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The Devil's Doctrine

I have been interesting and exasperating myself, during a most untimely illness [as of September 10, 1914] by working through a part of the literature of German Imperial Expansion. I know that it is only a part, and yet when I look at this array—Treitschke and Bernhardi, Schiemann and Hasse, Bley, Sybel, “Gross-Deutschland” and “Germania Triumphans”—it represents a considerable body of thought. And it is the literature of the devil. Not one kindly sentiment, not one generous expression, is to be found within it. It is informed with passionate cupidity for the writer’s country and unreasoning, indiscriminate hatred and jealousy towards everything outside it—above all, towards the British Empire. How could such a literature fail to bring about a world-coalition against the country which produced it! Were there no Germans who foresaw so obvious a result? The whole tendency of the doctrine is that Germany should, artichoke fashion, dismember the world. Not a word is said as to the world suddenly turning and dismembering her. But was not that the only protection against such monstrous teaching as these books contain?

You may object that these Imperialists were but a group of monomaniacs and did not represent the nation. But the evidence is the other way. They represented that part of the nation which counts in international politics—they represented the Kaiser and his circle, Von Tirpitz and the Navy men, Krupp, von Bohlen and the armour-plated gang, the universities where such doctrines were openly preached, the Army, the Junkers—all the noisy, aggressive elements whose voice has sounded of late years as the voice of Germany. All were infected by the same virus of madness which has compelled Europe to get them once for all into a strait-jacket.

The actual policy of State was conducted on the very lines of these teachings, where the devilish doctrine that war should be for ever lurking in a statesman’s thoughts, that he should be prepared to pounce upon a neighbour should it be in a state of weakness, and that no treaty or moral consideration should stay his hand, is repeated again and again as the very basis of all state-craft. At the time of the Agadir crisis we have the German Minister of Foreign Affairs openly admitting that he took the view of the fanatical Pan-Germans. “I am as good a Pan-German as you,” said Kiderlen-Waechter to the representative of the League. Each was as good or as bad as the other, for all were filled with the same heady, pernicious stuff which has brought Europe to chaos.

Where, now, is that “deep, patient Germany” of which Carlyle wrote? Was ever a nation’s soul so perverted, so fallen from grace! Read this mass of bombast—learned bombast of professors, vulgar bombast of Lokal-Anzeigers and the like, but always bombast. Wade through the prophetic books with their assumption that Britain must perish and Germany succeed her; consult the scolding articles and lectures, so narrow, ungenerous, and boastful in their tone, so utterly wanting in the deeper historical knowledge or true reading of a rival’s character; see the insane Pan-German maps, with their partitions of Europe for the year 1915 or thereabouts; study the lectures of the crazy professors, with their absurd assumption of accurate knowledge and their extraordinary knack of getting every fact as wrong as it could possibly be—take all this together, and then say whether any nation has ever in this world been so foolishly and utterly misled as have the Germans.

I have alluded to their knack of getting everything wrong. It is perfectly miraculous. One would not have thought it possible that people could be always wrong. So blinded have they been by hate that everything was distorted. Never even by accident did they stumble upon the truth. Let us take a list of their confident assertions—things so self-evident that they were taken for granted by the average journalist:


“The British Army was worthless; its presence on the Continent, even if it could come, was immaterial.

“Britain herself was absolutely decadent.

“Britain’s commerce could be ruined by the German cruisers.

“The United States would fall upon us if we were in trouble.

“Canada and Australia were longing to break away from the Empire.

“India loathed us.

“The Boers were eager to reconquer South Africa.

“The Empire was an artificial collection of States which must fly to pieces at the first shock.”


This was the nonsense which grave Berlin Professors of History ladled out to their receptive students. The sinister Treitschke, who is one of half a dozen men who have torn down Imperial Germany just as surely as Roon, Bismarck, and Moltke built it up, was the arch-priest of this cult. Like Nietzsche, whose moral teaching was the supplement to the Pan-German Material doctrine, Treitschke was not, by extraction, a German at all. Both men were of the magnetic Slav stock, dreamers of dreams and seers of visions—evil dreams and dark visions for the land in which they dwelt. With their magic flutes they have led the whole blind, foolish, conceited nation down that easy, pleasant path which ends in this abyss.

Nietzsche was, as his whole life proved, a man upon the edge of insanity, who at last went obviously mad. Treitschke was a man of great brain power, who had an idée fixe—a monomania about Britain. So long as he raved in Berlin, Englishmen took no more notice than they do of an anarchist howling in the park; for it is the British theory that a man may say and think what he will so long as he refrains from doing. But Treitschke was always dangerous. He was magnetic, eloquent, enthusiastic, flashing wondrous visions of the future before his listeners, varying in beauty, but always alike in that they were seen across our prostrate body. Those who are in a position to judge, like the late Professor Cramb, say that his influence on young Germany could only be compared with that of Carlyle and Macaulay united in Great Britain. And now, after his death, his words have all sprung to deeds to the ruin of his own country and to the deep misfortune of ours. He used to visit England, this strange and sinister man, but as he was stone deaf his bodily presence brought him little nearer to us. With useless ears and jaundiced eyes he moved among us, returning to Berlin for the new Semester as ignorant as he had left it, to rail against us once again. He worked to harm us, and he has done so, but Lord! what is the worst that he has done to us compared with the irretrievable ruin that he has brought to his own country! He and Von Tirpitz, Count Bieberstein, Maximilian Harden and a few more, to say nothing of the head plotter of all—a fine Germany they will leave behind them! Treitschke is dead, and so is Bieberstein, but a good many of their dupes may live to see the day when Indian princes ride as conquerors down Unter den Linden and the shattered remains of the braggadocio statues of the Sieges Allée, that vulgar monument of bastard Imperialism, will expiate the honoured ashes of Louvain.

