Politics and Ideas – Continued

It is true that to highlight it in a fashion so vindictive only has the effect of making the idea become universally recognized as a “real fact.” In this case only, there is a probability that the action will be directed by the idea and not by “I cannot stand it” and by impotence. Thus, the weak have the need to affirm the reality of the idea. It must be done with ardor and zeal – in the illusion that faith levels mountains – to be able to persuade the strongest to submit, willingly, to the idea as a reality that imposes limits. It is in this sense that we must understand “the politics of ideas” of Stresemann: his pacifism is a declaration of desired impotence. It is founded on the hope – the last – that the other peoples, equally, could be persuaded to consider powerlessness as a desirable state. If power was a right, those who did not have have it or wouldn’t be represented by it, would have large difficulties. His assurance and his self aggrandizing confidence, that he permitted himself to believe in – and that he could make the others believe – that the idea is a determining force of reality. At this moment, the relations are reversed: the right would become power. The purity of the point of view of rights, he declared, gives very strong impulses for its power to break natural and military power, not ennobled by right. The fact that all the following experiences contradict it is without importance. Here is the novelty: that which had yet to occur became an event. One is a “partisan of progress,” of the future. Today, the eternally backward looking can still triumph, tomorrow, their last hour will sound. One is called to “the mission of history” to battle for the victory of the idea against blind power. This vocation fills the heart with pride. Despite all its weakness, being able to feel strongly is stimulating.

Yet, to give to the world the certainty that the politics of ideas is not a mere nicety, but a true application, it is necessary to pay the price. To prove the existence of a new spirit and of a progressiveness dignified by being its imitation, it is necessary, for example, to recognize Versailles, willingly, to voluntarily renounce Alsace, to manifest the will to satisfy all the creditors, to show respect regarding existing treaties, and to appease all the beneficiaries of the German debacle. Recompense would come quickly. Who would not follow with enthusiasm?

In an essay, entitled The Foreign Policy of Germany, Stresemann said on this subject: “Consequently, to Geneva, Germany is not the spokesman of a group; it represents an idea. It means, in this case, to further develop the League of Nations, thanks to very close and positive collaboration, to give that which it had promised its foundation, that the peoples have been waiting for, that is to say: an effective organization to amicably regulate international differences, to consolidate the peace together and to respect international rights.” This German minister, servant of the idea of the League of Nations, is a unique phenomenon. All the other statesmen who came to Geneva with the sole goal to the defend the interests of their people. Bismarck, who knew how much this particularity would profoundly deracinate the German people, anticipated the invention of the foreign policy of Stresemann writing: “The others can expect of us political actions based on compliance to or inspired by a sentiment of universal justice, but refuse to reciprocate with us.”

It is true that Mister von Gerlach, equally the spokesman of an idea, critiqued it by reproaching it, that its politics “had neither head nor tail, lacking principles and objectives.” German politics is not the breath of a strong will to national power, traversing the centuries. It then searches for some compensation in “heads or tails, principles and objectives” that are in ideas.

It is the idea of a desired impotence, the idea of pacifism which penetrated into the depths of the German soul., based on the consideration that the will to power will disappear in the measure that international treaties are concluded. This consideration reveals not only that the Germans no longer had power but that they even lacked the most elementary will to power. This idea is the charm that cradles the man weary and incapable of the happy illusion distinguished by a particular force which, though unusual, is all the same a quality.

Humanism, cosmopolitanism, and its abject variation, internationalism are ideas that express in a sense, maybe not too general, the desire to strip oneself, being that one doesn’t bear to look in the face the unvoiced feeling of constitutional insufficiency. The German is not obsessed by his Germanicism, it is only a sentiment of his heart that manifests sometimes timidly, sometimes with a little more vigor. In his encounter with the foreigner, possessing a robust spring of nationalism ready to impose, the German experiences difficulties affirming himself. He must make an effort on himself in order not to succumb, to not get overthrown by the others, very different, who come from everywhere. He has already suffered such defeats. How it is difficult to be German! Nowhere can we push with clean hands. Germanicism is not an easy thing, it must be forced there. But is it necessary to truly be German? Does it not suffice that one is a man? That would be so simple! To want to only be a man; that sounds well and reminds us that our horizons could be larger, more open. And, in comparison, perseverance in ethnic particularity, does it not have a stuffy and narrow odor? We can strip ourselves of Germanicism because we have never delivered ourselves entirely to it. Since we do not possess it very much, we throw off that which we had. And exactly, this misery is felt as the greatest wealth. We are a veritable “Hans in Luck” who was astonished because he could rid himself even of his grindstone. “Hans in Luck” is in effect a German fairy tale – and not only a fairy tale.

