From the Introduction to Count Harry Kessler’s Walter Rathenau 1928 Rathenau was not only one of the most important people in the history of Germany immediately after World War I, but this remarkable portrait gives insight into its author, Count Harry Kessler, one of the most remarkable figures in European culture. ———
No estimate of Walther Rathenau, the founder of
Germany’s new foreign policy and of the post-war
rationalisation of German industry, can do him justice
that is not based on his singular personality.
The profoundly Jewish, and yet no less profoundly Prussian,
mechanism of his mind and instincts can always be discerned
behind his political and social ideas.
Scientific proofs for his theories he utterly disdained,
appealing for their truth solely to the rightness of his
vision and the sureness of his instinct.
He propounded them not like a great man of science
who proves his point step by step, proceeding from proof to proof,
from discovery to disoovery, from statistics to statistics,
but like an artist who gives you his vision in a.flash,
as the image of a personal revelation, a thing complete in itself.
Thus what in the case of a great economist or practical statesman
bears a merely outward relation to his work
— the details of his life and character — becomes in the case of
Walther Rathenau the very measure of his worth as a teacher
But a peculiar difficulty attaches to any presentation of
Rathenau’s personality. Though he surrounded himself with
an atmosphere of impenetrable coolness, not many were able
to remain cool in his presence: people were violently attracted
or repelIed by him — or both simultaneously.
That was part of his tragedy: the crystaline coolness for which he
Iaboured recoiled on him in the shape of passionate adoration
or passionate hetred.
And now that he is dead, this same atmosphere, though it
tends to thicken around him into a haze of misunderstandings,
yet has a|so certain advantages;
the student who approaches him thus influenced sees him
with a distinctness so intensified by excitement or emotion
that his figure takes on the sharpness of a vision
and grips him like a Golem.
I have aimed at eliminating the emotion
and preserving only the clearness of the vision.
Whether I have succeeded, the reader must be left to decide.
But I may perhaps be allowed to set forth tentatively at the outset
an explanation why Walther Rathenau had that peculiar effect
on those who came within his orbit:
he was, and one oould not heIp feeling it,
a man who bore Fate within him.
One was conscious, when dealing with him, of something
in his spiritual structure working mysteriously and blindly
after the manner of a. physial organism,
for which every outward event in his life was merely a rung in a ladder
leading inexorably to an end which he darkly foresaw
and both weIcomed and deepIy dreaded.
And Fate in this sense belongs to one man in a million.