Announcement: Research project “Upgrading history”

The Research project Upgrading History. Diaries from the War Front by Dr Saverio Vita is about to be presented officially at the University of Bologna

Photo credits:

Upgrading History. Diaries from the War Front is one of the three new projects funded by Europeana Foundation in 2018. The project is hold by Saverio Vita, fellow researcher at the University of Bologna, and hosted by DH.ARC (Digital Humanities Advanced Center).

The aim of the project is to share research that focuses on the diaries of European soldiers who fought the First World War with a larger audience. Europeana Collections includes a good amount of soldiers’ writings (especially in Italian, French and English) and paintings, as well as a collection of letters from the trenches by Isaac Rosenberg. By now, Rosenberg’s letters and eight diaries in Italian and French were processed.

The materials are arranged on the StoryMaps platform, highlighting the different itineraries travelled by a single soldier. Each journey track is enriched by the text itself and other media, such as photographs, selected newspaper pages, and videos from the Collections. Having the chance to follow the soldier’s itinerary is the best way to read a war diary. This project aims to preserve historical memory and to reactivate old personal stories, to renew them.

For the skilled user who wants to deepen knowledge of the diaries and to read a technical analysis of the text, the project offers digital editions based on EVT, with full transcriptions, historical and linguistic comments.

The project represents a sort of pilot, open to further updates. The Map becomes the promotional container of other research on similar topics, from FICLIT and other departments in Italy and other countries. The goal is to create a great open map, available to the largest possible number of users, detailing one of the most important periods in European History. The dissemination of this kind of project is especially valuable today, as Europe and its Institutions are living in a critical time. A project about WWI is a project about our shared past and History.

War as Moral Experience in Wittgenstein’s Secret Diary

by Patrizia Piredda

When he stopped his studies of engineering in Manchester, Wittgenstein moved to Cambridge to study logic under the guidance of Bertrand Russell because he believed that by comprehending the fundamentals of language, and therefore the limits of language, he would understand its essence,   as well as that of human beings, in primis, himself. 

For Wittgenstein, knowing oneself was indispensable because only the man who knows himself can improve himself and become morally decent. When World War I broke out, Wittgenstein volunteered in the Austrian Army because he trusted “the fact that the experience of war would permit him to understand, beyond any fiction and illusion, who – which kind of man, so to say, – he really was. Thus, it was clarity and truth about himself that Wittgenstein expected from the war” (Perissinotto 13).

Wittgenstein spoke about the experience of World War I in two different diaries: the first one is a work-notebook in which he wrote his thoughts, questions and the progress of his work on logic (which was eventually published under the name of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), as well as his reflections on ethics, the function of philosophy, and such concepts as the will, the good, evil and suicide. The second one is a personal diary, composed of three notebooks which begin on 9 August 1914 and end on 19 August 1916, written in a secret code so that none of his comrades could read it. During the war years, in contact with other soldiers and immersed in the military life, Wittgenstein went on working on the problems of language, but he slowly changed the focus of his research and broadened his interest beyond logical problems: in a letter of 22 May 1915 to Russell, Wittgenstein wrote that the problems in which he was interested “have become more and more precisely and general”, and that his method “has drastically changed” (Wittgenstein, Lettere 75): now, it was fundamentally oriented toward ethics. 

For Wittgenstein, the encounter with the other in war was an existential experience that allowed him to look within the depths of himself in order to question himself and understand who he was.  This in turn would allow him to correct errors in his thought, to eliminate prejudices, faults and erroneous judgments and, finally, to act well. To reach this state of deep knowledge, Wittgenstein had to understand which role the passions and reason play in making moral decisions, so as to put the former under the control of the latter: in other words, at this time in his life, acting as a decent and moral person meant for Wittgenstein being able to understand and control his own passions which, generally, lead a person to make practical decisions in order to satisfy private and egoistic desires without considering whether the action is good or bad. At first, Wittgenstein believed that the war would make men better; however, early in the conflict the promiscuity that he saw in other soldiers made him start to believe that war cannot change the nature of human beings: if possible, it makes people’s moral tendencies even worse. Wittgenstein changed his mind because, in his opinion, his comrades did not attempt to understand what was happening to them, even though they were going through a new and traumatic experience that demanded understanding; instead, they kept on following irrational passions and base desires. If, as Wittgenstein wrote on 12 August 1916, “a bad life is an unreasonable one”; if living in sin – i.e. living enslaved to passions and desires – means living “in discord” (Wittgenstein, Diario 118); and if a life without knowledge is evil, then his comrades could not logically appear to him as good persons. 

