"Americans, more than most people, believe that history is the result of individual decisions to implement conscious intentions. For Americans, more than most people, history has been that.... This sense of openness, of possibility and autonomy, has been a national asset as precious as the topsoil of the Middle West. But like topsoil, it is subject to erosion; it requires tending. And it is not bad for Americans to come to terms with the fact that for them too, history is a story of inertia and the unforeseen."
"What has history to do with me? Mine is the first and only world! I want to report how I find the world. What others have told me about the world is a very small and incidental part of my experience. I have to judge the world, to measure things."
"It would strike me as ridiculous to want to doubt the existence of Napoleon; but if someone doubted the existence of the earth 150 years ago, perhaps I should be more willing to listen, for now he is doubting our whole system of evidence."
"Each of us, even the lowliest and most insignificant among us, was uprooted from his innermost existence by the almost constant volcanic upheavals visited upon our European soil and, as one of countless human beings, I can't claim any special place for myself except that, as an Austrian, a Jew, writer, humanist and pacifist, I have always been precisely in those places where the effects of the thrusts were most violent."
"Against my will, I became a witness to the most terrible defeat of reason and to the most savage triumph of brutality ever chronicled ... never before did a generation suffer such a moral setback after it had attained such intellectual heights."
"But in the intellectual world, there is room for all opposing forces: even that which never appears victorious in the real world continues to be effective as a dynamic force (in the intellectual world) and precisely the unfulfilled ideals prove to be the most invincible."
"Erasmus was the light of his century; others were its strength: he lighted the way; others knew how to walk on it while he himself remained in the shadow as the source of light always does. But he who points the way into a new era is no less worthy of veneration than he who is the first to enter it; those who work invisibly have also accomplished a feat."
"Every epoch which seeks renewal first projects its ideal into a human form. In order to comprehend its own essence tangibly, the spirit of the time chooses a human being as its prototype and raising this single individual, often one upon whom it has chanced to come, far beyond his measure, the spirit enthuses itself for its own enthusiasm."
"Of course, in the reality of history, the Machiavellian view which glorifies the principle of violence has been able to dominate. Not the compromising conciliatory politics of humaneness, not the Erasmian, but rather the politics of vested power which firmly exploits every opportunity, politics in the sense of the "Principe," has determined the development of European history ever since."
"Never is a historic deed already completed when it is done but always only when it is handed down to posterity. What we call "history" by no means represents the sum total of all significant deeds.... World history ... only comprises that tiny lighted sector which chanced to be placed in the spotlight by poetic or scholarly depictions."
"The Battle of Waterloo is a work of art with tension and drama with its unceasing change from hope to fear and back again, change which suddenly dissolves into a moment of extreme catastrophe, a model tragedy because the fate of Europe was determined within this individual fate."
"The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever!... What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions, and all written revelations? The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring."
"No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert. What is a course of history or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity."
"The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit,--not a fossil earth, but a living earth; compared with whose great central life all animal and vegetable life is merely parasitic."