Saturday, 26 April 2014

One Smile was Enough, It was an Earthquake

‘Guilt, if there is such a thing, isn’t bound to time or place and can’t just lapse from one day to the next. Guilt requires expiation; that makes sense. But a time limit is a half-measure, it’s weak, or at least prosaic.’ And he clung to this idea for support, repeating to himself that what had happened had to happen. But at the very moment when he was certain of this, he rejected it again. ‘There must be some time limit, a time limit is the only sensible approach; and whether it’s prosaic into the bargain or not is neither here nor there, what’s sensible is usually prosaic. I’m forty-five now. If I had found the letters twenty-five years later, I would have been seventy. Then Wüllersdorf would have said, “Innstetten, don’t be a fool.” And if Wüllersdorf hadn’t said it, Buddenbrook would have, and if he hadn’t said it I would have said it myself. That much is clear. If you take something to extremes, then you go too far and end up looking ridiculous. No doubt about it. But where does it start? Where is the dividing line? After ten years a duel is still necessary, and they call it honour, and after eleven years, or perhaps after only ten and a half, they call it folly. The dividing line, the dividing line. Where is it? Has it come? Has it already been crossed? When I think of that last look, the resignation, with a smile in spite of his agony, what that look was saying was, “Innstetten, always the stickler for principles… You could have spared me this, and yourself too.” And maybe he was right. My soul seems to be saying something like that. Yes, if I’d been filled with mortal hate, if I’d had a burning lust for revenge… Revenge isn’t admirable, but it’s human, and has a natural human right. As it was, it was all for the sake of an idea, a concept, it was an artificial affair, half play-acting. And now I have to carry on with the act, and send Effi away, and be the ruin of her, and myself too… I should have burnt the letters and the world should never have found out about them. And then when she came back, without any inkling, I should have said, ‘Your place is there,’ and should have inwardly divorced myself from her. Not in the eyes of the world. There are so many lives that aren’t real lives, so many marriages that aren’t real marriages… happiness would have gone, but I wouldn’t have had to live with that eye with its questioning look and its silent, gentle reproof.’  (Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest)

He is on a train, he has just killed a man, and he can’t stop thinking about it.  Driven a little crazy before making the decision, he has become even crazier since doing the deed, now that he sees all those great principles he believed he was fighting for evaporating like steam off freshly made tea.  Principles.  How quickly they can vanish!  Without belief they are merely ideas, “an artificial affair”, a fortune made up of fake bank notes.  After the crisis his society no longer looks so real; yesterday it was a living organism, today it is a world of make-believe, whose falsity has at last been exposed.  The consequences are terrible: his identity emptied out, now only the social exterior remains, and Innstetten must act out the rest of his life like a puppet in a puppet play.

I once tried to help a woman find the essence of Christa T..  I worked very hard.  I strived with all my might to assist her, and I may even have succeeded to a small degree.  But I made a big mistake.  I overlooked the most obvious place to look: the society in which she lived.  So much of our identity is determined by our culture, which we absorb like a plant  does sunlight.  Largely unconscious of its workings we photosynthesise its rituals and codes and ideological detritus to create ourselves from out of ourselves, a man dependent on his culture but at the same time free of it.  Before the duel Innstetten, who is wary of self-consciousness, was unaware of this gap between a society and the individual; for him they were one.i   Afterwards he realises that his society exists independently of himself, and that by acting in conformity with its precepts he has gone against his own humanity and common sense.  His mind now alive to this previously unrecognised division his feelings seep out of the moral conventions and the social bond loses all its value.  His emotional deflation intensifies these alienated thoughts, and he puts all the blame on a public self that has sacrificed other human beings to wilfully follow what he now believes is nothing more than arbitrary ideas.  His faith gone Innstetten thinks that society exists completely outside of himself.  Society thus voids all of its spirit, and he loses much of his identity.ii 

