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Thread: The Germanic Idea in England

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    Post The Germanic Idea in England

    The following text (of course "critical" against nationalism and the non-"Western" Germanic idea) throws light on the differences of the Germanic idea between Germany and England over the centuries. I translated it from Klaus von See, "Deutsche Germanen-Ideologie. Vom Humanismus bis zur Gegenwart", Frankfurt am Main 1970, p. 44-46, 82-84.


    Romanness and Greekness in the idea of Germans and English

    The German poetry of the time of Goethe provides a contribution to the theme of the Germanic idea at the best indirectly. Namely in it a characteristical German bent in the sttitude towards the ancient culture shines through again: the strong preference given to the Greek before to the Roman. Without doubt purely artistic assessments play a part, especially in the time of the original genius (Originalgenie) of course the high esteem for the original in contrast to the alledgedly only imitated. To this adds an affinity in political respect, from the own political situation a better understanding of the Greek minor state particularism than of the greater-space organization of the Roman Empire. But the background of this attitude is a general anti-Roman affect, a through traditional clichés dogmatized feeling of alienness to the Roman nature.
    Already the Humanists are endeavour to emphasize the merits of the Greeks at the expense of the Romans, because they want to owe as less to the Romans as possible: Celtis thinks that the Germanics got first used to Christianity through Greek "druids" who were driven out of Gaul by Tiberius, and for that one had "to know now and always great thanks for the Greeks". And the Greekness of Schiller, Goethe, Humboldt and Hölderlin is followed then in the decades after World War One by a so-called "third humanism": the effort of Werner Jaeger to surmount the aestheticism and individualism of the time of Goethe with the turn to the idea of political formation of man at the Greeks, an effort which is not only characteristical for the idea in which it is developed, but also again characteristical German so far as itself wants to see poitical thinking orientated by a quite irrational concept of the state, more based on ethical demands than on institutions.
    It is now interesting to compare with all that the total other attitude of the English towards antiquity. In England, one stays always conscious of once having been part of the Roman Empire. In the early Middle Ages, the Christian-Latin educational tradition joins together fast and easily with the folk-language poetry - as late as today, Virgil plays in England a greater part than Homer -. And the more the British Empire grows, the more one becomes conscious of the analogies to the Imperium Romanum with regard to organization and the civilisatoric mission. Greece on the other side steps - in spite of Byron and Keats - noticeably into the background. Lord Cromer, a high British colonial officar and leading advocate of the Empire idea is elected in 1909 to president of the "Classical Association" in London and makes for this reason a speach with the title "Ancient and Modern Imperialism". He says there "that the un-disciplined and idealistic Greek with his pronounced individuality is much less suited for realizing an Imperialist policy than the strict and practical Roman who not only made laws, but obeyed them". To this type of the strict, sober, practical Roman the Englishman is attached. The ancient Germanic tradition plays in contrast to this a very little part, or ot is indeed from the start more regarded from the Roman-Christian-Occidental point of view and less out of the feeling of an inner-mental relationship. [...]

    Vikings and Anglo-Saxons

    An even minor part than at the Scandinavians does the ancient Germanic tradition play at the the third partner of the Germanic union, at the English. It was already said in a former paragraph that the Germanics were seen there from the Christian-Occidental point of view and less out of the feeling of an inner-mental relationship. Surely that is historically explainable: the English know - in their literary tradition - the Germanics above all as Vikings, that means as cruel, plundering invadors who striked the island at a time when it has been already for a long time part of the Christian Occident. Erik Linklater describes these "Danes" in his novel "The Men of Ness" (1932) as Barbarians who are brave until to the death, brutal, boastful and greedy for possession - an image that has a so much desillusioning effect, as Linklater follows formally the style of the Icelandic saga. As late as on the eve of World War One the English-German antagonism is put in the phrase "Christ or Odin".
    The mental relationships between England and Germany are quite loose during the 19th century - in spite of Coleridge and Carlyle on the one and Wagner on the other side. So much the tighter are the relationships to France. The old Roman-Christian educational tradition may be one of the conditions for this Western European direction; but much more decisive is of course the influx of French culture after the Norman conquest. And at last something third adds to this: the Celtic heritage which connects England Gallo-Romance France and helps to underpin the political "Entente cordiale" of 1904 mentally. By the way, one needn't think here only of the historical idea of a Celtic original population - also the mental tradition plays a part: what the world of the Germanic myths is for the illustrators of the German Jugendstil (art nouveau), that are for the pre-Raffaelits the legends around King Arthur.
    All that combines to sever England out of the union of the Germanic nations and to move it into the union of Romance-Western European nations. The "Saturday Review" of September 29, 1876, compares the emergent German Reich with those nations that possess an old civilization: England, France and Italy!
    In Germany, one was always little conscious of these ties of England to the Romance-Western European civilization, and that lead at the beginning of the first as well as at the beginning of the second world war to a deep, but totally groundless disappointment in the so-called "English cousin". Emperor Wilhelm II. who fancies himself in stylizing World War One - similar to the National Socialists with World War Two - to a race war and to give to it with this the character of a principle and final conflict, writes already in 1912 in one of his affected-brisk marginals: "The real trader nation! That is what it calls peace policy! Balance of power! The final struggle of Slavs and Germanics finds the Anglo-Saxons at the side of Slavs and Gauls." The saying of the "trader nation" (Krämervolk) shows that one knows on the German side to class the English ties to Western Europe fast to the usual clichés which actually goes for the contrast between Germanics and Romans. Werner Sombart calls in 1915 this contrast most concise with the already quoted alliterative phrase Händler und Helden ("traders and heroes"). In his book with this title he says in respect to English and Germans: "The trader... wants to make a profitable deal with life... The hero... wants to give, wants to waste himself, wants to sacrifice himself - without counter gift... But the virtues of the hero are are those that are contrary to those of the trader: they are positive, giving and waking life, they are 'giving virtues': the sacrificial courage, faithfulness, innocence, awe, bravery, piety, obedience, goodness".
    Last edited by Nordgau; Sunday, November 9th, 2003 at 10:58 AM.