From the first notes of his diary, Wittgenstein wrote that he was horrified by his comrades’ vulgarity: he did not consider them stupid, but he believed that they were limited by the “typical attitude of the majority of men, according to which they mirror themselves in what they have instead than in what they are” (Gargani, 11). Since, in his opinion, his comrades chatted only about “nonsensical” things based on prejudices and superficialities, Wittgenstein felt deep disquiet (Unheimlichkeit), and as a result he depicted them as scoundrels dominated by the most selfish instincts and lust, which led them to a loss of self-control and to immorality. On 21 August 1914 Wittgenstein wrote: “The lieutenant and I have spoken about many different things. He is a very kind person. He can cope with the worst scoundrels and be kind to them. If we hear a Chinese speak, we tend to consider his speech an inarticulate gurgle. The person who understands Chinese will recognise the language. Thus I often cannot recognise humanity in man, etc. […] all concepts of my work have become ‘foreign’ to me. I cannot really SEE anything!!!” (Wittgenstein, Diario 54). 

In contact with the other soldiers, Wittgenstein could no longer see what might be called humanity, nor could he recognise in others his own human essence, i.e. a rational creature who strives to know himself in order to be morally good. Therefore, Wittgenstein was not able to perceive others as friends, because friendship for him could only arise between good men: he had an elitist sense of friendship, founded on respect, dialogue, loyalty, love and a deep sense of ethics which, in his opinion, his comrades seriously lacked. On 15 August 1914 he wrote: “The crew is a gang of scoundrels! No enthusiasm, incredible vulgarity, stupidity and cruelty. Therefore, it is not true that the great common cause necessarily makes man nobler… According to all our external conditions, our duty on the boat should provide us with a wonderful and happy time, but alas! As a result, it will be very difficult to communicate with the others” (Wittgenstein, Diario 52-53).

Moreover, two days before, on August 16 1914, he wrote that “the stupidity, the insolence and the evil of these people have no limits” (Wittgenstein, Diario 53). Beyond these severe and tranchant judgments, Wittgenstein did not believe that he was a better man than his comrades, but that he had a stronger will to become better. In fact, one of the major differences that Wittgenstein perceived between himself and the other soldiers was the awareness that he was not yet a good man. In the letter of 3 March 1914 to Russell he wrote: “we both have our weaknesses, but I do especially, and my life is FULL of the most awful and miserable thoughts and actions (and this is no exaggeration)… Until today my life has been full of filth” (Wittgenstein Lettere 67); on 7 March 1915 he moreover wrote: “I feel like a completely burnt out stove, full of impurities and filth” (Wittgenstein, Diario 101).

Nevertheless, during the war Wittgenstein went on trying to improve himself, to control his body’s weaknesses and get close to the order that derives from reason, which however belonged in its pure form only to God. At that time young Wittgenstein believed that such an order is located in our language: for him, there was a correspondence between good use of language and good action, thus it followed that thinking well is acting well. According to this correspondence, thanks to a constant effort to free himself from linguistic errors (prejudices, common statements, nonsense, false and erroneous reasoning) a person might aspire to live a decent life: on 20 July 1916 Wittgenstein wrote to himself in his diary: “continue to work and you will become a good man” (Wittgenstein, Diario 116).

