In retrospect the rise of the Romantic Movement was an early sign that western civilisation was not entirely healthy.
There is much to dislike about the Romantics but perhaps the single worst thing about them is that they created a new type of hero. The Byronic hero. In fact, they created the anti-hero.
For the first time in human history being spoilt, petulant, emotionally incontinent, immature, miserable and self-pitying was seen as cool and sexy. We’re now so accustomed to this diseased thinking that we forget just how bizarre it was for people to start wanting to emulate unpleasant losers like Byron and Shelley.
Being a rebel had never been considered to be something deserving of admiration, unless you actually won. And if you won then you were, by definition, no longer a rebel. But to the Romantics being a rebel and a perpetual loser was the height of desirability. Byronic heroes were not sexy and cool in spite of being losers - they were sexy and cool because they were losers.
To the Romantics the height of uncoolness was to be a successful, well-adjusted member of society with a normal family life.
The Romantics have exerted an extraordinary influence on our culture for two centuries, an influence that shows no sign of abating. The modern cult of victimhood has its roots in the Romantic Movement.
How on earth did such bizarre attitudes come to be generally accepted? The cult of nature promoted by the Romantics is perhaps understandable as a reaction to the rise of the cult of science over the preceding couple of centuries. It could also be explained as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, except that that doesn’t explain how the Romantic Movement gained such a foothold in Germany at a time when the Industrial Revolution was still in its infancy.
It’s more likely that Romanticism was one of the fruits of the Reformation, a result of the rising tide of scepticism. In fact it may have been the first significant attempt to manufacture a substitute secular religion to take the place of Christianity (which by the end of the 18th century was clearly dying in western Europe). Romanticism had all the emotional appeal of a religion without the rigour and discipline.
The Romantic Movement was an ominous sign that our civilisation was developing suicidal tendencies.