Before Innstetten boarded the train that took him back to Kessin the codes and ideas of his culture seemed irrepressibly powerful.  Yet they were to fall like papier-mâché dolls before a slight breeze: Crampas’ irony revealing them to be of far less value than a single human life.  Something so strong is yet at the same time so weak…  It is a revelation to Innstetten, who by fusing his personal life with his public persona had sacrificed himself to a social ideal that he himself had helped to create; and which thereby gave him enormous instrumental power, able to exercise both his freedom and his authority through his subordination to the state.  Innstetten had exaggerated the value of his society’s conventions; raising them above his own happiness and safety he mistakenly believed them to be greater than individual humanity.  Crampas dying smile exposes that over-valuation, and makes Innstetten suffer the one thing he feared above all else – ridicule.  The duel has exposed his false judgement.  It reveals that not only are his principles unsound, but that he lacks the sophistication to see this obvious truth.  Only the hard facts of a death and Effi’s banishment can make him feel the weaknesses of his own thought.  By then it is too late.  Innstetten’s faith in his culture has collapsed.

Before the duel Innstetten thought that he would look ridiculous in Wüllersdorf’s eyes when in public he talked about morality.  He is worried that if he doesn't challenge Crampas there will be a gap between his words and his actions; every moral phrase an analytical comment on the duel he wasn't strong enough to fight.  What is he afraid of?  A curious phrase gives us a clue…

‘Yes, Wüllersdorf, that’s what people always say.  But there’s no such thing as confidentiality.  And even if you do make the cliché come true and are confidentiality itself towards others, you will still know, so what you’ve just said about agreeing with me and understanding everything I say doesn’t save me from you.  I am from this moment on, and there’s no going back on it, the object of your sympathy - not in itself a pleasant thought - and you will weigh every word you hear me exchange with my wife, whether you intend to or not, and if my wife were to talk about fidelity, or sit in judgment, as wives do, on what other women get up to, I won’t know where to look.  And supposing I were to take a conciliatory line in some quite ordinary matter of honour because it’s “without malice aforethought” or something along those lines, the shadow of a smile will cross your face, or it will at least register a twitch, and you’ll be thinking deep down, “Good old Innstetten, it’s getting to be a real obsession, this chemical analysis of every offence to determine its insult content, and he never finds one with enough irritants in it to be harmful.  He’s never choked on anything yet…”'

He fears that other people will see him as mentally soft.  There are two aspects to this fear: his ability to tailor his principles to his actions - he won’t “choke” on anything -, and the danger of his becoming “obsessed” with a fixed idea.  They both reflect an overly sensitive concern with the opinions of others, Wüllersdorf’s in this instance.  Such an attitude skews Innstetten’s judgment in favour of external signs that can be read by friends and colleagues; thus he prefers to fight a duel with Crampas rather than a conduct a battle of ideas inside his own head.  Dependent on the opinions of his society to buttress his own identity Innstetten lacks a certain nonchalance and inner strength to protect him from the views of his peers.  An early remark of Effi’s is suggestive.

‘What happened was what was bound to happen, what always happens.  He was still far too young, and when Papa came on the scene he was already a Ritterschaftsrat and had Hohen-Cremmen, so there wasn't really much to think about and she accepted him and became Frau von Briest….'

His return to Hohen-Cremmen and his request for Effi’s hand suggests he has been haunted by this rebuff; his topsy-turvy career and later success in the German state not fully redeeming this earlier failure.  There is something unstable and fragile in the soul of Innstetten, the reason, surely, why he needs such stable and secure principles; like a bent tree that needs iron struts Innstetten requires some external support to hold him up; the conventions of his society providing them.  However, because these principles are exterior to himself he needs them to be publicly validated by others.  This is his weakness.  His own sense of authority depends on him maintaining his society’s respect, which forces him to behave strictly in accordance with its moral codes.  An official before he is a human being Innstetten’s life is wholly determined by his external world; his worth is judged almost entirely by his actions; his feelings and thoughts of only secondary interest, and to himself most of all.  But this devotion creates a terrible irony.  Because he needs these conventions to bolster him he makes them too rigid and narrow; he turns them into doctrine and dogma, and so takes the life out of them.  It is only in this way that they can support him.

