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of homage, and megalomania, which made us intellectually and morally
impossible before the world. Instead of the Germany of thought and
spirit one saw suddenly a brutal, stupid community of interested
persons, greedy for power, who gave themselves out as that Germany
whose very opposite they were; who, unable to point to any
achievements, any thought of their own, prided themselves on an
imaginary race-unity which their very appearance contradicted; who had
no ideas beyond rancour; the slaverings of league-oratory and
subordination, and who with these properties, which they were pleased
to call _Kultur_, undertook to bring blessing to the world.

It was no wonder; for our slavonicized association of interests, bent
on subordination and on gain, does not produce ideas; its possessions
were power, mechanism and money; whoever was impressed by these things
believed they must impress others too, and so the conclusion was
arrived at that all the great spirits of the past had lived only to
make this triple combination supreme. Wagner had formed the bridge
between the old Germany and the new - armoured cruisers and giant guns
appeared as a free development from Kant and Hegel, and the word
_Kultur_, a word which Germany ought to prohibit by law for thirty
years to come, masked the confusion of thought.

To discover now, after our downfall, that Germany ought never to have
carried on a continental let alone a world policy, would be a pitiful
example of _esprit d'escalier_. It is true that it was our right, and
even our duty, by our intellect, our ethics and our greatness, to
carry it on; but the weakness of our character on the side of Will was
the cause of its failure. Bismarck, a born realist in politics, grown
up in the Prussian tradition, trained in the diplomatic tradition by
Gortschakov, made the calamitous choice. He made us safe for certain
decades; but it was only an intuitive policy in the manner of
Stein[23] that could have saved us for centuries.

In the midst of self-administered and self-determining nations the
German people, from lack of self-consciousness, indolence of will and
innate servility remained under a patriarchal system of government, a
minor under tutelage of divinely-appointed dynasties and ruling
classes. In the childish movement of the educated bourgeoisie of 1848
Bismarck saw only the helpless and Utopian, but not the symbolic side,
which Marx might have shown him. His practical spirit judged with a
smile that a handful of peasantry and grenadiers would suffice to
bring to reason this dynastically-minded people. It was only too true;
although the bulk of this people had not for thirty years been formed
by the peasant class, and although he himself had learned how to make
use of the power of the modern industrial State in peasant disguise.
And so he refused to allow his countrymen to come of age; broke, with
the superiority of genius, and with the weapons of success and
authority, the incompetent forces that resisted him; created, by the
magical mechanism of his Constitution, the German Empire as a mere
continuation of the Prussian bureaucratic State reinforced, by the
self-glorifying dynasties, with the whole volume of the still existing
and justly appreciated habit of obedience; and annihilated for a
generation every aspiration for freedom by branding it with the stain
of moral and social depravity. Our political worthlessness and
immaturity came to its climax in the race of office-climbers in 1880,
which in 1900 gave place to the battle-fleet patriotism of the great

A self-administered and a self-determining nation - such as the nations
of the world, except ourselves, Austria and Russia, were, on the
whole, at the turn of the century - would have been able to carry on a
sound and steadfast policy in economics and public affairs, and to
enjoy the confidence of the world, as little begrudged as America. On
the other hand, a dangerous warship, armed upon an unexampled scale,
given to backward movements and commanded by an uncontrollable sovran
dilettante, could only expect sooner or later to be expelled from the
harbour of the nations. History is apt to overdo it, especially when
corruption has gone on too long; with every year that passed the doom
became more certain; instead of being expelled, we were annihilated.

