The German University

(Two addresses delivered at summer courses for Foreign Students at the University of Freiburg, August 15-16, 1934)

Translated by Christian Struck, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

You would like to know what the German university is. Above all, you want to learn how the German university is today.

The best way to answer these questions is to describe the institutions and make-up that comprise the German university. We will take a quick look at the diverse character of individual universities. If we proceed in this manner, we will attain an external view of the German university. Yet in so doing, we will not have grasped its inner essence. And that alone is what is essential.

How then are we supposed to comprehend the inner essence of the German university? The history of the German university will provide us with some preliminary answers; for the history of the German university is the history of the German Geist. And the history of the German Geist is the fate of the German Volk.

Over the course of two short lectures, we cannot trace this history in detail. Nor is this necessary, insofar as the Gestalt of the contemporary German university is still relatively young. It originated 125 years ago, when the University of Berlin was established. Thereafter, existing universities were restructured according to this model, which also became the basis for future universities. (Breslau in the East; Bonn in the West). Hence, the history of the German university is the history of the nineteenth Century.

But for us, history is not only something that is in the past. History is also and expressly what is occurring today – the present. The present, however, derives its meaning from anticipating the future in order to shape it. Contemporary Germany is experiencing a vast transformation that pulsates through the entire historical Dasein of our Volk. We see the beginning of this transformation in the National Socialist Revolution. 

Our discussion is divided into three parts. We will trace:

I. The external organization and construction of the German university.

II. The gestation of the contemporary German university in the nineteenth century.

III. The development of the future German university in the immediate present. 

In today’s session, we will treat parts I and II; tomorrow, we will turn to part III.

I. The external organization and construction of the German university

Each day you enter and leave the university building. You have witnessed the end of the semester and watched the students go about their activities and lives. The students’ work follows a basic sequence. They attend the docents’ lectures. In tutorials and seminars, they work in greater depth on specific questions and tasks related to their respective fields. The tutorials and seminars are divided into classes for beginners and for advanced students. The same is true for the practical work that takes place in scientific institutes and clinics. For the most part, university instruction provides academic training for advanced professions: for judges, physicians, professors, and ministers. These professions are considered “advanced,” insofar as their execution is based on academic [wissenschaftliche] training. “Scientific” means a higher form of knowledge.

At universities, the instructional program is divided into different fields of the equal rank. In keeping with tradition, their order of importance is as follows: the departments of theology, of law, of medicine, of philosophy.

At some universities – as is true for Freiburg – philosophy is subdivided into the department of philosophy proper (the philosophical-historical subfield) and the scientific-mathematical subfields; occasionally, departments of agriculture or forestry are added. Conversely, the training of engineers and architects takes place at so-called polytechnical universities [Technischen Hochschulen].

Each department is directed by a dean. The five deans, together with an equal number of professors, comprise the faculty senate—which, like the university as a whole, reports to the rector. Until this year, both the rector and the deans were elected  annually by the faculty. The general administration is comprised of the university administration and treasury. Each university has its own independent university library.

Instructional periods are divided into a summer semester (May, June, July) and a winter semester (November, December, January, February). Every student who has been accepted for matriculation is enrolled at a department. He is also entitled to attend lectures and tutorials offered by other faculties. Only those with a Reifezeugnis[1] are permitted to study at the university; these credentials are obtained upon passing a final exam that is administered by one of the “higher schools”: GymnasiumRealgymnasiumOberrealschule.

The goal of university study usually is the state exam: a scholarly exam that is administered by a public examining body and required by the state. This exam is a prerequisite for pursuing the vocations of physician, judge, and teacher.

There are specific curricula for each respective field of study. But each student is free to set up his own course of study. The duration of these studies usually spans 8–12 semesters (4–6 years). Since both tuition fees and residence costs in the university city are born by the student himself, he often desires to graduate as soon as possible. Students without means may be eligible for a reduction or a complete waiver of the fees. Owing to war and inflation, traditional endowments for stipendia have almost completely been eliminated.

In addition to the state exam, there is also the possibility of pursuing a doctorate. In this case, the scholarly exam is administered by the departments themselves and entitles one to receive a doctoral degree.

