One’s Nation as the Highest Truth:
The German Ethical Revolution, 1800–1945
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. . .”
“But the most precious possession in this world is our own people and for this people and because of this people we will struggle and we will fight, never weaken and never tire and never hesitate and never despair.”
In this essay I want to bring to light a few ideas and thinkers to underscore the righteousness of our struggle against internationalism, multiculturalism, and our dispossession. The current ethical ideas that dominate the universities, media, and public discourse are wholly unfavorable to our cause and our existence. But the latent sense of duty that awakens many of us and calls us to resistance is nothing but a divine voice of the eternal moral law that stipulates that life is to be chosen over death, and that the behavior, ideas, and institutions through which we ourselves came into existence and on which we depend are to be defended at all cost. Our enemies are defending abstract ideals, which in practice ultimately mean nothing but death. We, however, are on the side of life, and it is we who love our people and are engaging in a selfless struggle for their preservation.
We begin with the German Idealist reaction to the critical, transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The German Idealists not only challenged Kant’s metaphysics and philosophy of mind, but also his moral philosophy, which he laid out in the monumental works, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). Kantian ethics are known as normative, or rule-based, ethics. The concept of the categorical imperative forms the kernel of his ethical theory, and it can be described as “an objective, rationally necessary, and unconditional principle that we must always follow despite any natural desires or inclinations we may have to the contrary.” Kant formulated it thus: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” The focus in Kant’s ethics is therefore not on the consequences or general outcome of one’s action, but whether the action itself is intrinsically right or wrong. Man is a rational being and is himself the author of the moral law to which he must conform. Therefore, he must formulate a rational law for himself according to which he is willing to act only in such a way that it would be equally applicable to every rational will – that is, all men. He must never treat others as a means but always as ends in themselves. However reasonable this may seem, it gives little guidance or direction to man’s life and destiny. It is not surprising, then, that Kantian ethics are employed to justify a social order whose highest ideals are equality, human rights, longevity, and consumption. Kant, of course, could not have foreseen how his ethical theory would be abused to justify modern liberalism.
However, German Idealists, like Hegel and Schleiermacher, drew their ideas from the divine fountain of ancient Greek wisdom rather than from the reigning spirit of the Enlightenment. The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ἔθος (ethos), which means not only moral conduct, but also custom or habit. Interestingly, ἔθος stems from the Indo-European word s(w)e- just like the Greek word ἔθνος (ethnos), which means nation or people, and is the root of ethnic. Similarly, the German word Sitte means custom, while Sittlich means both customary and ethical.
The starting point of Hegel’s discussion of spirit in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) is the concept of Sittlichkeit, which is translated as ethical order and derived from that which is conventional. He thought that the historical conventions that structure social life made those who lived under them approachable to the investigator. The conventional practices represent an actualized, or concrete, form of life, while the individuals have in turn internalized the general patterns of conduct in their acculturation. To be able to understand the psychological structure of the human self, it must be understood in relation to its experience and action regarding the outside world. Without such a dialectical analysis of the self, only a one-dimensional conception of the self emerges. Philosophy is thus necessarily historical, since the nature and development of the human mind can only be analyzed in relation to its historical and social existence. To understand ideas, one must first investigate their historical materializations in things like family, commerce, politics, and religion. To become self-aware, man must know different types of human experience in history, how states were organized, and the reigning spirit of each era.
In Hegel’s study of ancient Greece, we find that it is the state which is the foundation of morality and not some abstract notions of rights or duties deriving from simple conceptions of the mind. In fact, it is our relation to the state and to other people in our community, which determines what our rights and duties are:
. . . to Plato, however, the reality of mind – that is of mind as opposed to nature – appeared in its highest truth as the organization of a state which, as such, is essentially moral; and he recognized that the moral nature (free will in its rationality) comes to its right, to its reality, only in an actual nation. . . . Plato thus takes his start from that justice which implies that the just man exists only as a moral member of the state . . .
We, who are accustomed to the sacredness of the so-called “marketplace of ideas” and the right to unhindered freedom of speech, and even to the freedom of international corporations and foreign entities to corrupt our commonly-held customs and ideas for their depraved ends, may need some adjustment to the discomfort of following Hegel upward into a brighter world:
. . . the state really rests on thought, and its existence depends on the sentiments of men, for it is a spiritual and not a physical kingdom. Hence it has in so far maxims and principles which constitute its support, and if these are attacked, the government must intervene.
