Addresses to the German Nation/Sixth Address

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SIXTH ADDRESS
GERMAN CHARACTERISTICS AS EXHIBITED IN HISTORY


70. In our last address we stated what would be the chief differences between a people that has developed in its original language and a people that has adopted a foreign one. We said at the time that, so far as foreign countries were concerned, we would leave it to each observer’s own judgment to decide whether those manifestations had in fact occurred which, according to our assertions, were bound to occur. But with regard to the Germans we undertook to prove that they had in fact turned out to be what, according to our assertions, a people with a primitive language was bound to be. To-day we proceed to the fulfilment of our promise; and we prove our assertions, first of all, by the latest great and, in a certain sense, completed achievement of the German people, an achievement of world-wide importance—the reformation of the Church.

71. Christianity, which originated in Asia, and in the days of its corruption became more Asiatic than ever, preaching only silent resignation and blind faith, was something strange and foreign even to the Romans. They never really laid hold of and assimilated it, and their nature was divided by it into two halves that did not fit each other; nevertheless, the foreign part was joined on by means of their inherited and melancholy superstition. In the immigrant Teutons this religion found disciples who had no previous intellectual education to hinder its acceptance, but also no hereditary superstition favourable to it. Hence, it was presented to them as one of the things that formed part of the equipment of a Roman, which is what they wanted to become; but it had no special influence on their life. These Christian educators would obviously not let their new converts know any more than suited their purpose about the ancient culture of Rome or its language, the key to its culture; and here, too, we have a reason for the decay and death of the Latin language in their mouth. When later the untouched and genuine works of the old culture fell into the hands of these peoples, and when the impulse to think and understand for themselves was thereby stirred into action, then, partly because this impulse was new and fresh to them, and partly because they had no inherited terror of the gods to act as a counterpoise, the contradiction between blind faith and the strange things that in course of time had become its objects was bound to strike them far more sharply than it had struck the Romans themselves when Christianity first came to them. The perception of an utter contradiction in what one has hitherto faithfully believed excites laughter. Those who had solved the riddle laughed and mocked; and even the priests, who had also solved it, laughed with the rest; they could do so in safety, because only very few people had access to the classical culture which broke the spell. Here I refer especially to Italy, the chief seat of neo-Latin culture at that time, the other neo-Latin races being still very far behind Italy in every respect.

They laughed at the deception, because there was no earnestness in them to turn bitter. Their exclusive possession of rare knowledge strengthened them in their position as a distinguished and educated class, and so they were quite willing that the great multitude, for whom they had no feeling, should remain under the sway of the deception and thus be more subservient to their purposes. This state of things—a people deceived, and their betters making use of the deception and laughing at them—might have continued; and it would probably have continued until the end of time, if there had been none but neo-Latins in the modern world.

Here you have a clear proof of what I said about the continuation of ancient culture by the new, and about the share the neo-Latins are able to have in it. The new light proceeded from the ancients and, falling first upon the central point of neo-Latin culture, was there developed into nothing more than an intellectual view of things, without taking hold of life and shaping it differently.

72. But it was impossible for the existing state of things to continue once this light had fallen upon a soul whose religion was truly earnest and concerned about life, when this soul was surrounded by a people to whom it could easily impart its more earnest view, and when this people found leaders who cared about its urgent needs. However low Christianity may fall, there always remains in it an essential part which contains truth and which is sure to stimulate life, if only it is real and independent life. That part is the question: What shall we do to be saved? When this question fell on barren soil, where either it remained undecided whether such a thing as salvation was really possible, or else, even if that was assumed, there was still no firm and decided will to be saved—on such soil religion from the very beginning did not affect life and will, but remained suspended in the memory and the imagination like a faint and quivering shadow. So all further enlightenment concerning the condition of the existing religious ideas was similarly bound to remain without influence on life. But when, on the other hand, that question fell upon soil that by nature was living, where there was an earnest belief that salvation existed and a firm will to be saved, where the means of salvation prescribed by the existing religion had been employed to that intent with inward faith, honesty, and earnestness, and where, moreover, this very earnestness long kept from the light the quality of the prescribed means of salvation—when, I say, the new light fell at last upon such a soil as this, the inevitable result was horror and loathing of this deception in the matter of the soul’s salvation, and an unrest impelling them to secure salvation in another way. What appeared to be a rushing towards eternal ruin could not be treated as if it were a joke. Moreover, the individual who was first possessed by this view of the matter could not possibly be content with saving only his own soul, and remain indifferent to the welfare of all other immortal souls; for, if he had, he would thereby have saved not even his own soul. Such was the teaching of his more profound religion. He was bound, on the contrary, to wrestle for all mankind with the same anxiety that he felt for his own soul, so that the whole world might have its eyes opened to the damnable delusion.

