wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Hew Strachan

To Arms

More important even than Kant or Hegel in the nationalist context was Fichte. Fichte's Reden an die deutsche Nation (Speeches to the German nation) (1808) symbolized the engagement of the philosopher with the life of the state, and his endowment of the nation with its own identity and his subordination of the individual to the nation connected the themes of the war of liberation with those of 1914. Between 1890 and 1900 Fichte's philosophy was the subject of only ten noteworthy studies; between 1900 and 1920 over 200 appeared. The context of Fichte's writing, the defeat at Jena in 1806, and the long path from there to liberation, ensured that his relevance did not dwindle as the adversities of the war multiplied.

Although France was home to the Enlightenment and to the alleged triumph of its ideas in politics, France was not, in 1914, Germany's principal ideological toe. As Paul Natorp was prepared to concede, Germany had derived from revolutionary France both its sense of nationalism and the idea of the nation in arms. For writers like Sombart and Scheler, the clashes between Germany and France, or even between Germany and Russia, were second-order issues tacked onto the war of real significance for world history, that between Germany and Britain. The enemy was capitalism, because this was the true threat to the spirit.

Sombart, like Wundt, characterized British philosophy as preoccupied with economics. It had neglected matters of the spirit for practical problems, and the consequences had permeated British life. The elevation of trade resulted in the pursuit of economic self-interest and the subordination of the state. The latter was seen as no more than a necessary evil. War, which for Scheler found the state in its highest form, was for the British superfluous. In their ideal world it would not exist, and when they did fight they did so for economic objectives and, very often, by economic means. The aristocracy was motivated by commerce rather than by honour, and the army and navy were no more than instruments for armed trade and colonial plunder. But the British practised cultural as well as economic imperialism. Their empire swamped alternative languages and traditions. Its aim, J.A. Cramb was quoted as saying, was 'to give all men within its bounds an English mind.' The ideal of gentlemanly self-restraint curbed the dynamic effects of personality and character. Even in international relations Britain, by the use of balance-of-power theory, elevated weak powers at the expense of the strong. Its own credentials as a democracy were doubtful: it was a colonial power abroad and a centralized state (rather than a federal one, like Germany) at home. Britain nonetheless was bent on persuading the rest of the world that freedom should be defined solely in political terms. The fear, above all, was that the 'cant' of capitalism and its political expression, liberalism, was sapping even German culture of its own identity. The greatest danger to Germany, in the view of Max Weber's brother Alfred, was 'Anglicization.'

Implicit in Weber's formulation was his recognition that the threat was insidious. Even in late July 1914 Germany had preferred to see itself as the guardian of the civilization of western Europe against Russia. Animosity towards Britain was moderated by the common inheritance of Protestantism. But by the same token, Britain's decision to side with the enemy required more explanation. Its entry into the war was construed as a massive betrayal. Within days, Britain had replaced Russia as the focus for German hatred. Friedrich-Wilhelm Foerster rationalized Britain's behaviour in terms of a dualism not unlike that used by British commentators in regard to Germany. In 1914 the evil, imperialist side of Britain had triumphed over its better, peace-loving aspect. Others were less forgiving: Britain's decision was selfish and exploitative. The war did not confront Britain itself with any direct threat, and its effects could not be morally uplifting when Britain had no intention of committing itself wholeheartedly to its conduct. War, by definition, could not be a source of spiritual elevation when its motivation was economic gain. The clash of philosophies was rendered in popular terms. Britain's decision to side with France and Russia was evidence of its perfidy, and its determination to do so was driven by its pursuit of mammon. Neither honour nor spirit was part of its conceptual vocabulary.