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Thoughts during the Time of War

On-line since: 30th June, 2014

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Part 4

These contemplations would not like to answer the question: who wanted this war? out of such a mood of soul as some personalities of the countries at war with Middle Europe do. They would like to let the conditions influencing the events speak on their own. He who is writing down these contemplations asked among Russians whether they had wanted a war against Middle Europe. — To him, what Renan predicted in the year 1870 seems to lead onto a surer path than the judgments presently pronounced out of passion. This seems to him to be a path to the only region of judgment which, regarding the war, can and should be entered upon by him too who makes himself mental representations about what judgments of thought are superfluous and inappropriate when the judgments of deed by the weapons have to decide about the destinies of peoples out of blood and death.

It is certain that driving powers pushing for war can be compelled by other forces into a life of peace long enough until they have weakened in themselves so far that they become ineffective. And whoever has to suffer from this effective ness will make an effort to create these peacekeeping forces. The course of history shows that for years, Germany has taken upon itself this effort concerning the will forces streaming from West and East. Everything else that one can say regarding the present war in the direction of France's and Russia's driving powers weighs less than the simple, patent fact that these driving powers were sufficiently deeply anchored in the willing of these two countries to defy everything that wanted to hold them down. Whoever states this fact does not necessarily have to be reckoned among those personalities who judge out of inclination or disinclination, predetermined by the events — quite comprehensible in this time, of course — toward this or that people. Disdain, hatred, or the like need have nothing to do with such formation of judgment. How one loves such things, or does not love them, how one assesses them in feelings, is entirely another matter than setting forth the simple fact. It also has nothing to do with how one loves or does not love the French, how one values their Spirit, when one believes one has reasons for the opinion that driving powers to be found in France are entwined in the present war complications. What is said about such driving forces as are present in peoples, can be kept free of what falls within the realm of accusation or blame in the usual sense.

One will seek in vain among the Germans for such driving forces as had to lead to the present war in a similar way to those characterized by Solovieff among the Russians, proclaimed in advance for the French by Renan. The Germans could foresee that one would wage this war against them some day. It was their obligation to arm for it. What they have done to fulfill this obligation, is called among their opponents the cultivation of their militarism.

What the Germans have to accomplish, for their own sake, and in order to fulfill the tasks laid upon them by world-historical necessities, would have been possible for them to accomplish without this war, if these accomplishments were just as acceptable to others as they are  n e c e s s a r y  to them. It did not at all depend on the Germans how the other peoples took the fulfillment of the world-historical tasks that in recent time in the realm of material culture added themselves for the Germans to their tasks existing earlier. In the power that, working only out of itself, establishes the position of their material cultural accomplishments, the Germans were able to place the trust they could gain from the way their work of spirit has been received by the peoples. If one looks at the German manner, one notices that nothing is inherent in it that would have made it necessary for the German to establish in any other way before the world the present work he has to accomplish than has happened with his purely spiritual accomplishments.

It is not necessary that the German make the attempt himself to characterize the significance for mankind of the German quality of spirit and accomplishment of spirit. If he wants to record verdicts as to what significance this quality and accomplishment have for mankind outside of the German area, he can seek the answers among this mankind outside of the German area. One will be permitted to listen to the words of a personality who belongs to the leading ones in the region of the English language, to the words of the great speaker of America, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his contemplation on Goethe, he gives a characterization of the German quality of spirit and accomplishment of spirit in their relationship to the world's formative cultural education. [Emerson's sentences are quoted here according to the translation by Herman Grimm. Cf. his book: Fifteen Essays, Third Installment.] He says: “What distinguishes Goethe for French and English readers is a property which he shares with his nation, — a habitual reference to interior truth. In England and in America there is a respect for talent; and, if it is exerted in support of any ascertained or intelligible interest or party, or in regular opposition to any, the public is satisfied. In France there is even a greater delight in intellectual brilliancy for its own sake. And in all these countries, men of talent write from talent. It is enough if the understanding is occupied, the taste propitiated, — so many columns, so many hours, filled in a lively and creditable way. The German intellect wants the French sprightliness, the fine practical understanding of the English, and the American adventure; but it has a certain probity, which never rests in a superficial performance, but asks steadily, To what end? A German public asks for a controlling sincerity. Here is activity of thought; but what is it for? What does the man mean? Whence, whence all these thoughts?” And in another pas sage of this contemplation on Goethe, Emerson molds the words: The “earnest ness enables them — Emerson means men educated in Germany — to out-see men of much more talent. Hence almost all the valuable distinctions which are current in higher conversation have been derived to us from Germany. But whilst men distinguished for wit and learning, in England and France, adopt their study and their side with a certain levity, and are not understood to be very deeply engaged, from grounds of character, to the topic or the part they espouse, — Goethe, the head and body of the German nation, does not speak from talent, but the truth shines through. He is very wise, though his talent often veils his wisdom. However excellent his sentence is, he has somewhat better in view. He has the formidable independence which converse with truth gives. Hear you, or forbear, his fact abides.”

