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Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954) Author(s): Philip J. Wolfson Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.

17, No. 4 (Oct., 1956), pp. 511-525 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2707785 . Accessed: 23/10/2012 08:55
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FRIEDRICH MEINECKE (1862-1954)


BY PHILIP J. WOLFSON

The annals of the social sciencesare crowdedwith broadinterpretive theses on the cultural unity of the West, and the concept of a commonWesterncivilizationhas becomeimplantedas a virtually unchallenged premise in our thinking concerningthe problems of intellectual cross-fertilization, especiallyas these affect levels of understanding between the old world and the new. When one considers the disconcerting variations in national mores and attitudes that persist, despite marvelousadvancesin the technologyof communications, this notion is rather a comfortingone, and those who expound upon it with richness and insight may expect the reward of an extensive audience. It is the ability to paint the large canvas that, after all, has marked the greater historians since the time of Herodotus. Particularly in our own times, when researchersin the humanities grope painstakingly for scientific standards, a Toynbee appearingto gaze serenely across an infinite, but to him intelligible universeproperlycommandsawe, admiration,and an assuredreadership. Then, too, a broadoverview combinesreadily with a clear and confidentthesis. Toynbee, for one, insistently erudite as he is, does not permit his facts to overshadowhis conclusions; if some detail threatens to disturb the regularsurfaceof his panorama,it may find itself subordinated. Against such grandassurance,criticismof details comes perilously near to carping; one can only wonder whether universalhistory is approachable by any other method than standing firm on top of it, let it heave where it will. Of course this sort of firmness, so conducive to the didacticism that a certain type of mind demandsfrom the historian, should not simply be shrugged away as beneath consideration. The past as lesson has its value, especially in troubled times. Yet the pathways of history, as students and their professorsknow, are never so smooth and assured. And to those concernednot merely with the size of the historical canvas but with the proportionsof its details, some other than that of the pattern-makers approachto understanding might be desirable. In this context, the case of FriedrichMeinecke offers an enlighteningexampleof how a genuine concernwith the rich variety of human experiencemay producea bolder,fuller, more vital picture of universality. By the time of his death on February6, 1954, at the age of 91, Meinecke was a celebrity among historiansin his native country and to some extent throughout Western Europe. In the United States, however, his reputation has been somewhat obscure. He was first accordedrecognitionas dean of Germanhistoriansthroughan invita511

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tion to speak at the Harvard tercentenary exercises in 1936, then through his election to honorarymembershipin the American Historical Association in 1948-the second German scholar to be thus honoredsince Leopoldvon Ranke was nominatedto chartermembership by the organization'sfoundersin 1884. In the last years of his life, Meineckeachievedsome renownas a symbol of survival; having outlived the Nazi regime and experiencedits political and military he becamefirst rectorof the Free University of Berlin, consequences, which had been establishedin the U.S. sector of the city as an expression of the will to maintain the free spirit of inquiry against totalitarianassaults. (The old University of Berlin, where Meinecke had lectured for fourteen years until his academic retirement in 1928,is under Communistadministrationin the Soviet sector.) Meanwhile,the life and worksthat form the essential background to this symbol of survival have remained unfamiliar to Americans, and his significanceas historical thinker remains substantially uncommunicatedto us. Fragments of his work have found their way into English translation, including his last book, Die deutsche Katastrophe (1946),1 which is notable chiefly for its courageousattempt to rewind the spool of Germannational history that had come so horribly undone. But none of his major books or essays, representing nearly half a century of mature and often brilliant scholarship, is available in English (his pioneering work on the rise of German national consciousness in the nineteenth century, Weltbiirgertum und Nationalstaat, first published in 1908, has gone through seven Germaneditions). Some of these works have meanwhile become standard references for the intellectual history of modern Europe, but evaluation of Meinecke'sideas lags far behind.2
1 Wiesbaden, 1946; the Americanversion,translatedby SidneyB. Fay, is entitled The GermanCatastrophe(Cambridge, Mass., 1950). 2 To date, such investigationin this country consists of the writer'sunpublished doctoral dissertation, Friedrich Meinecke: A Study in German Historiography (Chicago, 1951, typewritten and microfilmed),plus scattered articles more or less " Meinecke's criticalof Meinecke,like EugeneN. Anderson's and the Ideengeschichte Crisis in HistoricalThinking,"in Medieval and Historiographical Essays in Honor of James Westfall Thompson,ed. E. N. Anderson and James L. Cate (Chicago, 1938); CharlesA. Beard and Alfred Vagts, "Currents of Thought in Historiography," AmericanHistorical Review, XLII (April, 1937); and Oscar J. Hammen, "German Historians and the Advent of the National Socialist State," Journal of Modern History, XIII (June, 1941). Louis L. Snyder presents a thoroughlymisleading picture of Meinecke'spolitical attitudes in his German Nationalism: The Tragedyof a People (Harrisburg, Pa., 1952), 255ff. A highly competentand extensive analysis of the theoreticalproblemsinvolved in Meinecke'shistoricalthought is presentedin WaltherHofer, Geschichtsschreibung und Weltanschauung (Munich, 1950).

