Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Selbstporträt

To repeat the point, an aristocracy of adequate breadth and political tradition does not exist in Germany. Its most likely home was in the 'Free Conservative' Party and the Centre Party (although this had ceased to be the case there too), but not in the Conservative Party. Equally important is the fact that no distinguished German social form exists. Despite the occasional boasts of our littérateurs, it is quite untrue that 'individualism', in the sense of freedom from conventions, exists in Germany, in contrast, so it is alleged, to the conventions governing the 'gentleman' in English-speaking countries or salon life in the Latin countries. Nowhere are more rigid and binding conven­tions to be found than those of the 'colours student' which, directly or indirectly, rule the lives of as large a fraction of the next generation in Germany's ruling circles as do the conventions of any other country. Except where the conventions of the officer corps hold sway, these are 'the German form'! This is because the experiences in the colour-corps subsequently determine to a large extent the forms and conventions of the most influential sections of German society, namely the bureaucracy and all those who wish to be admitted into the 'society' that is dominated by it. However, one cannot call these forms 'distinguished'. What is more important as liu as national polit­ ics are concerned is thE' fact that, in contrast to the conventions in England and the Latin countries, these conventions are wholly unsuited to serve as a model for the whole nation, right down to its lowest levels, and thus to make its gesture uniformly that of a self­ assured 'nation of masters' (Herrenvolk), entirely confident in its outward manner, as has happened with the English and Latin conven­tions. It is a grave error to believe that 'race' is the decisive factor in the striking lack of grace and dignity in the outward bearing of the Germans. Despite the fact that he is of the same race, the public demeanour of a German from Austria (whatever other weaknesses he may have) is not marred by these qualities, for it has been thoroughly moulded by a real aristocracy.

The forms governing the behaviour of people in the Latin coun­tries, right down to the lowest strata, are produced by imitating the 'gesture of a cavalier' as this evolved from the sixteenth century onwards. The conventions of English-speaking countries, which also shape the behaviour of society down to the lowest stratum, derive from the social habits of that section of society which set the tone from the seventeenth century onwards, a stratum which developed in the late Middle Ages from a peculiar mixture of rural and urban bourgeois notables - 'gentlemen' [English in original] who were the bearers of 'self­ government'. The important thing was that in all these cases the decisive features of those conventions and gestures could be imitated readily by all, and were therefore capable of being democratised. By contrast, the conventions of prospective German officials with their academic diplomas, and of the strata influenced by them, particularly the habits inculcated by the colour corps, were and are, as we have said, patendy not suitable for imitation by any circles outside those taking university examinations and certainly not by the broad mass of the public. They were therefore not capable of being 'democratised', despite the fact, or rather precisely because, they were in their essence profoundly plebeian and not the manners of the man of the world or aristocrat. The Latin code of honour, like the very different English one, was susceptible of being democratised to a great extent. The specifically German concept of 'being qualified to give satisfaction', on the other hand, cannot be democratised, as will be plain to anyone who thinks about it. Yet it is of very great political importance. What matters from a social and political point of view is not, as so many believe, the validity of the so called 'code of honour' in the strict sense within the officer corps, where it is quite properly at home. The politically important fact is that a Prussian district superintendent (Landrat) absolutely must be able to 'give satisfaction' in the sense understood by students if he is to command the respect necessary to carry out his function, as must any other administrative official who can easily be discharged or transferred, in contrast m the independent stipendiary judge (Almtsrichter), say, who is socially declassed in com­parison with the Landrat precisely because of his independence. The concept of the ability to give satisfaction and all the other conventions and forms which are supported by the structure of the bureaucracy and by the honour of the German student which exercises so much influence on it, formally represent caste conventions because they are inherently not susceptible of democratisation. In substance, however, because they lack any kind of aesthetic dignity or distinction, their character is plebeian rather than aristocratic. It is this inner contradic­tion which makes them such a political liability and an object of scorn. 
The Germans are a plebeian people – or, if people prefer the term, a bourgeois (bürgerlich) people, and this is the only basis on which a specifically 'German form' could grow.

Max Weber, "Suffrage and Democracy in Germany", in Weber: Political Writings, ed. Peter Lassman, trans. Ronald Speirs, Cambridge, 1994. pp-119-121 

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