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Beacon Lights of History, Volume VIII by John Lord

Part 5 out of 5

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of his own language, and preferring the French, he encouraged the
current and popular French literature, which in his day, under the
guidance of Voltaire, was materialistic and deistical. He embraced a
philosophy which looked to secondary rather than primal causes, which
scouted any revelations that could not be explained by reason, or
reconciled with scientific theories,--that false philosophy which
intoxicated Franklin and Jefferson as well as Hume and Gibbon, and which
finally culminated in Diderot and D'Alembert; the philosophy which
became fashionable in German universities, and whose nearest approach
was that of the exploded Epicureanism of the Ancients. Under the
patronage of the infidel court, the universities of Germany became
filled with rationalistic professors, and the pulpits with dead and
formal divines; so that the glorious old Lutheranism of Prussia became
the coldest and most lifeless of all the forms which Protestantism ever
assumed. Doubtless, great critics and scholars arose under the stimulus
of that unbounded religious speculation which the King encouraged; but
they employed their learning in pulling down rather than supporting the
pillars of the ancient orthodoxy. And so rapidly did rationalism spread
in Northern Germany, that it changed its great lights into _illuminati_,
who spurned what was revealed unless it was in accordance with their
speculations and sweeping criticism. I need not dwell on this
undisguised and blazing fact, on the rationalism which became the
fashion in Germany, and which spread so disastrously over other
countries, penetrating even into the inmost sanctuaries of theological
instruction. All this may be progress; but to my mind it tended to
extinguish the light of faith, and fill the seats of learning with
cynics and unbelieving critics. It was bad enough to destroy the bodies
of men in a heartless war; it was worse to nourish those principles
which poisoned the soul, and spread doubt and disguised infidelities
among the learned classes.

But the influence of Frederic was seen in a more marked manner in the
inauguration of a national policy directed chiefly to military
aggrandizement. If there ever was a purely military monarchy, it is
Prussia; and this kingdom has been to Europe what Sparta was to Greece.
All the successors of Frederic have followed out his policy with
singular tenacity. All their habits and associations have been military.
The army has been the centre of their pride, ambition, and hope. They
have made their country one vast military camp. They have exempted no
classes from military services; they have honored and exalted the army
more than any other interest. The principal people of the land are
generals. The resources of the kingdom are expended in standing armies;
and these are a perpetual menace. A network of military machinery
controls all other pursuits and interests. The peasant is a military
slave. The student of the university can be summoned to a military camp.
Precedence in rank is given to military men over merchant princes, over
learned professors, over distinguished jurists. The genius of the nation
has been directed to the perfection of military discipline and military
weapons. The government is always prepared for war, and has been rarely
averse to it. It has ever been ready to seize a province or pick a
quarrel. The late war with France was as much the fault of Prussia as of
the government of Napoleon. The great idea of Prussia is military
aggrandizement; it is no longer a small kingdom, but a great empire,
more powerful than either Austria or France. It believes in new
annexations, until all Germany shall be united under a Prussian Kaiser.
What Rome became, Prussia aspires to be. The spirit, the animus, of
Prussia is military power. Travel in that kingdom,--everywhere are
soldiers, military schools, camps, arsenals, fortresses, reviews. And
this military spirit, evident during the last hundred years, has made
the military classes arrogant, austere, mechanical, contemptuous. This
spirit pervades the nation. It despises other nations as much as France
did in the last century, or England after the wars of Napoleon.

But the great peculiarity of this military spirit is seen in the large
standing armies, which dry up the resources of the nation and make war a
perpetual necessity, at least a perpetual fear. It may be urged that
these armies are necessary to the protection of the state,--that if they
were disbanded, then France, or some other power, would arise and avenge
their injuries, and cripple a state so potent to do evil. It may be so;
but still the evils generated by these armies must be fatal to liberty,
and antagonistic to those peaceful energies which produce the highest
civilization. They are fatal to the peaceful virtues. The great Schiller
has said:--

"There exists
An higher than the warrior's excellence.
Great deeds of violence, adventures wild,
And wonders of the moment,--these are not they
Which generate the high, the blissful,
And the enduring majesty."

