One of the hardest of all lessons for the educated is that in which they are required to listen once again to the voices of the wider population, voices that they have neglected as a matter of course during their training. Taking this instruction is all the more distasteful because the thought of the public is not composed in a foreign language, softening the focus and creating a romantic aura, but in a transparent and ubiquitous low caste dialect of the language spoken and written by the educated themselves. – The discussions of the public, in general media, and in the aggregate of all private discussions, are a mess, or seem so to someone in the educated, literate, numerate, subset. And indeed, en masse, they are even more prone to internal contradiction and inconsistency than the thought of a single person, and this, heaven knows, is quite enough of a mess, even at its most coherent.

But populations, like individuals, are also information processing systems, and intellectuals must learn to understand how such large networks of people operate as subtle integrative networks, and then learn to grasp the aggregate, net outputs, which are frequently in a casual non-technical form.

Indeed, it might be argued that one function for the intellectual, and perhaps one of the most important, is not independent creation but the interpretation and translation of the outputs of the public realm, providing technical grounds for the decisions and expressions of preference that result.

Intellectuals should never forget that, in spite of all appearances, the public, the network, is listening to them (for the intellectual world is part of that network, not separate from it) and if intellectuals abuse their position, by forcing their own views into the translation, they will be rejected, and a rapporteur with more integrity will be preferred.

This is an immensely delicate business, with intellectuals in a continual struggle to express and simultaneously inflect public thought. Their position, indeed, is not at all unlike that of judges, who appear to have vast power underwritten by great knowledge, but are self-constrained by the law within which they operate and which they know better than any contemporary.

When societies become unable to sustain very high rates of growth the domestic niche narrows and that society begins to agonise about matters of political economy, the distribution of the wealth which is extant in that society. England in the 1880s is a good case.

The West today generally seems to be in this position, with those contract-shifted states (US, UK) worse affected than those that are relatively speaking status-shifted (Germany, Japan).

In contrast, countries with high rates of growth are outward looking; the domestic niche is expanding, partly through the incorporation of further external niches. Suspension of interest in political economy is the result but it is replaced by intense awareness of external competitors. England in the period 1700 to 1850 is a perfect historical example, and China is the contemporary specimen.

Democracy is valuable and preferable because at its best it does the diametrical opposite of what it claims to do. – When democracy functions well it prevents the majority or any sizeable minority from exercising power over any other part or indeed the whole. It creates weak governments, and this is its principal virtue. Far from giving expression to the will of the majority, democracy frustrates every will, and though to a degree frustrated in their wishes the individuals in a democracy are protected by the absence of an overwhelmingly powerful control.

But this desirable quality is transient, or at least unstable. Two other conditions are at least as common, and perhaps more enduring.

Firstly, democracy is vulnerable to demagogic leadership, and demagogues are the creatures and the parasites of majority opinion. Since almost all democratically elected leaders are in fact demagogues to some degree this results in the oppression of the individual by the majority or by substantial minorities within the population. Judging from recent history, since 1945, this is a common and long-lasting condition.

Secondly, when the apparatus of state within a democracy becomes enlarged the civil servants and state clients, including corporate bodies, themselves form an interest group that supersedes elected politicians, evades control and becomes truly and lastingly powerful. This outcome is inevitable when state employees are permitted to vote, and perhaps highly likely even if they are disenfranchised.

We must therefore reconcile ourselves to the fact, evident from the historical record, that the best conditions for an individual occur transiently in the dynamic processes of political development and decay. Here is no abiding city.

My youngest son is very keen on magic, which he insists is real. The boy certainly knows what he means by it, but do we?

He believes, for example, that wishes wash dishes, that one who desires hard enough will fly, that a mind that believes in its own power can create thing or situation that he desires. This statement of means and ends takes us a little way towards understanding his view, but we need a more precise and yet abstract account if we are to grasp the misapprehension at its root.

Let us turn over in our minds all the instances of magic in fiction and folk tale and stage magic that we can recall, and from that material construct a naturalistic and composite definition. I cannot reach your reports, but my own experience of these sources suggests that without exception all instances of supposed magic contain an element of surprise, indicating that what has gone before provides no clue of what is to come. In other words, there is a discontinuity; the statistical regularities of the past break off and something quite unexpected enters from behind the curtain.

