How to Win the Peace

(Translated by K. Katzenellenbogen)

MY ESSAY IS nothing and wants to be nothing but the personal creed of a man, of a writer who was born as a son of that problematical nation which today inflicts so much terrible suffering upon the world, the creed of a man who lives through these hard times with the double sensitivity of the German and the artist. I say ’of the artist’ at the risk of your thinking that this quality deprives me of the right to participate in the deliberation and discussion of political and social questions. In this case I would ask your pardon, and contradict you. You cannot today — if it was ever possible — properly separate the sphere of art, culture, and spirit from the sphere of politics, and declare the artist unqualified to occupy himself with political and social questions.

One can hardly remember the times when the artist found it spiritually possible to look upon these matters as far beneath him, and to live in his ivory tower without paying attention to them. Today he is — I will not say entitled or obligated, but simply forced to do his share in the struggle of convictions, for life itself has taught him and all of us that the problem of humanity is a unit whose various spheres and forms of expression cannot be separated from one another. It was the fateful mistake of the German educated upper class to draw a sharp line of demarcation between spirit and life, between philosophy and art on the one hand and political reality on the other, and from the heights of an absolute culture to look down disdainfully upon the social and political aspects of life. It is this that has brought the spirit of the German middle classes into its present humiliation.

In fact, the times are long past when the world could be seen divided into special spheres, of which one was the political — a special sphere to which we did not have to pay attention. Long since the question of man, the problem of humanity as an indivisible whole, arose before our eyes and has been demanding a decision, the taking of a stand, an open testimony from everyone who is spiritually alive. The question of the human conscience includes the political problem; it is a part or a phase of it. Yes, one can say that today the problem of man is essentially presented to us in a political form, and has perhaps more than in any other epoch of history assumed a political face.

The ‘political’ is no longer what it was — a problem for experts, a game played according to certain generally acknowledged rules, based on a universal agreement on its fundamentals—a game that brings only external changes and transformations which do not affect anyone to his very depths. Today, indeed, it is a matter of ultimate values, of the foundations of civilization, of the very idea of mankind, of those universal ties for which we have the word religio, ‘religion.’ We may call this ultimate tie ‘God’ or ’truth’ or ‘freedom’ or ‘right’ — it is all the same. We may simply call it ‘democracy,’ a word whose religious overtones, if our ears were ever indifferent to them, are more audible today than ever. The concept of politics has broadened and deepened exactly in the same manner as has that of democracy. Even if we say ‘democracy’ and declare ourselves for ‘democracy,’ we do not think so much of a certain technique of government and form of representation, — it may even be that, as such, democracy is partly in need of reform, — but we mean by the word ‘democracy’ the acknowledgment of those religious ties whose continued existence or churlish destruction is the problem of today — we mean the acknowledgment of truth, freedom, and right as the foundation of our social and political life.

And such matters should be of no concern to the artist? He should not be interested in truth and freedom — or in justice? For, to say it again, these are all one and the same, and one word can stand here for the other. Are these things too serious to be connected with art — which is merely play? For, indeed, that’s what art is; but a strangely serious play it must be, because the artist, if he is one, devotes such infinite, such unreasonably great effort to it. Somehow there must be a relationship between art and all higher and super-rational aspirations of man, to the idea of the good and the perfect itself—the seriousness with which the artist devotes himself to this play cannot be explained otherwise. The word ‘good’ covers much; it is common to the æsthetic and the moral sphere. What is good æsthetically, what is skillfully done and perfect, must not necessarily be good from a moral point of view, but the infinite effort for what is good artistically has the same root as the endeavor for what religion and morality call ‘good.’ Art is play, but symbolic play. It is the most beautiful and serene symbol of all human striving for perfection; and wherever, in whatever sphere, in whatever manner, truth and freedom are denied, raped, and trampled upon, there art and every decent artist are also most gravely affected, there the artist cannot breathe, nor live, nor work; he must degenerate or he must flee.

I

The world is a unit. It has various aspects, but, whichever viewpoint we choose, we always have to deal, consciously or unconsciously, with the world unity. I say ‘consciously or unconsciously,’ for there are times when it is possible not to be conscious of this fact. Today it is brought to the consciousness of everyone in the most drastic fashion. If art had nothing to do with politics, and politics nothing with art — should I then be writing here in America? I should be in Germany, in my house in Munich, and the Nazis would permit the German public to read my books, which are more German than Hitler, Goebbels, Ribbentrop, and Himmler all together. But they do not permit this, for my books, even the completely unpolitical ones, are a single protest against the deeds and doctrines of the Nazis, and therefore they must suppress them.

