The superficial but momentous symptom of the disruption of the West into schismatic politico-religious bodies is found in the development of the standard amenities by which members of the principal European nations express their disgust for each other's national peculiarities. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the national styles of intellectual expression become sufficiently differentiated to attract mutually unfavorable attention.
In English-German relations, we find Scotch philosophers quipping about German's metaphysical madness, and we can observe the growth of an image of obscurity, mysteriousness, and darkness in German thought. In the nineteenth century the complaints begin to grow about Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which for its proper understanding would require "immersion" in Hegel's metaphysics—an obviously indecent demand.
In the opposite direction, the Germans begin to develop the image of English "flatness" and we meet with such quips as Nietzsche's "John Stuart Mill; or the insulting clearness."
In English-French relations complaints develop on the English side about French intellectual radicalism, about the inclination to follow a political idea to its logical consequences without regard to traditions and common sense, and such summary quips as Disraeli"s "the rights of Englishmen are five hundred years older than the rights of man."
On the French side, the stereotype is formed from English rambling, from the inability of the English to grasp principles and to follow through their implications, from their opportunism and their habits of improvisation.
In German-French relations there appears on the German side the idea of French superficiality, of an accomplishment of form to which there does not correspond a weight of substance, of a rationalism and skepticism that does not penetrate to the concreteness of the spirit, of a certain levity and an untranslatable gem—of seelissche Verschlampung [spiritual slatternliness].
On the French side appear the German fougue [impetuosity], the brumes du Nord [Nordic obscurity], the complaints about idiosyncratic and whimsical vagaries, about a thickness of thought that never can elevate itself to the clarté of exposition.
Such pleasantries are as partially right and as totally wrong as accusations of this kind always are. Nevertheless, while they are useless as a description of national characteristics, they are of value as symptoms of the irritation caused by the breakdown of the Western koine. They are the intellectual expression of the rise of parochial styles of thought that become increasingly unintelligible to each other.
These parochial styles have little or nothing to do with the "national characters" that frequently are assumed to be ultimate and determining constants. They are the results of centuries of spiritual and intellectual differentiation in the various regions, and they represent aggregates of sentiments and ideas that have been laid down during the course of a long history. . . . The nationally differing crosscuts at the time of the [French] revolution dominate the further evolution of ideas, and the closed national units are driven farther and farther apart as a consequence until the tensions culminate in the catastrophe of the General Wars.
We are still too close to the age of the Western national schism—indeed we are still involved in its liquidation—to have gained the proper perspective. . . .