Magical thinking is the belief that these discontinuities can occur frequently and in relation to fulfilled desires:

Magic is the discontinuation of the world’s statistical regularities in accordance with a human wish.

We can add by way of further explanation that White magic is a discontinuity coincident with my (or our) wishes; black magic is a discontinuity coincident with your (or their) wishes when these contradict my own wishes and those of any other person I nominate.

The element of surprise and discontinuity means that to an ignorant person, largely unaware of the world’s regularities (there does seem to be a naive physics built in at birth), much is indeed to all appearance magical, in either its black or white varieties. But that person will lose this sense of the magical as their observations broaden and they come to perceive the world’s statistical order and to recognise that what they had thought were discontinuous novelties are statistically predicted by what has gone before.

We can now see that science, which is at its heart nothing more (or less) than the observation of statistical regularities, is intrinsically hostile to magic. One must note, however, that these anti-magical qualities of science are derived from observation only, not from any assertion of causal relationships between observations, which are notoriously uncertain (see Hume) and constitute the sceptical core of human science. But this lack of a firm causal relationship is irrelevant. Magic is banished by the observation of regularity however that is caused, and about which causation we need make no presumption.

Thus, the adult view is scientific insofar as more observations have been made, more regularities detected. – What seems magical to my son at present will, before long and as he ages, seem entirely continuous with all that has gone before. That which is in accordance with his wishes he will see as fortunate, not White Magical, and that which runs counter to his desires he will accept simply and logically as undesirable, rather than maliciously Black Magical.

There are already signs of this development, and it seems to be accelerating alongside his ability to read. That may seem bizarre since what he reads is largely fantastical narrative fiction. However, magic is undermined by literacy itself, since without literacy, and in the absence of the records made possible by written notation, we struggle to retain awareness of sufficient information to observe detailed regularities, and so the world appears to a much greater degree irregular and so potentially magical. Even as he reads contrived stories about dragons and spirits my son will be exposed to the intersubjective records of real-world regularities that authors must, whether they wish to or not, employ as a contrasting background to magic in fiction, and so he will be introduced, gradus ad Parnassum, to the records that we call human science, stretching from history on the one hand to mathematics on the other.

While at its most absurd, literary fantasy undermines the tendency to think magically precisely because of its written character. I would prefer him to be reading Richard Feynman, but his interest in Harry Potter and Beast Quest does not throw me into despair, at least not yet.

The inflexibility of status societies necessarily creates pressure towards behavioural conformity, since it is conformity to the established moral view on all matters that gives value to positions in the hierarchy assigned by status. However, due to its inflexibility the society generates little surplus wealth, and thus competition for this surplus, via competition for status positions, is intense. One thinks of pre-communist and perhaps even contemporary China.

It is also true that such status societies, and even those that have subsequently become contract shifted, such as Japan or Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, become hostile to foreigners. In a status society all positions are already filled, and vacancies can easily be filled by natives, so an outsider fills one of those positions at the expense of a native. If such feelings can persist even in contract-shifted societies, and they plainly do, then imagine how much stronger will be the manifestation of these tendencies in a status-shifted society.

This moral conservatism extends into every branch of life, and in spite of the variation in precise or proximal motivations all moral rules in such societies serve the interests of the individual within a rigid system of status, frequently by policing transgressions which even an Argus-eyed state could not detect. Insistence on moral conformity reduces in essence to preventing others from gaining an advantage of any kind, large or small.

Contract societies, on the other hand, transform all these relationships into a contractual form. Where a status society sees marriage as a mystical bond, the status of which is defined and guaranteed in the eyes of a supernal power, usually a deity, whereas a contract society sees it as a voluntary, sublunary, arrangement of relationship, and open to all individuals, even those of the same sex.

In general, where a status society sees moral rules as static instructions governing relations as firmly as the hierarchy of assignments establishes and guarantees the status society itself, a contract society sees them as temporary agreements arising from localised consensus. Which is the more likely to produce societies that endure is uncertain. We can reason about the matter, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each, but only the stress of experiment can deliver an authoritative answer. Time will tell; time is telling.

