When I was young (yes even I was young once) I had a deep dislike for Otto Von Bismark (I still do dislike him) – His laying of the foundations for the first modern Welfare State, which has grown ever since and has spread to almost all other Western nations.
However, Bismark was only building on (really returning to – for there was a classical liberal period in Prussia) an older Prussian tradition…… There have always been collectivist political philosophers (going all the way back to Plato) and the German-speaking lands were not free of them. For example Samuel Pufendorf with his doctrine, against the Dutch Hugo Grontius, that God gave the land of the world to humanity COLLECTIVELY – that land that has never been occupied is NOT unowned till someone claims it, a docrtine that caused such trouble for John Locke’s thought (Locke felt himself to have to twist about coming up with “as much and as good left for others” and other so-called “Lockian Proviso” stuff to try to justify private ownership). And there is Pufendorf’s doctrine of compulsory charity (dry water?) which also caused Locke much mental confusion.
Indeed the German “Cameralist” tradition (which goes all the way back to the 1600s) has a very “modern” view of the state – see Michael Oakeshott (“On Human Conduct”) for this. Although Oakeshott himself later admitted that (for example) the view of Thomas Cromwell in England (way back in the 1500s) was just as statist. With Thomas Cromwell’s desire (never really put into practice) for government departments to cover all the things the preReformation Church tried to do (educate the young, look after the old and sick – and so on).
However theory is one thing – practice, especially “successful” practice, is quite another. Traditionally statist practice had been associated in the Western mind with failure. Diocletian’s price controls (and other statism – vast taxes, state-owned factories, de facto serfdom of the rural peasantry, and…..) led to economic decline in Roman civilization. Philip II’s statism (and the statism of others) led to the decline of Spain. Louis XIV may have been “the SunKing” but his economic statism was a failure, and on and on…….
Not so with Frederick the Great (the person Otto Von Bismark looked back to more than anyone else) and Prussia. Cameralist ideas may have been a bit of a farce when tried by Hapsburg Emperors down in what is now Austria (and so on), to the extent such ideas were tried at all, – but the active state “worked” in Prussia.
And I am not just pointing to military success (although had Elizabeth of Russia lived just a bit longer Frederick “the Great” might not be remembered for military success), it was in domestic policy also that the Frederick the Great was held up as proof that the active state could work – and is still being held up as an example to be followed ( the supposedly pro free market historian N. Ferguson is a Frederick fan).
So what did Frederick actually do that is held up as an example to be followed? His religious tolerance was based on indifference (one might as well praise him for not chasing women – he did not care about religion so he was tolerant, and he did not care for women so he left them alone). His codification of Prussian law was a statist mess (go and look at it) and his production of lightweight Polish coins (like a common fraudster) is not praised by even his most fanatical admirers – so what is praised?
The active state of course. Town planning, building projects – and (above all) laying the foundations for MASS STATE EDUCATION . For he first time since the Greek city states (one of the great differences between the Roman Republic and many of the LATE PERIOD Greek city states was that education was not considered a collective function in Rome) a modern state was going to educate the young – to turn them into better people, better citizens, people who would put their trust in the wise state and would willingly serve it in peace as well as war…….
Otto Von Bismark (a century later) just added such things as old age support and treatment of the sick to the functions of the state. And the 20th century added the formal payment of income support (old “Poor Laws” had existed in various countries – going back to the late 16th century in England and Wales, but nothing like the modern levels and extend of income support).
And the active state would work – Frederick the Great had “proved” it would work – indeed “state” starts to be used (as a positive term) in English only from the time of Frederick the Great. Even producing wildly false history and logic from classical liberal thinkers – for example in his DEFINITION of a “university” Sir William Hamilton (one of the leading classical liberal philosophers of the early 19th century) says that a university is an institution “created by the state and….” historically many universities were created by the Church (not the State) and in his own time many universities were being created in the United States by all sorts of groups, but the concept of statism had become so ingrained (even in a classical liberal like Sir William Hamilton) that both historical knowledge and logic were overwhelmed by it – no wonder the Poor Rate was made universal in Scotland (most of Scotland had traditionally been free of it) only a few years later (1845) and no wonder that the Governor General of India, at about the time of Hamilton, was busy establishing state public works (roads, telegraph systems…….) in spite of the mass failure of public works schemes in Scotland itself (the projects in the Highlands bankrupted the “improving” landlords who had gone into partnership with the state to finance them – and helped lead to the “Highland Clearances” as desperate landlords tried to save themselves from bankruptcy – they failed to do so).
