By Hermann Platz
Translated by M.T. Scarince
As natural as service to the fatherland is for us – only fanatics believe that they have to be suspicious of it and instruct us in it – just as natural, after we have given each country its part, is the service to the greater country that we will hereafter call the West (Abendland). Admittedly, the consciousness of our occidental solidarity has been widely lost even here on the Rhine, where almost everything ought to keep it present to us. But today is a time of crisis, a time of divorce and decision, a day of judgment and a turning point, where individuals, peoples and groups of peoples must move on towards their new horizons and tasks- or perish. It must shake us up and lead us forward! Only once, perhaps, this moment of grace, this view into the distance, this duty of reconsideration has come close to us and to the many who are looking to us for inspiration.
For a long time the creative power of the Rhenish spirit, which springs from the best form of occidental solidarity, it lay unused and unwelcome. First it because of was the narrowness and hopelessness of the Kleinstaaterei (Translator’s note: the territorial fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire after the Peace of Westphalia), then the small-minded paternalism and a mistrust of the East. – All of this held down what was most selfish, avoiding what was most high-minded and free, so that the most active elements slipped into the economic and organizational/technical spheres.
Today it is necessary to find the right way into the free and creative in the midst of this beaten-down, embittered, economized, and over-organized world; to offer pure defiance to every separatist unruliness, to every greedy claim of a foreign power, and nevertheless to feel the fresh air of the new situation, to unfurl our sails in a new wind. Rooted in the soil of our homeland and fatherland, but reawakened to the Western spirit, we must recognize our new task, which consists in serving the supranational whole, of which we are organic members, each in his own field and with his own powers.
Have we settled in vain around the mystic stream that majestically runs through the middle of Europe? Do culture and landscape, heritage and blood speak in vain? The Rhenish strength must spring up in the midst of the German and Western misery: the stirring realization that Europe is hopelessly lost if its peoples continue to hate and tear each other apart, surrounded by sneering, continental spectators only now coming into power, if they completely squander their own prestige, if they continue to believe only in their own interests and not also in their common heritage, only listen to the voice of their blood and not also to the reconciling power of the spirit and of love.
Our Western and Christian conscience tells us that we should not contemplate war and revenge. No! We certainly want to live worthily and to the fullest on German earth. But to live differently than others and, as we are firmly convinced, more effectively than others who do not live like us in the heart of Europe, but on its more irresponsible fringes! We, who are at the most feverish point of a shattered body, who had to experience shocking things because politics could not master them, we feel most strongly the futility of the movement of each against another, which only a devil can hallow and only a fool will perpetuate, and which makes of our Rhineland and Germany a battlefield on which German and Roman wills cast away lives like dice for supremacy over a mortally wounded Europe.
This equal and opposite reaction has its roots in the Practical Imperialism of the French and in the Theoretical Individualism of the Germans. These two tendencies are migrating. In the 19th century, Imperialism also spread to Germany through industry and individualism to France through romanticism. Let us turn here above all against the Theoretical Individualism, which is practically within our reach, and which contains particularly dangerous elements. It says, after all, that all individualities, including races and peoples, nations and states, are indissoluble selves and entities, that each individuality has its own irrational life essence that can only be fulfilled in struggle, and that struggle, war, modern poison gas warfare, is the necessary life form of a world understood this way. In Fichte’s “Speeches to the German Nation” [Translator’s note: published by Johann Gottlieb Fichte in 1814] this spirit, called forth by the ruthless destruction of historical and local peculiarities committed by the Corsican [Napoleon], was most strongly and momentously expressed and given the most vehemently emphatic defense, a glorification and perfection of its own.
This spirit has been haunting the West ever since. It is characteristic of Charles Maurras, that since 1895, in order to overcome the French decadence, in order to make France strong for the day of retribution, he has emphatically pointed again and again to Fichte’s speeches, which he had read in 1894: Fichte had followed instinct, had given his own victorious people immense praise, on the other hand, fiercely abused to the defeated; finally he had through all this, contributed greatly to the personification of fatherlands as entities who feel love and hate. According to Maurras the French should do the same. Certainly, this theory is based on mere faith, perhaps even prejudice, but it is sweet. And so the French nationalists followed it until the time was ripe. Nietzsche and Spengler brought out this Individualism in a nakedness and consistency that can no longer be surpassed.