Fundamental knowledge of living process within the universe appears to consist, all but entirely, of a corrosive dissolution of any impression of victory, or, indeed, the belief that there is a victory at all.

At best we learn that such triumphs as there are must be recognised as temporally and spatially parochial. Knowledge is the understanding and recognition of utter defeat. No one cares for that. –

Those who are victorious, here and for now, find in knowledge only the recognition that others have been defeated, something which they already knew, or the understanding that their victory is temporary and limited, which is beside their point.

Those in the ascendant gain little through fundamental knowledge, and so have correspondingly little incentive to seek it. – The rich are notoriously incurious about the world; why should be they anything else? For those who have the upper hand for the time being, and even the most triumphant have nothing more, knowledge spoils the fleeting pleasure of limited success, and holds no attractions.

For those who are defeated, knowledge banishes the illusory consolation of victory in defeat (moral superiority as it might be) and have no reason to seek that understanding other than the hope of future parochial revenge through cunning, a sour balm at best.

With such slender attractions it is therefore unsurprising that knowledge is hard to come by, and little sought after. The victorious do not require it, and the defeated find that it adds insult to injury. It is a wonder that there is any at all.

The earlier Craig Raine, up to a third of the way through his collected poems, is an unpretentious and delightful composer of elegant riddles in verse. He has a fresh vision, an affectation of adolescence, which is very perfect of its kind, and notably free of any overt will to transcendence – rough beasts do not slouch towards Bethlehem – and almost nowhere does he betray any hesitant and guilty desire for unearthly intensity of significance. – No Blakean arrows of desire fall somewhere off stage left as a mysteriously redeeming renewal.

The need for high significance and supernatural redemption never arises. The world as observed is good enough. We know from his general study of poetry, My Grandmothers Glass Eye, that he is against any extravagant sort of claim for poetic value, whether brazen or skulking, and, surprisingly, his writing is in practise consistent with that position. The self-portrait, at the end of Grandmother's Glass Eye, as a little bird singing hopelessly but courageously against the cacophony of the megalopolitan traffic, is more than a little damp, it is true, but it is not overweening. Self-pitying, a little; but a long way short of a Christ complex; and what can appear to be conceit can be defended as vivacity, animal spirits (that part of the adolescence is quite unaffected), for he has an evident and to degree winning delight in his own manifest gifts

Readers of his critical prose will think modest an odd word to use of him, but of the poems it is perfectly just. Instead of undetermined vistas and visions – avenues, dark, nameless and without end – he delights in the superficial and the precise, and mostly in the pictorial, without any hankering after universal or final judgment. There is, as a result, much to like; the visual and sometimes tactile ingenuity is both admirable and delightful, a rare achievement in a verbal art, and the verses are nearly always aurally pleasing (he is proud of his ear, and with some reason).

Perhaps best of all, his poems do not slyly induce moral frustration as a means of establishing the writer’s own superiority without taking on the burden of defining and defending that virtue. Indeed, half Raine’s distinction, at least in the early poems, lies in refusing this fatally attractive opportunity while still engaging closely with what he sees, hears and touches.

The study of English in the universities was initially resisted on the grounds that it would be the novel reading tripos. That was not entirely wrong: idle titillation is a very likely feature of literary study; the focus on the personal experience of a text veers off towards solipsism, mere hedonism.

But those resisting literary studies in its earliest days missed the real danger, which is now obvious to us. The only topic on which its students could talk by means of the literary critical medium is politics, and hence, since they are students, the politics of the young, which are collectivist.

This tendency was evident very early, in the writing of those few who took the founding premise of literary research and academic critical work seriously, most eminently the Leavises. – Fiction and the reading Public is a highly political study, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture equally. The fact that these were both conservative collectivists is irrelevant to the point; they were collectivists, and their criticism was politically motivated. The collectivist politics of the current phase is revolutionary; that too is irrelevant to the point; it is a collectivist politics typical of the young.

It is occasionally said that the academic study of literature is wasted on juveniles. Brushing aside the superficial justifications for that view, which are sound, we must conclude that the opportunity has been far from thrown away. On the contrary, it has given youth a destructive weapon of immense power and they have employed it to good effect and without mercy.

