Meinecke, Friedrich

Meinecke, Friedrich

(frē`drĭkh mī`nĕkə), 1862–1954, German historian and intellectual figure. Educated at the Univ. of Berlin, he became a professor there in 1914 and directed (1893–1935) the Historische Zeitschrift. In 1948 he was made rector of the Free Univ. of Berlin. During the Nazi era his humanist views led to official disfavor and his withdrawal from active teaching. Meinecke was both a nationalist and a traditionalist; his early historical works, many of them on Prussia, reveal his belief that the state, besides functioning as the repository of power, must serve cultural values and promote individualism. In Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat (1919, 7th ed. 1928) he wrote with approval of German unification through power at the necessary expense of cultural cosmopolitanism. However, shocked by World War I, Meinecke sought in his masterful Idee der Staatsraïson in der neueren Geschichte (1924; tr. Machiavellism, 1957) to expose irresponsible power in the frame of intellectual history. Die deutsche Katastrophe (1946; tr. The German Catastrophe, 1950) reflected on the rise of National Socialism and the extent of German guilt.


See R. W. Sterling, Ethics in a World of Power (1958) and R. A. Pois, Friedrich Meinecke and German Politics in the Twentieth Century (1972).

Meinecke, Friedrich


Born Oct. 30, 1862, in Salzwedel; died Feb. 6, 1954, in West Berlin. German historian.

Meinecke was a professor at the universities of Strasbourg (1901–06), Freiburg (1906–14), and Berlin (1914–28). From 1896 to 1935 he was editor in chief of the journal Historische Zeitschrift.

Meinecke’s works are only to a small degree concrete historical investigations. The most important of them are devoted to the study of the history of ideas, which he considered the motive force of history. In Cosmopolitanism and the Nation-state (1908), Meinecke presented the history of the unification of Germany from the standpoint of the development of the idea of the nation-state. The weakening of German imperialism after World War I led him to repudiate the notion that the state is the embodiment of a moral idea, a conception that had become a tradition in aristocratic and bourgeois historiography (Machiavellianism: The Doctrine of Raison d’État and Its Place in Modern History, 1924).

Meinecke maintained that an irrational “demonic” principle seems to play a major role in history. Adjusting to new historical conditions, he called on the Social Democrats to guide the country and favored alliances with the Western powers. Under the fascist dictatorship he published the important theoretical and methodological work The Origins of Historicism (1936), in which he summarized his view that historical phenomena are uniquely individual complexes not subject to any scientific laws.

After the defeat of fascism Meinecke criticized certain aspects of the political course of German imperialism in The GermanCatastrophe: Reflections and Recollections (1946). Although he abandoned its most bankrupt doctrines, he sought to defend the essence of idealistic methodology. As president of the so-called Free University of Berlin after 1948, Meinecke was active in kindling the cold war.


Danilov, A. I. “Fridrikh Meineke i nemetskii burzhuaznyi istorizm.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1962, no. 2.
Lozek, G., and H. Syrbe. Geschichtsschreibung contra Geschichte. Berlin, 1964.


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