International Lecture, 1st Unit

“The Ambiguity of the Good. German Professors in the “War of the Minds””



 On September 10, 1st Unit of IRCP welcomed Professor Ulrich Sieg (Philipps-Universität Marburg) for his talk on “The Ambiguity of the Good. German Professors in the “War of the Minds”” given at the Toyo University (Bilding 6, Meeting room 3).

  Sieg discussed three types of propaganda used in Germany during World War 1 and shed light on the issues from the perspective of the history of ideas involved. The first type was exemplified by Ernst Lissauer. The patriotic poetry he wrote, which fanned hatred of England, won widespread following among the general public. However, the trend that it would be better to stress the “good” of Germany rather than defame England gained acceptance. Therefore, Lissauer came to be regarded as someone who was denying “chivalric German culture.”

   The second type was represented by the “Manifesto of the Ninety-three.” Signed by numerous scholars, including Nobel laureates, the manifesto justified Germany’s actions and rejected censure directed toward the country. In contrast to the influenced gained by anti-German propaganda from the Allied Powers, however, this manifesto did not sway the international community.

   The third type is exemplified by Werner Sombart and Rudolf Eucken. Sombart deemed the English “merchants” and the Germans “heroes”. Eucken, for his part, contrasted the modernism of England with the humanism of German philosophy, as found in the works of Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He argued that humanism, which was superior to modernism, would lead to victory in war.

  In the last part of his presentation, Sieg highlighted the issues involved in terms of the history of ideas. These German thinkers, overconfident in the goodness of their country and in their own goodwill, made it clear that a universal ethic was not attainable only through goodwill and the ambiguity of the “good.” The issue of how one faces up to nationalistic prejudices must be confronted as well. Through this discussion of German propaganda, some of the problems in modern Japanese philosophy taken up by the Unit 1 study group could be brought into focus. The broader implications for how one should think about the nationalistic tendencies of modern Japanese thinkers stand as the notable outcome of this meeting.2