To soften these principles is to weaken his own sense of his self.  Innstetten has also allowed these moral ideas to invade his private life.  Most of his fellow aristocrats would distinguish between house and office, making allowances for the looser and more relaxed talk of the home and club.  What does it matter if your wife talks hypocritically?  Just ignore it!  This is impossible for Innstetten, because he has to remain the same character whether he works as an official in the town hall or relaxes as a private citizen with his family.  His fragile soul needs a uniform to give it strength and identity.   And he must wear it at all times!  Such behaviour exacerbates Innstetten’s fundamental weakness, which the duel painfully reveals - his mental inflexibility.  Although clever Innstetten is not a sophisticated thinker; it is the reason he follows the social codes so closely - he needs fixed and concrete rules which he can follow without profound and uncertain thought.  That is, he relies on society to make him a civilised man.  Today we might call him a technocrat.iii 

This need to follow a fixed moral code is closely related to his fear of being perceived as obsessive; a sign of weakness in courtly circles, where obsession is related to oddity and pedantry, thus Crampas’ jibe about the schoolmaster.  And Crampas is right.  Innstetten does indeed closely resemble the pedant.  Thus any increase in his self-consciousness - caught in that wonderful phrase, “this chemical analysis of every offence to determine its insult content” - will make him only too aware of his own intellectual shortcomings; his mind too subservient to fixed and explicit rules external to himself.  Deep down this reveals his lack of independence. He is a servant of society rather than its master, an official and not an aristocrat.iv  It also highlights his lack of mental agility.  Innstetten lacks a certain breadth and tolerance of mind; a fault he hides both from himself and others, but which the crisis exposes.  A worldly man is also a balanced man, who correctly judges the value of each thought and intervention.  Crampas’ ironic smile at the moment of his death the perfect response to the event - he has accurately weighed the value of his insult to Innstetten.

Although Innstetten is an aristocrat there is also something not wholly authentic about him.  He has the insecurities of the parvenu.  It is the reason he has such a horror of looking ridiculous.  For Innstetten good form is everything; hiding himself behind the codes and conventions of his society he wears the court uniform to disguise his schoolmaster’s shirt and tie.

After the duel Innstetten feels ridiculous for the opposite reason – his actions are shown to be in excess of his ideas.  His principles are revealed to be faulty because he has been unable to find the right measure of their worth.  The crisis exposes the quality of Innstetten’s judgement; it has tested the very core of his personality, and found it weak and error-prone.  His self-image as a humane, principled and wise official is lost, and his belief in his society is quickly destroyed. 

Innstetten is too conscious, too much the intellectual, to have the easy authority of a simple official who relies on his position and his common sense to determine and justify his decisions.  Such a man is comfortable in his role because he can rely on his instincts; his common sense the repository of his experiences in the aristocracy and court.  Innstetten also lacks the bland self-assurance of the official who can rely solely on their status to stay in office; in contrast he has to prove himself worthy of his role, which makes him a far more unstable character, as this crisis shows.v

He is overly sensitive to an affair he should ignore, because it happened too long ago to worry about.  He also loves his wife.  And he feels no hatred for Crampas.  These are the facts that he needs to measure his actions against.  Instead, he downplays them in favour of a complex argument that before the duel appeared irrefutable – the only way to remain a free man was to fight for his honour.  To protect his inner freedom, he argued, he had to act; his actions would then equate with his ideas, and he could continue to ignore the tension between them.  To maintain this harmony (between the outer world and his own mind), and which depended upon his unself-conscious existence, Innstetten felt forced to kill Crampas.vi  The problem with this argument is that behaviour is falsely equated with thought.  Innstetten has also an attenuated idea of freedom, which he believes means freely serving the state.  He lacks the mental subtlety or the bovine stupidity to value his own thoughts and feelings above those of society’s; indeed it is society that does his thinking for him.  To guide his conduct he uses appearances and signs of good form, but not his own feelings or the facts of the case (such as his love for Effi, his lack of hatred, the lapse of time since the affair ended).  Using such poor materials he then tries to reason out a course of action which requires a completely different way of thinking; one more visceral and intuitive, closer to Effi’s than his own.  Innstetten is handicapped by his rationality, whose foundation is the codes and conventions of the German state; they are the only means he can use to judge the situation. But in this moment of crisis he needed a different scale of values to test his most basic assumptions.  He cannot conceive of such intellectual radicalism until it is too late.  Having relied on his calculating mind he now finds that it is inherently faulty; too conditioned by society to be independent and just. This produces the revelatory insight: he has lost his humanity.