73. It was in this way that the light fell upon the soul of the German man, Luther. Long before him very many foreigners had seen the light and comprehended it more clearly with the intellect. In refinement, in classical culture, in learning, and in other things he was surpassed, not only by foreigners, but even by many of his own nation. He, however, was possessed by an all-powerful impulse, the anxiety about eternal salvation, and this became the life of his life, made him always throw his life into the scale, and gave him the power and the gifts which are the admiration of posterity. Others during the Reformation may have had earthly aims, but they would never have been victorious had there not been at their head a leader inspired by the eternal. That this man, who always saw that the salvation of all immortal souls was at stake, fearlessly and in all earnestness went to meet all the devils in hell, is natural and in no way a wonder. Here we have a proof of German earnestness of soul.

It was in the nature of things, as we have said, that Luther should turn to all men with this question, which concerns all men and which each man must deal with for himself. First of all he turned to the whole of his own nation. How, then, did his people respond to this proposal? Did they remain in their dull placidity, chained to the ground by the cares of the world, and going on undisturbed in the accustomed path? Or did this mighty enthusiasm, such as is not manifested every day, merely excite them to laughter? By no means! They were seized by the same concern for the salvation of their souls; like fire it spread among them; and so their eyes, too, were quickly opened to the fullness of light, and they were quick to accept what was offered to them. Was this enthusiasm merely a momentary elevation of the imagination, unable to hold its ground in daily life with its stern struggles and dangers? By no means! They renounced all, endured all tortures, and fought in bloody and indecisive wars, solely that they might not again come under the power of the accursed Papacy, but that the light of the gospel, which alone can save, might shine upon them and upon their children’s children. There were renewed among them, late in time, all the miracles that Christianity showed forth among those who professed it when it began. All the utterances of that period are filled with this universal concern for salvation. Behold in this a proof of the characteristic quality of the German people. By enthusiasm it can easily be raised to enthusiasm and clearness of any kind whatsoever, and its enthusiasm endures for life and transforms life.

74. In earlier times and in other places reformers had inspired masses of the people, and gathered and formed them into communities. Yet these communities found no firm abiding-place on the foundation of the existing constitution, because the princes and rulers of the people did not come over to their side. At first no more favourable destiny seemed to await Luther’s Reformation. The wise Elector, under whose eyes it began, seemed to be wise rather in the foreign than in the German sense. He did not appear to have any special grasp of the real question at issue, nor to attach much importance to what seemed to him a quarrel between two orders of monks; at the most he was concerned merely about the good reputation of his newly-founded University. But he had successors who, though far less wise than he, were seized by the same earnest care for their salvation as lived in their peoples, and by this likeness were fused with them into one body for life or death, defeat or victory.

Behold in this an illustration of the above-mentioned characteristic of the Germans as a single body, and of their constitution as established by nature. The great events of national or world importance have hitherto been brought before the people by speakers who came forward voluntarily, and the people have taken up the cause. Though their princes, from love of foreign ways and the craving for brilliance and distinction, might at first separate themselves, as those did, from the nation and abandon or betray it, they were afterwards easily swept into unanimity with the nation and took pity on their peoples. That the former has always been the case we shall prove more clearly hereafter by further illustrations; that the latter may always continue to be the case we can only wish with fervent yearning.

75. One must confess that there was a darkness and unclearness in the anxiety of that generation about the salvation of souls, since it was a question, not merely of changing the external mediator between God and man, but of needing no external mediator at all and of finding the bond of connection in one’s self. Nevertheless, it was perhaps necessary that the religious education of mankind should go through this intermediate state. Luther’s own honest zeal gave him more than he sought, and carried him far beyond his own dogmatic system. Once he had successfully overcome the first inward conflicts, produced by his conscientious scruples when he boldly broke away from the whole existing faith, all his utterances are full of jubilation and triumph about the freedom won for the children of God, who assuredly no longer sought for salvation outside themselves and beyond the grave, but were themselves a manifestation of the immediate feeling of salvation. In this he became the pattern for all generations to come, and died for us all. Behold in this also a characteristic of the German spirit. If it but seeks, it finds more than it sought, for it comes into the stream of living life, which flows on of itself and carries the seeker on with it.

