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once give and receive; the habits of thought, the methods and the
range of intellectual work which are now only the heritage of a few
will be his own; and the twofold language of the country, the language
of conceptions and the language of things, will for him be one.

There will be no permanent system of stratification; the energies of
the people, rising and falling, will be in constant movement and their
elements will never lose touch. There may be self-tormenting and
unhappily constituted natures who will hate their own dispositions and
the destiny they have shaped for themselves - these aberrations will
never cease so long as men are men - but there will be no more hatred
of class for class, any more than there is in any voluntary
association of artists or of athletes.

And since culture is to be at once the recognized social aim of the
country and the personal goal and standard of each individual, the
struggle for possessions and enjoyments, doubly restrained by public
opinion and by deeper insight, will sink into the background.

But the spirit of the land will not resemble any that we know at
present. As in the Middle Ages, a spiritual power will rule, but it
will not be imposed from without or above, it will be a creation from
within. The competition of all will be like that of the best in the
time of the Renaissance, but it will not be a competition for
conventional values but for the furthering of life. The country will
become, as it was in former days, a generous giver, not, however, from
the lofty eminence of a class set apart, but out of the whole strength
of the people.

Again, for the first time, the convinced and conscious will of a
people will be seen to direct itself to a common and recognized goal.
This is a fact of immeasurable significance, it implies the exercise
of forces which we only discern on the rare mountain-peaks of history,
and of which the last example was the French Revolution.

But those dangers of which we have spoken, that hell of a mechanical
socialism, of institutions and arrangements without sentiment or
spirit, are done away with, for production has ceased to be merely
material and formal, it has acquired absolute value and substance.
Spirit is the only end that sanctifies all means; and it sanctifies
not by justifying them but by purifying them.


[Footnote 31: Vergeistigt werden. It is difficult to render this word
in the sense in which Rathenau uses it; 'intellectualized' does not
say enough, and 'spiritualized' says a little too much.]

[Footnote 32: Assuming that the highest output is reached in the
particular instance which of course will not be the case with every
worker whether in the mechanical or intellectual sphere. The author
appears to be referring to amount, not quality, of output, as the
latter would be covered by the second clause, relating to grade of
culture (Bildungsstufe).]

[Footnote 33: Referring to the shortening of military service which
used to be accorded to recruits of a certain educational standard.]


As the kinsfolk of a dying man comfort themselves in the death-chamber
with every little droop in the curve of temperature, although they
know in their hearts that the hour has come, so our critics flatter
themselves with the idea that in the end all will come right, if not
by itself at least with trifling exertion. But it is not so: except by
the greatest exertion nothing will come right. Our lake-city of
economics and social order is ripe for collapse, for the piles on
which it is built are decayed. It is true that it still stands, and
will be standing for an hour or so, and life goes on in it very much
as in the days when it was sound. We can choose either to leave it
alone, and await the downfall of the city, among whose ruins life will
never bloom again, or we can begin the underpinning of the tottering
edifice, a process which will last for decades, which will allow no
peace to any of us, which will be toilsome and dangerous, and will end
almost imperceptibly, when the ancient city has been transformed into
the new.

Let us have no doubt about it: something tremendous and unprecedented
has to be accomplished here. Does any thinking man believe that when
the social order of the world has collapsed, when a country of the
importance of Germany has lost the very basis of its existence, when
the development of centuries is broken off, its faculties and its
traditions emptied of value and repudiated - does any man really
believe that by means of certain clauses in a Constitution a few
confiscations, socializations and rises in wages, a nation of sixty
millions can be endowed with a new historical reason for existence?
Why is not the negro republic of Liberia ahead of all of us?

Our character is weak on the side of will, and our former lords say
that we are good for nothing except under strict discipline
administered by dynasts and hereditary nobles. If that is true, it is
all over with us; unless some dictator shall take pity on us and give
us a modest place among the nations with a great past and a small
future. If we are worthy of our name we must be born again of the
Spirit. Merely to conceive this is in itself an achievement for a
people; to carry it out, to embody the conception in a new order of
society, is at once a test and an achievement.

