- Not to be confused with Gerhard A. Ritter (born 1929)
Gerhard Georg Bernhard Ritter (6 April 1888 in Bad Sooden-Allendorf – 1 July 1967 in Freiburg) was a nationalist-conservative German historian, who served as a professor of history at the University of Freiburg from 1925 to 1956. He studied under Professor Hermann Oncken. A Lutheran, he first became well known for his 1925 biography of Martin Luther and hagiographic portrayal of Prussia. A member of the German People's Party during the Weimar Republic, he was a lifelong monarchist and remained sympathetic to the political system of the German Empire. A critic of both democracy and totalitarianism, he supported authoritarian rule and German supremacy in Europe.In the early days of Nazi rule of Germany he was financed by Nazi government to work on anti-Polish propaganda. Due to his conflict with Nazis, he was arrested by the Nazi regime in 1944. Following World War II, Professor Ritter worked to restore German nationalism by attempting to separate it from Nazi ideology, and favored pursuit of German national interests rather then reconciliation with victims of German aggression. At the end of his career, he argued against theories of the German historian Fritz Fischer. Ritter was an honorary member of the American Historical Association from 1959.
- 1 Under Empire and Republic
- 2 Under the Nazi regime (1933–1945)
- 2.1 Anti-Nazi sentiments
- 2.2 As national conservative
- 2.3 1936 Biography of Frederick the Great
- 2.4 Acts against the regime
- 2.5 1938 historicism debate with Meinecke
- 2.6 Freiburger Kreis
- 2.7 Advisor to Goerdeler
- 2.8 1940 book re Machiavelli and Utopia
- 2.9 Censored book on the military
- 2.10 Assassination plot
- 3 Themes following World War II
- 4 Role in the Fischer Controversy
- 5 Honored in America
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
Under Empire and Republic[edit | edit source]
Early years[edit | edit source]
Ritter was born in Bad Sooden-Allendorf (now in the federal state of Hesse in central Germany). His father was a Lutheran clergyman. The young Gerhard Ritter was educated at a gymnasium in Gütersloh.
University studies[edit | edit source]
His studies were continued at the universities of Munich, Heidelberg, and Leipzig. Ritter began serving as a teacher starting in 1912. While studying at Heidelberg, Ritter was a research assistant to the national-liberal historian Hermann Oncken, who was a major influence on Ritter. Professor Oncken opposed the Nazis, and was later forced to resign in 1935.
Ritter's first book was published in 1913: Die preussichen Konservativen und Bismarcks deutsche Politik (The Prussian Conservatives and Bismarck's German Policy). It was his PhD dissertation completed in 1911 under the supervision of Oncken. Ritter examined the dispute between Otto von Bismarck and conservative Prussian Junkers during the years 1858-1876. The Junkers felt that Bismarck's policy was a menace to their traditional privileges. A source of special conflict between Bismarck and this social strata concerned the Junker's opposition to Bismarck's compromises with the southern German states, which were seen as a threat to the traditional powers enjoyed by Junkerdom. The theme of the extent of one's allegiance to those who hold power would be a recurring subject in Ritter's oeuvre.
World War I (1914–1918)[edit | edit source]
Ritter fought as an infantryman in the First World War. Ritter was strongly committed to a German victory in the First World War. Notwithstanding, he interpreted the propaganda put out by the Pan-German League as mostly a crude chauvinistic nationalism, which he privately found distasteful.
Contra Weimar Republic[edit | edit source]
Ritter regarded the German defeat of 1918 as a great disaster. Especially so, because Ritter believed that the monarchy had been the best form of government for Germany, and that the Weimar Republic was a grave mistake, for the reason that Germany did not have a tradition of republican government. Ritter subscribed to the 19th-century view of history as a form of political education for the elite, and contemporary politics were always a pressing concern for him.
Marriage and family. Professorships[edit | edit source]
In 1919 Gerhard Ritter married Gertrud Reichardt, with whom he had three children. Ritter worked as a professor at Heidelberg University, (1918–1923), Hamburg University (1923–1925) and Freiburg University (1925–1956). During his time at Heidelberg, Ritter began an official history of the university from the Middle Ages to the present, of which only one volume was ever published.
1925 Biography of Luther[edit | edit source]
In 1925, Ritter published a sympathetic biography of Martin Luther that made his reputation as a historian. In his Luther biography, Ritter treated his subject as an excellent example of the "eternal German". Ritter argued against the view of Luther as an opportunist promoted by Ernst Troeltsch and Max Weber, and instead contended that Luther was a man of faith who possessed the ability to expose what Ritter regarded as grave flaws in the Roman Catholic Church. Ritter argued that Luther inspired his followers to have the self-confidence to improve the world. Ritter's Luther biography was written in large part under the impact of the defeat of 1918, and as such, Ritter went to great lengths to defend what he regarded as the unique German spirit against what Ritter saw as the corrupt materialist spiritual outlook of the West. Throughout his life, Lutheranism was a major influence on Ritter's writings.
