Georg Simmel: The Academic Outsider
For fifteen years Simmel remained a Privatdozent. In 1901, when he was forty-three, the academic authorities finally consented to grant him the rank of Ausserordentlicher Professor, a purely honorary title that still did no allow him to take part in the affairs of the academic community and failed to remove the stigma of the outsider. Simmel was by now a man of great eminence, whose fame had spread to other European countries as well as to the United States. He was the author of six books and more than seventy articles, many of which had been translated into English, French, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Yet, whenever Simmel attempted to gain an academic promotion, he was rebuffed. Whenever a senior position became vacant at one of the German universities, Simmel competed for it. Although his applications were supported by the recommendations of leading scholars, Max Weber among others, they did not meet with success.
Despite all the rebuffs Simmel received from his academic peers, it would be a mistake to see in him an embittered outsider. He played an active part in the intellectual and cultural life of the capital, frequenting many fashionable salons and participating in various cultural circles. He attended the meetings of philosophers and sociologists and was a co-founder, with Weber and Toennies, of the German Society for Sociology. He made many friends in the world of arts and letters; the two leading poets of Germany, Rainer Maria Rilke and Stefan George, were his personal friends. He enjoyed the active give-and-take of conversation with artists and art critics, with top-level journalists and writers. Very much a man about town, Simmel stood in the intersection of many intellectual circles, addressed himself to a variety of audiences, and enjoyed the freedom from constraints that comes from such an interstitial position.
His sense of relative ease must also have been enhanced by the fact that he was free of financial worry. His guardian had left him a considerable fortune so that he was not beset by financial concerns as were so many Privatdozenten and Ausserodentliche Professoren in the prewar German university. In the Berlin years Simmel and his wife Gertrud, whom he had married in 1890, lived a comfortable and fairly sheltered bourgeois life. His wife was a philosopher in her own right who published, under the pseudonym Marie- Luise Enckendorf, on such diverse topics as the philosophy of religion and of sexuality; she made his home a stage for cultivated gatherings where the sociability about which Simmel wrote so perceptively found a perfect setting.
Although Simmel suffered the rebuff of academic selection committees, he enjoyed the support and friendship of many eminent academic men. Max Weber, Heinrich Rickert, Edmund Husserl, and Adolf von Harnack attempted repeatedly to provide for him the academic recognition he so amply deserved. Simmel undoubtedly was gratified that these renowned academicians for whom he had the highest regard recognized his eminence.
From Coser, 1977:195-196.