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The lack of interest by the generality of American scholars in Meinecke'shistorical thinking is somewhat surprisingin view of our frequent tendency to take our theoretical cue from the Germans. But, this aside, Meinecke's philosophy of historical writing might have interest for us, since it affirmsa deep and resilient faith in the worthof the individual-the same philosophythat lies at the heart of our most cherished national values, and that surely qualifies as a common denominator of Western cultural ideals. Then, too, such acquaintancemight serve our growingneed as professionalhistorians more or less afloat in a sea of social scientists to establish sound practical justificationfor our endeavors;3 for Meinecke provides us with a fascinating and intrinsically consistent argument for the validity of the historian'stask, and does so not by resortingto grand schemata but by delving from within-in short, by letting history speak for itself as an approachto life. Meinecke'shistorical philosophy is best approachedthrough his unique standing as heir to the great tradition of nineteenth-century Germanhistoriography,or, more specifically,to its dominant strain -the movement of historical idealism called historischeIdeenlehre.4 This movementbegan with Wilhelmvon Humboldt,the distinguished Prussian scientist, educator and statesman (1767-1835), who represents a bridge between the speculative rationalism that dominated German thought in the eighteenth century and the wave of romanticismthat initiated the swift ascendancyof modernhistorical scholarship in Germany. Paradoxically, the flowering of German historical science, which so directly and deeply influencedthe study of history in the United States, continues to be identified here with modern advances in the mechanical techniques of research and criticism-thus our tendency to relate the principles of historical method to Ranke's sadly overworkedand misinterpreteddictum on writing history "as it actually was " (wie es eigentlich gewesen), or to treatises like Ernst Bernheim'ssubstantial (and substantially unread) Lehrbuchder historischenMethode, publishedin 1889. Certainly the fundamentals of objective methodology were inherited in large measure from the German universities; but this
3 An especiallysensibleand reassuringly urbanetreatmentof this problemis provided by Louis Gottschalk'spresidential address before the American Historical Associationon December29, 1953; it is printed in the AmericanHistoricalReview for January 1954. 4 The term refers to a belief in the creative or determiningpower of spiritual (ideal) componentsin material events; see T. H. von Laue, Leopold Ranke: The Formative Years (Princeton,N. J., 1950), 146.

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material legacy was merely the shell for intellectual impulses that were not at all "scientific " or "objective" as we understandthese terms today. On the contrary,these impulseswere highly subjective, even chargedwith emotion; they expresseda reorientationof ethical and intellectualideals away from the rigid mold of systematicscience, into which the body of knowledgehad been poured by the philosophersof the Enlightenment. This reorientationwas based upon the concept of affinity with the organic principle in nature-a favorite analogy of German romantic thought. The tremendousenergy expended in collecting and classifying materials, and the concomitant evolution of consistent technical and professionalstandards,did not suffice to stifle this preoccupation with supra-factual problems; nearly every noted historian in Germany's pre-unification era identified the stream of history with some higher purpose and endeavoredto evoke its essence in his work. In the longer perspective of historiographical the currents,this identity of attitude overshadows successful after the middle of the spectacularly campaign waged centuryby the so-called"national-politicalschool" of JohannGustav Droysen, Heinrich von Sybel, and Heinrich von Treitschke,5against the spirit of Rankean detachment, in the interest of rallying the German people to support the idea of unification under Prussian leadership. The dispute touched off at least one lifelong enmity (Droysen's toward Ranke), muddied the contemporaryunderstanding of the Germanpast, and exerted a distorting influence upon the perspective of succeedinggenerationsof Germanhistorians; but its effects did not penetrate to underlyingbeliefs about the nature and purposeof the historicalprocess. All were agreed that history is an ethically directedforce linking mankindwith divine origins,that the highest function of the historianis to seek out and intuitively recreate the image of "the human individual in his spiritual evolution."6 This justification of historical writing as a contributionto the continuity of a higherethic is the distinctive feature of Germanidealistic historiography;it accurately describes the fundamental piety with which the most distinguished representativesof this scholarly line
P. Gooch, History and Historiansin the Nineteenth Century (London, 130-55. 1913), 6 The quotationis from von Sybel, the highly practical"expert" researchdirector; he goes on to say, " The core of a humanpersonalitydoes not permit definition like the chemicalformulaof a synthetic compound;it may be graspedonly through the perceptiveimagination,in short by a method wholly analogousto that of the
artist .... There has never lived a great historian who was [satisfied to be] a stu6 See G.

