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Prominent interpretations of Schiller's philosophical political proposal in Ueber die Ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (On the Aesthetic Education of the Individual, 1795) focus on a problematic analogy between the inner harmony of the individual and its reflection on an external harmony of the State. This reading has lead many critics to conclude that Schiller's progression from the aesthetic to the political realm constitutes an unconditional and dangerous transfer of aesthetic education into political action. This argument loses its consistency and force when Schiller's Letters are compared with his other texts of the same period, notably Ueber Anmuth und Würde (On Grace and Dignity, 1793). Far from endorsing a blithe analogy, Schiller repeatedly emphasizes the moral complexities of the individual's relationship to others inherent in any political action, while explicitly seeking to preempt a misinterpretation toward what Walter Benjamin would call an “aestheticization of politics.”
READING SCHILLER IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY cannot be the same as reading Schiller at any other time. As obvious as this may sound to any reader informed by the hermeneutical tradition, in the case of Schiller this is a statement that has to be considered carefully and seriously. Those who read Schiller today — and not just read him, but make an attempt to understand his political thinking and his theories about our aesthetic being in the world — run the risk of appearing to be naive, optimistic, non-critical, and therefore very dangerous, thinkers.
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