A life’s worth of reading had led me onto an issue separating Western thought from most of the world. The issue comes down to the individual and society. It is not every individual doing what he wants; every person must conform to minimum standards and behavior. The issue becomes one of a law and order country enforcing its society on individuals pursuing rights, freedoms and liberties. Vladmir Putin and the Chinese cherish society on terms only whimsically understood by the leaders in power. Individuals in those countries have lost liberties and freedoms to think, believe or communicate anything beyond the party line.
In history Germany had a choice to accept individual freedoms or accept the state security of law and order, as defined by persons in power. In each century, eighteenth to the twentieth, the Germans failed to enlighten themselves. The Germans and their historians know of this failing, but authors fail to understand why the country and its people could not reform: Those Germans today rely on long-established, intellectual philosophical bases which are admired worldwide for their intellectualism. The Germans have believed reliance on tradition and indigenous custom gave any person all the freedom any human being could desire. Reading that history much of it by German authors, I’ve never had the mindset better presented than by Howard Morley Sacher, The Course of Modern Jewish History.
Sacher provides a term for the German mindset: Germany’s Christian Romantic Tradition. The Germans have never had a Christian Romantic Tradition. They’ve had separation and war. Indeed, from 1618-1648 the Germans fought one another, aided by the French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedes and anyone else who wanted to join in. One-third of the German population perished during the Thirty Years War.
Yet the Germans persisted, allowing localities to follow accepted traditions and customs which frequently excluded anyone who was different: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, the educated, businessmen, etc. Local societies became stultified, yet the Germans persisted in the fairy-tale beliefs of their Christian Romantic Tradition.
No one quoted James Madison to support extending rights, liberties and freedoms. They relied on custom and tradition: What German leaders imagined that happened in the Ninth Century was good for the German people in the Twentieth Century. What the ancients said; what the church said; a brilliant man, a German who lived 500 years ago said this or that, telling Germans exactly how to live lives in 1933.
As material prosperity declined with the tapering-off of war expenditures, the harassed German Mittelstand relapsed
briefly – but significantly -into impotence. The nationalist secret societies,…, struggled fitfully for a while, and then
were throttled to death by the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819. Constitutionalism vanished like a wraith, while romantic
conservatism burgeoned forth in the works of political theorists, artists, musicians, and writers, who harked back to
the dear dead days of Gothic medievalism, and who endowed very tangible feudal and class interests with the
magic of an ideology. Immanuel Fichte and Georg Hegel deduced from the past that the welfare of the State-
Leviathan took precedence over the happiness of individuals. The theological Schleiermacher sanctified the state
on the level of theology. German prose and poetry conjured up the past in fairy tales, legends, epics; music was
rewoven about the themes of minnesingers. Law, too, was visualized by Savigny as the result of inexorable
historical circumstances. The sustained emphasis upon tradition, the past, and the state augured ill for the
liberals, the reformers, the emancipators – and especially for the Jews. (p. 103)
Thus as decades passed and society changed, the human beings did not abide realism and history. They learned the historical fantasies concocted and promoted by each generation of leaders. Inhibitions became more traditional, customary and accepted.
For in Germany conservatism worked; it created the State; it created prosperity; it created power. For sixty years
before the emergence of the empire, Kant, Fichte, Herder and Hegel had argued that the needs of the Christian
German state took precedence over the needs of the individual. Droysen and Ranke delved deep into Germany
history to support this contention. Now, in one massive coup de main, Bismarck validated all the theorizing that
had gone before. If conservative nationalism had been a respectable philosophy in pre-Bismarckian days, it
seemed positively irrefutable after 1870. (p. 222)
If it remains part of Germany today, and historical fantasies and good times in the past is a large part of the lore of many countries [those readily accepting totalitarianism, tyranny, the despotism],only bad can come from that mindset:
World War I was not simply a product of rival economic imperialisms. We know now – indeed, World War II has
helped to teach us – that Germany’s foreign policy, her decision to resort to hostilities, were the ultimate result
of the myth of the German folk destiny, of militant pan-Germanism, and of the idealization of the Leviathan-State.(p. 419)
Supported by philosophical fantasies no where near reflecting rational human behaviors, digging up historical legends many of which came from England [Tristan, Holy Grail, Tristan and Isolde were Welsh and Irish lovers] and constructing a sociology which was completely detached from ethics and morals, the Germans next concocted a very primitive political system to allow themselves to put their wonderings into practice.