'Revenge isn’t admirable, but it’s human, and has a natural human right.  As it was, it was all for the sake of an idea, a concept, it was an artificial affair, half play-acting.'

What Innstetten has discovered is that the very qualities that make us a unique species - our ability to think up concepts and express them - are also what makes us inhuman.vii  Our unique talents when reduced to their most pure form take away our humanity.  This has important social consequences.  For when pure intellect is exercised in the social realm it becomes a pathology.  This is because it follows a logic detached from the actual world of material things and our emotions, and is not controlled by them.  There is something impersonal about the rational mind that is closer to a machine than organic life.  Its existence is almost independent of us, and is completely so when it is embedded in the rules of a social system.  This results in a strange paradox: the qualities that define our uniqueness can also erase our essence, which depends on the workings of the whole organism for its realisation.viii  Reason is an organ.  Like the heart it helps keep us alive.  Although it is an odd organ, for it also operates like a hand helping us to perform many useful tasks.  This is not all.  We think the tasks our reason performs are the summit of our humanity.  To be rational, we believe, is to be human.  Yet we never think to define ourselves by the size of our hands or the shape of our feet; nor do we try to construct a world that exists solely to facilitate their use.  Here is the madness of reason.  Believing it to be our superior faculty we submit our whole lives to its functioning.  It is as if we submitted our entire being to the dictates of our eyes, which we assumed needed to see a totality of beauty and classical proportion.ix  No man could live if he didn't look like Apollo; and all buildings would be designed as Greek temples, a public convenience the Parthenon on a smaller scale.  Until he discovered Effi’s letter Innstetten thought he was sane.  Unaware of rationality’s limitations he mistook reason for the world itself, which he believed was embodied in the rules of his society.  It was an easy mistake to make, especially for someone such as him.  For a bureaucrat reason and the social world are the same thing; the workings of his mind and and the workings of social convention are identical because people like him previously formulated these rules; Innstetten a mechanic in the social garage whose destiny is to maintain the society he has inherited.  Here is the source of our inhumanity: a community made of man-made rules that is impervious to the individual personality, and particularly to our instincts and feelings, although it relies on them for its rude health.x  Innstetten too helps create this world…by narrowing it down and rigidifying it.xi

Innstetten is successful because he believes that the social conventions are fixed and stable - they are a given to which he submits himself.  They reflect his own mental rigidity, which he in turn imposes on the environment around him, making the social order yet more inflexible.  But… such fixity makes him free, because his own nature and that of society merge, with the result that there are no constraints on either his thoughts or his actions - for when he acts on behalf of the state he acts on behalf of himself.  The path may lack width, it may be bounded by high walls, but once on it he can run and shout and scream…  Indeed, so contented is he that he doesn't even see these walls, or the gates locked at either end.

