Arndt, Ernst Moritz

Arndt, Ernst Moritz Image 1

Ernst Moritz Arndt

Ernst Moritz Arndt was born on 26 December, 1769 on the island of Rügen, which at the time was under Swedish rule. Not long before his son’s birth, Arndt’s father had bought his freedom from serfdom and subsequently achieved prosperity as a large-scale leaseholder and landowner. This prosperity meant that Arndt, after studying theology in Greifswald and Jena, was able to take a one-and-a-half year educational journey through Europe, which he also wrote about (Reisen durch einen Teil Deutschlands, Ungarns, Italiens und Frankreichs in den Jahren 1798 und 1799 - Journeys through a part of Germany, Hungary, Italy and France in 1798 and 1799, published 1804).

After completing his doctorate in Greifswald he became a Privatdozent (associate lecturer) for modern history there and a professor in 1806. His Versuch einer Geschichte der Leibeigenschaft in Pommern und Rügen (A History of Serfdom in Pomerania and Rügen, 1803) provides a critical analysis of the East Elbian feudal system. When Napoleon occupied the region following his victory over Prussia in 1806, Arndt fled to Sweden (1806-1809). His account of this period, Geist der Zeit (Spirit of the Time), was published in Stockholm in two parts, the first in 1806, the second in 1808. In 1812 Arndt responded to the call of the initiator of the Prussian reforms (1807), Karl Freiherr vom Stein, and went to St. Petersburg, where Stein was organizing resistance to Napoleon, who had failed in his attempt to conquer Russia. Accompanied by Russian troops, Stein and his “scribe”, secretary and press officer Arndt went to Königsberg, where they witnessed the beginning of the German Campaign with the deployment of a local militia by the regional parliament. It was the occupation, devastation and plundering of Europe by Napoleon that first radicalized German intellectuals like Arndt and transformed them from adherents of the Enlightenment into nationalists with chauvinistic tendencies. From the beginning of 1813 up until the Battle of Leipzig in October, Arndt published extensively and became widely known through his pamphlets, songs and poems (Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland – What is the German Fatherland). However, the partisan of German freedom soon collided with the leaders of the German restoration: when the fourth part of Geist der Zeit was published in 1818, Arndt was suspended from his new professorship at the newly founded University of Bonn and was not reinstated until 1840. At the age of 80, he made his last appearance on the political stage as a member of the National Assembly in Frankfurt am Main from 1848-49. Arndt died in Bonn on 29 January, 1860.

During the nineteenth century, Arndt’s posthumous fame centered above all on his role as a German patriot and nationalist. However, he was later condemned as a “forerunner of the Third Reich” and as a result was shamefully ignored and all but forgotten after 1945. There is no modern edition of his works. It is only now that a gradual attempt is being made to rediscover the whole Arndt, his deeply emotional commitment to liberty and his early adherence to the values of the Enlightenment, the period from which the text here originates.