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Julius Langbehn, Rembrandt as Educator (1890)

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The individualism of the Germans
To be sure, the final goal of both national art and education is this: monumentality, style, connectedness [Gebundenheit]. But German life must first loosen itself before it can become connected; the bow must be loosened before it can be retied. Three tasks now await the Germans: first, to individualize their spirit, second, to consolidate it, and third, to monumentalize it. Each successive stage in the development is unthinkable without the preceding one.

Individualism is the reigning principle of the world, to the extent that it can be judged from a human perspective; at the same time, however, it is the dominant principle of Germanness. Through such a direct connection to the innermost core of the life of the world, Germany is also marked spiritually and artistically, just as it already is geographically, as a Middle Kingdom, but one that is precisely the opposite of the Asian Middle Kingdom: for it shall be governed, not by the queue and the letter, but by law and the spirit. Only thus can its declining education become a rising one once again, and also prove itself as such vis-à-vis other peoples.

“To have character and to be German is without question synonymous,” Fichte said. The German must return to this quality, which is inborn but which was often lost in the course of time. Precisely in this fractured being, in this centrifugal striving, which has always been characteristic of the German, lies his ability to cast light upon the world and humanity as a whole in such an immensely rich and variegated way. The more he succeeds in making a virtue out of necessity, the more perfectly he will shape his being. His propensity to be individual, to follow his own head – in short, the proverbial and often politically disadvantageous German disunity – enables him in a special way to advance further in the artistic-spiritual sphere than other nations. Individualism is the root of all art; and since the Germans are without a doubt the most peculiar and headstrong of all peoples, they are also – provided they succeed in mirroring the world clearly – the most outstanding of all peoples artistically. In no people of the world does one find so many living caricatures as one does among the Germans, but this deplorable characteristic also has its positive flip-side: it shows that they are very capable of being educated. The more unpolished someone is, the more he can be polished, and the greater the brilliance he can attain. The great future of the Germans rests on their eccentric character. For the same reason, the highest level of their education can only be one filled with art, for a people’s highest level of education must accord with the deepest aspect of its nature; and as I have said, individualism is the deepest aspect of the German nature. And so instinct is driving the Germans of today in the right direction, as they begin to look more towards artistic expression [Gestaltung] than scientific research; but precisely this very instinct should now elevate itself to full consciousness and realize itself in living action. Germany, which led all European and non-European states in the realm of military and social reform, should now do the same in the realm of artistic and spiritual reform. And it can do this if it properly professes that which is the content of its being, the content of art, the content of the world: individualism.

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