Our social ethics must take up a new position. Hitherto - stripping off
the usual rhetorical phrases - it has taken its stand on two effective
and really driving principles, those of Duty and of Success; two
side-views of Individualism. All else, including love of one's
neighbour, sense of solidarity, faith, spiritual cultivation, feeling
for Nature, was (apart from a few lofty spirits) merely subsidiary;
means to an end, convention or falsehood. There were few whose
careers were not influenced by these estimates; the majority of the
upper classes was wholly under their dominion.

The two goals of our wishes, to have something and to be something,
were expressed by the whole outward aspect of society. The great
object was not to be counted as a Tom, Dick or Harry, one who had
less, or was less, than others. There were grades of being, grades of
human being: it was possible to be something, to be much, to be
little, or to be nothing at all. From the white collar to the pearl
necklace, from the good nursery to the saloon car, from the
watch-ribbon to the sword-belt, from the place at the ordinary to the
title of Excellency, everything was a proof of what one had, or was,
or believed oneself to be. If one did not know a man one must not
speak to him; if one knew him, one might borrow a hundred marks from
him, but one must not ask him for a penny. Whoever had wealth
displayed it in order to be admired; whoever had a social position
displayed his unapproachability and the weight of his dignity, as, for
instance, when with an absent look and lost in the burden of his own
existence he entered a dining-hall. From inferiors one demanded a
degrading attitude and forms of speech, and presented to them a face
of stone; towards those in higher position one came to life and
displayed an attentive civility. It was - or shall we say
is? - permissible to lavish in an hour the monthly income of a poor
family. "One had it to spend" and "what business was it of theirs?" In
the lower ranks there was much of genuine revolt against these abuses
and also much envy and malice, much open imitation, and much of secret
admiration. Every silly craze was cheapened in hideous imitations, the
suburb and the village made a display which in quality, indeed, fell
below the model, but in quantity not at all.

It may be said that these were excrescences or city fashions; that one
must not generalize. These are empty phrases. To understand the spirit
of a society it is not hermits that one must study. And, moreover, let
any one ask himself whether this society was really based on the idea
of solidarity and human friendliness or upon unscrupulous personal
interests and exploitation, on shows and shams, on the demand for
service and the claim to command. If anything can explain the
eagerness with which we Germans flung ourselves into a war whose
origins we did not know and did not want to know, then besides the
conscious objects, advantage, rehabilitation, and renown, we must also
take into account the obscure impulse of the national conscience which
in the midst of evil individualism and of personal and class egoism
yearned for the sense of solidarity and fusion.

Is it objected that all this lies deeply rooted in human nature, that
it has been there from time immemorial, and it is impossible to alter
it at one stroke? Pedantic drivel! Many things lie deep in human
nature, and it depends on which of these the will chooses to develop.
And who talked of altering things at one stroke? Our judgment of
values is to be transformed, and if human nature never changed, much
that now flaunts itself in the sunshine would be creeping in the
shade. This transformation of judgment is a matter of recognizing
things for what they are. When pomp, extravagance, exclusiveness,
frivolity and fastness, greed, place-hunting and vulgar envy are
looked on with the same eyes as aberrations in other provinces of
life, then we shall not indeed have abolished all vice, but the
atmosphere will be purified. Look at our sturdy Socialists of the
November days[34] and proselytes of every description: you can see
that the acquisition of a new judgment of values may be the affair of
an hour! And for that reason one must not criticize them too
closely - unless they try to make a profit out of their conversion.