In our time, we are so steeped in the dogmas of individualism that it has become hard to take notice of how popular culture idealizes eccentrics and weirdos, even to the extent that antisocial behavior and outright depravity is promoted as being more admirable than living according to the norms of society. Those upheld as the heroes of our time are often those who reject norms and acceptable behavior. We are led to believe that because society, and its institutions, is oppressive, it must be changed to suit the individual, however he would like to live. The aggregate effects of this are seldom laid out, but it is held that people should simply be allowed to live as they please, with no further questions asked. This, Hegel would not tolerate:
. . . the first principle of the state is that there is no reason or conscience or righteousness or anything else, higher than what the state recognizes as such. Quakers, Anabaptists, &c., who resist any demands made on them by the state, such as to defend the Fatherland, cannot be tolerated in a true state. This miserable freedom of thinking and believing what men will, is not permitted, nor any such retreat behind personal consciousness of duty. If this consciousness is no mere hypocrisy, in order that what the individual does should be recognized as duty, it must be recognized as such by all.
Of course, one must sympathize with the healthier individualists today who want to go their own way, like homeschooling parents, gun owners, or people who try to be self-sufficient. These people are simply resisting the anarcho-tyranny of Western governments. They are trying to restore order in a world of chaos, however misguided some of them may be. They would surely feel at home in healthier societies. But most of the non-conformism today is of the destructive, Leftist kind. Hegel’s point is that a pattern of behavior is basically immoral if it cannot become a norm for all, without destroying or seriously harming society and the body politic.
Friedrich Schleiermacher rejected the Enlightenment idea of history as progress toward increasing peace and perfection. He saw history as the unfolding of God’s will through struggle and sacrifice. God had shaped the ethos and spirit of the German nation, and only through obedience to this ethos and spirit could the Fatherland be realized. This obedience could demand the ultimate sacrifice of one’s own life. Schleiermacher was particularly amused by the silly idea of dying for the cause of individual liberty, because how could one enjoy liberty if one was already dead? No, it was worthy only to die for the Fatherland.
Schleiermacher’s dualistic philosophy saw the world as a representation of two forces at work that make up reality as we experience it, namely the ideal and the real. The ideal is the spiritual realm, and the real is the physical. The ideal principle is not equally at work everywhere; it has little effect in dead matter, and it increases as it progresses through living beings – plants, animals, and reaches its culmination in man. He thought of man as an organism of the ideal principle as it expressed itself in human institutions like family, nation, agriculture, and the state. The idea of the good was for Schleiermacher the so-called “ethical process,” which is the progressive domination of nature by reason. Accordingly, the good is not equally found in all nations and races, and they differ in the extent to which they are under the domination of either reason or nature.
Unlike Enlightenment thought, Schleiermacher did not think of reason and the ethical duties in the abstract, but rather, he argued that reason was given to us only through our embodiment and natural constitution, and this was not accidental, but essential. The soul only comes into being in the body, which is brought into existence by one’s parents. Man is thus constituted by his family, nation, and race. He is not an absolute moral agent, because his historical, social, and biological setting define him. Further, man’s ethical existence is never isolated, but is an extension of the ethical wills of his parents, community, and nation, without which he would not exist. The individual is already an ethically organized being at birth; he shares in the process that brought him into being and has a duty to partake himself in that process according to his nation’s destiny.
Schleiermacher defined ethics thusly: “Ethics, as the depiction of the way in which reason and nature coexist, is the science [of the principles of] history.” It is a principle that permeates all life, and what advances life is what is ethical. The state constitutes such an advance as it expresses and sanctions the customs of the social organism in its laws, thus furthering its ends. Of the state, Schleiermacher wrote, “When such an institution is founded, it is one of the greatest steps forward possible for our race. . . . It follows that patriotism is good, and those who think it is not for them are like guests or aliens.” But the idea that the state’s only purpose is to secure rights, whether of the Lockean, libertarian kind or the human rights of modern Leftism, would have been repugnant to Schleiermacher: “To transform the state into a mere legal institution, . . . would be to reverse the direction of the ethical process.” The state must be active in the life of the nation and express its destiny.
