Nationality in History and Politics

By Friedrich Hertz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
POLITICAL THOUGHT AND NATIONAL IDEOLOGY

1. THE INFLUENCE OF THOUGHT ON POLITICS

Philosophers and historians have evolved many different views on the relations between thought and life, and on the rôle of ideas in determining politics.1 In former times they often over-estimated the share of individuals in shaping the destiny of nations, and this led to the view that history was mainly a result of individual deliberation and planning. In modern times the influence of collective social forces on history was ever more realized and this implied the recognition of the power of emotions and interests. Modern sociologists have shown that not only programmes of parties but also the theories of great thinkers were largely determined by their social environment,2 and by specific historical situations. Rational and irrational forces, indeed, are as a rule so intertwined that they can hardly be separated. The true scholar endeavours to put truth above his dearest ideals and his vital interests, but even he does not always entirely succeed in eliminating bias. The propagandist, however, uses thought and knowledge merely as instruments for the defence of his preconceived aims. His type of thought is usually called an ideology to-day in order to distinguish it from disinterested scientific thought. In many cases, however, the difference is one of degree, and the borderline is difficult to draw.

The driving force and leaders in the striving for nationality have always been the intellectual classes, and it is obvious that these classes were particularly liable to the influence of doctrines, created by thinkers and dreamers, and heralded by great writers, orators and artists. The enthusiasm of the intelligentsia kindled by philosophers frequently carried away the masses though these knew little, if anything, of the philosophical background of their creed. The original ideas of political thinkers on the aims and significance of nationality, however, were usually so altered in the

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1
Cf. Ernst Troeltsch, Der Historismus und seine Probleme, 1922; Friedrich Meineche, Die Entstehung des Historismus, 2 vols., 1936; J. Goldfriedrich, Die historische Ideenlehre in Deutschland, 1902. The paramount significance of ideas has been emphasized in many profound reflexions by Lord Acton which have been compiled and interpreted by Ulrich Noack, Geschichtswissenschft und Wahrheit, 1935. In particular the question whether the philosophers of Enlightenment were responsible for the French Revolution has been answered in many different ways, cf. Kingsley Martin, French Liberal Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1929, p. 66.
2
For the social background of thought cf. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936 (with bibliography); Ernst Grünwald, Das Problem der Soziologie des Wissens, 1934.

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