Freyer began studying theology, national economics, history and philosophy at the University of Greifswald in 1907, with the aim of becoming a Lutheran theologian. A year later he moved to Leipzig, where he initially took the same courses, but then gave up the theological parts. He gained his doctorate in 1911. His early works on the philosophy of life had an influence on the German youth movement. In 1920 he qualified as a university lecturer, and in 1922 he became a professor at the university of Kiel.
In 1925, moving on to the University of Leipzig, Freyer founded the university's sociology department. He led the department until 1948. In Leipzig, he developed a branch of sociology with a strongly historical basis, the Leipzig School. Sympathizing with the National Socialist movement, in 1933 he replaced Ferdinand Tönnies (an enemy of National Socialism) as president of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie. Under his leadership he wound down the activities of the Gesellschaft from 1934 onwards. From 1938 to 1944 Freyer was the head of the German Institute for Culture in Budapest.
Freyer was Protestant and married Käthe Lübeck; they had four children together.
After the Second World War, Freyer's position in Leipzig, now in the Soviet imperialist occupation zone, became untenable, and in 1948 he took up a position in Wiesbaden at the Brockhaus publishing company. He took up lecturing again for only another three years, from 1953 to 1955, at the University of Münster and for a short time in 1954 in Ankara where he helped set up an institute for sociology.
Works and Philosophy
In Der Staat (1926), Freyer identified three stages of history which repeated themselves in a cycle: Glaube, Stil and Staat (belief, style, the state). These were partly, although not openly, based on Ferdinand Tönnies' Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (community and society). The last stage, Staat, was the ideal state for society: "the essential quality of the state (...) was its ability to forge living humanity with all its forces into a unity". In this book he aslo defined the Volk as the entity creating by an interaction of biology or race, referred to as Blut ("blood"), and landscape or environment, referred to as Heimat ("home"). Freyer wrote in Der Staat that Blood is "that which comprises our essence, and from which we cannot separate ourselves without degenerating," and Home is "that place from which we come and which we cannot abandon without becoming sick."
In 1929 Freyer wrote Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft (Sociology as a "Science of Reality") (using Max Weber's term). This looked into the origins of sociology, saying that it came from the philosophy of history; that it had emerged from people's attempts to understand the connections between the past and the present. In Freyer's view, sociology was needed as a science to understand why changes in society had happened and, based on these findings, to help transform society.
Freyer's 1931 booklet Die Revolution von Rechts studied the nature of socialist movements and possibilities for anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeosie revolutions. It concluded that Leftist socialism generally lost its revolutionary character due to the introduction of welfare policies under capitalism, and that thus a true revolution could only come from the Right and with the key purpose of establishing a unified state. The Right-wing socialist revolution, which Freyer believed was popularly expressed in National Socialism, would create a strong state that gave the individual meaning by immersing him a closed society directed by a common will with a single collective purpose.
Lucian Tudor, in his "The German Conservative Revolution & its Legacy" summarizes Freyer's worldview in the following way (See also "Hans Freyer: The Quest for Collective Meaning" by Lucian Tudor):
A lesser-known Revolutionary Conservative academic, Hans Freyer, also held similar views to Spann and challenged the ideas and results of the “Enlightenment,” particularly secularism, the idea of universal reason, the concept of a universal humanity, urbanization, and democratization. Against modern society corrupted by these things, Freyer posed the idea of a “totally integrated society” which would be completed by a powerful, non-democratic state. Culture, Volk, race, and religion would form the basis of society and state in order to restore a sense of community and common values. Freyer also joined the National Socialists believing that the movement would realize his aims but later became disappointed with it because of what he saw as its repressive nature during the Third Reich.
