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Friedrich Meinecke (October 20, 1862 – February 6, 1954) was a liberal German historian, probably the most famous German historian of his generation. As a representative of an older tradition still writing after World War II, he was an important figure to the end of his life.



Meinecke was born in Salzwedel in the Province of Saxony. He was educated at the University of Bonn and the University of Berlin. In 1887-1901 he worked as an archivist at the German State Archives. He served as editor of the journal, Historische Zeitschrift between 1896 and 1935, and was the chairman of the Historische Reichskommission from 1928 to 1935.

Meinecke was best known for his work on 18th-19th century German intellectual and cultural history. The book that made his reputation was his 1908 work Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat (Cosmopolitanism and the National State), which traced the development of national feelings in the 19th century. Starting with Die Idee der Staatsräson (1924), much of his work concerns the conflict between Kratos (power) and Ethos (morality), and how to achieve a balance between the two.

Under the German Empire, Meinecke had called for more democracy in Germany. One of his students was Heinrich Brüning, the future Chancellor. Under the Weimar Republic, Meinecke was an Vernunftsrepublikaner (republican by reason), someone who supported the republic as the least bad alternative. Under the Third Reich, he had some sympathy for the regime, especially in regard to its early anti-semitic laws. After 1935, Meinecke fell into a state of semi-disgrace, and was removed as editor of the Historische Zeitschrift. Though Meinecke remained in public a supporter of the Nazi regime, in private he became increasing bothered by what he regarded as the violence and crudeness of the Nazis. Meinecke's best known book, Die Deutsche Katastrophe (The German Catastrophe) of 1946, sees the historian attempting to reconcile his lifelong belief in authoritarian state power with the disastrous events of 1933-45. His explanation for the success of National Socialism points to the legacy of Prussian militarism in Germany, the effects of rapid industrialisation and the weaknesses of the middle classes, though Meinecke also asserts that Hitlerism benefited from a series of unfortunate accidents, which had no connection with the earlier developments in German history. In 1948, he helped to found the Free University of Berlin.

British historian E. H. Carr [1] cites him as an example of a historian whose views are heavily influenced by the zeitgeist: liberal during the German Empire, discouraged during the interwar period, and deeply pessimistic after World War II.


  • Das Leben des Generalfeldmarschalls Hermann von Boyen (2 volumes, 1896-1899)
  • Das Zeitalter der deutschen Erhebung, 1795-1815 (1906)
  • Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat: Studien zur Genesis des deutschen Nationalstaates (1908)
  • Radowitz und die deutsche Revolution (1913)
  • Die Idee der Staatsräson in der neueren Geschichte (1924)
  • Geschichte des deutsch-englischen Bündnisproblems, 1890-1901 (1927)
  • Staat und Persönlickeit (1933)
  • Die Entstehung des Historismus (2 volumes, 1936)
  • Die deutsche Katastrophe: Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen (1946)
  • 1848: Eine Säkularbetrachtung (1948)
  • Werke (9 volumes, 1957-1979)


  • Erbe, Michael (editor) Friedrich Meinecke heute: Bericht über ein Gedenk-Colloquium zu seinem 25. Todestag am 5. und 6. April 1979, Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1981.
  • Hofer, Walther Geschichtsschreibung und Weltanschauung; Betrachtungen zum Werk Friedrich Meineckes, Munich: Oldenbourg, 1950.
  • Iggers, George The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of historical Thought fromr Herder to the Present, Middletwon, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1968, revised edition, 1983.
  • Meineke, Stefan Friedrich Meinecke: Persönlichkeit und politisches Denken bis zum Ende des ersten Weltkrieges, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995.
  • Pois, Robert, Friedrich Meinecke and German Politics in the Twentieth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
  • Schulin, Ernst "Friedrich Meinecke" from Deutsche Historiker, edited by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971.
  • Sterling, Richard Ethics in a World of Power: The Political Ideas of Friedrich Meinecke, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958.


  1. ^ Carr, E. H. (1961). What is History?. Macmillan/Penguin. ISBN 0-14-02-0652-3.  

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