Adolf Harnack built on those ideas about a century later. He was the preeminent German theologian of his age and is one of the greatest church historians of all time. He said that even though Jesus still upheld the moral rules of his time, he was progressing toward the idea that the highest morality superseded all external moral rules. Although Jesus upheld the Law of Moses, said Harnack,
the love and freedom that were so evident in his words and parables and the love and freedom he steadfastly set over the Law showed his disciples the paths they had to follow and gave them the courage to break with the Law which Jesus himself still had to allow to remain in force.
In this historicist line of thinking, Jesus forebode a complete break with the Law, although the time had not yet come while he lived. Thus, Harnack asserted that there could never be any conflict between the realms of God and Caesar: “God and Caesar are the lords of two quite different provinces.” Historical progress is made through the use of force in the realm of Caesar. State authority is “based on force, and this is the very reason which, in Jesus’ view, puts them outside the moral sphere . . . Law and legal ordinance, as resting on force only, on actual power and its exercise, have no moral value.” Private morality, however, belongs to the realm of God.
He thought of history as the progressive domination of the material world by the spirit, working through man.
What we strive after in the study of history is not the understanding of a mass of individual facts, however important or unimportant, but we want to understand past life in its material and spiritual structure, and we want to understand it as progressive objectification of the spirit and so as progressive mastery of the material.
For the private individual, the political realm has no morality that he can acknowledge. But the political realm has its own morality. The duty of the state is to act with honesty and clarity of purpose. The state decides itself what is moral, and its object is to advance itself and move history forward. The individual’s goodness consists not in fulfilling any law of righteousness, an idea he associated with the Pharisees rather than Christ. Rather,
. . . the Good is life in love and reverence, it springs out of a profound sense of being apprehended by something living and sublime – it is the feeling of being lifted above this fleeting world of time and sense at the same time, the longing to give out in love to the smallest of God’s creatures: it is, finally, the sense of eternal security and repose, as the gift of this Redeeming Love. This feeling alone, which affects both the disposition and the will, is the Good, and a man is only so far ‘good’ as he has something of this spirit in his heart. Virtue, however, which consists in fulfilling some law of righteousness or another, or even all laws that exist (if there ever were such a virtue), has nothing whatever to do with the truly good, but is a poor human, worked-up affair, or at its very best, it is only a kind of ‘substitute’ for real goodness.
The “material and spiritual structure of past life,” revealed through the study of history, is manifested in the institutions which earlier generations produced.
In them the achievements of the generations live on. The historian is therefore chiefly concerned with the social and political order, codes and traditions of law, schools, churches, and cultural institutions. Because they are produced by ideas and because their history is the history of the mind, they can be understood and judged.
One thing learned from his historical study is that war is an essential part of the structure of life. It is required by nature. This line of thought is also found in Schleiermacher, according to whom even wars for increased Lebensraum (living space) are morally justified:
Every state needs a sufficiency of soil because it ought not to be dependent [on others] for its essential needs. These essential needs increase, however, if the community of peoples gains in size. The state strives to push back its frontiers, in order to acquire what is lacking; these are wars of need. Thus we can distinguish three different sorts of natural warfare: wars of unification which form the state, frontier wars, or wars which maintain a state of equilibrium, and wars of need which defend the state; the usual distinction, on the other hand, between offensive wars and defensive ones, is an entirely empty one.
The term Lebensraum was first used in a political sense by the German ethnographer and geographer, Friedrich Ratzel. In the essay “Der Lebensraum,” he wrote:
There is a contradiction between the movement of the life that never stops and the space of Earth that doesn’t change. The struggle for space is born out of this contradiction. . . . The much-abused and even more misunderstood term “struggle for life,” in fact means first of all “struggle for space.”
According to Ratzel, the differentiation of both organic life and of human societies and states are governed by the same laws. He claimed that “[every] new form of life needs space in order to come into existence, and yet more space to establish and pass on its characteristics.” A true science of life cannot separate it from its spatial requirements. However uncomfortable the question of Lebensraum is, it is an inescapable reality that must not be avoided. Like biological life, political and moral life is a struggle:
The given space of every age has decided how far countries have had to expand in order to become in reality ‘world powers’, i.e., to span the earth; and in this general process, every single country, even the smallest, has had its position continually modified by the growth of the whole. Since the size of the earth’s surface sets limits to this development, the zenith can be reached by only a few states at the same time.
