Ginsberg states that the study of national character should be approached through the qualities manifested in the collective life of nations, their traditions and public policy. He warns us that the national character is not something irrevocably given, but is something always in the making, molding and being molded by the circumstances in which nations find themselves. Getting down to particulars, Ginsberg gives as the two universally acknowledged characteristics of English mentality, its empiricism and its individualism. The former trait is expressed in its international and internal policy and in the history of the Church of England.
The individualism of the English is best seen in the spirit of English law, with its stress on the liberty of the individual, its impatience with compulsion, and its practical understanding of the needs of others. Along with this goes a tolerance of divergent views and considerateness shown to opponents.
The Germans likewise are characterized by individualism, but it differs from that of the English in that it is not accompanied or balanced by the capacity for spontaneous organization but requires organization based on subordination. Germans have strength of will but their minds lack concreteness. They are moved by large but vague and fanciful ends, and they lack a sense of proportion. Lacking in the power of spontaneous organization which in the case of the English provides a balance to the forces of individualism, the Germans have been able to achieve such unity as they have by authoritarian discipline. Persisting through many historic changes are their vague and cloudy aspirations and their admiration for the demonic and heroic. Even their work capacity, their thoroughness and their interest in system, are rooted in their imaginative longing for grandiose architectural schemes. Müller-Freienfels solves the problem of the inconsistencies of German character by the mechanism of compensation and overcompensation. Afraid of the anarchy which his individualism would produce, the German accepts strong leadership; fearful of the conflicts his indefinite strivings generate, he has recourse to minute regulation of group life; aware of the dangers of his speculative fancy, he insists on exact methods and painstaking investigation; to keep his feelings in check, he cultivates hardness and reserve.
The author considers in detail the error inherent in attempts to explain national differences on a basis of blood and race and stresses the importance of the total history of a nation. Especially good is his insistence on the dynamic and reciprocal relation between a people and their institutions, each molding and being molded by the other.
- 607 -
Klein, E. (1943). National Character. Psychoanal. Q., 12:607