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German Emperor Celebrates 25 Years Of Absolute Power

The Spectator,  21st June 1913

LONDON — The Jubilee of the German Emperor has called for the customary manifestations of his well-deserved popularity. Whatever foreign observers may think of the Imperial aims or the Imperial methods, there can be no question that both have been accepted with enthusiastic satisfaction by the majority of his subjects.

“In Germany”, says a very shrewd observer, Mr. Price Collier, “wherever he [the casual observer] turns, whether it be to look at the army, to inquire about the navy, to study the Constitution, or to disentangle the web of present-day political strife; to read the figures of commercial and industrial progress, or the results of social legislation; to look at the Germans at play during their yachting week at Kiel, or their rowing contests at Frankfort, he finds himself face to face with the Emperor.”

In every question, “the Emperor’s hand is there. His opinion, his influence, what he has said or has not said, are inextricably interwoven with the woof and web of German life”.

It may be frankly admitted that a career of which this can be truly said is from the personal point of view in the highest degree admirable. The Emperor’s distribution of his time leaves no room for his own pleasure. It is governed throughout by a single-minded devotion to duty. “We consider that we have been appointed by God to preserve and direct, for their own welfare, the people over whom He has given us power”.

These are the purposes which the Emperor has consistently set before his eyes. The happiness of a people is not to be gained by any acts of their own. It is to be found in dutiful obedience to the guidance of a ruler who knows what is good for them better than they can possibly know it themselves.

Those who watch from a distance the unfolding of this remarkable character cannot but ask themselves what will be the eventual effect of it on the German people.

This may seem a question that admits of but one answer. It is to be found in the growth, whether in political power, in educational progress, in material and commercial wealth, of the Emperor’s subjects. He has made Germany what it is.

The position that came to him was indeed the creation of others, but almost his first action was to dismiss the man to whom this magnificent inheritance was mainly due, and to govern it after his own will and on his own lines.

But the greatness of a nation depends in the long run on what it is in itself, not on what it has been made by an individual Sovereign. He must in the end disappear, and then what will really concern Germany is the power of her people to rule themselves when he who has ruled with so much care and devotion is withdrawn.

To take the most obvious feature of the case, what if any of the successors to the throne lack either the ability or the self-devotion of the present Emperor? Under a Constitutional Monarchy the progress of a people goes on without serious interruption. Neither George IV nor William IV contributed anything to the greatness of England, and yet Englishmen fared better under their rule than under that of George III, who with all his mistakes had a very real sense of kingly duty.

The Emperor’s theory of government is that of a guardian who keeps his ward in entire ignorance of the conduct of his own affairs or the management of his own property. He cannot remain for ever under tutors and governors, and as he has never been taught to decide anything for himself he is very likely to decide wrongly when the necessity of acting is laid upon him.

The Emperor’s theory of government pre-supposes an unending series of Sovereigns gifted with a large measure of moral and intellectual excellence. We sincerely hope that this expectation will be fulfilled in the persons of his own successors.

Germany, such as William II has made it, might, in the hands of a bad or a stupid Emperor, be an instrument of untold mischief to the world. But what one or other of those successors may be is absolutely hidden from us, and this fact constitutes the condemnation of a system which takes for granted the goodness of every future ruler.

In the volume from which we have already quoted we have an extraordinary picture of the condition of dependence on authority which is common in Germany. The passenger is not left to use his hands as be likes when he gets out of a cab. He is told how to pour out his wine in a dining car. He is warned, when he posts a letter, not to forget to stamp and address his envelope. His behaviour in the street is subject to the most minute regulations. He must not sing, or whistle, or talk loudly. If he kisses his wife in a railway carriage he is liable to a fine.

The Germans are an orderly nation, no doubt, but it is an orderliness which is enforced by the police, and probably would shortly disappear if the authority that imposes it were absent. No doubt these are but trifles. But is it to be supposed that the paternal care which forgets none of these things will not be equally mindful of the weightier matters of the law?

No German’s house is his castle. The policeman has a right to enter and satisfy the authorities upon every matter into which they think it worth while to inquire. Every public meeting is held under the eye of a representative of the Government, and is liable to be brought to an end if he thinks the speeches objectionable.

It is no wonder that the administration of the laws has no reference to the wishes of the people when we remember that the making of the laws is almost equally outside their control. There are too many signs of late that these examples are becoming more admired, and so more likely to be copied in our own country. The attention that Germany has of late excited will not be wasted if it arrests our progress on a road so fatal to personal and political freedom.

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