In particular, Ritter agreed with Luther's argument that the moral values of Christianity were relevant only to the individual, not the state. Citing Luther, Ritter argued that the state had to hold power, and as part of the messy business of politics, could be guided only by the Christian values of its leaders. Taking up of the ideas of Rudolf Kjelléns and Friedrich Patzel, Ritter argued that the state should be regarded as a living entity, which to live successfully required economic and territorial growth. Using this argument Ritter contended, e.g., that Frederick the Great's invasion of Silesia in 1740 was a necessary act to allow the Prussian state to live, regardless of international laws against aggression.
1931 Biography of Karl vom Stein[edit | edit source]
During the last years of the Weimar Republic, Ritter changed his focus from the medieval-early modern periods to the modern period, and from cultural history to biographies of political figures. During this period, In 1931 Ritter wrote the biography of the Prussian statesmen Karl vom Stein. Ritter's two-volume work portrayed Stein as the total opposite of Bismarck. Ritter argued that Bismarck was the ultimate power politician, and Stein was the ultimate anti-power politician. Ritter argued that Stein's success as a politician was limited by his moralism, but contended that despite his lack of political sense was nonetheless successful because of his strong moral character.
Under the Nazi regime (1933–1945)[edit | edit source]
Anti-Nazi sentiments[edit | edit source]
On 11 February 1933, in a letter to a friend, Ritter described his intentions as:
"I am planning to write two books. One will be entitled 'What is Liberalism?', and will be the attempt to pave the way for the founding of a large national party of the center, a party which we need today more than ever before. The book will contribute to the drafting of a new liberal national program, which will offer political orientation based on historical reflection...The second book is to...shed light on the great crises in the political and intellectual history of Germany, and will thus explain the present state of mind of the German people. This second book will serve two purposes. It will develop a new concept of the history of our nation...and it will help deepen the notion of the idea of German nationality and national consciousness after a time which this idea has in public use become unbearably trivial. New tasks are crowding in upon us. In our era the historian acquires a distinctive national function, an educational function. Certainly, for the time being no one wants to listen to him, because everyone is still running after noisy political agitators. But I am confident that a time will come when everyone will be thoroughly fed up with the din of national phrase-making and will long for a pure drink instead of the inebriating potion administered by the Nazis. The historian has to prepare positions for the reserves...".
Already, at midday on January 30, 1933, in a fateful step, the German President Paul von Hindenburg had confirmed the leader of the Nazi party as the new German chancellor, to lead for a time a minority government. While being critical of Nazis he supported their annexation of Austria praising as boldest and most felicitous foreign policy feat of our new government 
As national conservative[edit | edit source]
Ritter was a staunch German nationalist who belonged to a political movement generally known to historians as National conservatism. Ritter identified with the idea of an authoritarian government in Germany that would make his country Europe's foremost power. In an article published in early 1933 entitled "Eternal Right and Interests of the State", Ritter argued that the German people needed most was a government "in which a strong authoritarian leadership will gain voluntary popular allegiance because it is willing to respect eternal justice as well as freedom". Despite severe doubts about the Nazis, initially Ritter reconciled himself to approving of the Nazi regime and its foreign policy, but he broke with the Nazis over the persecution of the churches.
In addition, as someone who believed in a Rechtsstaat (Law State), Ritter was opposed to the lawless ways of Nazi Germany. In 1935, Ritter attempted to defend his mentor, Hermann Oncken against attacks by the Nazis who objected to a paper by Oncken which implied the Nazi revolution was not the greatest revolution of all time.
1936 Biography of Frederick the Great[edit | edit source]
Ritter's 1936 biography of Frederick the Great has been described by the American military historian Peter Paret as one of the finest military biographies ever written. Ritter's emphasis on Frederick's limited war aims, and his willingness to settle for less than he initially sought was seen at the time as a form of oblique criticism of Adolf Hitler. In addition, the emphasis that Ritter placed on the influence of the Enlightenment and "orderly reason" on Fredrick were intended by Ritter to quietly disprove Hitler's claim to be Frederick's successor. The inspiration behind the Fredrick biography was Ritter's personal reaction to the Day of Potsdam of 22 March 1933 where Hitler had laid claim to the Prussian traditions in a way that Ritter felt was not historically accurate.
In March 1936, upon witnessing the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, Ritter wrote in a letter to his mother that for his children "who had never seen German soldiers from close up, this is one of the greatest experiences ever...Truly a great and magnificent experience. May God grant that it does not lead to some international catastrophe".
Acts against the regime[edit | edit source]
Ritter was a devout Lutheran. He became a member of the Confessing Church, a group of dissenting Lutherans who resisted the Nazi inspired and Nazi imposed "Aryan Christianity" in the 1930s.
In 1938, Ritter was the only faculty member at Freiburg to attend the funeral of Edmund Husserl, considered the founder of the modern philosophical school of phenomenology. Professor Husserl had been on the faculty at the University of Freiburg until the Nazis in 1933 caused him to be dismissed because of his Jewish origins. Husserl was then also prevented from publishing his works. Ritter's presence at the funeral of Husserl was widely interpreted at the time (and since) as an act of quiet courage and political protest against the Nazi regime. After the Kristallnacht pogrom, Ritter wrote in a letter to his mother: "What we have experienced over the last two weeks all over the country is the most shameful and most dreadful thing that has happened for a long time".