The will moves man to strive for absolute good, beyond the partiality of a mundane ‘good’ corresponding to private desires. To reach absolute good, one needs a full view (Überblick) of things even if this seems to be a desperate attempt: on 12 November 1914 Wittgenstein wrote: “I have worked quite a lot, but without seeing very clearly (Wittgenstein, Diario 79); on 13 November 1914: “I cannot see clearly” (ibid.) and on 16 November 1914: “no clarity yet. Although I am right in front of the solutions to the deepest questions, so near as to almost crash into them with my nose!!! Now my spirit is simply blind to these things! I feel as if I am RIGHT IN FRONT OF the door to the solution, but I cannot see clearly enough to open it” (Wittgenstein, Diario 81). Moreover, if on 29 July 1916, in a moment of desperation after being shot at, Wittgenstein wrote that he was afraid of dying and losing the pleasure of life, some days before, on 8 July 1916, he had written that such a fear was a misleading feeling because “fear of death is the best sign of a false life, i.e. a bad life” because “he who is happy must not fear.  Not even death” (Wittgenstein, Quaderni 219). Even if it is a desperate attempt, one always should (or better, must) try to go beyond  one’s own limits because only in this way is it possible to fight the irrational fear in which lies the sin that leads  men to believe that a false conception is true.

 Contrary to the common experience of war, wherein a soldier considers his comrades to be his friends and the opponents, the unknown soldiers, the enemy who must be fought, Wittgenstein considered his comrades his principal enemy, from whom he had to defend himself. Wittgenstein’s concept of friendship, however, was embodied in David Pinsent with whom he was in a close contact during the war: they had become friends when both of them were studying in Cambridge.   During the war, since Wittgenstein was fighting in the Austrian Army and Pinsent was fighting in the English Army, they should have considered themselves enemies. Pinsent died on 8 May 1918. Wittgenstein was informed of his death by a letter from Ellen Fanny Pin, David’ mother, sent dated 6 July 1918, to which he replied, writing that Pinsent had been his first and only friend: “I have indeed known many young men of my age and have been on good terms with some, but only in him did I find a real friend; the hours I have spent with him have been the best in my life, he was to me a brother and a friend. Daily I have thought of him and have longed to see him again. God will bless him” (Monk 155).

To him Wittgenstein dedicated his Tractatus logico-philosophicus

For further reading

Gargani, Aldo, Il coraggio di essere, in Ludwig Wittgenstein, Diari segreti, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1987, pp. 1-45

Marconi, Diego, Wittgenstein e la filosofia, in Ludwig Wittgenstein, La filosofia, Roma, Donzelli, 2006, pp. vii-xxxvii

Monk, Ray, Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius, New York, The Free Press, 1990

Perissinotto, Luigi, Wittgenstein. Una guida, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2010

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Diari segreti, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1987

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Lettere. 1911-1951, Milano, Adelphi, 2012

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Quaderni 1914-1916, in Tractatus logico-philosophicus – Quaderni 1914-1916, Einaudi, Torino, 2009, pp. 127-299

Max Weber and the “Weltkrieg” – Max Weber e la “Weltkrieg”

By Carlo Bordoni

Max Weber and the ' Weltkrieg' - Max Weber e la 'Weltkrieg'

The twentieth-century opened under the sign of great trust in progress and technology. Machines, which had since ever been considered as a dangerous adversary and as a source of primordial fear, quickly began to lose their disquieting aspect and to become an ally of human beings as a ductile tool to overcome physical strain. Airplanes and cars created new opportunities for transport at unprecedented speed besides steam-locomotives, which had replaced horse-powered coaches as the main connection between cities.

The military also benefited of such evolution: weapons became lighter, automatic, transportable and lethal, as the new tanks or submarines. Both war and strategy had already been changing: from Napoleonic war to Franco-Prussian war in 1870 artillery had reversed the impact of the forces on the field, but only with the new century, and in particular with the Great War, an extraordinary change occurred: war started to be conceived positively, in people’s minds even before than in the combatants’ view. General rehearsal took place in the Italian-Turkish war in 1911-1912, better known as the Libyan war, when airplanes (nine Italian aircrafts), cars, motorcycles and unfortunately toxic gas were for first employed.