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    Thank you for the translation. Your english is superb!

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    Yes, thank you for the translation.

    Barbara Tuchman in her monograph on WW I ("The Guns of August") writes that Germans referred to the English as "race traitors" during and in the aftermath of WW I. Of course, this would have perplexed the English since they don't, and never did, regard themselves as being of the same race as Germans.

    The "Perfidious Albion" (in common continental parlance) views himself or self-identifies, psychologically speaking, as a "Romano-Celt", and ***not*** as a Germanic.

    This little fact had very profound repercussions for romantic Germans (such as AH) who, being Anglophiles to a fault, based much of their foreign policy on an erroneous basis -- with catastrophic consequences.

    Germans always had a very poor understanding of the English. I sincerely hope that this one-way love affaire is at a historic end. Good bye and good riddance.
    Last edited by friedrich braun; Sunday, November 9th, 2003 at 05:39 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Brandt
    Thank you for the translation. Your english is superb!
    Not really. It's more the looking-up-every-fucking-third-word-in-the-Langenscheidt method.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tryggviulf
    Not really. It's more the looking-up-every-fucking-third-word-in-the-Langenscheidt method.
    Ok, let me rephrase that: Your Langenscheidt is superb!

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    Yes, an interesting article.
    It strikes me that the English are in an uncertain position.
    On the one hand, they disdain the Germans (particulary since both World Wars) and the word German likely conjurs up more negative connotations for an Anglo, that positive ones. The fact that the Royal Family had to change their name to a less Germanic sounding one tends to highlight the point. Even dogs weren't spared, the German Shepherd being renamed the Alsatian

    On the other hand, they are far too distinct from the Scots, Welsh and Irish and despite some half-hearted attempts, cannot even convince themselves they belong in the Celtic grouping.
    Not that they would be allowed to suffer such a delusion - The other people's in the British Isles are at all times conscious that the English somehow "do not belong", but are rather a foreign influx of people who suffer from an identity crisis.
    Being obviously not Celtic, and loathe to identify themselves as Germanics, it is really quite a fascinating mind-set they find themselves in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Milesian
    Not that they would be allowed to suffer such a delusion - The other people's in the British Isles are at all times conscious that the English somehow "do not belong", but are rather a foreign influx of people who suffer from an identity crisis.
    Hi Milesian

    I'd be curious if you might describe this sense that the English do not belong felt by Celtic peoples. Is it almost an unconsciouse sense, or is it much more palpable, ie appearance, accent, etc? Can a Celt almost at times "smell" an Englishman without the said Englishman even having said a word?
    Turman found a copy of The Graduate, and thought highly enough of the story that he made a movie he considered to be 90-percent faithful to the book.

    But Turman and director Mike Nichols made one key adaptation, changing the Braddocks from WASP-y blonde characters into a dark-haired, more ethnic-looking family.