The idea of cosmopolitanism is the translation of humanism in the political world. In the same fashion that humanism “transports” the individual “beyond” his national cadre, cosmopolitanism “removes” from all people the “shackles” of the thirst for power, of the will to affirm themselves and from their perseverance in their “pitiable” limited particularity. The proper nationalism strikes vitality more than the thirst for power, more aggressive to the mobilization of other nations. They do not resist them, they cannot rival them, they feel repulsed, and they report that they lack the vitality and combativeness, meaning that it is not spoiled by nature. How in such conditions, could it justify its need to be recognized? This is done by labeling the unalterable character, insouciant and proudly inflexible, of the will to national and state power as something that should not be, as something suspected of evil. The will to power must be brought to doubt itself, so that its joyous assurance is shaken. It is necessary that it should feel culpable, thus, it will immediately lose the effect that we so fear. We ridicule it as “passe,” like the rest of barbarism. In today’s epoch – the best, we affirm – only a people who has succeeded in smothering it, has value. No longer should a nation search for its proper interest. It must taking into account the needs of all the people, that is to say, the other peoples. The duty of the German statesman no longer has anything to do with German politics. He would poorly comprehend the law of the present, if he did not abstain. Henceforth, he must make a European politics.

How many times have we remarked the German maybe affected the reproach of being nationalistic? In Germany, to be nationalist is considered shameful, as shameful as pocketing silver spoons that belong to others. The German disdains nationalism. He tries to ignore his ethnic anemia, his national blossoming, by avoiding wanting to be what he cannot be. But for the others who do not remember, in a somewhat amiable fashion, its weakness, he uses artifice, very easy to pierce through, which consists of convincing other to accept his scale of values, a scale that suits them so little. However, until now, this trick did not help.

Thus we understand why Germany had the most perfidious princes – Moltke wrote: “The German princes were often corrupt” – that is why they engendered the most ultramontane Catholicism, a bourgeoisie without national dignity, and the most international social democracy. It is a phenomenon altogether German, German in the sense given to us by Nietzsche: “to be a good German means to ‘de-Germanize’.”

Thus, the German doesn’t obey an internal necessity, categorical, and omnipotent that doesn’t tolerate evasion, without pretext, without hesitation. No “force of training” arises in his depths, and leaving no loophole, permitting no reflection, not impressing upon him a direction that would be truly his. The chimeras, the shimmering bait exercise their influence on them. He is dazzled by systems founded on a reasoning “rich in ideas,” concerning, for example, the structure of the state or a foreign policy based upon these principles. Given that his actions do not submit to the imperative force of something fundamental, he falls into the error of believing that he is free to choose the fashion of his meaning. What he takes for “arbitrary freedom” is only in truth an absence of consistency, rocking in the wind. Because destiny, inscribed on him, does not dictate his actions, in a clear and imperative fashion, he dreams and makes castles in the air. As soon as he feels that a danger menaces him, he seeks aid, comfort, and relief in his imaginary systems, because, in his obscure desire, he no longer knows what path he must follow. Only he can consider utopian dreamers, sectarian charlatans, litterateurs, and “logicians” as political counselors.