Innstetten places a high premium on the quality of his mind; his success dependent upon his ability to correctly interpret the codes of the elite social group, Bismarck’s court.  But now he discovers that his mind isn’t good enough when tested to its ultimate; Innstetten unable to reason out a passion, which plays a qualitatively different kind of game to that of the scholar or bureaucrat.  Passion tests the character of the man, not his reasoning powers, which are weak and poor helpers in an existential crisis.  In such a crisis we are judged by how we handle the emotional and mental distress; juggling our feelings when they are hot, carrying them safely to the rubbish bin when they cool down…  Of course, Innstetten argues that he does not have a passion, that he is acting without hatred; thinking coolly and dryly he is containing the crisis within the bounds of his rational capacity.  He is deluded.  Emotion has been transmuted into an intellectual argument, which at base is a rationalisation of a feeling – Innstetten’s fear of being enslaved by the negative opinions of others.  His freedom depends on his own self-image as an independent man who willingly sacrifices himself to his society, and which then rewards him with respect and authority.xii  Not to fight would compromise this independence.  No longer able to act freely in all situations his own sense of himself would be devalued, and he would start to lose his power, sinking back into the common run.  For once private life enters into the public realm a different kind of power arises, one more suited to polite society; a milieu founded on charisma and petty conventionality, and where a particular type of “domestic” personality - one more slick and cunning, and very charming, Crampas is a good example - thrives.  In a salon flattery and appearance and wit are the key talents, and the participants, aware they are playing a game, rely on the quality of their performance to win approval.  In such places authenticity, that harmony between one’s inner life and outer expression, is a danger, because it elevates the individual conscience about the social play,xiii which in order to survive requires a high degree of artificial conformity.xiv  Thus Innstetten tells Wüllersdorf that when Effi criticises immoral acts in his presence he would have to remain silent. This articulate and portentous official would have to tacitly accept the lies and hypocrisies of his wife.  His ideals defeated, and forced to recognise that private behaviour is different from public actions, Innstetten would no longer be able to protect the public realm against those who would undermine it.xv  The foundations of his life, based on a belief in this unity, would suffer massive subsidence…  He cannot allow this!  To protect himself he has to preserve his society.  And so he fights the duel.

To the 21st century sceptic Innstetten is an odd man.  He lives inside a metaphysical identity that depends upon a faith - in his society.xvi  It gives him freedom.  This liberty is so intimately associated with his public role that his feelings are invested far more in his public roles than in personal relationships; Germany more important to him than his wife, and even himself.   It is the reason why he can sacrifice everything for his ideas.

Innstetten has given himself up to his country in order to be free.   But what precisely is this freedom?  It is not the sacrifice of the personal ego to moments of ecstatic release; nor is it the giving up of thought and responsibility to a higher power, who is then served without mental effort.  We are not speaking about the freedom of the animal or the liberty of the machine.xvii  No.  It is neither of these kinds of servitude, though it is closer to the latter, and is often mistaken for it.  Innstetten accepts the limits of his culture as he accepts the limits of the human form; both are natural entities that inevitably impose their own restrictions on behaviour and thought.  The moral and intellectual boundaries of a society are the same as the physical constraints our bodies put on our actions.  For as long as he believes these metaphysical boundaries are real Innstetten lives inside them unconsciously, and his life is totally free; because both his thought and his actions freely accord with the social norms, which he assumes cannot be altered.  Our freedom depends on limits of which we are unaware.  Self-consciousness destroys this freedom by exposing the social boundaries as artificial constructs.  Suddenly we discover that the rules of society are based on arbitrary assumptions, which are liable to change and decay; and for the first time we feel their constraint: we can see a reality on the other side of them that offers new possibilities of life; Innstetten finding that he still loves his wife even though she has broken his moral taboos.  He has discovered that the individual is more important than the social rules when the latter excludes human feeling.  That is, society is conditional on humane action.  For Innstetten this revelation comes too late.  His identity, his marriage, and his respect for his society all collapse under the firestorm of this new knowledge.

