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Are the Germans


Chosen People



Delivered at the Business Men's Glub, Cincinnati
January 28th, 1918






After I had heard the address by Dr.
Philipson at the Business Men's Club I felt
that the message should reach a wider circle
than was comprised in the company present
It seemed to me that the climax of the ad-
dress in which the speaker pointed out the
results of militarism and showed forth the
high purpose of America in entering the
war must appeal to all Americans and
freedom lovers. For these reasons I asked
the privilege of having the address printed
for wide distribution. Additional copies can
be secured by addressing the undersigned.


1242 Harrison Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio

February 12, 1918

Are the Germans the Ghosen People?

The statement has been made frequently of late years that
the modern Germans in their claim that they are God's chosen
people are the latter day counterpart of the ancient Jews, who
are thus termed in the Bible. Preachers and writers in Germany
make the direct comparison in unmistakable terms as when one
of these preachers declares unreservedly : "As was Israel among
the heathen, so is Germany amongst the nations, the pious heart
of Europe," and another asserts no less apodictically : "In a
moment we, the children of modern humanity, have become the
heir of Israel, the people of the Old Testament. We shall be
the bearers of God's promises, the living proof that it is not man
who creates history, but God through man." The conviction that
they are the chosen people of these latter ages has become a
leading article of German belief ; it has imbued the German peo-
ple with a feeling of superiority over all other nations ; they have
become obsessed with the idea that they are God's favorites ; they
speak of God as the. German God, implying thereby that other
peoples are without the pale of His special concern.

It is, however, not only Germans who have instituted the
comparison between themselves and ancient Israel in this matter
of being God's chosen people, but leading speakers and thinkers
in other lands, when discussing the state of the modern German
mind, are fond of adducing the same comparison. It was only
recently that I heard a distinguished American professor say
this emphatically and without modification. As I listened to his
words the thought presented itself forcibly to my mind that this
frequently reiterated statement could and should be subjected to
careful examination. For I felt that this comparison was super-
ficial and far from the truth inasmuch as the term "chosen peo-
ple" received an entirely different interpretation by the leading
spirits of ancient Israel, namely the prophets, from that given it
by the spokesmen of modern Germany as revealed in the writings
and utterances of the foremost framers of opinion in that realm
in recent days.

Before addressing myself, however, to the special theme under
consideration, attention must be called to the fact that the "chosen
people" idea was widespread in ancient days. The Jews were
not alone in considering themselves the favorites of their God.
Many, if not all, nations of antiquity looked upon themselves
in the same light. Thus the neighboring peoples of ancient Israel,
Moab and Ammon, considered themselves respectively the chosen

of their deities, Chemosh on the one hand and Milcom on the
other; the Babylonians held the belief that they were the chosen
favorites of Marduk, the chief god in their pantheon-; and so
with other peoples. Each of these nations considered itself the
favorite of its national deity who, according to the popular belief,
fought on its side in war, discomfited its enemies, showered it
with favors and distinguished it by the grant of unusual privi-
leges, to the disadvantage of other peoples. There can be no
doubt that in early days the Jews snared in this interpretation
of what it signified to be God's chosen people. But with the
passing of time a different meaning was read into the conception
by those soaring spirits, the prophets of Israel, and this inter-
pretation of the idea became paramount in the course of the
development of Judaism during the centuries. According to this
new valuation of the term, Israel was chosen not for favors,
but for service. The great prophet of the sixth pre-Christian
century, known as Isaiah of Babylon, defined the people of Israel
by the significant term, "Servant of the Lord." This prophet
brings out this thought in a number of famous passages of which
I need quote only one. Says the prophet in the name of God,
"Behold My servant whom I uphold, Mine elect in whom My
soul delighteth. I have put My spirit upon him, he shall make
the right go forth among the nations. ... I the Lord have called
thee in righteousness . . . and set thee for a covenant of the
people, for a light of the nations, to open the blind eyes, to bring
out the prisoners from the dungeon and them that sit in darkness
from the prison house." (Isaiah XLII : 1, 6 and 7.) In this
striking passage, as well as in others that might be quoted, the
choice is interpreted in terms of service. Israel, the servant of
the Lord and upon whom rested the spirit of the Lord, was
chosen for responsibilities, not for privileges ; was called in right-
eousness, that is to promulgate the doctrine of the might of right,
or as it was put by a brother prophet, "Not by might and not
by strength, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." And
in this light has the conception of the chosen people been taken
by the leaders of the synagogue ever since. In the prayers God
is thanked for having chosen Israel and for having called him
to God's service that through Israel, sanctified by observing God's
commandments, His holy name might be known in all the earth.
I believe I may state without fear of contradiction that this sig-
nificance first attached to the "chosen people" idea by the prophet
twenty-six hundred years ago, as applied to Israel, is now gen-
erally accepted by authoritative thinkers among Jews.