We cannot hide the desperate character of such a fact in the scaffolding of the spirit. Politics that does not arise from the earth with a strong essence as something natural to it, but that advances painfully by the aid of some points of found benchmarks with finesse, of elaborate plans with intelligence, of stable programs with fitness, such a politics always bears the signs of certain exaltation and exaggeration. Measured on the grand scales of politics, it seems dilettantish. It lacks the equal, weighty, and harmonious character that is natural. And in particular, it is not capable of acquiring this virtue, between all, residing in the sense of measure. Bismarck, sure of his political mastery, proves this virtue. But when the political genius, an exception among the Germans, disappeared, the rule was reestablished: uncertainty and lack of political instinct predominated. That is expressed in a zigzagging politics, in lacking the control of a political orientation, and in an abdication without any dignity. “Insupportable in victory and contemptible in defeat,” here the German seen by Clemenceau, seen with the coldness of the adversary, identifying the heart of the problem with clarity and rigor.

For this reason, it is easy to turn the German people from their way. The forces who invade it from the exterior misguide it. The foreign ideas by which the will to power and life manifest for other peoples – the ideas of ardor, of hot breath, and passionate spirit explain the sole fact that they are enveloped by the vitality of the will to power and life – are dangerous for the German. Since the 17th century, the French army won victories everywhere, French politics felt so strong as to be able to strike with impunity the German land and people; they went; in this moment, willingly, to the French civilization. The French spirit, the French style, and the French language propagated in Germany, as a pernicious epidemic. And today, regarding Americanism, do not the German people find themselves in a similar state, where they are incapable of resisting? While the whip of American creditors demands a harassing levy, they submit, willingly, to the platitudes, the vacuity, and the banality of American “spirituality.” In 1918, the German people capitulated before “Western ideas” and the Fourteen Points of Wilson. If, at this moment, the enemy had opposed his will to victory and destruction, flooding and manifesting, he might even arm for the battle with extreme despair, sacrificing himself to the last. But since the enemy hides himself behind ideas, he can break the force of resistance of the German people trusting in ideas. “When a great commander wants to attack a city” said Machiavelli, “he must force it to remove the idea that it should defend itself, thus to avoid its fierce resistance. If it is afraid of reprisals, he must promise it pardon, if it is afraid of losing its liberty, he must say that the war is not waged against the entire community, but only against some ambitious people in the city… Although such proceedings are easily penetrated – often by intelligent men – the people can often be lead into error, because they are desirous of an immediate peace, they do not want to see the traps hidden behind grand promises.” The people who have the tendency to carefully treat the objective contents of an idea as a reality, never perceive the pitfalls behind the idea.

However – and this is an extremely serious question – do we have the right to make conclusions about a general propriety? He should not object: we do such a thing – the statesman can thus act – but must we say it? During the centuries, a pall had fallen on Machiavelli’s The Prince. In regard to this work, we understood that the sentiment that he meant was something extremely dangerous, terribly venomous, carefully hiding and only suitable for very strong and audacious spirits. China and India had their Machiavellis and over there they was equally considered as wicked sorcerers. There are a number of cultivated Indians who would never think to speak of Kautilya’s Arthasâstra.

The practical application of these doctrines, that is to say diplomacy, the work of foreign policy, would never inspire the same uneasiness? It was a secret art and even the most impertinent would abstain from showing the object of their pleasantries. But during the war we demanded that secret diplomacy be suppressed. No state, the United States included, accepted this demand. As before, the foreign policy of France, England, and America stayed a monopoly of a closed circle of competent men, tending in secret to the state.

It is the instinct of conservation by great political communities who oppose themselves to “the people” who have free access to these doctrines and these secret arts. There is a strange reversal of the relation: political events are certainly not realizations of ideas, but they can, all the same, unfold smoothly with the condition that we can be absolutely sure that they mean a realization of ideas. This certainty is an indispensable social bond. It places the idea before the plan, it puts it in front. The idea attracts all the views – it orients the masses, in fact homogenizes them. If we can begin to comprehend that the idea is nothing imperative to politics but only one of its means, the feeling of an experienced intrinsic necessity would blur in this regard. It would appear as an arbitrary invention, a simulacrum for a gallery. Politics would not have a “point of view” permitting the organization of the masses, that is to say to model them. And the disorganized masses are devoid of combativeness.

