The mythic idea of care made a major appearance in German literature in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—a time when the meaning and relevance of myth were being rediscovered as never before—in the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Taking the Myth of Care from his teacher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803)—specifically from Herder's poem titled "The Child of Care"—Goethe wove the major themes of that myth into his masterpiece, the dramatic poem Faust (Grant; Burdach).
Dr. Faust, passionately committed to the pursuit of reason and science, also wants to be care-free, that is, free of the disturbing anxieties of care that the pursuit of his goals would entail in working with ordinary human resources. He enters into a pact with Mephistopheles (the devil). In exchange for the knowledge and magical assistance of Meph-istopheles, Faust agrees to be his slave; it is agreed at the outset that Faust may lose his soul to the devil in the process (Goethe, 1985).
In the final act of the drama, Faust has become powerful and wealthy, the ruler of a flourishing land that he has reclaimed from the sea. He discovers that the deceitful Mephistopheles, working under orders from Faust, has horribly destroyed by fire the last cottage destined for demolition in the reclamation project; consumed by the flames was a peaceful old couple to whom Faust had promised relocation. Appalled by the horrific consequences of his thoughtless order, Faust breaks with Mephistopheles and his magic. He wants to stand before Nature as the "mere" human being he had been before his pact with the devil. This internal change sets the stage for the struggle over Faust's character, and for the appearance of Care (Goethe, 1959; Burdach).
Care (Sorge), a gray hag calling herself the "eternally anxious companion" (Ewigängstlicher Geselle), chides Faust for never having known her: "Have you never known Care?" (Hast du die Sorge nie gekannt?). She denounces the darkness and ambiguity of Faust's soul—and blinds him because he refuses to acknowledge her fully. The terrible power of the burdens of Sorge's care almost overwhelms Faust but fails to conquer his soul. Linked with Faust's profound horror over his own crime, Sorge's denunciation has the effect of bringing about Faust's turn from burdensome care to the uplifting solicitude of positive care. His "striving," which led him to ruthless acquisition, the oppressive manipulation of masses of people, and the destruction of the old couple, is transformed during his blindness into a genuine solicitude for his people (Jaeger, pp. 41—43). Faust's experience of a new and very satisfying solicitude (the greatest moment of his life) is represented by his vision of millions of free people living in comfort and freedom on an earth that has been reconciled with itself through human effort.
Goethe's Faustian narrative demonstrates that striving for one's own life goals while shutting out a sometimes worrisome and painful concern for people and institutions results in terrible external and internal harm. In the pursuit of one's destiny, a human cannot avoid care. One must first deal with the heavy side of care, rejecting its power to engulf and destroy, and then convert this care, which is the root of all human striving, into a positive, solicitous concern for people and institutions. For Goethe, care becomes conscientiousness and devotedness (Burdach). At the same time, care relates in a fundamental way to the human condition, for it may be the key to one's moral "salvation," as it was for Faust. In contrast to today's tendency to associate care exclusively with interpersonal devotion, Goethe works out the meaning of care in a political setting; the problem for Faust is whether he will show solicitous care as a ruler. As a result, Goethe's portrayal of care has important implications for political philosophy.
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