Last Updated: 8 June 2021 (one correction has been made to the biographical chronology and several new items and pieces of information have been added to the bibliography)

As late as 1983, when I was an undergraduate, the posthumous collection of A. P. Rossiter’s Shakespeare lectures, Angel with Horns (1961) was on the required reading lists in Cambridge. I came across him again a few years later when editing I. A. Richards, Rossiter being an early adopter of Basic English in teaching, due perhaps to his five years in Japan in the early 1930s. Indeed, he is thought to be the first person to use Basic in Japan, having been trained in the method personally by C. K. Ogden. Rossiter also seems to have known Richards well, and there are several references in Mrs Richards’ diary for 1932, both to Rossiter and to his wife, Phyllis, the author, as P. M. Rossiter, of Basic for Geology (Kegan Paul Trench Trubner & Co Ltd: London (1937). He came up on my radar again when I read his essay “Poetry as a Gagagram” (1935) as part of my study of syntactic and dictional chaos in verse.

But at this time A. P. Rossiter was merely an empty name on a handful of very interesting pieces of writing, and even today he is one of the few people in the Ogden–Richards–Empson circle that remains more or less mysterious to me both biographically and intellectually. It is true that one can infer much from his early and curiously impressive but almost completely unknown novel (Rossiter called it a "satire") of student life, Poor Scholars (1932), set in 1920s Cambridge and written, I think, while he was in Japan, but otherwise, there is very little data in the public domain, and almost nothing available electronically. Rossiter has no entry, yet, in the Dictionary of National Biography. Hence this short account and checklist of publications.

Due to public health restrictions, I have not yet been able to consult Graham Storey’s obituary in the Cambridge Review (2 February 1957), but in the meantime have assembled a few details from various online sources, including the obituary in The Times (9 January 1957), the biographical note that appears in the 1943 Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1939), and Christine Jenning's biography of Rossiter's friend Sir Robert Jennings, as well as my own library and archive of notes on Richards and his associates.

Arthur Percival Rossiter was of a West-country family, educated at Bristol Grammar School and Selwyn College, Cambridge where he was a Scholar, reading at first Natural Sciences and then English, taking honours in both with a 1st in English. He appears to have been an active and notable member of the Selwyn College Boat Club, in which he was known as “Tishy”, rowing at number 7 in 1926, and Bow in 1927. After graduation he taught for a while in Cambridge, married, and then in late 1928 moved to Japan (the letter to the TLS of November 1928 listed below was sent from Hirosaki), and was appointed as an Instructor at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima in Hiroshima, a post to which he may have been recommended by Richards, who had recently travelled widely in both China and Japan and was well known there.

In 1934 he moved back to England and to Durham University, where he taught for ten years. During the war he served as a sergeant in a Home Guard battalion affiliated to the Durham Light Infantry. In 1945 he was elected to a Fellowship of Jesus College, Cambridge, and admitted in July of that year, subsequently serving as Tutor and Director of Studies in English, remaining there until his death in a motorcycle accident on the 7th of January 1957.

At some point unknown to me his marriage to Phyllis ended, and he married again, his second wife being Barbara Bloch, the daughter of the German expressionist painter Martin Bloch. Barbara Rossiter was pregnant at the time of her husband's death, giving the accident a particular poignancy that persisted in Cambridge legend for long afterwards. – I myself remember it as current in the 1980s. Rossiter is buried in the Ascension Burial Ground near Histon, just to the north of Cambridge, the grave being marked with a plain yet magnificent slate headstone.

A collection of his papers is held in the Jesus College Archives, and also includes the righthand photograph below, the best of only a very few available online. Rossiter is in battle-dress uniform and equipped for rock-climbing, at which he was considered an expert. On the left is the image of Rossiter reproduced in the short autobiography provided in the Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1943). Though undated, it seems likely to have been taken in the late 1920s or earlier 1930s.


Left: Portrait photograph of A. P. Rossiter in the late 1920s or 1930s, reproduced in the Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1943), 232.

Right: A. P. Rossiter. Place and date unknown (Durham, 1939-1945?). Jesus College Archives.