A few more thoughts of Emerson's shall be added that will quite certainly be allowed to stand here; after all, an English-American spoke them about the Germans. “The Germans think for Europe ... The English want the faculty of grouping men in natural classes by an insight of general laws ... The English cannot interpret the German mind.” Emerson was able to know what infusion German spiritual work is capable of giving to mankind.

In the sentences quoted, Emerson speaks of the “French sprightliness,” and of the “fine practical understanding of the English.” If one wanted to continue in his sense with regard to the Russians, one could perhaps say: the German lacks the impulse of the Russians to seek a mystical power for all their life expressions, even the practical, by which they are justified.

And in these relationships of the spirits of these peoples lies something quite similar to the military conflicts presently in effect. In the driving force that from the side of the French led to the war with Germany, their temperament is at work, what Emerson means by their sprightliness is at work. In this temperament lies the mysterious force that so bubbles over when it utters itself in Renan's words: “hatred unto death, preparations without rest, alliance with anyone convenient.” That before the war France stood armed with a military almost equal to Germany's in absolute terms, but in relation to its population even more than one and a half times as large, is a result of this mysterious force, over which result, the cliché about “German militarism” is to be drawn as a concealing veil. — In Russia's will to war, the mystical belief is at work, even where it finds only an instinctive expression. To characterize the conflicts effective to day between French and Russians on the one hand and Germans on the other hand, one will have to observe the moods of the souls. — The military conflict between British and Germans, by contrast, is such that the Germans see themselves facing only “fine practical” driving forces. The ideal of English policy is, in keeping with the essential being of the country, entirely oriented toward practical goals. Be it emphasized: in keeping with the essential being of the country. What its inhabitants reveal of this essential being, say in their behavior, is itself a working of this essential being, but not the basis of the English political ideal. Activity in the sense of this ideal has engendered in the Briton the habit of counting as guideline for this activity what seems to him to correspond to personal interests of life. It does not contradict the presence of such a guideline that it asserts itself in the shared life of society as a definite rule, which one strictly obeys if one wants to have manners. It also does not contradict it that one holds the guideline to be something quite other than it is. All of this holds good only for the Briton insofar as he is integrated into the world of his political ideal. And by this, a military conflict is created between England and Germany.

That one day the time must come when on soul territory, the world view of the German essential being, aiming as it does for the spiritual, will have to achieve its world validity by conquest — obviously, only by a battle of spirits — over against the one that has its representatives out of the English essential being in Mill, Spencer, the pragmatist Schiller, in Locke and Huxley, among others: the fact of the present war can be an admonition for this. But this has nothing directly to do with this war.

Goethe had in mind the guideline characterized for England's political ideal when he, who counted Shakespeare among the spirits that exerted the greatest influence on him, spoke the words: “But while the Germans torture themselves solving philosophical problems, the English with their great practical mind laugh at us, and win the world. Everyman knows their declamations against the slave trade, and while they would have us believe what humane principles lie at the basis of such a policy, it now comes out that the true motive is a real object, without which the English, as is known, never do so, and which one should have known.” — About Byron, who became his model for Euphorion in the Second Part of Faust, Goethe says: “Byron is to be regarded as man, as Englishman, and as patriot. His good qualities are to be derived primarily from the man; his bad ones, that he was an Englishman. All Englishmen are as such without real reflection; distraction and partisan spirit do not allow them to reach any calm formative training. But they are great as practical men.”

These Goethean verdicts, too, touch not the Englishman as such, but only what reveals itself as “total essential being England” when this total essential being reveals itself as bearer of its political ideal.

The political ideal mentioned has developed the habit of establishing as great a space of the earth as possible for England's use, in keeping with the guideline characterized. Regarding this space, England appears like a person establishing his house at his pleasure, and growing accustomed to bar his neighbors as well from doing anything that makes the inhabitability of the house less pleasant than one wishes.

England believed the habit of being able to live on in this fashion was threatened by the development that Germany  n e c e s s a r i l y  had to strive for in most recent time. Hence it is understandable that it did not want to allow a military conflict to arise between Russia-France on the one hand and Germany-Austria on the other without doing everything that could contribute to eliminating the nightmare of threat caused to it by Germany's cultural work. That, how ever, was to join Germany's opponents. A purely political “fine practical under standing” calculated what danger could arise for England from a Germany victorious against Russia and France. — This calculating has as little to do with a merely moral indignation over the “violation of Belgian neutrality” as it has much to do with the “fine practical understanding,” which sees the Germans in England's circle of interests when they enter Belgium.

What this “fine practical” direction of will in connection with other forces directed against Germany has to bring into operation in the course of time, was able to show itself, for a German sensing, when the question was asked: how did England's political ideal always work when a European land power had to find that the world-historical conditions demanded that it expand its activity over the seas? One needed only to look at what this political ideal had done regarding Spain and Portugal, Holland, France, when these unfolded their activity at sea. And one could remember that this political ideal always “had a fine understanding for the practical,” and that it knew how to calculate how the European directions of will that were directed against the countries in which a young maritime activity was unfolding were to be brought into a relationship of forces in such a way that a prospect opened up that England would be freed of its competitor.