dent of critical method, without also being a great creative artist" (Vortrageund Abhandlungen [Munich, 1897], 302f.).

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approachedtheir professionaltasks. Beginning with Humboldt,who theorizedfrom the standpoint of amateur historian and philosopher,7and continuing through two generationsof leading thinkers from Ranke to Wilhelm Dilthey and the neo-Kantian logicians, singularity-the intrinsic quality of the individual in all its manifestations-was identified as the basic developmental principle of the historical process; as Humboldt conceived it, a constant awakeningtoward fulfilment, each "moment" in history embodying the struggle of idea to "win existence in reality" through the intuitive perception (seelische Einfiihlung) of the historian.8 This conceptprovidedthe foundationfor a thoroughgoing criticism of the systematic and apocalyptic tradition of historical writing, and its gradualreplacementby an approachfounded upon empirical analysis of historical phenomena in their individual development and mutual interaction. Gradually German historiography began to liberate itself from visions of the Hegelian type. Generalizing and systematizing techniques, ordinarily inseparable from the task of extendingknowledgeover unchartedareasof history, were imperceptibly underminedas the standards of research. The central effort became to capture the existential uniqueness within historicalevents and to penetrate the motivations of the human person, the symbol and paradigmof historical individuality. This insistence on evaluating ideas and their impact upon the evolving pattern of causality represents the concrete element of historical idealism that Meinecke carried with him into our less harmonious age: a faith in history and historical study as "creative," possessed of the power to supplant philosophy as the " universal discipline," as an approachto the comprehensiveunderstandingof man. By nature and upbringing,as well as by the accidentsof academic and professional association, Meinecke was strongly predisposedto share the attitudes of the historicalidealists. In a modest volume of memoirs, compiled as an octogenarian,Meinecke recalls his childhood as the son of the Royal Postal Director in Salzwedel (ancient capital of the Altmarkin the heart of Brandenburg-Prussia) and his later boyhood in suburban Berlin. The gentle and well-mannered household,whose leisure hours were taken up with music and poetry, had a lasting effect on the boy's personality. Afflictedwith a stutter
him as "the Bacon of historical science"; see Historik. Vorlesungen iiber Enzyklopadieund Methodologieder Geschichte,hrsg. R. Hubner (Munich, 1937), 324. 8 Humboldt," Ueber die Aufgabe des Geschichtsschreibers," iber Abhandlungen Geschichteund Politik, hrsg. L. B. Firster (Berlin, 1869), 13.
7 Droysen referredto