How different the interpretation given the term by the molders
of opinion in modern Germany ! There is the widest gap between
the interpretation in terms of service by the prophets of ancient

Israel and the interpretation in terms of power and favoritism
by the prophets of modern Germany. We find in this latter a
reversion to the old idea of the deity choosing a people for
favors, of the deity fighting on the side of the chosen, of the
deity giving victory to the arms of the chosen. What is the
Nietzschean doctrine of the superman but this belief carried to
the nth degree ? What are the paeans sung by Houston Stewart
Chamberlain and his like on the supremacy of the blond Teutonic
race in all things but a variation of this same belief? What is
the boastful claim for the superiority of German Kultur but a
harping on the same string? Here is the bald and frequently
brutal assertion of the right of might, the motto of the warrior
nations of all times, not the teaching of the might of right, the
doctrine of the prophets of Israel, the founder of Christianity
and all the highest spirits of humanity.

Lest it appear that these statements are made ex parte, I will
let loudly acclaimed modern German leaders and prophets speak
for themselves. So general and frequent are the boastful asser-
tions of German superiority to all others that it has been found
possible to compile whole volumes of excerpts from the writings
and speeches of German philosophers, preachers, poets, authors
and men of affairs. Within the past year or two such volumes
have appeared under titles like "Hallelujah and Hurrah !" "Out
of Their Own Mouths," "Speaking of Prussians," "Made in
Germany," "Gems of German Thought" and "Kultur and Con-
quest." For the sake of illustrating my special theme, namely,
the setting forth of the contrast between the prophetic Jewish
conception of service as the obligation of the chosen people and
the modern German conception of force, I will select a few out
of the many striking expressions wherewith the writings of
Treitzschke, Bernhardi, Chamberlain, Nietzsche, Tannenberg,
Lasson, Sombert, et hoc genus omne teem.

The first time that the term chosen people is applied to Israel
in the Bible is in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Exodus,
introductory to the giving of the Ten Commandments, humanity's
magna charta of morality. We there read, "If ye will hearken
to My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be
Mine own treasure from among all peoples, and ye shall be to
Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus XIX :5.)
In other words, they would be a chosen people if they would
keep God's covenant, the Ten Commandments, the great charter
which was entrusted to them. Modern Germany's prophet has
given us a new version of the Commandments that offers a re-
markable contrast to this conception. In the book which is
generally considered as containing the ripest flowering of his
thought, "Thus Spake Zarathustra," Nietzsche has a chapter

entitled "Old and New Tables." The old tables are to be dis-
carded, the new, containing his reading of the moral life, are to
take their place. Hear some of this new doctrine.