1938 historicism debate with Meinecke[edit | edit source]
In 1938, Ritter became involved in a major debate with Friedrich Meinecke over "Historism". Meinecke argued in favor of the idea of celebrating the "valuable individual quality" of all the phenomenon of history, which was judged not by universal standards, but only in regard to its own values. Ritter attacked this position, arguing that without universal notions of values of good and evil and judging all historical phenomenon by its own standards was to abandon all ideas of morality applicable to all times and places.
Freiburger Kreis[edit | edit source]
After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, Ritter became a founding member of the Freiburger Kreis (Freiburg Circle), a discussion group of anti-Nazi professors which included Adolf Lampe, Constantin von Dietze, Franz Böhm and Walter Eucken.
Advisor to Goerdeler[edit | edit source]
Later, Ritter worked as an advisor to the German conservative politician Carl Goerdeler. Together they considered a future constitution after the overthrow of the Nazis (see below "Assassination plot").
1940 book re Machiavelli and Utopia[edit | edit source]
In 1940, Ritter published Machtstaat und Utopie (National Power and Utopia). In this book, Ritter argued that democracy was a luxury that only militarily-secure states could afford. Ritter argued that because Great Britain was an island, this provided a degree of security that allows democracy. By contrast, Ritter argued that Germany with its location in Central Europe needed an authoritarian government as the only way of maintaining security.
Here Ritter contrasted the utopianism of Sir Thomas More versus the realism of Niccolò Machiavelli. Ritter declares that Germany had to follow the realism of Machiavelli because of the security requirements of its geographic position. Ritter describes two sorts of values as generated by two different types of polities: one traditionally Anglo-Saxon and the other continental, as personified by More and Machiavelli. Ritter praised Machiavelli as the ideal thinker who understood the "paradox of power"; namely, state power to be effective always involves the use of, or threat of, violence. Accordingly, society could not function without an armed police power to hold it together (and a military against foreign threats). Ritter criticized More for refusing to acknowledge this paradox of power; instead More seems to pretend that morality could function in politics without the threat of and/or use of violence.
Ritter presents traditional Anglo-Saxon thinking about power, which depends on an ineffective legalism, as inferior to continental thinking, based on an understanding of the ultimate necessity of some form of violence. The historian Gregory Weeks commented that it is hard to tell how much of Machstaat und Utopie was material inserted to allow the book to be passed by the censors, and how much was the expression of Ritter's own beliefs. Weeks has argued that if Ritter was no Nazi, certainly he was a German nationalist who wished to see Germany as the world's great power.
Ritter appeared to disavow part of his original work of 1940 by the addition of a footnote to the third edition of Machstaat und Utopie published in 1943. There Ritter praised More for his understanding of "the demoniacal forces of power" against which More had appealed to the strength of Christian morality; hence, More rightly did not reduce all politics to a "friend-foe" mentality. The historian Klaus Schwable observes that Ritter's disapproval of the term "friend-foe" was a not-so-veiled criticism of Carl Schmitt, who had popularized the term a decade before (Schmitt had supported the Nazi regime). Thus Ritter's criticism indirectly pointed at such Nazi "forces of power".
Censored book on the military[edit | edit source]
During World War II, Ritter became involved in work on a study of civilian-military relations in Germany from the 18th century to the 20th century. The original intent behind this work was to offer a critique of the "total war" philosophy of General Erich Ludendorff as a form of indirect protest against the Third Reich. Censorship prevented the book from being published during the war, and after 1945, Ritter revised his work to publish it as a four volume study of German militarism.
Assassination plot[edit | edit source]
Ritter was involved in the 1944 plot to kill the Nazi leader. He was one of the few conspirators not liquidated by the Nazis. His friend and political associate, Carl Goerdeler, was slated to become the new Chancellor under a post-Nazi regime—if the plot had succeeded. Goerdeler was executed by the Nazis in 1945. Ritter, who also belonged to the conservative opposition to the Nazis, was imprisoned during 1944-1945.
Themes following World War II[edit | edit source]
Source of Nazi evils[edit | edit source]
Two major themes of Ritter's writings after 1945 were attempts to prove that the Bismarckian tradition in German life had nothing to do with National Socialism and it was democracy of the masses rather aristocratic conservatism which caused the Nazi movement. After World War II, Ritter wrote the book Europa und die deutsche Frage (Europe and the German Question), which denied that the Third Reich was the inevitable product of German history, but was rather in Ritter's view part of a general Europe-wide drift towards totalitarianism that had been going on since the French Revolution, and as such, Germans should not be singled out for criticism.
