Age of German Liberation, biography, historian, ideas, intellectual, German
[Friedrich Meinecke, Cosmopolitanism and the National State]
Friedrich Naumann, Max Weber, Ernst Troelsch, Weimar, Machiavelli

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Friedrich Meinecke
Cosmopolitanism and the National State

  Friedrich Meinecke was born in October 1862 in the Prussian town of Salzwedel as the son of a post office worker. After studying History and Philosophy in Berlin and Bonn, he obtained his doctorate in 1886. He entered the Prussian archive service in 1887 and submitted his post-doctoral thesis in Berlin in 1896.
  From 1893, he was editor, then from 1896 publisher of the 'Historische Zeitschrift' ('Historical Magazine'). In these times he was developing his interest in the history of ideas. In 1901, he was given a chair in Strasburg, and from 1906 he had a chair in Freiburg.

  Meinecke's two volume biography of the army reformer von Boyen, appeared in 1896/99. His 'The Age of German Liberation', a study of the Prussian response to the French Revolution, appeared in 1906. The year 1907 saw the publication of one of Meinecke's most notable works 'Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat. Studien zur Genesis das deutschen Nationalstaats,' ('The middle classes of the world and the national state. Studies on the genesis of the national state.'), which has appeared in english translations as Cosmopolitanism and the National State.

  Prior to the appointment of Count Bismarck of Chancellor of Prussia in 1862 "the Germanies" had functioned, as a legacy of history, as a loosely structured Confederation of largely individually sovereign states under ancient aristocratic houses with Austria and Prussia being the most prominent of the German states.
  In his Cosmopolitanism and the National State Meinecke presents the history of the emergent German state from the Prussian period of reform to the formation of the Second German Empire by Bismarck as a steady development in which he brought to life and personified the concept of a national state.

  Meinecke chronicles, and comments somewhat favourably on, the emergence of a German national state. Meinecke recognised that there had been a transition from (an eighteenth century) cultural cosmopolitanism towards a (ninetenth century) pride in nationality and a conception of the State as a natural expression of nationality - this tendency was not seen by him as being incompatible with an ideal international society. With this book Meinecke became well known, and together with Wilhelm Dilthey and Ernst Troeltsch became one of the founders of the political intellectual history.

  In 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, which to start with was greeted by him with enthusiasm, Meinecke was awarded a Professorial position at Berlin's Friedrich Wilhelm University. As late as 1916, in an introduction to a new edition of Ranke's Great Powers, Meinecke depicted a situation where it was necessary that England's maritime supremacy be broken in order to provide the conditions necessary to a new equilibrium in world civilization that would feature equality, competition, and exchange.

  As the conflict continued Meinecke was one of a minority of professors who supported a negotiated peace and internal reforms. With this, he was continuing his activities which had started in 1910 as a historical-political commentator, together with Friedrich Naumann, Max Weber and Ernst Troelsch, and which supported a renewal of liberalism within a social state. Only in this way could in his view the greater aim of internal unity within the nation be achieved. This made him support the Weimar democracy in 1918, despite the disgust of his own circle, 'not out of initial love for the republic, but for common sense reasons and a love of my fatherland'.
  In 1924, he published his second important work on intellectual history "Idee der Staatsrason" which explored the concept of 'reasons of state' in modern history, through the examination of the attempts made to reconcile the often competing claims of ethics, power politics, values and causality from Machiavelli up to the present. In this, he disputed the idea of power politics which had been developed from 1848 by the national-liberal political historians, and, coupled with an appeal to 'reasons of state', a warning against rigorous power politics.

  Meinecke taught in Berlin until 1932 when he retired at the age of 69. Something of an outsider, he was academically a supporter of a political intellectual history and had been politically a republican for practical reasons in the Weimar Republic.
  In 1934, as a result of the Nazi take-over of power, he lost his position as chair of the 'Historische Reichskommission', a position he had held since 1928. In point of fact the entire 'Historische Reichskommission' was disbanded, despite its previously prestigious place in German letters, by order of the Nazi regime who sought to replace it with a Reichinstitut fur Geshichte des neuen Deutshland that was intended to produce historical data in line with the outlook of the new 'National Socialist' Germany. In 1935 Meinecke's position as publisher of the 'Historische Zeitschrift' came to an end.