Rossiter’s reputation as a lecturer in Cambridge and at Stratford-upon-Avon was sufficiently high to justify the collection of the scripts in print shortly after his death, and his students included several of the notable names of the English school in subsequent decades. He is also credited, though not certainly, with being responsible for overcoming resistance to the momentous appointment of F. R. Leavis to the Faculty Board in 1956, suggesting that Rossiter's character was distinguished by openness of mind and a commendable absence of risk aversion.

Further and full justification for this note will be found, if anywhere, in Rossiter's own writings, which seem to me both unique and neglected. But, as far as I know, there is no checklist of those writings, at least on the internet, and the following, doubtless incomplete, collection should be regarded as an interim attempt. A careful search has been made of the online archives of both the Durham University Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, as well as The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District, and several pieces not recorded elsewhere, as far as I know, have been rediscovered. There is almost certainly more to be found in other periodicals. Judging from the scrupulous and loyal way in which Rossiter published in the Durham University Journal while teaching there, it is likely that he contributed to English language publications in Japan while employed in Hiroshima. When time and circumstances permit, I will attempt to make my own investigations, but in the meantime if any reader has further information, either biographical or bibliographical, I would be grateful if they could write to me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Anonymous, "Mr. A. P. Rossiter: English at Cambridge", The Times (9 January 1957), 10. Obituary.

Christine Jennings, Robbie: The Life of Sir Robert Jennings 1913–2004 (Matador: Kibworth Beauchamp, 2019), 64.

R. Y. J., [Sir Robert Jennings], "Mr. A. P. Rossiter", The Times (11 January 2957), 11. Letter supplementing the Times obituary.

Jesus College Cambridge, One Hundred and Ninth Annual Report (2013), 184. 

A. P. McEldowney, A Personal History of Selwyn College Boat Club (1973).

Ian Mackillop, F. R. Leavis: A Life in Criticism (Allen Lane: Harmondsworth, 1995), 299.

Checklist of the Writings (1928–1961) of A. P. Rossiter (1903–1957).


“Tottel’s Miscellany and Wyatt”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 1397 (8 November 1928), p. 833.


Poor Scholars: A Novel (Chatto & Windus: London, 1932).

The Gold Insect. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London, 1932). Basic English version of Edgar Allan Poe's “Gold Bug”.


“Character Writing”, Durham University Journal 28/5 (March 1934), 354–360.

“An Experiment in Verse”, Durham University Journal 29/1 (December 1934), 31–39. Reprinted in Our Living Language (1953).


Statement and Suggestion: The Basic English System as an Instrument for Reading Verse (Psyche Miniatures General Series) (Kegan Paul Trench Trubner: London, 1935).

“Poetry as Gagagram: An Inquiry into Meaning”, Psyche 15 (1935), 174–187. Reprinted in a revised version in Our Living Language (1953).

“The First English Geologist: Robert Hooke (1635–1703)”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 172–181.

“The Ur-Faust at Neville’s Cross”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 210-211.

“The Durham Colleges Dramatic Society in ‘The Critic’”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 211–212.


“Hooke as Geologist”, Nature 137 (1936), 455.


“Julius Caesar: A Shakespearean Speculation”, Durham University Journal 30/2 (March 1937), 111–131.

“Written in ‘Portrait of an Age’”, Durham University Journal 30/2 (March 1937), 154. [Verse.]


“The Tragedy of King Lear”, Durham University Journal 30/6 (June 1938), 464–473.

"The Structure of Richard the Third", Durham University Journal 31/1 (December 1938), 44–75.


The Growth of Science: An Outline History in Basic English with Notes on all Words specially used in the Sciences (Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons: London, 1939). Reprinted as a Pelican (Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, 1943), with a new introductory "Note" dated 1942, and an autobiographical account illustrated with a portrait photograph.

“Line-Division in ‘Julius Caesar’”, Times Literary Supplement,  No. 1956 (29 July 1939), 453. Letter to the Editor. R. B. Mckerrow replied: “Line Division in “Julius Caesar’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 1959 (19 August 1939), p. 491.


“Tower of Brass”, Durham University Journal 32/1 (NS Vol. 1) (January 1940), 52–54. [Verse.]