In Ritter's opinion, the origins of National Socialism went back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's concept of the volonté générale (general will) and the Jacobins. Ritter argued that "National Socialism is not an originally German growth, but the German form of a European phenomenon: the one-party or Führer state", which was the result of "modern industrial society with its uniform mass humanity". Along the same lines, Ritter wrote "not any event in German history, but the great French Revolution undermined the firm foundation of Europe's political traditions. It also coined the new concepts and slogans with whose help the modern state of the Volk and the Führer justifies its existence". Ritter argued that throughout the 19th century, there been worrisome signs in Germany and the rest of Europe caused by the entry of masses into politics, but that it was World War I that marked the decisive turning point.
According to Ritter, World War I had caused a general collapse in moral values throughout the West, and it was this moral degeneration that led to the decline of Christianity, the rise of materialism, political corruption, the eclipse of civilization by barbarism, and demagogic politics that in turn led to National Socialism. In Ritter's view, the problem with the Weimar Republic was not that it lacked democracy, but rather had too much democracy. Ritter argued that the democratic republic left the German state open to being hijacked by the appeals of rabble-rousing extremists. In Ritter's view, had his much beloved German Empire continued after 1918, there would have been no Nazi Germany. Ritter argued democracy was the essential precondition of totalitarianism because it created the window of opportunity for a strongman to make himself the personification of the "popular will", leading Ritter to conclude that "the system of 'totalitarian' dictatorship as such is not a specifically German phenomenon" but rather was the natural result of when "the direct rule of the people derived from the 'revolt of the masses' is introduced". Ritter argued that the precursors of Hitler were "neither Frederick the Great, Bismarck nor Wilhelm II, but the demagogues and Caesars of modern history from Danton to Lenin to Mussolini".
Rescue of German nationalism[edit | edit source]
Ritter saw his main task after 1945 of seeking to restore German nationalism against what he regarded as unjust slurs. Ritter argued that Germans needed a positive view of their past, but warned against the appeal of "false concepts of honor and national power". He belonged to group of German historians who rejected reconciliation with victim of Nazi German aggression in favor of Germany pursuing national interests. Ritter argued that Germans needed a positive view of their past, but warned against the appeal of "false concepts of honor and national power". He railed against the fact that the United States and Great Britain had confiscated German archives at the end of World War II and had begun to publish a critical edition of German foreign policy records without the participation of German historians. He used his official position as the first postwar head of the German Historical Association to demand the return of the records and held the opinion that their absence hurt his own research projects the most. In his treatment of the German Resistance, Ritter drew a sharp line between those who worked with foreign powers to defeat Hitler, and those like Goerdeler which sought to overthrow the Nazis while working for Germany. For Ritter, Goerdeler was a patriot while the men and women of the Rote Kapelle spy network were traitors. Ritter wrote that those involved in the Rote Kapelle were not part of the "German Resistance, but stood in the service of the enemy abroad", and fully deserved to be executed.
Ecumenical progression[edit | edit source]
Besides defending German nationalism, Ritter became active in the ecumenical movement after 1945, and urged conservative Catholics and Protestants to come together in the Christian Democratic Union, arguing that based on his experience in the Third Reich, Christians regardless of their church needed to work together against totalitarianism.
During the war, as a result of his underground work, Ritter came to know a number of Catholic and Calvinist members of the German opposition, which caused Ritter to abandon his former prejudices against Calvinists and Catholics. Ritter came to the conclusion that whatever differences divided Lutherans, Catholics and Calvinists, member of three churches had more in common, to unite them against the Nazis.
1954 Biography of Goerdeler[edit | edit source]
In 1954, Ritter published an acclaimed biography of Carl Goerdeler, a close friend, a conservative politician who was executed by the Nazis in 1945. Goerdeler was a devout Lutheran, and himself the son of a conservative Prussian politician. Ritter pushed for the translation of his Goerdeler biography into English to counter the publication of John W. Wheeler-Bennett's book Nemesis of Power which, in his view, vilified the German resistance.
German militarism[edit | edit source]
Ritter specialized in German political, military, and cultural history. Ritter always drew a sharp distinction between what he regarded as the Machtpolitik (power politics) of Bismarck where military policy was subjected to carefully limited political goals and the endless expansionism motivated by militarism and bizarre racial theories of the Nazis.
Ritter was well known for his assertions denying that there was a uniquely aggressive German version of militarism. For Ritter, militarism was the "one-sided determination of political decisions on the basis of technical military considerations", and foreign expansionism, and had nothing to do with values of a society. In a paper presented to the German Historical Convention in 1953 entitled "The Problem of Militarism in Germany", Ritter argued traditional Prussian leaders such as Frederick the Great were a Machtpolitiker (power politician), not a militarist since in Ritter's view, Frederick was opposed to "...the ruthless sacrifice of all life to the purposes of war" and instead was interested in creating "...a lasting order of laws and peace, to further general welfare, and to moderate the conflict of interests".
Ritter maintained that militarism first appeared during the French Revolution, when the revolutionary French state, later to be followed by Napoleon's regime, began the total moblization of society to seek "the total destruction of the enemy". Likewise, Ritter contended that Otto von Bismarck was a Kabinettspolitker (Cabinet politician), not a militarist who ensured that political considerations were always placed ahead of military considerations. Ritter was to expand on these views in a four volume study Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk (translated into English as The Sword and the Scepter) published between 1954–1968, in which Ritter examined the development of militarism in Germany between 1890–1918.
