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Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe: Reflections and Recollections (1946)

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These words like a searchlight throw their beam both backward and forward. We stand at the main turning-point in the evolution of the German people. The man of Goethe’s day was a man of free individuality. He was at the same time a “humane” man, who recognized his duty toward the community to be “noble, helpful, and good” and carried out his duty accordingly. He lived and developed at first in the synthesis of classical liberalism and then of the national socialism of the Naumann stamp. He became ever more strongly bound up with the social needs of the masses and with the political requirements of the state; that is, he became ever more tightly and concretely united with the community of people and state that enveloped him. Once more something of this old free relationship between the individual and the state glowed in the romanticism of the August days. Was the “humane” man, who then once again bore testimony to himself, henceforth to be condemned to extinction by all the forces which were compressing men more and more in masses? We shall keep this difficult question in mind; the answer to it can be found, so far as is possible at all, at the end.

As early as 1915 one could perceive that the August synthesis of cultural and social forces would not last. It crumbled away simultaneously from both the right and the left. The efforts of the extreme left, associated with the name of the younger Liebknecht, belong to the history of communism in Germany. Communism was developing and would become of historical significance if Germans of the future should take their stamp from it. The developments on the German right wing which must now occupy us were not yet, however, touched by communism.

The conflict about war aims broke out at this point. For Germany’s future the important thing to be done now was for Germany to extricate herself from the mortally dangerous position into which she had fallen through her thoughtless prewar policy. She made enemies simultaneously of the two great world powers, Russia and England. [ . . . ]

Source: Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe: Reflections and Recollections (1946). Translated by Sidney B. Fay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950, pp. 25-27.

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