The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Kultur is the German concept and influence of a particular Germanic attitude, spirit, temperament, ambition, achievement, and purpose. It lays somewhere between the English word "culture" which is too narrow and "civilization" which is too broad.

Much of the following is not or barely applicable to either pre-1871 or post-1945 Germany.

Kultur is one of the foundational stones of German monarchy, the Hohenzollern Dynasty. Its concepts involved in it had important political bearings. (1)

In the first place, Kultur was state-made. It was, in the German view, the highest product of the schools and the universities, all of which were completely controlled by the state. In the second place, it was inextricably linked to militarism. The union of culture and militarism was the very bedrock of German education. Furthermore, it was not personal, but national. The nation created and propagated it, and all the people shared it.

"They have all had it at the same school. And it is all the same brand of culture, because no other is taught. It is the culture with which the government wishes its citizens to be equipped. That is why all Germans tend not only to know the same facts,…but to have a similar outlook on life and similar opinions about Goethe, Shakespeare, and the German navy. Culture, like military service, is a part of the state machinery."(2)

Being a national rather than a mere personal possession, Kultur was systematically and deliberately handed on by the state from generation to generation, ready for use in whatever manner the state should desire and direct. It was an integral body of ideas and attitudes, which went steadily forward in lines of entire unity and self-consistency.

Finally, it maintained itself, under the guidance of the state, by ceaseless struggle. As German scholars and statesmen looked into the future they saw nothing but conflict—perpetual conflict between rival national “cultures”, each seeking to crush its competitors. No amalgamation, no real amity, no compromise even, was possible. Prince von Bülow wrote:

"In the struggle between nationalities, one nation is the hammer and the other is the anvil; on is the victor and the other the vanquished. It is the law of life and development in history that when two national civilizations meet they fight for supremacy." (3)

And the thought was that they fight not alone with the pen but with the sword. Every culture considers itself superior; only force can settle the issue. “A Luther and a Goethe may be the puppets pitted in a contest of culture against Maeterlinck and Victor Hugo. But it is Krupp and Zeppelin and the War-Lord that pull the strings.”.

Kultur as the Germans developed it thus became a mighty bulwark of autocracy. It owed its origin and character to absolutist state control; it was systematically employed to promote the unity of the nation and to stimulate pride in and loyalty to the omnipotent state; it was at once the cause and the chief support of a policy of domination and aggression toward other nations. Its peculiar effectiveness was derived largely from the people’s ingrained habit of obedience, bred, in part, of centuries of experience when security depended absolutely upon the allegiance of the vassal to his lord, and when the economic ties of serfdom bound the peasants almost irrevocably to their masters—bred also, in part, of the patriotism and pride that laid hold upon the German mind in the great era of unification and expansion.

In the importance of environment in the development of this mindset, Germany has no natural geographical barriers; it is very much a plain state. It is open to attack from all sides unlike England, an island and Switzerland with her huge mountains and thus the environment bred into the people the necessity of obedience to human leaders and absolutist politics to defend against invaders.

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  1. The substance is all taken from The Governments of Europe, Frederic Austin Ogg, MacMillan Co, 1922. pg 682-683. Copyright expired and permission granted.
  2. Nationality and Government, A. E. Zimmern, NY, 1918. pg 7
  3. Imperial Germany, trans by M. A. Lewenz, NY, 1914. pg 245


  • "The Spirit of German Kultur", in Modern Germany in Relation to the Great War, E. Tröltsch, NY, 1915.
  • Glimpses of Modern German Culture, K. Francke, NY, 1898.
  • A valuable compilation of typical extracts from original sources revealing the German spirit is Conquest and Kultur, published in three parts by the U. S. Committee on Public Information, Washington, D.C. 1917.
  • What is Wrong with Germany?, W. H. Dawson, NY, 1915.
  • My Four Years in Germany, J. W. Gerard, NY, 1917.
  • Nationality and Government, A. E. Zimmern, NY, 1918. (There is no better brief presentation of the subject than Zimmern, chap i)

Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12