Of course, there was always Germany, in the sense that there were always Germans. But in so far as those Germans had a country, a culture, a common centre of their civilisation, it was never, through all the ages, what we now call Germany. It was what we now call Austria. In so far as they were ruled by a Kaiser, the Emperor of Austria was the one and only Kaiser. In so far as there was a German Empire, the Austrian Empire was the one and only German Empire. They were more loosely federated than the solid nations like France; they could be regarded as small separate kingdoms and dukedoms; but in so far as they were ever one thing, this was the one and only thing. If they belonged to any Empire, it could only conceivably be the Holy Roman Empire, and the great imperial throne upon the Danube.
-G.K. Chesterton, The End of the Armistice
Throughout the Anglosphere since the rise of the heresy of Nationalism (which Deo volente will be the subject of one of my next posts) there has arisen the regrettable practice of referring to the “First German Empire”. This error pervades even the most well thought out articles, which otherwise provide valid points and arguments. Yet why exactly is this commonplace understanding so much in error?
The problem with ascribing to history a “First German Empire” is not only blatant anachronism, but is actually somewhat more complex. It is firstly the attempt to rework the history of what actually occurred into a Nationalistic framework, in which National Empires, or Nation-states, figure as the driving forces of history, a narrative which both the proponents of Nationalism as well as its Leftist opponents accept unquestioningly. The Empire, the One, Holy, Roman Empire, with its genuine combination of Universalism and Localism, does not “fit” anywhere in the modern world. The history of the “Monarcha omnium regum et principum terrenorum” has been rewritten as a sort of “National Epic of the German Volk“.
This leads us to the second facet of this complicated error, the idea of “the German Nation”. The idea that Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was somehow the Empire’s official title (when it was in fact merely a Protestant slogan) is a popular misconception that has been laid to rest by such scholars as Peter Wilson (whose monumental work Heart of Europe I will be reviewing on this site) and Hermann Weisert. However the real error is the idea of the German Nation itself. The various peoples of the Empire not only held a distinct concept of themselves as a nation within the Empire, be they Czechs, Sayords, Rhaetians, but also the trifold distinction between the Nation, the Country, and the State as part of the Sacrétemporal world order. Thus Italia, Bohemia, and Germania were countries, while the nations that dwelt within them were Alemannians, Bavarians, Rhenish, Franconians, Saxons, Czechs, Silesians, Moravians, Tuscans, and many others. A nation might have an ancestral homeland, a regional heimat, in a certain country, but this was shared by other nations who dwelt there or who came to dwell there.
Finally this error perpetuates the modern understanding that the concept of Empire is based on purely political-territorial criteria. It contributes to the continued existence of the idea of a succession of “empires,” the British Empire, the French Empire, the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Japanese Empire, the American Empire… the list goes on. And perhaps it will go on indefinitely without getting any closer to the Truth that the Empire is One, the unifying principle of Civilization in itself. Independent of any territory or of any other political or geographical control, the Imperial title exists, the summit of legitimacy that has its source in the Author of all things and of true unity in true diversity.