The Kaiser and His People

“After centuries of national weakness and obscurity, the German could at last feel again that he was part of a great and progressive empire.”

Kaiser Wilhelm II poses for a portrait in 1911. (AP)

Striving to maintain our impartiality in the face of what seem to us arguments of incontrovertible strength, we have invited the following paper from Professor Francke. – The Editors

Whoever or whatever may have been immediately responsible for the terrible cataclysm, which in the midst of harvest time, like a Doomsday of nations, has befallen Europe and all mankind, there can be no question that German ascendancy of the last half century has been its ultimate cause. It therefore behooves Germans above all others, with fear and trembling, but without flinching or subterfuge, to search their hearts and to ask themselves whether they can really go into this conflict with a clear conscience and with trust in the justice of their cause.

Whether German diplomacy under the régime of the present Emperor has been equal to its task, whether its efforts to guard and to increase the Bismarckian legacy of 1870 have always been guided by Bismarckian foresight and Bismarckian sense of the attainable, is a question that only history will be able to decide. Certain it is that the guidance of German destiny since the retirement of the great Chancellor has been confronted with well-nigh insuperable difficulties. On the one hand, a people brimming over with physical and intellectual vitality, flushed with military and industrial success, eager for activity in every field of enterprise and in all parts of the globe. On the other hand, a formidable array of obstacles against the peaceful and natural expansion of this people; France, unwilling to forget her national humiliation, unequivocally refusing to acknowledge the settlement of 1870 as final, incessantly preparing for the day of revenge, persistently attempting to form threatening alliances against her hated foe; England, nettled by German business smartness, alarmed by German naval strength, trying to isolate and check and hem in the upstart in his every move; Russia, deeply resentful of the setback received at the Berlin Congress in her march to Constantinople, determined to use the Slav upheaval in the Balkans as a means of pushing forward to the Adriatic, and thereby throttling German influence in the East. These are the international difficulties under which the new Germany has had to struggle onward.

What has been the consequence of this oppressively difficult situation? How has Germany met it? What intellectual and moral forces has this situation brought into play?

No unprejudiced observer of German affairs, I believe, will deny that it is this very difficulty of maintaining her national preëminence which has given to contemporary Germany a feeling of solidarity and of public responsibility, an eager earnestness, a concentrated will-power, a sweep and momentum of constructive imagination such as no other nation of to-day possesses. After centuries of national weakness and obscurity, the German could at last feel again that he was part of a great and progressive empire. Wherever he went abroad—as farmer, as business man, as colonial administrator, as sailor, as scholar and teacher—he felt behind him this new empire, surrounded by rivalry and unfriendliness, but steadfastly working at the enrichment of its resources, the improvement of its social conditions, the strengthening of its manhood. And when he returned to his native land, he would see with joy and gratitude that not only in military organization, but in every kind of public and private activity, in city-planning, in care for the poor, in industrial coöperation, in scientific farming and forestry, in research of every kind, in every form of popular instruction, in literature and the fine arts, Germany was striding ahead of the rest of the world.

Seldom has an individual been so perfect an embodiment of a national movement as Emperor William II is of this new Germany. All his acts and utterances have been inspired by the one desire of developing German character to its utmost. It is impossible to go through the four volumes of his ‘Speeches and Addresses’ without being profoundly impressed with the indomitable striving for national greatness incarnated in this man. Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and the Nietzschean Superman seem combined in him. Every phase of life appeals to him; and in every phase of life he wants his Germans to excel.

He admonishes schoolboys to think of what their country will need of them when they are men, to abstain from alcohol, to strengthen their bodies and minds by hard work and hard sport, to strive after that harmony of life which the Greeks possessed and which ‘is sadly lacking to-day.’ He appeals to school-teachers to make their pupils above all at home in the things nearest a hand, to make achievement rather than knowledge the goal of instruction. He holds up to university students the spiritual heroes of the German past, from Walther von der Vogelweide to Schiller and Goethe, and warns them ‘not to waste their strength in cosmopolitan dreams, or in one-sided party service, but to exert it to make stable the national idea and to foster the noblest German thoughts.’ His own sons his urges to labor incessantly to make themselves true personalities, taking as their guide Jesus, ‘the most personal of all personalities,’ to make their work a source of joy to their fellowmen, — ‘for there is nothing more beautiful than to take pleasure jointly with others,’ — and where this is impossible, to make their work at least contribute something useful. Upon his officers he impresses the extreme necessity of firmness of character; for ‘victories are won by spiritual strength.’

