Politics

Hermann Hesse saw himself as a writer, not a politician. Notwithstanding this, he in 1912 turned his back on the Germany of the imperious Kaiser and "theatre monarch" Wilhelm II, making himself the "first voluntary émigré." While he did, after the First World War, receive offers to assume political office - in the soviet-style government of the Bavarian "Räterepublik," for example - Hesse always turned these down. "My attempt to develop a liking for political affairs failed," he wrote in a letter in 1917. He once described the reasons for his reluctance to take up political office as follows: "Politics just isn't my thing, otherwise I would have long become a revolutionary. I have no other desire than to find my way to myself and to purely spiritual acts." Yet this should not be taken to mean that Hesse was unpolitical. Hesse was an advocate of peace and a writer committed to humanity and humanitarianism. "Yet humanitarianism and politics," in the words of a much quoted statement he once made, "are always mutually exclusive. Both are necessary but it is virtually impossible to serve both at the same time. Politics means taking sides and being partisan, humanitarianism precludes this." At the beginning of the First World War, Hesse was one of the few German intellectuals not to be swept up by the general enthusiasm for the war. Between 1914 and 1918, he published two dozen essays criticizing the war in German-language newspapers. From 1915 on, he helped to establish a centre for the welfare of prisoners of war in Berne. He was an early critic of National Socialism. While his books were not outlawed under the Third Reich, they were declared undesirable. Initially, Das Glasperlenspiel could only be published in Switzerland. Many political émigrés from the Third Reich, among them Thomas Mann, were given political sanctuary by Hesse, and he also gave financial assistance to many of those in need.