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Jacob Burckhardt on German Sentiment during and after the War with France (1870-72)

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II. To Friedrich von Preen, Basel, New Year’s Eve 1870

[Esteemed Sir and Friend!]

[ . . . ]

What has not happened in the last three months! Who could have believed that the struggle would have lasted far into a horrible winter, and would still show no sign of ending on the last day of the year?

I shall remember the end of this year my whole life long! And not as regards my own, private, fate. The two great intellectual peoples of the continent are in the process of completely sloughing their culture, and a quite enormous amount of all that delighted and interested a man before 1870 will hardly touch the man of 1871 – but what a tremendous spectacle, if the new world is born in great suffering.

The change in the German spirit will be as great as in the French; at first the clergy of both confessions will look upon themselves as the heirs of the spiritual disintegration, but something quite different will soon make itself felt, to one side. The shares of the ‘Philosopher’ will rise sharply, whereas Hegel, after this year’s jubilee publications, may very possibly make his definitive jubilee retirement.

The worst of all this is not the present war, but the era of wars upon which we have entered, and to this the new mentality will have to adapt itself. [ . . . ]

III. To Friedrich von Preen, Basel, April 26, 1872

[Esteemed Sir and Friend]

[ . . . ]

I am not being unfair. Bismarck has only taken into his own hands what would have happened in due course without him and in opposition to him. He saw the growing wave of social-democracy would somehow or other bring about a state of naked power, whether through the democrats themselves, or through the Governments, and said: Ipse faciam, and embarked on three wars, 1864, 1866, 1870.

But we are only at the beginning. Don’t you feel that everything we do now seems more or less amateurish, capricious, and becomes increasingly ridiculous by contrast with the high purposefulness of the military machine worked out to the last details? The latter is bound to become the model of existence. It will be most interesting for you, my dear Sir, to observe how the machinery of State and administration is transformed and militarized; for me – how schools and education are put through the cure, etc. Of all classes, the workers are going to have the strangest time; I have a suspicion that, for the time being, sounds completely mad, and yet I cannot rid myself of it: that the military state will have to turn ‘industrialist’. The accumulations of beings, the mounds of men in the yards and factories cannot be left for all eternity in their need and thirst for riches; a planned and controlled degree of poverty, with promotion and uniforms, starting and ending daily to the roll of drums, that is what ought to come logically. (I know enough history, of course, to know that things do not always work out logically.) Of course, what is done will have to be well done and then no mercy, whether for those above or those below.

[ . . . ]

The development of a clever and lasting sovereign power is still in swaddling clothes; it may perhaps wear its toga virilis for the first time in Germany. There are still vast uncharted seas to be discovered in this sphere. The Prussian dynasty is so placed that it and its staff can never again be powerful enough. There can be no question of stopping on this path; the salvation of Germany itself is in forging ahead.

[ . . . ]

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