Addressing the large mine-owners of Prussia, he insists that it is the duty of the State to regulate ‘the protection which the workingman should enjoy against an arbitrary and limitless exploitation of his labor; the limitation of child-labor with reference to the dictates of humanity and of the laws of natural development; the position of woman in the house of the laboring man, which is morally and economically of the greatest importance for the family life.

Speaking to the professors of the University of Berlin, he points out the needs of ‘institutions that transcend the limits of a university and serve nothing but research, free from the demands made by instruction, although in close touch with the university.’ At a gathering of German sculptors and painters he proclaims that ‘art should be a help and an educational force for all classes of our people, giving them the chance, when they are tired after hard labor, of growing strong by the contemplation of ideal things. Attention to ideals is one of the greatest tasks of culture, and all our people must work at it, if we are to set a good example to the other nations; for culture, in order to do its task well, must permeate every stratum of society. But it cannot do this if art refuses its help and pushes people into the gutter instead of elevating them.’

The need of human fellowship and mutual forbearance for national purposes he impresses upon a Westphalian audience by reference to personal experiences: ‘During my long reign I have had to do with many people, and have had to do with many people, and have suffered much at their hands; often they have hurt me unconsciously, but often also, I regret to say it, very intentionally. When in such moments my anger threatened to master me and I was tempted to avenge myself, I have asked myself, how best can wrath be stilled and charity grow strong? I have found only one answer, and that was based on the observation that all men are human and even if they hurt us, they have souls given them from on high, whither all of us wish to return. Thanks to their souls, they too carry with them parts of the Creator.’ And at the Prize Singing Contest at Frankfort, for male choruses, instituted by him, in the presence of thousands of singers of all classes of society he extols the simplicity of the good old German folk-song against the artificiality and affectedness of modern tone-paintings, and he thanks among the singers particularly the ‘men of the brawny hand, the large number of men who have come from the hammer, the anvil, and the forge. They must have sacrificed to this work the sleep of many a night.’

Perhaps the most impressive, however, of all these utterances and the one most characteristic of contemporary German feeling, is a passage from a speech delivered soon after the Emperor’s return from Palestine. ‘During my stay in that foreign country, where we Germans miss the woods and the beautiful sheets of water which we love, I often thought of the lakes of Brandenburg and their clear sombre depths, and of our forests of oaks and pines. And then I said to myself, that after all we are far happier here than in foreign lands, although the people of Europe often pity us. Surely, many and varied experiences of an elevating nature I have had in that country, partly religious, partly historical, and partly also connected with modern life. My most inspiring experience, however, was to stand on the Mount of Olives, and see the spot where the greatest struggle ever fought in the world, the struggle for the redemption of mankind, was fought out by one man. This experience induced me to renew on that day my oath of allegiance, as it were, to God on high. I swore to do my very best to knit my people together, and to destroy whatever tended to disintegrate them.’

These are the utterances of an individual. But they are typical of what millions of Germans feel, what Germany as a nation feels. Nothing could be more erroneous than to think that German ascendancy of the last generation has been merely industrial and commercial. A new idealism, a substantial enthusiasm for good government, for social justice, for beauty and joy, for fullness and richness of individual character, have accompanied it.

Can there be any doubt that Germany to-day is the best governed country of the world? How utterly absurd it is to speak of the present conflict—as many American newspapers do—as a conflict between military despotism, represented by Germany, and peaceful democracy, represented by the strange partnership of Russia, Japan, England, and France. How sad it is to see men like Bergson and Maeterlinck so hopelessly deluded as to invoke their countrymen against ‘the German barbarians, the enemy of mankind.’ Where in Germany is there a parallel to the travesties upon justice to which the decisions of French courts and juries, from the degradation of Dreyfus to the acquittal of Mme. Caillaux, have accustomed the world? Where in Germany is there—or at least has there been until this dreadful War engulfed her—a brutalized proletariat such as is the spectre of London and Liverpool? Where in Germany is there anything comparable to the astounding corruption of official Russia, made manifest in the Russo-Japanese war? It is certainly not an accident, that neither Syndicalism, so rampant both in France and England, nor Anarchism, the terror of Russian autocracy, has gained any foothold on German soil. The enthusiasm for good government, shared alike by Liberals, Conservatives, Clericals, and Socialists, has prevented it. Indeed, the Emperor on the one hand, the Socialist party on the other, are the two most unimpeachable witnesses to the passionate German zeal for good government.

