Sidney Whitman.

Imperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character online

. (page 2 of 23)
Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 2 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The Germaii Character in Politics. 23

For centuries the kaiser was more or less a foreign
potentate. The national feeling longed for a German
kaiser, not for a Spaniard or even an Austrian.
Through long ages the Germans were like the frag-
ments in a kaleidoscope, without cohesion, yet present-
ing brilliant, unexpected pictures, rarely colored, but
repeated at the will of a stranger. Bismarck has said,
' ' The Germans are capable of everything if once anger
or necessity should unite them."

This we have seen to be true, but it wanted the uniting
central personalities, and only when these came could
the best capacities of the race find expression. That an
indomitable spirit worthy of a great nation was never Military wonh

_,, - , . . . of llie tJermans

wanting is proved by history. The fighting capacities proved by
and fidelity of even mercenaries of German blood at
all times and in all parts of the world — in Rome, the
Italian republics, and America — are attested by many
writers. Even in recent times, when Nai)oleon I. was
deserted by his followers, those with German names
were most true to him. When in 182 1 the news reached
Paris of the death of Napoleon at St. Helena, General
Rapp, one of his most faithful Alsatian followers, burst
into tears. It was in a crowded drawing-room, and
everybody present immediately withdrew from the
vicinity of the stuixly Teuton and left him standing
alone in his honest grief. The company included many
who had served Napoleon in his time, but one and all
were afraid of showing sympathy with their dead master.
This German militant ^i\(i\\^\ {Deutsche Treuc) is no a„ example
vain boast, though through the lack of unity it had litde fij'.lHy'""'"
to hold to or to encourage it. In the "Thirty Years'
War," the Germans fought the battles of others. The
"Seven Years' War," which first gave Protestant Ger-
many a chance, yet failed to afford a rallying-point to all.


Imperial Germany

Lack of
imrioretl In the

Strange, indeed, it is that tiic rich German language,

although it has a word for "patriotism," has none for

"patriot." Yet, strangely significant, it has even a

word for being without a country, a unique word,

Vaterlandslos, thus pointing to the history of its past.

The hope of
uiiilv iiol lost.

Its expression
ill the Revolu-
tion of 184S.

After Napoleon I. had made a clean sweep of the
political chessboard, and he in his turn had vanished to
eat out his ambitious heart in a desert island, the diffi-
culty still remained — whom to in\est with the national
aspirations. Had a Cavour arisen then to champion
the nation's legitimate rights against the jealousy of the
allied powers, Germany would certainly have annexed
Alsace in 1815, Lorraine might still be French, and the
War of 1870 might ne\er have taken place !

However, the idea of unity, nurtured at all times at
the universities, lived on among the true aristocrats of
the nation and among the best of every class, from the
highest to t'le humblest. But it maintained itself most
vigorously in the middle class, and, stronger than ever
through the sad period of reaction from 1815 to 1848,
it found popular \'cnt in that noble song, "Was ist der
Deutschen \'aterland?" which answered the question in
the refrain :

Where'er the German tongue doth sound.
There must the l-'atherlaud be found.

This national feeling culminated in the Re\olution
of 1S48. The people asked not for a republic ; the}-
longed for unity. And its expression was not thrown
away ; although fruitless at the time, the Frankfort Par-
liament prepared the way for Prussia.

In the foreground stood Austria and Prussia, con-

The German Cfiaraclcr in Politics. 25

scious of the national longing, jealously confronting
each other. But until the latter had shown, as if by


When Prussia's eagles swept fair Ausuia's lands

in seven days, that she could beat the former, few could
discern in her the realizer of i^opular dreams. The Prussia's

^ ^ \ ictory.

hopeless misery of the past had left the petty fear of be-
coming " Prussianized" to obscure the greater goal : to
rise through Prussia to a greater Germany.

Only when the late emperor William had fulfilled the
l)romise he held out in 1866, that he would hold the in-
terests of Germany paramount and highest, did the
gradual revolution of feeling become complete — the
recognition by the \ast majority that the national "ceiver"^^
ideal had at last been in a great measure realized by 'ecogmtioii.

