Prussian virtues

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The term Prussian virtues refers to an unfixed canon of several virtues dating from the military monastic Order of the Teutonic Knights, and further influenced by Protestantism, especially Calvinism. The Prussian value system has influenced aspects of wider German culture, especially the modern German concern with Efficiency, Austerity and Discipline.


These virtues, while traced back to the Teutonic Knights, were named by King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the "soldier–king" and frugal "bourgeois" reformer of Prussian administration, as well as from his son, King Friedrich II. The father saw himself as a moral role model, while the son saw himself as an exemplar of reason for the religiously, ethnically, and linguistically diverse Prussian state.[1]

The Prussian "era of reform", from the military defeat by Napoleon I at the Battles of Jena and Auerstedt, until the Congress of Vienna in 1815, was also an important influence. These included reform of community boundaries, the army, schools, universities, and taxes, as well as the enfranchisement of Jews.[2]

Examples of Prussian virtues[edit]

  • Austerity or Thrift (German: Sparsamkeit)
  • Bravery without self-pity (German: Tapferkeit ohne Wehleidigkeit) "Lerne leiden ohne zu klagen." Translation: "Learn to suffer without complaint."
  • Courage (German: Mut)
  • Determination (German: Zielstrebigkeit)[citation needed]
  • Discipline (German: Disziplin)
  • Frankness or Probity (German: Redlichkeit)
  • Godliness, coupled with religious tolerance (German: Gottesfurcht bei religiöser Toleranz) "Jeder soll nach seiner Façon selig werden." Translation: "Let everyone find salvation according to their own beliefs."
  • Humility or Modesty (German: Bescheidenheit)
  • Incorruptibility (German: Unbestechlichkeit)[3]
  • Industriousness or Diligence (German: Fleiß)
  • Loyalty (German: Treue)
  • Obedience (German: Gehorsam) "Seid gehorsam, doch nicht ohne Freimut." Translation: Be obedient, but not without frankness.
  • Punctuality (German: Pünktlichkeit)
  • Reliability (German: Zuverlässigkeit)
  • Restraint (German: Zurückhaltung)
  • Self-denial (German: Selbstverleugnung) The German author and soldier Walter Flex (1887-1917) wrote "Wer je auf Preußens Fahne schwört, hat nichts mehr, was ihm selbst gehört." Translation: "He who swears on Prussia's flag has nothing left that belongs to himself."[4]
  • Self-effacement (German: Zurückhaltung) "Mehr sein als scheinen!" Translation: "More substance than semblance!!"
  • Sense of duty or Conscientiousness (German: Pflichtbewusstsein)
  • Sense of justice (German: Gerechtigkeitssinn) "Jedem das Seine" or Suum cuique. Translation: "To each his own".
  • Sense of order (German: Ordnungssinn)
  • Sincerity (German: Aufrichtigkeit)
  • Straightness or Straightforwardness (German: Geradlinigkeit)
  • Subordination (German: Unterordnung)
  • Toughness (German: Härte) "Gegen sich mehr noch als gegen andere." Translation: "Be even harder on yourself than on others."

In poetry[edit]

The Prussian virtues may be summarized by the opening lines of the poem "Der alte Landmann an seinen Sohn" ("The Old Farmer to His Son") by Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty (1748–1776). The text reads as follows: "Üb' immer Treu und Redlichkeit / Bis an dein kühles Grab; / Und weiche keinen Fingerbreit / Von Gottes Wegen ab." Translation: "Use always fidelity and honesty / Up to your cold grave; / And stray not one inch / From the ways of the Lord."[5]

The poem was set to music by Mozart to a melody adapted from the aria "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from his 1791 opera The Magic Flute. It was played daily by the carillon of the Potsdam Garrison Church[6] where Frederick the Great was initially buried.

Leftist criticism[edit]

Prussian virtues have been criticised by some of the middle-class bourgeoisie, for their involvement with militarism and for Prussia's historical opposition to democracy. Labour movements opposed Prussian virtues, specifically those of respect for, or a sense of, law and order and "blind" obedience. Amongst the German student protests of 1968, Prussian virtues were regarded with suspicion, given most Prussians' previous loyalty and obedience to the Nazi government.

In modern-day Germany, Prussian virtues are occasionally referred to and receive mixed criticism. In 1982, amid the controversy surrounding the NATO Double-Track Decision, in response to Social Democratic Party of Germany Chancellor of Germany Helmut Schmidt's call for a return to such virtues, Saarbrücken's SPD mayor Oskar Lafontaine commented that these were "perfectly suited to run a concentration camp". In 2006, the Prime Minister of Brandenburg Matthias Platzeck called for a return to Prussian virtues, citing "good basic virtues, such as honesty, reliability, and diligence".[7]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Christian Graf v. Krockow: "Die Pflicht und das Glück" (speech on 17 August 1991 in the Neues Palais, Potsdam) in: Hans Bentzien: Die Heimkehr der Preußenkönige, 1. edition, Berlin 1991. ISBN 3-353-00877-2
  2. ^ Hans-Joachim Schoeps: chapter "Preußische Tugenden" in Preußen – Bilder und Zeugnisse (most recently posthumously in Preußen – Geschichte eines Staates, Frankfurt a. M./ Berlin 1995. ISBN 3-549-05496-3, pp. 442ff)
  3. ^ Incorruptibility (used as a noun) is the human ability to resist an offer that might be of a tempting or questionable ethical, moral, or legal merit. Incorruptibility values one's ethical or moral values above personal gain or advantage. Perhaps due to its great absence in modern American culture, the creator failed to find any English-language Wikipedia page devoted to this sense of the word. However, a page for Corruption exists. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1984, p. 611, col. 1.
  4. ^ Walter Flex. "Preußischer Fahneneid" ("Prussian Military Oath" written in 1915) in Gesammelte Werke (Title Translation: Collected Works), Vol. 1, pp. 73–74, quote in p. 74. This line was also served as his epitaph at his original burial site at the Dorffriedhof (Village Cemetery) of Peude (or Pöide), Saaremaa island formerly Ösel Island, Estonia. Lars Kich. Der Erste Weltkrieg als Medium der Gegenmoderne: Zu den Werken von Walter Flex und Ernst Jünger. (Title Translation: "The First World War as a Means of Counter-Modernity: To the Works of Walter Flex and Ernst Jünger.") Königshausen & Neumann, 2006, p. 117 and p. 117 n. 544. ISBN 3826031687
  5. ^ "Der alte Landmann an seinen Sohn",
  6. ^ "Moral ohne Anstand" (German)
  7. ^ Rhodes, R. (2004.) Die deutschen Mörder. Translate from English by Jürgen Peter Krause. Bastei-Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach, ISBN 340464218X pp. 151ff. quoted from: Himmler, Geheimreden 1933–1945, ed. Bradley Smith and Agnes Peterson. Propyläen, Frankfurt 1974, p. 128