Part 1, Chapter 13 : Romanticism and Nationalism
Part 1, Chapter 13
13. Romanticism and Nationalism
Cultural nationalism appears in its purest form when people are subjected to a foreign rule, and for this reason cannot pursue their own plans for political power. In this event, "national thought" prefers to busy itself with the culture-building activities of the people and tries to keep the national consciousness alive by recollections of vanished glory and past greatness. Such comparisons between a past which has already become legend and a slavish present make the people doubly sensitive to the injustice suffered; for nothing affects the spirit of man more powerfully than tradition. But if such groups of people succeed sooner or later in shaking off the foreign yoke and themselves appear as a national power, then the cultural phase of their effort steps only too definitely into the background, giving place to the sober reality of their political objectives. In the recent history of the various national organisms in Europe created after the war are found telling witnesses for this.
In Germany, also, the national strivings both before and after the "wars of liberation" were strongly influenced by romanticism, whose advocates tried to make the traditions of a vanished age live again among the people and to make the past appear to them in a glorified light. When, later, the last hopes which the German patriots had rested on liberation from the foreign yoke had burst like over-blown bubbles, their spirits sought refuge in the moonlit magic night and the fairy world of dreamy longing conjured up for them by romanticism, in order to forget the gray reality of life and its shameful disappointments.
In culture-nationalism, as a rule, two distinct sentiments merge, which really have nothing in common: for home sentiment is not patriotism, is not love of the state, not love which has its roots in the abstract idea of the nation. It needs no labored explanation to prove that the spot of land on which a man has spent the years of his youth is deeply intergrown with his profoundest feeling. The impressions of childhood and early youth which are the most permanent and have the most lasting effect upon his soul. Home is, so to speak, man's outer garment; he is most intimately acquainted with its every fold and seam. This home sentiment brings in later years some yearning after a past long buried under ruins; and it is this which enables the romantic to look so deeply within.
With so-called "national consciousness" this home sentiment has no relationship; although both are often thrown into the same pot and, after the manner of counterfeiters, given out as of the same value. In fact, true home sentiment is destroyed at its birth by "national consciousness," which always strives to regulate and force into a prescribed form every impres-sion man receives from the inexhaustible variety of the homeland. This is the unavoidable result of those mechanical efforts at unification which are in reality only the aspirations of the nationalistic states.
The attempt to replace man's natural attachment to the home by a dutiful love of the state-a structure which owes its creation to all sorts of accidents and in which, with brutal force, elements have been welded together that have no necessary connection-is one of the most grotesque phenomena of our time. The so-called "national consciousness" is nothing but a belief propagated by considerations of political power which have replaced the religious fanaticism of past centuries and have today come to be the greatest obstacle to cultural development. The love of home has nothing in common with the veneration of an abstract patriotic concept. Love of home knows no "will to power"; it is free from that hollow and dangerous attitude of superiority to the neighbor which is one of the strongest characteristics of every kind of nationalism. Love of home does not engage in practical politics nor does it seek in any way to support the state. It is purely an inner feeling as freely manifested as man's enjoyment of nature, of which home is a part. When thus viewed, the home feeling compares with the governmentally ordered love of the nation as does a natural growth with an artificial substitute.
The impulse of German romanticism came from France. Rousseau's slogan, "back to nature," his conscious revolt against the spirit of enlightenment, his strong emphasis on the purely sentimental as against the clever systematic thought of rationalism, found beyond the Rhine also a notable response-especially in Herder to whom the romantics, nearly all of whom had been formerly in the camp of the enlightenment, were strongly obligated. Herder himself was no romantic. His view was too clear, his spirit too unroiled for him to enthuse over the romantic concept of the "purposelessness of all events." But his disinclination to everything systematic, his joy in the primordialness of things, his conception of the inner relationship of the human soul with all Mother Nature and, most of all, his deep sympathy and feeling of understanding for the spiritual culture of foreign people and past ages, brought him very close to the representatives of romanticism. In fact, the great service rendered by the romantics through their introduction of foreign literatures, their rediscovery of the German legends and folklore, can largely be traced to the inspiration of Herder, who showed them the way.