One of Harnack’s insights was that the only thing that gives permanence to ephemeral human life are institutions. By that he meant “contracts, constitutions, law codes, school curricula and organization, Church organization, liturgies, catechisms, etc.” These are the concrete results of diplomacy, politics, science, art, religion, and war. He was emphatic that,
. . . nothing at all, not even great men and the genius, makes a lasting impression on the human community that has not taken form in institutions. . . . However impressive the effectiveness of the individual, however immeasurable the influence of person on person, the totality which social groups as such represent is influenced permanently only by an institution which, whether written or unwritten, gives clear expression of itself in the form it imposes, the goals it inspires and the authority it exercises.
Therefore, warfare and the military give permanence to life, without which it would be in a fleeting state and would go out of existence. Harnack was aware of this and stated, “Army and science are the two pillars of Germany’s greatness; their cultivation must never cease or stand still.” But the ethical value of warfare resides not only in its function of preserving life from outside factors, it also toughens human life internally. Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Spirit that a spirit of individualism dominates the youth and is destructive to the nation if it is not suppressed. At the same time, however, the power of youth must be recognized as the power of the nation. The nation is individuality, “for itself by other individualities being for it.” The individuals within must be suppressed in seeking their own ends in order that they become active outwardly toward a national end. War is a force that suppresses the individual personality and thus preserves the whole. For Hegel, war is the moment of truth, for in peacetime the Lockean illusion arises that the purpose of the state is the maintenance and protection of property and private interests, and that political society exists for individual life and property. But in war, men realize that the state is the community in which they achieve their identity. The state is the end of private life, not the other way around. Hegel states further that, in war, “[t]he brave youth in whom woman finds her pleasure, the suppressed principle of corruption, now has his day and his worth is openly acknowledged.” Therefore we see excited women in video footage of the Wehrmacht marching into the Rhineland or Austria, for example. For, in a nation with a healthy worldview, women rightly see the military as an extension of their reproductive organs in an ethical sense. The military, like procreation, forms an integral part of the ethical process which preserves and furthers life.
Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, a Prussian General, Friedrich von Bernhardi, wrote a book called Germany and the Next War (1911) in which he delineated the moral aspect of war. He regretted that modern man had become accustomed to see war as an evil and refused to “recognize it as the greatest factor in the furtherance of culture and power.” He warned against the proliferation of pacifism:
This desire for peace has rendered most civilized nations [anemic], and marks a decay of spirit and political courage . . . This aspiration is directly antagonistic to the great universal laws which rule all life. War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization. “War is the father of all things.” The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognized this. The struggle for existence is, in the life of Nature, the basis of all healthy development. All existing things show themselves to be the result of contesting forces. So in the life of man the struggle is not merely the destructive, but the life-giving principle. . . . Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements, and a universal decadence would follow. “War,” says A. W. von Schlegel, “is as necessary as the struggle of the elements in Nature.”
The acquisition of more Lebensraum becomes necessary for the excess population as the strong and healthy nations increase in numbers. The new land is obtained at the expense of others, since almost every part of the Earth is inhabited. “The right of conquest is universally acknowledged.” Von Bernhardi describes how this at first happens peacefully through emigration. The process is much like our current dispossession. The emigrants “submit to the legislature of the new country, but try to obtain favorable conditions of existence for themselves at the cost of the original inhabitants, with whom they compete. This amounts to conquest.” The Greeks, the Vikings, and the colonizers of North America all engaged in this sort of colonization and conquest. If they had not, most of us would not exist. Von Bernhardi not only argues that the acquisition of Lebensraum at the cost of the inferior nations is not unjust, but it is a duty. The primordial injustice is in fact a primordial justice.
Oswald Spengler agreed with von Bernhardi’s ethical aspect of war: “If few can stand a long war without deterioration of soul, none can stand a long peace.” Peace, he said, had rendered the white man “self-satisfied, covetous, void of understanding, and incapable of bearing misfortune. We see the result in the Utopian conceptions and challenges which form part of every demagogue’s program.”
Adolf Hitler’s understanding of ethics as that which preserves and advances life was very clear, and he stands out as a living ideal. The ideal and the practical were merged in his very own being. He writes in Mein Kampf:
What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. Every thought and every idea, every doctrine and all knowledge, must serve this purpose. And everything must be examined from this point of view and used or rejected according to its utility. Then no theory will stiffen into a dead doctrine, since it is life alone that all things must serve.