"Do you say it is a good cause by which a war is hallowed? I say
unto you, it is a good war which hallows every cause. War and courage
have done greater things than the love of one's neighbor. ... Be not con-
siderate of thy neighbor. What thou doest can no one do to thee again.
Lo, there is no requital. . . . 'Thou shalt not steal !' 'Thou shalt not
kill !' Such precepts were once called holy. Is there not even in all life
stealing and killing? And for such precepts to be called holy, was not
truth itself slain thereby? . . , This new table, O my brethren, put I up
over you, 'Become hard !' "

Here modern Germany's prophet, the creator of the concep-
tion of the superman, out of which has grown the thought of
the Germans as the super people, gives a new reading not only
to the Commandments, but also to that consummate expression
of Jesus' teaching, the Golden Rule. Jesus said, "Do unto others
as you would have them do to you;" Zarathustra Nietzsche says,
"Be not considerate of thy neighbor. What thou doest can no
one do to thee again. Lo, there is no requital." And for the
old tables containing such commands as "Thou shalt not kill !"
"Thou shalt not steal !" he substitutes his new table, "Become
hard !" For him and for his disciples, the Ten Commandments
and the Golden Rule are outgrown. They were for slaves. One
of Nietzsche's favorite terms is "Slave morality," as applied to
the moral teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Truly a vast
contrast! According to the older prophets, the observance of
the Commandments and the implied service to humanity was
the prime condition towards becoming the chosen people! Ac-
cording to the newer prophet of Germany, this observance made
slaves, not a chosen people ! For the latter the new command-
ment, "Become hard," expresses the latest revelation. Fully
indeed has this new reading of the commandments been accepted
by the military masters of Germany who are directing the des-
tinies of this people and whose diabolical course has brought
upon the world the greatest disaster of all the ages through the
unspeakable deeds of the German soldiery in the lands which
they have overrun ! That Nietzsche's teaching has not been per-
mitted to remain mere theory, but has been there translated into
inhuman practices, is clearly apparent. How completely this
revelation given through Nietzsche has become the rule of action
of the military party appears from a soldier's rendering of that
teaching. Even more brutally, if that were possible, General
Von der Goltz expresses this new rendering of the command-
ments, when in his "Ten Commandments of the German Soldier"
he says :

"War is not a work of charity and in the soldier's heart there is no
compassion. The soldier must be hard. It is better to let a hundred


women and children belonging to the enemy die of hunger than to let a
single German soldier suffer."

Truly a worthy disciple of the prophet! The soldier! The
soldier ! he is supreme. One hundred women and children are
of no account as comparison with him. Humanity is thrown
to the winds.

It is also interesting to note that the prophet who has exerted
such a tremendous influence in shaping the thought of modern
Germany and in producing the modern German state of mind
has placed a new valuation not only on the Ten Commandments,
the supreme teaching of the Old Testament, but also upon the
Sermon on the Mount, the outstanding teaching of the New
Testament. Hear this new interpretation of one of the famous
beatitudes :

"We have heard it said, Blessed are the peace-makers, but I say unto
you, Blessed are the war-makers, for they shall be called, if not the chil-
dren of Jahveh, then the children of Odin, who is greater than Jahveh."

Once again might against right, force against love, war against
peace !

Nietzsche has many disciples besides the general just named,
who repeated in almost identical words the new commandment
for the direction of life, "Become hard." Militarism is the Ger-
man cult. It is the practical outcome of the notion of the teach-
ing of the will to power and the conquering might of force so
constantly urged by Nietsche. All these things hang together.
The might of their militarism is the proof to the Germans that
they are the chosen people. They will impose their will upon
all weaker peoples. They will take what they want. Nothing
which stands in the way of the accomplishment of desire must
be taken into consideration. Treaties are only scraps of paper.
Small nations have no rights which must be respected. "Might
is the supreme right and the dispute as to what is right is decided
by the arbitrament of war," declares Bernhardi. If Belgium
obstructs the path, it is Germany's right to invade and steal
Belgium, to sack Belgian cities, destroy Belgian seats of learn-
ing, burn, outrage, plunder, kill; the right of the strong is the
last word; hear it again, "Might is the supreme right." This,
the slogan of the latter day chosen people, as "right is the supreme
might," was the watchword of the ancient prophet, for Bern-
hardi has learned well the lessons of Germany's acclaimed his-
torian, Heinrich von Treitzschke, the interpreter of the blood
and iron theory of history; one of Treitzschke's leading theses
is expressed in the phrase, "The small nations have no right of
existence and ought to be swallowed up." Carrying out this
instruction of the interpreter of history a la German militarism,
Bernhardi declares flatly: "The Germans must, regardless of
the rights and interests of other peoples, fight their way to pre-

dominance and force upon humanity German Kultur and spirit."
But I hear it said by apologists that these expressions of Von
der Goltz, Bernhardi, and their kind, horrible as they are,
are to be expected from soldiers and militarists. Their training
has distorted their point of view. War is their business and
they look at all things through that glass.