All social judgments presuppose a system of recognized values. The
values of Christian ethics have never penetrated deeply into the
collective judgment of mankind; even in the mediæval bloom of
Christian, or rather of ecclesiastical, culture the moral conceptions
of Christianity remained the possession of a few chosen spirits and
communities; society in general accepted the mythical element, did
homage to the hierarchy, and remained ethically pagan, the upper
classes being guided by a code of honour resting on the worship of
courage. The Churches never made any serious effort to shape an
ethical code; they were preoccupied with the teaching of dogmas of
faith which carried them ever farther and farther from the groundwork
of the Gospels, and they devoted whatever surplus energies they had to
politics, and to accommodations with the ruling powers of the world.

The cult of courage imposed on and exercised by the ruling classes,
and symbolically imaged in their code of honour, took an effective
shape in the banning of cowardice and of cowardly crime. So far as
positive values go, the ethics of nobility degenerated into smartness,
the claim for "satisfaction" and the exclusiveness of rank; a Prussian
and Kantian abstraction, the conception of duty, a conception at
bottom unproved and incapable of generating conviction, became a rule
of life, made effective by training and control. The ruling powers and
their controls have given way, and their dry brittleness is revealed.

We have not succeeded in finding a substitute for social ethics in an
idealized type of national character. The imagination of the Western
nations, like those of antiquity, has shaped ideal types which they
believe or would wish themselves to resemble; they know what they mean
by "esprit gaulois," or "English character," or "American Democracy,"
while, in accordance with the problematic character of our being, we
Germans, except for the statuesque heroes of legendary times, or
certain historic but inimitable figures, have conceived or poetically
created no character of which we can say that it embodies the
collective spirit of Germany.

The super-ethical doctrine of the being, the growth and the empire of
the soul has been laid down by us, but there are as yet few into whose
consciousness it has penetrated; the transformation of thought and
feeling which must proceed from it will not lay hold of the masses
directly, but will filter continually from one social stratum to

The recognized values of social judgment! It sounds so abstract, so
remote from practice, that one might well believe we were landed again
in the cloudland of festal oratory and the emotions of the leading
article. The voluntary recognition of an invisible authority! And this
after we have shattered the visible, and are living in the midst of
intellectual anarchy and moral Nihilism! And yet moral valuations,
simple, binding, and on the level of social judgment, are near enough
to be within our grasp.

Are not all the four quarters of the world to-day talking about
Democracy? Have not we ourselves got tired of this word, forbidden
till a year ago - tired, even in circles where the modest word
"Liberal" was never pronounced without a frown? And what does
Democracy mean? Do we take it in the merely negative sense, that one
is no longer obliged to put up with things? Or in the meagre sense,
that responsibility goes by favour, and that the majority must decide?
Or the dubious sense, that we are yearning to make our way through a
sham Socialism to the Dollar Republic?

It is not the form of government, it is the form of society, that
determines the spirit of a land. There is no democratic form of
society, for democracy can be in league with capitalism, with
socialism, or even with the class of clubs and castes. The unspoken
fundamental conception which gives significance and stability both to
the forms of a democratic constitution and to those of an organic
society is called Solidarity - that is to say, cohesion and the sense
of community. Solidarity means that each man does not come first in
his own eyes, but before God and State and himself each man must stand
and be answerable for all, and all for each.

In this sense of solidarity the dominion of the majority over the
minority is not an object to be striven for but an evil to be avoided;
the true object of a solid democracy is the dominion of a people over
itself, not by reckoning up the relative strength of its various
interests, but by virtue of the spirit and of the will which it sets
free. In this sense of solidarity no society can be based on
hereditary monopolies either of capital or of cultivation; nor can it
be delivered over to the terrorism of vocations and unions which,
under the leaderships of shouters, claim the right whenever they
please, to strangle indispensable industries; nor can it be based on
demagogic flattery of excitable mobs. Every born man must from his
cradle onwards have the same right to existence; he must be sheltered
and fostered as he grows up, and be free to choose his lot. Every
occupation must be open to him, except that he must not encroach on
the sphere of another man's liberty. The standard of his activity is
not to be fixed by birth or privilege or force or cunning or the glib
tongue, but again, by spirit and by will.