  Although he may have appeared to be a retired academic with little influence, he continued tirelessly to publish his works, for example in 1936 'Die Entstehung des Historismus' ('The origins of historicism') in which he questioned the fundamental rules and principles of the writings of history and of historical thinking. In 1946, at the age of 84, he finally produced his widely acknowledged book 'Die deutsche Katastrophe' ('The German catastrophe'). In this, he tries to explain the events of recent history with the help of the collective intellectual history of Germany since the 19th century. He saw German National Socialism as being an anomaly, ('the greatest disaster the German people have suffered but also their greatest shame'), that was not part of the pattern demonstrated in the past by Germany politically.
  Meinecke re - examined the relation of National Socialism to German history and revised his earlier advocacy of power politics, concluding that such realpolitik represented 'the breakthrough of a Satanic principle into world - history'. The struggle between the two souls within Prussianism - the civilized and the militarist - had been perverted by the Nazis into a degrading worship of the omnipotent State, Meinecke even revised his earlier admiration for Bismarck and the cult of success, as well as his estimate of the function of the historian, calling for a renewed consciousness of the humanistic currents in German history. Above all, this return he demanded in his book to the idealism of the age of Goethe later came in for criticism and at times also for mockery. Meinecke was seen as having glossed over the death factories, the mass murder of the Jews, slave labor and other Nazi atrocities, and as arguing that Hitler derived his power from his "demonic personality," all of this was seen partially as a symptom of the inability of the middle-class intellectuals to take part in an appropriate discussion on the Nazi past.

  In 1948, he was appointed Rector of the newly founded Free University in Dahlem (West Berlin) by the Allied occupation authorities and in 1948, as a symbol of the 'other Germany', was voted in as the first (honorary) rector of the Free University of Berlin, in 1951 the history department of this university was given his name. A reason for this was the fact that before 1945 he was rather an outsider in his profession.

  A large number of pupils he taught later became important and well known in academic circles in both Europe and America. The prominence and influence of his pupils enhanced the reputation of Meinecke as a teacher. His career and political outlook have been frequently discussed as an example of the role of historians in German society from the period of Empire into the Nazi times. This has much to do with the fact that he was, from his generation, the only historian who experienced the changes in German history from 1914 to 1945 and 1948/49 and discussed them publicly.'
  As well as one approach towards him which distinguishes Meinecke in his ability to change his opinions, a trait not usually seen in his fellow historians, which led him from being a monarchist from the heart to becoming a rational republican, there is another approach which is characterised by the continuity of this liberal ways of thinking.
  He continued to exercise considerable intellectual influence on the historians of post - war Germany after his death in February 1954 in West Berlin.

Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage

The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay "History"
Italian Unification - Cavour, Garibaldi and
the Unification of Risorgimento Italy
Otto von Bismarck &
The wars of German unification
Italian unification map
Risorgimento Italy
Map of German unification

We strongly recommend:

Europe in 1848 : A seed-plot of History?

In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:

"There have been plenty of greater revolutions in the history of the modern world, and certainly plenty of more successful ones. Yet there has been none which spread more rapidly and widely, running like a bushfire across frontiers, countries and even oceans."

In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean, was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
By late spring 1848, the Habsburg Empire looked like a hopeless case: the monarchy's northern Italian possessions in revolt, invaded by a Piedmontese army and largely cleared of Austrian troops; three different "national" governments in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb each claiming sovereign authority; Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Serb, Czech, and Slovak national movements aspiring to a similar sovereign status; a mentally incompetent monarch and his court in flight from the capital to the provinces; a state treasury completely bare.
Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, p. 203

In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.

In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."

We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest, the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:

1 The European Revolutions of 1848 begin
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

4 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality".

5 The European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.

Radical socialist reformers sought justice for the "disinherited" classes, the peasants and the factory workers, while more moderate political reformers were concerned with protecting and increasing the influence of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and the professional groups. The radicals in general favoured a republican form of government while many moderates were prepared to accept constitutional monarchy as a satisfactory substitute …
… Many of the revolutionaries, especially in the German Confederation and Italy, wanted to transform their homeland into a strong and united country, but their aims contradicted the nationalist aspirations of minority groups.
From the opening chapter to "Revolution and Reaction 1848-1852" by Geoffrey Brunn

Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.

The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.

Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History
The Vienna Declaration
Framework Convention on National minorities

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Friedrich Meinecke
Cosmopolitanism and the National State