Little as such an apology avails to excuse the inhuman, brutal
and savage expressions of military writers and still more savage
deeds of military commanders, still even it loses all force when
it becomes clear that men in civil life, men occupying high posts
in the professional world, even professors in universities,
preachers in churches, authors in literary circles, give voice to
similar sentiments. These well nigh incredible things explain the
state of mind of the German people. Their professors, their
preachers, their writers are teaching, preaching and expounding
the same doctrines as the militarists, the doctrine that the Ger-
mans are the chosen people, the doctrine of the right of might,
the doctrine of German superiority to all the world. These germs
have inoculated the German people, they have learned well the
lesson dinned into them for the past thirty years and more in
school and church. It is all a part of the system. Teachers and
professors are dependents of the military state and uphold its
doctrines. Preachers are the appointees of the state for the
church is a state church. This explains such strange phenomena
which startled the world as the declaration issued by ninety-three
professors shortly after the beginning of the war in 1914, some
of them among the most famed not only in Germany, but in the
world, like Harnack, Eucken, Deissmann and others equally dis-
tinguished, in which declaration these men defended and vindi-
cated the course of Germany, and that other document of June
30, 1915, touching the status of Belgium, signed by over a thou-
sand professors, clergymen, judges, writers, etc., in which it is
stated, "We must keep Belgium firmly in our hands as regards
political and military matters and as regards economic interests.
In no matter is the German nation more united in its opinion;
to it the retention of Belgium is an indubitable matter of honor."
Such perversion of the right seems scarcely credible. Stolen,
outraged Belgium must be retained ! That perversion is the
direct result of the training the German people had received from
its teachers, professors, preachers, writers and journalists under
the direction and guidance of its military masters. How direct,
how unequivocal that teaching was shall now appear from a few
examples selected from a great number that might be adduced.

Let a professor speak. Werner Sombart has come to be
well known in this country through his books on the history of
commerce and other economic works ; his writings have had a


great vogue in his native land. He gave utterance in 1915 to
the simon pure belief of the German people in its destiny as
the chosen people in these modest terms :

"As the emblem of the Germans, the eagle soars high above all the
birds of the world, so the German should feel himself raised above all
the peoples who surround him and whom he sees at an immeasurable depth
below him. Here also it is true that nobility implies obligations. The
idea that we are the chosen people imposes upon us very great duties —
and only duties. Above all things we must maintain ourselves as a strong
nation. We are determined to be and to remain a strong German nation
and a strong German state and ... if it is necessary to extend our ter-
ritorial possessions so that the increasing body of the nation shall have
room to develop itself, we will take for ourselves as much territory as
seems to us necessary. We shall also set our foot wherever it seems to
us important for strategic reasons in order to preserve our unassailable
strength. That is all!"

That is all ! Take it or leave it ! These words explain the
actions of the bully among nations ! We will seize by our strong
right arm what we need ! Here is the new meaning of the chosen
people a la Teutonic militarism. Not one word of service as
the obligation of the chosen people. Said the ancient Jewish
prophet of Israel's duty as the elect of God: "He shall make
the right go forth according to the truth;" declares the modern
German professor as the supreme duty imposed upon the Ger-
mans as the chosen people, "Above all things in the world, we
must maintain ourselves as a strong nation. We are determined
to be and remain a strong German nation and a strong German
state." Look on this picture and on that!