In Ritter's view, only following Bismarck's sacking in 1890 did militarism first appear in Germany. In Volume 2 of Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk, Ritter commented that Accordingly, a review of the first years of the 20th century was "not without a sense of psychological shock", commented Ritter in . Ritter wrote that "the prewar Germany of my own youth, which has for an entire lifetime been illuminated in my memory by the radiant splendor of a sun that seemed to grow dark only after the outbreak of the war of 1914" was "in the evening of my life" darkened by "shadows that were much deeper than my generation-and certainly the generation of my academic teachers-was able to perceive at the time".
For Ritter, it was the radicalizing experience of the First World War that had finally led to the triumph of militarism in Germany, especially after 1916 when Erich Ludendorff established his "silent dictatorship", which in Ritter's view was a huge break with Prussian-German traditions. It was the unhappy results of that war which finally led to the "proletarian nationalism" of the Nazis gaining a mass audience, and led to the "...militarism of the National Socialist mass movement" coming to power. Moreover, Ritter placed great emphasis on the "Hitler factor" as an explanation for Nazi Germany. In 1962, Ritter wrote that he found it "almost unbearable" that the "will of a single madman" had unnecessarily caused World War II.
Critical views on German history[edit | edit source]
Through many regarded Ritter's work as an apologia for German nationalism and conservatism, Ritter was at times critical of aspects of the German past. Through Ritter commented that many nations had bent their knees in submission to false values, that "the Germans accepted all of that with special ardor when it was now preached to them by National Socialism, and their nationalism had in general displayed from its beginning a particularly intense, combative quality".
At the first meeting of German historians in 1949, Ritter delivered a speech that declared:
"We constantly run the risk not only of being condemned by the world as nationalists, but actually being misused as expert witnesses by all those circles and tendencies that, in their impatient and blind nationalism, have shut their ears to the teachings of the most recent past. Never was our political responsibility greater, not only to Germany, but also to Europe and the world. And yet never has our path been so dangerously narrow between Scylla and Charybdis as today".
In 1953, Ritter found a copy of the "Great Memorandum" relating to German military planning written by General Alfred Graf von Schlieffen in 1905. The following year, Ritter published the "Great Memorandum" together with his observations about the Schlieffen Plan as Der Schlieffen-Plan: Kritik Eines Mythos (The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth).
Role in the Fischer Controversy[edit | edit source]
The issue: break or continuity?[edit | edit source]
In his last years, Ritter emerged as the leading critic of the left-wing historian Fritz Fischer, who claimed that there were powerful lines of continuity between the Second Reich and the Third Reich and that it was Germany that caused World War I. During the ferocious "Fischer Controversy" that engulfed the West German historical profession in the 1960s, Ritter was the best known of Fischer's critics. Ritter fiercely rejected Fischer's arguments that Germany was primarily responsible for the outbreak of war in 1914. The later volumes of Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk were taken up with the goal of rebutting Fischer's arguments. Ritter claimed that Germany did not start a war of aggression in 1914, but did allow that the situation of the German government had required a foreign policy that contained the immediate risk of war. Counter to Fischer's thesis, Ritter maintained that the Chancellor Dr. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg resisted the demands by General Ludendorff for wide-ranging annexations as a war aim.
Ritter's points against Fischer[edit | edit source]
As part of his critique of Fischer, Ritter contended that Germany's principal goal in 1914 was to maintain Austria-Hungary as a great power, and thus German foreign policy was largely defensive as opposed to Fischer's claim that it was mostly aggressive. Ritter claimed that the significance that Fischer attached to the highly bellicose advice about waging a "preventive war" in the Balkans offered in July 1914 to the Chief of Cabinet of the Austro-Hungarian foreign ministry, Count Alexander Hoyos by the German journalist Viktor Naumann was unwarranted. Ritter charged that Naumann was speaking as a private individual, and not as Fischer claimed on behalf of the German government.
Likewise, Ritter felt that Fischer had been dishonest in his portrayal of Austro-German relations in July 1914. Ritter charged that it was not true that Germany had pressured a reluctant Austria-Hungary into attacking Serbia. Ritter argued (ironically against Fischer) that the main impetus for war within Austria-Hungary came from domestic politics, that it was internally driven. Though there were divisions of opinion about the best course to pursue in Vienna and Budapest, it was not German pressure that led Austria-Hungary to choose war as the best option.
In Ritter's opinion, Germany can be criticized for its mistaken evaluation of the state of European power politics in July 1914. According to Ritter the German government had underrated the state of military readiness in Russia and France, falsely assumed that British foreign policy was more pacific than what it really was, overrated the sense of moral outrage caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on European opinion, and above all, overestimated the military power and political common sense of Austria-Hungary. Ritter felt that in retrospect it was not necessary from the German point of view to maintain Austria-Hungary as a great power, but claimed that at the time, most Germans regarded the Dual Monarchy as a "brother empire", and viewed the prospect of the Balkans being in the Russian sphere of influence as an unacceptable threat. As opposed to Fischer's claim that Germany was deliberately setting off a war of aggression, Ritter argued that Germany's support for Austria-Hungary's retributive plan to invade Serbia was an ad hoc response to the crisis gripping Europe.
