Bibliographic data

Haacke, Ulrich; Schneider, Benno: Geschichtsbuch für die deutsche Jugend, Klasse 7. Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co., 1941, 240–242.

"Belief in Progress"

[p. 240]

V.The Enlightenment as the basis of the age of liberalism

Belief in progress

The treasures of knowledge and free, independent thought and action were not to remain the privilege of a small elite of intellectuals. Everyone considered it their duty to help liberate their fellow man from the bonds of dependence

[p. 241]

and ignorance. State-supported primary schools were introduced, and these fostered a spirit of joy and simplicity. Numerous instructive weekly and monthly periodicals were printed in a style to which ordinary people could relate. The findings of science and philosophy were made accessible to the people in simple but often superficial terms. All of the knowledge of the time was amassed in the famous French Encyclopaedia by Diderot and d’Alembert. The product was a 35-volume work that was translated into all the civilised languages. It was believed that if the “Enlightenment” was disseminated in this way among ever larger sections of the population, mankind would ascend to ever greater heights of perfection. The entirety of human history appeared to be a single upward movement. All previous ages were evaluated as to the extent to which the ideals of the Enlightenment had been realised in them. Any age that deviated from these ideals found no favour with the Enlightenment thinkers. In the Middle Ages, in particular, they saw nothing but darkness and slavery; their own age which had brought things on “to such a splendid height” seemed to them the apex of all the history that had gone before.

Our view of history is quite different. We know no universal human history, but only the history of races and nations, slowly unfolding and steadily growing. We stand in awe of these forces, even if they have occasionally led to forms which we can no longer unconditionally accept. For us, the highest points of history are the times in which the people live out their god-given nature in the purest, most unadulterated and strongest form. We know that this was more often the case in former times than more recent days, when foreign influences [p. 242] made the people betray their true nature (ancient Greek, ancient Roman history). We know that in the Middle Ages, however powerful the forces of foreign domination may have appeared, the German way accomplished immortal deeds.

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