Let the professor speak again, and this time the eminent
Biblical scholar whom in the pre-bellum days students every-
where looked up to as speaking with authority in his chosen
field, Adolf Deissmann. In an address on War and Religion,
this great scholar, who as the apologist for the scandalous acts
of the militaristic regime, has shamed his former reputation, used
these astounding words :

"The French Ambassador in London is understood to have said at a
banquet that so-called scholars and professors have preached the religion
of barbarism. His words — I venture that paradox — pretty nearly express
my thought. What people beyond the channel call barbarism history will
some day call primitive strength. In this age which has witnessed the
most gigantic mobilization of physical and mental forces which the world
has ever seen, we certainly proclaim — no, it is not we who proclaim it,
but it reveals itself — the religion of power."

We rub our eyes. Have we read correctly? Is it possible
that a cultured man of the twentieth century has pronounced
such words? This unashamed defense of a shameful position
is inexpressibly painful. To such a depth hast thou caused a
great mind to fall, O German militarism! This is German Kul-
tur! Yes, we proudly say it, there is a vast gulf between what
we call culture and what the German professor dubs Kultur!


What the French Ambassador whom Deissmann quotes refers
to is the above mentioned declaration signed by the ninety-three
leading professors and scholars, of whom Deissmann was one.
Far from repudiating this historic document whereof some day
when Germany will come to her senses she will be heartily
ashamed, this professor glorifies it. He glories in the shame!
Degradation cannot go much further! He speaks of the mobili-
zation of physical and mental forces, but he significantly omits
mention of the spiritual forces. Yes, Germany is physically and
intellectually powerful, but spiritually, oh, how weak! Once
more let me contrast the modern German professor in his defi-
nition of the religion of his people as the chosen people with the
ancient prophet. Says the modern German professor, "We cer-
tainly proclaim the religion of power;" says the ancient Jewish
prophet in his further definition of Israel as the servant of the
Lord, "A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick
he will not quench," and in the same spirit that other great
prophet of Jewish birth and training, the founder of Christianity,
declared, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

Now that the professors have been heard through their rep-
resentatives, I would call to the witness chair a representative of
writers whose books have gained great popularity. In a recent
article entitled "Economic Imperialism," in the Century Maga-
zine for July, 1917, David Jayne Hill, our former Ambassador
to Germany, refers to the widespread vogue of a book by Otto
Richard Von Tannenberg. The book is named "Grossdeutsch-
land" and appeared in 1911 ; thousands upon thousands of copies
were sold. This popular author throws further light upon the
subject we are considering when he speaks thus of Germany's
mission :

"A policy of sentiment is folly. Enthusiasm for humanity is idiocy.
Charity should begin among one's compatriots. Politics is business.
Right and wrong are notions needed in civil life only. The German people
is always right, because it is the German people, and because it numbers
87,000,000. Our fathers have left us much to do!" And again: "The
period of preparation lasted for a long time (1871-1911) — forty years of
toil on land and sea, the end constantly in view. The need now is to
begin the battle, to vanquish and to conquer ; to gain new territories ; lands
for colonization for the German peasants, fathers of future warriors
and for the future conquests. . . . 'Peace' is a detestable word; peace
between Germans and Slavs is like a treaty made on paper, between water
and fire. . . . Since we have the force, we have not to seek reasons."

If anything, these statements are even more direct and un-
abashed than the words of the professors. No equivocation here !
What arrogance ! "The German people is always right, because
it is the German people !" What knock-down arguments ! "Since
we have the force, we have not to seek reasons !" Always force !
always power! Who can doubt that in his brutal frankness


this writer expresses the true inwardness of the modern German
militaristic mind. For German militarism, peace is a detestable
word, unless it be a German peace; the forty years of prepara-
tion had as their purpose the exploitation of the weak, the con-
quest of the unprepared, the rape of neighboring lands. The
voice of the war guns thundered at unsuspecting Liege and
Namur; the tramp, tramp of the grey German hosts resounded
on Belgian roads and in Belgian streets ; they struck quickly,
they struck violently, because they had the power. Contrast once
more the clash of warfare which German militarism let loose


Online LibraryDavid PhilipsonAre the Germans the chosen people? → online text (page 1 of 2)