'Foundations of the Nineteenth Century' by Stewart Chamberlain (1899).

A selection from Foundations of the Nineteenth Century by Stewart Chamberlain, 1899.


As soon as our gaze rests long and lovingly upon the past, out of which the present age developed amid so much suffering, as soon as the great fundamental facts of history are brought vividly home to us and rouse in our hearts violent and conflicting emotions with regard to the present, fear and hope, loathing and enthusiasm, all pointing to a future which it must be our work to shape, towards which too we must henceforth look with longing and impatience — then the great immeasurable nineteenth century shrivels up to relatively insignificant dimensions; we have no time to linger over details, we wish to keep nothing but the important features vividly and clearly before our minds, in order that we may know who we are and whither we are tending. This gives a definite aim with a fair prospect of attaining it: the individual can venture now to begin the undertaking. The lines of his work are so clearly traced for him that he only requires to follow them faithfully.

I do not profess to give a history of the past, but merely of that past which is still living.. .

 My object in this book being to connect the present with the past, I have been compelled to sketch in outline the history of that past. But, inasmuch as my history has to deal with the present, that is to say, with a period of time which has no fixed limit, there is no case for a strictly defined beginning. The nineteenth century points onward into the future, it points also back into the past: in both cases a limitation is allowable only for the sake of convenience, it does not lie in the facts. In general I have regarded the year 1 of the Christian era as the beginning of our history.. . Should we ever become true Christians, then certainly that which is here merely suggested, without being worked out, would become an historical actuality, for it would mean the birth of a new race: perhaps the twenty-fourth century, into which, roughly speaking, the nineteenth throws faint shadows, will be able to draw more definite outlines. Compelled as I have been to let the beginning and the end merge into an undefined penumbra, a clearly drawn middle line becomes all the more indispensable to me, and as a date chosen at random could not be satisfactory in this case, the important thing has been to fix the turning-point of the history of Europe. The awakening of the Teutonic peoples to the consciousness of their all-important vocation as the founders of a completely new civilisation and culture forms this turning point; the year 1200 can be designated the central moment of this awakening.
Scarcely any one will have the hardihood to deny that the inhabitants of Northern Europe have become the makers of the world's history.