Ludwig Klages

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Ludwig Klages
Karl Wolfskehl, Alfred Schuler, Ludwig Klages, Stefan George & Albert Verwey (1902 photograph by Karl Bauer)
Born 10 December 1872
Hanover, Germany
Died 29 July 1956
Kilchberg, Zurich
Occupation Philosopher, psychologist, graphologist

Ludwig Klages (10 December 1872 – 29 July 1956) was a German philosopher, psychologist and a theoretician in the field of handwriting analysis.

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Klages was born in Hanover, Germany. In Munich he studied physics, philosophy and chemistry - however, after completing his doctorate in chemistry he resolved never to work as a chemist. He met the sculptor Hans Busse and with him and Georg Meyer he founded the Deutsche Graphologische Gesellschaft (German Graphology Association) in 1894.

In Munich Klages also encountered the writer Karl Wolfskehl and the mystic Alfred Schuler. He was a lover of Fanny zu Reventlow, the "Bohemian Countess" of Schwabing, and with Wolfskehl, Schuler and the writer Ludwig Derleth they formed a group known as the Munich Cosmic Circle, with which the poet Stefan George is sometimes associated. He wrote a book praising George's poetry in 1902. As a member of this group his philosophy contrasted the "degenerate" modern world with an ancient, and mystical, Germanic past, with a heroic role for the artist in forging a new future.[1] George distanced himself from Klages' mystical philosophy (which was shared by Schuler), but continued for a time to publish Klages' poems in his journal Blätter für die Kunst.[2] Wolfskehl acquainted Klages with the work of Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887), a Swiss anthropologist and sociologist, and his research into matriarchal clans.[3]

In 1914 at the outbreak of war Klages moved to Switzerland and supported himself with his writing and income from lectures. He returned to Germany in the 1920s and in 1932 was awarded the Goethe medal for Art and Science. However by 1936 he was under attack from Nazi authorities for lack of support and on his 70th birthday in 1942 was denounced by many newspapers in Germany. After the war he was honoured by the new government, particularly on his 80th birthday in 1952.


He created a complete theory of graphology and will be long associated with the concepts of form level, rhythm and bi-polar interpretation. He is important because together with Nietzsche and Bergson he anticipated existential phenomenology. He also coined the term logocentrism in the 1920s.

He was the author of 14 books and 60 articles (1910-1948). He was co-editor of the journals Berichte (1897-8) and its successor Graphologische Monatshefte until 1908. His most important works are:

  • Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele (1929)
  • Die Grundlagen der Charakterkunde

As a philosopher, Klages took the Nietzschean premises of Lebensphilosophie "to their most extreme conclusions."[4] He drew a distinction between life-affirming Seele (spirit) and life-destroying Geist (mind). Geist represented the forces of "modern, industrial, and intellectual rationalization",[5] while Seele represented the possibility of overcoming "alienated intellectuality in favor of a new-found earthly rootedness."[6]

When Klages died, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas urged that Klages' "realizations concerning anthropology and philosophy of language" should not be left "hidden behind the veil" of Klages' "anti-intellectualist metaphysics and apocalyptic philosophy of history". Habermas characterized these realizations as "not outdated" but ahead of the time.[7]

Critical literature

  • Gunnar Alksnis: Ludwig Klages and His Attack on Rationalism. Kansas State University, 1970. Published under the title Chthonic Gnosis. Ludwig Klages and his Quest for the Pandaemonic All by Theion Publishing, 2015.
  • Reinhard Falter: Ludwig Klages. Lebensphilosophie als Zivilisationskritik, Munich: Telesma, 2003, ISBN 978-3-8330-0678-4
  • Nitzan Lebovic: The Terror and Beauty of Lebensphilosophie: Ludwig Klages, Walter Benjamin, and Alfred Bauemler, South Central Review 23:1 (Spring 2006), pp. 23–39.
  • James Lewin: Geist und Seele: Ludwig Klages’ Philosophie, Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1931
  • Tobias Schneider, Ideological Trench Warfare. Ludwig Klages and National Socialism from 1933-1938. Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 2/2001 [1]
  • Nitzan Lebovic: The Philosophy of Life and Death: Ludwig Klages and the Rise of a Nazi Biopolitics (Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History)
  • Tommaso Tuppini: Ludwig Klages. L'immagine e la questione della distanza, Milano: Franco Angeli, 2003
  • Michael Grossheim: Ludwig Klages und die Phaenomenologie, Weinheim: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH 1993


  1. The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, By Richard Noll, p. 166-172.; Germany at the fin de siècle: culture, politics, and ideas, By Suzanne L. Marchand, David F. Lindenfeld
  2. Furness, Raymond, The twentieth century, 1890-1945, p. 98
  3. The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, Cynthia Eller.
  4. Aschheim, Steven E., The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990, Uni. of California Press, 1992, pages 80-81
  5. Ibidem
  6. Ibidem
  7. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. An article looking back ten years after his death.

External links