Students are not bound to one university; they can freely transfer from one to another. Owing to this freedom, students from Northern Germany get to know the south; those from Western Germany get to know the East, and vice versa. For similar reasons, students choose a larger university over of a small one; conversely, some move from cities to more restful and idyllic university towns. Professors also change places, since they can be appointed to other universities. Each of the 23 German universities largely is constituted in the same way. They only differ with respect to size. The largest university, the University of Berlin, has about 14,000 students; the smallest, in Rostock, 900; Freiburg has roughly 3,000 students.

Over the last 25 years, the number of students has grown considerably in comparison with former times. Between 1910 and 1930, the numbers of students at the universities rose from about 50,000 to 100,000. The number has doubled, although the number of universities has only grown by three: Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg. From this number, the University of Strasburg must be subtracted, since it was lost after the World War I. One often hears that the educational proficiency of German universities has suffered greatly from the overcrowding that took place after the war. But the opposite is the case. The universities permitted this overcrowding because their inner strength had already been damaged. We will only understand how this came to pass this by turning to the second theme now.

II. The Emergence of the Contemporary German University in the Nineteenth Century

Now we will inquire into the history of the German university, in order to grasp its inner essence, or spirit [Geist], as we say for short. Thereby, we address the orientation or conviction on the basis of which the university undertakes and justifies its task. By »spirit«, we mean the attitude by which the university implements and justifies its task. When we inquire about the university’s history, we disregard questions concerning the genesis of its external arrangements. We may leave such questions aside insofar as many of these institutions date from the Middle Ages. Hence, their capacity to endure is quite strong. Hence also, the following important fact, which one must not overlook in evaluating the university: often, although the external structures remain the same, the spirit has changed. Conversely, the institutions may often change, although the spirit (or the “anti-spirit”[Ungeist]) remains the same. 

We enquire: how and whence at the beginning of the nineteenth century did a new spirit find its way into the new German university? The previous century, the eighteenth, we refer to as the age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. These spiritual currents and political movements derived their power and orientation from the emergence of the modern spirit – Modernity [Neuzeit] – which actively dissociated itself from the Middle Ages. The development of the modern spirit occurs as a transformation of man’s position within the totality of beings [des Ganzen des Seienden]. More specifically, this transformation occurs via man’s liberation from his previous ties. Henceforth, man begins to reflect on his own powers and capacities. This liberation takes place in three principal movements:

1. Separation from the supernatural way of life of the Christian church and from the authority of dogma. Man transposes his actions and his knowledge to his own capacities for calculation [Weltberechnung], for invention, and to discover and conquer foreign lands and continents.

2. Man’s separation from his ties to everything that is life-like, organic, and that grows in nature. The reinterpretation of the totality of nature in terms of what is mechanically calculable, controllable, and machine-like.

3. Man’s separation from Gemeinschaft and from all primordial orders. The self-certain individual man becomes the benchmark and template for the new order [of life]. Gemeinschaft now becomes Gesellschaft, i.e., an association of individuals that is established on the grounds of rational agreement and contract. The state, too, is founded on a contractual basis.

Emancipation and freedom in this multifarious sense become the shibboleths and mantras of the coming centuries.

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, the Germans became many things—but not free. The old Reich [the Holy Roman Empire] had disintegrated as a unified power and dissolved into a rootless and disoriented Kleinstaaterei. Prussia – the only German state that remained grounded in itself – was overthrown by Napoleon and his allies in 1806/07. Nevertheless, despite the political impotence and misery of the Volk, a secret Germany remained alive, as is the case today. From this extreme inner affliction and the pressures of external bondage, a new freedom awakened. That is to say: the essence of freedom was conceived anew, implanted into the knowledge and the will of the Germans.

Three great powers played a role in this development: 1. The new German poetry (Klopstock, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, and the Romantics), 2. The new German philosophy (Kant, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schelling, Hegel), 3. The new German political will of the Prussian statesmen and soldiers (Freiherr von Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, August Neihardt von Gneisenau, and Karl von Clausewitz). Poets and philosophers created a new spiritual world in which the workings of nature and the powers of history could be yoked and thought together as unified in the essence of the Absolute.

Thereby, an awareness arose that faith and knowledge, language and art, poetry and education find their roots and standard in the Volk. It is the natural and historical essence of the Volksgeist, rather than the rules of mere intellect, or the calculations of a free-floating world reason [Weltvernunft], that define the essence of man. Not by chance, during this period the word Volkstum emerged. This new knowledge and will necessarily also extended to the State. The State was no longer conceived of as a blind, one-sided power that, through the actions of a handful of violent individuals, makes everything serviceable. Instead, the State was perceived as an organic system and law through which the Volk attained its unity and its certainty of perdurance.

