Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927) is best known for his cultural history Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Foundations of the Nineteenth Century; Munich, 1899) as well as for his studies of Kant, Goethe, Wagner, and Heinrich von Stein. But his several tracts written during World War I are interesting in their own right as documents of German nationalist literature that prefigure the doctrines of German supremacy propounded by the Conservative Revolution of the Weimar Republic as well as by the National Socialists. Of the works dating from the war, Kriegsaufsätze (War Essays; Munich, 1914)—from which the present essay is taken—was indeed the first.
Chamberlain’s essay on England is a study of the psychological bases of England’s imperial edifice as well as of its war aims in World War I. He notes that, whereas the world has been accustomed to considering Germany as a militaristic aggressor, it is in fact the imperial ambitions of England that are the principal impetus of the war. This exercise in psychological study of national character Chamberlain undertakes by highlighting, first, the social divisions in England that have informed the aristocracy and the rest of the population and, secondly, the gradual transformation of an originally insular people into an ocean-faring people intent on international trade and colonial exploitation.
The ruling class in England has, since the Norman invasion, been the French aristocracy, which, being a minority that accepted only a few Saxon and Danish families into its rather exclusive circle, did not mingle fully with the local Anglo-Saxon population. There was little interaction between them and the rest of the Anglo-Saxon population, and the social superiority of the Normans was established in a clear and unmistakable manner expressed not only in their different physiognomies but also in their linguistic expression. The aloofness of the French rulers, however, later seeped down to the classes below the aristocracy as well so that the well-known English ‘reserve’ was eventually observable throughout the population.
The government of the nation was always in the hands of the aristocracy alone and the Lower House never represented the people even when, around 1600, it gained more powers, for these powers were to benefit only the lesser aristocracy, constituted of the younger sons of nobles, and not the population as a whole. The attitude of both the traditional rulers, represented by the Conservative Party, and the relative newcomers, represented by the Liberals, was, further, one of open hostility. This is especially observable during elections when both parties customarily employed armed ruffians to intimidate the supporters of their opponents. Thus, as Chamberlain, declares:
In England’s politics two brutalities stand opposite and complement each other: the raw violence of the class used to ruling and the elementary brutality of the entire uncultivated masses who, as described above, are nowhere associated with anything higher.
Chamberlain’s description of English parliamentarianism indeed contradicts Oswald Spengler’s idealisation of the ‘old style’ of English politics dominated by aristocrats and gentlemen (see below).
More significant is the transformation of the entire nation into a sea-faring one even though the Anglo-Saxons originally had little interest in marine activities and had to be forced to develop a taste for the sea through legislation under the Tudors. However, once they had discovered the advantages of overseas trade by observing the successes of the Spanish, Dutch, and French colonial enterprises, England too began to develop its own merchant navy. What is important to note is that, in its international adventures, the English evidenced a singular proclivity to underhanded means of conquest involving piracy and cheating. When the English went to war, it was always to protect their trade interests. As Chamberlain points out, the English
have founded colonies where the countries stood empty or were inhabited only by naked savages; others they snatched through contracts from the Dutch, French, Spanish or—for example, Malta—through breach of contract. India was subjugated by Indian troops; England has never undertaken campaigns of conquest through force of arms, like the Spanish and the French. The Englishman does not, like Alexander or Caesar, conduct wars for the sake of glory. ‘To England’, says Seeley, ‘war is throughout an industry, a way to wealth, the most thriving business, the most prosperous investment, of the time.
The battles that Marlborough distinguished himself in during the eighteenth century were conducted to maintain a base slave-trade and Bolingbroke’s avowed foreign policy with regard to the continent in the same period was to contrive crises that would lead the European powers to war mutually against one another.
The immorality that marked England’s commercial undertakings was accompanied by a rapid decline in the traditional agricultural life of the nation. This resulted in a degeneration of the moral character of the English population as a whole:
With the total decline of country life and with the equally perfect victory of the sole God of trade and industry, Mammon, the genuine, harmless, naïve, heart-warming cheerfulness has disappeared from England.
one finds in England no stateliness, no broad good-natured humour, no cheerfulness; everything is hatred, noise, pomp, pretentiousness, vulgarity, arrogance, sullenness and envy.
