View Full Version : The Germanic Spirit and the 'Prussian Spirit'

Friday, January 7th, 2005, 09:19 AM
In relation to Loki´s thread "Who is a german", I suddenly remembered that my father and grandparents were often mentioning how people had a "germanic" or "prussian" spirit. This was often in correlation to very tidy, correct and polite people, with a lot of fighting spirit when it came to defending their family and their beliefs. Many of them harboured great suspicions towards newcomers in their neighbourhood, especially those of african or asian origin, most held racist views.
It might seem that it was my my grandparents who planted the seed that grew to be racial awareness, in me.

Dr. Brandt used a vague, but nontheless fitting description when he said that being a German is a matter of blood, heart and mind. (Forgive me if I quoted you incorrectly.)
I used to feel that I should try to change my typical scandinavian ways and try to become even more outgoing, sociable and fiery tempered. A more "fun" person, a little less like just any dull scandinavian.
I´m now proud to announce that I have indeed a germanic spirit, and I am a very typical scandinavian girl, and I am NOT about to change that.
Being tidy, family- and nature loving, hard working and (at times) introvert is part of who I´m meant to be.

Thank you, Loki, for triggering those memories!

Friday, January 7th, 2005, 11:15 AM
In relation to Loki´s thread "Who is a german", I suddenly remembered that my father and grandparents were often mentioning how people had a "germanic" or "prussian" spirit. This was often in correlation to very tidy, correct and polite people, with a lot of fighting spirit when it came to defending their family and their beliefs. Many of them harboured great suspicions towards newcomers in their neighbourhood, especially those of african or asian origin, most held racist views.That's what i was thaught too when i was a small child.
The "Preussian/Germanic" spirit (as many elders call it) was ruling in my parents home, and is still in my home, (now when im old and have an own family to take care of) one of the most important things for me to teach my kids.
Honest, loyalty, very tidy, correct etc, all the things you mentioned above Freja, is very important things for children learn.
I just hate to see how the people raise their (or maybe i should say, not raise) kids today.

As the old germans use to say to me when i meet them, "You are like us when it comes to writing, talking, acting and many other things. Everything you do seems so strict, polite and with a fightingspirit that are rarely seen these days, but as we say here in Germany: Ordnung ist Leben."
I think that says alot, really.

I Hope you understand how i mean, i can't find the english words sometimes.

Dr. Brandt used a vague, but nontheless fitting description when he said that being a German is a matter of blood, heart and mind.Maybe vague, but i think everyone know what he meant.


Friday, January 7th, 2005, 11:23 AM
I like the phrase "ordnung is leben" - it describes me perfectly. I also love "ordnung muss sein" (sorry for using the wrong letters), I repeat it all tthe time to my employees, who think I am a pain in the butt. LOL

Friday, January 7th, 2005, 11:34 AM
I like the phrase "ordnung is leben" - it describes me perfectly. I also love "ordnung muss sein" (sorry for using the wrong letters), I repeat it all tthe time to my employees, who think I am a pain in the butt. LOLSounds like me :)


Friday, January 7th, 2005, 12:46 PM
Fantastic thread Freja!! I'll respond when I am back at home this weekend....

Mistress Klaus
Friday, January 7th, 2005, 01:09 PM
:laugh: Perhaps I should move to Germany (I think I would prefer Austria), or the Skandinavian lands,...I keep a very clean dust free house ("this house is all shiny, everything shines..."..."Are you a cleaning freak like my mother?"..."You're clean..I trust you handling my food" quotes .. :tongue:

Sunday, July 15th, 2012, 05:38 AM
The Prussian Spirit

By Gunther Bardey

On 25th February 1947 a ruling by the Allied Control Commission in Berlin declared the liquidation of the State of Prussia. In justification of this decision it was stated that it was in the interests of peace, as Prussia had been the source of militarism in the world. Since that time the concept of Prussianism has been defamed in Germany as none other has ever been. The Germans who have taken the lead in this self-denunciation are very naturally those who have been appointed by the victor states to responsible positions in the new provinces. There is no discussion : the idea of Prussianism is neither attacked nor defended, but ignored. National Socialism, militarism and neo-fascism were attacked, but the word Preussentum was just struck out of the "re-educated" German language, and not mentioned. Prussia was to be considered dead. But is the old Prussia really dead ? The answer is that it lives on in the individual. It has the value of a way of life, which Prussianism has been in the world, since its idea was first deliberately inculcated.

