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Werner Sombart, Merchants and Heroes [Händler und Helden] (1915)

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I wish to issue a warning here lest I give the impression of using the terms merchant and hero in an occupational sense. This is naturally not the case and cannot be the case if I use the terms to designate ideological antagonisms. For these are not necessarily bound to specific occupations. Here it is a question instead of the sentiments and convictions of the merchant or the hero, and it is certainly possible that someone whom fate has destined to sell pepper and raisins can be a hero (by virtue of his sentiments and convictions), while we daily experience the fact that a War Minister is a “merchant,” because he has the soul of a salesman, not a warrior.

First of all, individuals possess an ideology [or Weltanschauung], and thus the souls of merchants and the souls of heroes coexist in the same nation, the same city. I claim, however, that a war between nations is a war between Weltanschauungen, and thus I claim as well that merchants and heroes are at war here. In this light, we must be able to characterize entire peoples as one or the other. This happens as we strive to comprehend the soul of a nation, its spirit, its essence. This “soul of a nation,” this “spirit of a nation” – depending on whether we apprehend it metaphysically or purely empirically – is in any case a “something,” whose existence cannot be denied, which has an independent existence alongside and above all individual members of a nation – something that would endure if every person were to die and that, to a certain degree, asserts itself independently against living individuals. This national soul speaks from a thousand characteristics of a people (and must be recognized differently in each people): from philosophy and art, from the state and politics, from mores and customs.

In this sense one can distinguish between peoples that are merchant peoples and those that are heroic peoples, and in the same sense, mercantile and heroic ideologies stand in struggle for predominance in this great war. Their carriers, however, the two nations that are representatives of the ideological antagonisms, are the English and the Germans. Only as the English–German war does the war of 1914 take on its deeper world-historical significance. The issue of who shall rule the sea is not the great human question that is to be decided now; much more important and central to the fate of mankind is the question of which spirit proves the stronger: the mercantile or the heroic.

Therefore, we must be fully and lucidly aware of this antagonism, which encompasses the world in all its depths and expanses. To aid in this effort is the object of this book, in which I propose to describe in plain terms first the English, then the German spirit, in order then to weigh them against one another and to reveal to the soul of the German reader – I am not writing this for anyone else – the incomparable superiority of the German spirit, so that he might once again become glad of his Germanness.

Source: Werner Sombart, Händler und Helden [Merchants and Heroes]. Munich and Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1915, pp. 3-6.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey and Roger Chickering

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