The Source of All Evil.
by Dr. Catherine Collins
This text has been slightly revised since its publication in the Canadian Catholic Review, February, 1994.
I first encountered the works of Constantin Frantz over the winter of 1989-1990. The Berlin Wall was coming down, the Green Party was winning seats in the European Parliament, and the Meech Lake Accord had begun its long toddle to collapse. I was not looking for Constantin Frantz when I found him. I had more modern concerns on my mind -- the platform of the German Green Party in fact. I took myself to the relevant section of the library -- Library of Congress "B" section, subset: German political theory -- and began to scan the shelves. Suddenly, I felt that I was facing a wall of lunatics. There they were: row upon row of crackpot utopian theory, moving chronologically from the ceiling to the floor. At the top were the Greens; then, as the eye descended the shelves, came the Brownshirts and the Redshirts; entering the nineteenth century around, waist level, were the liberals, in various tricolour stripes, and their stuffed-shirt conservative opponents.
I paused to consider, and found my gaze resting upon a small, leather volume in the centre. It bore the title The Source of all Evil. Perhaps, I thought, this is the source of all lunacy, and I wondered idly whether it would turn out to be a tirade against the Church or against the Freemasons; that sort of title usually means that sort of thing. I borrowed the book, found myself a cup of coffee, and turned to the first page. "The Source of all Evil: a discussion of the Recent Prussian Constitutional Crisis, by Constantin Frantz -- 1862."
This was certainly not what I had expected to find, but I turned to the first chapter and let Frantz explain his position. The source of the current evil, the evil of political chaos and constitutional upheaval, was that the nation had forgotten its purpose. Having forgotten both its past and its role in Europe, it had launched into an ambitious project of self-definition and re-organization, with no better guide than rationalistic cliche's pasted onto an increasingly militant nationalism. But to build in this way was to build for destruction, and the result of this constitutional crisis would be to destabilize Germany, Central Europe, the Colonial Powers and the entireworld "as we know it."
This "world as we know it" is, of course, the world as Frantz knew it, which is not our world. Ours is the world produced by the disasters predicted by Frantz: the great wars, the destruction of the European Jews, persecutions of the Church, the Cold War stand-off between Russia and American over a broken Europe, and the growing importance of money as the sole basis of the social contract. Frantz' world was one in which these things might have been prevented or reduced. Our present is his nightmare; but his present was only a constitutional crisis.
After the book's dramatic opening, which almost blames the Prussian constitutional crisis for bringing about the end of the world, Frantz relaxed the pace of his style to give the reader a summary of the previous two hundred years of Prussian political, economic, and philosophic history. It was soon obvious that I was not reading the work of a lunatic; rather I was in the presence of a lucid, if sarcastic mind, with something of a Burkean approach. I was curious to know what sort of man he was, and what quality of mind had enabled him to judge so accurately of the situation when so many of his contemporaries were to prove so fatally wrong. Had he proposed any remedies, I wanted to know, or was he only a critic?
Frantz may have had something of Burke's mind, but he lacked Burke's influence and Burke's readers. A good measure of a man's influence is the length of the shortest history book you can read that contains a mention of his name. In a three-hundred-page history of Germany in the nineteenth century, Frantz will get a few sentences, or maybe a footnote. The footnote, or the sentence, will be in the chapter about Bismarck, subsection "opposition to". Most of that subsection will be about the Socialists, the Catholic Centre Party, and Polish nationalists. Frantz belonged to none of these groups, and indeed might rather have been expected to support the policies of unification. Frantz' opposition was a lonely, and in many ways unfruitful, exercise.
Frantz was born a Prussian in 1817, and died a German at Dresden in 1891. Like many German intellectuals, he was the son of a Lutheran pastor. He studied philosophy and mathematics, taught for a while, and then worked in the civil service. In 1856 he left the service to devote himself to political writing. He was offered a professorship, but turned it down. Form a practical standpoint this may have been a mistake: he was widely recognized as an articulate opponent of Bismarck and the National-Liberals but, despite this fame, his books did not generate much income. Furthermore, his attacks on Bismarck precluded any further government appointments, and he lived his final years in poverty.