Ritter accused Fischer of manufacturing the quote he attributed to the German general Moltke, Chief of the General Staff, during a meeting with the Austro-Hungarian War Minister, Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorf, about the necessity of a "speedy attack" on Serbia. Ritter claimed the importance that Fischer attached to the report of the German Army's Quartermaster that the Army was "ready" for war in 1914 was simply mistaken, since the Quartermaster always reported every year that the Army was "ready" for war. Likewise, in reference to the order by Dr. Bethmann Hollweg to Count Roedern, the State Secretary for Alsace-Lorraine, to put a stop to Francophobic remarks in the German-language press in Alsace, Ritter claimed it was proof of Germany's desire not to have a wider war in 1914; Ritter accordingly claimed also that Fischer's contrary interpretation of Dr. Bethmann Hollweg's order was not supported by the facts.
Contrary to Fisher's interpretation, Ritter maintained that Bethmann Hollweg's warnings to Vienna were meant to stop a war, and were not window dressing intended to distract historical attention from German responsibility for the war. Ritter claimed that Fisher's interpretation of Bethmann Hollweg's meeting with the British Ambassador Sir Edward Goschen was mistaken since in Ritter's opinion, if Bethmann Hollweg was serious about securing British neutrality it made no sense for expressing the imperialistic war aims to Goschen that Fischer attibutes to him. Ritter strongly disagreed with Fischer's interpretation of the meeting of Moltke, Bethmann Hollweg, and General Erich von Falkenhayn (the Prussian War Minister) on 30 July 1914. Rather than a conscious decision to wage an aggressive war as Fischer argued, Ritter's claim was that news of Russia's mobilization led the German generals into persuading a reluctant Bethmann Hollweg to activate the Schlieffen Plan.
Ritter was strongly critical of what he regarded as Fischer's "biased" view of Moltke's reaction to the outbreak of the war, and argued that Moltke's opposition to the sudden last minute suggestion of Wilhelm II that the German attack on France be cancelled was due to logistical concerns rather than a desire to provoke a world war. Finally, Ritter faults Fischer for his reliance on the memories of Austro-Hungarian leaders such as the Count István Tisza and Count Ottokar Czernin, who sought to shift all of the responsibility for the war onto Germany.
Ritter argued there were no lines of continuity between the Second and Third Reichs and considered the Sonderweg view of German history a myth. Ritter clearly denied Fischer's arguments that both world wars were "wars for hegemony" on Germany's part. In 1964, Ritter successfully lobbied the West German Foreign Ministry to cancel the travel funds that had been allocated for Fischer to visit the United States; in Ritter's opinion, giving Fischer a chance to express his "anti-German" views would be a "national tragedy", and it was the best that Fischer not be allowed to have the government funds for his trip to America. Writing in 1962, Ritter stated he felt profound "sadness" over the prospect that Germans may not be as patriotic as a result of Fischer.
The variety of outcomes[edit | edit source]
The outcome of the Fischer Controversy, and of Ritter's role in it, depends perhaps on one's point of view. For his supporters, Ritter demolished Fischer's house of cards. For others, the challengers created far more heat than light, which signalled the accuracy of Fischer's aim. One unreferenced source redacted here offers the opinion that "Despite his numerous books and leading position after World War II, Ritter is almost forgotten in German historiography today, while Fischer's works inspired a new generation of younger German historians."
A history book on Imperial Germany by Hans-Ulrich Wehler published in 1973 holds that as a result of Fischer's theories, "two opposing schools of thought" have formed. The first agrees with Fischer. The second, while admitting Fischer shows much political talk in high circles that sounds quite war-like, yet holds that Fischer fails to find the actual political decisions and military actions that he claims.
Professor Wolfgang Mommsen (1930-2004) was a German historian of Britain and Germany during the 19th/20th centuries. His 1990 work credits Fischer's work in part—for opening up the discussion. Yet Mommsen characterizes Fischer's "central notion of Germany's will to power" circa 1911 to 1915, as being seriously flawed, as here Fischer "has allowed himself to be carried away". The nature of his methodology worked to obscure his perspective and, further, Fischer's conclusions displayed a neglect of the historical context. That is, Fischer blames Germany alone for a Social Darwinism that was then European-wide.
Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian, served as a professor at Oxford University, and currently at Harvard University. In his 1998 work on World War I entitled The Pity of War, Ferguson reviews Fischer's claims about German objectives in a European war.