76. To the Papacy, when taken and judged according to its own view of the matter, wrong was undoubtedly done by the way in which it was taken by the Reformation. Its utterances were for the most part picked at random from the existing language; they exaggerated in Asiatic and rhetorical fashion and were intended to have whatever validity they could; they reckoned on more than due deduction being made in any case, but were never seriously measured, weighed, or intended. The Reformation took them with German seriousness at their full weight; it was right in thinking that everything should be taken thus, but wrong in thinking that the others had actually so taken it, and in blaming them for anything more than their natural superficiality and lack of thoroughness. In general, we may say that this is what always happens in every conflict of German seriousness with the foreign spirit, whether the latter is found in foreign or in German lands; the foreign spirit is quite unable to comprehend how anyone can wish to raise such a great to-do about unimportant things like words and phrases. Foreigners, when they hear it again from German mouths, deny that they said what they did in fact say, and what they go on saying and always will say. So they complain of calumny, or pushing consistency too far, as they call it, when one takes their utterances in their literal sense and as seriously intended, and treats them as part of a logical sequence of thought, which one traces back to its principles and forward to its conclusions; although one is perhaps very far from attributing to them in person a clear consciousness of what they say or any logical consistency. In the demand that one must take everything as it is meant, but not go further and call in question the right to have opinions and to express them—in that demand the foreign spirit always betrays itself, however deeply it may be concealed.

77. The seriousness with which the old system of religious doctrine was now taken compelled this system itself to be more serious than it had been hitherto, and to undertake a new examination, interpretation, and consolidation of the old doctrine and practice for the future. Let this, and the example that is to follow, be to you an illustration of the way in which Germany has always reacted on the rest of Europe. The general result was that the old doctrine thus obtained, at any rate, such innocuous efficacy as was possible to it, once it had been resolved not to abandon it altogether. But in particular, to those who supported it, it became an opportunity for, and a challenge to, more thorough and consistent reflection than had been given to it before. The doctrine, thus reformed in Germany, spread into the neo-Latin countries and there produced the same result, viz., a loftier enthusiasm; but, as this phenomenon was transitory, we shall say no more about it here. It is, however, noteworthy that in none of the entirely neo-Latin countries did the new doctrine obtain permanent recognition by the State, for it seems that German thoroughness among the rulers and German good-nature among the people were needed, if this doctrine was to be found compatible and made compatible with the supreme power.

78. In another respect, however, Germany exercised a general and permanent influence on other countries—though, indeed, not on the common people, but on the educated classes—by its reformation of the Church. By means of this influence Germany once more made other countries its forerunners and its instigators to new creations. Free and spontaneous thinking, or philosophy, had frequently been stimulated and practised in the preceding centuries under the dominion of the old doctrine; not, however, to bring forth truth out of itself, but solely to show that the doctrine of the Church was true and in what way it was true. Among the German Protestants, philosophy was at first given the same task in regard to their doctrine, and with them it became the handmaid of the gospel, just as with the Schoolmen it had been the handmaid of the Church. In foreign countries, which either had no gospel or else had not apprehended it with pure German devotion and depth of soul, this free-thinking, fanned into flame by the brilliant triumph it had achieved, rose higher and more easily, unfettered by a belief in the supersensuous. It remained fettered, however, by a belief of the senses in the natural understanding [Verstand] that develops without mental or moral training. Far from discovering in the reason [Vernunft] the source of truth which rests upon itself, the utterances of this raw understanding were to this way of thinking exactly what the Church was for the Schoolmen and the gospel for the first Protestant theologians. As to whether they were true, not the slightest doubt was raised; the only question was how they could maintain this truth against hostile assertions.

But, as this way of thinking did not even enter the domain of the reason, whose opposition would have been more important, it found no opponent except the existing historical religion. This it easily disposed of by applying to it the measure of understanding or common sense, which was presupposed, and thereby proving to its own satisfaction that this religion was in direct contradiction to the latter. Hence it came about that, as soon as all this was made quite plain, the word “philosopher” became synonymous with “irreligious atheist” in foreign countries, and both designations served as equally honourable marks of distinction.