- "A new front is forming on the battlefields of bourgeois society--the revolution from the right. With that magnetic power inherent in the battle cry of the future even before it has been sounded, it draws into its ranks the toughest, most alert, most contemporary men from all camps. It is still assembling, but it will strike. Its movement is still a mere collection of spirits, lacking awareness, symbols, or leadership. But overnight the front will arise. It will reach beyond the old parties with their petrified programs and antiquated ideologies. It will successfully call into question, not the reality of the stultified class antagonisms of a world that has become petit bourgeois on both sides, but the conceit that this is politically productive. It will do away with the ossified remnants of the nineteenth century and clear the way for the history of the twentieth." (Revolution von Rechts)
- "The state is . . .the awakening of the Volk out of timeless existence (Dasein) to power over itself and to power in time. The old nation state, with its arbitrary boundaries, its fixed proprietorships and inherited lands, over which it rested like a glass cover, has badly falsified our thinking about the state. We think of the state as contrary to revolution, contrary to the emerging future, almost as contrary to life. This concept is to be thoroughly deconstructed (abzubauen). Here is a state that is completely historical action and identical with the revolutionary principle." (Revolution von Rechts)
- "The deepest and most important of these fundaments [of groundedness in the soil] is the Volkstum. It is here that all the talk of race originates and has its truth. When one objects that this is pure biology, that after all spiritual matters cannot be derived from their natural basis, or when one objects that there are no pure races - these objections fail to grasp the concept of race that is a component of the new worldview. Race is understood not in the essence of 'mere' biology but rather as the organic involvement of contemporary man in the concrete reality of his Volk, which reaches back through millennia but which is present in its millennial depth; which has deposited itself in man's bodily and psychic existence, and which confers an intrinsic norm upon all the expressions of a culture, even the highest, most individual creations." ("Tradition und Revolution im Weltbild")
- "[Culture is] the attempt of mankind to find a transcendent meaning for its life by the circuitous route through the objective." (Theorie des objektiven Geistes)
- "Blood is that which comprises our essence, and from which we cannot separate ourselves without degenerating." (Der Staat)
- "History thinks in plurals, and its teaching is that there is more than one solution for the human equation." (Prometheus)
- "We have a bad conscience in regard to our age. We feel ourselves to be uncomfirmed, lacking in meaning, unfulfilled, not even obligated." (Prometheus)
- "War is the father of all things... if not in the literal sence then certainly for the thing of all things, the work of all works, that structure in which the creativity of Geist reaches its earthly goal, for the hardest, most objective and all-encompassing thing that can ever be created - for the state." (Der Staat)
- "The as a state is constituted by war and is continuously reconstituted by the preparation for war." (Der Staat)
- "This self-created world [closed community] should completely, utterly, and objectively enclose a particular group; should so surround it that no alien influences can penetrate its realm." (Der Staat)
- "The [moral] certainty of the Enlightenment is hard to recapture in an age like ours, for which relativism is an accepted principle, or which at least regards the relationship between norm and reality as a mediated one." (Geschichte)
- "[In Utopia] the stream of history is dammed up.... It is meant to arise in history but to endure." ("Das Problem der Utopie")
- "The great formula of our life is fated and set. We are given a being, destined for death, we encounter our wives and friends at a particular time, a war breaks out, the earth takes us into its rhythm in an ecstatic moment, and we are carried along.... the origin of will is within fate; in one stroke this sublime gift of the gods is transformed into a sphere of duties." (Antäus)
- "What is necessary is the construction of a strongly structured spiritual unity that completely grasps and envelops the individual. Only a new religion which releases the deeper powers of man from their petrification and integrates them into a productive will beyond the petty interests of party and class; a system of ethical ideals that operate with the immediate power of self-understood truths; in short regaining or awakening common and certain constraints of will and faith that are related to one another and to the center of our lives, will be able to lead us from the individualistic fragmentation and the overrefined materialism of the nineteenth century to a new culture." (Die Bewertung der Wirtschaft im philosophischen Denken des 19. Jahrhunderts)
- "The power of the Greek polis over its people is founded upon the fact that it has absorbed into itself the Greek spirit in its entirety. Outside the polis there is no life worthy of the name. Only within it is there spiritual existence. Only within it is there freedom (which for the Greeks is never freedom from the state, but rather always freedom to the state; never bourgeois freedom, but rather always political freedom). The polis is the most unbourgeois type of state conceivable, for it is the state in its purest sense. The omnipotence with which it envelops its inhabitants is boundless. That it may demand any sacrifice in war is taken for granted, since with his death the citizen of the polis merely repays the cost of his nurture. But the polis demands and receives this same degree of sacrifice in every hour of peace. It is not only a state but also a church. There is no escape from it, including escape into religion. All spiritual activity, all art and science, all ability and all virtue is realized in and for the polis. Works of poetry, of historiography, of art, of music belong not to the realm of individual satisfaction or free inquiry - they are a service to the polis , carried out on its behalf, orineted to its norms. And the boldness with which Athenian democracy is able to elevate the Volk... to a sovereign position within the state is warranted by this belief: taht man is thoroughly a political being, possessed by the state, and that the law of the state powerfully permeates all of its citizens." ("Von Sinn der griechischen Polis")
