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In the particularism of the single States, German
separatism found its strongest but by no means its
only possible expression. State separatism has im-
pressed us most directly, because it was responsible,
primarily, for the national disasters in German de-
velopment during the last centuries. That is why all
patriots wished to defeat it, and this desire was ful-
filled by Bismarck. So far as man can tell, we need
fear no serious injury to the unity of our national
life from the special efforts of individual States.
But we are none the less by no means free from mani-
festations of the separatist spirit. This spirit after,
and even at the time of, the unification of Germany,
sought a new field of political activity, and found it
in the struggle of political parties.

The German party system, in contradistinction to
that of other nations, which is in many cases older
and more firmly rooted, possesses a specifically sepa-
ratist character, and this is manifest in those points
n which our party system differs from that of other
countries. We have small parties that are sometimes
formed for the sake of very narrow interests and ob-
jects, and carry on a struggle of their own which it

The Separatist Spirit 141

is hardly possible to include in the affairs of a great
Empire. The religious conflict in all its strength has
found its way into our party system. The struggle
between the various classes of society has retained
almost all its vigour in the German party system,
whereas in older civihsed States the differences have
been more and more completely adjusted by the in-
dustrial and social developments of modern times.

Our party system has inherited the dogmatism and
small-mindedness, the moroseness and the spite that
used to thrive in the squabbles of the German tribes
and States. In other countries the party system is a
national matter of home pohtics, and community of
views with a foreigner is of no weight compared with
the consciousness of belonging to the same nation as
those of the opposite party at home. Abroad, the
fact that the views of a political party are shared by
foreigners is on occasion paraded in academic
speeches at International Congresses, but it has Httle
or no influence on practical politics. We Germans
have strong movements in great parties, that demand
the internationalisation of party ideas, and are not
convinced that the party system has national limita-
tions. Here again is a return in modern guise of an
old German abuse. Among other nations it is self-

142 Imperial Germany

understood that the special interests of a political
party must be subordinated, not only to the greatest
national interests, but also to any wider interest; it
is in this point above all that our parties often fail.
All too seldom in the German Empire do we comply
with the emphatic command: "Country before
party." Not so much because the German's love of
his country is less than any foreigner's, but because
his love of his party is so much greater. Conse-
quently, a momentary success, or even a momentary
manifestation of power by his own party, seems to the
German so tremendously important — more important
than the general progress of the nation.

It cannot be said that our German party struggles
are carried on with more heat than in other countries.
The German's poHtical passion rarely rises to more
than an average temperature, even in times of excite-
ment, and that, at any rate, is a good thing.
Amongst other nations, especially those of Latin race,
the parties, in moments of stress, fling themselves at
each other with an elemental passion that not seldom
leads to excesses unknown to us Germans. But these
heated outbursts, which are decisive for the success or
defeat of a party or group of parties, are speedily
followed there by overtures of peace and reconciha-

The Separatist Spirit 143

tion. It is quite different here. We know nothing
of the fanatic passion in excited conflicts which dis-
charges itself Hke a thunder-cloud, but also, like a
thunder-storm, clears the air of party politics. But
we also lack the conciliatory spirit. If German
parties have once opposed one another, even in mat-
ters of small political importance, it is only slowly
and with difficulty that they forget and forgive each
other. Occasional antagonism too often becomes
lasting enmity, and, if possible, a fundamental differ-
ence in political principles is fabricated afterwards,
though neither of the opposing parties was aware of
it in the first instance. Very often, when discreet
and well-meant attempts are made to bring about a
reconciliation or agreement between parties holding
strongly antagonistic convictions, this antagonism
proves to have been discovered on the occasion of
some quite recent party conflict, either about national
questions of secondary importance, or even about a
question of the power of a political party. Anyone
who stands a little outside party machinery and the
party rut often fails to understand why our parties
cannot unite for the settlement of essentially unim-
portant questions of legislation, why they fight out
slight differences of opinion on details of financial.

144 Imperial Germany

social or industrial policy, with such acrimony as if
the weal and woe of the Empire depended on them.
'No doubt praiseworthy German conscientiousness
has some small part in this, but it is not the decisive
factor. What is decisive is the fact that to each in-
dividual party the hatred of other parties seems of
more essential importance than the legislative matter
in question, which is often only seized as a welcome
opportunity to emphasise the existing differences of
party politics.