Is he free after the duel?  No.  For although he has freed himself from society’s conventions, he has also lost the metaphysical reality that went with them, and which had been absorbed into his soul.  Before the duel Innstetten had merged with his society, and had he become the embodiment of its idea. And it was this idea that gave him liberty.  Freedom needs meaning, because it is only meaning that can generate the faith that allows us to overcome our physical limits and our subjective selves.xviii  It is the reason why freedom is (nearly) always dependent upon society; for it is through its ideas that we find the means to escape the confines of our own person; a society’s customs, conventions and accumulated knowledge an expansion of our being beyond the merely physical or mental reflex.xix  However, to achieve this freedom we have to believe in the society, and this requires both free action and an ability to invest the social norms with our own unique character (which is largely socially constructed).  A society is very close to an organised religion.  For religion is the outcome of a process whereby the metaphysical identity of a society is filtered down and concentrated into ritual and doctrine, which is then injected into its more educated citizens.  Religion is a community in its most pure state.xx  Both require belief to exist.  After the duel Innstetten loses his faith in Germany, and so becomes an automaton; an official who merely follows orders.  This is wonderfully caught by Fontane in the scene where Annie rejects her mother’s affection, and replies to every question: “Yes, if I’m allowed”.  Innstetten has replicated his new personality onto his daughter.  She too has been turned into a mechanical device.xxi

Society is not the only source of freedom.  Some characters, like Effi Briest, are naturally free.  Their liberty is pregnant inside them from birth.  For such personalities society, whose existence depends upon unenlightened citizens reflexively following preordained rules, is a great danger, for its very nature - cliché and formalistic ritualism - is opposed to their own, which being intellectually looser has the capacity to create new thoughts and new realities.xxii  Here is the source of the paradox that it is the rebel who personifies the ideals of the society she seeks to destroy.xxiii  For she wants to capture the spirit of her place, which for the majority has become merely custom and habit.  This is nicely captured in one of the letters Effi sends on her honeymoon.

Yesterday we were in Vicenza.  One has to visit Vicenza because of Palladio; Geert tells me that all things modern have their roots in him.  Only with regard to architecture of course.  Here in Padua (where we arrived this morning) he muttered to himself several times in the hotel coach, ‘In Padua he lies buried,’ and he was surprised I had never heard the words.  In the end he said it was all right really and an advantage that I knew nothing about it.  He’s very fair.  And above all, he is an angel to me, not at all condescending and not at all old.  I still have pains in my feet and all the standing and looking things up in front of paintings is rather a strain.  But it has to be.  I’m very much looking forward to Venice.  We’re staying five days there, maybe even a whole week.  Geert has already been enthusing about the pigeons on St Mark’s Square, and how you can buy bags of peas to feed the beautiful creatures.  He says there are pictures of this, with beautiful blond girls, ‘Hulda’s type’ he says.  Which makes me think of the Jahnke girls.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to be back in our yard sitting on a coach shaft feeding our pigeons.  You mustn’t have the fantail with the big crop killed, I want to see her again.  Oh it’s so beautiful here.  It’s supposed to be the most beautiful place of all. Your happy but somewhat weary, Effi

Effi’s spirit is “wild”.  She has an artist’s temperament, which needs time and space to grow.  This constant travel to see everything - Innstetten is a real culture vulturexxiv - wearies her, because she isn’t given the time to absorb either the spirit of the place or the essence of the famous pictures.  She isn't given the time to make them her own.  Instead, she much stand by and watch as Innstetten turns the architecture, the cities and the art into information.  The St Mark’s pigeons are a good example of this intellectual metamorphosis: a living entity is turned into some thing beyond themselves - an opportunity to buy bags of peas or an excuse to look at pictures of blond girls.   For Innstetten they are either a representation or an occasion for action; but they do not exist as themselves alone.  He cannot imbibe their spirit.  He sees only their outer forms, which almost inevitably he relates to his own experiences, thus his comparison with Hulda.  Such thoughts are general and prosaic.  His mind a train travelling from stop to stop, picking up passengers and dropping them off; their ticket receipts all neatly stored in the office safe.  Effi’s mind is much more concrete and spiritually efflorescent; thus she thinks of a particular pigeon and the little world that she has created around it.  Her intelligence is less verbal; it is full of feeling and imagination.  It is the reason she needs more time in a place.  She needs to feel it to make it real.  Oh!  You want a metaphor?  Effi’s mind is… think of Effi lift travelling down a mine shaft, absorbing the atmosphere until she reaches a new reality on the underground floor.