Such are the broad outlines of fact bearing on the
realization of the national longing for unity. Yet it
would be gross superficiality to think that the lucky
rolling of the iron dice alone brouglu it about. When
Napoleon I. vamiuished Prussia antl luunblcd lur to llie
dujt in one day, the best ([ualities of a nation awoke
from a long sleej).

Prussia was not allowed to keep a standing army
above 42,000 men. Stein, .Scharnhorst, and Von der
Knesebeck (a weighty man, litde known to popular
readers) planned a secret system by which the greater
part of the male population was speedily drafted through
tlie army between the years 1S07 and 1.S13. This sys-
liin was secretly and succcssfulK' caiTied out uitlionl au-si-.i
coming to the knowledge of the hrench. A pcopU.- i<.y:iii\.
that could act thus was worthy to form the nucleus of a
new empire. It remains onr of the grandest traits of
national eharartcr in historj-, this instance of not one


Imperial Germany.

The key lo



single traitor being found among a whole people. This
effacemcnt of the indix idual before the interests of the
community runs like a red thread through the history
of ci\il as well as of military Prussia. It found its high-
est manifestation in the year 1813, when six per cent of
the entire population of Prussia rushed to arms — a pro-
portion never before attained by any state, except, per-
haps, that of Sparta.

It is in the grit of the Prussian character, and its
gradual recognition by Germany as a whole, that we
must seek the real key to what the thoughtless crowd
would put down as the mere natural results of fortunate
soldiering alone.

The House of Hohenzollern has fostered the hardiest
qualities of a strong, hardy race, and forged a sword for
it. The genius of its leaders has guided the working
out of its hiehest destiny in our time.

institutions an
obstacle to


German unity has been fought for and gained in spite
of desperate opposition from within and from without ; it
has still to encounter many more or less inimical in-
fluences from within. In addition to the difificulties
arising from unfitness of character were differences of
institutions both social and legal. The North, princi-
pally Protestant, is still in part intensely aristocratic,
and, recently, has been honeycombed by socialism ;
whereas the West and the South, which felt the waves
of the French Revolution, are democratic, besides be-
ing largely Catholic. There are millions of Germans
who place their allegiance to the pope above that to
their sovereign. It is German stubborn doctrinarism
which makes this possible — instinctive doctrinarism in
those who do not even know the meaning of the word-

The German Character in Politics. 27

l-'or Catholics in other countries have rarely allowed
their religion to nullify their patriotism.

The pope himself soon dropped his attempts to side , . ,

' ' ^ Irish ami

with the English government against the Irish peasants German

'^ ^ patriotism.

when the latter, through their Protestant representa-
tives, plainly intimated that they would have none of his
interference. But Irish patriotism is doubtless a hardier
plant than German Vatcrlandsliebe (love of country) has
liitherto been. It is only in Germany that a man such
as the late Dr. Windhorst, a sworn hater of Germany
united under Prussia, could have the following he had.

But sentiments which owed their origin to Catholic
or papal partisanship have often been taken up by
those who had no other excuse for sharing them than
lilind party passion and envy. They have often been
adopted by men who were neither separatist Alsatians
nor Catholic Poles, but bona-fide, self-asserting Ger-

Because advocates of social reforms cannot have them
carried out in their own way, jealousy bids them do
their best to asperse the motives of others equally well
intentioned as they themselves (though this must be jeaious> a
admitted to be also a parliamentary characteristic nearer naiiJna'nmity.
home). It is even on record that a Heidelberg pro-
fessor of world-wide reputation, who had preached the
gospel of unity all his life, rushed away to Italy in
the sulks when it came in a form different from that
which he had prescribed for it !

Because the " Iron Chancellor " was diffident (if the
jiracticability of the theories of political econoniN-, which
Lil)cral enthusiasts would hav'c had him accept as the
crowning of the state edifice, therefore every initia-
ti\-e r)f the state must be opposed, and this only too
often in a petty venomous s|)irit. It is not so much


Imperial Goinany.

opposition itself as the spirit of it which is to be
Narrowness dcolored. The lonQf-increasinof hate and estrangement

and pettiness ^ ..... , .

become factors, between the different political parties are already showing
the incapacity of parliamentary government to harmo-
nize the differences of feeling in the community ; if any-
thing, it only tends to accentuate them. Even if some
of these elements do not direct their energies against
unity itself, they have often been directed against the
avowed policy of its immediate founders.