Immutable loyalty within the party is the cause of
their quarrelsomeness. Just because the German
party man clings so steadfastly and even lovingly to
his party, he is capable of such intense hatred of other
parties and has such difficulty in forgetting insults
and defeats suffered at their hands. Here again in
modern guise we have the old German character.
As the tribes and States were firmly knit together in
themselves and quarrelled with each other, so the
parties to-day. Proverbial German loj^alty benefits
the small political associations primarily, and the
great national community only secondarily. A Ger-
man Government will almost always sue in vain for

party Spirit and Party Loyalty 145

the abundant loyalty which is spontaneously devoted
to the party cause. Even Bismarck experienced this.
The man who got the better of the separatism of the
States could not master the separatism of the parties.
Although he had won the love and confidence of the
German nation to a greater extent than anyone else,
Prince Bismarck was seldom if ever successful in
attempts to secure that devotion which was offered to
party leaders.

Treitschke says somewhere that the hearts of the
Germans have always belonged to poets and generals,
not to politicians. That is quite true, if we except
the party leaders. The Germans certainly forget
them very soon after their death or retirement, but as
long as their activity lasts they enjoy the whole-
hearted loyalty and affection of all who belong to the
party. Ever since we have had political parties the
popular men have been party men and party leaders,
and their followers supported them even in opposi-
■tion to Bismarck. Right and wrong, success and
failure, play an astonishingly small part in this.
German loyalty to a party leader is self-sacrificing,
unprejudiced and uncritical, as true loyalty which
springs from love should be. And it really makes
no difference whether the party leader is successful

146 Imperial Germany

or not, whether he looks back on victories or defeats.
It has hardly ever happened in Germany that a party
refused to follow its leader, even if it was plain to
the meanest intelligence that he was taking them into
difficulties, let alone if it appeared that the tactics of
the party leaders were not in accordance with the
aims and objects of the State.

It has never been particularly difficult in Germany
to organise an opposition to the Government; but it
was always very hard to set up a movement of oppo-
sition within a party with any success. The hope
that the opposition party might fall to pieces at the
critical moment has nearly always proved deceptive.
After our party system had passed through the first
stage of ferment, which no young political system is
spared, and had become clarified by early changes and
modifications, the parties acquired remarkable soli-
darity. How often it has been foretold that a party
would spht into so-called "modem" and "old" fac-
tions. Such forecasts have hardly ever been fulfilled.
Nowhere in our political life do we find such stead-
fast conservatism as in our parties. Even the radical
factions are thoroughly conservative as regards the
planks in their platform and their methods. This in-

Party Spirit and Party Loyalty 147

ertia of party politics goes so far that the parties still
cling to their old demands even when the general
development of public affairs has rendered their ful-
filment absolutely impossible.

The valiant loyalty of the German to his cause and
his party leader is in itself beautiful and touching,
morally deserving of respect as is all loyalty. Poli-
tics amongst us actually show a moral quality in this
matter, whereas a well-known popular saying denies
all possibility of moraHty in politics. But if we
do discuss morality in politics, the question may
well be raised whether, after all, there is not a higher
form of political morality. All honour to loyalty in
the service of the party, loyalty to principles and to
leaders; but to serve one's country is better than to
serve one's party. Parties do not exist for their own
sakes, but for the common weal. The highest politi-
cal morality is patriotism. A sacrifice of party con-
victions, disloyalty even to the party programme in
the interest of the Empire, is more praiseworthy than
party loyalty which disregards the general welfare
of the country. Less party spirit and party loyalty,
and more national feeling and more public spirit are
what we Germans need.

14^ Imperial Germany


Happily history proves that no party can perma-
nently oppose national interests with impunity.
Even the short history of German party politics fur-
nishes instances. Liberalism, in spite of its change
of attitude in national questions, has to this day not
recovered from the catastrophic defeat which Prince
Bismarck inflicted nearly half a century ago on the
party of progress which still clung to the ideas and
principles of 1848.

But epochs like that of 1866-1871, in which the
soul of the nation was stirred to its depths, and judg-
ment was pronounced so clearly and so pitilessly on
political error, are as rare as they are great. The
ordinary course of political development, as a rule,
very slowly brings to light the results of mistaken
party politics. Self-criticism and reflection must
take the place of experience. It is easier for parties
in other countries. In States where the parliamen-
tary system obtains, parties are relieved of the diffi-
cult if noble task of educating themselves, the task
imposed on our parties. In such countries a mistake
in party politics is immediately followed by defeat
and painful correction. I do not wish hereby to ad-

Party Interests and National Interests 149

vocate the parliamentary system as it is understood
in the west of Europe. The worth of a Constitution
does not depend on the way it reacts on the party
system. Constitutions do not exist for parties, but
for the State. Considering the peculiarities of our
Government, the parliamentary system would not be
a suitable form of Constitution for us. Where this
system proves of value, and that is by no means
everywhere, the strength of the Government is based
on the strength and value, on the political broad-
mindedness and statesmanlike ability of the parties.
There the parties formed the Constitution in the
course of their own foundation and development as
in England, as also in a certain sense in Republican
France. In Germany the monarchical Governments
are the supporters and creators of the Constitution.
The parties are secondary formations, which could
only grow in the soil of an existing State. We lack
the preliminary conditions, both natural and his-
torical, for a parliamentary system.

