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Published by
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THE
NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

A STUDY OF GERMAN CHARACTER



BY

EDMOND HOLMES



" Your enemy becomes a mystery that must be solved,
even though it takes ages ; for man must be understood."
Light on the Path, by M. C.

"What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole
world, and lose his own soul?" — St. Mark viii. 36.



LONDON

CONSTABLE & COMPANY Ltd.

1916




*K4^,}>.-.%;|fv



Portions of a paper on " Ideals of Life
and Education, English and German,"
which appeared in the October number of
the Nineteenth Century and After, are in-
cluded in this book, by the kind permission
of the Editor.



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FOREWORD

The word docility is not quite strong enough for
the purpose of this book. But servility, which
seems to be the only alternative to it, if not too
strong, has too narrow a range of meaning. Let me,
then, explain that by docility I mean readiness to
obey for the sake of obeying, avidity for commands
and instructions, reluctance to accept responsibility
or exercise initiative, inability to react against the
pressure of autocratic authority. Docility, in this
sense of the word, when it is a national char-
acteristic, may become a destructive force of
extreme violence. For a docile majority implies
a dogmatic and domineering minority; and the
docile majority may carry docility so far as to
become dogmatic and domineering, in imitation
of their masters, whom they naturally make their
model. Thus it is possible for a people to be as
clay in the hands of ambitious and unscrupulous
rulers, and yet to be arrogant, aggressive, and self-
centred in their bearing towards the rest of the
world. When this happens, the materials have
been laid for a great conflagration, and only a
spark is needed to set them ablaze.






CONTENTS



CHAP.

I THE GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY

II A DOCILE ARMY .

III A DOCILE PEOPLE

IV THE DREAM OF A DOCILE WORLD
V DEADENED BY DOCILITY

VI BRUTALIZED BY DOCILITY

VII BETRAYED BY DOCILITY

VIII THE MENACE OF GERMAN DOCILITY

IX OUR DEBT TO GERMAN DOCILITY .

X OUR DEEPEST DEBT TO GERMAN DOCILITY



32

52

78

IIO

140

173
198
2l8

247



THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

CHAPTER I

THE GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY

The Germans are the most obedient people on
the face of the earth. To say that they obey
orders unhesitatingly, ungrudgingly, and punctil-
iously is to do them less than justice. They do
more than obey orders. They wait for them, look
out for them, are lost without them. The old
legalist formula " Is it so commanded? " and the
complementary formula "Is it so permitted?"
are ever rising to their lips. At every turn, in life
they are met by the warning word Verboten, and
they are glad that this should be so. But their
spirit of obedience carries them further than this.
They not only do what they are told to do and
leave undone what they are forbidden to do ; they
also think what they are told to think, believe
what they are told to believe, say what they are
told to say. And this is not all. So docile are
they that they even feel what they are told to feel.
They are told to feel patriotic ; and they sing
with enthusiasm Deatschland ueber alles. They
are told to desire war; and they straightway
burn with martial ardour. They are told to be



2 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

world-ambitious; and they duly toast " the Day."
They are told to hate France— Russia— Japan ;
and they hate each of those countries with a right
good will. Finally they are told that England
is their arch-enemy; and their outraged feelings
find relief in rancorous hymns.

This is a singular phenomenon. How are we
to account for it ? The explanation, whatever it
may be, is almost certainly historical, not racial.
In the days of Tacitus the Germans were famous
above all peoples for their love of freedom. They
jealously guarded their liberties, not only against
foreign domination but also against domestic
tyranny. When the political organization of a
people is tribal, as that of Germany was in those
days, there is a danger lest the chief, the symbol
and centre of tribal unity, should become an
autocrat, and the tribesmen should become his
subjects, and at last degenerate into his slaves.
Against this danger the Germans seem to have
taken ample precautions. The power of their
kings was " neither unrestricted nor arbitrary."
They " chose their commanders for valour,"
expected them to fight in the forefront of the battle,
and followed their lead rather than obeyed their
orders. Their gods alone had the right to punish
them, a right which they were supposed to delegate
to the priests, but to no one else. Nor did the
Germans, as individuals, allow their freedom to
be crushed by the undue ascendancy of the State.
On all matters of public importance the final decision
rested with the assembly of the freemen, who came
armed to the place of meeting, listened to the pro-
posals of their chiefs (who owed their authority to



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 3

their power of persuading rather than to any right
to command), rejected by loud outcries what dis-
pleased them, and signified approval by clashing
their spears. The chiefs were allowed to settle
matters of minor importance, and to prepare more
important matters for discussion ; but the ultimate
source of authority was the will of the people, not
of an irresponsible overlord. Besides discussing
affairs of state in their assemblies, the freemen
elected the chiefs who were to administer justice
in the cantons and villages, and assigned to each
of these a hundred assessors " both to give advice
and to add authority."