I do not disdain the virtues which are developed by war; but great
virtues are seldom developed by war, unless the war is stimulated by
love of liberty or the conservation of immortal privileges worth more
than the fortunes or the lives of men. A nation incapable of being
roused in great necessities soon becomes insignificant and degenerate,
like Greece when it was incorporated with the Roman empire; but I have
no admiration of a nation perpetually arming and perpetually seeking
political aggrandizement, when the great ends of civilization are lost
sight of. And this is what Frederic sought, and his successors who
cherished his ideas. The legacy he bequeathed to the world was not
emancipating ideas, but the policy of military aggrandizement. And yet,
has civilization no higher aim than the imitation of the ancient Romans?
Can nations progressively become strong by ignoring the spirit of
Christianity? Is a nation only to thrive by adopting the sentiments
peculiar to robbers and bandits? I know that Prussia has not neglected
education, or science, or industrial energy; but these have been made
subservient to military aims. The highest civilization is that which
best develops the virtues of the heart and the energies of the mind: on
these the strength of man is based. It may be necessary for Prussia, in
the complicated relations of governments, and in view of possible
dangers, to sustain vast standing armies; but the larger these are, the
more do they provoke other nations to do the same, and to eat out the
vitals of national wealth. That nation is the greatest which seeks to
reduce, rather than augment, forces which prey upon its resources and
which are a perpetual menace. And hence the vast standing armies which
conquerors seek to maintain are not an aid to civilization, but on the
other hand tend to destroy it; unless by civilization and national
prosperity are meant an ever-expanding policy of military
aggrandizement, by which weaker and unoffending states may be gradually
absorbed by irresistible despotism, like that of the Romans, whose final
and logical development proves fatal to all other nationalities and
liberties,--yea, to literature and art and science and industry, the
extinction of which is the moral death of an empire, however grand and
however boastful, only to be succeeded by new creations, through the
fires of successive wars and hateful anarchies.

In one point, and one alone, I see the Providence which permitted the
military aggrandizement to which Frederic and his successors aimed; and
that is, in furnishing a barrier to the future conquests of a more
barbarous people,--I mean the Russians; even as the conquests of
Charlemagne presented a barrier to the future irruptions of barbarous
tribes on his northern frontier. Russia--that rude, demoralized,
Slavonic empire--cannot conquer Europe until it has first destroyed the
political and military power of Germany. United and patriotic, Germany
can keep at present the Russians at bay, and direct the stream of
invasion to the East rather than the south; so that Europe will not
become either Cossack or French, as Napoleon predicted. In this light
the military genius and power of Germany, which Frederic did so much to
develop, may be designed for the protection of European civilization and
the Protestant religion.

But I will not speculate on the aims of Providence, or the evil to be
overruled for good. With my limited vision, I can only present facts and
their immediate consequences. I can only deduce the moral truths which
are logically to be drawn from a career of wicked ambition. These truths
are a part of that moral, wisdom which experience confirms, and which
alone should be the guiding lesson to all statesmen and all empires. Let
us pursue the right, and leave the consequences to Him who rules the
fate of war, and guides the nations to the promised period when men
shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and universal peace shall
herald the reign of the Saviour of the world.


The great work of Carlyle on the Life of Frederic, which exhausts the
subject; Macaulay's Essay on the Life and Times of Frederic the Great;
Carlyle's Essay on Frederic; Lord Brougham on Frederic; Coxe's History
of the House of Austria; Mirabeau's Histoire Secrete de la Cour de
Berlin; Oeuvres de Frederic le Grand; Ranke's Neuc Buecher Preussischer
Geschichte; Poellnitz's Memoirs and Letters; Walpole's Reminiscences;
Letters of Voltaire; Voltaire's Idee du Roi de Prusse; Life of Baron
Trenck; Gillies View of the Reign of Frederic II.; Thiebault's Memoires
de Frederic le Grand; Biographic Universelle; Thronbesteigung; Holden.

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