Even abroad, when some personality becomes prominent among his associates for his sense of duty, his love of order and his austerity it is said of him to this day that "he is almost a Prussian". (This title of honour was given by an American newspaper to General Lucius D. Clay, for his work as military commander in Berlin.)

The idea of Prussianism has sunk deep into the consciousness of the world, because the virtues of the Prussian ethic were in fact virtues which are sought by other states and peoples ; while in Germany there are now only a few people who have a clear concept of it, since its virtues are not those which attract in a pseudo-democratic way of life. Prussia must be dead ! This is the wishful thought of those politicians who do not realise that an ethical concept cannot be destroyed by violence.

What, then, is Prussianism ?

While some saw in Prussia a state similar to other states, others regarded it as the basis of their existence. While some praised Prussian law and order, others again condemned Prussian militarism. And the latter was the only definition of Prussianism which the victors and their Praetorians used, without any real examination of the grounds for their judgment, at Potsdam, at Nuremberg and on 25th February 1947 in Berlin. And since then there has been silence.

In this connection, however, it should be of interest to turn our attention to that concept of militarism which is described as "Prussian". It is a slogan; and no clear and unambiguous definition of what it means has ever been given. It may be hardly worth the trouble to examine what irresponsible propaganda and demagoguery have read into the concept of so called "Prussian Militarism". If, however, one understands militarism to be the absolute authority of a military caste, then one can answer that there has never been an absolute domination of professional soldiers either in Prussia or in Germany.

Major-General Hans von Seeckt wrote in 1929 on this theme of militarism the following commentary, which is still valid at the present time : "France proudly trains its people as a nation in arms. Is that not militarism? And America, which so self-consciously unfolds the banner of peace, teaches at its universities — it is a fact — the art of war to future staff officers, collects the educated youth into officer corps, and prepares industry for mobilisation. I would like to call this patriotism, but here at home it is called militarism."

Prussia, however, does not only represent a state, but also a principle, and Prussianism is a living ethic. Just as a philosophy can only be explained in terms of its principles, so an ethic is justified by the virtues it produces. The state of Prussia made particularly severe demands on the individual, just as it required its Kings to be the first servants of the state. The Prussian feeling for the state was thus neither ideological nor metaphysical; it expressed itself above all as an ethical concept. Only the capacity was valued, not the intention; success was not the criterion, but achievement. Duties to the state were not performed from self-interest, but from the highest motives of service. There has never, in any state, been a poorer and more self-sacrificing civil service, but in the past it was a great honour to have been in the service of Prussia.

There must have been some mystery in a state which had nothing to offer but the sour fruits of duty, yet to whose service unending numbers of highly talented and able people sacrificed themselves — people from all the other German countries and even from all Europe. They became Prussians of their own free will, through their acceptance of the duty of service. They came, indeed, to Prussia to live a life of service, for they could not live without duties to perform and a higher purpose before them, as Hermann Hess expressed it.

Who were they, and where did they come from ? Moltke and Bliicher were born in Mecklenburg, Ernst Moritz Arndt was a Swede and Kayserlingk was a Bait ; from Nassau came Freiherr von Stein, Gneisenau and Hegel were Swabians and Lentulus was Swiss. There were the Lower Saxons Scharnhorst, Grolmann and Hardenberg ; Fieldmarshal Keith was a Scot and Corbierre a Frenchman. And what was it that moved the many independent nobles, whose pedigrees were older and imperial honours higher than those of the Prussian Kings, to serve in Prussia? For generations the Dukes of Brunswick and Mecklenburg, the Thuringian and Anhalt nobility, chose to serve the Prussian state. They offered their lives not for the King of Prussia, but for the ethic of duty. So they all became what they could not become by the chance of birth, Prussians through devotion to duty.

It was only in Prussia that Kant could develop his philosophy of duty that gave the mental development of the 18th and 19th centuries a new direction which has become the fundamental basis of our scientific achievements. Kant's categorical imperative gave the Prussian sense of duty its fundamental expression, and consolidated the concept of Prussianism once and for all. His philosophic maxim : " Act so that the motives of your will can serve as the principles of a general code of law ", contained for the first time the concept of acting in accord with pure duty. When King Frederick wrote: "It is not necessary that I should live, but it is necessary that I should do my duty ", the theoretical maxim of the philosopher was raised by the statesman to the general principle of the state.