We hate totalitarianism because we know, and knew beforehand, that the total state is nothing but the preparation for total war. But to what extent we are really living in a totalitarian world today,—from a spiritual point of view,— in which everything is interconnected, the smallest and the greatest, I should like to show you with a rather amusing personal experience. A Swiss friend of mine, who understands Russian, told me in a letter that the Moscow radio mentioned my works in a broadcast on the very day the German troops marched into Russia. For two years, ever since the Hitler-Stalin treaty, mention of me had not been allowed in Russia. The broadcast that dealt with my literature had evidently been composed in advance, but could not be made as long as the Russo-German treaty lasted. The moment this treaty was broken was the right moment to unearth the manuscript. How can one still say, then, that politics and art have nothing to do with each other?

The specific experience of our time is the unity of the world, the totality of all things human. And this unity is experienced not merely as a psychological fact but also as a historic process, as a coalescence of the world, in which the development of traffic and communication operates together with intellectual developments and creates a single stage for human destiny. Indeed, the world has become small and the universal scene of one and the same battle — a battle of faith and conviction, a religious battle in which the problem is the same everywhere. So far, the unification of the world presents itself in the form of a military dispute, as a world civil war that here and there still evokes the delusion that it is a war between nations. But in reality its fronts run everywhere, across all nations, and its resemblance to national wars of the past is purely external.

Gradually the feeling gains ground that the national idea is not any longer the dominant idea of our time and will hardly be of much benefit for the future, that the age of national states and national cultures is rapidly nearing its end, and that this war, which divides minds far more than nations, is the instrument of its dissolution. Because of the present world situation, all representatives of German literature who count are in America, as well as all important Italian physicists and historians and all important representatives of European music; and members of the same nations fight against each other out there in the world, as the Free French fought against the troops of General Dentz — which was evidently just a beginning. Does such a world situation still permit us to speak of national states? Emigration is no longer what it was: a search for temporary shelter abroad, a watchful and impatient wait for return. We are not waiting to return, we have long discarded this thought. We are waiting for the future — and the future belongs to the new idea of world community, and restriction of national sovereignties and autonomies. To this new state our emigration, this Diaspora of the various cultures, is merely the prelude.

Take a look at Germany: against its own will, under the delusion that its ‘fanatical’ effort is devoted to gain supremacy for its own race, it levels the ground for world unity. Germany is disintegrating — what other sense could there be to the shoreless expansion it pursues in blind rage? It believes that it can thereby prevent the ‘dismemberment’ which it fears as a consequence of defeat — the destruction of the Reich. But Bismarck’s Reich, once established with England’s benevolent neutrality, no longer exists even today; the genius of a super-Bismarck and motorized deeds of glory without equal have pulled it apart past remedy, and nobody knows today where Germany’s borders are. When Hitler oracles, out of his semieducation, that Germany must be Europe or not be at all, he debases the thought of future unity and distorts it by adulterating it with the stalest nationalism dressed up as new in the trashy raceideology— just as National Socialism, that freak born of the old and the new, thoroughly spoils and soils everything it touches, and it touches everything. Indeed, Germany will be Europe, as all higher Germany has always been Europe, but Europe will not be Germany as Adolf the Prophet sees it. Even the term ‘Europe’ is already a provincialism today. The concept of the kingdom of the earth, the city of man, has been born and will not rest until it has assumed reality.

It will certainly not become reality right after this war — not for a long time. We must not imagine that immediately after the destruction of Hitlerism a paradise on earth can be established. But it is hardly more than a statement of fact today that the world civil war which rages is a step in the direction of unity and the revelation of this unity; that it is creating a space of common responsibility; and that it is leading together, if perhaps in embittered antagonism, the ideas of man.

II

When I had been in this country for only a short time and was lecturing at Princeton University, I once talked with a venerable American scientist, a professor of the university, about the political situation. He said to me, ‘The future of the world depends on two countries: America and Russia.’ I still remember how strongly I was impressed at the time by this statement, which simultaneously affirmed the American evolution and the Russian revolution, and I must often think back to it under the present circumstances. The fact that Russia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples are fighting today on the same side against the enemies of freedom and human dignity is only the external expression of an inner and deeper truth: namely, of the fact that socialism and democracy have long ago ceased to be alternatives. It is upon the meeting and the adjustment of the two that the hope of the world depends — the social reform and rejuvenation of Western democracy and the humanization of Eastern collectivism by the turn toward the democratic, toward the recognition of the values and the rights of the individual. I believe that the one is well on its way in England and in the United States, the other not impossible, and that both can be furthered by the exterior political constellation.

