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Ludwig Klages : biography

10 December 1872 - 29 July 1956

Ludwig Klages (10 December 1872 – 29 July 1956) was a German philosopher, psychologist and a theoretician in the field of handwriting analysis.


Klages was born in Hanover, Germany. In Munich he studied physics, philosophy and chemistry - however, after completing his doctorate in chemistry he resolved never to work as a chemist. He met the sculptor Hans Busse and with him and Georg Meyer he founded the Deutsche Graphologische Gesellschaft (German Graphology Association) in 1894.

In Munich Klages also encountered the writer Karl Wolfskehl and the mystic Alfred Schuler. He was a lover of Fanny zu Reventlow, the "Bohemian Countess" of Schwabing, and with Wolfskehl, Schuler and the writer Ludwig Derleth they formed a group known as the Munich Cosmic Circle, with which the poet Stefan George is sometimes associated. He wrote a book praising George's poetry in 1902. As a member of this group his philosophy contrasted the "degenerate" modern world with an ancient, and mystical, Germanic past, with a heroic role for the artist in forging a new future.The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, By Richard Noll, p. 166-172.; Germany at the fin de siècle: culture, politics, and ideas, By Suzanne L. Marchand, David F. Lindenfeld George distanced himself from Klages' mystical philosophy (which was shared by Schuler), but continued for a time to publish Klages' poems in his journal Blätter für die Kunst.Furness, Raymond, The twentieth century, 1890-1945, p. 98 Wolfskehl acquainted Klages with the work of Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887), a Swiss anthropologist and sociologist, and his research into matriarchal clans.The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, Cynthia Eller.

In 1914 at the outbreak of war Klages moved to Switzerland and supported himself with his writing and income from lectures. He returned to Germany in the 1920s and in 1932 was awarded the Goethe medal for Art and Science. However by 1936 he was under attack from Nazi authorities for lack of support and on his 70th birthday in 1942 was denounced by many newspapers in Germany. After the war he was honoured by the new government, particularly on his 80th birthday in 1952.


He created a complete theory of graphology and will be long associated with the concepts of form level, rhythm and bi-polar interpretation. He is important because together with Nietzsche and Bergson he anticipated existential phenomenology. He also coined the term logocentrism in the 1920s.

He was the author of 14 books and 60 articles (1910-1948). He was co-editor of the journals Berichte (1897-8) and its successor Graphologische Monatshefte until 1908. His most important works are:

  • Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele (1929)
  • Die Grundlagen der Charakterkunde

When Klages died, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas urged that Klages' "realizations concerning anthropology and philosophy of language" should not be left "hidden behind the veil" of Klages' "anti-intellectualist metaphysics and apocalyptic philosophy of history". Habermas characterized these realizations as "not outdated" but ahead of the time. An article looking back ten years after his death.

Critical literature

  • Reinhard Falter: Ludwig Klages. Lebensphilosophie als Zivilisationskritik, Munich: Telesma, 2003, ISBN 3-833-0678-1
  • Nitzan Lebovic: The Terror and Beauty of Lebensphilosophie: Ludwig Klages, Walter Benjamin, and Alfred Bauemler, South Central Review 23:1 (Spring 2006), pp. 23– 39.
  • James Lewin: Geist und Seele: Ludwig Klages’ Philosophie, Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1931
  • Tobias Schneider, Ideological Trench Warfare. Ludwig Klages and National Socialism from 1933-1938. Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 2/2001 (
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