View Full Version : A Short History of German Identity

Imperator X
Saturday, July 30th, 2005, 04:32 AM
For well over 1000 years, German efforts to create a nation-state failed. It was not until 1871 that a German nation-state was finally founded.

• Early German identity based on shared linguistic heritage. ‘German’ is anyone who does not speak Latin or one of the Romance languages derived from Latin (Welsch). The contrast between Welschland and Deutschland.

• German identity is also problematic because Germans have seen themselves as descended from the many Germanic tribes which overran the Roman Empire set up kingdoms throughout Europe, including the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which occupied areas which are now identified with ‘Germany’, and lasted until 1806. Ironically, given the Germanic tribes had destroyed the Roman Empire, ‘Germany’ was for centuries a cosmopolitan political entity which drew its legitimacy as a successor state to the polyglot Roman Empire.

• The birth of German national consciousness took place during the Renaissance http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/hutten_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/hutten.jpg)and the Reformation. Particularly important for this was the rediscovery of Germania by the Roman historian Tacitus, which encouraged Germans to look back to the Germanic tribes for inspiration. Also Ulrich von Hutten (pictured) and Martin Luther, who saw in Rome an obstacle to German spiritual and political regeneration. Hutten helped to establish the Arminius (Hermann) cult, which raised a Germanic warlord to the status of national hero (Arminius was responsible for the annihilation of three Roman legions).

• German nationalists also promoted the myth of Germania, a female representation the German nation and close sister of Britannia and France's Marianne

• Count Arthur de Gobineau, the ‘father of modern racism’. In his Essay on the Inequality of Human Races (1853-5), G divided humanity up into 3 races: the White, Yellow and Black, with the White race or Aryans obviously the superior race. All civilisation was ultimately the product of this race; only it had achieved anything worthwhile in history. But the tragedy was that no race could stay pure, for it was bound to mix with inferior races and thereby degenerate.

• Houston Stewart Chamberlain http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/hschamberlain_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/hschamberlain.jpg)(The Foundations of the 19th Century, 1899) adopts the racial theories of Gobineau, whilst also adding anti-Semitism to the long-standing anti-Roman component of German nationalism. All great European cultural achievements are the work of the Germanic-Aryan peoples. In Chamberlain’s theory, ‘Rome’ now appears an ally – or rather, tool – of an insidious Jewish race bent on the extermination of the Germanic-Aryan peoples. The mission of the German-Aryan is to purify Europe (Germany) of the influence of Catholicism and Judaism. Germany’s imaginative geography: Orientalism and Hellenism

• Thirty Years War (1618-1648) devastated Germany. Foreign influences (esp. French) swamped Germany. Winckelmann http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/winckelmann_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/winckelmann.jpg)- Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1755) ‘The only way for us to become great is to imitate the Greeks’. Greek individualism, wholeness and completeness of the individual personality in ancient Greece. Humboldt - http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/humboldt_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/humboldt.jpg)proper study of the Hellenic past would further national integration and reconcile it to the changes brought by modernity: new kind of society. German people uniquely like the ancient Greeks and thus, more than any others, would benefit from an intense exposure to their culture. The classical ideal in education: to achieve Bildung = self-cultivation, the complete formation of the individual human character

• The Deutschrömer (German-Romans) rejected the northern landscapes of Romantic artists such as Caspar David Friedrich: in favour of southern & classical scenes, e.g. Arnold Böcklin's Landscape in the Campagna (1859): or Anselm Feuerbach's Memento of Tivoli (1866-67)

• Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Italian Journey. http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/goethe%20in%20italy_small1.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/goethe%20in%20italy.jpg)Discovers Italy in 1786 to 1788. Modern southerners nearest to Greeks. ‘Naples is a paradise; everyone lives in a sort of drunken half-consciousness. I feel the same’ (right).

• Nietzsche - http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/dionysos%202_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/dionysos%202.jpg)http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/apollo%203_small.gif (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/apollo%203.gif)dark side of the Greek character. The Birth of Tragedy (1872). Essence of Greek art grew out of a tension btn the wild forces represented by Dionysos, god of wine and ecstasy (left), & Apollo, god of light, healing and art (right). Tragedy as means of recognizing pain and terror of existence and yet affirming it. Rebirth of German culture must be modeled on Greek tragedy.