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and consequentlyinclined to painful shyness, he respondedwith intensity to the pleasuresof the lonely; he read avidly, "devouring" the romantic novels of Marryat and Scott, and saturated his senses in wandering through meadow or wooded park. His intellectual curiosity,and the first signs of literarytalent, developedin the atmosphere of a sensitive and withdrawnadolescence;impelled by a halfformedurge towardself-expression, he found himself attractedto the of a as means of study history "discovering the world in its ideal form."9 Soon after enteringthe University of Berlin in 1883,he was introducedin impressive fashion to the doctrinesof the idealist historians through Droysen's famous course in methodology.10 The intensity of Droysen's manner and attitude, so well attuned to the suppressedfires of the young Meinecke's own personality, literally enrapturedhim; he felt himself being initiated, not so much into the skills of his craft as into " the comprehensionof things historically vital... essential to understanding... the world as it is." 1 Meineckein his turn soon attractedthe attention of Droysen and his associates. Under the guidance of a brilliant young Dozent, Reinhold Koser,12 he completedhis first independentresearchstudies and took his doctorate cum laude in 1886; thereafter,Koser was instrumental in helping to place Meinecke in the Prussian state archives,directedat the time by von Sybel, one of the most influential historical research. figures in the programof government-sponsored Meinecke's associationwith Sybel led him almost simultaneouslyto uncover a lifelong historical interest and a major facet of his professional career. In 1893, though barely thirty years of age, he was appointed editor of the HistorischeZeitschrift-the quarterlyof historical researchand criticismwhich Sybel had founded in 1859 as an expressionof Germannationalism,and which Meinecke subsequently built over a period of forty years into one of the world's foremost academic journals (he was forced to resign under Nazi pressure in 1935). Having meanwhile become interested in the military and diplomatichistory of the Napoleonic era, Meinecke was assignedby Sybel to develop new sources into a biography of Field Marshal Hermann von Boyen, a leader in the Prussian reform movement of the early nineteenth century.13
9 Erlebtes, 1862-1901 (Leipzig, 1941), 81. 10The course was then being given for the last time; it had begun in 1857, 25 years before. 11Erlebtes, 86. 12 Koser (1852-1914) was successivelydirectorof the Prussianstate archivesand of Prussia; in both officeshe had been precededby Sybel. historiographer 13The biography eventually appeared in two volumes; the first, covering the years 1771-1814, was published in 1896, and the second, covering 1814-1848, in

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The ascetic morality and dedication of such men as this soldierreformerintroducedMeinecke to an ideological atmospherethat be'1 Immersinghimself came, as he describesit, his "spiritual home." in the political and philosophicalcross-currents of that turbulent era in Germanhistory, he developed an almost tactile sensitivity to the subtleties of their interaction and their varied impact on the course of events. Under the influenceof his half-worshipfulregardfor men like Droysen and Sybel, Meinecke was affectedearly in his careerby the magnetism of the decisive personalityin history, and none of his works is free of the tendency to focus a broad evaluation upon the role of a single, "representative" individual.?' Nevertheless his analytic eye probed deeper than this, to catch the fine modulations within the amorphousstream of values and aspirationsexpressedin the thought and action of the men who carriedforwardthe national idea. Combining warm sympathy for his subject's ideals with a delicate and perceptive clarity of style, Meinecke's biography of Boyen was widely commended as an artistic as well as scholarly success. Moreover,Boyen's concept of the citizen in arms, with its strong overtones of loyalty and unity, appealed directly to the contemporarysense of national pride in the founding of the Empire, as well as to the concernfor ethical values that marbled,if they did not shape, the image of imperial Germany. The dilemmasimplicit in the mergerof a political idea, expressed in the objective of unificationand power prestige, with a moral ideal centering about the concept of enlightened balance between responsible governmentand civic loyalty, have been fully recognizedand portrayedamong the basic determinantsof Germany'sdevelopment subsequentto 1871. But in the first decadesof the Empire,they were rarely perceived as such; and Meinecke's characteristicapproachto historicalinterpretation-his Ideengeschichte,or 'history of ideas-matured under the influenceof heady optimism, which was reflected at its best in the work that firmly establishedhim in the front rank of Germanhistorians. Yet Weltbiirgertum und Nationalstaat, which traces and celebratesthe triumph of unification,is far from being a ritual offeringto the spirit of the BismarckianReich-although the book has been accurately characterizedas the peak expression of Meinecke'sintense interest in the Prussianpast, to which he devoted half a lifetime of study. Rather it is a revelation of intuitive sympathy on the part of the historianfor each complexstrandin the web
1899-both at Stuttgart. 4 Erlebtes, 35. 15 Staat und Persdnlichkeit (Berlin, 1933), 52.

