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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2014

10 - Georg Lukács (1885–1971)


Life and Work

The Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács, who published most of his works in German, played a central role in the development of twentieth-century Marxism. Like many other Marxist thinkers, he was born into a rich family. His mother belonged to one of the wealthiest dynasties in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; his father, a self-made man, was a highly successful banker. Both were Jewish. Growing up in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Budapest, Lukács became a native speaker of both Hungarian and German, while also gaining fluency in French and English. He studied at the universities of Budapest and Berlin, and was awarded his PhD in 1909. The next seven years he spent as a kind of philosophical itinerant, roaming between Budapest, Berlin, and Heidelberg, interspersing his stays there with journeys to France and Italy.

Most philosophers at the time, from the Left and the Right alike, regarded capitalism, liberal democracy, and the bourgeois way of life as both manifestations and causes of a potentially catastrophic cultural malaise. Lukács was no exception: for him, too, modernity meant anonymity, atomization, and alienation. At this stage, however, he was not yet pinning his hopes on a social revolution as the way out of this predicament, but opted for a solution that went back to Nietzsche and the Romantics: the redeeming power of art, which would lift people out of the squalor and banality of everyday life and deliver them from the “Anarchie des Helldunkels,” in which nothing and no one ever found true fulfillment.