It is the representation of what historians of the Third Reich, call "Volk" as elevated to "mystical identity under Hitler." I place this in quotes as it is from the index of a book, an important book that this essay is reviewing, "The German Genius" by Peter Watson.
While I will point out two errors for discussion, it should be noted that I discovered them only because the amazing quality-- the clarity and lyricism of this encyclopedic tome in conveying the complex interplay of the forces that form a society. If interested in this subject you can explore it in two ways. You can start young and learn German, and start to read it's literature, beginning in the early eighteenth century. Start with Kant then Hegel, Heidegger and Nietzsche. While doing this should learn organic chemistry, some early pre Darwinian theories of heredity, then psychoanalysis. On weekends you may want to read some of Einstein's early works, including the development of quantum mechanics. Oh, be sure to squeeze in Marx and Engels to trace back their roots in earlier philosophers. Or, if you don't want to so dedicate your life, you could read this book.
Watson is a journalist, rather than an academician, and that makes all the difference. His readership, mostly centered in London publications, is a diverse group of interested educated people, most of whose earliest memories were violence and death originating in Germany. I don't know his life story, but I assume he shared this experience. It was an inherent act of courage to write a book that can be described as praising this country.
The vast majority of reviews of this book have been laudatory, some mildly critical of his dependency on secondary sources, which ignores the reality that such a coherent readable narrative would have been impossible without generalizations, and faith in such sources in weaving together the story of this unique culture. No human being could possibly absorb the primary sources that that underlie his narrative, his interpretation of how a country, a nation, a people, a linguistic community, can rise to leadership of the world in a wide array of intellectual endeavors over the course of a few centuries, only to fall victim to.....the "Tomorrow" that came to pass.
Among the more than a thousand names that punctuate this book, I probably recognize a couple hundred at most, and have read a few dozen or so. This was enough for me to do a sample, a type of informal statistical validation of his universe of sources, and it came out to my satisfaction. Even reading his hundreds of secondary sources is a lifetime endeavor, that he did the service of excerpting and organizing.
Among the generally laudatory reviews, there were some with just the hint, the tone of suspicion that this was, just perhaps, in spite of its intellectual appearance, a covert paean to the deepest strands of the ideology of Nordic racial superiority that justified German fascism. I myself have found, and will present, two items that could be used to support this theory, this criticism, and this personal attack on the writer.
I do it because the points are meaningful for the discussion of this book, and more importantly because they are in the spirit that the book was written. If Watson had set a standard of perfection, we would not have this comprehensive tome to spark these conversation, and the world would have been poorer for it's absence.
The first point is the song of the title of this essay. Watson attributes it to Hans Baumann, " The troubadour of the Hitler Youth" whose idylic childhood was tempered by the inflation and unemployment of Wiemar Germany. His earliest poems reflected this with titles such as " Unemployed" and "Four Flights Up" about living in tenement slums as a child. From "The German Genius" pp 636:
Bauman became active in the Catholic youth movement, this gave rise to some of his early songs, the most famous of which s, "Morgen gehort mir," "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," was popularized in the 1972 film "Cabaret." This song helped Bauman's rise to fame.
The song became famous among the Catholic youth movement long before it was taken up by the Hitler Youth.
The exact provenance, the actual author of this song is important as it still is alive for the present incarnation of this movement. The Ringtone of the song is available for those who see this song as more than an historical artifact, but a viable motivating force in their lives. For those who revere the spirit of this song and still long for such a "tomorrow" whether it was written by Aryian youth such as depicted in the film clip, or two Jewish songwriters, is of great importance.
Watson is wrong when he writes that the play "Cabaret" "popularized," a song by the young Baumann, which implies "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is close translation of the German original, rather than being loosely modeled on such songs. which seems to be the current consensus. There are a slew of motivated members of "Storm Front" who have searched the German archives for such a common original of "Tomorrow" to no avail. The long discussion now going on for several years describes how the current culture of this group is connected with the past.
Back to reviewing Peter Watson's book, and its meaning. The other incongruity of a higher order. It is not a mistake of detail, such as attribution of composer of a song, but something quite different. I will express it by excerpting this letter that I sent to Watson's editor:
I was transfixed by the talent of one individual to convey the monumental contributions of the German Civilization into a compendium that read like a novel. I admired Watson's courage to present this story, without apology, as history needs none.
But then I came to a single paragraph, that I have not seen commented on in any review. It is on the last paragraph of page 829 of the hardcover edition. It does begin with the qualification of "For what it is worth" and then goes on to quote a "survey, reported in 2006" that shows that Germans have a greater brain size and I.Q. than other European countries, specifically those that were its enemies in the two world wars.
The carelessness of this inclusion is reflected in the note of attribution, a secondary source, a book by Gertrude Himmelfarb published the year before the survey. There is no attribution to the actual research, which was Richard Lynn's 2006 book, "Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis"
The paradigm of this throwaway comment is actually profoundly important, as it reflects, and supports the underlying neo-Darwinism that was so distorted by the Nazi regime. This ideology sees races as sub species of humans, which biologically may be accurate, and as such is a moot subject for understanding variations of cultures. However, It is a completely different analytic approach to a cultural-historical explanation of the "genius" of a culture.
Had Mr. Watson excluded the tidbit of this paragraph, it would not have detracted at all from his encyclopedic presentation, but to slip it in, apparently unnoticed by reviewers, is a shock to his careful readers. I suggest that this paragraph simply be removed for future editions, as it would take a different book, of a size and complexity of this one to do justice to the controversy raised by its implicit premise. At the very least, if you want to "go there" present the concept, "that underlying genetic intelligence is the root explanation of cultural achievement" as inherently inconsistent with the rest of the book.
If Watson were serious about this paragraph being meaningful, he wouldn't need an 800 page book to carefully define the many threads of German achievement. He could put it on a bumper sticker that says, "Germans are greater because they are smarter."
But I don't think he would ever do this, or that he actually thinks this is true. Someone who thinks in slogans doesn't do the life long research to write a book of this magnitude, which is in its overall tone devoid of any taint of simplistic explanations. The scholarly tone combined with the journalist fluidity is an invitation for participation, a prod to thinking, that in my case led to discovery of these defects, but also to an overwhelming number of epiphanies, of connections, of new understanding that otherwise I would never have made.
Anyone who has slogged through this long essay, would be fascinated by "The German Genius" And, only by learning about yesterday, can we have any hope that our "Tomorrow" will reflect the common dreams of humanity, rather than the nightmare that was the culmination of a time and place so well explored by this courageous book.