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blasphemously exaggerated as with us Germans, when the lord of our
armed hosts, at the demand of the barracks greedy for power, of the
tavern-benches, the state-bureaus and the debating societies was
summoned, and charged with the duty, forsooth, of chastising
England - England, which they only knew out of newspaper reports!
To-day this exaggeration is being paid for in humiliation, for God did
not prove controllable, and His naïve blasphemers must silently and
with grinding teeth admit that their foes are in the right when they,
in their turn, appeal to the same judgment to justify, without limit,
everything they desire to do.

After these brief observations on the psycho-physical complex, Spirit
and Destiny, we hope we shall not be misunderstood when for the sake
of brevity we speak as if the spirit of the new order were determined
by its material construction, while in reality it incorporates itself
therein. The structure is the easier to survey, and we therefore make
it the starting-point of our discussion.


All civilisations known to us have sprung from peoples which were
numerous, wealthy and divided into two social strata. They reached
their climax at the moment when the two strata began to melt into one.

It is not enough, therefore, that a people should be numerous and
wealthy; it must, with all its wealth and its power, contain a large
proportion of poor and even oppressed and enslaved subjects. If it has
not got these, it must master and make use of other foreign cultures
as a substitute. That is what Rome did; it is what America is doing.

It is terrible, but comprehensible. For up to this point the
unconscious processes of Nature, the law of mutual strife, has
prevailed. So far, collective organizations have been beasts of prey;
only now are they about to cross the boundaries of the human order.

Comprehensible and explicable. For all creations of culture hold
together; one cannot pursue the cheaper varieties while renouncing the
more costly. There is no cheap culture. In their totality they demand
outlay, the most tremendous outlay known to history, the only outlay
by which human toil is recompensed, over and above the supply of
absolute necessaries.

The creations of civilisation, like all things living and dead, follow
on each other - plants, men, beasts and utensils have their sequence
generation after generation. Men must paint and look at pictures for
ten thousand years before a new picture comes into existence. Our
poetry and our research are the fruit of thousands of years. This is
no disparagement to genius in work and thought, genius is at once new,
ancient and eternal, even as the blossom is a new thing on the old
stem, and belongs to an eternal type. When we hear that a native in
Central Africa or New Zealand has produced an oil-painting we know
that somehow or other he must have got to Paris. When a European
artist writes or paints in Tahiti, what he produces is not a work of
Tahitian culture. When civilisation has withered away on some
sterilized soil, it can only be revived by new soil and foreign seed.

The continuity of culture, even in civilized times, can only, however,
be maintained by constant outlay, just as in arid districts a
luxuriant vegetation needs continuous irrigation. The flood of
Oriental wealth had to pour itself into Italy in order to bring forth
the bloom of Renaissance art. Thousands of patricians, hundreds of
temporal and spiritual princes, had to found and to adorn temples and
palaces, gardens, monuments, pageants, games and household goods in
order that art and science, schooling, mastership, discipleship and
tradition might grow up. The worship of foreign culture which
characterized Germany in the seventeenth and half of the eighteenth
centuries only meant that our soil was grown too poor to yield a crop
of its own. The culture of the Middle Ages remained international only
so long as the population of Europe was too sparse and the
opportunities of work too scanty to occupy local energies; even in the
thinly populated, Homeric middle-ages of Greece, the builder and the
poet were not settled in one place, they were wandering artists. If
to-day the Republic of Guatemala or Honduras should want a
senate-house or a railway-station they will probably send to London or
Paris for an architect.

Even technique in handicraft and industry, that typical art of
civilization, cannot dispense with a great and continuous outlay on
training, commissioning and marketing in order to maintain itself.
Although it has not happened yet, there is no reason why a Serb or a
Slovak should not make some important discovery if he has been trained
at a European University and learnt the technical tradition. That will
not, however, give rise to an independent and enduring Serbian or
Slovakian technique, even though the costliest Universities and
laboratories should be established in the country and foreign teachers
called to teach in them. After all that, one must have a market in the
country itself; expert purchasers, manufacturers, middle-men, a
trained army of engineers, craftsmen, masters, workmen and a foreign
market as well - in short, the technical atmosphere - in order to keep
up the standard of manufacture and production.