But Herder in all his thinking viewed mankind as a whole. He saw, as Heine so beautifully said, "all mankind as a great harp in the hands of a great master." Every people was for him a string, and from the harmonious union of the sounds of all the strings arose for him life's eternal melodies. Swept along by this thought he enjoyed the endless variety of the life of the people and followed with loving interest every manifestation of their cultural activity. He knew of no chosen people and had for the Negro and the Mongolian the same understanding as for the members of the white race. When one reads what he had to say concerning a plan for a "Natural History of Mankind in a purely Human Sense" one gets the impression that he had foreseen the absurdities of our modern race theoreticians and nationalistic fetish worshipers.
The Romantic School believed in a "verlorene Heimat," a lost home, a past condition of spiritual perfection in which the oneness of life they were striving for was once existent. Since then there had occurred a sort of fall into sin. Mankind had gotten into a chaos of hostile segregation, so that the inner communion of the individual members was destroyed and each one was set up as a distinct part and lost his deeper relation to the whole. The attempts again to unite men into a whole have so far led to merely mechanical union, lacking the inner impulse of individual growth and purity. Hence, they have only increased the evil and destroyed the gaily colored variety of internal and external vital relations. In this respect France was for the romantics a repellent example, because there for centuries men had striven to embed every manifestation of life in a spiritless political centralism which falsified the primordial meaning of social relations and intentionally deprived them of their true character.
According to the romantic conception, the lost unity could not be restored by external means; it had rather to grow out of man's inner spiritual urge and then gradually to ripen. The romantics were firmly convinced that in the soul of the people the memory of that state of former perfection still slumbered. But that inner source had been choked and had first to be freed again before the silent intuition could once more become alive in the minds of men. So they searched for the hidden sources and lost themselves ever deeper in the mystic dusk of a past age whose strange magic had intoxicated their minds. The German medieval age with its colorful variety and its inexhaustible power of creation was for them a new revelation. They believed themselves to have found there that unity of life which humanity had lost. Now the old cities and the Gothic cathedrals spoke a special language and testified to that "verlorene Heimat" on which the longing of romanticism spent itself. The Rhine with its legend-rich castles, its cloisters and mountains, became Germany's sacred stream; all the past took on a new character, a glorified meaning.
Thus there gradually developed a sort of cultural nationalism whose inner import culminated in the thought that the Germans, because of their splendid past, which was now to be reborn among the people, were destined to bring to sick humanity the longed-for healing. Thus the Germans became in the eyes of the romantics the chosen people of the present age, selected by Providence itself to fulfill a divine mission. This thought occurs again and again in Fichte, whose philosophical idealism, together with the nature philosophy of Schelling, had the strongest influence on the romantics. Fichte had called the Germans an "Urvolk," a primary people, for whom alone man's final redemption was reserved. What originally had sprung from the pious enthusiasm of an overintense poetic mood, and as such was rather harmless, assumed with Fichte the character of that construed antagonism which is at the base of all nationalism and already carries within itself the dragon's teeth of national hatred. From assumed national superiority to vilification and disparagement of everything foreign, it is as a rule but a step, which, especially in times of agitation, is very easily taken.
If the Germans were indeed an "Urvolk" as Fichte maintained and as others have repeated after him, a people which had more of the "verlorene Heimat" feeling than all other people, then no other nation could rival them or could even endure comparison with them. To maintain this contention to give the real or imaginary distinctions between them the meaning one desires, one is forced to conceive peoples as categories, not to take them as individuals. Thus began the work of idle speculation and construction, in which Fichte especially has achieved the extraordinary. For him the Germans were the only people who had character: "To have character and to be German are indubitably synonymous." From this it naturally follows that other peoples, and especially the French, have no character. It was discovered that there is no French equivalent for the word "Gemut." Whereby it was proved that God had endowed only the Germans with so noble a gift.
