Total / Plural

That Germany had a tribal and not a civilized origin and was outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire and of the Latin language were two of the factors which led Germany ultimately to 1945.

The Germanic tribe gave security and meaning to each individual’s life to a degree where it almost absorbed the individual in the group, as tribes usually do. It gave security because it protected the individual in a social status of known and relatively stable social relationships with his fellows; it gave meaning because it was all-absorbing-totalitarian, if you will, in that it satisfied almost all an individual’s needs in a single system.

The shattering of the Germanic tribe in the period of the migrations, fifteen hundred years ago, and the exposure of its members to a higher, but equally total and equally satisfying, social structure—the Roman imperial system; and the subsequent, almost immediately subsequent, shattering of that Roman system caused a double trauma from which the Germans have not recovered even today.

Into the insanity of monomania created by the shattering of the Germanic tribes came the sudden recognition of a better system, which could be, they thought, equally secure, equally meaningful, because equally total. This was symbolized by the word Rome.

It is almost impossible for us, of the West and of today, imbued as we are with historical perspective and individualism, to see what Classical culture was like, and why it appealed to the Germans. Both may be summed up in the word “total.” The Greek polis, like the Roman imperium, was total.

We in the West have escaped the fascination of totalitarianism because we have in our tradition other elements—the refusal of the Hebrews to confuse God with the world, or religion with the state, and the realization that God is transcendental, and, accordingly, all other things must be, in some degree, incomplete and thus imperfect.

The German continued to dream of that glimpse he had had of the imperial system before it sank—one, universal, total, holy, eternal, imperial, Roman.

[…] the West developed a pluralistic system in which the individual was the ultimate good (and the ultimate philosophic reality), faced with the need to choose among many conflicting allegiances. Germany was dragged along in the same process, but unwillingly, and continued to yearn for a single allegiance which would be totally absorbing.

All the subsequent experiences of the German people, from the failure of Otto the Great in the tenth century to the failure of Hitler in the twentieth century, have served to perpetuate and perhaps to intensify the German thirst for the coziness of a totalitarian way of life.

This is the key to German national character: in spite of all their talk of heroic behavior, what they have really wanted has been coziness, freedom from the need to make decisions which require an independent, self-reliant individual constantly exposed to the chilling breeze of numerous alternatives.

Franz Grillparzer, the Austrian playwright, spoke like a true German when he said, a century ago, “The most difficult thing in the world is to make up one’s mind.” Decision, which requires the evaluation of alternatives, drives man to individualism, self-reliance, and rationalism, all hateful qualities to Germanism.

The long series of failures by the Germans to obtain the society they wanted served only to intensify their desire for it. They wanted a cozy society with both security and meaning, a totalitarian structure which would be at the same time universal and ultimate, and which would so absorb the individual in its structure that he would never need to make significant decisions for himself.

Held in a framework of known, satisfying, personal relationships, such an individual would be safe because he would be surrounded by fellows equally satisfied with their own positions, each feeling important from his membership in the greater whole.

Although this social structure was never achieved in Germany, and never could he achieved, in view of the dynamic nature of Western Civilization in which the Germans were a part, each German over the centuries has tried to create such a situation for himself in his immediate environment (at the minimum in his family or beer garden) or, failing that, has created German literature, music, drama, and art as vehicles of his protests at this lack.

This desire has been evident in the Germans’ thirst for status (which establishes his relationship with the whole) and for the absolute (which gives unchanging meaning to the whole).

The German thirst for status is entirely different from the American desire for status. The American is driven by the desire to get ahead, that is, to change his status; he wants status and status symbols to exist as clear evidence or even measures of the speed with which he is changing his status.

The German wants status as a nexus of obvious relationships around himself so there will never be doubt in anyone’s mind where he stands, stationary, in the system. He wants status because he dislikes changes, because he abhors the need to make decisions. The American thrives on change, novelty, and decisions.

Strangely enough, both react in this opposite fashion for somewhat similar reasons based on the inadequate maturation and integration of the individual’s personality. The American seeks change, as the German seeks external fixed relationships, as a distraction from the lack of integration, self-sufficiency, and internal resources of the individual himself.

Such emphasis on position, precedence, titles, gradations, and fixed relationships, especially up and down, are so typically German that the German is most at home in hierarchical situations such as a military, ecclesiastical, or educational organization, and is often ill at ease in business or politics where status is less easy to establish and make obvious.

With this kind of nature and such neurological systems, Germans are ill at ease with equality, democracy, individualism, freedom, and other features of modern life.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.258-61

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