Leading through intellect
: the meaning of leadership in the intellectual history of nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany

  • Katryn L. Bradshaw

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study examines the understanding of leadership in Germany, as it developed throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The investigation is based on the work of contemporary writers and thinkers, as well as on the leadership styles of key political figures. Given the ideological connotations of the term "Führung" in post-war Germany, the aim is to reconsider the meaning of leadership, with particular reference to the alternative notion of spiritual guidance. The rise to power of Napoleon I fundamentally influenced the understanding of leadership in Germany, as is demonstrated through an analysis of the Napoleonic reception in contemporary literature. Despite polarised responses, the formation of the heroic ideal may be identified, the quest for spiritual guidance having become subordinate to the charismatic legitimisation of political authority. As advocated by Thomas Carlyle, the mid to late nineteenth century witnessed the realisation of this ideal through Bismarck. The intellectual response to this development is characterised by the work of Wagner, Burckhardt and Nietzsche. In different ways each figure emphasised the need to redefine greatness and to seek spiritual guidance from alternative sources. The reflection on leadership in the early twentieth century is traced through the work of Harry Graf Kessler and the circles around Stefan George. Hitherto unpublished material is examined, revealing both the influences of nineteenth century thought and reactions to the "persönliches Regiment" of Wilhelm II. The intellectual debate culminates in Max Kommerell's 1928 study Der Dichter als Führer. Read in conjunction with unpublished notes and correspondence, this provides new insights into Kommerell's thought. The concept of poetic leadership constitutes a potential spiritual and intellectual alternative to the ideal of the political "Führer" which dominated the forthcoming era. It therefore remains of contemporary significance and may contribute to a broader discussion of the leadership dilemma in modern Germany.
Date of AwardSept 1998
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRüdiger Görner (Supervisor)


  • leadership
  • intellectual history
  • nineteenth century
  • early twentieth century
  • Germany

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