The Germans are such prudent realists that not one of their wishes and
their wildest fancies ever extends beyond the bare actualities of life.
And this reality, no more no less, is accepted by those who rule over them.
They too are realists, they are utterly removed from all thought and human
greatness, they are ordinary officers and provincial Junkers, but they are
not mistaken, they are right: just as they are, they are perfectly adequate
to the task of exploiting and ruling over this animal kingdom-or here as
everywhere rule and exploitation are identical concepts. When they make
people pay them homage, when they gaze out over the teeming throng of brainless
creatures, what comes into their minds but the thought that occurred to
Napoleon on the Berezina. It is said that he pointed to the mass of drowning
men and declared to his entourage: Voyez ces crapauds! [Look
at those toads!] The story is probably invented, but it is true nevertheless.
Despotism's only thought is disdain for mankind, dehumanized man; and it
is a thought superior to many others in that it is also a fact. In the eyes
of the despot men are always debased. They drown before his eyes and on
his behalf in the mire of common life from which, like toads, they always
rise up again. If even men capable of great vision, like Napoleon before
he succumbed to his dynastic madness, are overwhelmed by this insight, how
should a quite ordinary king be an idealist in the midst of such a reality?
Letters from the Franco-German Yearbooks