Still, we are in fairness bound to ask ourseh'es : may
not some of the opposition Bismarck always encountered

a drawback.


The Palace of the Grand-Dl'kh of Mecki.enburg-Schwerin,


in the execution of his far-seeing plans often have been
an exaggerated manifestation of that independence of in-
dividual conscientious thought which will not yield itself
captive even to the glamor of military prowess ? And,
if it be so, can we help bestowing a mite of admiration.

The German Character hi Politics. 29

even where we feel bound to condemn its results?
Can we, again, refuse a tribute of respect when we
meet such instances of personal unselfish devotion to
a lost cause as from time immemorial everv turn of the Effect of

loyalty to a

political wheel of fortune has called forth in Germany? lost cause.
We may deplore the attachment to a lost cause that
obscures the vision for a broader and nobler one which
has grown into a splendid reality, but we cannot con-
demn the instinct that blinds those to the future whose
hearts unselfishly cling to a past, be it never so poor
in the eyes of the onlooker.'

But, besides opposition of the kind hinted at above,
there remains much that cannot be put down either
to noble or unselfish motives.

The petty but honest feeling of narrow state loyalty
has been Germany's political curse, for it obscured the
horizon of a broader national firmament ; but the idea of
unity has had other enemies to deal with. These, if not
so powerful in the aggregate, have yet caused Ger-
many's leaders many a pang of sorrow and disappoint-
ment. We mean that spirit of Philistinism, of envy and ^J^I^.^^.^P'/J^dis.
distrust, alternating with indifference, which only the {" u',^" ^^'"^'"^
stirring hours of a death-grapple cast temporarily in the
background. It comes to the front again in all its ugli-
ness with the return of peace and security.

.Such are some of the dangerous elements Germany
will still have to grapple with when those mighty men
have all passed away to whom the Fatherland is so
immensely indebted.

Misfortune has taught the Germans many a lesson,

1 M.iiiy of till- failliful partisans of tin- laic kiiiK of Ilaiiovcr wnuUI, after 1866,
have had only liegKaiy to look forward to, had it not heeii for the far-siKhted
policy of reconciliation of Bismarck.


Imperial Gcr))ia)iy.

petty failings of
recent arrowlli.

Discord the
oldest national

fnHuenie oi
past history
not easily

and doubtless benefited them ; still, they have not
passed through the tire of the past without the develop-
ment of peculiarities of character which are more or less
distinctly traceable to the sufferings they have endured.

It is dif^cult to believe that some of the petty failings
of to-day were existent in the olden times of national
splendor. In those days German life could not show-
that amount of littleness, of hyper-sensitiveness, of per-
sonal spite and petty malice and envy, which have often
been noticed and deplored in later times.

Such qualities could not flourish amidst the pomp
and panoply of national prosperity. They could onl}-
be the ugly ofTshoot born of oppression, poverty, and
misery. And now that there seems a great future in
store for Germany, her friends can but hope that quali-
ties which owed their existence to misfortune — as
disease owes its presence to dirt — will gradually dis-
appear before the reawakening of the best instincts of
a mightv race. This is the more to be wished for as
such qualities are largely answerable for the perpetua-
tion of the oldest German national failing, discord.
That a broader national feeling has steadily increased
since 1870 is admitted on all sides. Yet these are not
the only effects of victory ; it has put many of? their
guard as to the dangers to be provided against in the

The history of a thousand years is not nullified by
the victories of one generation, even though such victo-
ries be the result of a long-sustained system of discipline
and a universal acceptation of heroic duty. The defects
of the national character which bade Teutons themselves
desert their national hero, Arminius, which enabled a
Richelieu to suav the conduct of the "Thirty Years'
War," defects whirli haxe made Germans slavishly bow

The German Character in Politics. 31

down to rulers whose titles were gained in return for the
slaughter of their own countrymen' — such may have
been scotched, but they were not killed at Sadowa or
Sedan. Nor were they choked by the proclamation of
the German Empire at Versailles.

The political pauperism of the past, the petty and
half-dormant, if not torpid, social life of centuries, have
generated idiosyncrasies that will only be gradually
obliterated by sustained moral efTbrt. The constant
daneer arising from these is intensified when we bear in
mind what has just been noted — the social and political
differences in the population of North and South.