“Two Poems: ‘Chorus from a Pageant Play’; ‘Electra’”, Durham University Journal 33/1 (New Series 2/1) (December 1940), 46–47, 47.


Julius Caesar: A Basic English Expansion (Basic English Publishing Company: Cambridge, 1941).

“Prognosis on a Shakespeare Problem”, Durham University Journal 33/2 (New Series 2/2) (March 1941), 126–139.

“Three Poems: ‘Beyond Lugnasad’, ‘Pliny A.D. 79’, ‘Beati Nimium’”, Durham University Journal 34/3 (New Series 3/3) (June 1941), 154-156, 157–158, 158.


“Sidelights on the Spens Report”, English in Schools 2/1-2 (1944-1945). Reprinted as “The School Child as Critic” in Our Living Language (1953).

“Prolegomenon to the Anonymous Woodstock (alias 1 Richard II)”, Durham University Journal 37/2 (New series 6/2) (March 1945), 42–51.

“Four Poems: Translated from Louis Aragon”, Durham University Journal 37/3 (New Series 6/3) (June 1945), 91–94.


Woodstock: A Moral History. Edited with a preface by Rossiter. (Chatto & Windus: London, 1946).


“Hall and Shakespeare”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2365 (31 May 1947), p. 267. Letter to the Editor. Replies to a letter by Alan Keen (26 April). Keen reacted in letter published on the 29th of November, and Rossiter replied to that in a letter published on the 10th of January 1948.

“Yewbarrow Revisited”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 15/1 (No. 41) (1947), 18–24.


Rock-Climbing Guides to the Lake District: Great Gable, Green Gable, Kirkfell, Yewbarrow, Buckbarrow (Fell and Rock Climbing Club of The English Lake District). Ed. H. M. Kelley. Co-authored with C J Astley Cooper and W Peascod. Illustrated by W. Heaton Cooper.

“On Climbing Alone”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 15/2 (No. 42) (1948), 135–142.

“Hall and Shakespeare”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2397 (10 January 1948) p. 23. Letter to the Editor.

“Troilus and Cressida”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2414 (8 May 1948), p. 261. Letter to the Editor.


“The Spoken Word in Education”, The B.B.C. Quarterly 4/2 (July 1949). Abbreviated text of a lecture given on the 9th of April 1949, at the National Conference on School Broadcasting. Full text printed in Our Living Language (1953)

“A Passage in ‘Henry the VIII’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2476 (15 July 1949) p.459. Letter to the Editor.


English Drama from Early Times to the Elizabethans: Its Background, Origins and Developments (Hutchinson's University Library: London, 1950).

“Coriolanus”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2542 (20 October 1950), p 661.


“Coleridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sunrise’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2591 (28 September 1951), p. 613. Letter to the Editor.

“Coleridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sunrise”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2595 (26 October 1951), p. 677. Letter to the Editor.


“Note on ‘First Ascents’ (Scafell)”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 16/2 (No. 46) (1952), 198.


“Coleridge’s ‘Soother in Absence’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2675 (8 May 1953), p. 301. Letter to the Editor.

“Dusty Answer” [Letter to the Editor], Spectator (21 August 1953), 16.

Our Living Language: An Englishman looks at his English. (Longmans: London, 1953).


“Ambivalence—the Dialectic of the Histories”, in John Garrett, ed., Talking of Shakespeare (Hodder and Stoughton with Max Reinhardt: London, 1954).

“Notes from a Little-Known Coleridge”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 17/1  (No. 48) (1954), 30–38.


Angel with Horns: and other Shakespeare Lectures. Edited by Graham Storey. (Longmans: London, 1961). Reissued by Longman in 1989 as a paperback with an introduction by Peter Holland.


Germany is only ambiguously European, and perhaps not Western at all. It can be seen as an Eastern steppe empire.

It was never, thanks to Arminius, wholly within the Imperium and remains essentially unreduced and uncolonised by Mediterranean civilisation. Indeed, one view is that persistent invasive pressure from the tribes of the German plains to the North was the necessity that drove Rome to pre-eminence within the Italian peninsula and then expansion beyond it. The Roman Imperium held the tribes back for a long while, but eventually succumbed.

