Spann, Othmar

(1878–1950)
   Although often unmentioned even in studies of European right-wing thought, Spann profoundly influenced the conservative and fascist ideology of the interwar period. An economist and sociologist equally at home with close statistical analysis and theory, he took up a professorship at the University of Vienna in 1919, holding the position until 1938. There he set forth his vision of state and society before a large and enthusiastic student audience. These lectures were the basis of his best-known book, Der wahre Staat: Vorlesungen über Abbruch und Neubau der Gesellschaft (The True State: Lectures on the Destruction and Reconstruction of Society), published in 1921.
   An implacable foe of egalitarianism, in whatever philosophical packaging it came, and of capitalism, Spann advocated what he called Universalism. This he described unapologetically as an elitist form of social and political organization in which the interests of the whole rather than those of single members were paramount. The state was conceived as a hierarchy of estates or corporations, with the highest among these teachers and educators. These members passed on their wisdom to the next highest segment in the pyramid—political, military, ecclesiastical, and public leaders—who modified and handed down these ideas to the next group in the structure. The whole process came to an end with the bottom corporation, manual workers, and those responsible for turning out goods.
   Political parties would be largely debating societies, limited to discussing fundamental ideas and concerns of the various corporations. Trade unions would be superfluous. To forge greater harmony between labor and owners of industrial capital, employees and employers would iron out their problems within subsections of their corporations or guilds.
   Just how all this was to work out in practice was not altogether clear, even to sympathetic contemporaries. Spann himself seems to have felt the need to answer this question; in the third edition of The True State (1931), he introduced the notion of a “state-bearing segment” in his pyramid, in which political power would be concentrated. Spann endorsed both Italian Fascism and Nazism; his thinking played a significant role in the Austrian Heimwehr and AustroFascism. However, the universalist approach to state organization did allow the corporations a certain degree of autonomy. Such ideas were fundamentally incompatible with dictatorship; following the Anschluss of 1938, Spann was removed from his teaching position in Vienna, then arrested, and for a short time, imprisoned.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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