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of ideas involved in the rise of Germannationalism. This ability to appreciate the intrinsic variability of idea-currents,to perceive and follow the lines of force they generate as these are expressedin subsequent events long after the originalimpulse has subsided,goes far to explain the peculiar delicacy and balance of Meinecke's evaluations. Always the interaction between idea-impulse and material conjuncturein the historical process is treated warily, counteracting any automaticidentificationof the influenceof an idea with its concrete emergenceas a describablecause. Thus Meinecke'sinsight into the principleof singularityis kept free of the becloudingurgeto establish convenientpatterns-to determineand to justify the significance of an event by plastering it along the slopes of some historic trend. Here Meineckeovercomesa basic fallacy in the outlook of the idealist school, so well exemplifiedin his teacher Droysen's Hegelian characterizationof history as " theodicy"-a kind of inevitable progression toward man's fulfilment,in which evil or retrogressiveelements play the foil to the triumphof the Good.l6 This skepticism concerningthe validity of generalizationsbased upon the external (hence artificial) congruenceof events represents an increasinglysignificantelement in Meinecke'sthought. His effort to recreate history more richly through appreciationof its nuances led him to insist upon giving full weight to each componentelement in the causal conjuncture,and upon that premise to develop a dualistic picture of historicaldynamics,which may be summed up in his own favorite terms: "polarity" and "interaction."17 This concept of reciprocalrhythms in the historicalprocessmight be regardedas a form of bulwarkagainst the chaos of relativism implied by a fixation on the principle of individual potentiality and growth. But just as Meinecke'ssupple receptivity of intellect argues against any type of fixation, so does it precludehis acceptingany bulwarkas permanent. The maturationof his political insight coincidedwith the onset of a tragicphase in Germanhistory; the " goldencloud " of ideal aspirations that had seemed to hang over Bismarck'sGermanywas beginning noticeablyto tarnishby the end of the century. Signs of brutalization could be perceivedin Germanculture, and an inner cleavage was opening in German politics and society. Again and again, as Meineckesought to develop a harmoniousand comprehensible picture of the Germanpast and present,he was forcedto re-examinehis most basic preconceptions. "Alles fliesst; gib mir den Punkt, wo ich stehen kann "-"All is flux; show me where I may stand "-is a
See Droysen'sessay on " Theologieder Geschichte,"reprintedin the Hiibner edition of Historik,369-85. 7 Die Entstehungdes Historismus (Munich, 1936), 262.
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phrasethat recurssignificantlyin his writing duringthe early decades of the new century. Eventually he was confronteddirectly with the when the hope of a genuine social unity "night-side" of history,18 arousedby the mass responseof the Germanpopulationto the call to arms in 1914 was corruptedby the shift in German war aims and finally smashed by military defeat and revolution. Unlike so many of his colleagues,Meineckerefusedto regardthese developments as uniformly disastrous and unacceptable. Though oppressed by nostalgia for the world irretrievably lost behind the he approachedthe new era in a positive spirit of cobattlefields,19 while expressing regret that the Weimar system Even operation. lacked the stable element of monarchicalrule, he developed a convincing argumentfor the view that Germansmust accept and nurture their republicaninstitutions,20 and even in retrospectrefused to join in the disdain or denigrationof the Republic that was quite general among members of his class.21 But in his own mind and heart, Meinecke was often overcome by pessimism and depression. This turmoil expresseditself characteristicallyas a challenge to his own idealistic assumptionsconcerningthe nature of the historicalprocess. The melancholy implications apparent in his prewar studies on the era of Prussian liberation and the rise of German nationalism assumed a more definite and deeper tone; his conception of an ideal synthesis-or, to employ his own expressivefigure,a "symbiosis" of causal entities, appearedready to disintegrateinto an irreconcilable confusion of antagonistic elements, thus robbing the causal chain of its dynamic necessity and threatening to negate any certainty of productive interaction between idea-forces and the patterns of material causality. He remainedconvincedof a qualitative culmination in this processand the possibility of drawingit forth, of recreating the phenomenonof mutually dissonant elements combiningin a new synthesis (Humboldt's principle of the "condition at every instant wholly new"). But this synergistic property of historical dynamics,arisingout of singularityand the potentiality of independ1s Aphorismen und Skizzenzur Geschichte(Leipzig, 1942), 42f., 174. 19He has referredin glowing terms to his years as professorof modern history at the universitiesof Strasbourgand Freiburg,1901-1914. 20 See his collection of essays, Nach der Revolution. GeschichtlicheBetrachtungeniber unsereLage (Munich, 1919). His argumentsagainst partisanbitterness are especiallyclear from the structureof a proposalhe submittedto the commission that draftedthe Weimarconstitution;they are containedin the article," Verfassung und Verwaltungder deutschen Republik,"Neue Rundschau,XXX (1919), 1-16. 21 See Die deutsche Katastrophe,passim.

