Haendler und Helden - Patriotische Besinnungen

Werner Sombart (1863-1941)

Munich & Leipzig 1915



At Ted Rawes' insistence I obtained this book from the Nationalbibliothek, read it and made more detailed notes than is my wont. The task was less irksome than I had expected: the book is short (145 pages, small format with lots of white space), the writing is concise, elegant and lively, and the accounts of English and German atti-tudes through the centuries are good, although selective, and there are some absurd prejudices and jumps in the argument --- notably that the Germans' "heroic" attitude to daily life means that they must be warlike. It would be easy enough to summarise the book in a paragraph, but detailed notes are more difficult for there is no redun-dancy. I have made comments only where necessary for clarity or accuracy or where I could contain myself no longer --- these are in italics. I have used e instead of umlaut.

Sombart was a successful writer on economic topics but his academic career suffered from his left-wing views which must have been one reason for his hostility to capitalist GB. The book sold well in its day --- after the War too - and so can be presumed to have struck a chord: it provides an insight into the German mind in those days. If the victorious powers at Versailles had read it they might have decided against Germany's continued existence.

* * *

Dedicated to you young heroes in front of the enemy, with the object of encouraging you to continue the struggle when you have returned home --- but then it will be a struggle of minds. You will have to break the thousand prejudices and constraints that have been such a burden for our people. (Not stated what these are.)


Ch 1 Introduction -The War of Beliefs

All wars are wars of beliefs: this one too - opposed Weltanschauungen. The particular conflicts are side shows --- eg France v Germany over Alsace-Lorraine. The adversaries were quick to recognise this. It is in fact a conflict of shopkeepers and heroes --- not to be taken literally, but as national mentalities. The representatives of the two sides are above all the Germans and the English --- this gives the war its historical significance. And it is not about who will rule the seas but which spirit proves the stronger. (Sombart does not explain what Belgium, France and Russia are doing in this war.)


Part 1: English Commercialism


Ch 2 The Elements of the English Spirit
(Sombart uses English to mean British, sometimes excluding Irish)

The English are limited --- no proper philosophy from Bacon to Herbert Spencer, even if there are good economists. Matthew Arnold rightly called it a country poor in ideas. Spencer's list of English ideas is ridiculous for it is purely practical and nothing to do with philosophy (=metaphysics --- they weren't). The English are essentially practical and concerned with comfort. A Venetian (of all people) in 1500 wrote tutti divengono cupidissimi del guadagno. England's first big move was in 1591: the first ships to India.

The shopkeeping mentality approaches life with the question: What can you, Life, give to me? Religion too is marked by this commercial spirit. And the nobility. The use of mercenaries removed all warlike spirit from the people. Even farmers and officials commercialised. It is all flat and common-sense (a negative word). The whole people are the same: the leaders too --- they are proud to be men of the people. Not because the lower classes are so high --- they aren't --- but because the leaders are so low.


Ch 3 English Science (= Wissenschaft = all fields of study)

Marked by pragmatism (natural science). Not much literaure --- and the best writers Irish: Sterne, Wilde…No philosophy. Herbert Spencer's views are those of a small shopkeeper, focusing on banal useful virtues; and it is absurd to say that those who are best adapted to life in an industrialised state are morally the best. The English-man sees the state as a giant corporation, since Hobbes with the idea of an intitial contract --- a shopkeeper's notion. Spencer sees the industrial period taking over from the warlike. His list (eminently reasonable) of citizen's rights is absurd. As is the English notion: the less state the better and the only purpose of the state is to keep private activity within appropriate bounds. It follows that the shopkeeper's aim is permanent peace and for him war at best is a necessary evil. Even Thomas More's policy for Utopia , set out here at length, even if partly ironic, is equally commercial (almost certainly tongue in cheek --- yet it is strangely prophetic, for much of it was acted on in later centuries eg waging war through allies and mercenaries.) It includes going to war to free people from servitude --- English cant! Spencer justifies only defensive war, and then not ‡ outrance.


Ch 4 English State and English Culture

Unique in history: a world empire based solely on commercial aims. England is not a state in the normal sense: it is more like a business. A country without agriculture is no state: fisheries (big) and agriculture together account for only 8% of the popu-lation (work force?) cf 25% in trade and 45% in industry. Hobbes said a state's power was based on the prosperity of the individual citizens. England is like a giant octopus: tentacles and stomach, but head, heart etc atrophied. England's success was based on contracts: the Methuen Treaty (1703) and the Assiento (1713) (no details given).

The English know no interests apart from material ones. "We give all sorts of reasons for war, but at the bottom of them all is commerce", a British naval officer wrote in the magazine of the United Services Institution 1909. This explains all England's wars, including the one against Germany now. And her unreliable conduct in them eg Seven Years War. Sombart refers without giving details to GB's recent shameful actions in Antwerp --- withdrawal followed by bombardment. Can EAR shed light?