From this and similar premises, Fichte gradually reaches the extremest conclusions: since the Frenchman has no Gemut his mind is set solely on the sensual and the material, things naturally antagonistic to the inner chastity of the German so richly endowed with Gemut. To Gemut is due the "uniform honesty and loyalty" of the Germans. Only where Gemut is lacking are cunning and guile at the bottom of the soul, qualities which the Germans freely leave to other people. True religion has its roots in the depths of the Gemut. This explains why among the French that "spirit of enlightenment" had to develop which finally culminated in the crassest free thought and infidelity. The German, however, grasped the spirit of Christianity in its whole profundity, giving it a special meaning appropriate to its innermost essence.
Fichte also spoke of the "Ursprache," the primitive speech of the Germans, meaning by this "a language which from the first sound uttered by this people has without a break developed from the actual common life of the people." Thus he reached the conclusion that only among an "Urvolk" possessing an "Ursprache" does intellectual growth penetrate life. Among other people, who have forgotten their Ursprache and have adopted a foreign language (to these of course belonged first of all the French), mental development and life each go their separate ways. From this assumption Fichte deduced certain political and social consequences in the life of a people; as when in his fourth Address to the German Nation he says: "In a nation of the first category the whole people are educable. The educators of such test their discoveries on the people and try to influence them. Whereas in a nation of the second category the educated classes separate themselves from the people and use the latter only as blind tools for the accomplishment of their plans."
This arbitrary assertion, whose nonsense is disputed every hour by life itself, is today the subject of most curious commentaries and is proclaimed to the German youth as the profoundest wisdom of the fathers. The higher one elevates one's own nation, the poorer and the more meaningless must everything else appear compared with it. All creative gift even is denied to others. Thus, Fichte maintains of the French "that they cannot raise themselves to the idea of freedom and of the legal state because by their system of thought they have missed the concept of personal values and cannot understand at all how other men or people can will or even think such a thing."  Of course only Germans were chosen for freedom because they had Gemut and were an "Urvolk." Unfortunately, we hear today so often and so obtrusively of "German freedom" and "German loyalty" that we have become somewhat suspicious-for the Third Reich gives us none too clear a picture of what this alleged freedom and loyalty really consist of.
Most of the men who played leading parts in the nationalist movement in Germany before and after 1813 were rooted deeply in the spirit of romanticism; and from its descriptions of The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation of medieval times, of the legendary world of ancient Germany, and of the magic of the native soil their patriotism drew rich nourishment. Arndt, Jahn, Gorres, Schenkendorf, Schleiermacher, Kleist, Eichendorff, Gentz, Korner, were deeply imbued with romantic ideas; even Stein as he became older came ever more deeply under their influence. They dreamed of the return of the old realm of Austria's imperial banner. Only a few of them, with Fichte, saw in the king of Prussia the "Zwingherr zur Deutschheit," the compeller towards Germanism, and believed that Prussia was destined to establish the unity of the realm.
With most of these men the nationalistic idea reached its logical conclusion. It had begun as an enticing nostalgia for the "verlorene Heimat" and a poetic glorifying of the German past. Later, they got the idea of the great historical mission of the Germans; they made comparisons between the various peoples and their own and used for the embellishment of their own so much paint that there was hardly anything left for the others. The end was a fierce hatred of the French and an idiotic exaltation of Germanism which frequently bordered on mental aberration.
The same development can, however, be observed in every kind of nationalism, whether it be German, Polish or Italian; the only difference being that the "hereditary enemy" has for each nation a different name. Let no one say that it was the harsh experience of foreign rule and war, releasing all the worst passions in man, that led the German patriots to such one-sided and hate-filled modes of thought. What then, and also after the "wars of liberation," proclaimed itself as German patriotism, was "more than a justified uprising against the foreign yoke; it was an open declaration of war against the character, the language and the spiritual culture of a neighboring people who-as Goethe said-belonged to "the most cultivated on earth," and to whom he himself "owed a great part of his education."