In this way, among the Germans freedom acquired a new tone and meaning. Freedom meant: submission to the law of the Volksgeist, which emerged in an exemplary manner in the works of the poets, philosophers, and statesmen. Freedom meant an obligatory commitment to the will of the State. Freedom meant responsibility for the fate of the Volk.

This spirit rose up and established the Germans’ historical task. The path to its realization would prove to be a very long and difficult one.

We now ask: How did the new German university develop out of this new spirit of freedom? Freedom means: committing oneself to the law of the Whole [Gesetz des Ganzen]. Such commitment [Bindung] is realized in the knowledge of the whole and its laws, and in the Will to it. Knowledge and Will must be awakened, guided, solidified, and always renewed. That is the meaning and task of education. In the awakening of the new freedom as commitment, there arises an inner demand for new education. Education to knowledge takes place in school. Education to the highest knowledge of the laws and the realms of the Volk’s Dasein is the raison d’être of the highest of schools. In this way, the plan to establish a new university emerged. It had to be situated where, at the time, the knowledge and the will of the new freedom had gathered: in Berlin. The Prussian king appointed Wilhelm von Humboldt as director of the educational system. Despite his brief term in office (five years), in 1810, he instituted the blueprint of the University of Berlin that had been prepared by the philosophers.

Four facts are relevant to understanding the origins of this university:

1. It was a new creation: thus, the new tasks were not simply transposed from the rigid habitudes and directives of an already existing university. The new foundation was not burdened by what was old and outdated. 

2. The main emphasis was not placed on the external organization, but on the appointment and assembly of the most capable men: men who were creative thinkers and exemplary teachers. At the time, W. v. Humboldt explicitly wrote: “One appoints capable men and, thereafter, the new university will take shape, accordingly.”

3. The pacesetter and defining center of the new university was the department of philosophy. Education to knowledge was guided by a comprehensive philosophical orientation which defined the inner coherence of all essential realms of knowledge and the respective methods of instruction.

4. The founding was not considered as a narrowly Prussian affair. Instead, it was explicitly intended to be a model university for catalyzing and creatively developing the German spirit. On these grounds, the State’s influence was expressly restricted. The university’s instructional and pedagogical freedom was predicated on and framed by this larger mission.

The new university was not established in order to advance the practical- technical aspects of professional education; nor for the purpose of transforming instruction and scholarship. Instead, by means of this new construction, the State declared its determination to educate the Volk to its innermost essence, in accordance with its own historical spirit; to bind it to its innermost law and, thereby, to liberate and unite it.

This Will of the State [Staatswillen] created the university as a free educational establishment and accorded it the highest possible vocation.

In this way, a formidable task was set. To what extent was the German university able to realize this task over the course of the nineteenth century? To what extent was it able to uphold this task? To what extent has the State remained faithful to its originary Will?

In the present context, we can only answer these questions in broad outline. With this end in mind, within the overall history of the university in the nineteenth century, we can distinguish two stages. The first stage extends from 1830 to 1860/70. The second stage lasts from Bismarck’s establishment of the Second Empire to World War I. 

During this initial period, the university’s mission developed productively in at least one specific respect: the Geisteswissenschaften were widely and successfully established. Concurrently, in the natural sciences research institutes were founded that produced distinguished scientists and instructors. The historical and natural sciences flourished because their methods of thinking and questioning remained under the influence of the great philosophy of German Idealism. Even though these philosophers’ systems and doctrines had already lost some of their initial influence, their indirect influence persisted. This was true for historical research on the development of language, on the forms of great poetry, and the understanding of organic nature. Scientific inquiry remained guided by philosophical knowledge concerning the totality of what is knowable; hence, its questioning was directed toward the essential correlations and laws in the various fields. ›Science‹ [Wissenschaft] retained the meaning of knowledge that aims at the whole and that, hence, is necessarily philosophical. Consequently, the investigations of the historical and natural sciences still commanded widespread respect. 

