Emil Ludwig

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Emil Ludwig

Emil Ludwig (January 25, 1881 – September 17, 1948) was a German-Swiss author, known for his biographies and study of historical "greats."


  • Die Entscheidung, sich zum ersten Mal zu küssen, ist die wichtigste in jeder Liebesbeziehung. Es verändert die Beziehung von zwei Menschen wesentlich stärker als letzendlich die Kapitulation; denn dieser Kuss trägt die Kapitulation schon in sich.
    • The decision to kiss for the first time is the most crucial in any love story. It changes the relationship of two people much more strongly than even the final surrender; because this kiss already has within it that surrender.
    • Of Life and Love (2005), p. 29 (Über das Glück und die Liebe, 1940)

The English translation was originally published in 1927. Page numbers here are from the 1970 AMS Press reprint.

  • And so the Emperor-King, in his oath, had sworn only to his own actual authority to decide all vital national questions “to the best of his ability”—and on what other principle does any reasonable human being proceed? None the less he remained, whatever the consequences, inviolable, unindictable, or, as it was expressed in other German National Constitutions, “hallowed.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Old and the New Worlds, there was—besides the Tsar and the Sultan—no one who possessed such authority as William the Second.
    • Chapter 2, “Too Soon” (p. 71)
  • The Emperor wanted to attract the adherents of the new doctrines by protecting the status of the working-man; he addressed the as “Ihr” and “Du,” fancied himself in the part of father of his people, was anxious to distribute privileges without himself abjuring any—in short, he wanted “popular absolutism,” after the fashion of Frederick the Great. Only he forgot that a century had gone by since then.
  • Bismarck was an oppression on the realm.
    For a decade no political intelligence had dared to raise its head, unless prepared to defy him; thus the best brains in the Opposition were repressed, instead of ripening to potential authority. No official could develop under his rule, for all feared him who drew all things into his orbit, and decreed. Justly could the young Emperor say: “I have no Ministers; they are all Prince Bismarck’s Ministers.”
    • Chapter 3, “Bismarck” (p. 84)
  • Intrigue is always at the bottom of all political activities.
    • Chapter 4, “Cabals” (p. 134; quoting Eulenburg)
  • “I know of only two political parties—that which is for me, and that which is against me!” The motto of an absolute ruler. These words, spoken at the age of thirty, at a time when good intentions were at their highest and infatuation was at its lowest, introduce the theme which for three decades he was to vary by alienation from all parties in turn.
    • Chapter 4, “Cabals” (p. 171)
  • A sacred duty is imposed by Heaven on us Christian Kings and Emperors—to uphold the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.
    • Chapter 4, “Cabals” (p. 178)
  • He was living in the world of 120 years ago, more like a descendant of the Bourbons than the descendant of Voltaire’s friend; he regarded Jaurès in the Chamber of Deputies as Jaurès on the throne, and at the bottom of his heart considered all those people who desired to be something more than subjects as only fit to be shot down—except that hanging them would be more suitable.
    • Chapter 4, “Cabals” (p. 179)
  • In the course of five years’ visits the Emperor had roused English feeling against Germany; by his conduct towards his uncle he had offended the Court, by that towards Salisbury the Cabinet; by his prattle he had annoyed society, by his menaces the Press, by his indiscretions the man in the street, who read of them in the papers.
    • Chapter 4, “Cabals” (p. 194)
  • To Eulenburg Bülow owed his whole career—which, when all is said, remains the only statesmanlike one of the William the Second’s reign.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 226)
  • In only one respect were the Foreign Office and the Emperor completely in accord—each thought and said that the other was crazy.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 232)
  • So in this matter also he attributed his own perfidy to others, vindicating thus his own political propensities.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 241)
  • In this document all the elements of his being are fused into a unique amalgam which is the authentic William—the fervour of the Crusader, the lawlessness of the pirate, the rant of the star-actor in a Grand Historical Melodrama, the craving for hegemony, the infatuation of the deluded, while as a finishing-touch the Germans are twice likened to classic murderers.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 255)
  • Behind their glittering phrases both monarchs were uneasy. At the Conference it was soon made manifest that genuine Pacifists there were none, except the United States. The time was not ripe. Europe, for her awakening, needed the stench of ten million corpses.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 266)
  • The State has no higher purpose than the protection of its interests. These, however, for Great Powers, are not necessarily identical with the preservation of peace.
  • A great and peaceable people, conscious of its subjection to a boastful little monarch, was obliged to pay for the claptrap of its vainglorious sovereign, who only degraded them with the title of Huns that he might ape an Attila.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 273)
  • “Our policy”—so Brandenburg pronounces—“was a petty one, dictated partly by uneasiness, partly by greed and considerations of prestige. Once more, great perdurable things were forgotten in trivialities.”
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 287)