• Orientalism – stereotyping of East by West: mysterious, cruel, despotic. But also deeply spiritual. http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/orient_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/orient.jpg)

• Germans viewed Russians as Orientals: Tsarist Russia and Bolshevism both seen as essentially un-free, despotic systems.

• These ideas taken up by Nazis, who linked the idea of ‘oriental’ Russia with that of the ‘oriental’ Jew, to form the ultimate German ‘other’.

Peace cannot be achieved through Empire because:

• Linguistic and religious differences naturally separate states If states gave up their sovereignty they would no longer be state A world state would be inherently despotic. How to achieve perpetual peace among nations? Peace can only be attained by a federation of free nation states based on international law. Kant thinks of the state as an analogue of the individual human being, that is, as guided by reason and capable of moral autonomy.

• For the individual states this means: The constitution will be republican (i.e. executive power, government, is separated from legislative power, parliament). No state can acquire another state Standing armies will be abolished There will be no national debt for any state in connection with external affairs No state shall interfere with the affairs of another stateNo state shall damage the confidence between it and other states by spying, instigating treason or assassinating members of other states Novalis – http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/novalis_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/novalis.jpg)in his Christendom or Europe Novalis distinguishes between medieval 'Christendom' and modern 'Europe', and expresses a nostalgia for the Middle Ages, when Europe had been a single Christian community united by a single spiritual leader: the Pope. In an age of modernity, secularism, and nationalism, the Middle Ages should serve as a source of inspiration for the revival of not only of Christianity and the Church, but also for the political future of the European landmass. The medieval concept of Christendom could be a regenerating force in the world: where Europe is suggestive of political division, Christendom symbolizes the unity of tradition. Europe was the decadent heir of Christendom.

• Nietzsche – http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/nietzsche_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/nietzsche.jpg)Beyond Good and Evil (1886) The idea of the ‘Good European’ as antithesis of German nationalist and embodying all that is good in European culture.

• Against Kantian republicanism and federalism (anti-democratic); envisages a Europe governed by international ruling caste bred from the best human specimens. The masses of ordinary Europeans shall be slaves for this class.Mitteleuropa – term cannot be adequately translated. Advanced as alternative vision of a future Germany in a new Europe. LEFT: a democratic federal system in central E as solution to the region’s problematic ethnic tensions. A new democratic confederation, in which all communities would have representation; a model from which a wider, federal E might emerge.RIGHT: region dominated economically and politically by Germany, customs union. Germany neither belonging to West or East. Successor to Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. Albrecht Penck wrote of a new political configuration under German patronage as a means of securing peace and a pathway towards a united E, and which stretched from Ostend to Geneva and the Black Sea.

• The most famous expression of the idea was by Friedrich Naumann’s 1915 book Mitteleuropa.

• Neuropa - All fascists dreamed of creating a truly European supra-national civilization. War on Russia as holy war, a crusade mounted to protect Europe from godless Bolshevism.

• Pan-Europa - In 1923 Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, born in Tokyo to an Austro-Hungarian father and a Japanese mother, wrote Paneuropa, in which he presented a vision of a united Europe that was internationalist, cosmopolitan and multiracial. http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/coudenhouve_small.gif (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/coudenhouve.gif) He argued that the European powers were in decline in the world, but this could and should be halted in order to prevent the continent from becoming a mere plaything of world events and politics. The necessary modernization of the European political system would have to consist in large-scale cooperation instead of the traditional anarchy, since technological progress had made small and conflicting states obsolete. Even the so-called great powers were now insufficient, as the world was about to be divided into global power fields. The best hope for peace lay in the development of 5 global powers: the Americas, USSR, Eastern Asia (China, Japan), British Empire and Pan-Europa. Coudenhove-Kalergi was aware of the difficulties of defining Europe. Geographical criteria seemed immediately inappropriate, since E was merely the western part of the huge Eurasian landmass with no natural eastern border. Euro culture had spread to other continents, too (such as the Americas). Europe as such, as as a political entity did not exist, so it had to be created. Pan-Europa was the name given by C-K to this aspirant Europe.http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/paneuropa%20map_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/paneuropa%20map.jpg)

• A united Europe, based on the federal US model, would logically dominate Africa to the South, crating a single ‘Eurafrican’ zone.