Through the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl von Savigny, historical thinking influenced jurisprudence and political science [Staatswissenschaft]. As a result, both fields were forced to vigorously rethink the Volksgeist as well as the development of law [Rechtsbildung] and the State. Savigny showed that law does not derive primarily from a formal understanding of norms and legislation. Instead, like language, it emanates from the Volksgeist of individual peoples [Völker]: from their beliefs and their traditions. With respect to the essence of the State, Savigny showed that political freedom and unfreedom do not depend on the form of the State [Staatsform]. Instead, they are primarily determined by the extent to which State authority [Staatsgewalt] is rooted in the nature and history of the Volk – in contrast with political forms that are consumed in the arbitrariness of individual strongmen or governments.

In natural science, Alexander von Humboldt superseded philosophical speculation, thereby attaining a comprehensive and rich conception of nature. On the cusp between the historical and natural sciences, Karl Ritter initiated the field of comparative geography. The natural sciences, for their part, constructively influenced medicine. In this way, the scientific spirit radiated forth from the two main fields of philosophical study, history, on the one hand, and nature, on the other, and extended their influence to the fields of law and medicine. Nature and history were perceived as significant manifestations of Absolute Spirit, as construed by philosophers. During this period, philosophy was regarded as the center and fundament of the various sciences. Even theology – both in its historical (church history and exegesis) and as well as its speculative subfields (dogmatisms and ethics) – took its bearings from the vital spirit of philosophical study. 

Nevertheless, despite this efflorescence of the sciences, there already existed a hidden peril. The spheres of knowledge became distended and the content of what was knowable became increasingly variegated. Increasingly, researchers were firmly bound to individual domains of study. The relationship between the various spheres of knowledge was disrupted; and within the individual domains, the whole was increasingly ignored. As a result, the vital philosophical drive disappeared from scholarship. The more the sciences individuated themselves, the more emphatically they rejected philosophy. Increasingly, science counted as “science” the more it individuated itself and the more it broke with its philosophical roots. The individuation and uprooting of the sciences were reinforced by the advent of technology and technological thinking. Process and method attained predominance; they were viewed as superior to what could be achieved by method.

Technology promoted industrialization and the formation of the proletariat; it tore the Volk apart into classes and parties.

A primordial and unified binding spiritual power was lacking. Weltanschauung was determined by the “standpoint” that was assumed by individuals, groups, and parties. The primordial meaning of freedom as obligatory commitment to the law of the Volksgeist was perverted into its opposite: intellectual arbitrariness and individual opinion.

The State increasingly regarded the university as a practical-technical training ground for bureaucrats. The individual faculties were turned into functional establishments – in essence, trade schools.

Such was the spiritual state of the German university circa 1870. The subsequent interval, which lasted until World War I, induced within the universities another intensification of their vital efforts. Progress in the sciences [devolved into] an unending series of pointless discoveries; [it was followed by] the growing internationalization of the individual sciences. The latter were transformed into autonomous spheres of cultural value. Research for its own sake, regardless of its object or end, became the guiding principle.

It became increasingly self-evident that the individual sciences subsisted in a state of mutual incomprehension. Literature about various topics and themes became more important than the topics themselves. Similarly, literature soon became a matter for publishers and their business ventures.

The individual university departments were implacably transformed into self-contained professional schools. They took on the character of a large and productive business concern [Betrieb]. The individual sciences increasingly derived their sense of unity from the international congresses of their respective fields, which only exacerbated the overall dispersion. Increasingly, they became removed from the originary unity of knowledge [des Wissens]. The university lost its spiritual integrity [Geschlossenheit]. The various faculties were only held together, externally and ad hoc, by a common administration and by the hollow awareness that they were contributing to the aimless advance of a self-subsistent “culture.” 

However, the university’s most significant error was its belief that it was actually fulfilling the mission that it had been assigned by virtue of its historical origins. Yet, when measured against this mission, the history of the German university during the nineteenth century – the glow of external accomplishment, notwithstanding – is a tale of error and inner decomposition. When measured against the increase and diffusion of scientific themes, the number of discoveries, the quantitative increase of literature, the refinement and certification of methods and research techniques, and the breakthroughs of individual researchers, this development represents an unqualified “advance.” 

What is the measure we must and should employ to evaluate “science”? That is the question that must be decided [der Entscheidung]. It is a question that was authentically posed by a small circle of German Youth immediately prior to the outbreak of the World War. Its outstanding prophet was Friedrich Nietzsche: the last great German philosopher, whose message, even today, has barely been understood.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, genuine philosophizing was decisively and emphatically driven out of science.

