THE GERMANS by Erich Kahler


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This is in some ways an old-fashioned work of history since ""national character"" as an analytic category is currently in disrepute. But Kahler, who until his death in 1970 was a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, was an eloquent humanist whose knowledge of Germany was personal as well as historic. Adapted by the editors from a series of lectures for undergraduates, The Germans is a persuasive, effortlessly scholarly work. Concentrating on the medieval and early modern periods Kahler argues that Germany never outgrew her ""protracted puberty."" Unlike England or France, Germany lacked a center; yoked for hundreds of years to the Holy Roman Empire she never acquired a political identity. On the other hand, by the time of the Reformation the most salient characteristics of German culture were already fixed. Martin Luther was the archetypal German; Kahler contends that his influence on Germany's development was inestimable. By transferring the supreme authority of the church to secular rulers ""Luther instituted the peculiar authoritarianism of German governments and the peculiar submissiveness of the German middle class,"" laying the foundations for that fatal schism between power and intellect which has marred all her subsequent history. German philosophy never lost its taste for ""the elemental and the infinite"" but the grand and grandiose speculations on the nature of freedom were never worked out in the body politic. An old thesis but still a compelling one.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1974
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press