A poor country cannot turn out products of high value for a rich one;
it has not had the education arising from demand. In products relating
to sport and to comfort, for instance, England was a model, but in
France these products were ridiculously misunderstood and imitated
with silly adornments, while on the other hand French products of
luxury and art-industry were sought for by all countries. German wares
were considered to be cheap and nasty, until the land grew rich, and
brought about the co-operation of its forces of science and technique,
production and marketing, auxiliary industries and remote profits,
finance and commerce, education and training, judgment and criticism,
habits of life and a sense of comparative values.

But human forces need the same nurture, the same outlay and the same
high training, as institutions and material products. Delicate work
demands sensitive hands and a sheltered way of life; discovery and
invention demand leisure and freedom; taste demands training and
tradition, scientific thinking and artistic conception demand an
environment with an unbroken continuity of cultivation, thought and
intelligence. A dying civilisation can live for a while on the
existing humus of culture, on the existing atmosphere of thought, but
to create anew these elements of life is beyond its powers.

Do not let us deceive ourselves, but look the facts in the face! All
these excellent Canadians, with or without an academic degree, who
innocently pride themselves on a proletarian absence of prejudice, are
adoptive children of a plutocratic and aristocratic cultivation. It is
all the same even if they lay aside their stiff collars and
eye-glasses; their every word and argument, their forms of thought,
their range of knowledge, their strongly emphasized intellectuality
and taste for art and science, their whole handiwork and industry, are
an inheritance from what they supposed they had cast off and a tribute
to what they pretend to despise. Genuine radicalism is only to be
respected when it understands the connexion of things and is not
afraid of consequences. It must understand - and I shall make it
clear - that its rapid advance will kill culture; and the proper
conclusion is that it ought to despise culture, not to sponge on it.
The early Christians abolished all the heathen rubbish and
abominations, the early Radicals would have hurried, in the first
instance, to pick out the plums.

Culture and civilization, as we see, demand a continuous and enormous
outlay; an outlay in leisure, an outlay in working power, an outlay in
wealth. They need patronage and a market, they need the school, they
need models, tradition, comparison, judgment, intelligence,
cultivation, disposition, the right kind of nursery - an atmosphere.
One who stands outside it can serve it, often more powerfully with
his virgin strength than one who is accustomed to it - but he must be
carried along and animated by the breath of the same atmosphere.
Culture and civilization require a rich soil.

But the richness of the soil is not sufficient; culture must be based
upon, and increased by, contrast. Wealth must have at its disposal
great numbers of men who are poor and dependent. How otherwise shall
the outlay of culture be met? One man must have many at his disposal;
but how can he, if they are all his equals? The outlay will be large,
but it must be feasible; how can it, if the labour of thousands is not
cheap? The few, the exalted, must develop power and splendour, they
must offer types for imitation: how can they do that without a
retinue, without spectators, without the herd? A land of well-being,
that is to say, of equally distributed well-being, remains petty and
provincial. When a State and its authorities, councils of solid and
thrifty members of societies for this or that, take over the office of
a Mæcenas or a Medici, with their proposals, their calculations, their
objections, their control, then we get things that look like
war-memorials, waiting-rooms, newspaper-kiosks and drinking-saloons.
It was not always so? No; but even in the most penurious times it was
kings who were the patrons.

But if culture is such a poison-flower, if it flourishes only in the
swamp of poverty and under the sun of riches, it must and ought to be
destroyed. Our sentiment will no longer endure the happiness and
brilliance of the few growing out of the misery of the many; the days
of the senses are over, and the day of conscience is beginning to

And now a timid and troubled puritanism makes itself heard: Is there
no middle way? Will not half-measures suffice? No, it will not do; let
this be said once for all as plainly as possible, you champions of the
supply of "bare necessities" who talk about "daily bread" and want to
butter it with the "noblest pleasures of art." It will not do!