By the end of this century – anticipating what was to come – the philosopher stood alone. The ultimate decision concerning the meaning of science and the essence of the university remained premature.

Before it could come about, we had to endure the great hardship of the World War as well as the even greater hardship of the “collapse” that was caused by the Marxist revolt. The afflictions that the Volk endured gradually engendered new necessities. It awakened in the Volk the need for a Führer who could lead the Volk out of its condition of self-loss [Selbstverlierenheit], to its innermost calling and to a new Will to Dasein [Daseinswillen].

Tomorrow, we will address the challenge that the new German Reality poses for our universities – what type of “Will” is at issue here.

III. The Development of the Future German University in the Immediate Present

The immediate present is the time in which we currently stand. What is occurring now is the transformation of German Reality. This transformation means restructuring the future. What is now taking place has been gestating since the World War. We can only understand the development of the future German university once we situate the position and calling of the university in relation to what is now taking place. We will do that in three sections. We will consider:

1. The defining forces that prepared the way for the National Socialist Revolution and the attitude of the university

2. The essence of the National Socialist Revolution as transformation of the German Reality

3. The new task of the German university

Of course, our presentation will have to confine itself to basic outlines. The description of individual events and related circumstances – everything “anecdotal” – must be left out. However, even if time constraints allowed us to delve into such matters, we must resist this urge, since here we are concerned with understanding what is essential. This understanding alone will allow for an adequate view of the so-called facts. 

By the same token, we must also insist on the following: if we attempt to understand the essence of the events that are unfolding before us, this cannot mean that we seek to explain it rationally, i.e., to deduce it from prior causes. History, and especially decisive history, defies causal explanation. It remains a secret [Geheimnis]. And we can only grasp what is secret by deciding for or against it: by contributing to it and acting in unison.

  1. The defining forces that prepared the way for the National Socialist Revolution and the attitude of the university

The genuine preparation for the National Socialist Revolution began, unconsciously, at first, during the World War – even by means of it. At the Front, an entirely new experience emerged. There developed an entirely new idea of Gemeinschaft. The new spirit of the Front bore within itself the strong Will to become effective, after the war, as defining power of the Volk’s Dasein. Thereby, something came to pass that we only fully comprehend and appreciate today. We are accustomed to perceiving and evaluating historical events, such as war, in terms of their apparent consequences. We firmly establish winners and losers. We observe a change in national borders and the like. However, the historical meaning of the enormous event that we call the »World War« transcends, with respect to its causes, questions of guilt and innocence, not to mention questions of imperialism or pacifism.

The real decision does not pertain to determining winners and losers. The real decision is a spiritual one. It concerns the convictions and dispositions of the peoples. The World War is a great test for every Volk to see if it is capable of transforming this event in a spiritual-historical inward sense. The World War is a challenge to all individual peoples to see if, by virtue of this event, they become younger or older.

The emergence of the Frontgeist during the war and its reaffirmation after the war signifies the creative transformation of this event as a formative power of future Dasein.

The Frontgeist is the knowing Will to a new GemeinschaftWhat kind of Gemeinschaft is it? This Gemeinschaft is characterized by camaraderie. It is the belonging-to-one-other in which everyone vouches for everyone else, unconditionally and always. Camaraderie is such readiness. And wherein lies its basis? That each and all recognize the same demands, experience the same hardships, endure the same dangers, i.e., subordinate themselves to the same mission. As the elementary form of Gemeinschaft, camaraderie can only develop by subordinating oneself to the same duties and obligations [aus der Gefolgschaft im Dienst an derselben Verpflichtung]. The conventional and superficial view is that, first, one must form a Gemeinschaft and that “following” [Gefolgschaft] will arise therefrom. No! The opposite is true. Through and in “following,” Gemeinschaft qua camaraderie is first established. “Following” requires: the ability-to-listen and the ability-to-obey [Hören- und Gehorchenkönnen]; it also requires knowing and wanting what is necessary and essential.

Only those who can truly listen and obey can also lead [führen]. Führer is not he who is placed-in-front of others, but he who can even more unconditionally listen and even more decisively obey the law. Führer is he who does more than the others, because he endures more, dares more, and sacrifices more. 

