Prussian virtues

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As Prussian virtues of the are Protestant - Calvinist morality and enlightenment embossed virtues referred that since Frederick William I of Prussia propagated state and were promoted. The German virtues , which include punctuality, order and diligence, are also derived from the Prussian virtues .


Friedrich Wilhelm I in Prussia in armor with an ermine coat, marshal's baton and breast star and shoulder ribbon of the Order of the Black Eagle (painting by Antoine Pesne , around 1733)

When Friedrich Wilhelm I found an over-indebted state budget when he ascended the throne as Prussian king, order, diligence, modesty and godliness were his leitmotifs for the subsequent reform and rehabilitation of the state. He earned his nickname "Soldier King" when he built up the powerful Prussian army.

His son Frederick the Great , who, in contrast to his father, was a beautiful spirit, became the leader of the Prussian army in numerous wars as a symbol of bravery, justice and solidarity with the people. Later, when Friedrich became a socially isolated man in old age, he was still considered a role model for toughness, a sense of duty and discipline.

The Prussian national territory was spread over large stretches of land and its population was structured heterogeneously. The majority of Prussians, for example, adhered to Lutheranism , a minority against it, which also included the ruling house, to Calvinist Protestantism and a further minority to Catholicism . After Frederick the Great had brought Jews into the country, a total of four larger religious communities existed in his state alongside a few smaller free churches. In addition, there were Polish , Sorbian and Kashubian minorities alongside the German majority . Friedrich Wilhelm I saw himself as a moral role model for all his subjects, his son adopted reason and tolerance as personal behavior maxims in order to be able to control such a diverse state.

They provided Prussia with a progressive legal system and administration , an officer corps loyal to the crown and a "patriotism of reason" that enabled its rise from the conventional baroque state of the Great Elector to a modern great power despite its poor economic conditions - sandy, poor arable land (Prussia as "the Holy Roman Reiches Deutscher Nation sand can ”); great devastation and evacuations in the Thirty Years War  - greatly promoted.

The Prussian reforms after the military defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 up to the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (community, army, school, university and tax reform, Prussian Jewish edict of 1812 ) also had a formative influence . The army reform , which changed the relationship between king and soldier and “made the tunic into the dress of honor”, ​​had a particularly formative effect .

For a long time, the Prussian virtues that promote drill and obedience only applied to the military, but with the establishment of the Reich in 1871, they determined all of German civil society.


The Prussian virtues are summarized in the first lines of Ludwig Hölty's "The old farmer to his son". The poem was accompanied by the melody of "A Girl or a Woman" from Mozart's Magic Flute and performed daily by the carillon of the court and garrison church in Potsdam , in which Frederick the Great was originally buried. The text reads: “Always practice faithfulness and honesty, / Until your cold grave; / And don't move an inch / from God's ways. / Then you will, as if on a green Aun, / go through the pilgrimage; / Then you can, especially fear and horror, / look death in the eye. "


Friedrich II.

The Prussian virtues are neither fixed in their number nor in their quality and therefore do not form a canon . With the exception of obedience, they go back to the Christian cardinal virtues .

Examples of predominantly military importance

Originally, the Prussian virtues only applied to the army and were only later adopted by Prussian society, which increasingly oriented itself towards the military. A strict hierarchy was characteristic of the Prussian social system . For example, loyalty , self-denial in favor of the state and the king ("Whoever swears on the Prussian flag has nothing that belongs to him or her"), bravery without self- indulgence ("Learn to suffer without complaining"), subordination, courage and obedience (but not without boldness ) as worth striving for. (Self) discipline , an indispensable military virtue, also included toughness, even more against yourself than against others.

Examples of overall social importance

The outdated saying that someone is doing something pour le Roi de Prusse (literally "for the King of Prussia", i.e. for free without taking anything in return ) is sometimes attributed to these virtues .

Philosophical virtues

Quotes from Frederick
4th “ … everyone here must become Selich according to His Faßon. "

Fear of God has been a Prussian virtue since Friedrich Wilhelm I at the latest. Even under his son, it was still given high priority, but under the aspect of religious tolerance . “ Everyone should be saved according to his own style ” became Frederick the Great's leitmotif. This state-sponsored openness to the world was not least due to economic reasons. When Friedrich let Jews into the country, he also obliged them to pay high special taxes.

German virtues

Even today, courtesy, punctuality, diligence and order are considered virtues and tolerance and justice are the values ​​of the Germans.