    From NPR's Present at the Creation

    http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/graduate/

    http://www.norcalmovies.com/TheGraduate/tg11.jpg

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    Hello Gladstone,

    I guess it's difficult to explain. The sense of them not really "belonging" is probably a combination of factors. It seems that history dictates a sense of greviance by all the Celtic peoples against the English. Irish, Scots and Welsh are all taught by their parents, families and even at school that they have been struggling to maintain their cultures, languages and distinctiveness against the encroaching Anglo-Saxon influence. Ireland had Pearse, Emmet, Father Murphy, etc. Scotland had Wallace, Bruce, etc. Wales had Owen Glendower (sp?), etc.
    These people represent some of the greatest heroes of these nations and they all share one trait in common. They were men who fought against English culture trying to encroach on their own culture and people.

    In addition, I think the English temperament and outlook is different as well.
    It's hard to explain, however.
    Most of the time, the English are viewed as soft, wimpish, passive.
    On the other hand they tend to view the Celts as impulsive, wild, somewhat untamed. I've noted that English people are sometimes intimidated even when just confronted by a friendly Scot. They have made it known that the accent alone is enough to make them nervous at times
    It seems to be that in their subconscious, Scots and Celts in general are linked with tough, hard-drinking, not-to-be-messed with indivduals.
    A look a British Soap Operas reveals this in good detail.
    Irish and Scots actors tend to be recruited as the villains, the wife-beaters, the gangster who's going to break a few legs, the hardened types.
    On the other hand, the English appear often to be meek, hen-pecked, civilised to the point of being docile. More than once I have heard of their temperament as being that of "a defeated and dying people". Their lack of passion is viewed with suspicion and is not fully comprehended. They are often seen as eccentric, which tends not to be a Celtic charecteristic.

    Of course, they are not always so passive, as anyone who has seen English football hooligans rampaging across Europe can attest to.
    It seems they go to extremes - if they are not being overly civilised and reserved, they are being loud, violent and all too willing to engage in drunken and yobbish and loutish behaviour.
    It's ironic that it is the normally quiet and reserved English who suffer from this inclination to thuggery, while the Celts who are tend to be viewed in a similar vein, are actually a very friendly and gregarious bunch who are much more interested in making friends and enjoying themselves in similar situations.

    As for "smelling" an Englishman.....I suppose it is possible.
    In general you probably can't, but there are some people who you can look at and conclude that they are probably English. I think of someone like Manchester United's defenders, the Neville brothers, who I have heard often described as having "English faces". I suppose the sub-racial mix of England could well include types or mixes which are not as frequent or even non-existant in the more remote parts of Britain and Ireland.

    Of course, my points are subjective and I don't intend to claim everyone feels this way. This is a generalisation (I have English family after all, although they probably fit in with my points if truth be told ).
    However, I do propose that among Scots at least, the above views are quite widespread

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    All very interesting. What you describe as to the English sounds remarkably similar to what some have described of America. It would make sense as America was founded by Anglo-Saxon England and in a sense continued on with its own Empire building after the Revolution. America too is having an identity crises and like with all too many of the English, many in America are also not wanting to face the problems (ie past actions/errors, and current mess) squarely but is instead opting for what amounts to suicide (aka multi-culturalism). Hopefully enough will gain courage so as to avert an untimely end.
    Turman found a copy of The Graduate, and thought highly enough of the story that he made a movie he considered to be 90-percent faithful to the book.

    But Turman and director Mike Nichols made one key adaptation, changing the Braddocks from WASP-y blonde characters into a dark-haired, more ethnic-looking family.

    From NPR's Present at the Creation

    http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/graduate/

    http://www.norcalmovies.com/TheGraduate/tg11.jpg

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    When I was in my late teens I went out with an Irish-Catholic girl (born and bred in London, England, however). I recall her saying that the English viewed everyone else as subhuman/inferior, EXCEPT the Germans for whom they had a sneaking admiration coupled with profound loathing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Milesian
    Yes, an interesting article.
    It strikes me that the English are in an uncertain position.
    On the one hand, they disdain the Germans (particulary since both World Wars) and the word German likely conjurs up more negative connotations for an Anglo, that positive ones. The fact that the Royal Family had to change their name to a less Germanic sounding one tends to highlight the point. Even dogs weren't spared, the German Shepherd being renamed the Alsatian

    On the other hand, they are far too distinct from the Scots, Welsh and Irish and despite some half-hearted attempts, cannot even convince themselves they belong in the Celtic grouping.
    Not that they would be allowed to suffer such a delusion - The other people's in the British Isles are at all times conscious that the English somehow "do not belong", but are rather a foreign influx of people who suffer from an identity crisis.
    Being obviously not Celtic, and loathe to identify themselves as Germanics, it is really quite a fascinating mind-set they find themselves in.

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