The new spirit of Gemeinschaft as camaraderie carries within itself, as its governing structure, the vital relationship of leading and following [Gefolgschaft und Führerschaft]. 

The Frontgeist became the decisive force in the preparation for the National Socialist Revolution. However, the development and clarification of the Frontgeist does not mean increasing militarism; nor does it mean working towards a new war. The Frontgeist means precisely spiritually conquering war and transforming it creatively.

During the post-war years this new spirit became increasingly vital. It became a necessity owing to the growing fragmentation of the Volk into classes and parties, and the increasing rootlessness and aimlessness of the State. At the same time, the inner development and clarification of the new spirit, as well as its formal implementation, did not take place mechanically as the execution of a program. Instead, it occurred historically, i.e., it entailed numerous casualties, disappointments, and setbacks, many doubts and hardships, in addition to great determination and strong belief. 

And what was the attitude of the university during this period? The simple answer is: it failed to measure up to the new challenges. The various faculties failed to comprehend what was happening; a few individuals grasped this, albeit belatedly. This is an undeniable fact. However, merely to state this fact is not enough. We must ask: why did the university fail, why did it necessarily fail? The answer: because, for decades, its inherent, original spiritual unity was lacking. Thus, it was unable to contribute, as a cohesive spiritual force, to the awakening, anticipatory formation, and inner restructuring of the newly emerging spiritual world. The university in its entirety lacked a clear, comprehensive, and obligatory pedagogical goal. For decades, it lacked a defining ideological standpoint. It was an island-unto-itself. Research was unfocused and teaching was directionless. Both pursuits had become lost in the purely »quantitative«: in the accumulation and dissemination of disjunctive approaches to knowledge. As a result, the university was no longer internally strong enough to defend itself against increasing massification by implementing more rigorous standards and more focused requirements. 

By enumerating the university’s failings, we do not in any way excuse its behavior. Nor is this depiction meant as a personal reproach against individual teachers. It is not intended to denigrate the scientific achievements of individual researchers. Instead, the foregoing account was necessary in order to extract lessons that are decisive for the restructuring the university; hence, the conclusion that merely to ›reform‹ this or that feature of the individual faculties would be futile. By recourse to such piecemeal measures, one will never surmount the current state of things. Instead, everything depends on whether or not the university as a whole can reinstate a primordial, unified spiritual world; on whether it can reawaken the cohesive and enduring force that leads to authentic ›self-affirmation‹ [Selbstbehauptung]. Is this possible? Yes! Why? Because the National Socialist Revolution has transformed German reality in its entirety. Through this transformation a new basis for the entire historical-spiritual Dasein of the Volk has been created. What is the essence of the National Socialist Revolution? We well answer this question in the next section:

2. The essence of the National Socialist Revolution as transformation of the German reality

The essence of the National Socialist Revolution consists in the fact that Adolf Hitler has elevated and implemented the new Spirit of Gemeinschaft as the determinant power of the new order of the Volk. The National Socialist Revolution is not simply the external takeover of an existing State authority by a powerful party, but the inner reeducation of the entire Volk toward the ends of unity and cohesion. The Volk acknowledges the new State insofar as it seeks to realize its innermost mission. The authority [Herrschaft] of the State oversees the responsible implementation of the Führer’s Will [Führerwillen]. The obedient trust of the Volk authorizes this leadership [Führung]. The State is not a mechanical legal apparatus that alongside other institutions such as the economy, the arts, science, and religion. Instead, the State signifies a living order: an order that is governed by trust and responsibility, in and through which the Volk realizes its innermost historical Dasein. 

The Volk is neither an amorphous mass, devoid of direction and will – hence, at the mercy of self-interested oppressors; nor is it the sum of shifting and fickle allegiances to numerous parties and classes who are continually at loggerheads with one other.

How, then, does the Volk acquire its genuine structure and coherence? Insofar as the activities of every individual, every group, and every class are regarded as Work [Arbeit]. Through the new spirit of Gemeinschaft, »Work« acquires for the first time a different and authentic meaning. In contrast with Marxism, the »Worker« is not merely an object of exploitation at the mercy of the ruling class. The estate of Work [Arbeiterstand] is not the class of those who have been expropriated and who are gearing up for universal class war. Work is neither a commodity, nor is it merely the production of goods for others. Nor is Work simply a means and occasion for earning a wage.