But 'though they allowed no one to encroach
on their freedom, there was one thing which the
Germans gave in generous measure to the chiefs
whom they had chosen to lead them in battle — the
devotion of brave and loyal hearts. "It is a
cause of infamy," says Tacitus, " and taunts for
life that a follower shall have survived his chief
and returned (alive) ; to defend their chief, to
guard him, to attribute even their own exploits
to his name, is their most sacred oath of loyalty;
the chief fights for victory, the followers for their
chief." The devotion of a free people to the
leaders whom they have voluntarily sworn to
follow is worthy of the sacred name of loyalty.
But if such a people were to lose their freedom,
their loyalty might well degenerate into blind
obedience, and fear and the force of habit
might take the place of worthier motives to
self-sacrifice.

How did this freest of all free peoples lose its
freedom ? Since the days of Tacitus it has mixed



4 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

its blood, 1 especially in the regions east of the
Elbe, with that of other races, but not to an extent
which could account for the change from the ex-
treme of independence to the counter-extreme of
servility. It is probable that here, as elsewhere,
heredity counts for very little, whereas tradition,
as determining environment, counts for a great
deal. How, then, did the tradition grow up which
made so radical a change in the German character ?
Before we attempt to answer this question let
us ask ourselves what freedom means. Speaking
generally, we may say that freedom means release
or exemption from constraint. But this definition
does not carry us far. If freedom is prized, as it
usually is, by those who enjoy it, the inference is
clear that the corresponding constraint is hurtful,
if not actually harmful. Now the hurtful constraint
which presses on a whole people, and the release
from which constitutes political freedom, is of
two kinds, — foreign domination, and domestic
tyranny. Corresponding to this distinction we
have two kinds of freedom; and these are not
always — perhaps not often — conjoined. Again and
again a people has had to surrender domestic
freedom in order to purchase freedom from foreign
domination. In the days of Ancient Rome, when
the Republic was in danger of invasion, a dictator
was appointed who was an irresponsible autocrat
as long as his term of office lasted; just as in our

1 Even in those days its blood was by no means pure.
It may be doubted if there has ever been such a thing as
a German " race." The German peoples belong, and,
so far as we know, have always belonged, to two great
" races," — the " Teutonic " and the " Alpine," of which the
latter is, in point of numbers, the preponderant race.



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 5

own day, when the safety of the State is imperilled,
martial law is proclaimed and the rights of citizen-
ship are temporarily suspended. Nor was the
dictatorship an exclusively Roman institution.
Other countries have had dictators, under other
names; and some of these have been conquerors
of their neighbours' territories as well as defenders
of their own. In such cases the loss of its own
domestic freedom is the price which the conquering
people has had to pay for the suppression of
freedom (in both senses of the word) in the con-
quered lands.

Domestic freedom is of many kinds. Freedom
from arbitrary and irresponsible tyranny, exer-
cised in defiance of law, or beyond the limits of
law, is one kind. Freedom from unfair adminis-
tration of the law is another kind. Freedom from
the positive pressure of unjust law is a third kind.
Freedom from the negative pressure of inadequate
law is a fourth. Freedom from the burden of a
meticulous and inquisitorial system of law is a
fifth. As a rule, domestic tyranny is exercised
by a small minority, — an autocrat in some cases,
an oligarchy in others. If freedom from such
tyranny is to be secured, those who administer
the affairs of state and those who make and amend
laws must be responsible to the people. In other
words, we must have a government which is demo-
cratic, in the sense of having behind it the popular
will. But even in a democracy there may be
much domestic tyranny. For, apart from the
fact that popular government readily lends itself
to manipulation by cliques and coteries, majorities
are sometimes as unjust and oppressive as autocrats



6 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

and oligarchies; and in any case it is impossible
to devise a system of government in which the
rights of individuals or even of minorities shall be
fully safeguarded. This, however, does not alter
the fact that only by progress in the direction of
popular government can domestic freedom be
extended and secured.

There is another and a more inward kind of
freedom which is closely connected with domestic
freedom, but admits in exceptional cases of being
almost entirely divorced from it, — freedom from
the tyrannical pressure of opinion, of convention,
of fashion, and the like. This pressure is usually
exercised by unorganized majorities; but it is
sometimes deliberately organized by a despotic
State, through its control of education, religion,
the Press, and other forces that direct and influence
opinion.

Behind this more inward freedom is the freedom
of the spirit, — freedom of conscience, freedom of
belief, freedom of imagination, freedom of desire.
This freedom is the most vital of all. A man is
not really free unless his soul, his self, his desire,
his will is behind his action. This is the ideal, by
reference to which the degree of his freedom is to
be measured. It is the same, mutatis mutandis,
with a people. And it is for the sake of this ideal,
however remote it may be from conscious thought,
that freedom has been glorified and that men have
fought and died under its banner. If I may not
live my own life, if I am to be the mere instrument
of another's will, I am not truly alive. This is
what the lover of freedom has ever said to himself
in some silent, secret recess of his soul.



