The Grey International
Second volume of German Writings: February 1881.
The whole world speaks of the black, the red, and the golden International: the grey International is still circulating under the name of liberalism. The time seems ripe to me to endow it with all of its rights. Like its siblings, it is unpatriotic and is therefore the utmost curse upon any country. It rules just as eagerly, however, as the three other members of the family; but power is not actually what it aspires to: Even if it does so unintentionally, it kills one’s conscience and ability to comprehend life as a whole, and it thereby kills one’s personality.
Everything that is useful to humans is the result of their own work. Numerous contemporaries support this statement, although they are not aware of its broad implications. It has been powerfully illustrated in an easily assessable manner by the reparations paid to Germany by France. We would certainly have done quite nicely with those five billion francs if we had earned franc after franc individually. Since they came upon us all at once, however, without us doing anything in return, they remained alien to us, causing a decaying illness that we have not yet overcome and will not overcome for a long time. Precisely the same thing applies to intellectual goods. No nation can be handed the principles of political life, can be given fruits of world culture from the outside: We can never learn such things by heart as we would vocabulary, never borrow them as we would an umbrella; we have to acquire for ourselves any intellectual goods we wish to own. Liberalism – and of course I am speaking only of German liberalism from my own knowledge – is the Weltanschauung of those who collect intellectual goods from everywhere, honestly believing that these pieces are their property precisely because they are stored in their chests and shrines. And to the owner wishing to use it, all this gold – as our fairytales already know – proves nothing but coal, even though it really used to be gold. The impression that these owners make on healthy people is one of mentally ill persons who count gilded paper as gold: Wherever such persons come to the fore in the life of nations, they have a corrupting effect on morality in the higher sense because they discredit work, because they pour out treasures – as though these had been won in lottery – in front of those who haven’t the slightest idea what to do with them. But they also have a corrupting effect on morality in a more ordinary sense, because they do not really possess what they believe they possess, as a result of which, in their case, theory and practice constantly contradict each other. These liberals are reverse [Peter] Schlemihls*: they have the shadow of a body, but not the body itself. Since I definitely wish to avoid being misunderstood, I would like to point out that I have specified very precisely what I mean by liberal here, and that to me liberal is not merely the equivalent of a freedom lover.
* This refers to Peter Schlemihl, the character who loses his shadow in Adalbert Chamisso’s novella Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte [Peter Schlemihl’s Amazing Tale] – trans.