That four years of hunger, a lost war and a military revolt at last
set us free, does not betoken any change of character; and when to-day
a servile and facile Press lauds our wretched and idealess
Constitution as the finest in the world, that gives us no assurance
of its power to endure. Understanding is no substitute for character,
but it is at any rate a step towards the goal; and if it is once
understood that other measures are possible, and if, out of this
period, certain writings and thoughts shall survive - and survive they
will - then at any rate we may still be weak, but we shall be no longer

It might be possible at the outset of our journey towards strength of
will that we should grope our way slowly - very slowly - back to the old
problems of power. It does not matter if we do. Before we get there,
the world will be changed, and will be pregnant with new thoughts. Let
us fulfil the duties for which Germany was made what it is. Let us go
in quest of the idea and the faculty that are laid upon us; let us do
this in order to live, to recover our health, to shape ourselves anew,
to remain a People, to become a Nation, to create a future and to
serve the world.


[Footnote 17: Geistigkeit. This is a difficult word to translate. It
sometimes means merely intellectuality, sometimes in addition (as
here) all that is implied in the phrase, "Ye know not what manner of
spirit ([Greek: oiou pneumatos]) ye are of."]

[Footnote 18: Referring to Werner Sombart's war-book, _Händler und

[Footnote 19: _Cf._ Thomas Mann's remarkable book on the real
significance of the war: _Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen_ (1918).]

[Footnote 20: Sachlichkeit. Rathenau seems to have in mind the German
feeling for disinterested study and research as illustrated, for
instance, by the fact that when the German Government heard of the
genius of Einstein they brought him to Berlin with a salary of nearly
£1000 a year and no duties except to think. Modern bigotry has
expelled him.]

[Footnote 21: Where Kant lived and taught, and published his _Kritik
der reinen Vernunft_.]

[Footnote 22: As opposed to the inward, intellectual and spiritual

[Footnote 23: Stein was the chief leader of Prussia from the
Frederician into the modern era. His ministry of reform by which a
peasant-proprietary was established, and municipal institutions
created, lasted only from September 1807 to November 1808.]


On balance it seems that the endowments of the German people work out
as follows: -

High qualities of intellect and heart. Ethics and mentality normal.
Originative will-power and independent activity, weak.

We give our devotion freely, and the heart rules in action. Our
feelings are genuine and powerful. We have courage and endurance. Led
by sentiment rather than by inspiration. We create no forms, are
self-forgetful, seek no responsibility, obey rather than rule. In
obedience we know no limit, and never question what is imposed upon

Of its own accord the German people would never have adopted an ideal
of force. It was imposed on us by the idolaters of the great
war-machine and those who gained by it; even Bismarck did not share

We are not competent to form an ideal of civilization, for the sense
of unity, will to leadership, and formative energy are lacking to us.
We have no political mission for the arrangement of other people's
affairs, for we cannot arrange our own; we do not lead a full life,
and are politically unripe.

We are endowed as no other people is for a mission of the spirit. Such
a mission was ours till a century ago; we renounced it, because
through political slackness of will-power we fell out of step; we did
not keep pace with the other nations in internal political
development, and, instead, devoted ourselves to the most far-reaching
developments of mechanism and to their counterpart in bids for power.
It was Faust, lured away from his true path, cast off by the
Earth-Spirit, astray among witches, brawlers and alchemists.

But the Faust-soul of Germany is not dead. Of all peoples on the earth
we alone have never ceased to struggle with ourselves. And not with
ourselves alone, but with our dæmon, our God. We still hear within
ourselves the All, we still expand in every breath of creation. We
understand the language of things, of men and of peoples. We measure
everything by itself, not by us; we do not seek our own will, but the
truth. We are all alike and yet all different; each of us is a
wanderer, a brooder, a seeker. Things of the spirit are taken
seriously with us; we do not make them serve our lives, we serve them
with ours.

"And you dare to say this, in the face of all the brutalizing and
bemiring that we experience - the profiteering and gormandizing, the
abject submissiveness, the shameless desertions, the apathy, the
insincerity, the heartlessness and mindlessness of our day?"

Yes, I dare to say it, for I believe it and I know it. The soul of the
German people lies still in the convulsions and hallucinations of its
slow recovery. It is recovery not alone from the war, but from
something worse, its hundred-years' alienation from itself. The
much-ridiculed choice of our old romantic unheraldic colours, black,
red and gold, instead of the bodiless and soulless colours under which
we waged the war,[24] was, among the whirling follies of the time, a
faint symbolic movement of our better mind. We must reunite ourselves
with the days before we ceased to be Germans and became Berliners.