It is inevitable that wishful thinking influences our projects for the future, our visions of the future. We have hopes and wishes, and we seek to glean from developments — or project into them — the symptoms which speak for the fulfillment of these hopes and wishes. Wishful thinking, it is said, is dangerous, for it means taking into account only the most favorable possibilities and rejecting the thought of the most unfavorable ones. But, on the other hand, what would man be without wishful thinking? I mean, without the belief in his ability to influence the future by his hopes and wishes, to shape it according to his will at least to some degree? After all, history is not a mere mechanism; it is made by human beings, human passions sway it, and the fatalistic renunciation of all historic wish and will would be the abdication of the human spirit. A purely negative wishing and willing, however, would come very close to such abdication, and with the mere ‘Down with Hitler!’ little is accomplished. It would not be wise to let our interest in what may come after Hitler be completely extinguished by the fact that anything — without any conceivable exception — is better than Hitler. It seems to me that it is our duty to ponder about these better things, and if you still have patience I should like to tell you the essential part of my thoughts in this respect.

Certainly, the first and evident premise for all thinking about the future is the annihilation of National Socialism. Its victory would save us all thinking, it would be the negative solution of all questions of the future, and it would mean night, silence, despair, slavery. I believe in its defeat; despite all vicissitudes of the struggle, I am convinced of it, and I cannot support this conviction better than with a sentence written by Thomas Paine one hundred and sixtyfive years ago, in a moment when American freedom seemed almost lost. ‘I have not so much of the infidel in me,’ he wrote, ‘as to suppose that God has relinquished the government of the world, and has given us up to the care of the devils.’ In other words, I do not believe that humanity can accept the final triumph of evil, of untruth and violence. It will not resign itself to Hitler’s victory, because it instinctively distinguishes between true revolution and criminally counterfeit revolution.

Hitler is not a revolutionary, but a frcebooting exploiter of the revolution; not a lion, but a hyena. He reduces the social revolution — which, it is true, is about to shape the face of the earth — to his out-of-date Alexandric Expedition for the conquest of the world. This anachronistic assault — prepared for seven years — upon a world which did not believe in war any longer, did not want it any longer, did not reckon with it any longer; this abuse of a crisis destined to lead humanity to a higher step in its social maturity and majority, for the purpose of a marauding expedition for conquest and enslavement, this whole insane and stupid criminal venture, will flounder. The whole ghastly history of National Socialism was predictable from its beginning to its present state, and predictable also is its ending. When I speak to my compatriots with the help of the British Broadcasting Corporation, I impress upon them that five sixths of all mankind is opposed to the aims of the so-called Axis powers. Add up, I tell them, the peoples of Russia and China and America and the British Empire — that is, after all, almost all mankind! How can such weight fail to make the scale sink, sooner or later, which in addition is weighed down by the secret hopes and wishes of Europe’s subjugated nations?

III

And what, then, after victory? Some fear a peace of Restoration, as after the Napoleonic Wars, a peace of the Holy Alliance, a Metternich Peace. Well, an epoch of restoration will undoubtedly be necessary after the immense, anarchic brutalization of the last generation: I mean a moral restoration that would again lend validity to the concept of right in the internal and interstate life of the peoples. One can live, after all, under any form of government as long as only this one fundamental treasure, personal security under the law, is guaranteed; and, as soon as this is assured, recognition of international legal claims will not be lacking. It has been proved that man cannot live without faith in a binding and protecting law, that without such faith and without respect for contracts his life turns into a bloody inferno; and a Holy Alliance of the governments and peoples for the purpose of lifting the thought of justice out of its present state of insane decay would be restoration in the best and most necessary sense of the word.