To-day, while cultivation of the spirit is still a class-monopoly, it
cannot form any standard of creative capacity. And yet it has been
demonstrated that so powerful is the passion for culture in a spirit
which is in any degree qualified for it, that even to-day it is
capable, by self-education, of surmounting some of the artificial
barriers. There was not, to my knowledge, any illiterate among the
Prussian or German Ministers of the new era, and the one of them who
excused his deficiencies of language with the class-monopoly of
education was in the wrong, for any man of normal capacity might in
ten years' practice of popular oratory have learned the elements of

When access to the cultivation of the German spirit has become a
common right of the whole people, Culture will become, if not the sign
at least the presupposition of creative activity. The proof of
capacity will then cease to be settled either between agitators and
the masses, or in the dimness of privileged chanceries, but in the
productive competition of men of high intellectual endowment.

Society will not be divided by classes and castes, it will not be
graded according to pedigree or possessions, it will not be ruled by
separate interests; by ideas or by the masses; it will be an ordered
body - ordered by spirit, by will, by service and responsibility.

Any one who does not accept this self-created and self-renewing order,
and who at the same time rejects the old, is simply working for the
dominion of force and chance. A society can no more remain permanently
without order than the staff of a factory or the crew of a ship. Only
instead of an organic order we may have an accidental and arbitrary,
an order of the personal type, springing from the dexterity shown in
some favourable moment, maintaining itself by force, and seeking to
perpetuate itself in some form of hereditary oligarchy.

An order of the priestly and hierarchical type is no longer thinkable
to-day, nor can one of the peasant type come into question in a land
of urban industry. Whoever wishes to see an organic self-determining
and self-regenerating order of society, has therefore to choose
between the military order, resting upon disciplined bodily capacity,
or the mercantile and capitalist order which rests upon business-sense
and egoistic alertness, or the demagogic order which rests upon the
rhetorical domination of the masses, and does not last long as it soon
turns to violence and oligarchy, or finally the order of culture,
resting upon spirit, character, and education.

This last is not merely the only suitable one for us and the only one
which is worthy of our past; it will also in time become the general
order of society prevailing over all the world. In the vision of this
order we recognize the mission that Prussia neglected, though it lay
within its grasp for a hundred years; what it neglected and the rock
on which it foundered.

The greatness of Prussian policy since 1713 lay in its premonition and
appreciation of the principle of mechanism even before it became
common to all the world. Organization and improvement, the war machine
and money, science, practicality and conscientiousness - all this is
clearly mechanization seen from the political side.

The early application of these principles was a stroke of genius far
in advance of the then condition of the world. Seen from this
standpoint, all the rest of the continental world, not yet mechanized,
and burdened with the relics of mediævalism, Cæsarism and clericalism,
seemed torpid and lost in illusions: arbitrary, inaccurate and
slovenly. With short interruptions this Prusso-central point of view
was maintained until the middle of the World-War; and not quite
unjustly, for Prussia remained in every respect ahead of other powers
in the department of mechanization.

For a hundred years the Prussian principles had a monopoly of success;
elsewhere they were scarcely understood and much less imitated. Then
came Napoleon.

He took over the mechanistic principle and handled it as never a man
had done before; he became the mechanizer of the world. At the same
time he was something mightier than that: he was the heir of the
French idea of spiritual and popular liberty.

Prussia fell, and would have fallen, even if its mechanism had not
grown rusty. Its leaders learnt their lessons from France and England,
they set on foot a liberation of the people by departmental authority
and a liberation of the spirit by the people; they put new life into
the mechanism, and they conquered with the help of England as we have
lately seen France conquer with the help of America.

But here came a parting of the ways. It was possible to pursue either
the way of mechanization or that of the liberation of the spirit.
Prussia did neither; it stood still. In the place of the liberation of
the spirit came the reaction; in the place of mechanization came the
bureaucracy. On the rest of the Continent, too, the movement for
political mechanization was stifled, the force that stifled it being
the uprising economic movement.