What we need is Spirit. The whole world needs it, no more and no less
than we do, but will never create it. History knows why it decided for
Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors. Not mechanism alone, with its
retinue of nationalism and imperialism, is now again and for the last
time to be glorified; no, the whole Franco-British policy of
acquisition mounts up even to the throne of the Sun-king, and it is
seriously believed that it will govern the destinies of the world for
centuries to come. An inconceivable, and, in its monstrous irony,
unsurpassable drama, which is put forward as the introduction to the
great era. The bourgeois conscience of the West has no inkling of
what it means. To this conscience, the war was a huge violation of
decency, contrived by bandits; its victory is the final triumph of a
capitalist, rationalistic civilization; the torch lit in the East
means murder and incendiarism, and the upward migration of the people
from the depths is to it invisible.

No; it is not here that the spirit of the future is being formed. One
may discover further ingenious devices, lightning-conductors to
mitigate the stroke; but gently or violently a natural force will have
its way, and the new earth which it is preparing needs new seed.

That we have been given the faculty to shape a new spirit does not
imply that we are at liberty to choose whether we shall do it or not.
Even if it were not for our life's sake - even if it were against our
life - still we must obey. But it _is_ for our life's sake, as we have
seen, and as it is indeed obvious, for every organism can live only by
fulfilling the purpose of its being.

And now we have got to a very dangerous place - a place where the usual
moral peroration lies in wait for us - that German peroration which
announces universal redemption, and immediately, on that lofty note,
closes the discussion. Fatherland, Morality, Humanity, Labour,
Courage, Confidence - we all know how it goes, the writer has written
something fine, the reader has read something fine; emotion on both
sides, little conviction on either.

It appears, then, that I have just been writing something extremely
suspect. Has the reader followed me through five-and-thirty of these
difficult folios in order to arrive in the end at that very everyday
term, Spirit?[25] Is there any term in commoner use, and what are we
to think about it? Softly - there is worse to come! The next word is
still more dubious, philistinishly so, in fact - the word Culture.[26]
I cannot help it - we must pass on by way of these everyday
conceptions. We must get through the crowd, where hack-phrases elbow
us. Any journey you may take, though it were to Tibet, must begin at
the Berlin Central Railway Station. What is wrong with these popular
phrases is not that they start from an everyday conception, but that
they remain content with it, and do not think it out to the end.

Our task, therefore, stated in the most general terms, is to make
actually spiritual a people which is capable of spirituality. And
since spirituality cannot be propped up by any external thrust, by
sermons, newspaper articles, leagues, or propaganda, but must be
associated with life and developed out of life, so the organic process
and the condition of life to which it leads is called Culture.

It is only with deep reluctance and after long search that I have
written down this beautiful word, a word now worn almost beyond
recognition. Can we find our way back to its application and
significance? Even when it is not drawn out with a futile prefix[27]
one can hardly detect its pure meaning by reason of the many
overtones. The school, if possible the university, some French and
English, the rules about I and Me, visiting-cards, shirt-cuffs,
foreign phrases, top-hats, table-manners: these are some of the
overtones that make themselves heard when we talk of a cultured man,
or rather as they have it a cultured gentleman. A hundred years ago,
as the word implies, we understood by culture the unfolding and the
full possession of innate bodily, spiritual and moral forces. In this
sense Goethe showed us the two fraternal figures formed after his own
image: Faust the richer, and the poorer Wilhelm Meister, striving for

The ideal which hovers before us is not one of education, not even one
of knowledge, although both education and knowledge enter into it; it
is an ideal of the Will. It will not be easy to convey the breadth and
the boundless range which we are to attach to this conception. That it
is not an airy figment is clear from the fact that for centuries the
Greeks, with full consciousness, adopted as their highest law (though
directed to a somewhat different end) that impulse of the will which
they called _Kalokagathia_.[28]

From one who has introduced the conception of mechanism into German
thought, who has rescued the conception of the soul from the hands of
the psychologists and brought it back to its primal meaning, who has
written so much about soulless intellectualism, and has put forward
the empire of the soul as the goal of humanity, it is not to be
expected that he should preach any mechanical kind of culture, or
indeed any that it is possible to acquire by learning.