But the knowledge of this need not prevent us
from seeing the advantages which this system gives to
other States. Just as there is no absolutely perfect
Constitution, so there is no absolutely defective one.
The oft-repeated attempts, especially in France, to

150 Imperial Germany

combine all the advantages of all possible Constitu-
tions have hitherto always failed. While we realise
this we need not shut our eyes to many advantages of
Constitutions abroad.

In countries ruled by Parliament, the great parties
and groups of parties acquire their political educa-
tion by having to govern. When a party has gained
a majority, and has provided the leading statesmen
from its ranks, it has the opportunity of putting its
political opinions into practice. If it pursues a the-
oretical or extreme course, if it sacrifices the common
weal to party interests and party principles, if it has
the folly to want to carry out its party programme
undiluted and in full, it will lose its majority at the
next elections and will be driven from office by the
opposition. The party that must govern is respon-
sible, not only for its own welfare, but in a higher
degree for that of the nation and the State. Party
interests and national interests coincide. But as it is
not possible to govern a State for long in a one-sided
fashion in accordance with some party programme,
the party in office will moderate its demands in order
not to lose its paramount influence over the country.
The parties in a country governed by Parliament
possess a salutary corrective that we lack, in the pros-

Party Interests and National Interests 151

pect of having to rule themselves, and the necessity of
being able to do so.

In States not governed by Parliament the parties
feel that their primary vocation is to criticise. They
feel no obligation worth mentioning, to moderate
their demands, or any great responsibihty for the
conduct of public affairs. As they never have to
prove the practical value of their opinions urbi et
orbij, they mostly content themselves with manifest-
ing the immutability of their convictions. "A great
deal of conviction, and very little feeling of responsi-
bility." That is how a witty journalist once de-
scribed our German party system to me, and he
added: "Our parties do not feel as if they were the
actors who perform in the play, but as if they were
the critics who look on. They award praise and
blame, but they do not feel as if they themselves par-
ticipated in what goes on. The chief thing is to sup-
ply the voters at home with a strong and, if possible,
welcome opinion."

Once, during the Boer War, standing in the lobby
of the Reichstag, I remonstrated with one of the mem-
bers on account of his attacks on England, which did
not exactly tend to make our difficult position any
easier. The worthy man replied in a tone of convic-

152 Imperial Germany

tion: "It is my right and my duty, as a member of
the Reichstag, to express the feelings of the German
nation. You, as Minister, will, I hope, take care
that my feelings do no mischief abroad." I do not
think that such a remark, the naivete of which dis-
armed me, would have been possible in any other


There is nothing to be said against expressions of
feeling in politics, so long as they stop short of injur-
ing the interests of the State. They belong to the
class of imponderables in pohtical life, that men like
Bismarck valued highly. Particularly in Germany,
the feelings of the people have often acted as a whole-
some corrective to preconceived political opinions.
In foreign politics, feelings, sympathies and antipa-
thies are unreliable sign-posts, and we should not have
gone very far if our leading statesman had consulted
their hearts rather than their heads in shaping the
course of foreign relations.

In the field of home politics it is a different thing,
especially for us Germans. One is tempted to wish
that in that case political feelings and sentiments had
more than their actual influence, and pohtical intelli-

Political Intelligence and Feeling 153

gence less. For the effect of German political in-
telligence is not to moderate the desires of party
politics, nor to adapt their political demands to ex-
isting circumstances. Our political intelligence
urges us to systematise and schematise the realities
of political life; not to adjust things in a sensible way
to the existing political facts and conditions, but to
arrange these in a logically correct sequence of

We Germans are, on the one hand, a sentimental,
tender-hearted people, and are prone always, perhaps
too much so, to follow the dictates of our heart against
our better judgment. But, on the other hand, our
passion for logic amounts to fanaticism, and wherever
an intellectual formula or a system has been found for
anything, we insist with obstinate perseverance on
fitting realities into the system.

The individual German shows both these sides of
his nature in private life, the nation shows them in
pubHc life, and many a curious phenomenon in the
present, as in the past, may be explained by this du-
ality of character. We like to consider foreign poli-
tics, which are connected with a long series of painful
and pleasurable national events, from the emotional
standpoint. Transactions in home politics, which the

154 Imperial Germany

nation grasped clearly in a comparatively short space
of time, have become a recognised field for intellectual
theories, for systematic examination and classifica-

A German rarely applies the methods of modern
science to politics, he mostly employs those of the old
speculative philosophers. He does not attach im-
portance to confronting Nature with open eyes and
to observing what has happened, what is happening,
and therefore what can and necessarily will happen
again in the future. Rather, he grows intent upon
finding out how things ought to have developed, and
what they ought to have been like, for everything to
harmonise with nice logic and for the system to come
into its own. Their programmes are not adapted to
reality; reality is to adjust itself to the programmes,
and, what is more, not only in single instances, but
altogether. Most of the German party programmes,
if you consider them with an eye to their logic and
systematic perfection, are extremely praiseworthy
and redound to the credit of German thoroughness
and logical conscientiousness. But, judged by the
standard of practicability, not one will pass muster.