But the stupidity of it all—that is the consideration which comes in a wave to submerge every other aspect of the matter. For consider the situation: as lately as 1897 the European grouping was clear. The antagonists were already ranged. Russia had definitely taken her side with France; against them, equally definitely, were Germany and Austria, whilst Italy clearly was on an orbit by herself. War sooner or later was a certainty. Unattached, but with a distinct bias to Germany on racial, religious, and other grounds, lay Great Britain, the richest Power in the world, the ruler of the seas, and a nation which was historically tenacious and unconquerable in war. Was it not clear that the first interest of Germany was to conciliate such a Power and to make sure that if she were not an ally she would at least never be an enemy? No proposition could be clearer than that. And yet cast your minds back and remember the treatment and bearing of Germany towards Britain since that date—the floods of scorn, the libels, the bitter attacks, the unconcealed determination to do her harm. See how it has all ended, and how this atmosphere of hatred has put a driving force into Great Britain which has astonished ourselves. This is the end of all the clever Welt-Politik. Truly Quos Deus vult perdere—the gods must have willed it much, for no nation was ever madder.

Where were the sane Germans? Why was there no protest from them? Perhaps there was, but we never heard of it amid the beating of those great Pan-German drums. Did the whole nation, for example, really agree in so harebrained a scheme as the Bagdad Railway? Think of the insanity of such a project as that. Here is a railway representing very many millions of German capital which is built in the heart of Asia Minor, as far removed from any sort of German protection or effective control as if it were in the moon. The next step, vaguely thought out, was that German settlers were to be planted along the line of the railroad, but upon that being advanced the Turks, who had smiled most amiably at the actual railway construction, put down their slippers in the most emphatic manner. The net result, therefore, would seem to be that Turkey holds a hostage of a great many millions of German capital which, so long as Germany behaves herself, may or may not return some interest; but if Germany goes against Turkish wishes could at once be confiscated. Apart from Turkey, Russia in the Caucasus, and England in North-West India regard with a good deal of interested attention this singular and helpless German railway which projects out into space.

There is one phase of their doctrines which has, perhaps, received less attention than it deserves. It will be found very fully treated in Professor Usher’s book on Pan-Germanism, which, coming from an American authority who seems to have studied his subject very thoroughly, has the merit of impartiality. This proposition is that just as a treaty is only a scrap of paper, so also is a bond or debenture, and that just as the highest interest of a nation may at any moment override ordinary morality, the same vital urgency may justify anything in the nature of repudiation of debt. This is not to be done on account of inability to pay the debt; but through a deliberate, cold-blooded plot to weaken the creditor by robbing him of his property.

Modern Germany has been largely built up by foreign capital. In war, if Germany is conquered the debt necessarily holds good. But if Germany wins, part of her reward of victory is the complete repudiation of all debts. Thus the glorious or inglorious prize of success would be, that all her vast industrial plant would be freed from every debenture and start without an encumbrance, a free present from the enemy. This example, they hope, would lead other nations to do the same, and so still further ruin the finances of England and France, which are the great lending nations of the earth. They frankly admit that such a coup would make it very difficult for their nation to borrow money again, but on the other hand, they would have made such an immense profit over the transaction that they would be able to go on for many years without any need of more capital. “To secure so stupendous a result as this,” said the American Professor, “is well worth the expenditure of money for building a fleet. That money, so far as the German nation is concerned, is merely invested in an enterprise from which they confidently expect returns perhaps a hundred-fold.”

As to the morality of this transaction, the Professor, who has certainly no anti-German bias, expresses their views very plainly. It is the same as Frederick the Great’s views as to the morality of treaties which have descended with such fatal effects upon his successor on the Prussian throne. Once admit such anti-social theories and there is no end to their application. Here it is in the domain of economics just as shameless as in that of politics. “Once more,” says the Professor, “the Germans hear around them our cries against the morality of this procedure. The Germans refuse to recognise as moral anything which jeopardises their national existence.” They are to be the judges of what these are, and if repudiation of debt is considered to be one of them, then all debt may be repudiated. They will not put their views into practice this time because they will not be the victors, but when the reconstruction of Germany begins and she comes once again as a chastened borrower into the market-place of the world, it would be well to have some assurance as to how far she retains these views upon commercial morality.

But I have visions of a really chastened Germany, of a Germany which has sloughed all this wicked nonsense, which has found her better self again, and which is once more that “deep, patient Germany” with which I began this essay. She never can be now what she could so easily have been. She could have continued indefinitely to extend from Poland to the Vosges, one vast community, honoured by all for industry and for learning, with a huge commerce, a happy, peaceful, prosperous population, and a Colonial system which, if smaller than that of nations which were centuries older in the field, would at least be remarkable for so short a time. None of these things would the world have grudged her, and in the future as in the past she would have found in the British Dominions and in Great Britain herself an entry for her products as free as if she were herself part of the Empire.

All this must be changed for the worse, and it is just that she should suffer for her sins. The work of sixty years will be destroyed. But will not the spiritual Germany be the stronger and better? We cannot say. We can but hope and wait and wonder. What is sure is that the real Germany, of whom Carlyle spoke, can never be destroyed. Nor would we desire it. Our wrath is not against Germany, but against that Krupp-Kaiser-Junker combination which has brought her to such a deadly pass.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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