Innstetten’s spirit resides in collecting information and turning it into generalisations; a mode of thought that is embodied most potently in the conventions of his society, the reason he serves it so willingly and so well.xxv  Effi’s is a more inductive and speculative kind of mind.xxvi  Her spirit lies in objects and in her own thoughts about those objects.xxvii

They both lose their soul.  Effi’s is crushed by Kessin society.  Her spirit partially recovers only when she returns to her parents’ house, when sympathetic company once again allows her to live an independent existence.  Innstetten’s soul is lost when he fails to adjust the conventions of his society to accommodate the individual case.  He has made a fundamental mistake, whose consequences he cannot quite understand… 

He killed a man thinking to keep his freedom.  He didn’t anticipate the feelings that such an extreme action would generate; Innstetten unable to predict Crampas’ mocking grimace, and his own reactions to it.  He thought society and his own liberty depended upon free verbal play and appearances, and that somehow they were the same inside the head as outside of it.xxviii  That is, Innstetten equated freedom with behaviour, though behaviour of a very particular kind - the unrestrained flow of talk.  Indeed, it is his unfettered talk that gives him his authority - thus Crampas’ mocking jibe about the pedagogue -, because people believe in his words.  Innstetten’s power is founded in language.  To maintain this power he too must believe in his words, which he does by submitting his actions to them.  Giving himself up to language in return he receives its authority. Of course this is a very particular kind of language, one that is coterminous with the state and the public realm.  For Innstetten society and language are identical.  They are real things that exist independently of himself, and which he must serve.  Until the discovery of Effi’s affair he had no doubts about this unity.  After the discovery he is afraid to soil his words with his self-consciousness; for this raises doubts about the objective reality of his language, creating a divide between life and his talk about it.   To be self-conscious about the sentences we speak is to make language human again; suddenly we realise that the moral value of our words depends on how others perceive our character; their judgement determined largely by our actions.  This is the curious paradox: although it is language that gives Innstetten his authority, its value is determined by his behaviour; which he has made dependent upon his words.  The reasoning is almost circular, and I believe in Innstetten’s case he believes that this is so: for he has made his actions and his language into the same thing.  To talk is to act.  To think (which for Innstetten means expressing a thought in language)xix is also to talk (inside one’s head).  To think, therefore, is also to carry out an action.  The conclusion follows inevitably: thought and behaviour must always be identical.  Of course in reality they are quite distinct.  This is Innstetten’s dilemma, which he successfully avoids  until he discovers Effi’s affair, and he experiences a crisis, and he has to judge between his words and his actions.  They have been pulled apart, and he can find no way of measuring them except by reasoning them out; and so he tries to find the ultimate value within language itself, thus his agony over his inability to determine the difference between “honour” and “folly”, two abstract and relative concepts, which have no rational or linguistic foundation.  He is trying to second-guess society, when he should be judging his actions on the merits of the case alone, and which will involve a different scale of values, based on emotion and human sympathy, and his feel for this highly specific occasion.  Llewellyn Woodward, writing about a very different context, puts it nicely.

The motive force of the supporters of limitation of hours was humanitarian; the motive force of their opponents - leaving out in each case those who were acting merely out of spite or self-interest - was a conviction, upheld by the economic theories of the time, that a shortening of hours must bring higher costs of production, and therefore a falling-off in demand and a decrease in employment.  Here, as in many other historical issues, judgements coloured by the emotions were wiser than calculation based upon an intellectual survey of the facts as they appeared in the light of current theory.  (The Age of Reform; England 1815-1870)

