'The German Myth'

Wedgwood on the Lost Cause:

All normal human beings are interested in their past. Only when the interest becomes an obsession, overshadowing present action and future conduct, is it a danger. In much the same way healthy nations are interested in their history, but a morbid preoccupation with past glories is a sign that something is wrong with the constitution of the State. It is found among scattered and broken peoples, among the declining and impoverished, among  the parvenu or recently restored. I am not here speaking of a merely learned preoccupation with the past, but rather of that romantic concern with ancient splendors which is expressed by injudicious reproduction of ancient architectural styles, the creation of unnecessary monuments, and the prostitution of historiography to modern 'patriotic' purposes.

That would, of course, be Germany's Lost Cause. The essay is "The German Myth" and it looks at how Germans, pre-Hitler, tried to fashion a past while trying to fashion a state. I don't know how much I ultimately trust the piece--Velvet Studies, the collection which contains "The German Myth," is published in 1946 and it bears all the markings of that moment. 

In another essay on Germany, Wedgwood concludes by saying, that the German people are "a problem which all but defies solution," that they "have not in the course of their history shown the least political insight," and that:

They are not merely bad neighbors, they are in the last resort bad citizens, lacking self-assurance and self-respect. For fifteen hundred years they have found themselves unable to accept their position in the European continent. What that position will be in the future no longer rests with them.

In the real pain of post-Nazi Europe, you can understand this sentiment. But the essay has to be read from that angle. 

Still I love that opening graph. Words to live by. History is unavoidably political.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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