After the First World War, when events had caught up with Frantz' fears, he found a number of enthusiastic readers. After the Second World War, German readers looked to him again, hoping to find an innocent voice among the chorus of the culpable. In the 1970's finely bound reprints of the original editions were produced and, in the manner of such projects, have found their way to the university libraries of the world.
Canada's universities each typically own two or three volumes of his numerous works. There they sit, scattered throughout the stacks, where the Library of Congress system has seen fit to put them. They sit in their monochrome leather bindings, printed in the graceful gothic script of the nineteenth century, like messengers from a more distant and more gloomy past, waiting perhaps for some new catastrophe when they may be read again...
We might, of course, not wait until then. We could read them now, before disaster strikes -- We could search for the remedy before it is too late. And what we would find, argued from every conceivable standpoint, is a solid and detailed case for federalism.
To Frantz and his contemporaries, the issue of the day was the development of the German people: that is, improvement in the social, economic, political, and educational condition of the people, from which was usually assumed that moral improvement would follow as well. According to Frantz, serious change was needed to accommodate the expectations created by the French and industrial revolutions.
In this sense, Frantz was not a conservative, as Prussian politics used the term. A Conservative (large C) was someone who thought he could reverse the drive to greater political participation begun by the French Revolution. To Frantz, this was not only, but laughable. He has a particularly biting section in which he pictures a conservative giving an account of himself at the Last Judgement, where he admits that, no, he has not done anything to improve the social conditions of the day, but rather boasts a long list of the things he has prevented from taking place.
Throughout Frantz' works, the conservatives are served with passing snorts and gibes of this kind, but the burden of his complaint lands on the liberals and, after their founding in 1866, the National-Liberals. The liberals were more dangerous precisely because they were moving in the direction of the times, but in the wrong way. He devotes pages to contesting particular items of liberal policy, but his real objections is that they were in love with paper systems.
They behaved as if one could recreate a nation with centuries of history behind it by simply casting a new constitution and holding debates. To make matters worse, the constitutions they proposed were copied from the British. As an example, the British parliamentary system has both a lower house, the House of Commons, and an upper house, the House of Lords. Prussia formerly had no House of Lords, nor any Lords, in the British sense, to put there if they had one. The British Lords had been involved in the reduction of royal power since Runnymede, which could not be said of the Junkers and the Prussian nobility. Nothing daunted, in 1854 the Prussians created for themselves both a House of Lords, and the Lords who would sit there, so that the nation could be represented in two houses according to the approved British manner. "Oh happy nation!" says Frantz, "to be represented twice."
Frantz attributed the source of all evil to forgetfulness -- a radical forgetfulness not only of the facts of one's history, but also of common sense and human nature. The liberals wanted to be Englishmen on paper, instead of Germans on solid ground. This blindness, thought Frantz, could lead only to disaster, especially when coupled with the militant nationalism that increasingly controlled the liberal mind.
That nationalism and liberalism should inhabit the same mind is, up to a point, reasonable. Industrial progress was hampered by the multitude of German statelets, and constitutional reform is much easier if you have only one level of government to reorganize. One should also remember that, at the time, German nationalism was a generous theory aimed at creating a common identity for all social classes and all faiths --- Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike. Nonetheless, the hyphen in National-Liberal is supporting a contradiction in terms. Pure liberalism knows nothing of nations; its vision is universal and its concern is the rational individual. Nationalism, on the other hand, concerns the individual precisely as belonging to a group, and all those aspects of life that are given by circumstance rather than chosen by reason. Nationalism and liberalism are two incompatible doctrines pasted side by side. This too was a concern to Frantz.
