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Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, "The Third Empire" (1923)

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When the revolution overwhelmed the war, burying all prospects and all hopes, we asked ourselves the inner meaning of these events. Amidst all the insanity we found a meaning in the thought that the German nation would be driven into becoming politically minded: now, at last, belatedly.

[ . . . ]

Today we call this resolution not conservative but nationalist.

This nationalist will desires to conserve all that in Germany is worth conserving. It wills to preserve Germany for Germany’s sake, and it knows what it wills.

The nationalist does not say, as the patriot does, that Germany is worth preserving because she is German. For him the nation is not an end in itself.

The nationalist’s dreams are of the future. He is a conservative because he knows that there can be no future that does not have its roots in the past. He is also a politician because he knows that past and future can only be secure if the nation is secure in the present.

But his thoughts range beyond the present. If we concentrate exclusively on the past, we might easily imagine that German history is closed. It is nowhere written that a people has a right to life eternal. For every people the hour at length strikes when they perish either by murder or by suicide. No more glorious end could be conceived for a great people than to perish in a world war where a world in arms overcame one single country.

German nationalism is in its way an expression of German universalism, and turns its thought to Europe as a whole, not in order—as Goethe in his middle period expressed it—to “lose itself in generalities” but to maintain the nation as a thing apart. The German instinct of self-preservation is penetrated by the experience to which Goethe in his age confessed that art and science alone are “poor comfort” and no substitute for the “proud consciousness” of “belonging to a strong people, respected at once and feared.” Roman nationalism thinks only of itself. German nationalism thinks of itself in relation to other things. The German nationalist wants to preserve Germany not merely because she is Germany, which might easily mean simply to preserve the past. He wants to preserve Germany as a country arising out of the revolutionary upheavals and changes of a new age. He wants to preserve Germany because she holds a central position from which alone the equilibrium of Europe can be maintained. The center, not the west as [Rudolf] Pannwitz thought and not the east as Spengler too rashly anticipated, is the creative focus of our hemisphere. The German nationalist wants to preserve German nationhood, not to exchange it for the “supernational culture” of a [Friedrich Wilhelm] Foerster—in whom the bastardization of German idealism reached its zenith—but to preserve Germany in the consciousness that the Germans have a task in the world which no other people can take from them.

[ . . . ]

Nationalism seeks to secure for the nation a democratic participation in which the proletariat shall also have a share.

The ideals of a nationalist movement differ as greatly from the ideals of a merely formal democracy as from the ideals of a class-conscious proletariat—above all in this: that it is a movement from above and not from below. Participation implies consciousness of the values that are to be shared. This consciousness can never be imparted unless a movement of ready acceptance comes from below; it must, however, be imparted from above.

The democrat, who always leans towards cosmopolitan points of view, and still more the proletarian who hankers after international trains of thought, both like to toy with the thought that there exists a neutral sphere in which the differences between the values of one people and of another vanish. The nationalist instead holds that its own peculiar values are the most characteristic and precious possession of a nation, the very breath of its being. These give a nation form and personality; they cannot be transferred or interchanged. [ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Arthur Moeller van der Bruck, “The Third Empire” (1923), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 332-34. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Arthur Moeller van der Bruck, Das Dritte Reich. Berlin: Ring Verlag, 1923, pp. ii-iv.

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