Departures Podcast featuring Richard Cockett, author of ‘Vienna: How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World’

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From the late-nineteenth century until the mid-1930s, Vienna was Europe’s undisputed powerhouse of ideas. But along with the exhilirating achievements of Freud, Wittgenstein, Mahler, and Klimt, there were also darker forces emerging in parallel which have had their own negative impact on modernity, from organized anti-Semitism to ethnonationalism ideologies.

These complex tensions are explored in detail in Richard Cockett’s excellent new book, “Vienna: How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World.” In this discussion with Robert Amsterdam, Cockett explains how the Habsburg emperor, Franz Joseph, permitted such intellectual flourishing to occur, as the rapid influx of Jews and other groups and their assimilation into the Austrian middle class via commercial and educational success augmented intellectual curiosity, discovery, and experimentation throughout the city. 

Viennese café and salon culture also helped to foster schools of thought, as students and professors would furiously debate disputed major questions of the day into the wee hours. The conditions for this fervent intellectual incubation of course was not to last, and we’re all aware of what followed. Cockett’s thoughtful history of the city in this period highlights what we can learn about encouraging greater intellectual vitality, pluralism, and civilizational development.