There was once a large, beautiful, but not very rich country, and the people who lived there were good, strong, humble, and satisfied with their lot. There was not much wealth and extravagant living to be found there, nor much elegance and splendor. At times the richer neighboring countries regarded the people in this large country with condescension or mock sympathy.
However, there are things one cannot buy with money that are cherished by people, and these things can flourish among folk who are otherwise not known for anything special. Indeed, they prospered so well in this poor country that, in time, it became famous and respected in spite of its meager power. Such things as music, poetry, and intellectual knowledge thrived, and just as one does not demand that a wise man, preacher, or poet be rich, elegant, or adept in society, yet still honors such people in their way, so the more powerful people did likewise with this strange poor folk. They shrugged their shoulders about their poverty and their somewhat ponderous and clumsy way of doing things in the world, and they spoke with fondness and admiration about their thinkers, poets, and musicians.
And though the country of ideas did indeed remain poor and was often oppressed by its neighbors, it generated a constant, gentle, fecund stream of warmth and intellectual energy that flowed to its neighbors and the entire world.
One thing, however, could not be forgotten; it was a circumstance that caused this folk not only to be mocked by strangers but to suffer and feel pain. For years the many different tribes of this beautiful country had not been able to get along with each other. There had been constant disputes and jealousy. And whenever the best men of this folk proposed the idea of uniting the tribes and collaborating, the very thought that one of the many tribes or its prince might rise above the others and assume leadership was so repulsive to most of the people that they could never come to an agreement.
One time a victory over a foreign prince and conqueror, who had drastically subjugated the country, seemed at last to present a propitious opportunity for bringing about unification. But once again the tribes quarreled among themselves. The many petty princes resisted the creation of treaties, and the subjects of these princes had received so many privileges from them in the form of offices, titles, and colorful little ribbons that they were generally satisfied and not inclined to accept change.
In the meantime the Great Revolution occurred and moved throughout the entire world — that strange transformation of human beings and things. It arose like a ghost or malady from the smoke of the first steam machines and transformed life all over the place. The world became full of work and industry. It came to be ruled by machines and was continually propelled to accomplish new kinds of work. Great dynasties sprang up, and that part of the world that had invented the machines assumed even more control over the world than it had previously had, and it divided the rest of the world among its powerful leaders; whoever had no power went away empty-handed.
Even the country that is the subject of this story was affected by this wave of change, but its part in everything remained modest, as befitted its role. The goods of the world seemed once more to be divided, and the poor country seemed once again to come up empty-handed.
All of a sudden, however, things took a different turn for the country. The old voices that had sought unification of the tribes had never become silent. A great, mighty statesman appeared on the scene. A successful and completely glorious victory over a large neighboring country strengthened and united the entire land, whose tribes now all came together and established a great empire. The poor land of dreamers, thinkers, and musicians had aroused itself. The country was magnificent. It had become united and began its career as an equal power among its great older brothers. Outside in the wide world, not much more remained to rob and acquire. The young power found that the portions had already been distributed. But the spirit of the machine, which had only recently taken hold in this country, flowered now astonishingly quickly. The entire country and its people changed rapidly. The country became great. It became wealthy. It became powerful and feared. It acquired more wealth, and it surrounded itself with a triple protection of soldiers, cannons, and fortresses. Soon the neighbors, who were disturbed by the young nation, showed signs of distrust and fear, and they too began to build stockades and to get cannons and warships ready.
However, this was not the worst of it, for all the countries had enough to pay for all these enormous protective walls, and nobody thought about war. They only armed themselves “just in case”—because rich people like to see steel walls around their money.
Much worse was what went on within the young empire. This folk, which had been both mocked and honored in the world for such a long time, which had been devoted to intellectual pursuits and not to money, this folk realized now what a nice thing it is to have money and power. Therefore the people built and saved, developed their commerce, and loaned money. All they thought about was how to get rich fast, and whoever had owned a mill or a forge now had to have a factory quickly, and whoever had three workers now had to have ten. In fact, many were able to employ hundreds and thousands. And the faster the many hands and machines worked, the faster the money accumulated — especially for those individuals who were adept at accumulating. Many, many workers were no longer apprentices and co-workers of a master; rather, they suffered under conditions of drudgery and slavery.
It was the same in other countries. There, too, the workshop became a factory; the master, a ruler; the worker, a slave. No land in the world could avoid this fate. But destiny played a mean trick on the young empire, in that this new spirit and force in the world prevailed when the empire was beginning its ascent as a nation. It did not have a long history or old wealth. It plunged into this new epoch rashly, like an impatient child. It had its hands full of work and full of gold.
Of course, some individuals admonished and warned the people that they were taking the wrong path. They recalled the earlier times, the modest quaint fame of the land, the cultural mission that it had managed, the constant noble and spiritual stream of thoughts, of music and poetry that it had previously bestowed upon the world. In response, the people just laughed while they enjoyed the happiness of their new wealth. The world was round and turned, and if their grandparents had written poems and philosophical works, that was very nice indeed, but the grandchildren wanted to show that they were capable of doing other things here in this country. And so they hammered away and rooted up the ground to build thousands of factories, new machines, new railroads, new commodities, and just in case, also new weapons and cannons. The rich withdrew from the rest of the people. The poor workers saw themselves abandoned and no longer thought about the folk of which they were a part. Instead, they too worried, thought, and strove for themselves alone. And the rich and the powerful, who had procured all the cannons and guns to be used against outside enemies, were glad about the precautions they had taken, for there were now enemies within the country that were more dangerous.
All this came to an end in the Great War, which caused such terrible havoc and destruction in the world and among whose ruins we are now standing, bewildered by its noise, embittered by its senselessness, and sick from its streams of blood that flow through all our dreams.
And the War, which had begun with the sons of the young flowering nation going into battle with enthusiasm, indeed with high spirits, ended with the empire’s collapse. It was defeated, horribly defeated. Moreover, the victors demanded heavy reparations from the defeated people, even before peace could be discussed. For days on end, while the beaten army retreated, the soldiers were compelled to watch the great signs of their previous power being transported in long trains right in front of their eyes from the homeland to the land of the victorious enemy. Machines and money poured out of the defeated land into the hands of the enemy.
In the meantime, however, the defeated people had come to their senses at the moment of their greatest predicament. They had banished their leaders and princes and declared themselves ready to rule themselves. Councils had been formed out of the people, and they showed their willingness to deal with their country’s misfortune by using their own power and their own minds.
This folk, which had come of age after such a severe test, still does not know the direction of its path and who its leaders and helpers will be. The heavenly powers, however, know it, and they also know why they sent war and suffering to descend upon this folk and the entire world.
Out of the darkness of these days a way is glimmering, the way that the beaten people must go.
The empire cannot become a child again. Nobody can. It cannot simply give away its cannons, machines, and money and once again write poems in small peaceful cities and play sonatas. But it can take the path that the individual must also take when his life has led him to make mistakes and suffer profound torment. It can recall its previous past, its heritage and childhood, its maturation, its rise and fall, and it can find the power while recalling everything that essentially and immortally belongs to it. It must “go into itself,” as devout people say. And in itself, it will find its essence undestroyed, and this essence will not want to avoid its destiny but affirm it and begin anew out of its best and most profound qualities that have been rediscovered.
And if it goes this way, and if the downtrodden people take this path of destiny willingly and sincerely, then something that once belonged to the past will renew itself. A constant silent stream will emanate from it again and penetrate the world, and those who are still its enemies today will, in the future, listen attentively to this silent stream.