Heinrich von Treitschke
Heinrich von Treitschke, 1866
|Died||28 April 1896 (aged 61)|
|Employer||Freiburg and Berlin Universities|
Heinrich Gotthard Freiherr von Treitschke (15 September 1834 - 28 April 1896) was a German historian, political writer and National Liberal member of the Reichstag during the time of the German Empire. He was an outspoken nationalist, who favored German colonialism and opposed the British Empire. He also opposed Catholics, Poles, Jews and socialists inside Germany.
Treitschke was born in Dresden. He was the son of an officer in the Saxon army who rose to be governor of Königstein and military governor of Dresden. Treitschke developed an increasing hearing problem at a young age, and so was prevented from entering public service. After studying at the universities of Leipzig and Bonn, where he was a student of Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann, he established himself as a Privatdozent at Leipzig, lecturing on history and politics. At one time he became very popular with the students, but his political opinions made it impossible for the Saxon government to appoint him to a professorship.
At that time Treitschke was a strong Liberal; he hoped to see Germany united into a single state with a parliamentary government, and all the smaller states swept away.
He supported colonialism, stating:
Treitschke also endorsed Social Darwinian theories of brutal competition among races. In an essay published in 1862, Treitschke praised the "pitiless racial struggle" of Germans against Lithuanians, Poles and Old Prussians; he claimed that "magic" emanated from "eastern German soil" which had been "fertilised" by "noble German blood". While his main objective was to give historical legitimisation to Germanising of Poles that found themselves under Prussian rule, the praise of a mythical migration eastward conducted by German ancestors would eventually become a means of legitimising claims to further eastern territories.
He was appointed professor at the University of Freiburg in 1863; in 1866, at the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War, his sympathies with the Kingdom of Prussia were so strong that he went to Berlin, became a Prussian subject, and was appointed editor of the Preussische Jahrbücher. His violent article, in which he demanded the annexation of the Kingdoms of Hanover and Saxony, and attacked with great bitterness the Saxon royal house, led to an estrangement from his father, a personal friend of the king. It was only equalled in its ill humour by his attacks on Bavaria in 1870. After holding appointments at the University of Kiel and the University of Heidelberg, he was made professor at (what is now called) Humboldt University in Berlin in 1874.
Treitschke became a member of the Reichstag in 1871, and from that time until his death he was one of the most prominent figures in Berlin. He was largely deaf during this period, and had an aide sit by his side to transcribe discussion into writing so that he could participate.
On Heinrich von Sybel's death, Treitschke succeeded him as editor of the Historische Zeitschrift. He had outgrown his early Liberalism and become the chief panegyrist of the House of Hohenzollern. He made violent and influential attacks on all opinions and all parties which appeared in any way to be injurious to the rising power of Germany. He supported Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and his program to subdue the Socialists, Poles and Catholics (Kulturkampf)--the attempts were unsuccessful because the victims organized themselves and used universal male suffrage to their advantage in the Reichstag until Bismarck finally backed down.
A strong proponent of German colonialism, Treitschke was a bitter critic of the British Empire and his condemnations resonated with some German imperialists. A growing chauvinistic Anglophobia at the end of the 19th century increasingly saw England as the strongest potential adversary of the rapidly industrialising German Empire.
In the Reichstag he had originally been a member of the National Liberal Party, but in 1879 he was the first to accept the new commercial policy of Bismarck, and in his later years he joined the Moderate Conservatives, though his deafness prevented him from taking a prominent part in debate.
Treitschke rejected the Enlightenment and liberalism's concern for individual rights and the separation of powers in favor of an authoritarian monarchist and militarist concept of the state. He deplored the "penetration of French liberalism" (Eindringen des französichen Liberalismus) into the German nation.
Treitschke was one of the few important public figures who supported antisemitic attacks which became prevalent from 1879 onwards. He accused German Jews of refusing to assimilate into German culture and society, and attacked the flow of Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland. Treitschke popularized the phrase "Die Juden sind unser Unglück!" ("The Jews are our misfortune!"), which was adopted as a motto by the Nazi publication Der Stürmer several decades later. He made several antisemitic remarks, such as:
Because of his prominent status, Treitschke's remarks aroused widespread controversy.
Treitschke was held in high regard by the political elites of Prussia and Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow personally declared that he kept a copy of von Treitschke's book for "several years" on his desk. In 1896, Treitschke died in Berlin at the age of 61. He is buried at the Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof Berlin.
Throughout his life, Treitschke supported militarism and racism, going as far as to praise conquest of other nations and eradication of inferior peoples, writing "Brave peoples expand, cowardly peoples perish", and claiming that people of African heritage were "inferior". Supporting the idea of exterminating conquered nations, he wrote:
Treitschke approached political history as a German nationalist and focused on those periods and characters in which great political problems were being worked out: above all, he was a patriotic historian, and he never wandered far from Prussia. His great achievement was the History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century. The first volume was published in 1879, and during the next sixteen years four more volumes appeared; at his death he had advanced to the year 1847.
He also wrote biographical and historical essays, and essays on contemporary politics. The most important essays were collected as Historische und politische Aufsatze. A selection from his more controversial writings was made under the title Zehn Jahre deutscher Kämpfe; in 1896 a new volume appeared, called Deutsche Kämpfe, neue Folge. After his death his lectures on political subjects were published under the title Politik. He also brought out in 1856 a short volume of poems called Vaterländische Gedichte, and another volume in the following year. His first works to be translated into English were two pamphlets on the war of 1870, What we demand from France (London, 1870), and The Baptism of Fire of the North German Confederation (1870).
Treitschke's students included Heinrich Class, Hans Delbrück, W. E. B. Du Bois, Otto Hintze, Max Lenz, Erich Marcks, Friedrich Meinecke, Karl Peters, Gustav Schnürer, Georg Simmel and Friedrich von Bernhardi. During World War I, many writers in the West, particularly in Britain, blamed Bernhardi for creating attitudes among the political class of Germany that were seen as an incitement to war. This view was repeated and amplified by historians such as Fritz Fischer, who deemed him a chief influence on decision-makers before World War I.
A complete translation of both volumes of Treitschke's Politics was published in London in 1916. Politics was published in 1963 in an abridged English translation edited by Hans Kohn.