Historian Friedrich Meinecke



28 February 2004

Friedrich Meinecke was born in October 1862 in the Prussian town of Salzwedel as the son of a post office worker. After studying History and Philosophy in Berlin and Bonn, he obtained his doctorate in 1886. He entered the Prussian archive service in 1887 and submitted his post-doctoral thesis in Berlin in 1896.
From 1893, he was editor, then from 1896 publisher of the Historische Zeitschrift or Historical Magazine. In these times he was developing his interest in the history of ideas. In 1901, he was given a chair in Strasburg, and from 1906 he had a chair in Freiburg.
Meinecke\'s two volume biography of the army reformer von Boyen, appeared in 1896 and 1899. His “The Age of German Liberation”, a study of the Prussian response to the French Revolution, appeared in 1906. The year 1907 saw the publication of one of Meinecke\'s most notable works “Weltburgertum und Nationalstaat. Studien zur Genesis das deutschen Nationalstaats,” or “The middle classes of the world and the national state. Studies on the genesis of the national state” which has appeared in English translations as Cosmopolitanism


and the National State.
Prior to the appointment of Count Bismarck of Chancellor of Prussia in 1862 "the Germanies" had functioned, as a legacy of history, as a loosely structured Confederation of largely individually sovereign states under ancient aristocratic houses with Austria and Prussia being the most prominent of the German states.
In his “Cosmopolitanism and the National State,” Meinecke presents the history of the emergent German state from the Prussian period of reform to the formation of the Second German Empire by Bismarck as a steady development in which he brought to life and personified the concept of a national state.
Meinecke chronicles, and comments favorably on, the emergence of a German national state. Meinecke recognized that there had been a transition from an eighteenth century cultural cosmopolitanism towards a nineteenth century pride in nationality and a conception of the State as a natural expression of nationality. This tendency was not seen by him as being incompatible with an ideal international society.
In 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, which to start with was greeted by him with enthusiasm, Meinecke was awarded a professorial position at Berlin\'s Friedrich Wilhelm University. As late as 1916, in an introduction to a new edition of Ranke\'s Great Powers, Meinecke depicted a situation where it was necessary that England\'s maritime supremacy be broken in order to provide the conditions necessary to a new equilibrium in world


civilization that would feature equality, competition, and exchange.
As the conflict continued Meinecke was one of a minority of professors who supported a negotiated peace and internal reforms. With this, he was continuing his activities which had started in 1910 as a historical-political commentator, together with Friedrich Naumann, Max Weber and Ernst Troelsch, and which supported a renewal of liberalism within a social state. Only in this way could his view for the greater aim of internal unity within the nation be accomplished. This made him support the Weimar democracy in 1918, despite the disgust of his own circle.

In 1924, he published his second important work on intellectual history "Idee der Staatsrason" which explored the concept of reasons of state in modern history, through the examination of the attempts made to reconcile the often competing claims of ethics, power politics, values and causality from Machiavelli up to the present. In this, he disputed the idea of power politics which had been developed from 1848 by the national-liberal political historians and sent a warning against rigorous power politics.
Meinecke taught in Berlin until 1932 when he retired at the age of 69. Something of an outsider, he was academically a supporter of a political intellectual history and had been politically a republican for practical reasons in the Weimar Republic.
In 1934, as a result of the Nazi take-over of power, he lost his position as chair of the Historische Reichskommission, a position he had held since 1928. In


point of fact the entire Historische Reichskommission was disbanded, despite its previously prestigious place in German letters, by order of the Nazi regime who sought to replace it with a Reichinstitut fur Geshichte des