"Yet there is a fundamental flaw in Fischer's reasoning which too many historians have let pass. It is the assumption that Germany's aims as stated after the war had begun were the same as German aims beforehand." Professor Ferguson then recites how a September 1914 program of German aims "is sometimes portrayed as if it were the first open statement of aims which had existed before the outbreak of war. ... But the inescapable fact is that no evidence has ever been found by Fischer and his pupils that these objectives existed before Britain's entry into the war. ... All that Fischer can produce are the pre-war pipedreams of a few Pan-Germans and businessmen, none of which had any official status, as well as the occasional bellicose utterances of the Kaiser... ."
Ferguson also criticizes Fischer for seizing on the notion that rightist office holders in Germany used an aggressive foreign policy in order to gain domestic political advantage over the German left. Such misuse of foreign policy, Ferguson notes, "was hardly the invention of the German Right," in effect repeating the charge made by Mommsen (see above) that Fischer neglected the historical context. In fact, rightist office holders in Germany were articulate and aware that a European war could lead to the ascendancy of the left, whether the war was won or lost.
Honored in America[edit | edit source]
In 1959, Ritter was elected an honorary member of the American Historical Association in recognition of what the A.H.A described as Ritter's struggle with totalitarianism. Ritter was the fifth German historian to be so honored by the A.H.A. Ritter, one of the last historians of the traditional German Idealist school, considered history as an art. He concerned himself with an imaginative identification with his subjects, focused on the great men of the times studied, and was primarily concerned with political and military events.
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
- Die preussischen Konservativen und Bismarcks deutsche Politik, 1858 bis 1876, 1913.
- Luther: Gestalt und Symbol, 1925.
- Stein: eine politische Biographie, 1931.
- Friedrich der Grosse, 1936.
- Machstaat und Utopie: vom Streit um die Dämonie der Macht seit Machiavelli und Morus, 1940, revised as Die Dämonie der Macht: Betrachtungen über Geschichte und Wesen des Machtproblems im politischen Denken der Neuzeit, 1947.
- Europa und die Deutsche Frage: Betrachtungen über die geschichtliche Eigenart des Deutschen Staatsdenkens, 1948.
- Die Neugestaltung Deutschlands und Europas im 16. Jahrhundert., 1950
- Karl Goerdeler und die Deutsche Widerstandsbewegung, 1954.
- Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: das Problem des "Militarismus" in Deutschland, 4 volumes, 1954-1968.
- Der Schlieffenplan: Kritik eines Mythos, 1956.
- "Eine neue Kriegsschuldthese?" pages 657-668 from Historische Zeitschrift, Volume 194, June 1962, translated into English as "Anti-Fischer: A New War-Guilt Thesis?" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War One: : Causes and Responsibilities, edited by Holger Herwig, Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century (California World History Library) Sebastian Conrad page 128
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 85.
- Weeks, Gregory (1999). "Ritter, Gerhard A." In Kelly Boyd, ed., The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, p. 996.
- Schwabe, Klaus (1994)."Gerhard Ritter." In Hartmut Lehmann, ed., Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute, p. 84.
- Weeks, Gregory (1999). "Ritter, Gerhard A." In Kelly Boyd, ed., The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, p. 997.
- Levine, Norman (1991). "Ritter, Gerhard" pages 304-306 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucan Boia, New York: Greenwood Press, 1991, page 305.
- Schwabe, Klaus (1994)."Gerhard Ritter." In Hartmut Lehmann, ed., Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute, p. 86.
- Levine, Norman "Ritter, Gerhard" pages 304-306 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucan Boia, New York: Greenwood Press, 1991, page 305.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 83.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster 1960) at 187.
- Universities Under Dictatorship edited by John Connelly, Michael Grüttner page 97
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 88.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 91.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 95.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 pages 94-95.
- Stern, Fritz Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History, Yale: Yale University Press, 1999 page 176
- Friedländer, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews, New York: Harper Collins, 1997 page 54.
- Friedländer, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews, New York: Harper Collins, 1997 page 297.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 pages 91-92.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 93.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 99.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 pages 99-100.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 100.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 101.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 97.
- Weeks, Gregory "Ritter, Gerhard A." pages 996-998 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 2 page 998.
- Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 7; Hamerow, Theodore S. "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History" pages 53-72 from The American Historical Review, Volume 88, February 1983 pages 62-63
- Hamerow, Theodore S. "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History" pages 53-72 from The American Historical Review, Volume 88, February 1983 page 62.
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 page 258.
- Hamerow, Theodore S. "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History" pages 53-72 from The American Historical Review, Volume 88, February 1983 page 63.
- Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 page 7
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 page 254.
- The German Problem Transformed: Institutions, Politics, and Foreign Policy, 1945-1995 Thomas F. Banchoff University of Michigan Press, 1999 page 82
- Astrid M. Eckert, The Struggle for the Files. The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 293, 312-315, 381. ISBN 978-0521880183
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 pages 258-259.
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 page 259.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 90.
- Schwabe, Klaus "Gerhard Ritter" pages 83-103 from Paths of Continuity Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute, 1994 page 89.
- Astrid M. Eckert, The Struggle for the Files. The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, Feb. 2012), p. 381. ISBN 978-0521880183
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 page 255.
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 page 256.
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 pages 255-256.
