Once the East was a space that attracted Germans, a space in which their culture spread. The German people advanced towards the East, conquering it, colonizing it, taking root there, and creating a new country, thus giving proof of the inexhaustible and generous wealth of their blood. The beating of the German heart, strong and sure of itself, resonated up to the Baltic states. Thanks to the colonists, who integrated the East into the rhythm and into the traditions and variations of their existence, the living force of the German will to life extended almost to infinity. Thirsting to imprint its form, it submitted that which proved, near and far, the law of its essence. A youthful daring pushed reckless men towards the East. Their adventures, victories, and works of the spirit inundated the Eastern lands, as a fruitful blessing.
What profound and brutal change has since occurred! The German progression towards the East became defensive, and then from defense, retreat. For decades, Germany continued to lose the soil that it had once conquered. In 1918, the retreat became a fatal debacle; in the same manner that the military front collapsed, the civil front collapsed in the East. The flow of Slavs pressing from behind, imposed on the German people insupportable borders and they have since continued to extend their hands towards the German soil. War weary, Germans left the menaced territories, fleeing the pain and sufferings of the border regions. We say the East is dying. Today, there are only two islands, fighting desperately to survive: Danzig and East Prussia. The Reich makes no appeal of encouragement promising the end of the blockade; no troops are on the march bearing relief. For the Reich, they are an awkward situation, an embarrassment. “To accept supplementary obligations, why?”
Certainly, we have not lost the view of the engagement. From time to time, we declare the partisans of Danzig German. We favor establishments according to the law on the creation of the settlement. We accord generous credits to East Prussia. Periodically, we attempt to prove solidarity with the East. We deplore the failures of such efforts and the expenses. We deplore it and we explain it. Rural exodus is a trait of the epoch. In the countryside we do not taste the fruits of city life. The pleasures offered by the cities seduce and attract. The work in the countryside is hard, the salaries are too low, the lodgings insufficient. To accept rural conditions is a sacrifice for those that have some requirement.
This interpretation of the situation is based on the opinion that “progress” is the essence of the city. From this point of view, the funds sent to the East take the aspect of alms or, at best, damages according to those who strain to renounce the pleasures offered by “progress.”
This attitude is explained by the fact that the city is considered as a place where one can live well, a superior place, higher on the scale of values. Thus, in the city, we see the village “from above” and we think that to be “raised”, we must leave the countryside. In the urban milieu, the peasant is considered “more common,” coarser, more uncultivated than the city dweller, he is a bit “oafish.”
The overvaluation of the city evidently understands the overestimation of all that it produces: its manner of living, its economic structure, its spirit, its civilization. We feel that it is more “refined,” freer, “above the others.” The statues of the city of Gand, dating to 1192, declare proudly: “The freedom of the city of Gand is so great that it permits all sell or pledge its good buildings, submit to the jurisdiction of the city, parents or friends, that no one can oppose by invoking ties of blood or neighbor-ship.” This liberalization of the economy must oppose the “feudal propriety of the peasant.” As it would seem “backwards” or “retrograde” in relation to the statues of Gand of 1192, they were truly progressive! Thus the Baron von Stein said: “as the solider does not have the right to bring his gun to the pawnshop, the peasant cannot mortgage his land.” And Arndt wrote: “If we want a country strong and proud, we must have ownership and strong peasantry. The earth must not change hands as merchandise. The house of the peasant must not be a pigeonhole where he enters and exits, lighthearted. When that happens, honesty, honor, and fidelity die, and finally, the country as well.”
The city dweller is bourgeois in the measure where he loves liberty, spirit, refinement, and rejoices in social success, he is liberal. Liberalism is the product of cities; “city air makes a man free.” But its climate is not conducive neither to honesty, nor to honor, nor to fidelity. City airs gnaws the interior. In the grand urban centers, finally there does not remain any of the gentle memories of such peasant naivety. The starry-eyed man is only a commercial object provoking hilarity in satirical journals and cabarets.
The Italy of the Renaissance was the cradle of urban civilization. The ancient Roman spirit was rediscovered and “European civilization” was born. The roots of ancient Mediterranean culture were rejoined. France offered a fertile ground for urban civilization. Its spiritual and psychological predisposition, probably a reminiscence on the Roman invasion of Gaul, were suitable for it. As France created Paris, the city par excellence, it equally bore urban civilization to its apogee, giving it an exemplary and highly seductive form. All the European cities looked with envy to Paris. The French spirit fascinated the entire world. The victorious route of French “culture” provoked everywhere the hatching of the liberal, bourgeois, and urban spirit. At the start, it was hidden behind the modes of society regulated by absolute princes. But in 1789, it had a makeover and chose the dress corresponding to its true nature. Under the form of bourgeois, liberal, and western mentality, it then tried to penetrate the peoples who still groaned under the “yoke of feudalism.”
Starting from the Rhine, in the direction of the East, peoples were less and less impregnated with liberalism and the urban spirit and remained under the feudal regime. For historical and psychological reasons, the East remained the space of feudalism, of the rural mentality. The further we advance east, the more these characteristics are affirmed. Germany the empire of the center, has two mentalities. In the West, we are fascinated by Western and urban civilization, but beyond the Elbe begins “barbarism,” begins “East Elbia.”