Instead, Work is every self-conscious activity that is performed out of Care [Sorge] for the Volk in accordance with the Will of the State. “Work” occurs everywhere that man makes use of his unfettered power of decision in order to implement a responsible Will. Thus, work becomes “Work” by virtue of conviction, disposition, and understanding-of-work [Werkverständnis]; in this way, it becomes something Spiritual [Geistiges]. Work is neither punishment nor toil; it is the prerogative of a man who is free. Consequently, animals are denied the privilege of Work.

We speak of “manual” and »intellectual labor” [Arbeiter der Faust und Arbeiter der Stirn] and of their common bond. This does not mean that someone who creates “spiritually” is being degraded to a “mere” “worker,” since to be a worker is nothing inferior. To characterize the scholar as a »worker« is not merely a fashionable concession to the manual laborer; for the so-called mere worker has no need for such a concession.

Instead, it is by virtue of their respective vocational affiliations [Arbeitskreis] that peasants and craftsmen, miners and engineers, scholars and soldiers, first acquire their own rank and estate [Rang und Stand]. By virtue of its work, every estate is borne and led by Care [Sorge] for the historical vocation of the Volk. This vocation remains a secret. Although the secret remains hidden, the conviction and mood of the Volk in keeping the secret is overt: it is awe [Ehrfurcht]—the Care for the dignity and decisiveness of its essence. As a result of the dignity of the Volk and its preservation, there arises a barrier that separates what can be demanded of a Volk and what cannot.


                               Volk – State     – Dignity –      Knowledge – Scholarship


The new spirit of the German Volk is not an unfocused, domineering and militaristic nationalism, but National Socialism. Socialism, however, does not mean merely a change in economic behavior; it does not mean a sterile egalitarianism and a glorification of those who are inadequate; socialism does not mean the indiscriminate pursuit of the common good. Instead, socialism is Care for the inner structure of the Gemeinschaft of the Volk. Thus, Socialism envisions a hierarchy that is predicated on vocation and deed [Werk]; it seeks dignity for every type of work and inviolable honor for the historical Dasein of the Volk. Now, we are sufficiently prepared to proceed to the last section.

3. The new Task of the University

We have shown how the National Socialist Revolution produces a new German reality. And we claimed only thereby will the university return to solid ground. How? The basic character of the new spiritual-political movement that suffuses the Volk depends on the education and reeducation of the Volk to the Volk by the State. Where the most profound and general education is at stake, should not the initiative come from the highest school? 

Certainly, the university is the locus of scientific education. Science is a preeminent form of knowledge. And science undergoes a decisive renewal when the essence of knowledge is experienced more primordially. And that is the case. As much as the words »work« and »worker« have acquired new resonance and significance, the words »knowledge« [Wissen] and » science« [Wissenschaft] have acquired new meaning.

» Science« is not the possession of a privileged class of citizens, nor should it be abused as a means of struggle in the exploitation of the so-called »working class«. No! Science is merely a more rigorous and more responsible form of knowledge that the entire Volk must demand and seek out in order to obtain truth and permanence for its historical Dasein. 

Knowledge means: to be equal in decision [Entscheidung] and in advancing toward the task to which each is assigned, be it tilling the fields, felling a tree, inquiring about the laws of nature, or elucidating the power of history.

When it comes to knowledge, neither the extent nor the amount is decisive; what counts instead is whether knowledge has developed primordially; whether, in our knowing, we take responsibility for our actions and our behavior. We no longer distinguish between the »educated« and »illiterates« – not because they are same, but because our judgment no longer depends on this distinction. Instead, we distinguish between true knowledge and apparent knowledge. Both the peasant and the craftsman have genuine knowledge in their respective fields, as the scholar does in his area of expertise. Moreover, the scholar, despite all of his erudition, might still only traffic in pseudo-knowledge.

The task of the university is to educate according to the standards of the highest and most rigorous knowledge. To educate to knowledge in this way means to teach [Lehren]. Until now, the assumption has been that teaching should derive from research; however, the arbitrariness of research has made teaching aimless. [The new model should be] not research supplemented by teaching, but teaching and through teaching doing research. Teaching is the more primordial task. Thereby, teaching as education to knowledge acquires a new meaning. Teaching does not mean: the dissemination of arbitrarily acquired random intellectual findings.

