Freyer began studying theology, national economics, history and philosophy at the University of Greifswald in 1907, with the aim of becoming a Lutheran theologian. A year later he moved to Leipzig, where he initially took the same courses, but then gave up the theological parts. He gained his doctorate in 1911. His early works on the philosophy of life had an influence on the German youth movement. In 1920 he qualified as a university lecturer, and in 1922 he became a professor at the university of Kiel.
In 1925, moving on to the University of Leipzig, Freyer founded the university's sociology department. He led the department until 1948. In Leipzig, he developed a branch of sociology with a strongly historical basis, the Leipzig School. Sympathizing with the Hitlerite movement, he forced 1933 Ferdinand Tönnies, an outspoken enemy of it, and then president of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, out of office. Nevertheless, being Tönnies' successor he abstained from making the Gesellschaft a Nazi tool by stopping all activities from 1934 onwards. From 1938 to 1944 Freyer was the head of the German Institute for Culture in Budapest. Together with Walter Frank he established a racist and anti-semitic völkisch historiography.
Freyer was Protestant and married Käthe Lübeck; they had four children together.
After the Second World War, Freyer's position in Leipzig, now in the Soviet occupation zone, became untenable, and in 1948 he took up a position in Wiesbaden at the Brockhaus publishing company. He took up lecturing again for only another three years, from 1953 to 1955, at the University of Münster and for a short time in 1954 in Ankara where he helped set up an institute for sociology.
In Der Staat (1926), Freyer identified three stages of history which repeated themselves in a cycle: Glaube, Stil and Staat (belief, style, the state). These were partly, although not openly, based on Ferdinand Tönnies' Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (community and society). The last stage, Staat, was the ideal state for society: "the essential quality of the state (...) was its ability to forge living humanity with all its forces into a unity".
In 1929 Freyer wrote Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft (Sociology as a "Science of Reality") (using Max Weber's term). This looked into the origins of sociology, saying that it came from the philosophy of history; that it had emerged from people's attempts to understand the connections between the past and the present. In Freyer's view, sociology was needed as a science to understand why changes in society had happened and, based on these findings, to help transform society.
Freyer's 1931 article Die Revolution von Rechts studied freedom, saying that people should only be free if they were part of a common will; that individual freedom should be limited for the sake of the community.
List of works
- Antäus. Grundlegung einer Ethik des bewußten Lebens, 1918
- Die Bewertung der Wirtschaft im philosophischen Denken des 19. Jahrhunderts, 1921
- Prometheus. Ideen zur Philosophie der Kultur, 1923
- Theorie des objektiven Geistes. Eine Einleitung in die Kulturphilosophie", 1923
- Der Staat, 1925
- Soziologie als Wirklichkeitswissenschaft. Logische Grundlegung des Systems der Soziologie, 1930
- Einleitung in die Soziologie, 1931
- Die Revolution von rechts, 1931
- Herrschaft und Planung. Zwei Grundbegriffe der politischen Ethik, 1933
- Pallas Athene. Ethik des politischen Volkes, 1935
- Über Fichtes Machiavelli-Aufsatz, 1936
- Die politische Insel. Eine Geschichte der Utopien von Platon bis zur Gegenwart, 1936
- Vom geschichtlichen Selbstbewußtsein des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1937
- Gesellschaft und Geschichte, 1937
- Machiavelli, 1938
- Weltgeschichte Europas, 2 Bände, 1948
- Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters, 1955
- Schwelle der Zeiten. Beiträge zur Soziologie der Kultur, 1965
- Entwicklungstendenzen und Probleme der modernen Industriegesellschaft, in: Industriegesellschaft in Ost und West, Mainz
- Herrschaft, Planung und Technik. Aufsätze zur Soziologie, published and introduced by Elfriede Üner, 1987
- The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 4: 1800-1945 by Stuart Macintyre, D. Daniel R. Woolf, Andrew Feldherr, 2011, p. 178.
- Freyer, Hans, 1998. Theory of Objective Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture. Translated and with an introduction by Steven Grosby.
- Muller, Jerry Z., 1988. The Other God that Failed : Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism. ISBN 0-691-00823-X
- ------, 2002. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought. Anchor Books.
- Fascism and the primacy of the political by Dick Pels