How culture is to be produced we shall see; the first thing necessary
is that it should be willed.

Willed it must be, in a sense and with a strength of purpose and a
force of appreciation of which we to-day, when the ages of faith, of
the Reformation, of the German classics, and the wars of liberation,
lie so far behind us, have no idea at all.

When the current conception of intellectual culture so much prized in
family, society and business life, and tricked out with criticisms of
style, with historical data and incidents of travel is justly
ridiculed, then the will to complete cultivation of the body, the
intellect and the soul of the people must be so strong that all
questions of convenience, of enjoyment, of prestige and of material
interests must sink far into the background. This word must sound so
that all who hear it can look in each other's eyes with a full mutual
understanding and without the slightest sense of ambiguity; just as
they do in Japan when the name of the common head of all families, the
Mikado, is named. There must be one thing in Germany and it must be
this thing, which is altogether out of reach of the yawning, blinking
and grinning scepticism of the coffee-house, and of the belching and
growling of the tavern. Any man who puts this thing aside in favour of
his class-ideas, or his speculations in lard, or his dividends, or the
demands of his Union, must understand that he is doing something as
offensive as if he went out in public without washing himself.

The conception of Culture as our true and unique faculty must be so
profoundly grasped that in public life and legislation it must have
the first word and the last. Though we become as poor as church-mice
we must stake our last penny on this, and tune up our education and
instruction, our models and outlook, our motives and claims, our
achievement and our atmosphere, to so high a point that any one coming
into Germany shall feel that he is entering into a new age.

Society must be penetrated by this conception. Those classes which
already possess something resembling it - such as training, education,
experience, tradition, outlook, good breeding - must pour out with both
hands what they have to dispense; not in the way of endowments,
conventicles, lectures and patronizing visits, but in quiet,
self-sacrificing, personal service.

All this, of course, cannot be done without the free response of the
other side. The devoted attempts which have been made, especially in
England, and for some years with us too, to win this response by long
and unselfish solicitation were destined to remain merely the mission
of individual lives, for they were not supported by the will of the
community as a whole; it rather ran counter to them. A Peace of God
must be proclaimed, not as between the Haves and the Have-nots, not
between the proletariat and the capitalists, not between the so-called
cultured classes and the uncultured, but between those who are ready
for a mutual exchange of experience, a give-and-take of their
tradition on both sides. Not an exchange on business principles, such
as propaganda in satisfaction of demands, or curiosity on one side for
a new pastime on the other, but a covenant. This, however, is only
practicable if the class-war, as an end in itself, is put a stop to.

The great change itself cannot be come by so cheaply; it demands other
assumptions, of which we shall have something to say later. But the
attitude and temper, the recognition of the task, could not be better
introduced than through the mutual service of the two social strata.

We have still at our disposal, handed on from the past, certain
organized methods of investigation and administration. We now need
chairs and institutes of research, not for the trivial business of
popular enlightenment and lectures, but for the study and
investigation of the needs of national culture, the idea which must
now take the place of national defence. We shall have need of central
authorities, not, like the late Ministries of Culture skimping the
scanty endowment of the Board Schools, but doing the work of German
education, progress, and interchange of labour.[29]


[Footnote 24: Black, red and gold were originally the colours of a
students' Corps in Frankfort. They were adopted as the colours of the
abortive German Federation of 1848, apparently under a mistaken idea
that they represented the colours of the ancient Germanic Empire. The
colours of the Empire of 1870 were the Prussian black and white, with
the addition of red.]