Meanwhile, the increased wealth of the nation allowed the English colonialist to be converted into a Nietzschean bully:
As soon as the brave Anglo-Saxon peasant was transformed into a pirate the blond beast appeared, as the German philologist glimpsed in his crazy dream; and as soon as the refined noble of the 15th century had lost ‘intellectual interests’ and had become covetous of gold, there arose the heartless slave trader who was different from the Spanish men of violence only in his hypocrisy. There is nothing more brutal in the world than a crude Englishman; he indeed possesses no other support than his crudeness. Mostly he is not a bad man; he has openness and energy and optimism; but he is ignorant as a kaffir, does not undergo any schooling in obedience and respect, knows no other ideal than ‘to fight his way through’.
Simultaneously, the coarsening of manners that took place abroad was reflected at home in the dissipation of the traditional aristocracy in base commercial activities:
This crudeness has slowly imbued almost the entire nation from the bottom to the top—as is always the case. Even fifty years ago it was an offence against class dignity if a member of the nobility took part in industry, trade and finance; today, the head of the oldest and greatest house of Scotland, brother-in-law of the king, a banker!
And the refined manners of the aristocracy came to serve only as a disguise for people whose ‘moral compass has lost its north.’ A further level of immorality was attained when the British government allowed the British East India Company to acquire colonial territory through devious, if not criminal, means that were justified only by the increased revenues of the Company and the steadily increasing rank of Britain among the European nations:
the temptation to enormous power on the basis of immeasurable wealth was too strong; in the nobility and in the circles related to it one soon was not able to distinguish between right and wrong. The same man who would never have deviated from scrupulous decency committed every crime in the supposed defence of the fatherland.
Chamberlain gives as examples of this indecent conduct of the British imperialists the case of Warren Hastings, who felt no qualms at all in committing all manner of political atrocities by allying himself with unscrupulous Indian potentates until, in 1788, he was formally arraigned in a famous impeachment trial that included the Member of Parliament Edmund Burke as the lead prosecutor. However, the trial was forced to drag on for ten years and ended with a final acquittal of Hastings. Hastings’ misconduct, indeed, was not unique to the eighteenth century and foreshadowed the deception exercised by Sir Edward Grey during World War I, when Britain sought to depict Germany as the aggressors whereas there was evidence, according to Chamberlain, that Britain had indeed been contemplating an attack on Belgium even before the Germans undertook one.
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The relation between the ruthless nature of the politics and foreign policy of Britain and its evolving national character that Chamberlain highlights in this essay was reiterated by the German conservative thinkers Werner Sombart (1863–1941) and Oswald Spengler (1880–1936). Sombart, the German economist and social philosopher, is noted today for his several pioneering works on the capitalistic ethos. However, in his war-time tract Händler und Helden (Munich, 1915), he focused on the vital difference between the English character and the German that Chamberlain had pointed to in the first year of the war.
Writing to inspire young German soldiers in their combat against the English forces, Sombart considers the world war started in Central Europe between Austria-Hungary, in July 1914, to be essentially one between England and Germany. For it is, in his view, an ideological, or even ‘religious’, war between the English worldview and the German. The sociological and cultural significance of the war, according to Sombart, is the radical difference existing between the English “trader spirit,” which aims at achieving mere “happiness” through the negative virtues of “temperance, contentedness, industry, sincerity, fairness, austerity … humility, patience, etc.,” all of which will facilitate a “peaceful cohabitation of traders,” and the “heroic spirit” of the Germans which aims at fulfilling the mission of the higher self-realisation of humanity through the positive, ‘giving’ virtues of “the will to sacrifice, loyalty, guilelessness, reverence, bravery, piety, obedience, goodness”—as well as the ‘military virtues’, for “all heroism first fully develops in war and through war.”
War for the English has always been a chiefly commercial enterprise, whereas for the German it is a defence of his soul from the deadening influence of this same commercial spirit. In order to reveal the essential mercantile nature of the English nation, as well as of the war that it had recently embarked on in Europe, Sombart first points to the fact that the English have, through the ages, had no higher philosophy than a utilitarian and eudaimonistic one. This is demonstrable by a perusal of the works of the major English thinkers from the Elizabethan empiricist Francis Bacon (1561–1626) to the more recent evolutionary biologist and sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820–1903).