The German Socialists of to-day are something entirely different from what they were thirty or forty years ago. They have ceased to be revolutionary; they have become a party of constructive reform. They contain the intellectual and moral élite of the German workingmen. They are performing a most valuable service in raising the standard of life and the level of citizenship of the whole laboring class. They are devoting their energy, not to Utopian dreams or, as the I. W. W. are doing in this country, to the propaganda of destruction, but to practical tasks of economic organization, such as the establishment of vast coöperative societies and the introduction of compulsory life-insurance for all union members, and to educational enterprises of all sorts. As members of the city councils in all the larger German towns, they are exerting a strong and wholesome influence upon city administration all over the Empire, and as the strongest single party in the Reichstag they take an important part in national legislation, mostly with the opposition, but not exclusively so. For it will be remembered that the Socialist party voted for the extraordinary tax bill of 1912, needed to carry out the military reform of that year. And it seems most probable that the assertion of the German Chancellor that the Socialist party in the present catastrophe is loyally standing by the national defense, is literally true. Indeed, it was a member of the Socialist party who, at the special Reichstag session of August 4, moved the adoption of the government’s bill for a war appropriation—a motion which was carried without a dissenting voice.

Only in one point have the Socialists unflinchingly and unrelentingly arrayed themselves against the present governmental system, and in doing so they are laying bare the one grave defect of imperial Germany: the arrogance and overbearing of the military and bureaucratic class. Closely allied as this defect is with the sterling rectitude and splendid efficiency of German military and civil officials, it is an anomaly in modern Germany. One effect of the stupendous sacrifices to which the entire nation is now being summoned, will be to sweep away the artificial barriers which until now have prevented Germany from reaping the full fruit of her otherwise unequalled methods of government.

But it is not only in good government and social efficiency that Germany during the last forty years has outstripped most other countries: German ascendancy has also manifested itself with striking rapidity and massiveness in the things that make for beauty and joy and the adornment of life. While Paris architecturally still retains the stamp of the second Empire, London that of the Victorian era, and while in the French provinces and the smaller English towns building proceeds at a slow pace and along old lines, Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, Cologne, Kassel, Darmstadt, Frankfort, Nuremberg, Munich, not to speak of many other German towns, have undergone veritable revolutions during the last generation: new city halls, theatres, opera-houses, museums, university buildings, hospitals, railway stations, department stores, stately mansions and model cottages, have arisen everywhere, and in it all a new and typically German style of architecture seems to be developing. Much of it is heavy. But there certainly is not any longer that academic imitation and formal eclecticism of pseudo-Gothic and pseudo-Renaissance memory; there is abundant evidence of original and powerful imagination, and an unmistakable striving for stateliness, proportion, symmetry, and sweep of outline. And a similar reaching out toward high goals is to be found in the other arts.

What country is there in which the drama, the opera, and the orchestra exert as deep and noble an influence as in Germany, with its multitude of princely or civic theatres, its careful training for the theatrical and musical professions, its well-informed and reverently receptive audiences? In what other country could have happened what Professor Max Friedlander of Berlin University told me happened to him some years ago? He was invited by a club of workingmen in the Krupp iron works at Essen to deliver to them a lecture on some musical subject. He accepted the invitation, and held an audience of more than a thousand workmen and their families—most of them undoubtedly of socialistic persuasion—for over an hour listening attentively to his presentation of Johann Sebastian Bach. These men are now in the regiments that have been hurled against the forts of Liège and Namur.

Finally. Is it a presumption to say that there is more honest striving for fullness of individual character in Germany than in other countries? I believe that there is; and I believe that this also is a part of that eager contest for ascendancy in which Germany has gradually outdistanced her neighbors—outdistanced, but not threatened.

Is she now to be made to pay for all her efforts at self-improvement? Have these efforts not been more than merely national achievements? Have they not been a gain to humanity at large? Must she defend these achievements against a world in arms? If this desperate situation has been brought about by the very best there is in German character, then it must be accepted as part of the tragedy of human greatness; and the only help left to Germany and her Emperor is to cling to the Horatian, —

Si fractus illabatur orbis,
Impavidum ferient ruinæ.