What the People of Germany had to sense regarding the European situation before the war, emerges upon observation of the forces directed upon this people from the periphery. From England, the “fine practical” “ideal” of this country. From Russia, directions of will that opposed the tasks that had emerged for Germany and Austria-Hungary for “Europe's Middle.” From France, folk forces whose being was not to be sensed otherwise for the German than in the manner which Moltke, in reference to France's relationship to Germany, once molded into the words: “Napoleon was a passing phenomenon. France remained. We already had to do with France centuries ago, we shall still have to do with it in centuries. ... the younger generation in France is raised in the belief that it has a sacred right to the Rhine, and that it has the mission of making it the border of France at the first opportunity. The Rhine border must become a truth, that is the theme for the future of France.”

In the face of these three directions of will, world-historical necessity had forged together Germany and Austria-Hungary into “Europe's Middle.” There have always been people grown together with this European middle who sensed how tasks will grow up for this European middle that will reveal themselves to them as tasks to be solved in common by the peoples of this middle. Like a representative of such people, one long dead shall be remembered here. One who bore the ideals of “Europe's Middle” deep in his soul, in which they were warmed by the power of Goethe, from which he let his whole world conception and the inmost impulses of his life be carried. It is the Austrian researcher of literature and language, Karl Julius Schröer. A man who was all too little known and appreciated by his contemporaries in his being and significance. The writer of these contemplations counts him among those personalities to whom he owes immeasurable thanks in life. Schröer wrote down in his book on German Poetry in the year 1875, as written trace of the sensations that the events of 1870/1871 had stirred for the forming of an ideal of “Europe's Middle,” the words: “We in Austria see ourselves, just at this significant turning point, in a peculiar situation. Though the free movement of our life of state has cleared away the wall of separation that parted us from Germany up to a short time ago, though we are now given the means of working our way upward to a common cultural life with the other Germans, yet just now it has come to pass that we were not to participate in a great act of our people. ... A wall of separation could not arise through this in the German life of the spirit. Its roots are not of a political but of a culture-historical nature. We want to keep our eyes on this untearable unity of the German life of the spirit ... in the German Empire may they appreciate and honor our difficult cultural task, and as for the past, not blame us for what is our fate, not our fault.” Out of what sensations would a soul who so feels speak, if he still dwelt among the living, and beheld how the Austrian in full unity with the German of Germany is fulfilling an “act of his people!”

“Europe's Middle” is formed by “fate;” the souls that feel themselves as belonging to this middle with an engagement full of understanding place it in the responsibility of the spirit of history to judge what in the past — and what also in the present and future is its “fate, not its fault.”

And whoever wants to assess the understanding which the ideas of a common direction of will of the “Middle of Europe” have found abroad in Hungary, let him read voices from Hungary such as one is to be found in the article about “The Genesis of the Defensive Alliance,” by Emerich von Halasz, in the March, 1911 issue of Young Hungary. In it are the words: “If we ... consider that Andrassy stepped back from directing affairs more than thirty, and Bismarck more than twenty-one years ago, and this great work of peace stands ever yet in full power, and promises to have still further a long duration: then surely we need not surrender to a gloomy pessimism ... Bismarck and Andrassy with united force found an impressive solution to the middle-European problem, and thereby fulfilled a civilizational work that hopefully will outlast several generations ... In the history of alliances we seek in vain for a formation of such duration and of such mighty conception.”

When the characterized directions of willing, turned against “Europe's Middle,” had joined for common pressure, it was inevitable that this “pressure” determined the sensations that formed within the middle-European peoples concerning the course that world events were taking. And when the facts of the summer of 1914 came about, they found Europe in a world-historical situation in which the forces operative in the life of peoples enter actively into the course of events in such a way that they remove the decision about what is to happen from the realm of ordinary human assessment, and place it into that of a higher order, an order by which world-historical necessity takes effect within the course of human development. Whoever senses the essential being of such world-moments, also lifts his judgment out of the region in which questions nest of the type, what would have happened if in an hour heavy with destiny this or that proposal of this or that personality had had more effect than was the case? In moments of world-historical turnings, men experience in their decisions forces about which one only judges aright if one endeavors — remember the words of Emerson — not only to “see the particular” but to “conceive of” mankind “as a whole by higher laws.” How should it be permissible to judge by the laws of ordinary life the decisions of men that cannot be made out of these laws, because in them the spirit is at work who can be beheld only in the  w o r l d - h i s t o r i c a l  necessities. — Natural laws belong to the natural order; above them stand the laws that belong to the order of ordinary human living-together; and above them stand the spiritual-operative laws of world-historical becoming, which belong to yet another order, the one through which men and peoples solve tasks and go through developments that lie outside the realm of ordinary human living together.


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