It is only possible for anyone to understand the ethic of Prussianism who is prepared to subordinate himself to this principle of duty, and not to fly for refuge, to his own fireside, which he then secures with a double lock. He who is prepared to serve achieves honour, and honour has been from time immemorial the highest and costliest of all human attributes.

Recognition of the principle of duty brought with it realisation of responsibility. From the King down to the last citizen everyone in Prussia bore his own responsibilities; carried them not as some unpleasant or hateful burden but with pride as a self-assumed task. And as a sense of responsibility from above awakens a sense of responsibility from below, Prussia became, under her duty-bound leaders, a community of responsible people. Everyone knew that he served the state in his own particular capacity, and he was convinced that it was up to him to fulfil his duty, so that out of this recognition came achievement.

It seems almost legendary today, how Prussian men and women pressed forward to assume responsibilities in the darkest days of the state. In times when responsible persons had everything to lose and nothing to gain, when Prussian Kings were reduced to beggars, the best elements of Prussianism offered themselves with a fanatical enthusiasm to assume responsibility for the state and to take the oath : "He who has sworn on the Prussian flag has no longer anything that belongs to himself".

This consciousness of responsibility was all-embracing. It was not limited to the conscientious fulfilment of duty, or responsibility towards the King of Prussia. It extended itself above all to those persons who were in the same line of duty. The Prussian felt responsible for his friends and colleagues, he took upon himself, as a matter of course, responsibility towards those beneath him as well as to his superiors. And as the Prussian did not regard this as a right but as a moral duty, it was possible for Fieldmarshal Hans Christoph von Schwerin to send his Monarch away from the battlefield of Mollwitz, and be prepared to take the responsibility for this action before the Prussian state.

There arose from this feeling of responsibility what we can describe as civil courage. As nowhere else, manly pride in the royal throne existed in Prussia. Because this was recognised by all, and everyone felt that it sprang from a deep sense of responsibility, it was possible for the young Seydlitz to reply to his King on the battlefield of Zorndorf, when a premature order to attack had been given : "Tell his Majesty that my head is at his disposal after the battle, but I beg him to make use of it now as will best serve his purpose ". This was not mutiny but the purest and highest responsibility, which subordinated personal destiny willingly and knowingly to a cause. As long as there are people who will gladly sacrifice their personal well being to their sense of responsibility, so long will Prussia continue to exist.

The concept of modesty is inextricably bound up with Prussianism, as formulated in the advice of Count Schlieffen, " Achieve much, keep in the background, be more than you appear". The country cannot boast high mountains, sun-drenched slopes and pleasant valleys filled with burbling brooks. No one could say that the pine forests and birch copses, the sandy moors and the dark, solitary tarns are not beautiful. But this beauty of the Prussian landscape does not exhibit itself, it is self-effacing. So here too the landscape has formed human character, and as the people have had to accept this hard and quiet land, they unconsciously acquired its modesty.

Much has been said about the bareness of Prussian government departments and barracks, about the lack of decoration of the palaces and country houses, but in them lived Prussians. Here, where the only decoration was a picture of a dead King, service was gladly given. In these empty, whitewashed rooms more work was done, more service was given, than in the most magnificent ministries and palaces of the rest of the world. Here beat the heart of Prussia, not on the battlefields, where it was prepared without question to bleed itself white.

In this Prussian modesty two further things lay hidden, which clothed the servant of the state with a peculiar Mythos : honesty and clarity. Honesty of the heart and clarity of the soul. In the 18th century, the golden age of the high and low-born adventurer, the Prussian stuck fast to his duty. In the "famous" ranks of the European adventurers there are no Prussian names. They are not to be found either in the circles of the political, military, commercial and scientific phantasts, "the maker of projects", as the great King called them, who knew this category well from Cagliostro to Voltaire.