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 7

There is hope for a people which has lost its
freedom, so long as it refuses to bow its soul to
the yoke. But it sometimes happens that a
people resigns itself to its loss, and even ends by
becoming proud of its bonds. When this happens,
independence has transformed itself into servility,
and the loss of freedom is complete.

This is what has happened in Germany. The
Germans cheerfully submit to a domestic tyranny
which is oppressive and inquisitorial in the highest
conceivable degree, and then allow their professors
to tell them that they are the freest people in the
world. What has brought them to this pass ?
There is another question which must take pre-
cedence of this. In the oriental Empires, and in all
parts of the Roman Empire, freedom, when Tacitus
wrote, was dead. How had the Germans managed
to keep it alive for so long ? By remaining un-
conquered and uncivilized, is the obvious answer
to this question. In the days of Tacitus the
Germans were still in the tribal stage of develop-
ment ; and it was long before they outgrew that
stage. While they remained in it, it was possible
to hold assemblies of the freemen, in spite of the
absence of roads and bridges and the difficulty
of travelling through a country of forests and
marshes, for the area of each self-governing state
was comparatively small. For the same reason,
or rather because the population was correspond-
ingly small besides being largely homogeneous,
a simple form of government was sufficient for
the needs of the people.

So long as the Germans were contained by the
frontiers which the Roman Legions had denned



8 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

for them, they kept their primitive political con-
stitution with but little change. But when, under
pressure from the east, they began to move south
and west, and when the ramparts of the Roman
Empire could no longer sustain the weight of
their arms, they passed into another world. They
passed into a world far more highly civilized (in
the conventional sense of the word) than their
own, — more centralized, more fully organized, in
a more advanced stage of social and political
development. Above all, they passed into a
world in which authority descended from the apex
instead of ascending from the base of the body
politic, its ultimate source being the will of an
autocrat rather than the collective will of a free
people. When the conquering Germans entered
this new world, they discovered — sooner or later—
that they had left their own social and political
life behind them. The organization of the Roman
Empire, even in its decadence, was too strong for
them. It was only by making use of the existing
machinery of government, rusty and half worn
out though this was, that the leaders of the in-
vading Germans could administer the affairs of
the Roman provinces that they conquered. This
meant that they must rule the provinces as kings,
and that among the subjects of their realms they
must count the German warriors who had hitherto
regarded them as little more than " first among
their peers." The idea of ruling the new kingdoms
by means of assemblies of the victorious warriors
was as impracticable as that of allowing the subject
peoples to govern themselves. Diets of the
" notables " might take the place of the assemblies



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 9

of the freemen ; but the voice of the people, the
echoes of which had so deeply impressed Tacitus,
grew gradually dumb. The loss, partial if not
total, of their own domestic freedom was the
price which the invading Germans had to pay for
their victories over peoples more highly civilized
but less vigorous than themselves.

A change so revolutionary as this could not fail
to make its influence felt in Germany proper. If
on one side of the Rhine or the Meuse the German
warriors had become the subjects of a more or
less autocratic ruler, could they long remain free
on the other side ? Apart from the more occult
and subtle forms of reaction which worked by
diffusing influence rather than by exerting direct
pressure, the wave of conquest which had sub-
merged the Roman provinces adjacent to Germany
was bound, sooner or later, to sweep back over
the land of the conquerors. For the conquering
Germans had learnt lessons from the conquered
peoples, which they would be able, if occasion
required, to turn to account against their own
kinsmen. The German kings who ruled over
what had once been provinces of the Roman
Empire, and who in part at least had adopted and
utilized the systems of administration which they
found in the lands that their arms had won, would
in course of time be the masters of more highly
organized and therefore stronger armies than any
which the Germans beyond the Rhine could put
in the field.

It was from the west that the first great wave
of counter-conquest came. Towards the close
of the fifth century a.d. the Salian Franks, who



10 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

dwelt in what is now called Flanders, under the
leadership of Chlodwig, or Clovis, entered Gaul,
which was perhaps the most highly civilized of
all the Roman Provinces, overcame its earlier
Germanic invaders, and made themselves masters,
first of Northern Gaul and then of Western
Gaul or Aquitania. Before they embarked on
their career of conquest, the Salian Franks, whose
probable ancestors, the Sicambri, were settled by
Tiberius near the mouths of the Rhine, had been
nominally subject to Roman rule and had been
accustomed to serve in the Roman armies. They
thus carried with them on their expeditions the
Roman tradition of discipline and order. Also,
by accepting, in the person of King Clovis, Catholic
as opposed to Arian Christianity, they entered
into an alliance with, and so came under the
civilizing influence of, the Church, which, on the
downfall of the Empire, had become the chief
centre and agency of organization in Western
Europe. Having conquered the greater part of
Gaul, Clovis turned his arms against his eastern
neighbours, subdued the Alemanni— one of the
great leagues of German tribes — and colonized
the part of their territory between the Neckar and
the Main. His sons and grandsons completed the
conquest of the Alemanni, established a suzerainty
over Bavaria, and conquered Burgundy and
Southern Gaul.