The main lines of Frantz' response to the German situation emerge in his opposition to the National-Liberals, but his views do not rest simply on a dislike of liberals. His own thinking is dominated primarily by the desire for peace: peace between nations and peace within. Liberalism has belligerent tendencies enough, with its revolutionary zeal and reliance on law as an instrument of change, but it was nationalism -- the attempt to build a self-sufficient national state -- that he feared the most. A nationalist Germany would be the abyss into which Europe must sink. But a federal Germany would be the bridge to unite Europe, something he believed was necessary both to ensure the progress of the nation and to offset the growing power of Russia and American.
A federation is a union of existing states through a legally binding agreement. Whereas a centralized state is determined by civil law and bills of rights, a federation is built on international law. It is not enclosed but contains within its constitution the principles required to reach out toward other nations through legal means. Both Canada and the United States more than tripled in size after their foundation as states, and survived the shock. Such growth in a centralized state could occur only through conquest, and would ultimately fail.
"In all things federation looks to unification, and in no case is it exclusive; rather, it seeks to give each component its relative worth." Frantz did not limit the federalist spirit to the founding of states. It could also unite various groups and interests within the state:
There is a dynamic quality to federalism, since each federation must consist of at least three terms: two partners and a deal. In Hegelian fashion, Frantz points out that federalism contains within itself the oppositions existing in society at large -- the tension between individual rights and groups survival, for instance -- and their synthesis, which gives a federal society an intrinsic capacity to progress. There are no meaningless hyphens in federalism hitching incompatible doctrines together, slipped in when no one was looking with no regard for how the terms could be reconciled, terms like liberalism and nationalism. In federalism, the hyphen comes first.
Lacking this inner dynamic, the other parties -- or ideologies one should call them -- achieve some semblance of life from their opposition to each other:
And, we might add, where would the socialists be without the liberals? The error of the ideologies is to begin with some principle that is greater than the individual but less than mankind. And having begun in the middle, they never reach beyond that point. As an example, one might consider radical feminism today, which begins with the self-determination of women. That is also where it ends. From its own principles, it has no way of rising to consider the needs of men and children. Multi-culturalism is a more telling example, because it was intended to be a unitive and conciliatory doctrine. But since it begins with the primacy of the ethnic group, it can never, from its own principles, indicate how different ethnic groups can co-exist. It must borrow liberal principles of human rights, and another hopeful hyphen to create "the liberal-pluralistic society."
Compare this to Frantz' theory on the value of ethnic minorities in European states. Most European states contained ethnic minorities from neighbouring nations: Germans in France, Poles in Prussia, and so on. Each minority would then be the hook to join the state of its citizenship to the state of its culture. Instead of deploring minorities as a barrier to the nation state, he welcomed them as links in the federal chain. Human nature being what is, this may have been verly hopeful, but Frantz never gave up on man -- not even on German liberals.
At the other extreme, a theory that begins with the group has difficulty ever recovering the free individual. At stake here is the whole question of identification of, and with it, the system of parliamentary representation. Is identification a given, so that I automatically identify with other members of my "group", and who alone can represent me; or is identification something chosen, so that I can identify with anyone I want to, by establishing some sort of contract or other relationship between us? Can any adult represent any other, so long as he has been given the mandate to do so? Parliamentary democracy answers "yes"; sooner or later, all the "groupisms" answer "no". They lack the capacity to identify with what they are not identical to. Or put another way, an ideology begins with an identity, but federalism begins with the power of identification.
A federation is held together by identifying with the deal that has been made; the cultural identity of the partners is not essential, although some similarity is helpful. The Americans have already achieved this -- up to a point. The American way, whatever that is, can be found whole and entire in every American state. One learns nothing new by travelling from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. But Pennsylvania is most emphatically not Tennessee, nor is Tennessee Pennsylvania. The different states identify with each other not by being the same, but by each being American. That's federalism. I only wish I could have used a Canadian example to illustrate this point.
