Germany: a Self-Portrait: A Collection of German Writings from 1914 to 1943

Germany: a Self-Portrait: A Collection of German Writings from 1914 to 1943

Germany: a Self-Portrait: A Collection of German Writings from 1914 to 1943

Germany: a Self-Portrait: A Collection of German Writings from 1914 to 1943

Excerpt

German philosophers, statesmen, writers, artists, soldiers, and revolutionists have for a century and a half been drawing a merciless and critical picture of their homeland, a self-portrait unlike that produced by any other nation. What is Germany? What is typically German? These are old, almost ancient, questions, but Germany's disastrous history makes them as baffling, as irritating and frightening as ever. There are no single, simple answers. There is, instead, the complex of scorn and pity, denial and affirmation, cowardice and courage of what Germans have had to say of themselves and their country.

In recent years there have been published in the United States and England an untold number of summaries of the guilty words of Germans: cries of blood lust, mad nationalism, race superiority, and glorification of war. Would-be champions of democracy have laboriously traced the official doctrines of the Third Reich back through the writings of Nietzsche, Fichte, von Treitschke, and Hegel, supposedly proving that National Socialism is, as its leaders claim, the creation of blood-thinking. Germany here is a land of bigots, philistines, and barbarians.

A larger and more impressive collection could be made of the writings and sayings of Germans, from Lessing, Goethe, Kant, Schiller, and Marx through to Heinrich Mann and Martin Niemöller, who fought against all that free men despise in Germany and German history. The revolutionary poets of the 1840's, Georg Herwegh and Ferdinand Freiligrath, saw in the forcibly united Germany of 1871 nothing of the democratically united nation they had hoped for. Kaiser William II found it impossible to silence the 'subversive' writers from Franz Mehring to Frank Wedekind, or to control the 'indecent' painters from Max Liebermann to Thomas Theodor Heine. The tradition of fearless inquiry and intellectual freedom has not been entirely forfeited by a succeeding generation. Hitler . . .

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