BLTC Press Titles

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Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

Nationality & the war

by Arnold Joseph Toynbee


The living generation of Germans is suffering for a thousand years of history. They started in the race to emerge from the Dark Age with a smaller fund of civilisation than France had accumulated by her thorough Romanisation, and than the Norman conquerors carried from France to England; and they further handicapped themselves by the only Roman tradition they did inherit, the ghost of universal empire. The Hohenstaufen dynasty, Germany's chance of a strong government, spent its strength warring in Italy, on the impossible quest of bringing this ghost to life again. When they failed, Germany fell to pieces into a debris of principalities, of every size and character: self-governing trading-cities, often more in touch with foreign traders across the sea than with the serfs at their gates; Imperial knights, the landlords of these serfs, ruling their estates with practically sovereign power; prince-bishops, who governed some of the most civilised districts of Germany in the valley of the Rhine; and lay princes small and great, from the Thuringian dukes, whose dominions were subdivided equally among the whole male issue of each generation, to the strong military lords of the marches, Brandenburg and Austria, and the compact, steadily-growing duchy of Bavaria. When the Reformation brought religious war, even unified France and England were riven by the conflict: German particularism fought out the issue to an inconelusive compromise in the devastating War of Thirty Years, which paralysed the growth of Germany for a century, just when England was working out her internal self-government and preparing for the immense development of her colonies and industry. During the Thirty Years' War Germany's consolidated neighbours began to fish in her troubled waters: in the eighteenth century she had become the plaything of the powers, her principalities pawns in their game: at the end of the century she fell completely under the dominion of France, and had to endure the merited ridicule of the conqueror for her particularism and its results, a "second-handness" and a helpless inert stolidity.

This was the more bitter in that she was not merely feeding upon memories of a past dawn that had never become day: she was conscious of an immense vitality in the present. While Napoleon was annexing or humiliating her principalities, Germany was giving Europe the greatest philosopher and the greatest poet she had yet known, Kant and Goethe, while the succession of German masters who were creating European music was represented by Beethoven. Germany was already a nation: the spark had been kindled by intellect and art. An intense desire followed to build up all the other sides of national life.

Germany's striking defect was her political disintegration: this delivered her into the hands of the French, who preached their creed with drums and bayonets. Civilised Germany turned again to the ideal of the Dark Age, which more fortunate nations had long realised and transcended, a strong military government. An organisation of just this type presented itself in the kingdom of Prussia. Its nucleus was the march of Brandenburg, the old frontier province against the Slavs across the Elbe, which had grown by conquest Eastward and been united, after the Reformation, with the colonial territory carved out by the Teutonic knights among heathen Prussians beyond the Vistula. Its history expressed itself in the character of the population. The rather thin soil was well cultivated by a hard-working submissive peasantry of German settlers or Slavs conquered and Germanised, bound by a system of serfdom little modified from the extreme mediaeval type, under a ruling class of landed proprietors who remembered that they had come in as conquerors.

The government had all the virtues of European absolutism. By the middle of the eighteenth century it had built up an administration and an army extraordinarily efficient for the size and wealth of the territory. Frederick the Great used this instrument to double the extent of his dominions and raise Prussia to the status of a European power.1 The debacle at Jena in 1806 and the unwise humiliations to which Napoleon subjected her, only roused the Prussian state to a thorough reconstruction: serfdom was abolished and universal military training invented. The rising of the Prussian population in 1813, when they cast out force by force and broke the French power, really stood for a national movement of the whole German people; and its success was achieved under the leadership of the Prussian government. 1813 marked out Prussia as the tool which was to fashion a new political structure for Germany.

The transition Germany went through in this generation may be illustrated by the career of Stein. Inheriting the sovereignty of an Imperial knight (his little 1 Invasion of Silesia, 1740.

principality was absorbed in Nassau during his lifetime), he did not find his vocation therein, but took service in the Prussian administration. He came to the front after 1806, and was the inspiration both of the internal reforms and of the war of liberation they made possible. He was afterwards fired by the Romantic movement, and devoted his old age to promoting the collection and publication of documents for the origins of German history, a historical interest that really looked towards the future.

But the dibris of the middle ages could not be cleared away in a moment, and the next fifty years were a period of flux and indecision. Two factors were striving to harmonise and never succeeding. On the one hand, the intellectual and artistic growth of Germany was gathering momentum: in music, philology, philosophy, and theoretical politics the nation had not only found itself but achieved the primacy of Europe. On the other side stood the political organism of Prussia, far stronger than before, for the Vienna congress had greatly increased her territory, and far more representative of Germany as a whole, for she had exchanged the greater part of her alien Polish provinces in the East for the German Rhineland on the West, which made her a Catholic as well as a Protestant state and the bulwark of Germany against France. She used the fifty years to unite all North Germany in her customs union; but her ruling class kept within its mediaeval traditions and only came into hostile contact with the spiritual movement in which German nationalism still concentrated itself. The Prussian governing class aspired to rule Germany, but it did not wish to merge itself in the growth of the German nation.

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