Friedrich Meinecke

German historian, philosopher of history and university teacher (1862-1954)

Friedrich Meinecke (October 30, 1862 – February 6, 1954), German historian.

Friedrich Meinecke

Experiences C.E.1862-1919: edit

  • [E]very human life, even the most modest, has its own independent value not only before God, but also before history; even if it were just a wave, or even, a small drop, in the flow of time. In fact, every human life, when it is lived, gives some news of historical transformations on a large scale. And consciously his contribution to them, even minimal, is not lacking. A fundamental secret of historical life is always repeated: something typical, similar in many, is inextricably fused with something purely individual and which is never repeated in the same way.
    • p. 29
  • [P]recisely the simple events experienced by children, sometimes possess something of natural historicity. For isn't it as a child that we live in the most vital way, and isn't it from here that an uninterrupted chain of mutual influences leads into all surrounding life and finally into what we call history? And even the most superb historiography will have to recognize that the simple way in which people of various centuries and different generations have autobiographically narrated their childhoods and have reflected themselves in them represents a remarkable piece of the history of nature and evolution. We must never entirely forget what is inherent and rooted in every historical life from below.
    • p. 33
  • [T]he inhabitants of Salzwedel[1], especially the women, are a particular human type. They are deeply fond of their town, sometimes shy towards strangers, with incredible interest in each other, full of memories, gossipy; but also movingly ready to help and sacrifice for each other. The social contrasts between the notables, the merchants and the petty bourgeoisie are of a very mild nature. This must have been the case in the past too, as my father's stories show me. They are interested in each other, notables and not, large and small; they gossip about each other; but they are also joined in a double thread. They are surprised if someone asks questions about their conditions, which, in their opinion, he should naturally know. Their intellectual life, apart from their lively interests and musical joys, is sometimes a little indolent; and men are of a somewhat material and coarse nature. But their life as a whole, framed by their gardens, has an involuntary poetry.
    • pp. 45-46
  • Culture means transforming what was learned at school into natural wholeness and humanity.
    • p. 87
  • The rigorous methodical rules that are learned in seminars, the patient collection and examination of sources and their particular qualities and relationships: all this does not mean coterie pedantry. Instead, it is used like nails and irons applied to shoes, to ascend the steep glacier of knowledge. The image is already too utilitarian, since something ethical is at stake. Those who believe they possess the gift of intuition can feel inquisitive with a clear conscience only if they exercise rigorous methodical criticism and are faithful in small things.
    • p. 89
  • [W]as free science to be identified with the science without presuppositions of which Mommsen had spoken? It has often been forgotten that Mommsen himself, in a second statement, toned down the concept, in the sense of maintaining that being without presuppositions was only the «ideal goal, towards which every man of conscience tends, but which no one reaches nor can reach". Even then this slogan did not entirely convince me, and I soon went further, seeing in the assumptions under which we study not only a hesitation with which we must seriously struggle, but also a source of spiritual strength that we cannot do without. unless. This too is part of the contradictions and antinomies of life, which [sic] us struggle, pain and happiness. In the painful experiences we have had since 1914, we have begun to learn to understand these irrefutable antinomies more clearly.
    • pp. 180-181
  • [I]n Strasbourg itself there were no gaps between past and present. Romanesque and Gothic Middle Ages, Baroque and the most recent constructions after 1871, all stood on top of each other, constituting, not exactly a harmonious unity, but nevertheless that unity and continuity of historical life which overcomes even the most enormous tensions and recalls the continuous struggle and the changing fortunes of the people. The Strasbourg Cathedral constitutes the most powerful center of this unit. It often seemed to us that it had been built not by the hand of man, but by eternity, as a warning to the fleeting generations of men, to serve the eternal with their weak strength, and in particular to serve the Germans to show themselves worthy of this cathedral. [...] And in looking at the marvelous Romanesque apse, I had the sensation that a supreme and impenetrable mystery was still hidden here (as perhaps happens in every great historical experience).
    • pp. 184-185
  • Florence became a revelation for me that made me infinitely happy. However many works of art of the Italian Renaissance I had already seen in reproductions, and in the originals of the museums of Berlin, Munich and Paris, only now it it appeared to me not only as a beauty to be enjoyed aesthetically, but as the supreme culmination of the life of a highly gifted people, in which civilization and State operated in the most intimate way on each other. And everywhere I also felt the tragedy inherent in this greatness and its fall.
    • p. 206
  • [The beginning of the First World War] was a decisive moment in my life, of a singular nature, inserted in a very great decisive moment of an era, which in that period of time could only be sense, but not recognize precisely. Today we know it: the bourgeois [sic] was coming to an end, the [sic] in which the autonomous personality had still managed to assert itself, despite the continuous but also fruitful tension with all the powers superpersonalities of life. The [sic] of a stronger, and increasingly stronger, bond and integration of the personality into these powers of life began; and then the personality risks declining to a simple function, without autonomous value; to an instrumental person, as has been said.
    • p. 274
  • Power and realistic politics, once freed from universalistic (i.e. ultimately ethical) motives, could too easily degenerate into a hybrid politics of violence. Naturally we knew this even then, and we found the example of it in Napoleon; but we consoled ourselves by looking at all the positive things that had come from his action. This state of mind resembled the confident hope in the genius of the West – which always returned to assert itself by saving – ...
    But these accents began to shift for me due to and after the world war. I saw a horrible degeneration of realistic politics in those strata of the German people who had hitherto represented their civilization. The hope that the defeat would serve as a lesson to them was in vain. And I saw the hybris, perhaps even worse, of the Peace of Versailles. But when I later wanted to explain to my Danish friend Aage Friis the disturbance in the mentality of the German people as due to the treatment meted out to them by the Peace of Versailles, he asked: «If Germany had won, would it have imposed a more moderate peace ?".
    My disappointment did not make me fall to the opposite extreme, of declaring power itself evil, as Burckhardt does. It is only a tempter who wants to induce evil. But from that moment on I felt the demonism of power in a completely different and more acute way than before the war.
    • pp. 317-318
  • [T]his is part of the most intimate essence of the divine, as far as we can understand it: it manifests itself to the human conscience not only in ancient figures and commandments, which have been tested a thousand times; but it also takes on, again and again, new and unimagined forms for us.
    • p. 384

Note: edit

  1. Meinecke's hometown.

Bibliography: edit

Other projects: edit

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