Germany’s rejection of mandatory arbitration on the occasion of the second Hague Peace Conference (1907) made it widely visible on the world political stage for the first time that Germany was completely entangled in its own will and its own right and could no longer find its way in the community of peoples. (S. Zorn: Germany and the Two Hague Peace Conferences) In 1867 Treitschke [Translator’s note: Heinrich von Treitschke 1834 – 1896] had already stated that the time of childish faith in morally justified conquests was over. Therein lies the fruitful starting point of a new development, that one recognizes the dubiousness of this all individualizing Romanticism and Historicism. It may have been possible to see in the forward momentum of pre-war development a joyful worldview, as always filled with struggle but also with creative forces. Today, when the meaningless, hopeless, and destructive nature of this tragedy of mankind, ridiculed by all the devils, is demonstrated to us in a practically geometrical perfection, restlessness, the mother of this “new clarity“, gradually begins to awaken an ever-expanding circle of people.
The fruitful crisis from which thoughts are pushed in this direction is found in the mental-spiritual situation from which, for example, the historian Friedrich Meinecke could say: “Everything is individuality according to its own law, everything has its right to live, everything is relative, everything flows – give me the point where I stand.” (Die Nation, March 1923) Or also when we have to state with E. M. Arndt that in spite of all bold hearts, brilliant minds, ideal leaders “everything is isolated” and thus the noblest and brightest grow cold in its rigid loneliness. Or when we painfully recognize with the historian Karl Brinkmann that non-Catholic Germany stands outside the great humanistic-European educational community, namely because the proletariat dwells in irreligion and the bourgeoisie in mysticism. Or already in a statement (cf. Gewissen, April 6, 1925), which says that “in conservative circles, from the experience of the last century, one has become quite suspicious of everything that has to do with the spirit.” In the defensive position against the destructive advance of liberal-anarchistic rationalism, one has finally come to fear the spirit, even the mind. All too much reliance had been placed on the fixed mechanical form of administrative management and the assertion of authority.
In place of the material day to day order which is supposed to come into being through the conflicting missions of proudly individual nation-state, the lost concept of an ideal total order is working its way back into the modern mind, in which every individuality has its fixed place as a serving member of a whole.
Thus emerges a truly new front against despisers of the spirit from the Left, who are engaged in irreligion and mass terror, and despisers of the spirit from the Right, who are engaged in the terror of power, authority and administration. Finally and profoundly, salvation does not come from the heart alone (that is the error of the general strike protest), but from the spirit.
One comes to God through the spirit. This is the eternal wisdom that the greatest instinctive philosopher of the 19th century, Arthur Rimbaud, brought back to the old West after a twenty-year stay in the deserts of Asia and Africa, who after wandering lost in the boundless and limitless expanse longed for home. The one God, whom Israel gave to the West as the most valuable Eastern gift, is the strongest rampart of the spiritual, because in Him is found the original seat of the spirit. The unity of the world and the right order of all creatures is based in Him. Indeed in Him is founded the dignity of man, who through his reason has a share in what is rational in the realm of nature and spirit. According to the old, everlasting and true Western conception, the essence and value of the earthly pilgrim, whose task it is to pass wisely from the world of shadows and images into the world of clarity, rests not in his own being, but in what is reasonable, in what is spiritual, in what is born of the Logos incarnate in us, insofar as it is based on and filled with what is rational and super-rational outside of our own existence.
Already in the Homeric age, as the West begins to become tangible in the glow of the first dawn, “an indefinable radiance of poetry, wisdom and smiling serenity” hovered over the people who were emerging from the prehistoric darkness (Scheffer: Homer and His Times). In the circumscribed polis the Western sense of freedom begins to oppose oriental despotism. “Know thyself” “Become who you are” characterize the first attempts to wrest man from natural material reality. With Plato’s Eros, the ideal of purely spiritual beauty as the object of human desire dawns on Western Civilization.