• Britain had ‘grown out’ of Europe and become a political 'continent' in its own right, too big and powerful to be included in Pan-Europa. However, relations between the 2 were to be based on cooperation and mutual defence guarantees, and both were to share the ‘European cultural task’ - ie the Europeanization of other parts of the world: Britain by controlling colonies, Pan-Europa by providing the human raw material for their development. Britain was also to mediate between Pan-America and Pan-Europa since all three shared the same culture and democratic values. And if GB should lose its empire, would join PE.

• Pan-Europa’s main function was to secure the peace: internally in Europe by creating a supranational structure based on obligatory arbitration and multilateral cooperation, thereby reducing the risk of border conflicts by diminishing the importance of borders; and externally through a Pan-European defence alliance protecting the small E nations against threats from outside, primarily from USSR. The hope was that, in the fullness of time, a united Europe could also secure a global balance of power allowing for large-scale disarmament, sponsored by a common market without internal customs barriers.

• Post-war Germany - Since the 1950s a consensus has emerged among the political elites of the FRG that European integration on the federalist model is vital to German interests. Successive German governments have thoroughly Europeanized German national identity.

• This was initiated by Konrad Adenauerhttp://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/adenauer_small.jpg (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/adenauer.jpg), but the SPD was the first major German political party to embrace the concept of a United States of Europe in its 1925 Heidelberg program. Its sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, included this in its basic party programme:

Europe is a supranational community of life among the family of nations. We support the creation of a European confederation for the common preservation and continuation of Christian Occidental culture

Integration of the German state in the West was the best means of overcoming Germany’s past: Christianity, democracy and the social market economy the three pillars on which a collective European identity was to be based, sharply distinguished from the nationalist and militarist G past and from Soviet communism.

Adenauer built upon these notions. His construction of the Occident, which included the Anglo-Saxon community, was synonymous with the West, the ‘free world’, which he saw as threatened by ‘Asia’. This notion of the Occident against the Soviet Communism also contained the construction of a central position in the Europe (Mittelage) with a corresponding commitment to the West. G was in the ‘heart of Europe’, positioned between 2 power blocs with antagonistic ideologies. The Federal Republic had to chose a side and the commitment to Western or Occidental civilization meant that it chose the ‘free world’.

This identity construction of the CDU – the politicization of Christian Occidental culture – determined a new role for G in a European federal state. G in Europe as the future mission of the FRG Firmly anchoring postwar G in Western Europe was the best way to overcome G’s problematic past and disquiet over it national identity.

All text and images found here: http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/el10920lectures.htm (http://users.aber.ac.uk/gmm/teaching/el10920lectures.htm)

Good coverage of the Classical and Germanic elements in German national/cultural identity. Though one can clearly see the decline of the true German volkgeist in the modern age.

Saturday, July 30th, 2005, 08:18 AM
Weird stuff.

Saturday, July 30th, 2005, 08:23 PM
I think it's very interesting that the Germans tried to model the Greeks in order to become a dominant nation. ‘The only way for us to become great is to imitate the Greeks’. I never knew that the "German people uniquely like the ancient Greeks and thus, more than any others, would benefit from an intense exposure to their culture," (Humboldt?). This all makes me very proud ;) .

Imperator X
Sunday, July 31st, 2005, 05:14 AM
As mentioned in the article there were many different "schools" of thought which in it's own way tried to mold German identity. The Classicists or Hellenists as it were, were very influential in determining part of the German culture. The Greeks had quite an influence on Nietzsche, particularly in his formulation of the concepts of "Dionysiac" and "Apollinian" (sic) characters/philosophies. Another school of thought were the Germanicists who tried to romanticize themes from Norse and Germanic mythology. The Classical school actually helped the Germanicist idea because the Germans wanted to illustrate Germanic mythology in much the same way that Greek myths were refined. Thus we see Classical depictions of Wotan with the Gungnir spear, paintings of Freyja, portrayed or "brought to life" using the same methods and techniques as Classical inspired art.