Among the many books on the meaning and causes of the war in Europe this one of Professor Dewey has a unique place. His thesis may be stated in his own words: "Expressions which a bewildered world has sought since the beginning of the war to explain through the influence of a Darwinian struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest, or through the influence of a Nietzschean philosophy of power, have their roots in the classic idealistic philosophy culminating in Hegel." As the author says, however, it is somewhat hazardous to refer the secret of German national life to a particular theory in philosophy, but he makes the adventure. In the pursuance of his aim he turns to Kant to discover the principle which has most profoundly determined the Germanic idea of Morals and the State; this he finds in Kant's conception of the relation of freedom as an absolute supersensible principle of action to the realm of nature where physical causality rules, as the sphere within which all the purposes of free moral action are meant to be realized. While for Kant the will was thus an application of reason to action, according to Fichte reason was an expression of the will, and the world of nature and of human relations an expression of reason. The idealism which Kant had claimed for the individual, Fichte carried over to the State, transforming moral individualism into an ethical socialism. With a burning enthusiasm Fichte called upon the German people to establish a kingdom of the spirit and of reason, of science, morals, aim the State; and he did this with the conviction that if the German people go down in this endeavor humanity goes down with them without hope. This does not mean that mere might makes right, but that ideal right must clothe itself with might that so it may cease to be purely ideal. The divinity of the State makes patriotism a religion. As German history has been persistently idealized for the past hundred years, so the future of the German people under Prussian leadership is outlined from the same point of view. Hegel modified the idealism of his predecessors in the doctrine that the State is already the absolute reality, an absolute end in itself, with "supreme right in respect to individuals whose first duty is-just to be members of the State." "The State is God on earth." Yet not all States are on equal footing; the realization of the divine purpose moves from one nation to another; yet for any given time the bearer of the world-spirit is supreme, amenable to no law save from itself alone, compared with it the spirits of other nations are absolutely without right. War is the form by which this divine transition is signalized.
It is naturally too early to formulate a definite theory of the war and the causes which are alone responsible for it. One can hardly question, however, that the full explanation must be sought in conditions as complex as human life and as national relations, of which, indeed, the philosophical and social idealism of the German people, especially of Prussia, are a factor. The size of this book is disproportionate to its value; and if one cared but little for its bearing on the great struggle in which the German Empire is engaged, he would still find rich and suggestive material for the interpretation of Kant as modified and fulfilled by Fichte and Hegel, in its bearing on the destiny of the individual and the nation.
-The Homiletic Review, Volume 71show more