The old conception of war as physical fighting carried out hand-to-hand with the enemy, with great masses of soldiers rallying enemy positions to conquer, was replaced with the idea (or illusion) of a mechanised war in which modern technology took the place of human force.

Combat was no longer based on direct fighting or on the possibility to overcome the enemy with one’s own strength, but rather by means of conduction/mastery of machines, for which knowledge, communication, expertise and promptness are really key.

This new idea of an indirect combat, mediated by technology, which let the weapons do the dirty job, was perhaps one of the main arguments that convinced people in the early years of the twentieth-century that war was after all not an evil to escape but rather an opportunity to catch, insofar as weapons rather than men would fight it and because its duration – unlike past wars, which went on for decades – would be short. A lightning-war, a Blitzkrieg as a modern war should be, in which velocity, rapidity of decision-making, courage – juvenile qualities – are determining factors.

The idea of a war which was not fearful but beautiful, if not even a source of wealth as a powerful stimulus for economic growth and change against the stagnation of the past, spread all over the early twentieth-century and persuaded also those who, as pacifists and internationalists, were afraid of being accused of weakness, cowardice, defeatism, pessimism or even worse with being reactionaries.

Nonetheless, the nineteenth-century, despite its social problems, barricades, communes, revolution and the growing pressure of masses, had been enlightened by internationalism, also derived by the experience of Socialism and Marxism, whose Manifesto of 1848 – although not rejecting violence – invited to a trans-national brotherhood which stretched beyond the interests of single countries, convinced that the problem of working-class people were the same everywhere.

Conversely, the reinforcement of the State, of national culture, traditions and interests was the aim of conservatories, who based their own principles on the defence of such ideals as the Fatherland and the State. Not by chance all right-wing movements since the nineteenth-century have recalled key-concepts such as Nation, people, and Fatherland by attributing to them some sacred value and by highlighting the emotional feeling of participation in a closed enclave, coherent and made recognisable by the share of values and symbols. Terms like people and popular, nation and national or even social often recur in the acronyms of right-wing parties and movements, which attempt to obtain consensus by moving the lever of emotions. The feeling of belonging to the nation, patriotism, so glorified during the Italian “Risorgimento”, had its part of responsibility in the growth of aggressive feelings toward other countries. Nationalism revealed itself as a fertile ground for war.

The most surprising thing is that intellectuals, and among those sociologists, who had inherited that branch of positivistic philosophy aimed at studying society with scientific method, i.e. with a super partes and objective approach, supported the interventionist position in the face of war.

Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, or Max, born in Erfurt in 1864 and dead in Munich in 1920 stood out among these sociologists. Weber was on the one hand the father of modern sociology, as he claimed the need for sound objectivity and non-evaluation in sociological research (Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, published in 1904 and 1917 and collected in 1922), of studies on religion up to his fundamental Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, published posthumous in 1922; on the other hand he was the intransigent nationalist, the firm assertor of the superiority of his country and its historical mission to preserve and develop civilisation against barbarisation.

By assuming a contradictory and sometimes even counterproductive attitude, Weber showed his faith in war as a catalyser of change and as a shocking event capable of waking the consciences from lethargy and pushing civilisation forth.

Aldo Toscano, who devoted an important study to the sociologists of the Great War, wrote that since the very beginning Weber knew that sooner or later something terrible would happen and that Germany should then play its role in the world by facing the hostility of other countries. Nonetheless, Weber always remained faithful to the German cultural patriotism with sense of honour and devotion.

Therefore, the outbreak of the war found him prepared and enthusiastic. The words of his wife Marianne in his monumental biography of 1926 do not leave doubts behind: the scene is set in Weber’s house, where he is surrounded by friends and disciples on the 26 July 1914, the last Sunday before the war which would be declared two days later, on Tuesday 28. Marianne recounts that the guests asked for his opinion and waited with anxiety for his answer: he said that a war would allow young people to find the real connection with their own community by means of sacrifice.