  • When Lyncker at about this time took over the Military Cabinet, the Emperor said to him in a pathetically pleading tone: “But, dear Lyncker, you won’t bring me nothing but musty papers, will you? Now and again some funny little story or another!” This is a shocking example of his aversion from anything practical, for the speaker was a man of fifty, who still was called the young Emperor.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 323)
  • Wealth, as such, impressed him deeply; his unromantic spirit respected this modern form of power—riches, no matter how acquired, were a sufficient attraction.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 323)
  • When so markedly egotistic a nature dominates a realm, the consequences can be nothing but catastrophic; and we are heading straight for a period which will decide whether the age or the Emperor is the stronger. I am afraid it will not be he.
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 329; quoting Eulenburg)
  • His extreme vanity soon led him to imagine that he was really among the most remarkable of men.
  • His versatility turns out to be mere superficiality; his private life is narrowly watched, and the general conclusion is that he spends most of his time in amusing himself.
  • His mother said: “Don’t for a moment imagine that my son ever does anything from any motive but vanity.”
    • Chapter 5, “Bülow” (p. 330)
  • The instability to which he was victim had flung him from the arms of one national group into another, and then back to the first; and all the time that he was treacherously playing off one enemy against the other, he was but drawing the two together. Since he would always do everything himself, and spoke the decisive word in all great national affairs, he bore and bears the responsibility for Germany’s isolation and encirclement in the decade immediately before the World-War. Never, but for William’s provocations, would Edward VII and his people have joined the enemies of Germany. The security of the German Empire was offered up on the altar of the Emperor’s nervous temperament.
    • Chapter 7, “Gathering Clouds” (p. 410)
  • The Balkan War of October 1912 convulsed the European Powers. They all lied freely, differing only in the manner of it—which in Petersburg was brazen, in London cautious, in Vienna frivolous, in Berlin stupid.
    • Chapter 7, “Gathering Clouds” (p. 428)
  • Only by the universal propaganda of lies were they ever goaded into hate—not for trade-rivalry nor race-antagonism, not material nor moral causes, made this Cabinet War a necessity in any one of the European States. The life-blood of ten millions of her sons was shed by Europe, not under any “tragic necessity,” nor through any “fatal concatenation” of circumstances; the sacrifice was extorted from her only by her wrangling statesman.
    • Chapter 7, “Gathering Clouds” (p. 437)
  • The Emperor, during the war, refused to face facts, and entrenched himself in optimism…. The contrast between the masterful personality which he tried to assume (and indeed was obliged to assume), and the absence of any real force of character, grew daily more glaring until the bitter end. It was his and Germany’s misfortune that it could not be said of him as of his grandfather but he was no mere War-Lord, but a true soldier (Freytag-Loringhoven, Menschen und Bilder, 276)
    This verdict from an aristocratic General epitomizes the Emperor’s attitude throughout the War.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 452)
  • The logic of the machine checkmates its constructor and makes him its slave.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 454)
  • The responsibility of the Sovereign was supreme, and as a consequence the whole extent of the various failures, or even the final defeat, is primarily attributable to him.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 456)
  • When Erzberger, coming from Rome in March 1915, was about to inform the Emperor whether Italy would take the field or not, the aide-de-camp said pleadingly: “you won’t tell His Majesty anything but good news, will you?” His own librarian’s book, Der Kaiser im Felde, which told of nothing but motor-drives, luncheon-parties, addresses, decorations, and beaming looks, all in a tone of unpleasing adulation, the Emperor presented to Count Czernin and others, with his own inscription.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (pp. 459-460)
  • Remoteness inspired optimism.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 460)
  • All these blunders were, in war as in peace, the outcome of the deceptive selection and presentation of news.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 460)
  • They did this on the contemptible pretext, pleaded by all unscrupulous and ambitious placemen, that the country stood in need of their services.
    • Chapter 8, “War” (p. 469)
  • The land is groaning now. More than a million of her sons—the half of her youth—lie prostrate, rotting in alien soil. Hark to the mothers’ tears, the fathers’ execrations; see this brave famished people cower to the victor’s lash!
    Are these the glorious days you vowed to bring your people? Which of your promises have you kept? Though Nature and upbringing wronged you, what have you done with your many gifts in that festival you made of life? In the service of your phrases, your pretensions, this great people has been led astray; and when for once it warned you, you derided it.
    After four inactive years—four years of sacrifice for all but you—you have refused your people the last service which, in history’s eyes, might still have saved you; and for scurvy life are breaking now the soldier’s oath you swore before you grandsire—the oath inviolate; you dinned that in their ears a thousand times. Now, in their direst need, you wash your hands of them—wife, children, subjects; in your craven fear you cast away the honor of your fathers. Chaos is upon your land; and while millions stare privation and slavery in the face, one man, the man who stands for all, steps into his luxurious car and rolls away to ease and comfort in a neutral country.
    • Chapter 9, “Exit” (p. 508)

Three Portraits: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin (1940)