England is fighting not militarily but with boycotts, theft of patents, privateering, stealing customers and bribery. Churchill or Lloyd George declared that England would win because it had the last million (ie had more money). War is a business like any other. (Surprisingly Sombart does not cite the Napoleonic Wars.) Likewise religion. Cromwell re-admitted the Jews because they were useful. James II's Decla-ration of Indulgence 1687 said persecution was unfavourable to population and trade.

The English confuse war and sport. They gave a good reception to the crew of the Emden and British soldiers captured at LiËge expected the same --- which didn't happen. (There were no British soldiers there.)

Little literature --- and the best part is Irish, not much art, no music. No culture can come from commercialism. And the English don't want it --- the remnants have been driven out by comfort and sport.


Part 2: German Heroism


Ch 5 The German Spirit

Extensive references to Nietzsche who preached against the commonplace. The Super-man is to be born to us. Ranke asked: What is German? and would not stay for an answer. Nietzsche said it escapes definition. (As a new, artificially created nation, the Germans were constantly posing the question.) The Germans are miles apart from English and W European thinking and feeling, and are hostile to English utilitaria-nism. German philosophers are cited, even Schopenhauer (a notorious Anglophile). Extensive quotations from Fichte and Nietzsche. Goethe. Kant in praise of duty. It is German philosophy's unique achievement to have used reason to spin threads from our earthly life into the world of spirit from which we come and to which we shall return. A long quotation from Fichte (which my English mind was unable to understand). Hurrah for German transcendental philosophy! It has understood that there is more than the world of the senses. Goethe: Alles Vergaengliche/Ist nur ein Gleichnis. (Everything transitory is only an allegory.) There are two lives on earth: the lower, of the senses and the higher, of the spirit. Hurrah for Nietzsche who preaches transformation through death (a German obsession, particularly in Wagner).

Aufgabe --- a word that exists only in German (it signifies what has to be done, like homework) and doing it unites us with the divine. We Germans can achieve this on earth through constant activity. This gives victorious power to our view of the world. It is an heroic one. To be German means being a hero. We set German heroism against English commercialism. The tradesman speaks of rights, the hero of duties. The hero's virtues are martial and they find their full development in war.


Ch 6 The German Concept of Vaterland

Heroism and patriotism depend on each other. The English tradesmen have no word for Vaterland because the concept is alien to them. The heroic attitude sets little value on the individual life. Each one must serve and thereby create a world above him --- ein ueberindividuelles Leben. This is represented by the Volk (nation) or the Vater-land --- a life in God and the spirit. Nothing to do with Heimat (homeland) and Scholle (native heath) (about which Bavarians and Austrians nowadays make sentimental films) or with England's national pride which is without any spiritual basis. And not one Englishman responds to the recruiting sergeant's drum out of a spirit of sacrifice but only in expectation of gain. A kindly providence rules over the fate of the Ger-man people which is destined for the highest on this earth. It was Germany's fortune to be standing aside from events and conquests in C18 and thus be free to conquer the kingdoms of the inner man. (Sombart does not mean the stomach, which is the shopkeeper's usual meaning for this term.) It escaped the danger of becoming a citizen of the world. Sombart quotes from leading writers around 1800, notably Schiller, passages in support of the German feeling for the Vaterland. For instance: Schiller writing to Goethe from Paris 18 March 1799: "…everything that can surround me outside Germany remains heterogenous." His national feelings are expressed in Wilhelm Tell. Schiller and Goethe were in this context purely cultural and not poli-tical --- but they had a strong sense of Germany's identity and worth and they felt grief at the absence of a German state. (They were perhaps reacting to the French Revo-lution and its kindling of nationalism as well as to France's subsequent expansionism. These two, Herder and Humboldt, also quoted, enjoy unique prestige as proponents of civilisation. The first three lived in Weimar and Sombart uses Weimar as shorthand for the height of civilisation and Potsdam for militarism. Before the generation preceeding the Weimar writers (Lessing and Klopstock) there was no German literature of note.)


Ch 7 The German Idea of the State

Even early thinkers --- Pufendorf, Wolff and also Kant --- who accepted the then current idea of a social contract were worlds apart from the English. Wolff for example stressed duties as being the basis of rights. An extensive passage on Kant who said all authority is from God. Manchester ideas were revived in Germany in the 1860's and 70's but were driven out.

The state is neither founded or formed by individuals, it is not an aggregate of individuals, nor is its purpose to advance the aims of any individuals. Ferdinand Lasalle: "The state is this union of individuals in a moral whole, a unity which multi-plies a million-fold the powers of everyone who is included in this association. The purpose of the state is thereby to bring the human being to positive unfolding and continuing development, in other words to bring into real existence the human vocation --- that is, the culture that the human race is capable of; it is the education and development of the human race for freedom. This is the veritable moral nature of the state, its true and higher Aufgabe". (What is meant by freedom is not explained: freedom fom? freedom to? My guess is that it is the freedom to develop oneself fully that supposedly is possible only within the framework of the orderly society that supposedly can exist only within a strong and therefore undemocratic state.) Plato's state is the original for all German ideal states. (How right Popper was to denounce Plato!)

