In the year 1858, Hermann Grimm wrote an essay entitled “Schiller and Goethe.” It begins with these words: “The true history of Germany is the history of the spiritual movements among her people. Only when enthusiasm for some great thought has inspired the nation and set its frozen forces flowing, do deeds of great and shining fame occur.” And further on we read: “... the names of the German emperors and kings are not milestones of the nation's progress.”
Only a revival of the attitude underlying such words can shed light upon the troubled time that has come upon the German people. That something else from this attitude may yet awaken amid the commotion and labor of present times is the one hope to be cherished by he who holds it necessary above all for the German people to turn for help to the saving power of thoughts. Those who say today that one must first wait to see what shall come of the general situation and what relations with the people of the West and East shall result from new world conditions, have no concept of the age's necessities.
This view has led to everything said in these pages about the idea of the threefold social order. I believe that in the previous essays I have sufficiently answered the constant objection that our first thought must be the outcome of our relations with foreign nations before we can turn our attention to social ideas, like that of the threefold system. This objection rests on a fallacy that may prove bitterly fatal to the German people. Germany has come out of the world catastrophe in such a way that she must first create a basis for future relations with the nations around her. Her economic life (if its development were detached from the political life of laws and from the cultural field) would take on a form that could give it a place in the whole system of world economy. As I have tried to show in these essays, it would be in the interest of other nations to give an economic life of this kind its place in the system of world economy. An independent cultural life can be regarded by no other nation as a ground for hostility; a political-legal life among the German people based on the equality of all adults could not be viewed as a hostile element by non-Germans without their deriding themselves.
However, an idea like the threefold order must come before the world with the driving force of a definite will in public affairs. The moment this idea is observed on the way toward becoming fact, it can become such a revelation of the innermost German being as will give the rest of the world something firm with which to reckon. Facing modern circumstances, facing the lack of faith in the practical efficacy of living ideas, one might well ask what has become of the German spirit. In ideas such as those written by Hermann Grimm sixty years ago, the voice of the greatest spirits of their own history speaks to the German people. In such ideas, these great spirits intended to utter the deepest will and purpose of their people. Shall the descendants of these spirits be deaf to them?
These descendants are in a situation where truly it is not enough merely to remember the ideas of their forefathers, but where they must carry forward these ideas in a new form suited to modern times. Would the German deny his own being through lack of faith in ideas, and thus lose his very self? Surely the best part of the German spirit lies in this faith in the potency of ideas. And a revelation of the German spirit, once displayed in its genuine truth, would be one with which the world must reckon.
A large enough number of Germans who share the heritage of faith in the intellectual world, and bring to it all the forces of their souls, must be the saving of their people. No negotiations with the world abroad will be of any good to the German people if carried on with indications of disbelief in ideas and their practical utility, for in all such negotiations the very core of the German spirit is absent.
All objections stemming from the view that now is not the time to indulge in ideas should be silenced. There can be no question of any time that will bear in it the seeds of any real possibility of life for the German people, until the power of ideas has been recognized by a sufficiently large number of people. Not a faith that trims its ideas according to outer events, but a faith in ideas—that shall be the force that moves the German nation. What results may be confidently awaited in the same faith; to thrust it aside and to wait idly in a round of false activity while destiny pursues its course — this, for every German, is a sin against his own being, a sin against the spirit of this world hour, a sin against the demand of true self-awareness.
Is not the influence of this sin plain enough to see? Are not the grievous effects of this sin already with us? Do not distress and want proclaim the sin in language comprehensible enough? Have the German people lost the power to recognize the sin they have committed against their own true spirit? These are questions that may well tear at the souls of all who study the public life of the German people. The pain should rightly lead to an awakening. Were the great spirits of the German past, with their faith in ideas, mere dreamers? Such questions find answers only in real life. What kind of solution can be found? Yes, they were dreamers if their descendants dream away their ideas; but they were radiant spirits of reality if these descendants receive their ideas as a force for living, awakened will and purpose.