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Thomas Mann, “On the German Republic” (1922)

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Now you are angry; if the presence of certain highly placed personages did not restrain you, you would shout at me: “And what about your book? What about your antipolitical, antidemocratic meditations of the year 1918? Renegade, turncoat! You are eating your own words, you are riding for a fall! Come down from the platform, and stop having the effrontery to think that the words of an unprincipled apostate can win us over!”

My dear friends, I am still here. I have still something to say that seems to me good and important. As for the fall and the betrayal, that is not quite a fair way to look at it. I retract nothing. I take back nothing essential. I told the truth and tell it today.

[ . . . ]

I am in fact a conservative; that my natural occupation in this world is to preserve not to destroy—in the sense that Novalis defined in an aphorism, with both delicacy and force: It may be at certain times needful that everything should fall into a fluid state, to bring about new and necessary mixtures and produce a fresh and purer crystallization. But it is just as indispensable to moderate the crisis and prevent total liquefaction. A stock must remain, a kernel for the new mass to gather round and shape itself into new and beautiful forms. Then let what is solid concentrate even more firmly, thus preventing an excess of caloric, the crumbling of the bony structure, the wearing out of the essential fabric. Well, just such a concentration of the solid, such a provision against the destruction of the essential fabric, was this book of mine, in just such a way did it seek to conserve. It was conservative, not in the service of the past and reaction but in the service of the future. Its concern was the preservation of that stock, that kernel around which the new might crystallize in beautiful forms. The fever of revolution, inevitable and indispensable as it always is, must not be thought of as an end in itself, a condition to be perpetuated; and the statement applies no less to the solidification of the next stage, which seems to be hostile to the future but must at the right time be fluid enough to permit the fixed and the flowing coming together to form a just peace for the sake of life and the new form.

[ . . . ]

Let met just interpolate here my opinion of [Oswald] Spengler’s work—this seems a suitable place. His Decline of the West is the product of enormous power and strength of purpose; scientific, rich in aperçus; a high-brow romance, vastly entertaining and reminiscent of Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea not only in the musicianly method of its composition. That is to rate the book very high. At the same time, I have my own democratic opinion about it: I find its attitude false, arrogant, and „convenient“ to the point of extreme inhumanity. It would be different if this attitude were a cloak for irony, as I at first supposed; if its prophesying were a polemical technique. Certainly one can prophesy about a thing like civilization—according to Spengler the inevitable, biological endcondition of every culture, including the present Occidental one—but not that it may come to pass, no, in order that it may not come to pass; to anticipate and prevent it as a sort of mental exorcism. I thought that was the case here. But when I found out that this man wanted his prophecies of death and petrifaction taken in sober earnest; that he was instructing the young not to waste their emotions and passions on culture, art, poetry, and such things but to hold fast to what must inevitably be the future, which they must will in order to will anything at all, to technique and mechanics, administration, perhaps politics; when I perceived that the hand this man reached out towards the yearnings and wishes of the human being was actually just the old, natural Satanic claw, then I averted my own face from so much inhuman hate and put the book out of my sight, lest I find myself admiring so harmful and deadly a work.

[ . . . ]

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