in antiquity, but already established in the early modern period and finds itself long before Klotz. In this respect, the term Zeitgeist is also considered a German borrowing from Latin.
Herder’s concept of the Zeitgeist already has something restrictive, oppressive, “vexing”: emancipated people who have also been liberated from religious ties often voluntarily submit to him and renounce the freedom of thought. So the zeitgeist rules where traditional normative orientations and standards of behavior are lacking. But he also tends then to exclude non-conformist thinking, for he also includes normative “assumptions, expectations of behavior, morals, taboos and beliefs,” referring regulating effect on the individual’s behavior, but “be worn by him.”
Popular was the phrase “spirit of the times” and the composition “Zeitgeist” after the French Revolution in 1789 and especially in the period of the Vormarz 1830-1848.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe leaves in Faust in the early 19th century. The Tragedy First Part Faust so rewrite the “spirit of the times” (Faust I: 575-577):
What you call the spirit of the times, that
is in the bottom of the master’s own spirit,
in which the times reflect themselves.
Goethe describes the zeitgeist as a social preponderance, as a dominance or hegemonic relationship.
“If one side now stands out in particular, gains possession of the crowd and triumphs to the extent that the opposite one must retreat into the confines and conceal for the moment in silence, then that preponderance is called the spirit of the times, and for a time its essence drives. ”
In the spirit of the times Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel sees the objective spirit unfolding in history (see epoch (philosophy) ).
Wilhelm Dilthey understands the “spirit of the time” as the (necessary) “limitation in which people of a time live in relation to their thinking, feeling and willing. Inevitability rules here over the individual individuals. ” With this definition, Dilthey takes up certain aspects of the concept of ideology. However, the notion of the zeitgeist in this escalation does not allow the question raised by Karl Mannheim and Emil Lederer why people of an epoch do not always think and understand the same thing. Lederer blames intellectual competition for the fact that there is no such thing as a unified zeitgeist; Mannheim sees the cause of this in the multiplicity of determinants of thought, in his concrete “being-boundness.”
The spiritual situation of the time is the title chosen by Karl Jaspers in 1932 for his cultural criticism, in which not a zeitgeist determines the situation, but explains the prehistory of the present considered by him the spirit of the time. Enzensberger adopts the demand to understand the present situation of the time from the past:
“There is nothing more narrow-minded than the zeitgeist. He who knows only the present must be foolish. ”
– Hans Magnus Enzensberger
From this position to the general skepticism about permanent intellectual innovation, it is only a small step:
“Those who completely commit themselves to the zeitgeist are a poor drip. The innovation addiction of the eternal avant-garde has something castrating. ”
– Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Hegel in Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) uses both Weltgeist and Volksgeist but prefers the phrase Geist der Zeiten “spirit of the times” over the compound Zeitgeist.
The Hegelian concept does not necessarily contrast with the Great Man theory as by Thomas Carlyle, which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses, as Hegel perceived such “great men”, specifically Napoleon, as the “embodiment of the world-spirit” (Die Weltseele zu Pferde “the world-soul on horseback”)
Hegel believed that art reflected, by its very nature, the culture of the time in which it is created. Culture and art are inextricable because an individual artist is a product of his or her time and therefore brings that culture to any given work of art. Furthermore, he believed that in the modern world it was impossible to produce classical art, which he believed represented a “free and ethical culture”, which depended more on the philosophy of art and theory of art, rather than a reflection of the social construct, or Zeitgeist in which a given artist lives.
In self-help and business models
Theory of leadership
A “zeitgeist theory of leadership” has been contrasted with Thomas Carlyle’s great man theory by Forsyth (2009). In his theory, Carlyle stresses that leaders do not become leaders by fate or accident. Instead, these individuals possess characteristics of great leaders and these characteristics allow them to obtain positions of power.
According to Forsyth, Leo Tolstoy disagreed with Carlyle’s perspective, instead believing that leadership, like other things, was a product of the “zeitgeist”,[year needed][page needed] the social circumstances at the time.
Great man theory and zeitgeist theory can be included in two main areas of thought in psychology. For instance, great man theory is very similar to the trait approach. Trait researchers are interested in identifying the various personality traits that underline human behaviors such as conformity, leadership or other social behaviors. Thus, they agree that leadership is primarily a quality of an individual and that some people are pre-dispositioned to be a leader whereas others are born to follow these leaders. In contrast, situationist researchers believe that social behavior is a product of society. That is, social influence is what determines human behaviors. Therefore, situationism is of the same opinion as zeitgeist theory—leaders are created from the social environment and are molded from the situation. The concept of zeitgeist also relates to the sociological tradition that stems from Émile Durkheim and recently developed into social capital theory as exemplified by the work of Patrick Hunout.
These two perspectives have been combined to create what is known as the interactional approach to leadership. This approach asserts that leadership is developed through the mixing of personality traits and the situation. Further, this approach was expressed by social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, by the equation B = f(P, E) where behavior (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) and the environment (E).
Examples of models in business
Executives, venture capitalists, journalists and authors have argued that the idea of a zeitgeist is useful in understanding the emergence of industries, simultaneous invention and evaluating the relative value of innovations. Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that entrepreneurs who succeeded often share similar characteristics—early personal or significant exposure to knowledge and skills in the early stages of a nascent industry. He proposed that the timing of involvement in an industry and often in sports as well affected the probability of success. In Silicon Valley, a number of people (Peter Thiel, Alistair Davidson, Mac Levchin, Nicholas G. Carr, Vinod Khosla) have argued that much innovation has been shaped by easy access to the Internet, open source software, component technologies for both hardware and software (e.g., software libraries, software as a service), and the ability to reach narrow markets across a global market. Peter Thiel has commented: “There is so much incrementalism now.”
In a zeitgeist market, the number of new entrants is high, differentiation in high value products (the strongest predictor of new product success) is more difficult to achieve, and business models emphasizing service and solution over product and process will enhance success. Examples include innovation in product experience, legal rights and bundling, privacy rights, and agency (where businesses act on behalf of customers).
Zeitgeist and Law
The prevailing “worldviews” in various social systems and cultures and the cultural guiding ideas associated with them constantly change and, in their regional and temporal form, form the “zeitgeist” of a culture. This is usually caused by the traditional religious ideas and social structures influenced and finds a binding shape, particularly in the conceptions of justice of the respective legal system. This zeitgeist and the values that live in it not only serve as patterns of interpretation for the events, but also act as motivation for action, thereby gaining practical significance for the shaping of the state and the law. Max Weber described the influence of religious ideas and social models on social structures and economic development. Under the pressure of changing ideas, so does the law. For example, the idea of individual self-responsibility gained in particular in England in the 17th centurynot only in the religious field on the ground, but also in the field of politics. This transformed the traditional legitimacy of governmental power: the monarchy ” by the grace of God ” became a ” legitimized by the people ” kingship. Also, below the constitution the right is continuously adapted to the changes in the spirit of the time, i. H. to the majority consensus ideas about the legitimate state and social order. This happens not only through formal legislation, but also through a change in the interpretation of the law, ie by a “change of meaning” of the laws.
Zeitgeist in the sense of intellectual or aesthetic fashion or fad:
Research from empirical aesthetics investigated the relation between zeitgeist as temporal context and the evaluation of creative works. In a study of the musical originality of 15,618 classical music themes, the importance of objective characteristics and zeitgeist for popularity was examined. Both the musical originality of a theme relative to its contemporary works (the zeitgeist), as well as its “absolute” originality influenced in similar magnitude the popularity of a theme. Similarly, objective features and temporal context both influenced the evaluation of linguistic originality.