No, half-measures will not do, nor quarter-measures. They might, if
the whole world, the sick, the healthy and the bloated all together
were of the same mind as ourselves. In Moscow it is said that people
are expecting the world-revolution every hour, but the world declines
to oblige. Therefore, if culture and civilization are to remain what
they were, is there nothing for it but with one wrench to tear the
poisoned garment from our body? Or - is there then an "or"? Let us see.
We have a long way before us. First of all we must know how rich or
how poor we and the world are going to be, on the day when there will
be no income without working for it and no rich people any more.

If our economic system made us self-supporting we might arrange
matters on the model of the Boer Republic which had all it needed, and
now and then traded a load of ostrich feathers for coffee and hymn
books. But we, alas! in order to find nourishment for twenty
millions[5] have to export blood and brains. And if, in order to buy
phosphates, we offer cotton stockings and night-caps as the highest
products of our artistic energies, and declare that they are all the
soundest hand-work - for in our "daily bread" economy we shall have
long forgotten how to work such devil's tools as the modern
knitting-machine - then people will reply to us: in the first place we
don't want night-caps, and if we did we can supply them for one-tenth
of the cost; and our cotton goods will be sent back to us as

A world-trade, even of modest dimensions, can only be carried on upon
the basis of high technical accomplishment, but this height of
accomplishment cannot be attained on the basis of any penny-wise
economy. Whoever wills the part must also will the whole, but to this
whole belongs not merely the conception of a technique, but of a
civilization, and indeed of a culture. One might as well demand of a
music-hall orchestra which plays ragtime all the year round that once
in the year, and once only, on Good Friday, it should pull itself
together to give an adequate performance of the Passion Music of Bach.


[Footnote 5: By this figure the author seems to be referring to the
population of the impoverished Germany of the future if the course of
Socialism proceeds on wrong lines.]


For some decades Germany will be one of the poorest of countries. How
poor she will be does not depend on herself alone, but on the power
and the will for mischief of others - who hate us.

However, poverty and wealth are relative terms; Germans are still
richer on the average than their forefathers; richer than the Romans
or Greeks. The standard of well-being is set by the best-off of the
competitors, for he it is who determines the current standard of
technique and industry, the methods of production, the minimum of
labour and skill. We cannot, as we have already seen, keep aloof from
world-competition, for Germany needs cheap goods. We must therefore
try to keep step so far as we can.

Even if we shut our eyes and take no more account of our debt to
foreign lands than we do of the war-tribute, we must admit that the
average standard of well-being in America far surpasses the German.
Goods are not so dear as with us, and the wages of the skilled worker
amounts to between seven and ten dollars a day - more than 100 marks in
our money; and many artisans drive to their workshops in their own

If, now, we ask our Radicals how they envisage the problem of
competition with such a country, which in one generation will be
twenty-or thirty-fold as rich as we are, they will blurt out a few
sentences in which we shall catch the word "Soviet system," "surplus
value,"[6] "world revolution." But in truth the question will never
occur to them - it is not ventilated at public meetings.

Among themselves they talk, albeit without much conviction, about
"surplus value" - which has nothing whatever to do with the present
question, and in regard to which it has been proved to them often
enough that so far as it can be made use of at all, it only means
about a pound of butter extra per head of the population.

The economic superiority of the Western powers, however, goes on
growing, inasmuch as to all appearance they are getting to work
seriously to establish the new economy (which we have buried) in the
form of State Socialism. A healthy, or what is to-day the same thing,
a victorious economy, does not leap over any of its stages; it will
work gradually through the apparently longer, but constant, movement
from Capitalism to State Socialism and thence to full Socialism; while
we, it seems, want to take a shortcut, and to miss out the intervening
stage. And we lose so much time and energy in restless fluctuations
forward and backward, hither and thither, that this leap in advance
may fall short.