[Footnote 25: Geist.]

[Footnote 26: Bildung. It is as difficult in English as it is in
German to render in one word exactly what the author is thinking of.
In its literal sense Bildung implies a shaping and formative action.]

[Footnote 27: Ausbildung.]

[Footnote 28: A harmony of character, compounded of beauty and

[Footnote 29: Arbeitsausgleich. The meaning of this will be apparent


Some decades ago the conscience of middle-class society in England was
stirred. The result was Toynbee Hall and the Settlements-movement,
which afterwards found praiseworthy counterparts in Germany. Society
had begun to understand the wrong which it had done to its brothers,
the proletariat, whom it had robbed of mind, and offered them instead
soul-destroying, mechanical labour. Then choice spirits arose who
dedicated their whole lives to the service of their brothers. This
great and noble work did much to soften pain and hatred, and here and
there many a soul was saved by it; but it could not act as it was
intended to act, because it could not become what it imagined itself
to be.

It ought to have been, and believed itself to be, a simple and obvious
piece of love-service, a pure interchange of spiritual possessions
between class and class, no condescending pity or educative mission.
It was a noble and a splendid error; the movement retained the form of
sacrifice and benefaction. On both sides social feeling was
indifferent to it, or even hostile. What one hand gave, a thousand
others took back; what one hand received, a thousand others rejected.
The collective conscience of a class had never been stirred, it was
merely that the conscience of certain members of upper-class society
had sent out envoys; it had not moved as a body. Individuals were
ready to sacrifice themselves, but the conditions of labour remained

So long as a general wrong is allowed to stand, it gives the lie to
every individual effort. The wrong becomes even more bitter because it
loses its unconsciousness - men know it for wrong, and do not amend it.
For this reason a second movement of importance, that of the People's
High Schools, which has created in Denmark the most advanced
peasant-class in existence, can achieve no social reform in lands
cloven by proletarianism. If in addition to this the High School
movement should depart from its original conception, that of a
temporary community of life between the teachers and the taught, and
should, instead of this, resolve itself into a lecture-institution,
then the danger arises that what is offered will be disconnected
matter, intended for entertainment, and without any basis of real
knowledge, something commonly called half-culture which is worse than
unculture, and is more properly described as misculture.

No work of the charitable type can bring about the reconciliation of
classes or be a substitute for popular education. The reconciliation
of classes, however, even if it were attainable, is by no means our
goal, but rather the abolition of classes, and our ultimate object is
not popular education but popular culture. We do not intend to give
with one hand and take back with the other, we shall not condemn a
brother-people to dullness and quicken a few chosen individuals; no,
we mean to go to the root of the evil, to break down the monopoly of
culture, and to create a new people, united and cultured throughout.

But the root of the trouble lies in the conditions of labour. It is an
idle dream to imagine that out of that soulless subdivision of labour
which governs our mechanical methods of production, the old
handicrafts can ever be developed again. Short of some catastrophic
depopulation which shall restore the mediæval relation between the
area of the soil and the numbers that occupy it, the subdivision of
labour will have to stand, and so long as it stands no man will
complete his job from start to finish - he will only do a section of
it; at best, and assuming the highest mechanical development, it will
be a work of supervision. But mindless and soulless work no man can do
with any joy. The terrible fact about the mechanization of industry is
that productive work, the elementary condition of life, the very form
of existence, which fills more than half of each man's waking day, is
by it made hated and hateful. It degrades the industrious man,
thrilling with energy, into a work-shy slacker - for what else does it
mean that all social conflicts culminate in the demand for a
shortening of the hours of work? For the peasant, the research-worker,
the artist, the working day is never long enough; for the artisan, who
calls himself _par excellence_ a "worker," it can never be too short.

The advance of technical invention will make it possible in the end to
transform all mechanical work into supervision. But the process will
be long and partial, we cannot wait till it is completed, especially

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Online LibraryWalther RathenauThe New Society → online text (page 6 of 9)