Typical quotes

  • Always practice faithfulness and honesty ” - the carillon of the Potsdam Garrison Church
  • In his novel Der Stechlin, Theodor Fontane has an officer say: “Service is everything, and dashing is only renown . And that's all that counts lowest with us. The really noble obey not a ruler but a sense of duty. What is incumbent on us is not the pleasure of life, not even love, the real one, but only duty. It is also something specifically Prussian. We are thereby distinguished from other nations, and even with those who do not understand and want to ill, the idea of ​​our resulting superiority dawns. "
  • "Chose disgrace where obedience did not bring honor " (inscription on the tombstone of Johann Friedrich Adolf von der Marwitz in Friedersdorf, who refused the king's order to plunder Hubertusburg Castle during the Seven Years' War )
  • Être Prussien est un honneur, mais pas plaisir. ("To be Prussian is an honor, but not a pleasure." - French proverb)


The “Prussian virtues” were always criticized, for example in the bourgeoisie because of their original distance from science and art, state economic and soldier characteristics - “command and obedience” (for its negative and radical expression see also cadaver obedience ) - and hostility towards democracy. The labor movement also turned against the latter two traits in particular. In the 1968 movement , they were viewed with great suspicion, especially because the duty of loyalty and obedience was mostly exercised towards the National Socialist government and devalued as " secondary virtues " compared to their concept of emancipatory " primary virtues " (also: cardinal virtues ).

In his pamphlet Prussianism and Socialism , published in 1919, the historical philosopher Oswald Spengler assessed Prussianism as the basis of a specifically German, essentially illiberal, anti-democratic and anti-revolutionary school of thought of socialism : “The German, more precisely Prussian instinct was: Power belongs to the whole. The individual serves him. The whole thing is sovereign. The king is only the first servant of his state (Frederick the Great). Everyone gets their place. It is commanded and obeyed. "

"Prussian virtues" are still occasionally discussed in political debates today. At the beginning of January 2006, for example, Brandenburg's Prime Minister Matthias Platzeck called for a return to positive Prussian virtues in a dpa discussion and addressed "proven basic qualities such as decency, reliability and the fulfillment of duties".

The US-American Richard Rhodes sees Heinrich Himmler 's principle of Prussian "hardship" as a prerequisite for hundreds of thousands of Germans to willingly carried out the extermination of the Jews :

“However, Himmler strove to make the repulsive task of slaughtering unarmed civilians part of the SS nimbus. In his efforts he was able to fall back on the Prussian military tradition, according to which morally reprehensible and psychologically stressful experiences were turned into a virtue: 'toughness'.
Himmler also invoked the virtue of 'toughness' in the autumn of 1940 when he explained to SS officers that the SS had to move hundreds of thousands in Poland in weather with 40 ° C below zero and 'had the hardness' to shoot thousands of leading Poles.
It must always be the case that such an execution must be the hardest thing for our men. And it still has to be that they never become soft, but that they do it with clenched lips. "


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b dpa: German virtues are becoming less important. (Survey) In: Handelsblatt. June 28, 2011, accessed October 31, 2014 (German).
  2. a b c d Rainer Ehrt : Prussian virtues. (Article) Long forgotten or wanted? Brandenburg State Center for Civic Education, accessed on October 30, 2014 (German).
  3. ^ Sebastian Haffner , Wolfgang Venohr: Prussian profiles . 2nd edition 2001.
  4. "The old farmer to his son" .
  5. ^ Herbert Kremp: Prussian virtues. (Column) Column by Herbert Kremp. In: The world. February 5, 2001, accessed on November 1, 2014 (German).
  6. Quotation from: Walter Flex: Preußischer Fahneneid . 1915 In: Ders .: Gesammelte Werke , Vol. 1, pp. 73 - 74, here p. 74; also his grave inscription on Ösel.
  8. a b c d e f g h Ulrike Timm: Historian pleads for a return to old virtues. (Interview) 300 years ago Frederick the Great brought Prussia to bloom with the help of bourgeois virtues. Deutschlandradio Kultur, January 12, 2012, accessed on November 1, 2014 (German).
  9. a b c d S. Tomczak: The ambivalence of Prussian virtues. Retrieved October 30, 2014 (German).
  10. - Historians plead for a return to old virtues. Retrieved August 3, 2016 .
  11. Oswald Spengler : Prussianism and Socialism . Munich 1921, p. 15
  12. ^ Richard Rhodes: The German Murderers. From the English by Jürgen Peter Krause. Bastei-Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 2004, ISBN 3-404-64218-X , p. 151f. Quoted from: Bradley Smith, Agnes Peterson (ed.): Himmler, Secret Speeches 1933–1945 . Propylaea, Frankfurt 1974, p. 128.