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Ernst von Salomon, "We and the Intellectuals" (1930)

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We and the Intellectuals

[ . . . ]

The intellectual speaks and writes “I.” He feels no connectedness. He causes disintegration, the disintegration of the mass of individual beings into the particularized individual being, who henceforth stands not under and not over the people, but at their side. The means by which this is accomplished is the misunderstood concept of “education.” Education in the German sense (Bildung) means giving form, both inner and outer. Form, however, can only be given where there is content, and content comes only from an idea. An idea always manifests a connectedness. A thought stands alone and is produced in a brain. An idea is something mutual. It grows out of the tensions between one individual and another. Where there is tension, there is also connectedness. For the intellectual, education is at most a highly developed acrobatics of thought and always only the property of the “I.” The arrogance attached to the concept of education could only have arisen in the intellectual’s conception, and this conception could only flourish in the empty space in which the intellectual lives.

The emphatic “we” of the new generation is a clear renunciation of intellectualism. The “we” of the young, nationalistic generation comes about consciously. We—that is the still small group of men and, in the broad sense, masculine youth—have gone beyond mere renunciation to establish values in place of the old ones or in the empty space. We have no intellectuals—we say it with pride; we say it because we are reproached for this alleged failing. What is intellectual in nationalism is of a different sort than the intellectual of the past historical period. It is tied to blood. It knows no dialectic and where it seeks new interconnections it does so in the sense of responsibility for the whole. The intellectual content of misconceived education knows no whole and has its goal and its zenith in prominence. We know a mutuality, from which we draw force, and this mutuality is rooted not in the word but in the deed and in the readiness to commit the deed. The individuals who come from our ranks, and whom we prize, do not in consequence stand aside, for they drew their force from the consciousness of connectedness with the community, and they are, in the most heightened moment, never dissolved from us but over us, before us; they are leaders. Knowing about the unconditioned nature of leadership and the purification of this concept of all base superfluousness—that is what primarily distinguishes us from liberalism. The liberal system knows no leadership. Instead of leaders it has intellectuals. Marxism knows no leadership. Its first guides and masters were racially alien intellectuals and what it then, uneasily, bore in the way of “leaders”—those were philistines selected and thrown up from below; Marxists themselves call them “bosses.” The system that collapsed in November of 1918 had “representatives” who derived their leadership solely from “tradition.” The system was completely liberal and collapsed for one reason—because the ruling forces, who stood invisibly behind events waiting for the failure of those in charge, either wanted the collapse, or possessed, in their merchant’s mentality, no notion of leadership, or—and this is a special chapter—saw in every form of leadership a danger that could spoil business for them.

Whatever the case may be, we are now confronting a new situation. The structure of our movement is a particular one. It is rooted in the people. Every movement must be, and not only every movement, but every inspired thing that seeks to grow straight. But we draw conclusions from our commitment to the people. That only those who are conscious of their nationality can be part of the German people, that is one conclusion. That all ideas by which one lives must in turn exclusively serve the nation, that is another. That all the phenomena of our multifaceted life are to be recognized, tested, and embraced or repudiated according to the values by which we live, that is a third. Intellectualism we repudiate. It has been weighed and found too light. Our “we” grows out of our will and our service. And our will and our service belong, to the point of ultimate fanaticism, to the German people. Since we have in anguish become persuaded that it is different with others, we use this “we.”

Source of English translation: Ernst von Salomon, “We and the Intellectuals” (1930), 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. 302-04. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Ernst von Salomon, “Wir und die Intellektuellen,” Die Kommenden 5, no. 18 (May 2, 1930), pp. 206-07.

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