Summary of The Metropolis and Mental Life by George Simmel

Summary of The Metropolis and Mental Life by George Simmel

German sociologist George Simmel published one of the masterpieces on city life and mental effects, The Metropolis and Mental Life, in the year 1903. Let us go through its brief summary.

Summary of The Metropolis and Mental Life by George Simmel

Talking about the summary of “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, in the beginning, Simmel asks how the social environment shapes the internal psychology of individuals residing in it. For him, society is not a reality that exists external to the individual; it rather exists through ‘forms of sociation’ which individuals internalize.

Though Simmel refers to ‘unconscious’, his psychology is pre-Freudian; the idea of conscious intellect as a shield protecting the organism from stimuli is one he shares with Henry Bergson and other late 19th century psychologists.

The peculiar thing about Simmel is that he universalizes ‘metropolitan man’, without considering distinctions of class or gender or zones. Moreover, he also universalizes ‘the metropolis’ without showing the differences between different types of cities.

According to George Simmel, the deepest problems of modern life arise from the individual’s awareness to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence amid the overwhelming social forces, historical heritage, external culture, and the technique of life. Simmel asserts that the psychological basis of the metropolitan individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation.

According to Fredrick Nietzsche, the full development of the individual is conditioned by the most ruthless struggle of individuals.

The human mind is stimulated by the differences between a momentary impression and the one which preceded it, so man is a ‘differentiating creature’ in Simmel’s words. The metropolis demands of a man a different amount of consciousness than does the rural life. In rural life, the rhythm of life and sensory mental imagery flow more slowly, more evenly, and more habitually.

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In contrast, the metropolitan type of man develops an organ protecting him against the threatening currents and discrepancies of his external environment which would uproot him. Metropolitan man reacts with the head instead of the heart.

Simmel claims that metropolis has always been the seat of the money economy. He says the money economy and the dominance of the intellect are intrinsically connected. Money is concerned only with exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to: How much? Only the objective measurable achievement is of interest.

Simmel further asserts the money economy has displaced the last survivals of domestic production and the direct barter of goods. The modern mind has become more and more calculating.

Only the money economy has filled the day of so many people with weighing, calculating, with a reduction of qualitative values to quantitative ones. Moreover, the technique of metropolitan life is unimaginable without the most punctual integration fo all activities and mutual relations into a stable and impersonal time schedule.

Punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon the metropolitan life. The ‘blase’ attitude mostly results from the rapidly changing and closely compressed contrasting stimulation of nerves.

A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one ‘blase’ because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally stop reacting. However, stupid people who are not intellectually alive are, by and large, not blase.

According to Simmel, the essence of the blase attitude consists in the blunting of discrimination. The meaning and differing values of things are experienced as insubstantial. For the blase person, no one object is more preferable than another.

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As a matter of fact, money irreparably hollows out the core of things, their individuality, their specific value, and their incomparability. Hence, the mental attitude of metropolitans toward each other is reserved.

That is how the summary of The Metropolis and Mental Life is concluded. I hope you got some knowledge of the topic. If you have something to add or tell, please feel free to leave your ideas below in comment section.


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