The Germans are a sensitive people, and yet, with this impaniaiity of
and all their peculiarities, they possess a dispassionate {,"a1fonaUrait.
impartiality of judgment in some things which is in many
ways remarkable. The Germans often use the word
Objectivit'dt fobjectiveness), and they have some reason
for doing so. Bismarck has accused them of being
ashamed of their nationality abroad and of adopting
the bad qualities of the people among whom they live.
With regard to the first accusation, a foundation for it
in the past cannot be denied. But there was also some-
thing to explain it ; the national tendency to objective-
ness explains it.

Germans abroad have generally come from a class why Gtrmans
that has more acute perceptions for material than for iheir pairioi-
ideal advantages. Thus, in coming abroad, seeing larger
practical and material conditions of life, they looked
hack with contempt on the petty parochial character of
life in their native land ; those that leave their country
do not, as a rule, possess sufficient ideality to clurisli

1 The prc'siriit tillcs c>l ilic- rulcTS of Saxony, Bavaria, WiirlfiiihciK, Haik-ii,
and Hcssc-Oamistadl were Ihc ircalioiis of Naiioleoii I. In uacli case Ihey
ijjnify a slep in advance on llie previous one held hy their possessors.


Jiiipiiia/ (tcniiaiir.

Practicality vs.

toward their

their country for tlic sake of that quality, though there
have been at all times e.xceptions. The German abroad
becomes more practical, but he generally loses in a spir-
itual sense ; he assimilates the utilitarian features of the
country he li\'es in, only too often to lose touch with the
ideality of his native land, which should make him
prouder of his country than of her recent victories.
This bewildering outward aspect of practical life in Eng-
land and America also explains why traveling English-
men are so often unable to appreciate what is in reality
the strong side of German life — its mental and ethical
culture. They see the outside only, and, as this has
hitherto been more striking in our country, the average
Englishman's opinion of Germany has ever been a shal-
low one.

This German objectiveness is shown in their estimate
of their enemies. The English and French either hate
and slander their enemies or when they have beaten
them hold them in contempt. Napoleon I. always
felt a strong contempt for his enemies. Not so the
(Germans. They invariably speak with respect of their
opponents, even be they those they have beaten —
such as the Danes, the Austrians, and the PVench— or
the Russians. It is perhaps one of their soundest
national traits, from a military point of \iew, that they
invariably over-estimate their foes, for this characteristic
has certainly not made them afraid to meet them. Even
the inimitable Roulanger they at first took seriously
and only spoke of him with contempt when he showed
characteristics that would have ruined him in twenty-
four hours had he been a German.

Bearing the character of the military successes of
Germany in mind, we have always been impressed with
the "comparative" absence of national self-assertion.

The German Character in Politics.




The Prussians, who used to be considered individu-
ally and collectively arrogant and overbearing, even by
the Germans themselves, have largely lost the reputation
for these attributes now that their worth has been more
generally recognized, for in the lack of honest recogni-
tion such qualities often ha\'e their origin. W'e shall
deal with the Philistine by himself, but the more intelli-
gent the individual we meet, the more moderate the
views invariably held ; and even among the compara-
tively uncultured that senseless bounce which we often
deplore in other nations is for the most part absent.

Up to the present, whatever may be said to the con-

.... . . ^ r •!• The Germans

trary, chauvmism is n(jt a national German tailing, not chauvin-
Some affect to deplore the marked military — -not to say
nationally assertive — tendencies of the present emperor,
and look back with regret to the liberal and humani-
tarian temperament of his father. But one thing seems
certain : as long as in certain quarters humanitarianism
and liljcralism imply a possibility of yielding one inch
of what has been gained by such sacrifices of blood and
treasure, so long Germany cannot afford to indulge too
readily in those excellent qualities. It is a sad truth,
but it is an important one. That arch-wiseacre, Cieneral
Ignatieff, has told the world that iinmediately after 1.S70
he ironically congratulated the Germans on haxing
annexed "an o|)en wound" in Alsace and Lorraine!
As if the French did ncjt harbor revenge against
ICngland during nearly half a century after Waterloo,
although Kngland did n(jt despoil France of an iiu h of

1 This term is (Icrivefl from the name of a hr.ive soldier, Nicholas Chauvlii,
who was so devoted to Nai)f)leon I. and so demonstrative in the display o(
loyally that the name has come to stand for an absurd or exaggerated patriot-
ism and military enthusiasm.

