Thus two great movements were born from the German intellectual life, on which, henceforth, all the intellectual and moral progress of man must rest: the Reformation and the critical philosophy. The Reformation, which broke the intellectual yoke, imposed by the Church, which checked all free progress; and the Critique of Pure Reason, which put a stop to the caprice of philosophic speculation by defining for the human mind the limitations of its capacity for knowledge, and at the same time pointed out in what way knowledge is really possible. On this substructure was developed the intellectual life of our time, whose deepest significance consists in the attempt to reconcile the result of free inquiry with the religious needs of the heart, and to lay a foundation for the harmonious organization of mankind. Torn this way and that, between hostile forces, in a continuous feud between faith and knowledge, mankind seems to have lost the straight road of progress. Reconciliation only appears possible when the thought of religious reformation leads to a permanent explanation of the idea of religion, and science remains conscious of the limits of its power, and does not attempt to explain the domain of the supersensual world from the results of natural philosophy.
The German nation not only laid the foundations of this great struggle for an harmonious development of humanity, but took the lead in it. We are thus incurring an obligation for the future, from which we cannot shrink. We must be prepared to be the leaders in this campaign, which is being fought for the highest stake that has been offered to human efforts. Our nation is not only bound by its past history to take part in this struggle, but is peculiarly adapted to do so by its special qualities.
No nation on the face of the globe is so able to grasp and appropriate all the elements of culture, to add to them from the stores of its own spiritual endowment, and to give back to mankind richer gifts than it received. It has “enriched the store of traditional European culture with new and independent ideas and ideals, and won a position in the great community of civilized nations which none else could fill.” “Depth of conviction, idealism, universality, the power to look beyond all the limits of a finite existence, to sympathize with all that is human, to traverse the realm of ideas in companionship with the noblest of all nations and ages—this has at all times been the German characteristic; this has been extolled as the prerogative of German culture.” [A] To no nation, except the German, has it been given to enjoy in its inner self “that which is given to mankind as a whole.” We often see in other nations a greater intensity of specialized ability, but never the same capacity for generalization and absorption. It is this quality which specially fits us for the leadership in the intellectual world, and imposes on us the obligation to maintain that position.