Are We Barbarians?

By Gerhart Hauptmann

[The New York Times/Current History, December 12, 1914]

The idea of cosmopolitanism has never taken deeper root anywhere than in Germany. Let any person reflect about our literary translations and then name a nation that has tried so honestly as we to do justice to the spirit and the feelings of other races, to understand their inmost soul in all good-will.

I must out with it: We had and have no hatred against France: we have idolized the fine arts, the sculpture and painting and the literature of that country. The worldwide appreciation of Rodin had its origin in Germany—we esteem Anatole France, Maupassant, Flaubert, Balzac, as if they were German authors. We have a deep affection for the people of South France. We find passionate admirers of Mistral in small German towns, in alleys, in attics. It was deeply to be regretted that Germany and France could not be friends politically. They ought to have been, because they were joint trustees of the intellectual treasures of the Continent, because they are two of the great cultivated nations of Europe. But fate has willed it otherwise.

In the year 1870 the German races fought for the union of the Germans and the German Empire. Owing to the success of this struggle Germany has enjoyed an era of peace for more than forty years. A time of budding, growing, becoming strong, flowering, and bearing fruit, without parallel in history. Out of a population, growing more and more numerous, an ever-increasing number of individuals have been formed. Individual energy and a general tendency to expand led to the great achievements of our industry, our commerce, and our trade. I do not think that any American, Englishman, Frenchman, or Italian when in a German family, in German towns, in German hotels, on German ships, in German concerts, in German theatres, at Baireuth, in German libraries, or in German museums, ever felt as if he were among "barbarians." We visited other countries and kept an open door for every stranger.

English Relations

It is with pain and with bitterness that I speak the word England. I am one of those barbarians on whom the English University of Oxford conferred the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa. I have friends in England who stand with one foot on the intellectual soil of Germany. Haldane, formerly English Minister of War, and with him countless other Englishmen, made regular pilgrimages to the little barbarous town of Weimar, where the barbarians Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Wieland, and others, have created another world for humanity. We have a poet, whose plays, more than those of any other German poet, have become national property; his name is Shakespeare. This Shakespeare is, at the same time, the prince of English poets. The mother of our Emperor is an English woman, the wife of the King of England a German, and yet this nation, so closely related by blood and choice, has declared war against us. Why? Heaven only knows. This much, however, is certain, that the now beginning European concert, saturated with blood, as it is, has an English statesman for its impresario and its conductor. It is doubtful, however, whether the finale of this terrible music will find the same conductor at the stand. "My cousin, you did not mean well either with yourselves or with us when your tools threw the fire-brand into our dwellings!"

If heaven wills that we should issue regenerated from this terrible trial, we shall have the sacred duty of showing ourselves worthy of our regeneration. By the complete victory of German arms the independence of Europe would be secured. It would be necessary to make it clear to the different nations of Europe that this war must be the last between themselves. They must see at last that their sanguinary duels only bring a shameful advantage to the one who, without taking part in them, is their originator. Then they must devote themselves mutually to the work of civilization and peace, which will then make misunderstandings impossible.

In this direction much had already been done before the war began. The different nations had already met in peaceful emulation and were to meet again at Berlin for the Olympian games. It is only necessary to recall the aeronautic races, the boat races, the horse races, and the beneficial international influence of the arts and sciences, and the great super-national Nobel Prizes. The barbarian Germany has, as is well known, led the way among the other nations with her great institutions for social reform. A victory would oblige us to go forward on this path and to make the blessings of such institutions general. Our victory would, furthermore, secure the future existence of the Teutonic race for the welfare of the world. During the last decade, for example, how fruitful has the Scandinavian literature been for the German, and vice versa, the German for the Scandinavian. How many Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes have lately, without feeling conscious of a drop of foreign blood, shaken hands with German brothers in Stockholm, Christiania, Copenhagen, Munich, Vienna, and Berlin. How much homely good-fellowship has grown up around the noble names of Ibsen, Björnsen, and Strindberg.

Faust and Rifles

I hear that abroad an enormous number of lying tales are being fabricated to the detriment of our honor, our culture, and our strength. Well, those who create these idle tales should reflect that the momentous hour is not favorable for fiction. On three frontiers our own blood bears witness. I myself have sent out two of my sons. All our intrepid German soldiers know why they are going to war. There are no analphabets to be found among them; all the more, however, of those who, besides their rifle, have their Goethe's "Faust," their "Zarathustra," a work of Schopenhauer's, the Bible, or their Homer in their knapsacks. And even those who have no book in the knapsack know that they are fighting for a hearth at which every guest is welcome.

On the frontier stands our blood testimony; the Socialist side by side with the bourgeois, the peasant beside the man of learning, the Prince beside the workman; and they all fight for German freedom, for German domestic life, for German art, German science, German progress; they fight with the full, clear consciousness of a noble and rich national possession, for internal and external goods, all of which serve for the general progress and development of mankind.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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