Heinrich von Treitschke

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Heinrich von Treitschke

Prof. Dr. jur. Heinrich von Treitschke, c. 1895/96; An important element in nation-building, the story of the heroic past, fell to such patriotic German historians as the liberal constitutionalist Friedrich Dahlmann (1785–1860), his conservative student Heinrich von Treitschke, and others somewhat less conservative, such as Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903) and Heinrich von Sybel (1817–1895), to name two.
Born 15 September 1834(1834-09-15)
Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony, German Confederation
Died 28 April 1896 (aged 61)
Berlin, German Empire
Nationality German
Occupation Historian
Employer Freiburg and Berlin Universities
Spouse Emma Von Treitschke
Children Clara Von Tungeln, and Maria Von Treitschke

Heinrich Gotthard von Treitschke (15 September 1834 – 28 April 1896) was a patriotic German historian, political writer, member of the Reichstag, and German nationalist. He supported German unification by Prussia, German colonialism, and monarchy. He was critical of various perceived threats to Germany, such as liberalism, democracy, Jews, England, and the Roman Catholic Church. Leftist Wikipedia makes various absurd claims, such as Treitschke being a social Darwinist, who inspired so-called atrocities by National Socialist Germany and asserting he would have supported exterminations, despite no evidence and failing to observe that Treitschke supported Jewish assimilation.


Early life and teaching career

Heinrich von Treitschke came from a family of civil servants and officers in Saxony. His ancestors came from Bohemia. Being Protestants they immigrated to Saxony following the Battle of the White Mountain (8 November 1620) during the Thirty Years War. His father became a Saxon Lieutenant-General, Eduard Heinrich von Treitschke; his uncle the lawyer Georg Carl Treitschke, and his cousin General Heinrich Leo von Treitschke.

Treitschke went deaf at a young age, and so was prevented from entering public service. After studying at the universities of Leipzig and Bonn, where he was a student of Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann, he established himself as a Privatdozent at Leipzig, lecturing on history and politics. At one point he became very popular with the students, but his political opinions made it impossible for the Saxon government to appoint him to a professorship.

At that time Treitschke was a strong Liberal; he hoped to see Germany united into a single state with a parliamentary government, and all the smaller states swept away. In one statement he said that "Every virile people has established colonial power. All great nations in the fullness of their strength have desired to set their mark upon barbarian lands and those who fail to participate in this great rivalry will play a pitiable role in time to come." This harsh statement reflects on his increasing aggressiveness of European nationalism after Otto von Bismarck's wars toward the unification of Germany. It also discusses the Social Darwinian theories of brutal competition among races. In essay published in 1862 Treitschke praised the "pitiless racial struggle" of Germans against Lithuanians, Poles and Old Prussians, he claimed that "magic" emaneted from "eastern German soil" which had been "fertilised" by "noble German blood". While his main objective was to give historical legitimisation to germanising of Poles that found themselves under Prussian rule, the praise of a mythical genocide conducted by German ancestors against other national groups would eventually become a means of legitimising claims to further eastern territories.[1]

In 1863 he was appointed professor at Freiburg; in 1866, at the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War, his sympathies with the Kingdom of Prussia were so strong that he went to Berlin, became a Prussian subject, and was appointed editor of the Preussische Jahrbücher. His violent article, in which he demanded the annexation of the Kingdoms of Hanover and Saxony, and attacked with great bitterness the Saxon royal house, led to an estrangement from his father, a personal friend of the king. It was only equalled in its ill humour by his attacks on Bavaria in 1870. After holding appointments at Kiel and Heidelberg, he was made professor at Humboldt University in Berlin in 1874.

Political career

In 1871, Treitschke became a member of the Reichstag, and from that time till his death he was one of the most prominent figures in Berlin.

On Heinrich von Sybel's death Treitschke succeeded him as editor of the Historische Zeitschrift. He had outgrown his early Liberalism and become the chief panegyrist of the House of Hohenzollern. He made violent and influential attacks on all opinions and all parties which appeared in any way to be injurious to the rising power of Germany. He supported the government in its attempts to subdue by legislation the Socialists, Poles and Catholics (Kulturkampf).

As a strong advocate of colonial expansion Treitschke was a bitter enemy of the British Empire. He was to a large extent responsible for the chauvinistic anti-British feeling of the last years of the 19th century.