79. This attempt at complete emancipation from all belief in external authority, which was the right thing about these struggles in foreign countries, acted as a fresh stimulus to the Germans, from whom it had first proceeded by means of the reformation of the Church. It is true that second-rate and unoriginal minds among us simply repeated this foreign doctrine—better the foreign doctrine, it seems, than the doctrine of their fellow-countrymen, though this was to be had just as easily; the reason being that they took the former to be more distinguished—and these minds tried to convince themselves about it, so far as that was possible. But where the independent German spirit was astir, the sensuous was not enough, and there arose the problem of discovering the supersensuous (which is, of course, not to be believed in on external authority) in the reason itself, and thus of creating for the first time true philosophy by making free thought the source of independent truth, as it should be. To that end Leibniz strove in his conflict with that foreign philosophy; and the end was attained by the true founder of modern German philosophy,[1] not without a confession of having been aroused to it by the utterance of a foreigner, which had, however, been taken more profoundly than it had been intended. Since that time the problem has been completely solved among us, and philosophy has been perfected. One must be content for the present with stating this as a fact, until an age comes which comprehends it. On this condition, the result once more would be the creation in the German mother-country, on the stimulus of antiquity which has come to it through neo-Latin lands, of a new age such as never existed before.

80. We, their contemporaries, have seen how the inhabitants of a foreign country[2] took up lightly, and with fervent daring, another problem of reason and philosophy for the modern world—the establishment of the perfect State. But, shortly afterwards, they abandoned this task so completely that they are compelled by their present condition to condemn the very thought of the problem as a crime, and they had to use every means to delete, if possible, those efforts from the annals of their history. The reason for this result is as clear as day; the State in accordance with reason cannot be built up by artificial measures from whatever material may be at hand; on the contrary, the nation must first be trained and educated up to it. Only the nation which has first solved in actual practice the problem of educating perfect men will then solve also the problem of the perfect State.

Since our reformation of the Church, the last-mentioned problem of education has more than once been attempted by foreign countries in a spirited fashion, but in accordance with their own philosophy; and among us a first result of their efforts has been to stimulate some to imitation and exaggeration. To what point the German spirit once more has finally brought this matter in our days we shall relate in more detail at the proper time.

81. In what has been said you have a clear conspectus of the whole history of culture in the modern world, and of the never-varying relationship of the different parts of the modern world to the world of antiquity. True religion, in the form of Christianity, was the germ of the modern world; and the task of the latter may be summed up as follows: to make this religion permeate the previous culture of antiquity and thereby to spiritualize and hallow it. The first step on this path was to rid this religion of the external respect of form which robbed it of freedom, and to introduce into it also the freethinking of antiquity. Foreign countries provided the stimulus to this step; the German took the step. The second step, which is really the continuation and completion of the first, namely, to discover in our own selves this religion, and with it all wisdom—this, too, was prepared by foreign countries and completed by the German. The next step forward that we have to make in the plan of eternity is to educate the nation to perfect manhood. Without this, the philosophy that has been won will never be widely comprehended, much less will it be generally applicable in life. On the other hand, and in the same way, the art of education will never attain complete clearness in itself without philosophy. Hence, there is an interaction between the two, and either without the other is incomplete and unserviceable. If only because the German has hitherto brought to completion all the steps of culture and has been preserved in the modern world for that special purpose, it will be his work, too, in respect of education. But, when education has once been set in order, the same will follow easily with the other concerns of humanity.

82. This, then, is the actual relationship in which the German nation has hitherto stood with regard to the development of the human race in the modern age. We have still to throw more light upon an observation, which has already been made twice, as to the natural course of development which events have taken with our nation, viz., that in Germany all culture has proceeded from the people. That the reformation of the Church was first brought before the people, and that it succeeded only because it became their affair, we have already seen. But we have further to show that this single case was not an exception; it has, on the contrary, been the rule.

83. The Germans who remained in the motherland had retained all the virtues of which their country had formerly been the home—loyalty, uprightness, honour, and simplicity; but of training to a higher and intellectual life they had received no more than could be brought by the Christianity of that period and its teachers to men whose dwellings were scattered. This was but little: hence, they were not so advanced as their racial kinsmen who had emigrated. They were in fact good and honest, it is true, but none the less semi-barbarians. There arose among them, however, cities erected by members of the people. In these cities every branch of culture quickly developed into the fairest bloom. In them arose civic constitutions and organizations which, though but on a small scale, were none the less of high excellence; and, proceeding from them, a picture of order and a love of it spread throughout the rest of the country. Their extensive commerce helped to discover the world. Their league was feared by kings. The monuments of their architecture are standing at the present day and have defied the ravages of centuries; before them posterity stands in admiration and confesses its own impotence.