Arndt, who was one of the most influential men in the patriotic revolt against Napoleon's rule in Germany, knew actually no limits in his morbid hatred of the French:
Ludwig Jahn, who after Fichte's death became the spiritual leader of German youth and was regarded by it with almost divine veneration, carried Francophobia and nationalistic craze so far that he got on the nerves even of his patriotic fellow fighters. Stein called him a "grimacing, conceited fool" and Arndt a "purified Eulenspiegel." Jahn suspected everything and smelled everywhere foreign customs and French folly. Reading the biography of this peculiar saint one gets the impression of seeing in the "bearded ancient" an earlier pioneer of modern Hitlerism. His rude, presumptuous speech, his incredible arrogance, his hollow boasting, his delight in tying ideas into knots, his violent temper, his bold obtrusiveness, and most of all his boundless intolerance, which respected no other opinion and reviled every thought not in agreement with his own as un-German-all this makes him the ancestor of the present National Socialism.
Jahn really had no political ideas of his own. What mostly appealed to him was not medieval Germany, but primitive Germany; there he was at home, fairly wallowing in German primordialness. He proposed to create between Germany and France, a Hamme, a barrier, a sort of primitive forest filled with bisons and other wild beasts. A special frontier guard was to see to it that no intercourse whatever should take place between the two countries, so that German youth might not be contaminated by French rottenness. In his crazy hatred of France Jahn went so far as to preach publicly: "It comes to the same thing if one teaches his daughters French or trains them for whores." In the brain of this strange prophet everything became perverted and distorted; most of all, the German language, which he frightfully mistreated with his wild, fanatical "purification."
For all that, Jahn enjoyed not only the boundless admiration of German youth, but Jena University gave him an honorary doctor's degree and compared his tiresome boasting with Luther's eloquence. A distinguished philologist like Thiersch dedicated his German translation of Pindar to him, and Franz Passow, professor of Greek Literature at Weimar, declared that since Luther nothing so excellent had been written as Jahn's Teutsche Turnkunst ("German gymnastics"). If the present Germany were not such a repellent example of how, under the pressure of special circumstances, a brainless phraseology supported by complicated illogic can impress wide sections of the nation and force them in a special direction, the influence of a confused mind like Jahn's would be difficult to understand. That this man could be accepted by German youth as Fichte's successor can only be explained by the low mental level of the younger generation itself. Even such a thoroughly nationalistic historian as Treitschke remarks in his German History: "It amounted to a social disease that the sons of an enlightened people could venerate a noisy barbarian as their teacher."
But this came about simply because the narrow-minded Germanism which became the fashion in Germany after the wars of liberation had to lead to mental barbarism. The morbid mania of Auserwahltheit, of "electness," necessarily led to intellectual estrangement from all general culture of the time and to a total misconception of all human relations. It was a time when the spirit of Lessing and Herder could no longer inspire the young generation; when Goethe lived beside, but not in, the nation. What resulted from it was the specific German patriotism which, according to Heine, consists in this, that in its supporters "the heart becomes narrower and shrinks like leather in cold weather; that they hate everything foreign; that they no longer wish to be citizens of the world, no longer Europeans, but only narrow Germans."
It is absurd to see in the men of 1813 the guardians of freedom; not one of them was moved by real libertarian ideas. Almost every one of them had his roots in a long-past age which could no longer open new outlooks for the present. This applies also to the Burschenschaft, the Students' League, whose shameful suppression by the victorious reaction is probably the main reason why even today it is praised for its libertarian activities. No one will deny that the Burschenschaft had idealistic features; but this is no proof that it had a libertarian mind. Its Christian-German mysticism, its grotesque rejection of all that is called "foreign custom" and "foreign spirit," its anti-Semitic tendencies which had been from of old in Germany the heritage of all reactionary movements, and the general confusion of its views-all these fitted it to be the champion of a mystical faith in which elements of the most diverse conceptions mingled in motley patchwork; not to be the banner-bearer of a new future. When after Kotzebue's murder by the student, Karl Sand, reaction dealt a destructive blow, and the infamous Carlsbad Resolutions suppressed all leagues of youth, the Burschenschaft could confront Metternich's creatures with nothing but those helpless and submissive verses of Binzer which end with the words:
And God has endured it. His wish-who's been told?
