German Culture: Past and Present is a book written by Ernest Belfort Bax. It was originally published in 1915 by McBride, Nast, & Company of New York. The current edition most widely circulated was published by Kessinger Publications, LLC, Kila, MT, in 2008. Kessinger Publications specialize in reprints of old books that are public domain and maintains copyright over the works. Bax was born in Britain and was a socialist journalist and philosopher. Ironically his political view as a socialist was important to this book.
It assisted him in his efforts to observe German society of the period covered as the governments of the various feudal and bureaucratic forms have always leaned toward socialism. His credentials that add authority to writing this particular book include his studying of German philosophy while actually living in Germany. This gave him a close proximity to the birthplaces of German culture and thought – necessary prerequisites for the preparation of this book. Additionally his familiarity with the German language offer significance to his readers as he interprets historical documents for them.
The thesis of this book is to provide a fairly detailed overview of the social and intellectual development of German culture from the medieval period all the way to the modern times (keeping in mind that the ‘modern times’ to this author extended only to the early 1900s). Its secondary point is the more thorough exposition of the earlier part of the culture nearly at the expense of the later period. The author felt that less was known about that era in German history as compared to the modern times and wished to begin to educate ‘modern’ readers about that important foundation.
His concern reflected in this thesis is that the earlier times and its documents are difficult to access and properly read, while the times closer to the modern day have been reflected in more widely available forms. Bax develops his thesis in chronological fashion and depends heavily upon some of his earlier writings on the history of Germany. This consolidates his earlier views in one tome which can be more easily understood when presented together in this order.
In addition to the simple chronological development of his thesis, Bax refers frequently to the thorough historical treatment of the times as opposed to the personality centered treatment. He supports his thesis by disproving the personality style by demonstrating the broader historical style. Examples include dismissing the Martin Luther-focused interpretation of the Reformation, instead offering the larger events and people that surrounded those events (p. 43). Bax’s commentary on the significance of culture upon the success and failure of individuals begins with Martin Luther and the Reformation.
By concentrating on the surrounding historical events and people, he sets the stage for the influences beyond the personalities that enabled their success – in the case of Luther. Similarly Bax describes the success of the Peasant’s Rebellion/War as being dependent upon the culture created by earlier revolts like Franz Sickingen’s (p. 117). These two examples effectively show how Bax as an author ensures that the cultural parts of the book are always the first and foremost consideration; the impact this culture had upon events and people is always secondary to that thought.
It is extremely difficult to argue with Bax’s thesis. It is entirely an objective and well ordered writing of a lengthy period of German history. In particular, the reliance of individuals and events upon the general developing culture of the times leaves little room to doubt his conclusions. It is a well presented thesis and the only detriment to it may be its long-windedness. That same breadth and pace, however, also lend academic credence to the book as a whole. ? References Bax, E. B. (2008). German Culture: Past and Present. Kila, MT: Kessinger.
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