For some time after, Germania was a loose collection of tribal zones, though some, the Franks, moved Westwards and formed enduring states. Those states took on Christianity, and some of the residual culture of the Imperium. They became westernised as well as civilised. The heartlands of Germany, stretching over into what we now call Poland and even to Russia, did not go down this path, only becoming Christianised and civilised with the diffusion of Catholicism. But resistance to the heritage of the Imperium as represented by the Roman Church was strong, and eventually came to a head with Luther who brought about an incomplete but highly significant disassociation. The German peoples were once again free of the influence of Mediterranean civilisation, and remain so to this day.

Though intellectually distinguished, the fragmentary nature of the Germanic peoples in the medieval period limited their economic and military significance, and the growth of the Dutch/British economy eventually suppressed the nascent power of the Hanseatic League, keeping the Germans out of the West.

Spanish/Portuguese expansion was largely irrelevant to Germany, since it went to the New World. But French expansion in the 17th and 18th and early 19th Centuries came close to absorbing the German territories into a Western, European empire. But ultimately Napoleon failed to hold the lands he conquered, and the experience of invasion that he provided stimulated a self-protective desire for unification, as a defence against the West and against Europe. The founders of modern German national feeling, Fichte, List, and others saw Germany as a non-Western, non-European state threatened by the inheritors of the Imperium, including the new British colony, the United States. They did not see themselves as part of the Western world, then dominated by Britain, and indeed had only come together as a state in order to defend themselves against it, both militarily and economically. – Fichte’s “Addresses to German Nation” were delivered in Berlin with French soldiers on the streets outside. Schopenhauer's deep identification with Eastern thought, and acquaintance with Eastern languages, Sanskrit, is instructive.

Friedrich List is a representative example of an economic thinker arguing for anti-British (and French) trade policy, emphasising territorial integrity and opposing unrestricted trade. Fichte, hugely important in German thinking still, even argued for a “Close Commercial State” quite unlike the open merchant administrations of Holland and England. That is not surprising: Germany is not a marine state, which all the other authentically Western and European states are, for example France, Spain/Portugal, Holland, Britain. Even the Mediterranean states, Greece and Italy, are more marine than Germany, though not quite ocean going.

In the 19th Century, the rest of the world, including China and Japan studied the German case carefully because they felt, correctly, that Germany’s position and history were closer to their own. They, like Germany, were on the outside, looking in on Western (Anglo-Dutch-French-Spanish, and American) wealth and civilisation, and threatened by its power. Japan bought its first battleships on the Tyne, but modelled its entire education system on the German pattern,  and dressed (and still dresses) its school children in uniforms modelled on those of the Kaiserliche Marine.

The two world wars are in essence both cases of conflict between the West (Franco-British-American Imperium) and the East (Germany and the rest), with the picture confused because of German civil intrusion as far as the Caucasus in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the German language being very widely spoken in those regions. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is not quite the abberation that it might seem. These two giant easterners were struggling to become the dominant regional power, and that rivalry apart they have a lot in common. One of Russia's profoundest fears today is a seeping return of German cultural and populational influence.

But this history is obscured for far-western observers by the division of Germany after the Second War, which drew a veil over the underlying non-Western character of the country, since the Prussian heartland was behind the Iron Curtain in the DDR, and absent Prussia the FDR, much of which had in fact been within the Imperium, took on many Western characteristics, not least because it was part of the EEC and the Western states were attempting to absorb it within what we now call the EU, which was, of course, a new Western imperium. This attempt, however, failed.

In spite of its poverty and misery the DDR was the Prussian heart of Germany, and reunification the most remarkable reverse take-over. Unified Germany has been for twenty years controlled not by a Westernised FDR politician, a Wessi, but by an Ossi, Merkel, who has also dominated and subverted the EU, turning it into the Eastern Imperium that the Germans have sought since before the Roman Republic.

Hence the EU’s increasingly anti-American stance and also the widespread discontent in the Western EU states, France, Netherlands, and most of all in the UK, which eventually left the EU because of German dominance. Brexit and many other important phenomena in world politics would never have happened without reunification. 1990 is a very important year.