Party Platforms 155


Politics are life, and, like all life, will adhere to no
rule. Modern politics are conditioned by events far
back in our history, where the primary causes, whose
effects we still feel, are lost in a mist of conjectures.
But political practice would gain nothing by a com-
plete knowledge of all causes and limitations. We
should learn only how a multitude of things have come
about, but not what must be done to-day or to-mor-
row. Nearly every day brings new facts and new
problems which require new decisions, just as in the
lives of individual men. Nor does the labour de-
manded by the day and by the hour see the end of our
task. We must, as far as lies in the power of our
understanding and ability, take thought for the fu-
ture. Of what assistance, then, are the regulations of
a programme drawn up at a certain moment, how-
ever uniform and logical it be?

The varied life of a nation, ever changing, ever
growing more complicated, cannot be stretched or
squeezed to fit a programme or a political principle.
Of course, the parties must draw up in the form of a
programme the demands and ideas they represent, so
as to make it clear to the country, especially at elec-

156 Imperial Germany

tion time, what are their aims and principles. With-
out a programme, a party would be an unknown
quantity. But when a programme, drawn up to
serve the immediate and future aims of party politics,
is petrified into a system for all jijolitics in general, it
becomes objectionable. There are many and often
conflicting interests among the people, and the repre-
sentatives of like interests are quite right to band
themselves together and formulate their demands.
The formula is the programme. There are different
opinions about State, Law and Society, about the reg-
ulation of public life, especially in respect of the dis-
tribution of political rights between the people and
the Government. Those, also, who represent similar
views will join together and express their opinions in
a few distinctive propositions. These propositions
constitute the programme. The connection between
industrial life and political life often causes the rep-
resentatives of like interests to hold like political opin-
ions. Their programme will be proportionately more
comprehensive. It may also be admitted that the two
concrete, historical views of State and Society — the
Conservative and the Liberal — and the two abstract,
dogmatic views — the Ultramontane and the Social-
Democratic — embrace a large number of the facts of

Party Platforms 157

political life. The respective party programmes can
therefore go into detail accordingly. But here, too,
there is a limit. A large number of events in public
life cannot be included even in these comparatively
comprehensive programmes, nor can Conservatives
and Liberals hold different views with respect to
them. On the whole, there is a preponderance of
such legislative problems as deal with questions of
pure utility, which must be solved by political com-
mon sense, and cannot be weighed in the scales of gen-
eral party views. But such disregard of party pro-
grammes is rarely conceded, even to the details of
legislation. It does not suffice us Germans to confine
our party politics to a certain number of practical de-
mands and political opinions. Each party would like
to imbue politics as a whole with its views, even down
to the smallest detail. And this is not limited to poli-
tics. The parties would like to be distinguished from
one another even in their grasp of intellectual and
their conception of practical life. Party views are
to become a "Weltanschauung" (Conception of the
Universe). Herein they over-estimate political and
under-estimate intellectual life. The German na-
tion in particular has been more deeply and seri-
ously moved by the great problems of a conception

158 Imperial Germany

of the Universe than any other nation. It has often,
probably too often for its particular interests, subor-
dinated dry questions of policy to the battle about the
conception of the Universe. On the other hand, it
was the first nation to set intellectual life free from
political tutelage. If now it subordinates this con-
ception to party politics, if it wants to go so far as to
see every event in the world and in life, in the dismal
light of political party principles, it will be false to
itself. The attempt to widen the scope of politics,
and especially party politics, in this way must lead to
an intellectual decline, and has perhaps already done
so. A political conception of the Universe is non-
sense, for luckily the world is not everywhere political.
And a conception of the Universe founded on party
politics cannot even span the political world, because
there are far too many matters and questions in poli-
tics that lie outside the sphere of party platforms and
party principles.

An English friend once said to me that it struck
him how often the words, "Conception of the Uni-
verse," occurred in the German parliamentary
speeches. Over and over again he found, "From the
point of view of my conception of the Universe, I can-
not approve of this, and I must demand that." He let

Party Platforms 159

me explain to him what German party politicians
meant by "Conception of the Universe," and then re-
marked, as he shook his head, that English politicians
and members of Parliament did not know much
about such things. They had different opinions and

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Online LibraryBernhard BülowImperial Germany → online text (page 8 of 18)