The house it may fall; as fall it needs must;
The spirit lives in us, and God is our trust.
Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Steffens, Tieck, Adam Muller, Brentano, Fouque, Zacharias Werner, and many others, were swept away by the reactionary flood. Hundreds of young artists made pilgrimages to Rome and returned to the bosom of the Catholic Church, which was then reaping a good harvest. It was a very witches' sabbath of mad fanaticism and ardent rage for conversion which, however, lacked the inner vigor of conviction of medieval man. This was the end of that cultural nationalism which had commenced as a burning longing for the "verlorene Heimat" and ended in the slough of the deepest reaction. Georg Brandes did not exaggerate when he said:
The reactionary core of German romanticism is at once apparent from its view concerning the state, which traced directly back to theoretical absolutism. Novalis had begun by endowing the state with a special individual life of its own, treating it as a "mystic individual" and concluding that "the perfected citizen lives wholly in the state." But only that kind of man can live wholly in the state who is wholly filled by the state. Such a concept is naturally not in harmony with the liberal ideas of the period of enlightenment; it is their self-evident antithesis.
Adam Muller, the real state-theoretician of romanticism, most decidedly opposed the "Chimera of natural rights" upon which most of the ideas of liberalism are based. In his Elements of Statecraft he most em-phatically opposes the liberal concept, of which the most prominent representative in Germany had been Wilhelm von Humboldt, maintaining that "the state is not only a manufacturing, farming, and insurance institution or mercantile society," but "the most intimate union of the collective physical and spiritual wealth, the whole inner and outer life of a nation in one great energetic, infinitely active and living whole." Consequently, the state could never be the means for any special or definite end, as liberalism conceived it to be; it was rather, in its highest form, an end in itself, an end sufficient for itself, having its roots in the union of law, nationality and religion. If it often appeared as if the state was serving some special task, this, according to Muller's concept, was only an optical illusion of the theoreticians; in reality the state serves only itself and is not a means for anyone.
Karl Ludwig von Haller's shallow and shameless patchwork with the long-winded title Restoration of Statecraft, or the Theory of the Natural Social State as Opposed to the Chimera of the Artificial Bourgeois State, was only a crude and lifeless repetition of the same ideas. But with Haller the reactionary trend is much more openly and demonstrably apparent. Haller on principle rejected the thought that civil society could have arisen from a written or unwritten contractual relation between the citizen and the state. The natural condition out of which all institutions of political society had gradually arisen is synonymous with the divine order, the origin of all things. The first outcome of this primal condition was, how ever, that the strong ruled over all others, from which it is apparent that all power springs from a natural law founded in divine order. The mighty one rules, founds the state, declares the law-and all on the basis of his strength and superiority. The power he possesses is a gift from God and, coming from God, it is for that reason inviolable. From this it follows that the king is not the servant of the state, but must be its master. State and people are his property, a legitimate legacy received from God wherewith to do as he pleases. If the king is unjust and harsh, this is certainly unfortunate for the subjects, but it does not justify their effecting a change by themselves. All that remains for them to do in such a case is to call on God to enlighten the ruler and guide him on the right way.
One can understand how thoroughly such a doctrine must have satisfied the crowned heads. Haller more especially pleased the Prussian crown prince, later Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who has been called "the romantic on the king's throne." Hegel's deification of the state was but a further step in the same direction and found such ready acceptance in Germany for the reason that the state concept of the romantics had smoothed the way for his ideas.
The one superior mind among the romantics, who even here went his own way, was the Catholic philosopher, Franz von Baader, whose diary contains a mass of profound reflections concerning state and society. Baader, who based his doctrine on man's original purity, most strenuously opposed Kant's concept of "innate evil" and especially fought the mania of government which smothers man's noblest talents and makes him incapable of any independent action. For this reason he praised anarchy as a healing force of nature against despotism because it compels men to stand on their own feet. Baader compared man infantilised by government to the fool who thought he could not walk until a conflagration taught him the use of his legs.
