Rejecting Positivist Optimism for Decandentism

The 20th century, which started January 1, 1901, and ended December 31, 2000, was dominated by significant events. Events such as the Spanish flu, the two World Wars, nuclear power, imperialism, nationalism, nuclear power and weapons, space exploration, and decolonization.

These events, which also included technological advances, the Cold War, and post-Cold War conflicts, reshaped the globe’s structure, politically and socially. One of the big changes that occurred was the massive transformation of the relationship humanity had with the natural world.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the century, these changes were not apparent; they were not even anywhere in sight. There were still issues such as the tension between colonial politics and imperialists in the great European forces.

Both systems had contradictions that threatened the progress of humanity and the progressiveness of different countries in Europe. In this article, we will examine the culture of the early 20th century, including the rejection of rationalism, among other things.

The Growing Dissatisfaction with the Positivist Culture

There was a deepening dissatisfaction with the positivist culture, which was prominent in the early twentieth century. This revolt was particularly common among the younger generations and it led to the conscious rejection of rationalism in any form.

A series of events and attitudes of people led to this discovery of the rejection of positivist optimism. These include the increasingly bitter tensions between the great European powers, which were created by imperialism and colonial politics.

Also, there were inherent contradictions in the capitalist system, which were often the roots of heated and violent social conflicts. Additionally, there was the success of the Marxist ideology that supports the maturation of solid class consciousness in the proletariat. In general, there was a change in the social and political climate, thus signifying that people’s dissatisfaction with positivism was deepening.

The Failure of Positivism in the Early Twentieth Century

Positivism, developed by August Comte in the nineteenth century, has to do with scientific facts. The concept posits the notion that knowledge backed by scientific findings was the only reliable form of knowledge.

Positivism is a subject under epistemological philosophy, projecting an objective rather than a subjective view. The concept does not bother with how things ought to be; thus, every decision made must rely on scientific methods.

For the younger generation, positivist optimism failed and pessimism and faith in humanity’s unstoppable progress took over. This pessimism is one that often led to the expectation of some calamity or catastrophe, of which traces already existed.

Additionally, philosophy and art had now converged their interests on the centrality of man being a subject. They rose against the cognitive domain of science and the accentuated transformation of advancing technology.

The Prevalence of Irrationalism

With the rejection of positivist optimism came the prevalence of irrationalism as the world synthetically passed from rationalism. Problems such as interiority, destiny, and man’s function in a world where he is pushed by hidden solicitations are returned to the forefront.

Irrationalism is a phenomenon that concerned the whole culture of the early twentieth century, and it was concretized in Decadentism. Furthermore, irrationalism found precedents in the philosophical currents that arose in the nineteenth century, and in the last decades.

Meanwhile, in reality, the prevalence of irrationalism was closely related to the crisis those ideals were going through. These ideals had been the pride of the primacy and expansion of the bourgeoisie, which was now beginning to lose momentum. The ideals were already losing confidence in their own myths for the same reasons it rejected the positivist culture.

Meanwhile, in industrial society, the contrast between society and man, especially intellectuals, was becoming more and more serious. Writers felt marginalized and the poet sought his own function, looking in vain to create a new relationship with the public.

However, rather than offer solutions to these contradictions, writers took refuge in activism and irrationalism, thus avoiding commitment. Instead, they side with the less evolved bourgeoisie, searching for authoritarian solutions before finally reaffirming bloodbath purifying and war world hygiene.

Decadentism Takes Over Romantic Subjectivism

As irrationalism faltered, decadentism resumed and exasperated romantic subjectivism, discovering the presence of the unconscious in man. Finally, research appeared, offering a deeper reality that escaped reason transcended physical appearance and could only be approached through artistic intuition.

Thus, poetry became understood as the revelation of a noumenal reality that contrasted with the phenomenal. It became viewed as an immediate illumination of the unconscious such that it was free from any logical, stylistic, and metric constraint. The poet learned to express the deepest reality of things by relying on words-music, synesthesia, and symbols, thus becoming a seer.

Meanwhile, Decandentism, which was born from an age of strong spiritual crisis, created awareness of what precarious conditions humanity was in. Subsequently, man was discovered to be lonely, despite facing a hostile and incomprehensible society, and unable to communicate with other men. As a result, the existential anguish that, at the time, flowed into the existentialist philosophical current was born.

However, thanks to art, the decadent poet could create his art and feel the master of his fate. He feels that it is his job to reveal the unknown and unravel the mystery, thus developing various mythical attitudes.

Decadentism is characterized by the heterogeneity of attitudes, in which we find refuge in faith and the celebration of heroism. One of the most prominent poets of the time, D’Annunzio, collected greater consensus among other poets, expressing the aspirations of the Italian middle and petty bourgeoisie then.

D’Annunzio’s ideals inspired the founders of the Florentine magazines, Papini and Prezzolini, which is not at all surprising. In their pages, the Florentine magazines, Il Leonardo, La voice, Lacerba, found expression of these ideals. As such, they ignited a significant debate about the purposes of the Italian intervention in World War I.

Thus, it is safe to conclude that stating the triumph of D’Annunzio’s ideals primarily favors Italy’s involvement in World War I. We could also say these ideals led to the victory of fascism which the poet himself propitiated.


Positivist optimism was rejected at a time when the world was in a profound spiritual crisis. Man became increasingly dissatisfied with positivism and instead preferred irrationalism, which eventually brought about decadentism. Meanwhile, the heterogeneity of attitudes in decadentism brought a refuge in faith and celebration of heroism in D’Annunzio, who created the superman myth.