If anything could be more stupid and calamitous than the war itself it
was the time when it broke out. There was one thing which the big
capitalism of the world was formed to supply, which it was able to
supply, and, in fact, was supplying: the thing which not only
justified capitalism, but showed it to be an absolutely necessary
stage in the development of a denser population. This was the
enrichment of the peoples, the rapid, and even anticipatory
restoration of equilibrium between the growing population and the
indispensable increase in the means of production; in other words,
general well-being. The unbroken progress of America, and the almost
unbroken progress of England will demonstrate that in one, or at most
two, generations the power of work and the output of mechanism would
have risen to such a pitch that we could have done anything we liked
in the direction of lightening human labour and reconciling social

Alas, it was in vain! The rapid advance to prosperity of the people of
Central Europe, who had been accustomed to thrift and economy, went to
their heads; they fell victims to the poison of capitalism and of
mechanism; they were unable, like America in its youthful strength, to
make their new circumstances deepen their sense of responsibility; in
their greedy desire to store as much as possible of the heavenly manna
in their private barns they abandoned their destinies to a
superannuated, outworn feudal class and to aspiring magnates of the
bourgeoisie; they would not be taught by political catastrophes, and
at last, in the catastrophe of the war, they lost at once their
imaginary hopes, their traditional power and the economic basis of
their existence.

Those who are now pursuing a policy of desperation are unconsciously
building their hopes on the breakdown which brought them to the top:
they are avowedly making the hoped-for revolution in the West the
central point of their system. If the West holds out, they will be
false prophets; but it will not only hold out, it will in the
beginning at all events, witness a great and passionate uprising of
imperialistic and capitalistic tendencies. If there is any one who did
not understand that a policy based on hopes of other peoples'
bankruptcy is the most flimsy and frivolous of all policies, he might
well have learned it from the war.

Germany must forge her own destinies for herself, without side-glances
at the good or ill fortune of others. Had time only been given us to
pass naturally from the stage of a prolonged and corrupted childhood
into that of a manly responsibility, our ultimate recovery would be
assured. But we have to accomplish in months what ought to be the
evolution of decades; our national training has left us without
convictions, we have no eye for the true boundaries of rights, claims
and responsibilities, and we hesitate as to how far we must or ought
to go. Unprepared, weakened, impoverished and sick, we are required,
at the most unlucky moment, to work out a new and unprecedented order
of life. Before even the educated classes are capable of forming a
judgment on the question, the most incapable masses of the rawest
youth, of the lowest classes of society, are let loose, and sit upon
the judgment-seat.

It is not only that we have been rich and have become very poor, but
we were always politically immature, and are so still. If the order of
Society is to be that of root-and-branch Socialism, it will mean the
proletarian condition for all of us, and for a long time to come.
There is no use in flattering ourselves and painting the future better
than it is; the truth must be spoken with all plainness. If we work
hard, and under capable guidance, each of us will at most have an
effective income of 500 marks in pre-war values, or, say, 2000 marks
for the family. This average will be higher if we proceed on the
principles of the New Economy,[7] but again will be reduced by the
necessity for allowing extra pay for work of higher value. If to-day
the average income available is markedly higher than the above, the
reason is that we are living on our capital; we are living on the
products of work which ought to be reserved for the maintenance and
renewal of the means of production; in other words we are exhausting
the soil and slaughtering our stock. We are also consuming what
foreign countries give us on credit; in other words, we are living on
borrowed money.

It is childish lying and deception to act on the tacit assumption that
thoroughgoing Socialism means something like a garden-city idyll, with
play-houses, open-air theatres, excursions, picturesque raiment and
fire-side art. This in itself quite decent ideal of the average
architect, art-craftsman and art-reformer if expressed in dry figures
would, "at the lowest estimate" as they say, demand about fivefold the
capacity for production attainable by the utmost exertions and with a
ten hours' day _before the war_ - before the downfall of our economy
and our exploitation by the enemy.