Weber could not enlist, which made him bitter. His faith in Germany remained firm also in the face of serious familiar losses. In 1915 he wrote to his sister Lili, concerning his brother-in-law Hermann Schäfer, fallen at Tannenberg during one of the first combats, that this new war would be, despite its outcome – great and wonderful and above all expectations.

During the conflict Weber strongly defended German policy. The letter of January 1916 to Gertrud Bäumer, editor of the magazine Die Frau testifies to that, where he wrote that a people that is numerically superior, organised as a powerful State should lead the destinies of other small countries. In the same year, though, the first doubts rise. In 1916 Weber wrote that after the sinking of Lusitania on 7 May 1915 time was against Germany and that war would become a satanic event that would eventually crush the German people. Later on he started to believe that peace should be the necessary outcome of a brief war, in order to avoid irreparable economic damages. Finally, on 4 November 1918, in the face of the disastrous conditions of Germany, in a public speech in Munich Weber proposed to accept peace at all costs. But the effect was not as hoped for. He was contested and even accused of being a traitor. As others had done before, Weber too decided to write his opinion about the German responsibilities for war, in a work published in the Frankfurter Zeitung of January 1919.

The end of the war and the foundation of the Republic of Weimar saw the decline of an intellectual who always has a “secret passion” for politics and was ready to do whatever possible for his nation and to lead the young people, but who had no followers in such a quest.

Italian version:

Il secolo XX si apre all’insegna di una grande fiducia nel progresso e nella tecnologia. La macchina, da sempre considerata una temibile antagonista e fonte di una paura primordiale, sta perdendo rapidamente la sua connotazione perturbante per divenire alleata dell’uomo e farsi duttile strumento di sostituzione alla fatica fisica. L’aereo e l’automobile aprono nuove opportunità di trasporto a velocità finora impensabili e vanno ad aggiungersi al treno a vapore, sostituendo le carrozze a cavalli nel collegamento tra le città principali.

Di questa evoluzione tecnologica beneficiano ovviamente anche le attrezzature militari, le armi si fanno più leggere, automatiche, semoventi, micidiali – come il carro armato o il sottomarino. Già da tempo la guerra, assieme alla strategia di condurre le battaglie, ha cambiato volto: dalle guerre napoleoniche alla guerra franco-prussiana del 1870, l’artiglieria ha sovvertito le sorti delle forze in campo, ma è col nuovo secolo, e in specie con la “grande guerra”, che si compie la straordinaria rivoluzione nel concepire la guerra in maniera positiva, prima nelle menti delle persone che sui campi di battaglia. Le prove generali hanno luogo in occasione della guerra italo-turca del 1911-12, conosciuta anche come “guerra di Libia”, nella quale furono impiegati per la prima volta gli aerei (nove quelli italiani), ma anche auto, moto e, purtroppo, anche gas tossici.

La vecchia concezione della guerra come combattimento “fisico”, che si compie nello scontro a corpo a corpo col nemico, dove i soldati assaltano in gran numero le postazioni avversarie per conquistarle, si è andata sostituendo con l’idea (o l’illusione) di una guerra “meccanizzata”, dove la tecnologia più avanzata prende il posto delle forze umane. 

Il combattimento non è più basato sullo scontro diretto, né sulla possibilità di sopraffare l’avversario con la forza, ma attraverso la conduzione/gestione di una macchina, dove ha più importanza il sapere, il comunicare, la conoscenza del mezzo e la rapidità d’intervento.

Questa idea innovativa di combattere in forma indiretta, mediata dalla tecnologia, lasciando che siano le armi a fare il lavoro sporco, è forse una delle motivazioni principali che convincono gli uomini del primo Novecento che la guerra non sia poi un male da evitare, ma un’opportunità da cogliere, dal momento che a combatterla saranno più le armi che gli uomini e che – contrariamente al passato, la cui durata si misurava in decenni – si sarebbe risolta in breve tempo. Una guerra lampo, una blitzkrieg, come si conviene a un tempo moderno, in cui la velocità, la rapidità delle decisioni, il coraggio – tutte qualità giovaniliste – sono determinanti.

