Sociology Index


Arnold Gehlen

Arnold Gehlen (29 January 1904 – 30 January 1976) was an influential conservative German philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist. Arnold Gehlen was not a Nazi, but rather a political opportunist: Arnold Gehlen's main work Der Mensch appeared in 1940 and was published in English translation in 1987 as Man. His Nature and Place in the World. In contrast to philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, it contains not a single passage which can be classified as Nazi ideology. Unlike Heidegger, who was a convinced anti-democrat until his death in 1976, Gehlen, although clearly a conservative thinker, never published any anti-democratic writings. Arnold Gehlen figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

Gehlen's core idea in Der Mensch is that humans have unique properties which distinguish them from all other species: world-openness, a concept originally coined by Max Scheler, which describes the ability of humans to adapt to various environments as contrasted with animals, which can only survive in environments which match their evolutionary specialisation. This world-openness gives us the ability to shape our environment according to our intentions, and it comprises a view of language as a way of acting, an excess of impulses and the ability of self-control. These properties allow us, in contrast to all other animals, to create our own environments, though this is also at the risk of a certain self-destabilisation.

In 1961, in an article titled Über kulturelle Kristallisation ("On Cultural Crystallization"), Gehlen wrote: "I am predicting that the history of ideas has come to an end and that we have arrived at the epoch of post-histoire, so that now the advice Gottfried Benn gave the individual, 'Make do with what you have,' is valid for humanity as a whole." Gehlen's philosophy has influenced many contemporary German thinkers in a range of disciplines, including Peter L. Berger, Thomas Luckmann and Niklas Luhmann in sociology, and Hans Blumenberg in philosophy. Since the mid-2010s, there has occurred a Gehlen revival based in part on the predictions in his book Moral und Hypermoral as concerns the development of German and Western politics from 1969.