- Iggers, Georg The German Conception of History, Middletown: Connecticut; Wesleyan University Press, 1968 pages 255-257.
- Hamerow, Theodore S. "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History" pages 53-72 from The American Historical Review, Volume 88, February 1983 page 64.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 135.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 pages 135-136.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 136.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 pages 136-137.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 137.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 138.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 pages 138-139.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 139.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 pages 139-140.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 140.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 pages 140-141.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 141.
- Ritter, Gerhard "Anti-Fischer" pages 135-142 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 142.
- Herwig, Holger "Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany" pages 153-159 from The Outbreak of World War I edited by Holger Herwig, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997 page 158.
- A "venomous, nationalistic tone" was "adopted by most of [Fischer's] critics". Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Das Deutsche Kaiserreich (Gőttingen: Verlages Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht 1973), translated as The German Empire 1871-1918 (Providence: Berg 1985) at 193.
- Wehler, The German Empire 1871-1918 (1973; translation 1985) at 196.
- Wolfgang J. Mommsen, Der autoritäre Nationalstaat (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch 1990), translated as Imperial Germany 1867-1918. Politics, culture, and society in an authoritarian state (London: Arnold 1995) at 168-171.
- Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War. Explaining World War I (Harmondsworth: Allen Lane 1998; reprint 1999, Basic Books, New York) at 171-172.
- Ferguson, The Pity of War (1998, 1999) at 27-28; 28, 172.
- Levine, Norman "Ritter, Gerhard" pages 304-306 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucan Boia, New York: Greenwood Press, 1991, pages 305-306.
References[edit | edit source]
- Dorpalen, Andreas "Gerhard Ritter" from Deutsche Historiker, edited by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973.
- Dorpalen, Andreas "Historiography as History: The Work of Gerhard Ritter" pages 1–18 from the Journal of Modern History, Volume 34, 1962.
- Hamerow, Theodore S. "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History" pages 53–72 from The American Historical Review, Volume 88, February 1983.
- Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000, ISBN 0-340-76928-9.
- Jäckel, Eberhard "Gerhard Ritter, Historiker in seiner Zeit" pages 705-715 from Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, Volume 16, 1967.
- Lehmann, Hartmut & Melton, James Van Horn (editors) Paths of Continuity : Central European Historiography from the 1930s to the 1950s, Washington, D.C. : German Historical Institute ; Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1994 ISBN 0-521-45199-X.
- Levine, Norman "Gerhard Ritter's Weltanschauung" pages 209-227 from Review of Politics, Volume 30, 1968.
- Levine, Norman "Ritter, Gerhard" pages 304-306 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucian Boia, Westport, C.T.: Greenwood Press, 1991 ISBN 0-313-27328-6.
- Maehl, William "Gerhard Ritter" from Historians of Modern Europe edited by Hans Schmitt, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971 ISBN 0-8071-0836-7.
- Wolfgang Mommsen, Der autoritäre Nationalstaat (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch 1990), translated as Imperial Germany 1867-1918. Politics, culture, and society in an authoritarian state (London: Arnold 1995).
- Moyn, Samuel, “The First Historian of Human Rights,” American Historical Review 116:1 (2011), 58-79 [critical assessment of Ritter’s writings on the history of human rights in the 1940s and the field of human rights history].
- Mruck, Armin: Review of Carl Goerdeler und die deutsche Widerstandsbewegung pages 268-269 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 30, Issue # 3, September 1958
- Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Das Deutsche Kaiserreich (Gőttingen: Verlages Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht 1973), translated as The German Empire 1871-1918 (Providence: Berg 1985).
- Ulrich Bayer: Gerhard Ritter (1888-1967). In: Johannes Ehmann (Hrsg.): Lebensbilder aus der evangelischen Kirche in Baden im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Band II: Kirchenpolitische Richtungen. Verlag Regionalkultur, Heidelberg u.a. 2010, S. 391-415, ISBN 978-3-89735-510-1.
- Christoph Cornelißen: Gerhard Ritter. Geschichtswissenschaft und Politik im 20. Jahrhundert. Droste, Düsseldorf 2001, ISBN 3-7700-1612-2.
- Christoph Cornelißen (2003). "" (in de). Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. pp. 658–660none , (full text online)
- Bautz, Traugott, ed (1994). "Gerhard Ritter" (in German). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). 8. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 412–414. ISBN 3-88309-053-0. http://www.bbkl.de/r/ritter_g.shtml.
- Michael Matthiesen: Verlorene Identität. Der Historiker Arnold Berney und seine Freiburger Kollegen 1923 - 1938. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001 ISBN 3-525-36233-1 (Ritter als Unterstützer des ab 1933 als Jude verfolgten Prof. Berney).
- Zur Kritik an Gerhard Ritters politisch-philosophischer Position siehe: 1) Johan Huizinga, In de schaduwen van morgen, Kap. 14 (deutsch: Im Schatten von morgen, in: Ders.: Schriften zur Zeitkritik, Pantheon-Verlag 1948); 2) Julius Ebbinghaus, Philosophie der Freiheit, Bonn 1988, S. 11 ff.
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