Hence, neither romanticism nor its immediate practical result, the newly created national movement leading to the wars of liberation, could give Germany new spiritual outlooks for the free development of her tribes and peoples. On the contrary, the state-philosophical concepts of the, romantic school only served reaction as a moral justification, while the absurd super-Germanism of German youth estranged all other peoples. And the strange thing happened that many of the advocates of the German national idea never realized that they owed their apparent liberation not to their German exclusiveness, but to those very "foreign influences" against which their "Germanism" fought with such Berserker rage. Neither Jahn's "acorn-eating Germanism" with its enthusiasm for the primitive forest nor Arndt's romantic dreams of a new German order of knighthood on the western front, nor the nostalgic call of the imperial herald, Schenkendorf, for a glorious return of the old empire, could have brought about Napoleon's downfall. It was the effect of foreign ideas and institutions taken over from abroad which accomplished this miracle. To shake off the foreign rule Germany had to accept at least a part of the ideas which the French revolution had called into life. The very fact that it was a "people's war" before which Napoleon's power bled to death proves how deeply democratic ideas had already penetrated into Germany; for at the root of all national exaltation lies consciously or unconsciously a democratic thought. It was this form of warfare which had enabled France to maintain itself against the whole of Europe. Hence the German princes, and more especially Austria, were almost to the last the bitterest opponents of a national uprising, behind which they saw the hydra of revolution lurking. They even feared with Gentz "that the national war of liberation might easily change into a liberating war." The establishment of the militia, indeed the whole army organization instituted by Scharnhorst in Prussia, was after the French pattern. But for this the French would still have been equal to their opponents even after the frightful catastrophe in Russia.
The idea of national education which had been brought so prominently into the foreground by Fichte, the universal military service, the legal compulsion which obligated the citizen to accept a definite office or perform definite duties as demanded by the state, and much else, were likewise taken over from the democratic teachings of the great revolution. German patriotism accepted this foreign intellectual property believing it to be of original German manufacture. This happened to Jahn, who wished to cleanse the German language with an iron broom of all foreign elements and never noticed that in the formation of the "original German" word "turnen" a Latin root is used.
The German unification movements of 1813 and r848-49 were wrecked in both instances because of the treason of the German princes; but when the unification of the empire was brought about in 1871 by a Prussian junker the sober reality looked quite different from the brilliant dream that had once been dreamed. This was not the "return of the old empire" which had so stirred the yearnings of the romantics. Compared to that empire Bismarck's creation was but "as a Berlin barracks is to a Gothic cathedral"-as the South German federalist, Frantz, dramatically declared. Just as little was it like the liberal conceptions of a free Germany which was to lead the European family of nations in spiritual culture-as Hoffmann von Fallersleben and the pioneer fighters for German unity of 1848 had once prophesied. No, this misshapen political brat, got by a Prussian junker, was nothing more than a greater Prussia come to power, which had changed Germany into a gigantic barracks and with its insane militarism and its definite aims of world political power now assumed the same fateful role which Bonaparte had up to that time played in Europe. The very fact that it was just Prussia, the most reactionary and in its cultural history the most backward country, which assumed the leadership of all German peoples, left no doubt as to what would result from such a "creation." This was felt keenly by Bismarck's most important opponent Constantin Frantz (whose weighty writings are as little known to the Germans as the Chinese language) when he expressed the opinion:
William Pierson, who was himself convinced of Prussia's historic mission for the accomplishment of German unity, described in his Preussische Geschichte very clearly the desire of the Prussian royalty for the creation of "the Prussian nationality" and proved against his will the old truth that it is the state which makes the nation, and not the nation the state:
 E. M. Arndt, An die Preussen. January, 1813.
 Georg Brandes, Die romantische Schule in Deutschland. Berlin, 1900, p. 6.
 Constantin Frantz, Der Foderalismus als das Ieitende Prinzip fur die soziale, staatliche und internationale Organization, unter besonderer Bezugnahme auf Deutschland. Mainz, 1879. Page 253.
From : Flag.Blackened.net
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