The Frühschriften comprise minor texts and academic manuscripts written before the magnum opus, Über den Prozess der Zivilisation. Not included in this volume, but forthcoming in a later one, is the text of Elias ’s Frankfurt Habilitationsschrift ,Die höfische Gesellschaft'. The earliest writings stem from the time when he was member of the famous Zionist ‘Blau-Weiss’ group in Breslau, which was part of the German youth movement. In these texts, we find Elias a sociologist of knowledge right from the beginning. Everything, so he teaches in the small text ‘Vom Sehen in der Natur ’, is dependent of time and cultural meaning. In his doctoral thesis, published here for the first time, he tried to come to grips with the ahistorical discipline of philosophy.His teacher Richard Hönigswald was not amused and his challenge cost Elias the philosophical career to which he had thitherto been attracted. After a short interlude when he tried to earn his living as freelance writer (see the ‘Anekdoten’ reprinted here from the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung ), he turned to Heidelberg, where he found his scientific destiny in the new discipline of sociology. Working with Alfred Weber (see ‘Zur Entstehung der modernen Naturwissenschaften’ in this volume) and strongly influenced by Max Weber and Karl Mannheim he found his own way, as we can trace through the texts collected here, including his contributions to the Soziologentag 1928, and ‘Zur Soziologie des deutschen Antisemitismus’ in 1929 (see Figurations 9). In his sketch ‘"Die Wolke " oder "Politik als Wissenschaft", frei nach Aristophanes’, written in honour of Karl Mannheim when he left Heidelberg, he shows a good measure of irony.

Just after he had completed the manuscript of Die höfische Gesellschaft in 1933 he had to leave Frankfurt and fled to Paris.From the French period we have two texts. ‘Kitschstil und Kitschzeitalter’, a piece on art and society in history, dealing with the delicate question of taste and social class. Here he creates the term ‘good society’ as a taste setting class. It was originally intended for publication in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, but when Horkheimer declined it, it was published in Die Sammlung edited by Klaus Mann. The last text of this collection is ‘Die Vertreibung der Hugenotten aus Frankreich’. It shows the other side of Louis XIV, the ugly face of an ageing monarch, who became religious and tried to expel the Protestants from France for the sake of cultural homogeneity. It is a text that has to be read as commentary to the racist terror in Germany and shows the brute treatment of the marginalised. It was published in a refugee journal, Der Ausweg, published by a Jewish reform movement, called ‘Renouveau ’, with prominent contributors like Franz  Oppenheimer. The title is telling: it points to what questions the exiles of the 1930s were asking.

Reinhard Blomert

source: Figurations no. 18 (Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation), S. 1-2