In the Reichstag Treitschke had originally been a member of the National Liberal Party, but in 1879 he was the first to accept the new commercial policy of Bismarck, and in his later years he joined the Moderate Conservatives, though his deafness prevented him from taking a prominent part in debate.

Treitschke was one of the few important public figures who supported antisemitic attacks which became prevalent from 1878 onwards. He accused German Jews of refusing to assimilate into German culture and society, and attacked the flow of Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland. Treitschke has often been misquoted (predominantly by the National Socialists and contemporary leftists) as having coined the phrase "Die Juden sind unser Unglück!" ("The Jews are our misfortune!") adopted as a motto by the Nazi publication Der Stürmer several decades later. He actually remarked, "Everywhere in Germany you hear the same phrase, 'The Jews are our misfortune.'" Because of his respected status, Treitschke's remarks aroused widespread controversy.[2]

Treitschke was held in high regard by political elites of Prussia and Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow personally declared that he kept a copy of von Treitschke's book for "several years" on his desk.[3]


Treitschke approached political history as a German nationalist and focused on 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; at his death he had advanced to the year 1847.

He also wrote biographical and historical essays, and essays on contemporary politics. The most important essays were collected as Historische und politische Aufsatze.[4] A selection from his more controversial writings was made under the title Zehn Jahre deutscher Kämpfe; in 1896 a new volume appeared, called Deutsche Kämpfe, neue Folge. After his death his lectures on political subjects were published under the title Politik. He brought out also in 1856 a short volume of poems called Vaterländische Gedichte, and another volume in the following year. His first works to be translated into English were two pamphlets on the war of 1870, What we demand from France (London, 1870), and The Baptism of Fire of the North German Confederation (1870).

Treitschke's students included Heinrich Class, Hans Delbrück, W. E. B. Du Bois, Otto Hintze, Max Lenz, Erich Marcks, Friedrich Meinecke, Karl Peters, Ludwig Schiemann, Gustav Schnürer, Georg Simmel and Friedrich von Bernhardi. During World War I, many writers in the West, particularly in Britain, blamed Bernhardi for creating attitudes among the political class of Germany that were seen as an incitement to war. A complete translation of both volumes of Treitschke's Politics was published in London in 1916. Politics also appeared in an abridged English translation edited by Hans Kohn and published in 1963.

Writings (excerpt)

  • Hausrath, Adolf, ed. Treitschke, his doctrine of German destiny and of international relations: together with a study of his life and work (1914) online edition
  • Heinrich von Treitschke. Treitschke's history of Germany in the nineteenth century: Volume 1 (5th ed 1894; translated 1915) online, covers 1848 to 1815; vol 2 online
  • Heinrich von Treitschke. Germany, France, Russia, & Islam (1915) 336 pages; online
  • Heinrich von Treitschke. Politics, (English Edition 1916) Volume One Volume Two

See also

Further reading

  • Dorpalen, Andreas. Heinrich von Treitschke (New Haven 1957), the standard biography in English
  • Hausrath, Adolf, ed. Treitschke, his doctrine of German destiny and of international relations: together with a study of his life and work (1914) online edition pp 1-136 comprise a popular biography by Hausrath
  • Langer, Ulrich. Heinrich von Treitschke (Düsseldorf 1998) in German
  • Trocini, Federico. Tra Realpolitik e deutsche Freiheit: il bonapartismo francese nelle riflessioni di August Ludwig von Rochau e di Heinrich von Treitschke, in «Rivista Storica Italiana», a. CXXI, I, April 2009, pp. 338-387.
  • Kohler, George Y. “German Spirit and Holy Ghost - Treitschke’s Call for Conversion of German Jewry: The Debate Revisited”, in: Modern Judaism 30:2 (2010), p. 172-195

External links



  1. The racial state: Germany, 1933-1945 Michael Burleigh,Wolfgang Wippermann page 27 Cambridge University Press 1993
  2. Ben-Sasson, H.H., ed. (1976): A History of the Jewish People. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge). ISBN 0-674-39730-4, p.875
  3. Ethics and extermination: reflections on Nazi genocide Michael Burleigh Cambridge University Press 1997 page 17
  4. Heinrich von Treitschke: Historische und politische Aufsatze (4 vols., Leipzig, 1896)