Public works MUST work, state services MUST work – Frederick the Great had “proved” it was not all the theories of academics (going all the way back to the founder of the academy – Plato) – it could work (it MUST work) if one worked hard enough. Culture (such as music – after al Frederick played the flute, yes I know that is not all Plato meant by “music”, I am old let me have my little joke) and physical exercise (for example war, lots of wars, over nothing in particular – after all does anyone really believe that Frederick really cared much about Silesia? More than a million people had to die in two wars – so that Frederick could prove he was a “real man” in spite of what nasty bigoted people said about him….). The spirit of certain Public Schools in the 19th and 20th century (not before) and of certain parts of Oxford and Cambridge became very Frederick the Great – all about high culture ( men engaged in the Platonic ideal) and the worship of the state.
In the United States also Prussia was upheld (at least by “advanced” or “Progressive” people) as an inspiration. H. Mann created the first (effective) compulsory State education system in the United States (Mass 1852) although he did indeed add his own kinks to it, the basic ideology of Frederick (that public service trumps private life) was the central core (again there was a period in Prussian history where that doctrine really was challenged – but it was not the pro private life people who inspired H. Mann). H. Mann wanted something greater and higher than private individuals and families – and certainly not the churches with their silly outdated theological obsessions and endless sectarian disputes (the Pragmatist William James later tried to liberate religion from narrow theology, and also from outdated concepts such an “objective truth” and “objective right and wrong” and lead both religion and secular philosophy to serve the modern state….). No we must all “serve humanity” via a modern state.
The late 19th century Progressive movement was dominated by Richard Ely (the mentor of both T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) and other German trained academics. And this was a training very much after the heart of Frederick the Great and Otto Von Bismark (not the classical liberal period in Prussian history in the early 19th century) – to the Progressives Germany was Prussia (or ought to be), and Prussia was the collectivist tradition of academic thought (or ought to be). This did not mean that many of the Progressives did not support war with Germany – on the contrary many did (remember – war is good…. IF it is for the cause of Progressivism, only “reactionary” war is bad).
The United States (in the eyes of Richard Ely and co) could be a purer example of Progressiveism than the old Imperial Germany – still held back by “reactionary” elements (such as the old Kingdoms, Dukedoms, Free Cities, idea of the “rule of law”, the personal codes of honour of aristocrats who still thought as INDIVIDUALS, and ……). The United States could free itself of these moral chains of right and wrong – and be truly “free” in its statism (or so the Progressives thought). Sadly in spite of their partial success Germany managed to outdo them.
German “War Socialism” if the First World War outdid anything that even Woodrow “The State” Wilson and Colonel “Philip Dru: Administrator” could manage (all those nasty “Rednecks” – they are so vulgar “clinging to their God and their guns”, and so hard to control…..). For German War Socialism, its origins in German thought and how it was later returned to by the National Socialists in the 1930s see Ludwig Von Mises “Nation, State and Economy”, “Omnipotent Government”and “Human Action” and F.A. Hayek “The Road to Serfdom”, “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”.
Even in RACE (the great contribution of modern Progressive thought to the old collectivist tradition – I suspect that Frederick the Great would have been baffled by racism – although he despised Poles of course, that made it less difficult to rob and murder them, but Bismark learned to use racism though, privately, he thought it was nonsense). The American Progressive movement was, eventually, outdone by Germany.
True first the Progressives seemed to be doing well (far “in advance” of Germany – see J. Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism”) with such things as the forceable (hold-the-women-down-and-inject-her- and-when-she-comes-to-you-will-have-cut-out-her….) ending of the breeding chances of some of those they judged “inferior” – “Buck V Bell” with only the “arch reactionary” Justice Pierce Butler dissenting, even gassing the inferior was first suggested by American Progressives (and by British Fabians such as H. G. Wells, with his desire to exterminate inferior races, and George Bernard Shaw – with his desire to exterminate anyone who could not prove they served the state) and they worked so hard to overcome “reactionary” opposition. But they failed – millions of “inferior” people did not get gassed in the United States – the National Socialists in Germany achieved what American Progressives were unable to.
I have touched on the Fabians – but it must not be thought that admiration for German collectivist thought (Marxist or non Marxist) was confined to them in Britain.
The front page of the Daily Telegraph for the first day of the new century (the 20th century) was entirely taken up with how Britain must copy Germany (read Prussia) in just about everything (from conscription to sickness and old age state “insurance”) must be copied.
