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Against Romanticism:

From Enlightenment to Enfrightenment and the Culture of Slavery

Caoimhghin ” CroidheŠin

Against Romanticism: From Enlightenment to Enfrightenment and the Culture of Slavery

by Caoimhghin ” CroidheŠin

This book looks at the philosophy, politics and history of many different art forms arguing that Romanticism is dominating modern culture to the detriment of Enlightenment ideals. In recent times Enlightenment ideas have been characterised as cold, hard science, while Romanticism has been perceived as the 'caring' philosophy.

However, Romanticist emotions lead to self-absorption, escapism and diversion, yet during the Enlightenment, emotion was not only a very important part of Enlightenment philosophy but was the basis of the philosophes' ideas for combating injustice in society. Throughout the last two centuries, any Enlightenment movements that tried to highlight the plight of the poor or unite the working class (Sentimentalism, Realism, Social Realism, Socialism) have been excluded, swamped or submerged by Romanticist movements that ultimately pose no threat to the status quo.

In other words, just as the Right tries to remake the Left in its own image (to disarm it), the Romanticists try to remake the Enlightenment in theirs (catharsis without progressive social change), thus, maintaining a 'culture of slavery'.

Kindle version now available on:



Through developing an awareness of the socio-political fault lines in today’s culture, cultural practitioners can create a new democratic spirit with an emphasis on the value of ordinary people, while at the same time making an important contribution to the fight against poverty, oppression, and injustice.



Back cover image:
Pallas and the Centaur (c.1482) by Sandro Botticelli (c.1445–1510). Pallas (Minerva) is a figure of reason, restraining the beast of our nature (the centaur) by the hair and looking at it with no fear.

Gaelart Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-3999-1964-7
Design: Ieva Grbacjana (https://igrbacjana.com/)
Cover photography: Philip O’Neill (https://www.philiponeillphotography.com/)
Cover painting: Sapere Aude! by Caoimhghin ” CroidheŠin (http://gaelart.net/)
Back cover: Pallas and the Centaur (Public domain / Wikimedia Commons)
Printer: Paceprint (https://paceprint.ie/)

Typeset in 12pt Cambria and 10pt Work Sans




What’s the matter with Romanticism?
Chapter 1 - Philosophy
Re-Examining Emotion and Justice in Enlightenment Ideals
Chapter 2 - Politics
Romanticism as a Tool for Elite Agendas
Chapter 3 - Art
Art Movements and the People’s Movement
Chapter 4 - Music
The Conversion of Music into a Mass Narcotic
Chapter 5 - Opera
Opera in Crisis: Can It be Made Relevant Again?
Chapter 6 - Dance
Diversity in Dance Today
Chapter 7 - Poetry
The Dialectics of Rhyme
Chapter 8 - Literature
Literature Serving Human Liberty
Chapter 9 - Theatre
Popular Theatre as Cultural Resistance
Chapter 10 - Architecture
Neoliberalism, Climate Change and Architecture
Chapter 11 - Cinema
Individual and Collective Struggles in Cinema
Chapter 12 - Television
Game of Thrones: Olde-Style Catharsis or Bloody Good Counsel?
Chapter 13 - Culture
The Culture of Slavery v the Culture of Resistance
The Power of Romanticism today: 21st Century Irrationalism


Caoimhghin ” CroidheŠin is an Irish artist, lecturer and writer. His artwork consists of paintings based on contemporary geopolitical themes and he has worked as a lecturer in various universities teaching Language and Cultural Identity, Geopolitics, Intercultural Communication, Aesthetics and History of Irish Art in Dublin. Caoimhghin studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin where he obtained a BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art. He subsequently undertook post-graduate study in the interdisciplinary field of Cultural Studies in Dublin City University obtaining an MA (Hons) degree in Communications and Cultural Studies. Caoimhghin is an Irish speaker and holds a PhD in Language and Politics (Dublin City University) which is published under the title Language from Below: The Irish Language, Ideology and Power in 20th-Century Ireland. Caoimhghin is a regular contributor of articles on the arts, Irish culture, cultural politics, and the environment, to sites such as Global Research, Dissident Voice, CounterPunch and 21cir.


Introduction to Against Romanticism

What’s the matter with Romanticism?

All artforms are in the service of the greatest of all arts: the art of living.
Bertolt Brecht

We are all raised in a culture of Romanticism, an amorphous ideology that saturates cultural and political beliefs in society today. Romanticism is defined by its emphasis on subjectivity, emotion and individualism. It has pervaded all the arts, society and politics and its individualism is an essential aspect of ideologies such as Modernism, Postmodernism, Nationalism, and Neoliberalism. Romanticism arose as a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, a period of time when intellectual and philosophical movements discussed and developed ideas on liberty, toleration, progress, separation of church and state, and constitutional government.

The early Romanticists appeared progressive in that they reacted to the extremes of the Industrial Revolution but then advocated a return to medieval ideas about society and production. However, the height of Romanticism coincided with the development and rise of socialist ideology. The socialists also criticized the Industrial Revolution but from a very different perspective. They were more concerned with the poverty and extremes of wealth inequality created by laissez faire capitalism, especially questioning individual control of the means of production.