The Prussian official had rather had his little finger, no, his whole hand, struck off, before he would use a single instrument of the royal service for his own benefit. The youngest officer in Prussia would rather have starved for weeks than have taken a single penny of the King's pay and maintenance funds as a " loan". If we do not one day find our way back to this modest honesty, if the service car, the service postage stamp and the service telephone do not once again become untouchable instruments of the administration, then we may as well bury ourselves along with the future Charlemagne's Europe and the socialist people's democracy.

Prussia maintained the rule of law; there were neither lettres de cachet nor a secret state police, and certainly no inquisition of a worldly or spiritual order. Justice was justice and injustice was injustice, and between the two lay nothing but the moral sense in the individual and the moral authority of the state over the individual. What is so often regarded as the achievement of the revolutionary 20th century was in Prussia reality — the equality of all citizens before the law. Only there could the proud words be spoken : "Majesty, there is still the High Court". The high-born royal Prussian official von Schlubhuth was hanged in public, because he placed before his King a false account of the taxes which he had raised in East Prussia.

This justice was absolute and all-embracing, and it was laid down in the "Codex Fredericianus" of the Chancellor Freiherr Samuel von Cocceji. This code of Prussian law is too little noted today, and above all the words of the King himself in its introduction, which he gave as the guiding motive to his great Chancellor : "Where the laws speak, the sovereign himself must keep silent".

From this absolute justice sprang tolerance, which also had its home in Prussia. The great King said : "In my state everyone can be happy in his own way", and this was the guarantee of the freedom of the spirit ; Lord Michell wrote in his memoirs that the citizen in Prussia was guaranteed more freedom than in any other state. It was only through this absolute justice that the work of Immanuel Kant was possible, as he assumed in advance the freedom of the spirit.

This toleration made Prussia a sanctuary in the eyes of those persecuted for their religious beliefs in Europe. Tens of thousands of proud Huguenots poured into the Brandenburg of the great Elector. Those who were driven from their homes in Salzburg sought peace and freedom in the Prussia of the Soldier King, while decades later the outstanding free-thinkers of Europe fled to the table of Frederick from the Inquisition of the Catholic monarchs. There was no war of religion in Prussia, and Catholic ministers and generals gave loyal service to this Protestant state.

Neither in Silesia nor in East Prussia was a single person placed at a disadvantage owing to his religious beliefs, or shut out from service to the state and thus deprived of its protection. On the contrary, these Catholic minorities stood under the especial protection of the King, so long as they obeyed the laws of the state. But if one of them infringed the laws, then, be he Prince Bishop of Breslau or a reformed priest in Halle, he experienced the sharp sword of justice. The choice of religious belief was left entirely to the decision of the individual — recognition of the state, however, placed all under the rule of law. So there lay between religion and the state the sword of justice, and even the free-thinking sceptics of Sans Souci would have regarded a mixing of Christianity and politics as an act of sacrilege.

As personal and spiritual freedom were assured in Prussia, a true social order could arise on this basis in the Prussian state. It may seem to people today perhaps paradoxical, when the terms "Prussian" and "Social" are brought into so intimate a relationship, and yet there lies in the motto of the Prussian Kings "Suum cuique" a truer recognition of a just social order than in the political slogan" equality for all", or in the economic maxim "catch as catch can ". A social order can only come into being where a system of justice for all exists, and can only be effective where the duties and rights of the people are regulated through their service to the community — that is, to the state. Where emergency laws and special rights are promulgated in order to create a social order this will be still-born, and there will arise the inevitable opposite — the tyranny of social compulsion.

Just as there can be no Europe without Germany, so there can be no Germany without Prussia. Germany, torn into four arbitrary parts, none of which can lay claim to the title of a state, cannot be maintained without the Ethos which is termed Prussian. However much may be said and written in the various parts of our country about reconstruction and the beginning of a new and better epoch, one should remember in the quiet hours of contemplation the words of Georg Stammlers about Prussia, when he said :—

"There is no advance without sacrifice, and the great word which creates states is SERVICE. Serve — not mankind, but the purpose, for mankind is the purpose."

Those who believe that their rights take preference over their duties, those who place their ego above the nation, might take note of another saying, coined in the darkest hours of destiny by the Prussian soldiers in the Prussian fortress of Kustrin:-

"None will be forgotten, each will have his share : one will get the laurel wreath, the rest the funeral bier."


First Published in "The European" (January 1956)