The fact that British living standards were TWICE those of Germany in 1900 was not relevant, that 80% of British industrial workers were members of “Friendly Societies” by 1911 was not relevant (no more relevant than the voluntary schools that E.G. West draws attention to in his “Education and the State” – the state took over 19th century English education anyway) – evidence was as irrelevant as logical argument. Statism MUST be correct – everyone “knew” it had worked in Prussia and would work elsewhere – onward, onward, onward to statism. Let us crush the concerns about freedom of “old women” (as “great liberal” Walter Bagehot had put it in the “English Constitution” half a century before Winston Churchill, then a young Progressive, came out with the same bullshit) under the wheels of history…. The Prussians have a state railway system – so we must nationalize the railways. A Prussian jumps of a cliff – then we must jump of cliffs also. And on and on.
Indeed even Winston Churchill (although he became rather an reactionary after the First World War) never totally shook off his admiration for Otto Von Bismark and Frederick the Great – after all he had been educated to admire them. Frederick the Great was the great British ally and first great Progressive ruler (ask N. Ferguson – I am sure he will explain it all with great passion).
It is not for nothing that F.A. Hayek dedicated his book “The Road to Serfdom” to the “socialists of all parties” in Britain – the young Conservatives and Liberals were almost as bad as the Labour party people.
Even in the 1920s pro freedom people (who really wanted to roll back the state) were a tiny group around Sir E. Benn and so on. And by World War II few could make a clear case against either Marxism or German National Socialism.
So who stood up to “defend civilization” in 1939. As George Orwell (a lifelong socialist) was forced to admit – it was “Colonel Blimp” who stood up (the Progressive people made excuses – till the two great Progressive powers, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia went to war in 1941).
“Colonel Blimp” (the “backwoodsman” from the standard “little place in the middle of nowhere”) stood up. “Crippled” (in the Progressive point of view) by his personal code of honour and by his “outdated” ideas of “right” and “wrong” he stood up to oppose the forces of totalitarianism – forces he, perhaps, did not understand, but knew were no good.
The German lands had their own Colonel Blimps – for example the surviving Hapsburgs (not for nothing did Hitler hate the House of Hapsburg, even as a child, their code of honour always trumped ideas of collective “social” or “racial” justice – and Hitler firmly believed in both these concepts and had nothing but contempt for traditional ideas of honour), and their kin the Wittelbachs of Bavaria – some of whom ended up in Death Camps.
An honourable man does not say “my honour is loyalty” (as the SS did) – an honourable man judges things as an individual and judges his loyalties according to honour (they are not the same thing). It is not honourable to allow women and children to be shoved into gas chambers – one must try to prevent it (at whatever the cost to oneself). To the Progressive minded such “outdated” notions of individual (as opposed to collective) honour are so absurd as to be laughable.
However, the Colonel Blimps of this world (no matter how brave) are, in the long run, no match for the “intellectuals”. The Colonel Blimps are often far from stupid (contrary to the stereotype), but they do not really understand what they face – they know it is evil, but that (in the long run) is not enough knowledge. So statism continues to grow.
So why title all this “The Endgame for Prussianism”? Surely we are all doomed? Well if you think that, dear hearts, you have not been paying attention.
Diocletian, or Philip II, or Louis XIV did not win converts to statism – not in the long-term. Why not? Because they were associated (in the end) with FAILURE.
Modern Prussianism (actually more “”advanced” these days in various countries than it is Germany itself) is about to FAIL – the Welfare States (and in Germanic thought, the “Welfare State” and the “Police State” were part of the same thing – see again F.A. Hayek’s “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”).
People are only impressed by things like state education and state financed healthcare if it is seen (however wrongly) to WORK.
Once vast numbers of academics defended National Socialism – now they pretend that no academics did. Once many American “New Dealers” went into raptures Italian Fascism – now the establishment elite go potty if you even mention the fact. And Prussianism (the source of the modern worship of the state in its various forms) is about to go BANKRUPT (all over the Western world).
And you will find that although the suffering of economic and social breakdown will be terrible (I certainly do not expect to survive it) the believe system of Prussianism (the worship of the modern state – the faith that it MUST control education, health care, old age provision….) will also COLLAPSE.
Prussianism will finally go – just as much as if that reactionary Elizabeth Empress of Russia had ridden into a defeated Berlin on a white horse with her blond hair gleaming in the golden sunshine – and sent Frederick “the Great” to bed without his supper (for she had sworn an oath not to execute anyone – and it all the years of her time Elizabeth was reactionary enough to keep her word).