Under the degenerate Merovingian kings the
tide of Frankish conquest was arrested ; but in the
latter part of the eighth century, Charlemagne,
King of the Franks (whom we may now regard
as " Romanized Teutons "), following in the foot-



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 11

steps of his martial forefathers, Peppin of Heristal
and Charles Martel, conquered and christianized
the Saxons (who occupied the greater part of
North Germany, east of the Rhine), conquered the
Lombards in Northern Italy and put an end to
their dynasty, turned the Frankish suzerainty
over Bavaria (a large country which stretched to
the confines of modern Hungary) into effective
sovereignty, made many minor conquests of
German tribes, and pushed the frontiers of Germany,
at the expense of her Sclavonic neighbours, far
to the east. Half-a-century later the greater
part of what is now called France separated from
Germany, the debatable land of Lotharingia —
a future battle-ground of the nations — dividing
the two countries, or rather being divided between
them in ever-varying proportions. 1

The union of France and Germany under one
government was short-lived; but in one respect
it produced important results. The origin and
rise of feudalism in Germany are involved in
obscurity; but as " feudalism was an especially
Frank system and was carried out more definitely
in France than elsewhere," 2 we may safely con-
jecture that in the days of Charlemagne and his
successors the feudalizing of Germany, under the
influence of Frank ascendancy, made rapid progress.
" In theory," says Stubbs, " the feudal system
originates in the conquest of a kingdom, which is
parted out by the king or general among his
followers, who hold their shares of him by military

1 Except, indeed, so far as it passed under other owner-
ship or won independence for itself.

2 Stubbs.



12 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

service, and subdivide that share to their followers
in turn on similar or lower services." The actual
origin of feudalism was widely different from this.
The Roman custom of making grants of land
(beneficia) on condition of military service, was no
doubt a factor in the evolution of feudal ideas.
But in the main those ideas were distilled from a
widespread practice which grew up under the stress
of social necessity. In times of social and political
chaos, such as those which preceded and followed
the downfall of the Western Empire, when govern-
ments were too weak to discharge their normal
functions, and when desultory warfare was inces-
sant, the smaller and weaker landowners would
seek protection against foreign aggression and
domestic oppression from a powerful neighbour —
"a strong man armed" — who would give them
what they sought if they were willing to pay his
price. The price which they had to pay was the
surrender of their land, which they would hence-
forth hold as vassal tenants, giving military and
other services in lieu of rent. In this way private
obligation would gradually take the place of public
duty, the feudal lord giving to his tenants the
protection which they had a right to look for
from the State, and receiving from them the
military service which the State alone had the
right to demand. But the protecting lord might
himself stand in need of protection ; and in that
case he would go to a more powerful magnate and
make arrangements with him similar to those
which his own tenants had made with himself.
In this way the feudal system would gradually
spread upwards — though also to some extent



GENESIS OF GERMAN DOCILITY 13

downwards, for, under the influence of the ideas
which were emerging from feudal practice, con-
quering chiefs, following the example of the
Merovingian kings who had adopted the Roman
practice of granting beneficia, would parcel out
conquered lands among their followers, to be
held on feudal terms — till at last even the wiser
kings, who, foreseeing its political consequences,
had hitherto resisted the movement, would find
it expedient, as they could not otherwise raise
armies for their projected expeditions, to accept
it and place themselves at its head. When the
system had been firmly established and had been
generally, if not universally, adopted, the practice
would grow up of conferring governorships and
important magistracies on powerful feudal lords,
and so delegating to them powers and duties —
judicial and financial as well as military — which
properly belonged to the State. At first these
offices would be held at the King's pleasure ; but as
thejr carried with them the temporary ownership of
vast territorial possessions, and as the ownership
of land had been transmitted from father to son
before the days, and also in the earlier days, of
feudalism, they would naturally tend to become
hereditary, and the authority which had been
delegated would tend to become inherent. When
this point had been reached, the feudal lord — duke
or count, as the case might be — would have become
to all intents and purposes a sovereign in his own
duchy or county, and the tie of allegiance that
bound him to his overlord would be ready to
snap.

When the feudal system was fully developed,



14 THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY

the theory of feudalism, as set forth by Stubbs,
became operative. Political power was supposed
to be inherent in the ownership of land. The
ultimate owner of all land, and therefore the ulti-
mate source of all authority, was the king. Next


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