Bismarck was aware of the untried forces that lay in the system of
political mechanization. The world, as we looked at it from our
Prussian window, seemed as loose and slovenly as ever, and it was so.
Once again, with a mighty effort, the Prussian mechanism was revived
and the movement of the bourgeoisie towards liberty and the life of
the spirit was repressed. This was called "realism" in politics, and
the estimate was a just one. There was no progress to be made with
professional Liberalism; but with Krupp and Roon one organized
victories. As in Frederick's time the slovenly Continent had to give
way, Prussia mounted to the climax of her fortunes, and won Germany.

And again there was a parting of the ways; but this time there was no
one to stand for civic and spiritual freedom. People believed they had
all they wanted of it; democracy was discredited and broken, the
professors were political realists, success followed the side of
mechanization, which was rightly supposed to be linked with the
dynasty, and mechanization in the economic sphere drew to its side the
hope of gain.

Bismarck died in the midst of anxieties, but to the end he had no
scruples. The two systems of mechanization were at their zenith, and
the other countries looked, in political affairs, as slovenly as ever.
One was wearing itself out in parliamentary conflicts, another had no
battle-cruisers, another was lacking in cannon, or in recruits, or in
railways, or in finances; the trains never came in up to time,
everywhere one found public opinion or the Press interfering in
process of law or in the administration, everywhere there were
scandals; in Prussian Germany alone was everything up to the mark.

Only one thing was overlooked. The mechanization of economics had
become a common possession for everybody. Starting from this and with
the methods and experiences attached to it, it was possible also for
other countries, if necessary, to mechanize their politics or, as we
say now, to militarize them. And this could be done with even more
life and vigour than in Prussia, whose organization was there
believed to be inimitable and where the principle of mechanism was, as
it were, stored up in tins and in some places was obviously getting
mouldy. In the matter of Freedom, however, the other peoples were
ahead of us, and to the political isolation of Prussia spiritual
isolation was now added.

In the encircling fog which prevailed on economic developments there
was not a single statesman who recognized that Prussian principles had
ceased to be a monopoly, or an advantage, not to mention a conception
of genius. This lack of perception was the political cause of the war.
Instead of renewing ourselves inwardly through freedom and the spirit,
and carrying on a defensive policy as quietly, discreetly, and
inconspicuously as possible, we took to arming and hurrahing. Worse
than any playing of false notes was the mistake we made in key and in
tempo: D major, _Allegro_, _Marcia_, _Fortissimo_, with cymbals and

To-day we have no longer a choice before us, only a decision. The
period of mechanical Prussianization is over for us, the period of the
mechanical policy of Force is over for all the world, although the
heliographs of Versailles seem to reflect it high above the horizon.
It is not a capitalistic Peace of God as imagined by the international
police which has now begun; it is the social epoch. In this epoch the
people will live and will range themselves according to the strength
of the ideas which they stand for.

It is not enough for us to become Germans instead of Prussians; not
even if, as it were to be desired, we should succeed in rescuing from
the collapse of Prussia her genuine virtues of practicality, order and
duty. It is not enough to brew some soulless mixture out of the
worn-out methods of the Western bourgeoisie and the unripe attempts of
Eastern revolutionaries. It is not enough - no, it will lead us to
destruction quicker than any one believes - to blunder along with the
disgusting bickerings of interests and the complacent narrowness of
officialism, talking one day of the rate of exchange, another of our
debts, and the next of the food question, plugging one hole with the
stopping of another and lying down at night with a sigh of relief:
Well, something's got done; all will come right.

No, unthinking creatures that you are; nothing will come right until
you drop your insincere chatter, your haggling, your agitating and
compromising, and begin to think. Here is a people that has lost the

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Online LibraryWalther RathenauThe New Society → online text (page 8 of 9)