Three

REASON AND RELIGION

WILHELM II, although never a distinguished student and without any professional training except in military affairs, was a man who, even his most stringent critics admitted, possessed considerable intelligence. The two qualities that were most frequently commented on, often with considerable amazement, were the swiftness with which he could grasp a problem and his truly astounding memory. 1 The Kaiser could recite extended passages from favorite books verbatim and toss about complicated numbers with ease, and on a staggering number of issues Wilhelm could buttress his opinions with facts and figures. Unfortunately, those who were impressed also had reservations as to how deep and consequential this babble of information was, for all too often Wilhelm's knowledge, like his enthusiasms, proved to be superficial and flimsy. The Kaiser tended to confuse the possession of facts with the mastery of a subject. 2 He was therefore dismissive of experts who labored in a field in which he falsely believed that he possessed uncommon ability. No one suffered from this hubris more than the Kaiser's ambassadors, for Wilhelm II believed that he was Germany's quintessential representative abroad. "You diplomats are full of shit," he magisterially informed one of his envoys. In a reference to the location of the German Foreign Office, he added, "The whole Wilhelmstrasse stinks." 3

Wilhelm's intelligence did nothing to endow him with discernment in intellectual affairs, where he displayed the same dilettantism, the same delusions of genius, and the same essential vacuity that characterized his knowledge about the arts. Talk, enthusiastic but uninformed, was what he liked and was the means through which he both absorbed and disseminated his opinions. Although he intruded himself into many areas of learning, he had no real understanding of any of them. The Kaiser might have been more adept in such matters had he liked books more, but reading was something he could do only fitfully. Wilhelm's librarian testified that he rarely appeared in the palace book room, where in any case there were few volumes to be consulted. 4 The books that Wilhelm himself

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