L’idea di una guerra non temibile, ma bella, persino produttiva di benessere, perché in grado di stimolare lo sviluppo economico, spingere al cambiamento, a fronte della condizione d’inerzia del passato, permea tutto il primo Novecento e finisce per convincere anche chi, pacifista e internazionalista, teme di essere accusato di debolezza, codardia, disfattismo, pessimismo o, peggio ancora, passatismo.

Eppure il secolo precedente, con tutti i problemi sociali, le barricate, le comuni, le rivoluzioni e la crescente pressione delle masse, era pervaso di uno spirito internazionalista, frutto anche dell’influenza dei movimenti socialisti e in particolare del marxismo, il cui Manifesto del 1848, pur non rifuggendo dalla violenza, invitava però a una fratellanza transnazionale che andava ben oltre gli interessi dei singoli paesi, nella convinzione che i problemi del proletariato fossero ovunque gli stessi.

Al contrario, il rafforzamento dello Stato, della cultura, delle tradizioni e degli interessi nazionali è fatto proprio dal pensiero conservatore che, sulla difesa degli ideali di patria, nazione e Stato, fonda i suoi principi.

Non è un caso che tutti i movimenti di destra, a partire dall’Ottocento e per buona parte del secolo successivo, si siano richiamati a concetti “chiave” come nazione, popolo, patria, assegnando loro un valore sacrale indiscutibile e facendo leva sull’emotività diffusa che l’appartenenza a un gruppo circoscritto, coeso e riconoscibile attraverso la comunanza di valori e simboli, poteva suscitare.

I termini popolo e popolare, nazione e nazionale, e persino sociale, si ripetono spesso nelle sigle dei movimenti e dei partiti di destra, che cercano di coagulare il consenso facendo leva sulle spinte emozionali. Il senso di appartenenza alla nazione, l’amor di patria, così tanto esaltato nel Risorgimento, ha la sua parte di responsabilità nella crescita del sentimento di rivalsa e di aggressività nei confronti degli altri paesi. Il nazionalismo si dimostra così terreno fertile per la guerra.

La cosa più sorprendente è che siano proprio gli intellettuali e, tra essi, i sociologi, eredi di quella branca della filosofia positivista che si era posta l’obiettivo di studiare la società con metodi scientifici, mantenendo un atteggiamento obiettivo e super partes, a sostenere un’opinione interventista in occasione della prima guerra mondiale.

Tra questi brilla tale Karl Emil Maximilian Weber, detto Max, nato a Erfurt nel 1864 e morto a Monaco nel 1920. Veniamo così a conoscere due Max Weber: da una parte il padre della sociologia moderna, autore dei saldi propositi dell’oggettività e dell’avalutatività nella ricerca sociologica (in Il metodo delle scienze storico-sociali apparsi nel 1904 e 1917 e raccolti nel 1922), degli studi sulla religione, fino al fondamentale Economia e società, pubblicato postumo nel 1922. Dall’altra l’intransigente nazionalista, convinto assertore della superiorità del suo paese, come della missione storica di cui esso è investito, al fine di conservare e far progredire i capisaldi della civiltà, contro l’imbarbarimento.

Con un atteggiamento contraddittorio e, a tratti, persino controproducente, Weber manifesta il suo credo nella guerra come acceleratrice del mutamento, evento scioccante che è in grado di smuovere le coscienze dal letargo e far avanzare la civiltà.

Fin dall’inizio, scrive Aldo M. Toscano, che ai sociologi della prima guerra mondiale ha dedicato uno scritto illuminante, Weber “sapeva che da un momento all’altro qualcosa di tremendo si sarebbe compiuto, e lo lasciava intendere in non pochi passaggi dei suoi scritti. Sapeva che la Germania avrebbe dovuto affrontare il nodo del suo ruolo mondiale, che nessuno avrebbe riconosciuto pacificamente.” E tuttavia “la vocazione tedesca, con tanto di patriottismo culturale, passione storica, senso dell’onore, devozione al destino e anche Lebensraum, accompagnerà Weber per tutta l’esistenza.”