Bacon’s utilitarian views are indeed geared to the acquisition of comfort as a source of human happiness. And it is this desire for comfort that, according to Sombart, informed the British trading enterprises around the world from the beginning of the sixteenth century onwards which, in turn, consolidated the mercantile mentality of the British nation as a whole. The British empire built on these considerations is thus only a mechanical aggregation of commercial interests and not informed by any ideal civilizing impulses. The wars conducted by the British are also essentially trade wars that seek to punish violations of the ‘contracts’ established by them with other nations for their international commercial purposes. Sombart thus maintains that one of the principal causes of the First World War was Britain’s need to eliminate the threat posed by German industry to its colonial empire.
Like Chamberlain and Sombart, the Neoconservative Oswald Spengler too, in his essay, “Preussentum und Sozialismus” (“Prussianism and Socialism,” 1919), considered the so-called Marxist socialism as one based on alien, English and Jewish understandings of society and generically different from the genuine socialism of the Prussian state. The socialism of the English is demonstrated by Spengler to be a Viking-like individualism which has encouraged the colonial rapacity of the British Empire and the mercantile ruthlessness of its leaders. The Norman conquest of England had put an end to the Anglo-Saxon way of life and introduced the “piracy principle” whereby “the barons exploited the land apportioned to them, and were in turn exploited by the duke.” The modern English and American trade companies are indeed enchained to the same motives of profiteering:
Their aim is not to work steadily to raise the entire nation’s standard of living, it is rather to produce private fortunes by the use of private capital, to overcome private competition, and to exploit the public through the use of advertising, price wars, control of the ratio of supply and demand.
The Marxist doctrine, being a product of the Jewish mind, which is characterised by ‘resentment,’ is based on envy of those who have wealth and privileges without work, and so it advocates revolt against those who possess these advantages. It is thus essentially a negative variant of the English ethos. It is not surprising, therefore, that the worker in the Marxist doctrine is encouraged to amass his own profits through private business, so that, as Spengler puts it, “Marxism is” indeed “the capitalism of the working class.” The Marxian solution to boundless private property is also a negative one: “expropriation of the expropriators, robbery of the robbers.” This is based on the “English” view of capital, wherein
the billionaire demands absolute freedom to arrange world affairs by his private decisions, with no other ethical standard in mind than success. He beats down his opponents with credit and speculation as his weapons.
The Marxist system is thus the “final chapter of a philosophy with roots in the English Revolution, whose biblical moods have remained dominant in English thought.” In fact, as he goes on to say, “a biblical interpretation of questionable business dealings can ease the conscience and greatly increase ambition and initiative.” While the industrialists engage in commerce with “money” as a commodity, the workers do the same with “work.”
In the Prussian state, on the other hand, work is not a commodity, but a “duty towards the common interest, and there is no gradation—this is Prussian style democratisation—of ethical values among the various kinds of work.” The Prussian sees property not as private booty, but as part of a common weal, “not as a means of expression of personal power but as goods placed in trust, for the administration of which he, as a property owner, is responsible to the state.”
The significance of the notion of the national state is completely ignored by Marx in his focus on “society.” Parliamentarianism is not only inappropriate in a monarchical state such as the Prussian but it is a tired and outmoded system which has lost the glory lent it by the “gentlemen” and aristocrats who once ruled German and British politics. Now
the institutions, the sense of tact and cautious observance of the amenities, are dying out with the old-style people of good breeding. . . . The relationship between party leaders and party, between party and masses, will be tougher, more transparent, and more brazen. That is the beginning of Caesarism.
On the other hand, the Prussian form of socialism is based entirely on the notion of the primacy of the state, which is indeed the ideal of the Teutonic knight, diametrically opposed to the roving plunder of the Viking:
The Teutonic knights that settled and colonised the eastern borderlands of Germany in the Middle Ages had a genuine feeling for the authority of the state in economic matters, and later Prussians have inherited that feeling. The individual is informed of his economic obligations by Destiny, by God, by the state, or by his own talent . . . Rights and privileges of producing and consuming goods are equally distributed. The aim is not ever greater wealth of the individual or for every individual, but rather the flourishing of the totality.
