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Paul de Lagarde on Liberalism, Education, and the Jews: German Writings (1886)

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People and nations move forward along two paths. They do so either in such a way that over the course of slow growth, each higher stage develops from the next lowest stage, each more perfected level from the less perfect level just below it; or in such a way that, after elemental force has overthrown the inadequate status quo, as a result of the disaster, the protagonists now facing sheer death find themselves compelled to use all of their powers to establish a sufficient state of affairs. Thus, people and nations reach their destination either as the plant reaches its own, or as the shipwrecked person reaches his, floating on a plank of the shattered ship, applying the utmost effort and keenest thinking toward using a shred of the sail so that it may help him in reaching the life-saving shore.

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From everything said so far it follows naturally that Germany had to fall prey to what I call liberalism, i.e., that benevolent people acting both on and without official orders attempted to import something that had not grown in the Fatherland but seemed necessary nonetheless. The Greeks and Romans, the Old and New Testaments, the constitutions of all kinds of countries were supposed to help this poor unlucky enterprise. Yet no one realized that our conditions can only be improved from the very bottom up, by means of unconditional truthfulness; not by familiarization with the real and supposed possessions of others but through the actual elimination of our deficits and errors and through the genuine acquisition of goods that are really essential to us, not to any foreign peoples. No nation derives benefit from a good belonging to another nation just because it is merely a good, but only because it represents a good for it. After all, an individual human being is not able to eat all the foods on earth; he is only supposed to eat those foods that benefit him and only to the extent that they benefit him, since he would otherwise lose the capacity to digest and thus to live.

Liberalism was introduced in Prussian schools by Minister Altenstein and his Councilor Johannes Schulze, and from Prussia it spread all over Germany. This is not the least of the misfortunes plaguing our Fatherland. Our youth lacks a mastery of any language; they have no knowledge of literature; they have not even taken the time to engage thoroughly with the major works of our great writers and sought to understand them; but they have received the essence of everything that there ever has been in the form of prepackaged judgments, and at the end of their schooldays they nearly die of boredom. They are so overfed with notes, so unschooled in the perception of intellectual processes and both literary and rhetorical accomplishments that once they reach university they are incapable of following a lecture without notes, however clear and well thought-out it might be; and for this reason, year after year, nearly all systematic lectures devolve into a sort of dictation.

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