To place one-third of our working-class in decent, freehold dwellings
would alone, if the material and means of production sufficed, require
the whole working-capacity of the country for two years. Even after
the last manufacturer's villa-residence, the last palace-hotel, have
long been turned into tenements, the solution of the most urgent part
of the housing-question will still be an affair of decades. For the
sake of the last remnant of our self-respect we must finally tear
asunder that web of economic falsehood, woven out of ignorance, mental
lethargy, concealment and illusion, which has taken the place of the
political. Let us see any one attempt to prove that Germany can carry
on, I do not say a well-off, but even a petty tradesman's kind of
existence, unless our means of production can by some stroke of magic
be multiplied tenfold - on paper it can be done with ease - or unless
the production value (not turnover), which an adult working-man can
with the utmost exertion bring into being in the course of a year does
not many times exceed the average value of 2000 marks.

No doubt the young folk of our big cities promise themselves a merry
time for six weeks when they have got power, the shops, the wardrobes
and the wine-cellars into their hands. For the leaders, it may last a
little longer than for the rank-and-file. And then, for those of the
former who have any sense of honesty, will come a question of
conscience, which may be delayed by printing paper-money, but cannot
be solved by any appeal to the people.

If Bolshevism were the contrary to what it is - if it were a success, a
thing not absolutely impossible in a peasant-State, we might
understand the self-assurance of those who, in opposition to our
forecast, expect everything from the will of the people, the Soviet
system and the inspirations of the future. We do understand it in the
case of the drawing-room communists, and the profiteer-extremists who
are out not for the cause, but for power, and perhaps only for
material objects.

I know that by these observations I am favouring the cause of those
sorry dignitaries of a day, the Majority Socialists, but I cannot help
that. The truth is not false because it favours one party, nor is
falsehood truth because it harms the other. The Socialism now in
power is doing the right thing, although it is doing it out of
ignorance and helplessness - it is waiting, and getting steam up. It is
better to do the right thing out of error than to do the wrong thing
out of wisdom. Out of error: for besides omitting to do what ought not
to be done it also omits the things it ought to do - among others, the
introduction of the New Economy.[8] It is like mankind before the
Fall; it does not know good from evil, what is useful and what is
noxious, what can be done and what cannot. Well - let it take its time;
it shall have time enough.

This time must be turned to good account. When we have come to the end
of these observations we shall understand what a huge task lies
between us and the realization of the new social order. In this case
the longest way round is the shortest way home. And even if Germany
should choose the mountain road with its broad loops and windings, we
shall stray often enough, and go backward now and then; while if, in
impatient revolt, we try to climb straight up, we shall slip down
lower than where we started. Let us never forget how mysteriously our
social and political immaturity seems to be bound up with our once
lofty and even now remarkable intellectuality and morality.[9] We have
not won our liberties, they have fallen into our laps; it was by the
general breakdown, by a strike, by a flight, that Germany and her
former rulers have parted company. These liberties, social and
political, are not rooted in the soil, they can hardly be said to be
prized among the treasures of life, it is not their ideal, but their
material side which attracts us. Those who used to shout Hurrah! now
cry "All power to the Soviets!" and the day will come when they will
again shout Hurrah! Then we shall witness a real sundering of our
different visions of the world, visions now buried under a mass of
interests and speculations.

In any case, whether the change is to be catastrophic or evolutionary,
the journey will be a long one, and every attempt to hurry it will
only prolong it further; it will throw us back for years, or it may be
decades. Above all things, we must know whither we are going. In order
to adapt ourselves to a new form of society we must know what it _may_
look like, what it _ought_ to look like, and what it _will_ look like.
We shall find that Germany is not going to be landed in an earthly

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Online LibraryWalther RathenauThe New Society → online text (page 2 of 9)