Citizens of a state can become conscious of it only by making comparisons with other states. A healthy state is in competition with these others --- so the balance of power is an idea only for shopkeepers. War is an inevitable concomitant of the existence of states. Those who are not shopkeepers have to be warriors.


Ch 8 German Militarism

Foreigners misunderstand: militarism is not an institution imposd on the German people: it is the manifestation of a particular spirit, of heroic principles. These are evident in Beethoven's Eroica and the Egmont overture. Everything military has pre-cedence. The military virtues: courage and obedience. Militarism expresses itself in order and organisation. Pressure for dedication to the Whole when the Vaterland is in danger. Shopkeepers say that war is senseless and inhuman, but we know that there is a higher life: the life of the nation, the life of the state. Schopenhauer and Fichte are quoted in support of pro patria mori. Also a Hungarian who was glad that his only son had been killed. Treitschke is quoted: war is necessary to save a nation from idleness and decay. This view predates Bismarck-Moltke. Schiller wrote: War is terrible, like heaven's plagues/But it's good, a gift like them. (Quotation not situated but probably from a martial character in a play. Whether this expresses Schiller's opinion is open to doubt.) Kant's hope for perpetual peace is derided as an error of his old age. Otherwise there are no pacifist writings in Germany. On this point Potsdam (=militarism) and Weimar (=culture) are completely at one. Another quotation from Schiller and one from Goethe, praising war as a remedy for slackness. Sombart wonders whether anything at all like poetry can flourish under the influence of pacifist ideas. To think and feel German means to bless war. This means real war, involving the whole people fighting for the survival of the state, and not like shopkeepers striving to defend their goods.


Part 3: The Mission of the German People


Ch 9 Life before the War

Capitalism was spreading the shopkeeping spirit across the world. English culture --- specifically comfort and sport - were spreading even in Germany and were doing harm. Comfort is OK up to a point, but not as the highest good. Comfort = handicraft + utility and is nothing to do with art. (This sounds like l'art pour l'art, denounced on p125.) Sport also OK in itself but not when it takes the place of military exercises and intellectual activity. Betting brings sport and commercialism together. Modern life is empty: no idealism, no purpose.


Ch 10 Hopeless Remedies

Nietzsche has gone unheeded. Religion is no defence: see England. Socialism more effective against materialism and it has produced heroes. (Liebknecht and Luxem-bourg who voted against the war!) But it can either be revolutionary and without result or it can adapt and lose its idealism. The Party is an immediate object for idea-ism but it is lifeless, not a living entity like the state. The ideas of 1789 are shop-keepers' ideas. They involve only "rights". The ideal of humanity is empty, for it leaves no room for the nation. Socialism has become purely representative of the inte-rests of the proletariat, not an ideal, and so is filled with commercial spirit.


Ch 11 Deliverance from Evil

The War came like a purifying flame and the old German spirit was rekindled in all 70m people. The War has solved the population question: Germany needs more!

Physical fitness is good but not with stupid-making sport --- not England's games ten-nis, cricket and football --- but all sorts of (individual) sports. Germany's spirit has its roots in ancient Greece. Politics are necessary but must not promote sectional inte-rests at the expense of the whole. Out with the idea of Western European civilisation! Germans must keep in mind the words of the dying Faust: they are surrounded by danger and must struggle. (Goethe means that life should be seen as a struggle, not that states should start wars.) Danger is necessary for the health of nations --- lack of it has weakened England. Most dangers have been removed from modern life --- only war remains.


Ch 12 The Others and Us

Germany needs a decisive victory. As Humboldt wrote in 1813, a strong state is necessary so that its spirit may flourish. Down with internationalism! Germany should strive for maximum autarky. International agreements only where really necessary eg on postal services. Down with international brotherhood --- hurrah for Germany's pat-riotic socialists! In intellectual matters Germany needs nobody (art, technology etc) Picking bits from others is harmless but avoid every manifestation of commercialism like the plague. Germany has nothing to learn from others about internal political arrangements or administration. Foreign art and literature are admissible as long as they are not given preference over, or undue influence on, Germany's own artists and writers. England is left out of account as it produces nothing of spiritual value. It is said that Germany and England, as similar peoples, belong together: the English are totally alien to our whole being, as they are to all other peoples. They can't add to our culture as the Slavonic, Romance , North German and Celtic nations do. Some people want to see good Europeans and hope that the end of the War will help to develop them. Advocated by Herder and Nietzsche, but Humboldt saw that national differences were augmented by the development of language. Every person can fulfil himself only within the framework of his national kind. This is the most that can be looked for: perfectibility is possible only in mechanical matters. Like the Jews and the ancient Greeks, the Germans are a chosen people - and should keep apart. We should walk proudly through the world but not set out to conquer it --- what should we do with such indigestible lumps in our stomach? Expansion we are happy to leave to the English. Germans have no talent for colonisation for they can't make Germans out of others --- but the English can easily make shopkeepers. After victory Germany will take only the land it needs for its people and its defence --- perhaps Dover, Malta, Suez. Germany must keep the German soul pure.



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