That which was only darkly imagined in Platonism and in pagan mystery celebrations became reality in the West. As master and model, the Son of Man placed himself in the gifted becoming, so that in the fullness of time we would have all the fullness of His power and joy within us. That which was proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount to the Apostles to the Gentiles, guarded by Rome against false teachers, defended by Byzantium against the barbarians, which overcame the inhumanities of the Migration Era through canon law and built the first communities of labor in that chaos through the Benedictine Rule, which ordered the days and seasons in the liturgy of the people and included them in the Divine liturgy, that very same truth moved slowly but purposefully up the Rhone to the Rhine.
Only here, thanks to the genius of Charlemagne, did it solidify, so that it took on a form that shone far and wide, and on that Christmas in 800 it was given a crown that has remained somehow emblematic of our longing for empire ever since. Certainly not everything that came to be was purely formed and set in stone for eternity. But an unforgettable beginning was made, a line was plotted out, a path into the distant future was shown, which can no longer be lost.
This will to overcome defiant obtuseness and fateful obstinacy remained on the Rhine. From the Rhenish League of Towns to the Rhenish Journeymen’s Movement, the Workers’ Movement and the Cooperative Movement, the idea of a free, self-sufficient, and in this sufficiency of power and dignity a joyfully confident mankind, was kept alive.
This Western humanism does not separate religion and life into different areas of interior culture, as it happened so disastrously in the North German and Northeast German proletariat and bourgeoisie, but binds them together into an organic unity. It repudiates sin and war, and yet deeply believes in grace and peace. It recognizes the forms and limits, dogmas and laws as the outermost boundaries beyond which man loses himself in night and chaos, and yet rejoices in the freedom of the child of God as the high ideal of all-embracing love.
Thus, we are working on the continuation of the humanistic-Christian line of life out of the German spirit and on German soil. From the East and North came more fearsome armies, strong men and deep brooders, heaven-stormers and deeply introspective men. But from the South and West came more men whose nature was formal and composed, whose thoughts and aims were clear, often cruelly utilitarian. We, the land in between, secure for the East and North an accessible and insightful way of being human, which once blossomed on the shores of the Mediterranean. We secure for the West and South something of the vivacity and fruitfulness which has grown out of its greater genius for life to the land of eternal romanticism.
Western culture went and goes from the South Sea to the North Sea, from southwest to northeast. Isn’t the Rhine the natural pivot point, the joint, the connecting line, the spiritual transfer station, the place of processing, transfer, transmission? The realization that this special task and power lies within us, that from the fulfillment of this task and the development of this power, blessings will sprout for the salvation of Germany and the West, must today inspire our thoughts and steel our will, so that the grace of reflection is not given to us in vain.
Diligent research must set forth the nature and results of this process of transformation and mediation. But it must also warn how disastrous it is when, as a result of the cocoonlike sleepiness of the Rhinelanders, idleness arises here, or when, as a result of economization and gigantic operational and material accumulation, a sham life, false abundance and merely functional security are feigned.
Being human is the one thing that the Rhinelander is concerned with in the pursuit of his ideal of Western empire. On the Rhine, the longing for and the belief in a future empire is still alive, no matter the details of how it may be politically shaped. If Eduard Schwartz [Translator’s Note: German Philologist 1858 – 1940] is right in saying that even the modern nation-states have not eliminated the postulate left over from the time of a unified culture, that a spiritual world culture must rise above them, then this is especially true of the countries along the Rhine. In fact, the postulate of the all-encompassing, the oecumene, which since Alexander from the Orient has somehow tried to bind the scattered races of Mankind, has embraced the West as its core and raised it as a crown. This ideal has not been lost. Its creative power has not yet spent itself. It will glow again promisingly when the development of the nation-state in its idolatry of power and glorification of war will have been overcome, i.e. when it will have been led back to its righteous heart. One of the most general and devastating means, which was used by the secularized states of today to justify their expansion of power and conquest of territory, was the idea of mission. To the extent that the states had to stand on their own two feet and look for ideal points in their isolated action, they attributed to themselves a cultural mission of some kind, which, of course, all the more lent the character of absoluteness to the thus elevated state system.