While English society is devoted to “success” and wealth, the Prussian is devoted to work for a common national goal:
The Prussian style of living . . . has produced a profound rank-consciousness, a feeling of unity based on an ethos of work, not of leisure. It unites the members of each professional group—military, civil service, and labour—by infusing them with a pride of vocation, and dedicates them to activity that benefits all others, the totality, the state.
We see therefore that Chamberlain’s war essay on England had a major influence on the emphasis on the immoral nature of English commerce that is evident in the Neoconservative thinkers of the Weimar Republic. More comprehensively than Sombart or Spengler, however, Chamberlain offers us insights also into the historical transformations of the British national character that underlay the several ill effects of this empire.
Alexander Jacob obtained his Master’s in English Literature from the University of Leeds and his Ph.D. in the History of Ideas from the Pennsylvania State University His post-doctoral research was conducted at the University of Toronto while he was a Visiting Fellow at the departments of Political Science, Philosophy, and English Literature of the University of Toronto.
His scholarly publications include De Naturae Natura: A Study of Idealistic Conceptions of Nature and the Unconscious, Franz Steiner, Stuttgart, 1992, (2nd ed. Arktos Media, 2011), Indo-European Mythology and Religion: Essays, Melbourne, Manticore Press, 2019, Nobilitas: A Study of European Aristocratic Philosophy from Ancient Greece to the Early Twentieth Century, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 2001, and Richard Wagner on Tragedy, Christianity and the State: Essays, Manticore Press, 2021.
He has also published several English editions of European thinkers such as H.S. Chamberlain, Edgar Julius Jung, Alfred Rosenberg, Charles Maurras and Jean-François Thiriart.
 These include Politische Ideale (1915) [tr. A. Jacob, Political Ideals, University Press of America, 2005], Die Zuversicht (1915), Deutsches Wesen (1916) and Ideal und Macht (1916).
 This collection was translated by Charles H. Clarke as The Ravings of a Renegade (London, 1915). The other essays in it are ‘German Love of Peace’, ‘German Freedom’, ‘The German language’, ‘Germany as the leading power of the world’, and ‘Germany’.
 Germany joined forces with Austria-Hungary against Russia in August 1914, and Britain declared war against Germany when the latter invaded Belgium in the same month in order to gain access to France.
 Werner Sombart, Händler und Helden: Patriotische Besinnungen, Munich: Duncker und Humblot, 1915 [translated A. Jacob, Traders and Heroes, London: Arktos, 2021].
 Sombart particularly recalls Nietzsche’s similar low evaluation of the English mind and its typical representatives: They are not a philosophical race, these English. Bacon signifies an attack on the philosophical spirit in general, Hobbes, Hume and Locke a degradation and devaluation of the concept of a ‘philosopher’ for over more than a century.
 Oswald Spengler, ‘Prussianism and Socialism’, in Selected Essays, tr. D.O. White, Chicago, 1967, p.62.
 Ibid., p. 63. This is the essential evil of the modern geopolitical phenomenon of Atlanticism.
 Ibid., p. 118.
 Ibid., p. 97. What Spengler does not explicitly observe here is that the biblical mode of thought which directed Puritan capitlistic industry is in fact a basically Jewish, voluntaristic one deriving from the conception of the universe as created by a Pantokrator who rules the creation with his Will as a personal Lord (see E. Zilsel, ‘The Genesis of the Concept of Physical Law’, in Philosophical Review, no. 51 , p. 247ff). For a discussion of the Jewish origins of this concept as well, see Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, tr. T. Parsons (London : George Allen & Unwin, 1930).
 ‘Prussianism and Socialism’, loc.cit., p. 97.
 Ibid., p. 89. This depiction of European parliamentarianism is derived from Chamberlain’s other essay on ‘Germany as the leading power of the world’ in Kriegsaufsätze.
 Ibid., p. 62.
 Ibid., p. 47.
 Unfortunately, the moral corruption infusing the British Empire up to the First World War has continued beyond this war into the present day through the shadowy commercial empire that the Bank of England has maintained on the basis of revenues secretly channelled into the banks in the City of London from the tax havens in the former colonies of Britain in the Caribbean and elsewhere (see Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who stole the World, London, 2011.)