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ent regenerationof historical forms, contained also the potentiality of an uncontrollable splintering into self-contradiction and utter aimlessness.22 The logical difficultiesof the idealistic affirmationthat the chain of causality is meaningless until penetrated and infused by ideaimpulses, had already become clear to Meinecke before the turn of the century, when he associated himself with the philosophersWilhelm Windelbandand HeinrichRickert against the challengeof positivist thought,in makingan absolutedistinctionbetween the methods of history and those of science.23 In Meinecke'sview, these difficulties could be resolved only within the domain of an essentially incalculable factor-the "free X" of the human personality.24 The moral issue posed by this conclusion-namely, the struggle of the personality to realize its creative possibilities within the enclosing framework of state and society-forms the philosophicalfocus for the studies of the early postwar years. In this period, Meinecke's selfclarifying urge toward fuller appreciationand elucidation of permanent elements in history-or, in his terms, of "value " as distinct from "causality "-was challengedby a political and social environment ominouswith the symptomsof moralretrogression. In 1924, Meinecke publishedthe second work in his major trilogy of studies devoted to the theme of interaction between dominant political ideas in modernEuropeanhistory and their culturalenvironment. Die Idee der Staatsraison in der neueren Geschichte (1924), a study of the evolution of the Machiavellian concept of government in its influenceon the developmentof the modernnation-state, serves also as a penetratingself-analysis of Meinecke'sdualistic conception of historical dynamics, ranging far into the tragic implications of as an alternativeto symbiosis,and illuminatingto an irreconcilability unprecedenteddepth the problem,as he saw it, of the basic conflict between freedom and necessity in the Burckhardtiansense, as it applied directly to the moral issues raisedin the courseof Germany's progresstoward the status of leading power on the continent. Yet Meinecke's awareness of pressures toward frustration as well as towardfulfilmentof culturalideas-unmistakably indicatedand even emphasizedmuch earlier,in what Hofer refers to as his " optimistic"
22See Staat und Personlichkeit, 37. 23The conflictbetween Meineckeand his associateson the one hand, and Karl on the other, is discussedin Lamprecht,spokesmanof the positivist historiography, an article in preparationby the present writer. 24 See Historische Zeitschrift,LXXVII (1896), 263f.

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not in terms of its undertowof pesperiod2--must be characterized simism but as a backgroundfor indefatigable and courageousoptimism. It is at this stage, in full consciousnessof dark impurities in the stream of history and particularly in the German past, that Meinecke'swill to refine the universal ideals from the dross of their surroundingsis strongest, and his intention to revive and live by he sees the history most evident. Following Humboldt once again,26 amoral power entity, the modern nation-state, as a constrictinginfluence upon the individual,but at the same time as an historic tool in the advancementof culture,whose potentialitiesfor sustainingand developing the highest human values may yet overcome its anticivilizing characteristics and conquer over the dark and bloody chaptersin its evolution. The theme of the state as cultural potential and channel of individual development-whose significance as a challenge and as a warningfor WeimarGermanywas recognizedonly later by Meinecke's contemporaries-was set forth more explicitly and also more broadly in his first collection of essays on historical philosophy, Staat und Personlichkeit (which made its appearance, ironically enough, in the year of Hitler's accessionto power). The two leading essays of this collection-" Personlichkeit und geschichtliche Welt" (1918) and "Kausalitaitenund Werte in der Geschichte" (1928)-provide the best expressionof the temper of Meinecke'sthought in the postwar period in his concern with the triad politics-history-philosophy, and illustrate his gradual but definite turn to the riddle of the historical processitself as the dominantinterest of his later years. The as a quest within the spirit of this undertakingmay be characterized phenomena of human history for an ideal germ-plasm capable of transcendingits physical and temporal environmentand conquering the inexorabilityof change. For the "old masters" of the idealist school, the logical impasse implied in the conclusion that an historical particular is in some sense independent of its context was bridged by simple orthodoxy; they believed the historical " moment" to be a literal manifestation of divinity, and insight into its characterequivalentto a reunionwith
25 Hofer (op. cit.) develops the thesis that 1918 marks a fundamentalbreak in Meinecke's outlook, a watershed between an "optimistic" and a "pessimistic" phase; against this it may be pointed out that elements of both are distinctly emphasizedin almost every one of Meinecke'sbooks. Hofer subsequentlyin his volume delineates a "third phase" wherein Meinecke'sfaith in the principle of historicismleads him toward a new synthesis (ibid., pp. 224f.). Again there is of Meinecke'sdevelopment. strong evidenceagainst any formal periodization 26See "Wilhelm von Humboldt und der deutsche Staat" (1920), reprinted in Staat und Personlichkeit, esp. 81; also in the same volume,see 47ff.