Pertanto lo scoppio della guerra lo trova preparato ed entusiasta. Le parole della moglie, Marianne, nella monumentale biografia pubblicata nel 1926, non lasciano dubbi: la scena si svolge in casa Weber, attorniato da amici e discepoli, il 26 di luglio, l’ultima domenica prima della guerra, che sarebbe stata dichiarata due giorni dopo, il martedì 28.

 “Quel pomeriggio tutte queste persone preoccupate si accalcano attorno a Weber, lo portano in giro per il mondo con le loro domande e pendono ora per ora dalle sue labbra. L’esperienza più importante della sua infanzia, lo scoppio della guerra del 1870, Weber l’aveva vissuta proprio nella stessa stanza e nello stesso periodo dell’anno. Nella memoria gli sembra che lo stato d’animo allora fosse diverso: più austero e solenne. Ma adesso la decisione non è ancora presa, si può ancora giocare con il destino. Eppure, una cosa emerge già oggi: quei giovani che hanno cercato sinora la forma e il contenuto del proprio essere discosti dalla comunità, sono pronti a sacrificarsi servendo la comunità.” E subito dopo: “L’ora è giunta ed è di inimmaginata grandezza” .

Lo amareggia non potersi arruolare. La sua fiducia nella Germania non crolla neppure di fronte ai lutti in famiglia. Nel 1915 scrive alla sorella Lili, a proposito del cognato Hermann Schäfer, caduto a Tannenberg, in uno degli scontri iniziali, concludendo con le parole “perché questa guerra è – qualunque sia l’esito – veramente grande e meravigliosa al di sopra di ogni attesa.”

Durante il conflitto mantiene i suoi propositi e si conferma strenuo difensore della politica tedesca. La sua opinione è ben espressa in una lettera del gennaio 1916 e inviata a Gertrud Bäumer, curatrice del mensile “Die Frau”, che la pubblicherà nel febbraio:

“Un popolo superiore dal punto di vista numerico, organizzato come Stato di potenza, proprio per il semplice fatto di essere tale, si trova di fronte a compiti del tutto diversi rispetto a quelli che toccano agli svizzeri, ai danesi, agli olandesi o ai norvegesi.”

Ma è in quello stesso anno che cominciano a manifestarsi i primi dubbi. Infatti nel corso del 1916 Weber annota che, dopo l’affondamento del Lusitania avvenuto il 7 maggio 1915, “il tempo lavora non per la Germania, ma contro di essa; e la guerra, da straordinaria manifestazione di eroismo e di abnegazione, si trasformerà in un evento satanico che spegnerà la resistenza fisica e morale del popolo.”

Più tardi finirà per convincersi che la pace, alla fine, sia il coronamento necessario di un breve periodo di guerra, onde evitare un danno economico irreparabile. Il 4 novembre del 1918, di fronte alle evidenti difficoltà della Germania, in un discorso pubblico a Monaco, propone di stipulare la pace ad ogni costo, ma l’effetto non è quello sperato. Weber viene contestato e persino accusato di tradimento.

Così anch’egli, come avevano fatto altri prima di lui, si decide a scrivere sulle responsabilità della guerra, in uno scritto dal sapore amaro che viene pubblicato sulla “Frankfurter Zeitung” del gennaio 1919.

La fine della guerra e la nascita della Repubblica di Weimar segnano il declino di un intellettuale dalla “passione segreta” della politica, “pronto a fare qualsiasi cosa per la nazione e ad assumere la guida delle giovani leve. Ma non c’era nessuno che lo seguisse.”

For further reading

Toscano, A. M., Trittico sulla guerra. Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, Bari-Rome, Laterza, 1995

Weber, M., Max Weber. Ein Lebensbild, Tübingen, Mohr, 1926

Weber, M., Economy and society. An outline of interpretive sociology, Berkeley, University of California press, 1978

Weber, M., Scritti politici, Rome, Donzelli, 1998