Thus, it can be argued that the Romanticists wanted to see a move backwards to the individualist feudal ways of doing things rather than giving in to the potential of a collectivist future. In the arts Romanticism emphasized intense emotion, horror and awe of the beauty of nature in opposition to Enlightenment ideas derived from the naturalism of the Greek and Roman classics and empirical reason.

The Enlightenment philosophers also used rational thinking to fight the extreme forms of social injustice prevalent at the time. They opposed absolute monarchy, torture and the death penalty, questioned religious orthodoxy, while supporting concepts of free speech and thought, republicanism and revolution, separation of church and state, and a civil order based on natural law.

As Romanticism gave way to Realism a pattern emerged of Romanticist-influenced movements (Modernism, Postmodernism, Metamodernism) competing with Enlightenment-influenced movements (Realism, Social Realism, Socialist Realism). The descendants of the Romanticist movement all had in common the antirationalist rejection of Enlightenment thinking, while the descendants of the Enlightenment continued with ideas of liberty, exposing colonialism and working-class poverty, and depicting resistance to oppression.

Today, as in the past, there is still an ideological conflict in society between a diversionary, escapist culture (which is dominant, hegemonic and well-funded) and a culture of criticism and resistance (which is in the minority and barely funded, if at all).

Inside this diversionary, escapist culture we are led to believe that all is fine and we only need to work, relax and enjoy life while our politicians take care of any local, national and international issues. However, these ‘background’ issues are not steady, unchanging facets of life. They are dynamic, belligerent and dangerous.

We are sinking into a quicksand of Romanticism leaving elites free to carry out war agendas on a global scale. There is a gradually developing showdown between the current unipolar world and the fast-developing pressure for a multipolar world.
While it is considered that the history of Romanticism has been problematic, it is still perceived to be ‘better’ than the history of science, which, through the development of ever more sophisticated technology, is thought to be increasing and refining exploitation of human and natural resources, and therefore, ultimately destroying the planet.

However, is this true? This book attempts to reexamine the effects of Enlightenment and Romanticist ideas on society today while at the same time exploring their history and origins in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Chapter 1
Chapter 1 looks at the original intentions of the Enlightenment philosophers showing that the main motivating force for their endeavors was not just to maintain the scholarly work of Renaissance humanism but to develop the ideas necessary for democratic institutions and the fight against social injustice in all its forms. Far from being cold rationalists, the Enlightenment philosophers were moved emotionally by the society around them to try and effect positive changes, thus explaining the use of the term Sentimentalism to describe the Enlightenment artforms that tried to expose the plight of the poor. The conservative and aristocratic nature of German Romanticism is examined as well as the working-class perspectives on Enlightenment and Romanticist philosophies, as analyzed by Marx and Engels, who saw a connection between Enlightenment ideas and socialism.

Chapter 2
Chapter 2 shows the effects of Enlightenment and Romanticism on politics. Philosophers like Montesquieu wrote about concepts of citizenship and republican government that would replace one’s status of being a subject under the absolute rule of monarchies. The Romanticist emphasis on cultural, linguistic and ethnic nationalism arose in opposition to the burgeoning liberal and socialist movements of the time. By the twentieth century competing nationalisms led to the tragedy of the Great War and then to the extreme ethnic nationalism of national socialism in Germany and the Second World War. Since then the influence of Romanticism can still be seen in the rise of supranational entities and postnationalism, from, for example, a ‘German’ national identity to a ‘European’ national identity (rather than international working-class solidarity).

Chapters 3 to 12
Chapters 3 to 12 apply these ideas to various artforms: art, music, opera, dance, poetry, literature, theatre, architecture, cinema, and TV. The history of each form since Enlightenment times is examined and the effects of such ideas on form and content is contrasted with the form and content of Romanticist movements. As Romanticism pulled the arts in ethereal and escapist directions, resistance culture examined the plight of the oppressed using different forms such as naturalism, realism, social realism, as well as working-class socialist realism. In more difficult times these fundamentally different Enlightenment and Romanticist approaches to the arts came into conflict with each other and at other times one took over from the other depending on the changing socio-political circumstances. The overwhelming influence of Romanticist ideas today can be attributed as much to the repackaging and sale of mass suffering as catharsis, as to the massive financial support given them by global entities.

Chapter 13
Chapter 13 summarizes these ideas into a general analysis of culture that goes in two opposite directions. One that diverts the attention of people away from exploitation (the culture of slavery) and another which aims to create awareness of how such exploitation operates (the culture of resistance). This chapter also shows that while science and technology are responsible for much exploitation of people and resources, modernity cannot be reduced to the domination of nature and human beings by science. Many progressive movements and changes were brought about by Enlightenment ideas and these ideas are an essential aspect of the different forms that the culture of resistance takes today.

On a broader level, the connection between Romanticism and the problematic history of irrationalism is discussed in the Conclusion and shows the continuing importance of rational thinking as the basis for future action.

Through developing an awareness of the socio-political fault lines in today’s culture, cultural practitioners can create a new democratic spirit with an emphasis on the value of ordinary people, while at the same time making an important contribution to the fight against poverty, oppression, and injustice.