People today have changed their view of time and space. Space now expands into the universe, while time extends into the future: yesterday's events portrayed in the newspapers receive only a hasty glance. It is a dangerous illusion to think as our modern age does that the historical way of thinking is unnecessary. Most of our contemporaries have the ambition to be remembered by posterity not only for all their miseries, but also-and above all--or their many accomplishments. To satisfy their ambition posterity will require history. It is even more important to observe that everything growing has its beginnings; every human action has its origin in the past and needs time to mature. The value of history remains as it was 150 years ago when the practicing statesman Freiherr vom Stein, conceiving it out of his administrative experience, said: "The present can be understood only through the past and it can then work in the future."1
It is true that the contemplation of the last six decades is not history in its fullest sense because there are many people still alive and active in leading public positions who have experienced this period as part of their own fate, not distilled through a world of paper and documents but as a full-blooded, inseparable part of their own lives and action. Nonetheless, it is important to determine what influence and what place Germany has had in developments among the great world powers in the first part of the twentieth century.
After so much destruction, the richly traditional soil of Germany still offers us at every turn unparalleled insight into its centuries long past, if only we will pay attention to it. To be sure, at present, interest is turned more toward the traditionless forms of newer nations. Nevertheless, Germany is worthy of attention because she stands in the midst of a continuing historical process so powerful that the entity which is Germany has not yet been completely broken. In the nineteenth century, Germany followed France in acquiring the leading position among the powers of continental Europe. The flush of victory of 1871 has to be understood from this angle; the process of unification within the new empire was often overemphasized for, as must be remembered, Germany, during her history of more than a thousand years, has never been completely without some organizational form as a state, as has been the case with other nations (e.g., Poland, Hungary, Norway, Finland, Portugal).