Metternich — that may be a dark name. But I think, looked at from our present times, he was not the worst, and certainly he would have been better to talk to than Hitler. For a real reactionary is always better to talk to than a fake revolutionary. A reactionary he was indeed, because, as an aristocratic internationalist, he fought and suppressed the idea of the nation, the national idea that had emerged from the French Revolution and was connected with the idea of freedom. Metternich feared and hated democratic nationalism and its consequences for Europe, and much of his ideas has always remained in the mentality of the Austrian Peoples’ State, which was, after all, the true successor to the Holy Roman Empire. Still Grillparzer, the Austrian poet, drew the conclusion of the developments, as he anticipated them, in these words: ‘From Humanism via Nationalism to Bestialism.’ Prince Metternich was the example of a statesman who represented a reactionary brake and hindrance for his time, but his ideas were the right ones for the future. He was wrong at his time, and had to succumb, for the step of the national state could not be skipped. The national idea was then in its revolutionary rise. Today it is not any more.

From the national angle alone no problem of our time can be solved any more, be it economical, political, spiritual, or moral. When I said that the national idea has finished its part, I said too much. Peoples, languages, national cultures, will exist in the future too, will probably always exist. But the absolutism of the national state is as antiquated today as the absolutism of kings was at a certain time in the past. To be absolute means to be above the law, which as a matter of fact is the highest degree of freedom. But if this time has taught us anything at all, it is the recognition that this highest and most absolute degree of freedom cannot be granted to either the individual or the state. We are witnessing how the unrestricted demand for freedom of one state, of National Socialist Germany, by overstepping all law and right has brought extreme danger to all other nations and threatens all with infamous slavery. I believe that this is the moment to recognize that freedom is a problem, and that upon a new solution of the problem of freedom the future of the world depends.

In reality, the rescue, the renovation, and the rejuvenation of democracy depend upon this solution, and the main content of the revolution which is taking place at present is the transmutation of the principle of freedom from the principle of licentiousness, deterioration, and anarchy to one of social ties and democratic discipline. A little political philosophy will be necessary to make clear what I mean.

It is a strange fact that the two basic ideas of democracy, freedom and equality, form a certain contrast, a logical contradiction. For, logically and absolutely considered, freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, just as the individual and society are mutually exclusive. Freedom is the need of the individual, but equality is a social need, and social equality obviously limits the freedom of the individual. But logic has not a final nor the highest validity for life, and in the ethical requirements of man freedom and equality are not a real contradiction. Christian humanity has combined the individual and the social principles in a way that is emotionally unassailable and wholly natural. The value and dignity it bestows upon the individual, the human soul in its immediate relationship to God, are not contradicted by the equality of all before God. On the contrary, that dignity and that equality are one and the same thing.

It is in the ‘human rights,’ the Christian heritage of the great bourgeois revolution, that both principles, the individualistic and the social, freedom and equality, are combined and justify each other. The Christian conception of the world denies that freedom and equality constitute an irreconcilable contrast. It accepts as necessary truth that a human synthesis, a reasonable and just synthesis, must be possible between freedom and equality, the individual and society, the person and the collectivity — acknowledging that both demands include great values and great dangers. It is clear that there are tyrannic elements and tendencies in equality and anarchic elements in freedom. As a matter of fact, there would be no hope for humanity if it had only the choice between anarchy and that extreme socialization which destroys personality. The human adjustment between freedom and equality, the reconciliation of individual values and the demands of society, is called democracy. But this adjustment is never completely and finally attained; it remains a problem that humanity must solve again and again. And we feel today that in the relationship of freedom and equality the centre of gravity has moved towards the side of equality and economic justice, away from the individual and toward the social. Social democracy is now the order of the day. If democracy is to hold its own, it must be done through a socially established freedom that rescues individual values by friendly and willing concessions to equality; through an economic justice which ties all of democracy’s children closely to it. A certain reform of the idea of freedom is necessary, because the crisis of democracy is, in truth, the crisis of freedom; and the salvation of democracy from the hostile attack which threatens it will be possible only through an honest solution of the problem of freedom — in the domestic and the international life of the people.

For foreign and domestic truths and requirements parallel each other, and one is a check on the other. The absolute sovereignty of the individual, which cannot be ‘ interfered ‘ with, corresponds in the lives of nations with the absolute, socially irresponsible sovereignty of the great individuals, the national states.

IV

In the future, international life, like the national life of the peoples, must be ruled by a new concept of freedom as a socially integrated and limited individualism. Only by the triumph of this idea of freedom, of the idea of international democracy, are happiness, peace, and order to be won for Europe and for the world — in the place of that anarchy which is the downfall of civilization. The insistence upon the unrestrained sovereignty of national states — that is anarchy, that is the unbridled individualism which has become impossible and ruinous. The egotism of the national states must make sacrifices, social sacrifices, which mean a limitation of nat ional autonomy — yes, of the national idea itself. The fruit of this war must be a democracy of states in which Freedom and Equality have reached a new creative balance.