Since 1789, the civilizing spirit of the West strove to submit “East Elbia.” The entirety of Germany must be won to progress, liberty, “light;” it is to be “elevated” to the rank of Western existence. The development of industrialization in Germany favored these tendencies. The intrinsic relation between civilization, industrialization, capitalism, and the bourgeoisie became manifest. The claim of liberty that seemed to fiercely oppose all subjugation of the conscience is only, in truth, a declaration of war against economic bonds; it tends to open the way to the release of egoistic and materialist instincts. The materialist principle of the struggle for liberty betrays the fact that its true missionaries are economists, such as Adam Smith, and equally Karl Marx, theoreticians of economics and not prophets or philosophers.
Bismarck desperately struggled against this liberal and urban wave during the conflict on the subject of the constitution and once again, with the anti-socialist laws. But the wave swept him away, he was obliged to conclude compromises heavy with consequences. Wilhelm II renounced pursuing this enterprise and became a liberal and bourgeois emperor, even if, conscious of the false situation, he draped himself nervously in the mantle of old traditions and insisted on the conservation of some traditional forms of the constitution. The German left is the declared ally of Western civilization against the common enemy, “East Elbia,” or we say at present, against “militarism and Prussian autocracy.” In 1918, the pro-Western, liberal, civilizing side planted its flag in the Reich. This black-red-gold flag fluttered over Germany that was no longer ruled by the laws of its own vital needs but by those of the victorious Western powers, whose civilization had no doubt.
The liberal principle, the principle of the urban essence dominated Germany, as an entire people had ceded to the “allure of the city” and abandoned this rural essence. Life under foreign dependence, that the Diktat of Versailles had imposed on Germany, led to proletarianization and deracination, inseparable from urban destiny.
How could this people, who had henceforth based their existence on “the rural exodus” and the abandonment of peasant values, once again colonize and conserve the border regions of the East? Its attempts at establishment resemble those poor little gardens that are landscaped between the walls of old cities to create a pleasant decor. They are by no means the sign of the thirst to return to the earth and national enthusiasm. The orientation towards the West has become the course of German life, of its will, of its energy of the flat, invigorating country. By reason of this deviation, all the vital forces begin to exhaust themselves. The spirit of civilization has an effect, in general, as mortifying as the spirit of the city in particular. Consequently, the Eastern flank of the Reich is weakened, it is without defense. Each blow can wound it, each baseness tears it.
The liberalization and Westernization of the Reich necessarily implies the renunciation of the East. By integrating itself into Western civilization, the feeling for the East, its virtue and its values are snuffed out. The force of national affirmation is dangerously paralyzed in the border region of the East.
Germany is liberal, bourgeois, and Western, it is incapable of holding the East. And as such that it remains liberal, bourgeois, and Western, it should accept one retreat after another in the East, submit to one defeat after another there. By aspiring to bourgeois and civilized values, we deny rural and natural values. The entrance into Western civilization necessarily leads to the abandonment of the vocation of the colonization of the East. These are inevitable casualties whose consequences are fatal.
Evidently, by its rapprochement with the West, Germany does not replace that which it lost by abandoning the East. The scale of bourgeois and civilized values that it adopted does not arise from the depths of its true being; these values come from a foreign essence, they represent the spiritual attitude and sentiment of life of another humanity. The German, by endorsing them, becomes an imitator and follower. For him, they are not the representation and accomplishment of his true essence but cold and foreign idols, coming from the outside and requiring of him the renunciation of his own personality. They do not correspond to his psyche and it presses to mold it in their image. He finds himself before the scale of Western values with the same uncertainty in search of illusions as the man from the country who submits to the influence of the city. He is lost there and loses his balance. He no longer has his instincts, he believes he can win by losing. The weakening of Germany follows the progression of liberalism and of its embourgeoisement. The decline began in 1890 – and maybe even before, with a good look. When the country becomes entirely liberal, it becomes totally impotent.
The implantation of “civilization” in Germany and the political weakening are, without a doubt, parallel phenomena. This powerlessness incites the “neighbor to the East” to seize the occasion to take possession of a defenseless region. The path that lead Germany towards the West results in the loss of its autonomous existence. The West made its political prey as previously it had its spiritual prey.
The urbanization and the embourgeoisement of Germany are the true causes of its decline. When Stresemann, the most active man of the German bourgeoisie, delivered, unconditionally and without scruples, the future of Germany to the Western powers, he simply applied the fundamental law of bourgeois German politics.
The reconstruction of the country is only possible by a return: regarding the East, addressing a refusal to the West, abandoning bourgeois liberalism, and European civilization. It is true that it acts from a radical upheaval, because today the Russian example causes bourgeois souls to tremble. The orientation towards the East and the abandonment of the embourgeoisement of Germany situate themselves under the same plan. This new orientation towards the East signifies a return to the earth, the rebellion against the city, the courage to be “barbarous,” rural, and primitive. In these conditions, the East could open anew to the German people who rediscovered the force to undertake grand political developments. The nation would have anew a soil in which it could plunge deep and healthy roots.
However, bourgeois Germany is incapable of voluntarily abandoning the civilization in which it is enclosed in. The renunciation of the bourgeois way of life results from a social revolution and a nationalist pathos, targeting national objectives. But where will we find the bourgeois German, who, in a national rising, would be close to accepting a social revolution to reconquer a vital space in the East? It is a question heavy with consequences for the future of Germany.