Teaching means: letting learn [Lernenlassen]. Teaching means: to thoughtfully approximate what is essential and simple. Teaching means: letting-know [Wissenlassen] what has rank and necessity and what does not. Teaching means: securing knowledge about what is essential. Teaching means: leaving aside what is non-essential. Teaching means: bringing students to a point where they no longer need to remain students.

Only from such teaching can true research develop: i.e., an approach to research that is aware of its limits and its necessary commitments.

This will-to-education reconnects work at the university with its primordial basis. By virtue of this approach to knowledge and this education-to-knowledge [Wissenserziehung], the question concerning how science that has become removed from life can be made worldly again. All new measures and arrangements will be predicated on this will-to-education: for example, the administrative consolidation of the educational system under the Reich Ministry of Education; the consolidation of the various German student organizations and the introduction of obligatory Arbeitsdienst [labor service]; the introduction of new forms of community work [gemeinschaftlichen Arbeit] in the individual departments and in the student aid societies [Kameradschafthaus]. 

We know: none of the tasks that I have mentioned can be performed on demand: neither today, nor tomorrow; perhaps we will realize the new university-of-the-spirit [Hochschule des Geistes] in 50 years.

The series of new events confronting our Volk is fundamentally quite simple. Simplicity, rather than the outlandish and peculiar, is the mark of greatness. Something is “great” if, after it occurs, everyone says that it is truly obvious. The Führer possesses certain knowledge of what is simple. He also possesses the unbreakable will to ensure its implementation. 

Whoever desires to perceive greatness must himself be great; those who are small-minded see only what is small – which, of course, also always exists where greatness occurs, just as one finds shadow only where there is light. 

Education of the Volk to the Volk by the State: that is the meaning of the National Socialist movement, that is the essence of the educational power of the new State [der neuen Staatsbildung]. Education to the highest knowledge is the task of the new university.

By means of this education, the Volk becomes truly self-reliant. Self-reliant Völker are the highest and sole guarantee of peace; self-reliance is committed to the manly respect of others and demands of itself the unconditional honor of the other.

Europe will only save itself from collapse [Untergang] and rise anew if each of its Völker acts out of a spirit of self-reliance and unconditional honor. Gemeinschaft among peoples does not need to be artificially produced by a “league”; instead, it is already there, primordially and enduringly. 

[1] The equivalent to a high-school diploma, A levels, or IB; today’s Abitur.

* Heidegger, „Die deutsche Universität,“ Reden und Andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges, GA 16 (Frankfurt: Klostermann Verlag, 2000), 285-307.


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

By Catharine MacKinnon: Interview: Catharine MacKinnon on Abortion and Misogyny

By Richard Wolin: Introduction to Martin Heidegger’s “The German Student as Worker” and “The German University”*

By Martin Heidegger: The German Student as Worker: Matriculation Ceremony Speech November 25th, 1933

By Martin Heidegger: The German University

By Philip Green: The Alt-Left and Ukraine

By Elizabeth S. Corredor: The Right-Wing Myth of “Gender Ideology”

By Barry McCrea: The Novel in Ireland and the Language Question: Joyce’s Complex Legacy

By Paola Cavalieri: “You’ll Come with Me”: Humans and Animals in Times of War

By Axel Fair-Schulz: The Two Faces of East German Socialism

By Bill Nevins: Poetry Review Column

By Benjamin Shepard: REVIEW ESSAY: On Friendship and Social Movements: AIDS activism and struggles against fascism, global AIDS and harm reduction

By Justin Elghanayan: Review Essay: Thomas de Zengotita’s Postmodern Theory and Progressive Politics: Toward a New Humanism (New York: Palgrave, 2019)

By Bill Nevins: Review: Fintan O’Toole, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland (Liveright /W.W. Norton, 2022)

By Warren Leming: Review: Aaron J. Leonard, The Folk Singers and the Bureau (London: Repeater Books, 2020)

By Michael R. Jackson: Review: John McWhorter, Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America (New York: Forum, 2021)

By Amy Starecheski: Review: Benjamin Heim Shepard’s Sustainable Urbanism and Direct Action: Case Studies in Dialectical Activism (Rowman & Littlefield: 2021)

By Kevin Dan: Review: Benjamin Shepard, Sustainable Urbanism and Direct Action: Case Studies in Dialectical Activism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021)