34 Imptrial Germany.

territory ! but, on the contrary, did all in her power to
prevent Germany generally from reaping the fruits of her
enormous sacrifice in fighting the first Napoleon by
retaking Alsace from the French. When will reason-
able beings be able to see that French vanity would
have been as irrevocably wounded by the loss of one
battle as by the loss of half a dozen provinces, and —
the most important point — that she would have re-
mained more powerful to resent it !

Immediately after the War of 1870, a brilliant Paris
German" ° ^ ioumalist of German birth, Albert Wolff, wrote a book,
louinais. gingerly putting the French in the wrong, but closing

with the declaration that he was ashamed that his
native land had not used its victory to be generous and
forborne to wrest territory from France ! It is indeed a
sad inheritance from the past that such ideas should
find serious acceptance. People never think of suggest-
ing or expecting that the English, or the French, or the
Russians, are going to forego the fruits of victory or to
yield up the price of their blood. The Germans have a
right to be taken with equal seriousness, and their well-
wishers will not easily quarrel with the means they use
to attain that legitimate end.

Let the Germans taboo the French language, let them
ise of the- decline to be addressed in that tongue. The time may

German . . . , , .

language in comc whcu it wiU be Considered as mconsiderate to
address Germans on equal conditions in any other
language than their own as it is now the case with
Frenchmen, Americans, or Englishmen. When that
comes to pass, then the nonsense of treating political
Germany as the poor boy of the nursery book will
cease, and until then it will be quite time to speak
of German chauvinism.

Amidst much mist and darkness there is a bright star


The German Character in Politics. 35

in the national character that has not shown itself of
late, for it requires defeat and national humiliation in
order to witness its brilliancy. It is German valor and
fidelity under defeat. It is one of the fairest attributes ^^^,"1^"
of the national character ; it is ideal. History is full of
it, and well may the nation be proud of its record.
Even that rabid chauvinist historian, Thiers,' has gone
out of his way to bear testimony to the fighting endur-
ance of defeated Germany, and to its fidelity to its
unfortunate leaders.

1 " Hi^toire du Consulat et de rEiupire."




Its type in

AVe classify a range of mountains according to the altitude of
its highest peaks. — Ation.


If \vc follow the history of intellectual development in
England, and its bearing on the material achievements
of the English people, we perceive that one of the
reasons why they have achieved so much is that they
have rarely stri\en but for what they could grasp. Like
Bismarck in this, they have ever taken one thing practi-
cally in hand at a time.

There is comparatively little dreamy ideality in our
race ; and, in the higher Grecian sense of the word, of
that ceaseless striving after the ideally true and beauti-
ful, next to none. But, instead of this, we English have
ever possessed the great secret of attaining practical
success in what we soberly undertook. The wisdom of
common sense, thoroughly consistent with genius, has
always been ours in a preeminent degree.

Darwin — perhaps the most typical Englishman of the
century — of all others, might have been justified in con-
juring up imaginary pictures of the past and evolving
ideals for the future ; yet he remains satisfied with
the positive — not to say negative — results of his re-
searches, and leaves ideal speculation to others. It has
been reserved for the Germans, and notably for Profes-
sor Haeckel, of Jena, to speculate where Darwin had
been content to glean facts.

36 ,

hitellechial Life.


Thus, German idealism — in this instance revealing
itself in materialistic speculation — tells us what we f^^""*"
"might" attain, while our want of idealism is per-
haps the cause of what we "have" achieved.

But idealism does far more than this. It instinctively
bids us feel that knowledge of every kind is power to be
used for a high purpose. It embodies the highest aspi-
rations of genius, and is the key to the full understand-
ing of its loftiest flights. It is, strange to say, almost a
monopoly of the German race ; in fact, the peo]:)le who
are nearest to them, such as the Dutch, notably lack it.

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySidney WhitmanImperial Germany; a critical study of fact and character → online text (page 2 of 23)