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God. But Meinecke could not accept such prior certainties; in a secular age, history's endless flux must be forcedto yield meaning in entirely human terms, not from above but from within: thereis individuality, . . . wherever therealso is growth. Individuality is not completion, not something but an definitelyand finallyestablished, active transmutation of innerformative forces-of whichone, thoughnot

the sole factor, is the consciouswill.27

Yet meaning ("value ") may still be suppressedand buried within the causal context of history. Against this pressureof the historical mass, Meineckepostulates the autonomyof " idea " within the chain of events-or, in the ethical context of his thought, the dynamismof the human personalitystrugglingtowardrealization. This autonomy is the spirituallink that Meineckehopes to forge, so that the core of the historical fact, possessedof a culture-buildingimpulse, may survive the oblivion of its causal context. What then is implied by this concept of autonomy? First, the material sequenceof causality is distinguishedby an inner nexus of superiorforce. The collective context-represented by the historian's term "trend" or the sociologist's term "pattern "--is seen as an artifice, a reflex of the human need for system, the human desire to impose connectedform upon the essentially atomisticreality. Second, the assumption of an extrinsic unity or grand continuity in history represents simply an externally derived impression of actuality, in some sense foreign to its true nature. Actuality is seen instead as a dynamic pulsation, kept in motion by an infinity of conjuncturesin time and space-an impenetrableweb of causal impacts under continuous but incalculably variable stress. If each particle is "ineffable,"28nevertheless each strand may hold its structure for no more than a moment-though perhapsforever. Third, it follows that a sequential principle based on change is one that admits no true necessity, no finality, no absolute triumph over the chaotic. Only in the form of the human will-the sole divinity (" deion")29 of Meinecke'ssecular universe-can historical mass possess both direction and energy; and the human will is condemnedto struggle incessantly for self-possession against the dark and irrational forces
27Aphorismen und Skizzen,etc., 31. 28The term is derived from Goethe, one of Meinecke's" polestars" in the arts; on the title page of Meinecke'slast major work, Die Entstehung des Histrismus, the quotationappears: " Habe ich Dir das Wort 'Individuum est ineffabile' woraus ich eine Welt ableite, schon geschrieben? "--Goethe to Lavater, 1780. Exactly as with Goethe,the " ineffability" of the individualforms a majorarticleof Meinecke's faith. 29Aphorismen und Skizzen,etc., 156.

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within itself and in the worldabout it. In the eruptive force of the individualpersonality,as it tears free of and transforms its material environment, Meinecke sought to establish the basis for resolvinghis dualistic picture of the historical universe. For the picture of an infinite network of accident is both logically and intuitively penetrableat its core. Lackingnecessity, its nature is summed up in its potentialities; since these are untrammeled by any absolute directionalpressure,they may develop either towarda good or towardall evil fruition. But the regenerativepower of the idea, as it moves through and beyond the causal sequence, demonstratesthe possibility of unlimited growth. And as the archetype of ideological force, the human will becomes the only true catalyst in a labile universe. The translationof consciousexperience into creative activity-the process of building cultural valuesto perpetuationof the life force; as Meineckeputs it, the corresponds means to " win the image of ... humanity from the historic essence 30 Though achieved in the midst of flux, and vulnerof mankind." able to its attrition, the symbiosis of value with causality is no less no less significantfor its dissolution productivefor its impermanence, into new problems,new riddles, new dilemmas. For the quality of incompleteness,as Meineckeconcludes,is itself an essential element of creativity and growth; and this conclusion reflects Meinecke's personality as faithfully as it does his thought, expressing(as one of his close associateshas written)31an unquenchable youthfulness of spirit, ever receptive to the new without rejecting the old. The entire constellation of Meinecke's experiencebore in upon him the realizationthat history moves upon shifting sands; the more he strove to identify himself with the human, and more particularly,the German past, the faster it fell away beneath him. Thus his faith in history as the study of the creative demanded a penetration well beyond descriptive depths, and correspondedever more intimately with his own habit of self-questioning. His life ended, so to speak, on a questioningnote. He had lived to see one of history's most insidiously evil tyrannies cast off, at the price of military and political catastrophe for the nation; and though this might seem to deny the very basis of the ideals he had discernedin national origins, he refused to discard the possiPrusso-Germany's bility that the corruptiontoo might have been bred in the bone, and wonderedhow far back one must really go to recapturepurity. Thus
30Staat und Personlichkeit, 26, 101. Ludwig Dehio, in the HistorischeZeitschrift,CLXXVII (1954), 226; Dehio becamethe editor of the HZ when it resumedpublicationin 1945.
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J. WOLFSON

