Heinrich von Treitschke

Heinrich von Treitschke

Heinrich von Treitschke, the son of an army officer, was born in Dresden, Germany, on 15th September, 1834. He studied at Bonn, Leipzig, Tubingen and Heildelberg and taught at Freiburg (1863), Kiel (1866), Heidelberg (1867) and Berlin (1874).

As a young man Treitschke held liberal views and wanted to see the introduction of a parliamentary democracy. However, as he grew older he became a strident nationalist. This included the desire for a united Germany under Prussian leadership. In 1871 he was elected to the Reichstag. Treitschke's right wing political opinions was reflected in his history writings and the editing of the monthly journal, Preussische Jahrbucher (1866-1889). Later he became editor of Historische Zeitschrift.

As a strong advocate of colonial expansion Treitschke was also a bitter enemy of Great Britain and was to a large extent responsible for the anti-British feeling in Germany. Treitschke passionately admired Otto von Bismarck. He was also strongly anti-Semitic and influenced German politicians such as Adolf Hitler. He also passionately admired Otto von Bismarck.

Treitschke was a highly patriotic historian. His most important book was the History of Germany in the 19th Century. The first volume was published in 1879. In this book he argued that Germany should develop a powerful empire. He also insisted that war would be necessary to achieve and control this territory. He wrote: "War is elevating, because the individual disappears before the great conception of the state... What a perversion of morality to wish to abolish heroism among men!"

In 1886 Treitschke was appointed the official historiographer of Prussia. Other books by Treitschke include the Origins of Prussianism and Political Lectures.

Heinrich von Treitschke died in 1896.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Heinrich von Treitschke, History of Germany in the 19th Century (1879)

War is elevating, because the individual disappears before the great conception of the state. . . . What a perversion of morality to wish to abolish heroism among men!

(2) Heinrich von Treitschke, History of Germany in the 19th Century (1879)

God will see to it that war always recurs as a drastic medicine for the human race.

(3) Heinrich von Treitschke, History of Germany in the 19th Century (1879)

Without war no State could be. All those we know of arose through war, and the protection of their members by armed force remains their primary and essential task. War, therefore, will endure to the end of history, as long as there is a multiplicity of states.

(4) Heinrich von Treitschke, History of Germany in the 19th Century (1879)

Millions must plough and forge and dig in order that a few thousand may write and paint and study.

(5) Heinrich von Treitschke, Political Lectures (1896)

If it is stated that the emigration of Germans to America is beneficial for Germany, then this is stupid statement. What was the benefit for Germany in thousands of its best sons, who could not make a living in their home region, to turn their backs on their fatherland? They were lost forever... Almost a third of the North American population is of German ancestry. How many of the most valuable forces did we lose due to emigration, and do we continue to lose day by day, without even the most minute compensation. Both their labour and their capital are lost to us. What immeasurable financial advantages would these people offer us as colonials.

So any colonization which preserves the original nationality has become a factor of immense importance for the future of the world. On it it will depend in how far every nation will join in the white race's rule over the world; it is very well imaginable, that once a land without colonies will not be ranked any more among Europe's powers, no matter how powerful it may be otherwise. So we may not fall into the condition of paralyzation, which is the consequence of a foreign policy exclusively oriented on the continent, and the result of our next successful war has to be the acquisition of any colony.

(6) Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

As an historian Treitschke holds a very high place. He approached history as a politician and confined himself to 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, but at his death he had only advanced to the year 1847. The work shows extreme diligence, and scrupulous care in the use of authorities. It is discursive and badly arranged, but it is marked by a power of style, a vigour of narrative, and a skill in delineation of character which give life to the most unattractive period of German history; notwithstanding the extreme spirit of partisanship and some faults of taste, it will remain a remarkable monument of literary ability. Besides this he wrote a number of biographical and historical essays, as well as numerous articles and papers on contemporary politics, of which some are valuable contributions to political thought.

(7) Rudolf Steiner, The Story of My Life (1924)

Among the visitors to Weimar was Heinrich von Treitschke. I had the opportunity of meeting him when Suphan included me among the guests invited to meet Treitschke at luncheon.

I received a deep impression from this very controversial personality. Treitschke was quite deaf. Others conversed with him by writing whatever they wished to say on a little tablet which Treitschke would hand them. The effect of this was that in any company where he chanced to be his person became the central point. When one had written down something, he then talked about this without the development of a real conversation.

He was present in a far more intensive way for the others than were these for him. This had passed over into his whole attitude of mind. He spoke without having to reckon upon objections such as meet another when imparting his thoughts in a group of men. It could clearly be seen how this fact had fixed its roots in his self-consciousness. Since he could not hear any opposition to his thoughts, he was strongly impressed with the worth of what he himself thought.

The first question that Treitschke addressed to me was to ask where I came from. I replied that I was an Austrian. Treitschke responded: “The Austrians are either entirely good and gifted men, or else rascals.” He said such things as this, and one became aware that the loneliness in which his mind dwelt because of the deafness drove him to paradoxes, and found in these a satisfaction.

Luncheon guests usually remained at Suphan's the whole afternoon. So it was this time also when Treitschke was among them. One could see this personality unfold itself. The broad-shouldered man had something in his spiritual personality also through which he impressed himself upon a wide circle of his fellowmen.

One could not say that Treitschke lectured. For everything he said bore a personal character. An earnest craving to express himself was manifest in every word. How commanding was his tone even when he was only narrating something! He wished his words to lay hold upon the emotions of the other person also. An unusual fire which sparkled from his eyes accompanied his assertions.

The conversation touched upon Moltke's conception of the world as this had found expression in his memoirs. Treitschke objected to the impersonal way - suggestive of mathematical thinking – in which Moltke conceived world-phenomena. He could not judge things otherwise than with a ground-tone of strongly personal sympathies and antipathies.

Men like Treitschke, who stick so fast in their own personalities, can make an impression on other men only when the personal element is at the same time both significant and also interwoven deeply with the things they are setting forth. This was true of Treitschke. When he spoke of something historical, he discoursed as if everything were in the present and he were at hand with all his pleasure and all his displeasure.