I recently tested the preceding remarks on an American friend. I thought he would be intrigued to hear praise of the United States from a Canadian. He took the praise in his stride, and then took issue with Frantz. "What about the Civil War?" he wanted to know. "How could he cite the United States as a federal success story in the 1860's and 1870's?" I suggested that Frantz might not have heard of the Civil War. The Prussians fought three wars during that period, and German newspapers of the nineteenth century might have carried as much American news as do American papers of Canadian news today. But my friend was unconvinced. He had just seen a programme about the Civil War on PBS, and the subject was much on his mind. What if one of the partners of a federation wishes to secede? Has the federation the right to retain them by force?
The question is well taken. Federalism, according to Frantz, derives from the desire for peace, and should maintain peace. But if the desire weakens, and peace fails, what then?
I do not know what Frantz thought about the Civil War. He certainly opposed the founding of a state by force and a government establishment that rests on the military. But I suspect that, if asked, he would want to know something about the condition of the American soul at the time, and what sort of philosophy was being taught at school.
National-Liberalism, according to Frantz, was not a bad idea so much as a disease of the mind, the result of materialist thinking applied to human affairs. In the physical world, two things are either the same (like two cups) or different (like a cup and a saucer.) But it is a characteristic of the human mind to join things that are different to serve a common purpose, like a cup resting on a saucer. But the liberal sees only identities, and the nationalist sees only differences. To Frantz, they were both the politics of the blind, and they could be overcome by nothing less than the complete overhaul of German philosophy and a renewal of Christian thought.
It was a bold stroke to advocate Christianity as a solution for German politics when it had long been their central problem. The schism of the Reformation passes through the centre of the German-speaking world, so it is natural to think that for Germany to be strong, the churches must be weak. And Frantz was critical of both the Catholic and the Lutheran churches: the Catholics for the usual Lutheran reasons, and the Lutherans for the usual Catholic reasons. He wanted the solidity of the one with the freedom of the other, and looked to the federal spirit to unite what theology divides.
This federal spirit, he argued, is simply a reflection of the Christian ideal operative in the world:
Frantz' logic is assisted by the German language, which uses the word "Bund" both for a federation and a testament (as in "new"). Precisely what institutional format this renewed Christianity should have is left vague, except that it will not be instantiated in the political structures of the state:
This passage provides the key to Frantz' political thought. His purpose was to defend the middle-world of human history, the true site of political action, both against those whose ignored the other two (the liberal error) and against those who subsumed the historical under nature or God --- the errors of economic determinism and religious fundamentalism respectively.
Vestiges at least of the three realms are to be found in every philosophy, but their depth and variety had become so diminished in the educated mind that nothing remained but three isolated ghost towns built in an earthquake zone. nature was reduced to a collection of dead objects, transparent to reason and available for exploitation; politics was to be the scene of a pure freedom of a choice unhindered by the past, a freedom that bordered on the arbitrary; and of God there remained nothing but "duty" and some pietistic emotion. Regarding the relationships among these three, the prevailing imagination had even less to offer.
A second-year philosophy course suffices to demonstrate that the three ghost towns of the liberal imagination will collapse under the first tremors of examination. A wedding should have the same effect, for there all three realms are present and combined, as in reality they always are. A wedding combines the blessing of God, the choice of the couple for each other, and the power of nature working through the man and the woman.
With more modesty than truth required, Frantz pointed to Friedrich von Schelling for a complete study of the three realms and their relationships to each other. In 1879 he published Schelling's Positive Philosophie, a three volume, 900 page summary of Schelling's later philosophy for the general reader. The aim is a philosophy of nature that begins with God, and a philosophy of revelation that begins with nature. Man and history can then take their appropriate place between the two.
It is characteristic that a man whose political theory rested so heavily on the notion of freedom, and the bonds established in freedom, would seek a natural philosophy that also has freedom as its foundation. The philosophy of the Enlightenment tended to be about the objects of knowledge. One might say that it is a philosophy of nouns. But "to be" is a verb, as are "to decide" and "to do". A philosophy of nouns frequently ends in determinism, and sometimes in skepticism, but never in freedom.
