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

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Between the Calamus songs and [Novalis’s] “Hymns to the Night” lies the difference between life and death—or, if Goethe’s definition is the right one, between the classic and the romantic. „Sympathy with death“: such a formula does not of course comprehend the whole strange shimmering complex of romanticism, but it does define its heights and depths.

[ . . . ]

No spiritual metamorphosis is more familiar to us than that where sympathy with death stands at the beginning and resolve to live and serve, at the end. The history of European decadence and aestheticism is rich in examples of this thrust through to the positive, to the people, to the state—particularly in the Latin countries.

[ . . . ]

Let us drop this question of the French. A people who had the wit to invent nationalism would have enough to abandon its invention. As for us, we shall do well to be concerned with ourselves and with our own—yes, let us with modest satisfaction use the word—our own national concern. I will call it again by its name—an old-fashioned one, yet today bright with youthful allure: humanity. It is the mean between aesthetic isolation and undignified leveling of the individual to the general; between mysticism and ethics; between inwardness and the state; between a death-bound negation of ethical and civic values and a purely ethical philistine rationalism; it is truly the German mean, the Beautiful and Human, of which our finest spirits have dreamed. We are honoring its explicit, legal form, whose meaning and aim we take to be the unification of our political and national life, when we yield our still-stiff and unaccustomed tongues to utter the cry: “Long live the republic!”

[ . . . ]

Source of English translation: Thomas Mann, Order of the Day, trans. H.T. Lowe Porter, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1942, 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. 105-09. Reprinted with the permission of University of California Press.

Source of original German text: First published as “Von deutscher Republik: Aus einem Vortrag,” Berliner Tageblatt, no. 469 (October 17, 1922). Reprinted in Thomas Mann, “Von deutscher Republik,” in Essays, Band 2: Für das neue Deutschland 1919-1925, edited by Hermann Kurzke and Stephan Stachorski. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1993, pp. 132-33.

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