In this inquiry there has been no desire to deny the value of the German contributions to the arts and to the sciences. These contributions are known to all; they speak for themselves; they redound to the honor of German culture; and for them, whatever may be their number, the other nations of the world are eternally indebted to Germany. But these German contributions are neither important enough nor numerous enough to justify the assumption that German culture is superior or that Germany is entitled to think herself the supreme leader of the arts and of the sciences. No one nation can claim this lofty position, although few would be so bold as to deny the superior achievement of the French in the fine arts and of the English in pure science.
Nations are never accepted by other nations at their own valuation; and the Germans need not be surprised that we are now astonished to find them asserting their natural self-appreciation, with the apparent expectation that it will pass unchallenged. The world owes a debt to modern Germany beyond all question, but this is far less than the debt owed to England and to France. It would be interesting if some German, speaking with authority, should now be moved to explain to us Americans the reasons which underlie the insistent assertion of the superiority of German civilization. Within the past few weeks we have been forced to gaze at certain of the less pleasant aspects of the German character; and we have been made to see that the militarism of the Germans is in absolute contradiction to the preaching and to the practice of the great Goethe, to whom they proudly point as the ultimate representative of German culture.
Columbia University in the City of New York, Sept. 18, 1914.
By Frank Jewett Mather, Jr.
To the Editor of The New York Times:
Current discussion of the worth of German culture has been almost hopelessly clouded by the fact that when a German speaks of Kultur he means an entirely different thing from what a Latin or Briton means by culture. Kultur means the organized efficiency of a nation in the broadest sense—its successful achievement in civil and military administration, industry, commerce, finance, and in a quite secondary way in scholarship, letters, and art. Kultur applies to a nation as a whole, implying an enlightened Government to which the individual is strictly subordinated. Thus Kultur is an attribute not of individuals—whose particular interests, on the contrary, must often be sacrificed to it—but of nations.