Like von Bernhardi, Hitler saw struggle as an eternal law of nature, governing the life of nations:
Struggle is the father of all things. Only through struggle has man raised himself above the animal world. Even today it is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle. As it is with the individual so it is in the destiny of nations. . . . A Weltanschauung that denies the idea of struggle is contrary to nature and will lead a people that is guided by it to destruction. . . . For if you do not fight for life, then life will never be won.
Clearly, as has been shown, these ideas were not new during the time of the National Socialists, but had deep roots in German thought. It is the struggle for life that is the basis of ethics.
In the Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837), Hegel wrote, “It is in religion that a nation [Volk] gives itself the definition of what it holds as the true.” From religion, the German Idealists extracted concepts that were central to their philosophy, like the eternal and the divine or sacred. Without concepts, ideals, and spirit, and ultimately love, that have their origin in religion, all struggle and all hope for nationalism is in vain. This is of course anathema to many on the Right: conservatives, reactionaries, and others who denounce it as immanentization of the eschaton. But what have they achieved? Their fruits are as lifeless as the ruins of the Temple Mount, that no amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth can bring to life. Nothing has been reversed. They have simply resigned themselves to the sidelines of history, while others move on. The weepers can’t let go of the empty shells and dead corpses that once held life in them. But extracting the core concepts from religion, separating them from the dead past, and putting them to the service of life is what must be done. I will end this essay with words from Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s famous series of lectures, Addresses to the German Nation (1808):
Love, to be truly love and not merely a fleeting desire, never clings to the transitory, but awakens and kindles and resides only in the eternal. Man cannot even love himself unless he conceives himself as eternal; he is unable even to respect or approve himself. Still less can he love anything outside himself, unless, that is, he embraces it in the eternity of his belief and his soul and joins it to this eternity. He who does not regard himself first and foremost as eternal has no love at all; nor can he love a fatherland, for nothing of the kind exists for him. He who perhaps regards his invisible life as eternal but not his visible life may well possess a heaven and in this heaven his fatherland; yet here on earth he has no fatherland, for this too is seen only under the image of eternity, of visible eternity rendered perceptible to the senses, and he is unable therefore to love his fatherland either. If such a man has none, he is to be pitied; but he who has inherited one, and into whose heart heaven and earth, the invisible and the visible, interpenetrate and thus for the first time create a true and worthy heaven – he fights to the last drop of his blood to bequeath this precious possession undiminished to posterity.
 Raymond Plant, Hegel: On Religion and Philosophy (London: Phoenix, 1997), pp. 19-33.
 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History: Plato and the Platonists, Vol. 2, trans. E. S. Haldane & Frances H. Simson (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), pp. 90-91 & 99-100.
 Ibid., Vol. 1., p. 439.
 Ibid., Vol. 1., p. 443.
 Asklepios, “Friedrich Schleiermacher: The Father of Modern Theology,” Counter-Currents, October 20-23, 2017.
 Asklepios, “Friedrich Schleiermacher: The Father of Modern Theology.”
 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Lectures on Philosophical Ethics, trans. Louise Adey Huish (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 8.
 Theodore Vial, “Schleiermacher and the State,” from Jacqueline Marian (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Friedrich Schleiermacher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 277.
 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Lectures on Philosophical Ethics, p. 74.
 J. C. O’Neill, “Adolf von Harnack and the Entry of the German State into War,” Scottish Journal of Theology (Vol. 55, No. 1, 2002), p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 16.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Wilhelm Pauck, The Heritage of the Reformation (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961), p. 339.
 J. C. O’Neill, p. 14.
 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Lectures on Philosophical Ethics, p. 79.
 Matus Halas, Searching for the Perfect Footnote: Friedrich Ratzel and the Others at the Roots of Lebensraum (London: Routledge, 2014), p. 10.
 Ibid., pp. 39-41.
 Ute Deichmann & Benno Müller-Hill, “Biological Research at Universities and Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Nazi Germany,” from Monika Renneberg & Mark Walker (eds.), Science, Technology and National Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 183.
 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 288-9.
 Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 488.
 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 289.
 General Friedrich von Bernhardi, Germany and the Next War (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1914), p. 11.
 Ibid., pp. 17-20.
 Ibid., pp. 21-22.
 Oswald Spengler, The Hour of Decision, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1934), pp. 16-17.
 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943), pp. 214-15.
 Adolf Hitler, Hitler, ed. George H. Stein (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1968), p. 23.
 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Berlin: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1848), p. 62.
 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, ed. Gregory Moore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 104.
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