That is my wishful thinking. I believe that the new and more just order of peoples can only be erected on this ideological basis, the commonwealth which we propose in opposition to Hitler’s eerie misanthropical New Order based on the maniacal arrogance of one single race. It may be a Utopia, this new and better world, this ‘City of Man,’as my friends and I have called it and as we try to prepare it spiritually. But what would man be without Utopia? He must always aim at the unattainable, in order to realize the attainable and to make at least one step forward. The evil Utopia challenges the good, the at least benevolent Utopia — and the will to fight for it. It not only arouses despair in the human being, it instills hope. And thus my answer will be inspired by hope if you ask me, who after all must know Germany, whether my fatherland will ever be able to join, out of its own free and sincere will, the world community of our wishes which is based on freedom and justice. A negative answer would be extremely discouraging, because Germany cannot be eliminated, and the social improvement of the world would be gravely hampered unless Germany is won over to it. Well, then, I will believe that this may be accomplished, and my confidence is not wholly without justification.

What we call National Socialism is the virulent perversion of ideas which have a long history in German intellectual life. Once, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, these ideas lived in grand style; they were called ‘Romanticism,’ and held great fascination for the entire educated world. It can well be said that these ideas have gone to the dogs since they have gone to Hitler, but that could not have been predicted at the time of their birth, at least not easily. Combined with Germany’s extraordinary adaptation to the technical mass age, they constitute an explosive mixture which actually menaces all civilization. And yet once these ideas were identical with what is called ‘German deepness,’ ‘German profoundness’ — that very profoundness which the German spirit set up, as its own expression, against the pragmatism, intellectualism, euæmonism of the Western world which it considered too shallow. In the course of a sad history of decay this ‘German deepness’ has been spoiled, besmirched, and divested of all humanity to such a degree that Germany has become today the enemy of mankind — it does not believe its own eyes. Goethe said once that the Germans should not be permitted for thirty years to pronounce the word Gemüt. For thirty years, I believe, Germans should not be allowed to talk about ‘profoundness.’ Before the German spirit may again take the liberty of being ‘profound’ it must have regained something else which it has inadvertently lost altogether— namely, decency, simple decency. Only then will German writers and authors have the right again to champion German profoundness against Western rationalism.

We are dealing with a nation that considers itself misunderstood by the world, and that sees no other way of coming to terms with it and joining it than by overwhelming and subjugating it. This is what I consider the decisive motive for the German violence. Evidently the case is complicated; economic reasons play a part in it, such as the assumption that it is necessary to change, in a revolutionary way, the proportions of property and distribution in the world; but largely these are pretexts and rationalizations. One can regard National Socialism as the instrument of this economic revolution. Looked at more closely, however, it is the instrument of this desperate German seeking for violent unification with the world. National Socialism wants to Germanize the world; but the world has some reasons to be opposed to that, and what a Germanized world would look like we are taught by the aspect of the European continent that has already been Germanized and is in desperate rebellion against this unbearable condition. It is a senseless venture, and no victory will save it.

Our hope for Germany’s moral recovery and its inclusion in the new world is based on this: National Socialism is something extreme and, physically as well as morally, altogether extravagant, an experiment of unsurpassable immorality and brutality that cannot be exceeded or repeated. The establishment of a state of total war in the service of race mythology and world subjugation — one can do no more, go no further. Should the experiment fail —and it will fail — there will then be some hope after all that German nationalism, the most dangerous that ever existed because it is mechanized mysticism, wall have truly burned itself out, and that Germany, a country of many different inner possibilities, will throw itself in an entirely different direction. Traditions will come to light again which today are trampled in the mud, but which are no less national than those whose perniciousness has become so apparent. Germany will rediscover these better traditions, especially if the rest of the world proves that it has learned something since 1918, or at least since 1933.

One must not forget that in 1919 the victorious nations held unlimited power in their hands to bring about the changes which could have prevented the present disaster. Because of egotism and lethargy they have made bad use of their plenipotence. Thank God there are indications today that this time more courage, imagination, and wisdom will reign. We may then hope for a future which will dry, though not all sweat, at least blood and tears, and which will reconcile the freedom of nations with their equality before a law binding for all.