- "In front of our eyes, under our fingertips, in our very heads, social reality has transformed itself, unnoticed but unmistakably. So let us open our eyes, grasp the matter at hand, set our heads in order and transform our ideas about social reality." (Revolution von Rechts)
- "All previous ages felt themselves anchored somewhere and were so anchored as a result... Industrial society, however, rests upon nothing but the calculation of the materials and forces of which it is constructed. It is not grounded upon natural soil, but rather floats free. No sap flows through it other than its own rationality." (Revolution von Rechts)
- "Man is free when he is free in his Volk, and when it is free in its realm. Man is free when he is part of a concrete collective will, which takes responsibility for its history. Only reality can decide whether such a collective will exist, a will that binds men and endows their private existence with historical meaning." (Revolution von Rechts)
- "The educational ideal that is valid for us is the ideal of the political man, who is rooted in his Volkstum, who regards himself as historically responsible for the fate of his state, and who devotes himself with spiritual sovereignty to the transformation of the future." (Das politische Semeser)
List of works
- Antäus. Grundlegung einer Ethik des bewußten Lebens, 1918
- Die Bewertung der Wirtschaft im philosophischen Denken des 19. Jahrhunderts, 1921
- Prometheus. Ideen zur Philosophie der Kultur, 1923
- Theorie des objektiven Geistes. Eine Einleitung in die Kulturphilosophie", 1923
- Der Staat, 1925
- Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft. Logische Grundlegung des Systems der Soziologie, 1930
- Einleitung in die Soziologie, 1931
- Die Revolution von rechts, 1931
- Herrschaft und Planung. Zwei Grundbegriffe der politischen Ethik, 1933
- Pallas Athene. Ethik des politischen Volkes, 1935
- Über Fichtes Machiavelli-Aufsatz, 1936
- Die politische Insel. Eine Geschichte der Utopien von Platon bis zur Gegenwart, 1936
- Vom geschichtlichen Selbstbewußtsein des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1937
- Gesellschaft und Geschichte, 1937
- Machiavelli, 1938
- Weltgeschichte Europas, 2 Bände, 1948
- Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters, 1955
- Schwelle der Zeiten. Beiträge zur Soziologie der Kultur, 1965
- Entwicklungstendenzen und Probleme der modernen Industriegesellschaft, in: Industriegesellschaft in Ost und West, Mainz
- Herrschaft, Planung und Technik. Aufsätze zur Soziologie, published and introduced by Elfriede Üner, 1987
- Hans Freyer, Theory of Objective Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1999).
- Hans Freyer (author) & Pierre Krebs (editor), Tafelrunde der freien Geister. Burgtafel 1-4, Thingprotokolle von 1994-1997/Hans Freyer (Bad Wildungen: Verlag Ahnenrad der Moderne, 2010).
- Volker Kruse, "Chapter 8: Hans Freyer's Economic Philosophy After World War II," in: Methodology of the Social Sciences, Ethics, and Economics in the Newer Historical School: From Max Weber and Rickert to Sombart and Rothacker (Hannover: Springer, 1997).
- Colin Loader & David Kettler, "Chapter 5: The Challenge of Fascist Social Thought," in: Karl Mannheim's Sociology As Political Education (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002).
- Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God that Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).
- Jerry Z. Muller, "Chapter 10: Lukacs and Freyer: From the Quest for Community to the Temptations of Totality," in: The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).
- Lucian Tudor, From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right (Santiago, Chile: Círculo de Investigaciones PanCriollistas, 2015).
- Lucian Tudor, "Hans Freyer: The Quest for Collective Meaning," Counter-Currents.com, 22 February 2013, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/02/hans-freyer-the-quest-for-collective-meaning/>.
- Lucian Tudor, "The Revolutionary Conservative Critique of Oswald Spengler," Tankesmedjan Motpol, 7 November 2014, <http://www.motpol.nu/english/2014/11/07/the-revolutionary-conservative-critique-of-oswald-spengler/ >.
- "Hans Freyer: The Quest for Collective Meaning" by Lucian Tudor
- Fascism and the primacy of the political by Dick Pels
- The Other God that Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism by Jerry Z. Muller at GoogleBooks
- The Mind and the Market by Jerry Muller (chapter section on Freyer) at GoogleBooks
- "Carl Schmitt, Hans Freyer, and the Radical Conservative Critique of Liberal Democracy in the Weimar Republic" by Jerry Muller at Scribd
- Methodology of the Social Sciences, Ethics, and Economics in the Newer Historical School by Peter Koslowski (chapter section on Freyer) at GoogleBooks
- "Proto-Fascism in Weimar Sociology" by Colin Loader and David Kettler (contains an explanation of some of Freyer's sociological/political ideas)
- "Defining a Discipline: Sociology and its Philosophical Problems, from its Classics to 1945" by Stephen P. Turner
- "The Revolutionary Conservative Critique of Oswald Spengler" by Lucian Tudor