German Nationalism Can Be Divided

Small states are unable to protect their subjects.” By alluding to the vulnerability of scattered German states before the strong Prussian state arrived to unite and lead them, he attempts to justify the dominance of the German Confederation by its strongest state, Prussia.

Also indicative of the more defined notions of the German identity during the period of expansion are the rants of Richard Wagner. In Wagners extended rant about Jews, he claims that Jews lack the profundity, passion, and soul which so typify German people. To prove this, he points to the lack of Jewish representation in Music and Poetry, later breaking down famous Jewish composers and poets who might defy this categorization.

Unlike the nationalist rhetoric of the expansionist period, Hitlers speech defines Germany solely by the offenses committed upon her by outsiders, be they the French trespassing in the Rhineland, the Jews infiltrating Germanys political offices, or the Bolshevik dystopia that awaited Germany if she did not find a strong leader to stop these forces. Hitler did not need to remind the Germans of who they were, he only needed to show them what they might lose.

In Hitlers rhetoric, we see a distillation of the essential process of “othering” found in most of the literature of German Nationalism. The Napoleonic Wars may have first enabled this essential process of “othering” which has been the defining feature of German Nationalism.

Nothing else can explain the birth of German Nationalism during a time when German states had such little contact with each other. There was such little contact, in fact, that Jahn had to encourage Germans to visit other German territories in order to learn of the commonalities between them.

Curiously, the strongest argument against German nationalism comes from the most beloved of all German intellectuals, Johan Wolfganng von Goethe. Goethe observed that “national hatred is a peculiar thing. You invariably find it to be strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.” In an exercise so dependent on the process of “othering,” it is hard to ignore the undercurrent of national hatred in German Nationalism. One can easily guess what Goethe would have thought of the anti-French, anti-German, and anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by Treitschke, Wagner, and Hitler.

The range of ideas and observations present in German Nationalist literature is amazing. Rarely has such ignorance, fear, and delusion shared the same space with such insight, ambition, and intellectual courage. Ultimately, and perhaps fortunately, the writings seem to be more of a reflection of the German mood at the time than a definition of the German people..

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