The German Republic
For Gerhart Hauptmann On His 60th Birthday
You were among my listeners, Gerhart Hauptmann—may I remind you?—when I was privileged to speak one day before the University of Frankfurt during the Goethe celebrations. My subject was culture and cultural loyalties. In other words, my subject was our humane tradition. You sat in the front row, and behind you the tiers of seats rose almost to the ceiling, crowded with German youth. That was excellent; so may it be again today. Once more, though today only thanks to my imagination, I see you before me as you then sat and I speak to you upon your birthday. And raising my head a little higher, I see the hosts of German youth there too, pricking up their ears; for it is to them that I am speaking today, above your head, it is to them I have something to say, with them that I have, perhaps—in the sense of the common phrase—a bone to pick. [ . . . ] I will persevere to the end, for I have set my heart and my mind on winning you over. German youth must be won over, so much is fact; and they are to be won, that must be a fact too, since they are not bad but only a little stiff-necked and defiant and prone to shuffle their feet.
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War is romantic. No one has ever denied the mystic and poetic element residing in it. But today only the insensible would deny that it is utterly debased romanticism, an utter distortion of the poetic. To save our national feeling from falling into disrepute, to keep it from becoming a curse, we must learn to understand that a warlike and brawling spirit is not its whole content but more and more absolutely a cult of peace in accord with the mysticism and poetry in its nature.
I must beg you, young men, not to take this tone. I am no pacifist, of either the unctuous or the ecstatic school. Pacifism is not to my taste, whether as a soporific for the soul or as a middle-class rationalization of the good life. It was not Goethe’s, either, or would not have been; yet he was a man of peace. I am no Goethe; yet a little, distantly related somehow or other, as Adalbert Stifter put it, I “belong to his family.” The side of peace is my side too, as being the side of culture, art, and thought, whereas in a war vulgarity triumphs [ . . . ] not alone, not alone, I know, so be quiet!—but as things now are in the world, and as the human being is, war is not much else today. The peoples of the world are old and sophisticated, their epic and heroic stage lies far in the past, any attempt to return to it involves a desperate revolt against the decree of time and constitutes a spiritual insincerity. War is a lie, its issues are a lie; whatever honorable emotion the individual may bring to it, war itself is today stripped of all honor, and to any straight and clear-eyed vision reveals itself as the triumph of all that is brutal and vulgar in the soul of the race, as the archfoe of culture and thought, as a blood orgy of egoism, corruption, and vileness.
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My aim, which I express quite candidly, is to win you—as far as that is needed—to the side of the republic; to the side of what is called democracy, and what I call humanity, because of a distaste I share with you for the meretricious overtones of the other word. I would plead with you for it, in the sight of this man and poet here before me, whose genuine popularity rests upon the loftiest union of folk and human elements. For I could wish that the face of Germany, now so sadly drawn and distorted, might once more show lineaments like his, this poet’s face, which still displays so many traits of that high trustworthiness which we connect with the German name.
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