It is in the nature of true political peoples to be deaf to the tempting question of knowing in what measure the objective contents of an idea agrees with political reality. Despite the evident contradiction between the two, they hold, naively, to the idea and submit to, at the same time, without any hesitation, political reality and to the law that is inherent in it. Instinctively, they know that the service of the idea is beneficial to their reality. The satisfaction that they gain when they see their political reality win by the clever service of ideas is, in their eyes, the proof of existence of an accord between reality and the contents of ideas. As they are satisfied, the think the ideas are also. Their satisfaction uniquely provides the evolution they produced, independent of the objective contents of ideas, in political reality. By reason of this edifying misunderstanding – politically very fertile, because it reinforces faith in the idea – the satisfaction is felt, point blank, as the confirmation of the rapprochement between the idea and reality, as if exactly this rapprochement had procured their satisfaction. The strong current of popular essence thirsty for power drowns the questions, doubts, and critiques that could also arise.

The German people are not a political people. While other peoples, insouciant and brimming with energy, rely on their instinct, it suffers, feeling frustrated in its “intellectual integrity” – which, in the political domain, is the sign of a faltering will. It perceives, in all its acuity, the contradictory tensions between the objective significance of an idea and political reality. Its will to life, to power and to creation are not sufficiently released from solid egoism to be able to protect itself against questioning. It does not have this irresistible force permitting it to appropriate even the contradictory idea, in the fashion that is can appear, against its nature – as a form of acceptable expression. The German does not support such a contradiction; he wants to resolve it at any price. When he makes a profession of faith in favor of an idea, he takes it seriously. He does not know to banter with the “sacred.” He feels engaged by the objective content of the idea. Scrupulously and with pedantry he ensures that the requirements of the idea are fulfilled.

Only by pushing globally the requirement of the idea that it is possible to ignore its objective content. Before 1914, the politics of the Reich proceeded in this fashion. The heritage of Bismarck taught that politics must follow the point of view of power. With a heavy enough sincerity, we avow it and the others avow it. If an idea was only a trumpery, we would not be party to frauds who, with the aid of a game of hocus-pocus, mystify the others. The German will to power does not have enough creative wealth, looseness, and flexibility to invent masks to feel comfortable wearing them, mocking the world and conquering it under the masks. In the measure where it fashions ideas, it makes them – as the cosmopolitanism of the opposition – with the sole goal, already mentioned, of hiding its shame and weakness. And in the measure where its own insufficiency oppresses it, it makes the gesture of renunciation. It would like to place in the wrong peoples who have a very strong will to power, and it denigrates, on certain occasions, the will of the others as something reprehensible, which should not exist and is to be surmounted.

Given its character, the German people might wisely abstain from mixing ideas with politics. The politics that takes ideas too seriously is not politics. As Germany would like with such ardor Pan-Europa to mature the most audacious projects of French hegemony; submitting in an unconditional fashion to the idea of the League of Nations, putting it in a straitjacket of inextricable dependencies; to apply the idea of disarmament in a fashion so radical as to become the defenseless victim of the smallest neighbor; to be the slave of pacifism in a manner as exclusive, they find their happiness in being powerless among the powerful. That is not the comportment for politics, but much more the disposition for self-destruction. From the political point of view, it is suicidal dementia. Here, in summary, is German politics, when it wants “the politics of ideas.”

Given the situation, is it not necessary, is it not a simple expression of the German need to live to sow contempt against political ideas, against all the ideas that aspire to an influence on political actions, and against the role of the idea in politics in general. A people who hesitates and must demand “what will be serve?” making an appeal in every sense, designing suspicions and smelling garbage, as soon as an idea imposes itself in the affairs of politics, that is the German people. They must comprehend that only the will to power and life shows the way and that the idea only serves this will, sometimes as a luminous reflection that attracts, sometimes as a spark that enlightens, sometimes as a mask of trickery, sometimes as a symbol that gives confidence, sometimes as an encouraging war cry, sometimes as a flag, a rallying sign given to allies – but almost always as an encouragement to strength in itself and as a pledge of good conscience.


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