Today, when even the most blind man could see that nationalistic self-importance has brought Europe to the abyss, it must be pointed out again and again that next to and above the state are powers to which its measure is inapplicable, its mission irrelevant, and which it must serve. The idea of service must replace the idea of mission! This is possible only to the extent that the spirit is redeemed from objectification and economization and its achievements are somehow elevated to the supranational as all-unifying goods and values. The belief in the independence, self-empowerment and all-encompassing nature of the spiritual must be regained. Is it not frightening that one could say of our civil servant leaders: “I found there the worst contempt for the ideas, the superior tendencies, and interior life”? As in the case of objectified human beings, the idolized nation-states of the West can only be brought into the empire through the spirit, which, at this turning point of history, startled Europeans are first given to build out of invisible bricks, Before it can be realized as a legal order and a League of Nations, an empire which somehow unites the Mediterranean and the Scandinavia- the lack of such unity is the deepest reason for turning away the spectator continents of Asia and America,- which must again take shape if the nature of our humanity has any value and good sense. For this it is necessary that the spiritual is no game, no empty liveliness, no aesthetic or rhetorical twisting of thoughts.
Love and breadth must be based on a firm metaphysical core, a delineated substance, for the sake of which people are to be directed towards meaning and states are to be ordered in service, towards which certain spiritual and moral responsibility arises from clear decision. Defined doctrine and practiced discipline create the higher community, not hereditary enmities and revenge brotherhoods.
The cornerstones of this Empire derived from the life of the states, its essential content, are peace and justice. Both are to be grasped, not as contrived words, as they are so easily uttered by certain pacifists and so easily dismissed by certain nationalists, flowing from circular reasoning and serving an unsubstantial progress, but rather as grounded in God. They have derived their being from His reality, for His sake they are realized in the changing forms of time.
Justice means that in the realm of order and love, people and states fulfill the task assigned to them in the place assigned to them for the good of the whole, receive their rightful share of work and goods, and thus flourish to perfection.
Peace, however, is the inner meaning and the outwardly striving formative power of a worldview, the “world-overshadowing” flowing from God and world fulfillment entering into God.
The pope was once the supreme arbiter, an office on which medieval international law was built. Even Leibniz said that a supreme court should be established in Rome to judge the disputes of peoples, and that the tribunal should be presided over by the pope, while almost at the same time the Gallican church father Bossuet proclaimed: “Kings depend only on God and their sword”, thus establishing the nationalist and absolutist divine right of kings.
The emperor, on the other hand, was the guardian of world peace. No one has served this idea more genuinely and movingly than Emperor Henry III, who in 1043, in the pulpit at Constance, in tremendous earnestness, “by the personal example of a great resolution of renunciation,” established peace in the empire.
L. Ziegler rightly calls this “the most solemn and exalted moment in our history”. In any case, it was one of the few moments of supra-individual significance, where the golden ring, which should connect religion and life, closed. An emperor overcame his own will and pride, his sense of honor and dignity, the empire prospered.
It was certainly an exceptional act; it was on a level that is difficult for us to enter today. And yet, does not Christianity exist so that such deeds can shine into the egoistic and power-hungry world?
The purpose of this preface is not to revive a dead past, to outline a political program or to make manifest a supranational state or legal order, but first and foremost to open a perspective, to give a stimulus for reflection, to create an atmosphere of understanding, to prepare the way for a new attitude. For only from a new attitude will there be a better tomorrow. Then, but only then, may the time come when, in a new Europe, a covenant will be formed between our Germany, to which we are attached with all the love of the most genuine Germanness, and our West, in whose imperishable core values we believe, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.