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Julius Langbehn, Rembrandt as Educator (1890)

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Only spirit can invoke spirit; Faust descended to the mothers; the German today must ascend to his fathers – in order to find the key to the future. A fully alive figure that a Volk has before its eyes means a hundred times more than a slogan or a theory; the saying, “men, not measures,” also holds true here. Goethe pointed the way when he said: “What is original in us is best preserved and invigorated when we do not lose sight of our ancestors.” Like can be recognized only by like; a Volk understands itself in its own Volk comrades; this is the advantage of historical over other ideals. The former surpass the latter in the inner continuity of life. New fire is kindled from the old.

The institution of “compurgators” represents an ancient German and Greek legal custom; a properly understood cult of heroes, however, is a kind of ethical compurgation that the Volk invokes for its last and most able qualities. The individualistic principle, which largely dominates the German, often imparted something unsteady, scattered, and disintegrative to his nature; this has confirmed itself so far not only in political but also in spiritual things; it is precisely in contrast to this that these historical ideals offer a solidifying support. They must function as total personalities; they can and should be radiant banners around which rally the host of those who today are fighters, strivers, earnest seekers. They shall be models; not for scholars, though, but for doers; not as food for epicures, but as food for the core of the Volk. Practically speaking, it is of little value to bottle genius, as is done today in Shakespeare and Goethe societies. Instead, genius should be savored at its source; only in that way can it have a fortifying and enriching effect. Special times, of course, require that one look up to a special heroic image; when it comes to the choice of the latter, the need of the times and the spiritual current are crucial. Conversely, its influence on the various spheres of life in a given age will depend on the particular movements and problems that happen to fill it. In political times one must look to political heroes, in artistic times to artistic heroes; but always the critical thing is not to imitate what is transitory in these men, their unique accomplishment, but what is lasting, their inner nature. In every case, one must observe and follow not what is coincidental, but what is necessary, not the individual man, but the nature of the national soul in him. Then one will harvest the corresponding fruits from that community of the spirit, that cult of the hero, that self-understanding of the spirit of the Volk. A people that applies this method of education to itself will not lack for strength any more than did Antaeus as long as he was touching his earth mother – for it has remained true to itself.

The great, conservative trait, which alone imparts to a national life the spirit of steadfastness – and therefore that which it indispensably requires for a healthy existence and what one might call the style of national life – is something that any people, hence also the German one, will find only by linking up with the great and truly creative spiritual powers of its own past: with its historical ideals. From them we can expect the same limiting, regulating, norm-creating influence inwardly that the political reorganization of Germany has in part exercised on it outwardly and will continue to do so in the future; they stand in the middle between art and politics, leading from the latter to the former.

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