Meinecke, Friedrich

(1862-1954)
   historian; a brilliant twentieth-century spokesman for German historicism. He was born to a Prussian official in the Altmark town of Salzwedel; his youth was steeped in conservative Prot-estantism. He was a student of history, philosophy, and German languages; his mentors included Wilhelm Dilthey, Gustav Droysen, Heinrich von Treitschke, and Karl Lamprecht. He took his doctorate in 1886 and gained appointment in April 1887 with the Prussian State Archives; a permanent archival position fol-lowed in 1892. He was befriended by the famous scholar Heinrich von Sybel, who soon appointed him to the editorial board of Historische Zeitschrift (HZ); Sybel then encouraged Meinecke to write a biography of Hermann von Boyen (published in two volumes, 1896/1899). With the deaths of Sybel and Treitschke, Meinecke became chief editor of HZ in 1896, a position he retained until 1935.
   When Meinecke's first Boyen volume appeared in 1896, Berlin's faculty waived its customary Habilitation requirement and made him a Privatdozent. He was named ordentlicher Professor at Strassburg in 1901 and spent five years at Freiburg before returning to Berlin in 1914. While he was at Freiburg—"the happiest years of my life"—he published his well-known Weltburgertum und Nationalstaat (Cosmopolitanism and the national state, 1908). He soon became a member of Berlin's Prussian Academy of Sciences; his closest colleagues included Hans Delbrück,* Otto Hintze,* and Ernst Troeltsch.*
   Although Meinecke was a committed Rankean and thus enamored of political history, he was convinced of the import of intellectual history (der Primat der Geistesgeschichte). He viewed history as more than a bundle of facts, as a discipline with existential meaning for politics and society. Thus, although his research emphasized the evolution of German nationalism in the eighteenth cen-tury, he was equally admired for his work on the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. But by synthesizing an empirical approach to history with a Hegelian metaphysics that gave authority to raison d'etat (Staatsräson), he unwittingly lent his intellect to an immutable growth of state power.
   Raised as a conservative monarchist, Meinecke was nonetheless drawn to the liberalism of Friedrich Naumann,* even supporting a 1912 electoral alliance of the National Liberals and the SPD. During World War I he quickly shifted from a nationalistic posture (a victorious peace including expansion of Germany's colonial empire) to a call in 1915 for a "peace of understanding" based on the status quo ante. Upon Germany's collapse he soon became a Vernunftrepubli-kaner*; in an October 1918 letter to his wife, he wrote that "to preserve the Reich and national unity, there is nothing left for us to do than to become democrats." A 1919 article, "Nach der Revolution" (After the revolution), stressed his opposition to communism, while a 1930 article underscored an equivalent opposition to the radical Right. Memoranda from 1919 reveal a com-mitment to constitutional government (albeit an Ersatzkaisertum) and a belief in Germany's legal claim to the left bank of the Rhine. When Hitler* seized power, the seventy-year-old Meinecke rejected the Third Reich and established contact, without becoming actively involved, with those opposed to the regime. Die deutsche Katastrophe (The German catastrophe), published in 1946, sought to account for the roots of Nazi Germany. Although he retired in 1929, he remained active and in 1948 was named the first rector of the Free University of Berlin. On his ninetieth birthday Meinecke was awarded the Pour le Merite (Peace Class), Germany's highest honor.
   REFERENCES:Felix Gilbert, History; Masur, "Friedrich Meinecke"; Pois, Friedrich Meinecke; Sterling, Ethics.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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