Adolf Hitler
1939 address in Danzig
  • Hitler's technique of oratory is largely the result of... mass psychology... He declared to his small, new party that everything depended on fascinating the crowd. Above all... restore to the German people, deprived of an army, their flags, bands and songs. ...He invented every emblem himself, except the swastika, designed his own flag, and prescribed every collar and button for the slowly-growing party troops.
  • Hitler's aim was to attract attention to himself. ...[H]e personally arranged all the lighting effects and spotlights, as well as his entry into a hall with fanfares. He trained crowds to salute with the right arm, taught them his songs, and transformed the audience from an apathetic mass into active collaborators in his festivities.
  • As a stage manager and advertiser, he gave proof as real genius. In his book... "The Entente," he writes, "won the war simply and solely by its propaganda." A crowd is ready to believe anything, "true or false," provided it is constantly reiterated; one only has to say the same thing often enough.
  • He is past-master in the technique of platform speaking, and he can be humorous, grave, witty, tragic and cynical as the occasion requires.
  • His effect, in complete contrast to Mussolini's... he juggles with mystical notions such as Honor, Blood, and Soil, and thus wraps his audience in that cloud of mysticism which the Germans love far more than mere prosaic logic.
  • [H]e works to create the single great impression that here is a prophet whose heart is bleeding for the fate of his people. ...[H]e is sly enough to use an arrangement on his speaker's desk through which, by pressing a button, the spotlights are switched on to him so that the ecstasies can be properly filmed for the news reels. A similar combination of ecstasy and artifice can be observed in other actors.
  • [H]e commanded over a hundred of his armed adherents to make an open attack on the armed police force. The latter met the rebel's attack... Shots were fired. Fourteen men lay dead on the Munich pavement. ...Hitler vanished ...The fourteen heroes of the Nazi movement were later eulogized... by the leader who had abandoned them in danger.
  • He realized that he could rise only through the support of the discontented and utterly disillusioned middle class. All he did later was to subjugate it. Rauschning describes in detail Hitler's intense hatred of Germany's laboring masses.
  • The pyramid familiar to the Germans... in which each individual carries another on his back but makes up for it by standing on somebody else, was set up anew by Hitler.
  • The Germans, who love order more than freedom, and whose ruling passion is obedience, rejoiced in their release from an uncomfortable equality into new ranks of superiors and inferiors. This is the second source of Hitler's success.
  • As a man without religion, without philosophy, without principles, he balked at nothing. ...[H]e concealed... his desire for self-aggrandizement, and... believes in his own idealism.
  • Since the banks and the big industrialists wished to rid themselves of the Socialists, with their wage demands and strikes, they contributed generously to this popular party. ...Hitler's speeches constantly promised the masses a renewal of the soldier-spirit, a new army and new victories.
  • Hitler, who had made his way to power by his great gifts as a stage manager and speaker, introduced into the Reichschancellory all that browbeating noise which the Germans are so prone to take for greatness. ...Immediately after his appointment as chancellor, Hitler resolved to prove to the world that he had come, a new Saint George, to slay the dragon of communism. While the German Reichstag was burning, he accused the Communists of the guilt... This trial he lost... for its sole result was to expose the guilt of the Nazis.
  • The Germans were wretched so long as they had no sword. ...Only a world once more trembling before the gigantic juggernaut of a German army could do... [A] genuine idealism ...inspires the German Nazi youth. It is bellicose... and looks forward to a hero's death... they believe in the superiority of the German race and its right to rule the world.
    Their new leader... began to turn it into reality... The technique of government by advertisement... has enabled a ruler... to attain his aims by sheer propaganda and bluff...
  • That is the language of a gambler—of a man who stakes his all in one card... when the other players simply refuse to call a bluff, he may safely risk his stake.
    And yet, with the great triumphs Hitler has flaunted, with the increase in power and population... how are we to explain the apathy shared by... Germans, with exceptions of the few thousand commandeered to function at processions? They do not revolt, yet they are neither happy nor content... the enthusiasm wanes... as it has been since the third year of the Hitler régime...
  • The appointment of ignorant young men by the Party to high places in the German universities and clinics... has caused profound depression in the country... A country which no longer recognizes a written constitution, a country in which the Minister of Justice proclaims as his guiding principle, "Right is what is useful to Germany," a country in which the police force... watches with sympathetic interest any crime which is committed to the Party's advantage—is a country where none can feel safe. Even the free can hardly take much pleasure... where more than 100,000 souls are imprisoned... Any German who has not risen to wealth and position through the Party feels less free... Millions are ashamed because they are no longer citizens of a constitutional State.
    Meanwhile their Führer sits in his villa... and here he entertains his friends. ...As he talks ceaselessly and seldom listens... business cannot be settled.


  • Debate is the death of conversation.
    • In Lilless McPherson Shilling, Linda K. Fuller, Dictionary of Quotations in Communications (1997), p. 13. Most likely a variation of "Argument, again, is the death of conversation, if carried on in a spirit of hostility", William Hazlitt, Table Talk: Opinions on Books, Men, and Things (1846), p. 126

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