84. It is not my intention to compare these burghers of the German imperial cities in the Middle Ages with the other estates of the same period, nor to ask what was being done at that time by the nobles and the princes. But, in comparison with the other Teutonic nations—leaving out of account some districts of Italy, and in the fine arts the Germans did not lag behind even these, whereas in the useful arts they surpassed them and became their teachers—leaving these out of account, I say that the German burghers were the civilized people, and the others the barbarians. The history of Germany, of German might, German enterprise and inventions, of German monuments and the German spirit—the history of all these things during that period is nothing but the history of those cities; and everything else, for example the mortgaging of petty territories and their subsequent redemption and so on, is unworthy of mention. Moreover, this period is the only one in German history in which this nation is famous and brilliant, and holds the rank to which, as the parent stock, it is entitled. As soon as its bloom is destroyed by the avarice and tyranny of princes, and as soon as its freedom is trodden underfoot, the whole nation gradually sinks lower and lower, until the condition is reached in which we are at present. But, as Germany sinks, the rest of Europe is seen to sink with it, if we regard, not the mere external appearance, but the soul.

The decisive influence of this burgher class, which was in fact the ruling power, upon the development of the German imperial constitution, upon the reformation of the Church, and upon everything that ever characterized the German nation and thence took its way abroad, is everywhere unmistakable; and it can be proved that everything which is still worthy of honour among the Germans has arisen in its midst.

85. In what spirit did this German burgher class bring forth and enjoy this period of bloom? In the spirit of piety, of honour, of modesty, and of the sense of community. For themselves they needed little; for public enterprises they set no limits to their expenditure. Seldom does the name of an individual stand out or distinguish itself, for they were all of like mind and alike in sacrifice for the common weal. Under precisely the same external conditions as in Germany, free cities had arisen in Italy also. Compare the histories of both; contrast the continual disorders, the internal conflicts, nay, even wars, the constant change of constitutions and rulers in the latter with the peaceful unity and concord in the former. How could it be more clearly demonstrated that there must have been an inward difference in the dispositions of the two nations? The German nation is the only one among the neo-European nations that has shown in practice, by the example of its burgher class for centuries, that it is capable of enduring a republican constitution.

86. Of the separate and special means of once more raising the German spirit a very powerful one would be in our hands if we had a soul-stirring history of the Germans in that period—one that would become a book for the nation and for the people, just as the Bible and the hymn-book are now, until the time came when we ourselves had again achieved something worthy of record. But such a history should not set forth deeds and events after the fashion of a chronicle; it should transport us by its fascinating power, without any effort or clear consciousness on our part, into the very midst of the life of that time, so that we ourselves should seem to be walking and standing and deciding and acting with them. This it should do, not by means of childish and trumpery fabrications, as so many historical novels have done, but by the truth; and it should make those deeds and events visible manifestations of the life of that time. Such a work, indeed, could only be the fruit of extensive knowledge and of investigations that have, perhaps, never yet been made; but the author should spare us the exhibition of this knowledge and these investigations, and simply lay the ripened fruit before us in the language of the present day and in a manner that every German without exception could understand. In addition to this historical knowledge, such a work would demand a high degree of philosophical spirit, which should display itself just as little, and above all things a faithful and loving disposition.

87. That age was the nation’s youthful dream, within a narrow sphere, of its future deeds and conflicts and victories, and the prophecy of what it would be once it had perfected its strength. Evil associations and the seductive power of vanity have swept the growing nation into spheres which are not its own; and, because it there sought glory too, it stands to-day covered with shame and fighting for its very life. But has it indeed grown old and feeble? Has not the well of original life continued to flow for it, as for no other nation, since then and until to-day? Can those prophecies of its youthful life, which are confirmed by the condition of other nations and by the plan of civilization for all humanity—can they remain unfulfilled? Impossible! O, that someone would bring back this nation from its false path, and in the mirror of its youthful dreams show it its true disposition and its true vocation! There let it stand and ponder, until it develops the power to take up its vocation with a mighty hand. May this challenge be of some avail in bringing out right soon a German man equipped to perform this preliminary task!


Footnotes[edit]

  1. [Kant, who confessed to having been roused from his “dogmatic slumber” by Hume.]
  2. [The reference is to the French Revolution.]