he died doubting the past and uncertain of the future, speculating indeed whetherRanke, his apostle of the harmoniousuniverse,should not be displacedas a fount of historicalwisdom by Burckhardt,who was preoccupiedwith the self-destructiveness of human civilization.82 But Meinecke did not really need to go farther than his own heart and mind for reassurance. For his Ideengeschichteis no mere chronicleof ideas or of their evolution, but the literal expressionof a conviction that ideals are indestructiblechannels by which the mind may conquer fatalism and despair. Only rarely are explicit definitions of the Ideengeschichteto be found in his works; one of these stands out also as a self-portrait: The historyof ideasmustbe treatedprimarily as an essential, indispensablecomponent of universal It that whichthe thinking history. presents out of his ownexperience, howhe has madeit spiritually beinghas created his own,what ideal consequences he has drawntherefrom-in short,to a of historicalessencein mindsthat are concentrated degreethe reflection the of essentials life itself. For this reason[suchideas] are no mere upon or colorless silhouettes but the lifeblood of actuality,absorbed abstractions,
into the bloodstreamof men whose mission it is to express the essence of

theirtimes. The ideologyof a significant thinker,grownfromthe experienceof his times,is like a dropof attarof roses,won fromthe perfume of hundreds of flowers. Through the translation of experience into idea, the human himselffromthe burden of his past and createsthe beingliberates forcesthat shapehis life anew. Ideas are the highestpeaksthat mankind can attain,in whichobservant and creativepotentiality unite intelligence in a common fulfilment.Fortheirownsake,as well as forthe sakeof their impact, they areworthyof studyin the frameof universal history. A history of ideas,Herdersaid, wouldprovidea key to the historyof action. The ideas which guidehistoricallife do not arise solely in the spiritual of greatthinkers;they have a broader workshop and deeperorigin. But in theseworkshops; in assume them for the first time they condense they
the formwhich influences the continuationof things and the actionsof men.33

For Meinecke,this was a pathway to the comprehension of the living, and for us it providesthe key to his genuinely " ineffable" optimism, whose warmth and penetration again and again suffusedthe wastelands of the past with vitality. To quote him once more, it depends of the observant thinkerwhetherthis overwhelming upon the character drama[i.e., the dynamic oscillation of historical forces]is to signifytruth or chaos,faith or despair... whether it is to resultin an indifferent rela32The essay, "Ranke und Burckhardt," originallyan addressin 1948 before the GermanAcademy of Sciences in Berlin, is printed in Hans Kohn (ed.), German History: Some New GermanViews (London,1954), 141-56. 33Die Idee der Staatsrdson,25f.

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tivismor in a devoutloyaltyto an idea [that] despiteits imminent decline


...

fromthat moment forward.34 gehoben] In such a context, the historianhimself may become an epic hero, the seeker after the human soul and champion of humanity in its struggle toward fulfilment. For Meinecke, history could never be simply an intellectual fascination; it had to be above all an affirmation of the spirit and the will, a liberation from the "oppressive weight of physical law." 5 In his quest for meaning beneath the surface pattern of objective causality, Meinecke carriesforward the great tradition of rebellion against the encasing categories of the scientific method as applied to the entirety of knowledge. As a realistic substitute for dogma and superstition, as an empirical approach to more than ephemeralwisdom-even as a secular religion, such as it is to Meinecke-history may offerrichnessand understanding without bindingitself to the delusion of a perfect objectivity, and find its justificationsimply in affirmingthe moral absolute that freedom is the indestructiblekernel of the past. Washington,D. C.
34 Die

never wholly sinks from sight, but works itself out transfigured[auf-

" in the Croce,was especiallystruck by the implicationsof a " creativeirrationalism works of Meineckeand others like Johan Huizinga; the subject is discussedin an article now in preparationby the present writer.

35 Staat und Persanlichkeit, 7. The late Italian philosopher-historian, Benedetto

Entstehungdes Historimus,325.