Courtesy Reuters

The Germany of Treitschke

The Future in Retrospect

POLITIK. BY HEINRICH VON TREITSCHKE. Leipzig: Hirzel, 1897-98, 2 v.

IT HAS been a persistent source of irritation to Englishmen, and on occasion to Americans, that the Germans have almost invariably deserted from the army of liberalism. True, for a brief moment in the middle of the last century -- when Metternich was forced to flee for his life and the old absolutism was everywhere under attack -- Anglo-Saxons thought that Germany might reform. Then when liberal prospects seemed brightest the German people supinely surrendered their freedom to Bismarck in exchange for the pottage of political unity. In the years that followed, the language used by Englishmen to express their disgust and hatred for Bismarck was even more vivid than that later hurled at Adolf Hitler. Still, they did not entirely give up hope: when Bismarck went, they argued, all would be well. But after Bismarck's dismissal in 1890, British expectations were again dashed: a few years of the erratic rule of William II made men sigh for the Iron Chancellor.

Even these repeated disappointments failed to daunt the more sanguine among British liberals. This charitable attitude is well illustrated by Sir Edward Grey's reaction to Treitschke's books with which he became acquainted only in 1914. Though he found them appalling -- "every ideal except that of force is abolished" -- and though he was quite willing to believe that Treitschke spoke for the rulers of Germany, Grey refused to believe that the German people as a whole were so bad. "The rest of the Germans are people more akin to ourselves than any other race," he wrote.[i] Three years later, Woodrow Wilson was to draw the same distinction between the evil rulers and the good people of Germany.

During the early postwar years the Anglo-Saxon optimists seemed vindicated. Then came Adolf Hitler, and the old refrain was taken up once more. In December 1938, Neville Chamberlain asserted that his dealings with Nazi Germany showed faith, not in the Nazis, but in history: ". . . the complete

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