Frantz and Schelling began with a subjective: the divine "let it be" and the free choice to create. Nature as nature may be an abstract noun, but as creation it more resembles the hero of a novel. Frantz quotes Schelling approvingly: "In Christianity the entire universe is see as history." And he adds, "positive philosophy [the name Schelling gave his system] is in a certain sense dramatic. It is the highest drama of all, since it portrays the entire world as a divine history."
This world has freedom built into it; not the freedom of liberals, which seems always to resent the natural, but a freedom within the natural, opening into the much greater freedom of the historical. Indeed, history and nature are what freedom, in its dramatic progress, has built. What is free for one generation is a given for the next. It is precisely for this reason that political action is important: an entire nation can, in a period of wilfulness, greed, or inattention, choose disaster. Alternatively, it may not so choose.
To see the world in this way is what Frantz meant by a Christian revival, and clearly this is not what Billy Graham meant by that term. Frantz' revival is a revival of Christian metaphysics --- orthodox enough, but only for as long as you admit that metaphysics itself is not enough to revive Christianity. On the other hand, from the secular side, Frantz might be attacked by those who think that the human mind can do nothing more exalted than programme computers, and who declare that metaphysics is dead.
The death certificate is premature. As soon as people come to feel the connection between world-view and political action as clearly as Frantz did, they will demand to know what the mind can establish concerning what lies beyond the physical world. These times may have returned already. My local book store devotes increasing lengths of shelf space to German philosophers: it is located in the centre of Ottawa, which makes you wonder what the civil servants are thinking. Furthermore, the forty shades of Greens seem at least to agree that a politics for the environment must rest upon a renewed perception of nature, and the nature of nature. The collapse of the Society Union has sent the left on a search for new answers, and the right on a search for new enemies.
But the most telling instance of philosophic interest occurred to me as I was strolling through the halls of a certain university. I met four rather loutish youths coming my way, drinking Coke and deep in conversation. As I passed, I heard the short one say to the others "....but if we begin from Aristotle's principles ..." And yes, this incident took place in Canada.
Frantz and Schelling did not begin with Aristotle's principles. When the philosophic revival of Christianity duly arrive in the 1920's, it did indeed begin with the principles of Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Frantz and Schelling began their journey by taking leave of the principles of Hegel and Fichte, but they seem to have ended not far from where the Catholic revival began, without however noticing how close to the main highway of Western thought they had come. This is not surprising. The "philosophia Perennis" is frequently rediscovered by anyone prepared to admire the dynamic of unity in the diversity of things. It is the philosophy of those looking for balance.
Must as I admire Frantz' thought, it has certain defects that cannot be ignored. He has nothing to say about grace and seems to reduce Christian renewal to a question of educating the intellect. This may have been typical of Protestant thought at the period, which may account for its lack of success in returning society to its Christian roots. American Pentecostalism began a few years after Frantz' death, with a completely different understanding of what is meant by renewal.
But taken solely as a philosophy, and with no pretensions of doing more than philosophy can, Frantz' work has the merit of containing two features no Christian philosophy can be without, and yet which are very difficult to combine. He takes his stand on two doctrines: creation and covenant. From the first he obtains a philosophy of nature, and from the second a philosophy of history. The first without the second leads to classicism; the second without the first is superficial.
Frantz wrote at a time when Germany was being unified ... at least in a political sense. But like many of his contemporaries, he knew that beneath the expansion of the state, the nation itself was falling apart. The main thrust of his work is to examine the conditions necessary for achieving fruitful unity. Shortly before the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, I received a packet of information from the government. It was claimed that constitutional change was necessary to safeguard the Canadian standard of living, and to make our industries competitive. I doubt that federalism advocated solely for the material gain of the partners will fire the imagination of the people or retain their respect. As Frantz has shown, the problems of unity lie deeper, and the solutions must reach higher. Constantin Frantz, Gott segnet Sie!
Section Contents Copyright ©; Mark Alder and Catherine Collins 2000
This Version: 1st April 2001