Prussian virtues

Prussian virtues (German: preußische Tugenden) refers to the virtues associated with the historical kingdom of Prussia, especially its militarism and the ethical code of the Prussian army, but also bourgeois values as influenced by Lutheranism and Calvinism. It has also significantly influenced wider German culture, such as the contemporary German stereotypes of efficiency, austerity and discipline.


These virtues, while traced back to the Teutonic knights, were named by King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the "soldierking" 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]

In poetry

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."[3]

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."[4] 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[5] where Frederick the Great was initially buried.

Post-WWII views

Since the defeat in World War II and the denazification campaign, historical German militarism has become anathema in German culture, focused on collective responsibility and atonement. At the same time, the related non-military, bourgeois virtues of efficiency, discipline and work ethics remain in high standing. This has led to the concept of "Prussian virtues" being regarded with mixed feelings in modern-day Germany. Amongst the German student protests of 1968, militarist virtues were rejected as prerequisite for the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. The term Kadavergehorsam for "blind obedience", originally a slur directed against Jesuits during the 1870s Kulturkampf, came to be used as a derogatory staple of "Prussian" military ethos. Similarly, the term Nibelungentreue ("Nibelung loyalty"), which in the German Empire had been used in a positive sense for the military virtue of absolute loyalty, came to be used derogatorily in reference to fanatical loyalty characteristic of fascism. 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".[6]

Examples of Prussian virtues

See also


  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. 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
  4. "Der alte Landmann an seinen Sohn",
  5. "Moral ohne Anstand" (German)
  6. 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
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