New facts bring new evaluations in their wake.  A crisis changes the rules of the game.  Innstetten is too inflexible in mental outlook to adjust to such anarchic situations; his mind colonised by the existing language and the prevailing ideas.  There is a tendency both in language and abstract thought to stasis.  They are closer to rocks than a moving stream…  However, like any natural product they are open to change and metamorphosis (over time words and ideas can even reverse their meaning; thus today Conservatism means Liberalism), although they rely on the peculiar qualities of individual human beings to make these changes; these qualities arising out of feeling rather than rational thought.  Language structures the way we think, but that structure lives off on our will and our intellectual subtlety, which maintains and modifies it.  Innstetten is someone who passively accepts the language he has been given, and which he equates with the social conventions; in his mind words are reduced to communication and ideas to duties.xxx  The consequence is that Innstetten, “always the stickler for principles”, make these conventions more static than they really are.  In doing so he kills them.  They become rigid forms that exist outside and above individual men and women. They lack vitality and are never rejuvenated with new thought, and so wait for some convulsion to sweep them away; or for some intellectual myrmidons to smash up the rotting shells; or even a few mice…

‘Old Legends tell of golden palaces
Where harps are played and lovely maidens dance
Smart servants do their bidding, and the scent
Of jasmine, myrtle, roses fills the air -
And yet a single disenchanting word
Turns all that splendour instantly to dust, 
And nought remains but piles of ancient rubble
And marshes haunted by nocturnal birds.
Thus I, by uttering a single word,
Have disenchanted all of of flowering Nature.
She lies recumbent, lifeless, cold and pale,
Like to a royal corpse in painted state,
Whose cheeks have had their pallor coloured red
And in whose hand a sceptre has been placed,
But with a yellow, withered pair of lips,
Since they forgot to paint them likewise red,
And mice now gambol round the royal nose,
And insolently mock the golden sceptre.’  
(Heinrich Heine, Ideas: The Book of Le Grand, in Selected Prose)

Words are the great destroyers, because they can be so dull and lifeless.  Heine was acutely aware of this, thus his satire on the merchant who spoils the reverent atmosphere on Brocken mountain by uttering some prosaic commonplace.xxxi  Dead words like obsolete ideas are dangerous because they stop us looking at the world in all its peculiar particularity; preferring instead to substitute the generalisation for the single event, the working class for the working man, the corpse for the living princess.  We have ceased to learn about the world. We see it only through someone else’s ideas.  Usually some dead geezer’s, buried over a century ago.

And yet a society needs stable (and simple) words and concepts.  For its citizens must be able to easily understand them so as to use them quickly and efficiently.xxxii  Innstetten’s mistake is to reduce all of life to such stock ideas.  He is unable to stimulate Effi’s senses through touch and play or her imagination through aesthetic subtlety; instead he literally talks the life out of her.  On their honeymoon all she gets is words! words! words! and facts! facts! facts!  His talk is like their progress through Italy - a non-stop tour.  It is a carriage ride over cobblestones…  They travel too fast for Effi to absorb anything into her own mind; thus what she sees and hears remains purely external phenomena; they do not become her individual images or her self-created sentences, and so the atmosphere of each place is erased and lost.  Effie Briest is an artist manqué destroyed by bureaucratic crudity.  Heine, in contrast, destroys the philistines through satire, which, tellingly, depends on new coinages and new metaphors which ridicule the language of those he lampoons, particularly academics and businessmen; two types of person who rely heavily on verbal formulas.xxxiii

In society appearance is the most important factor because it is only by external signs that its members can be judged.xxxiv   Here is the source of Innstetten’s mistake.  He has imbibed the Weltanschauung of his society, but has misunderstood it; for he has put much of that outer world inside his head, which he then construes too narrowly.  Innstetten has accepted too much external content and interprets it too literally; his critical mind, being too passive and one-dimensional, doesn't work on the material it receives, but merely rearranges it to fit pre-existing patterns; thus his anxiety over the dividing line between “honour” and “folly”, when what he should really do is question the validity of these terms in light of his present crisis.  He should ask himself if they apply to this affair.  Only after the duel does such questioning occur.  Crampas’ smile generates impressions that make Innstetten feel that his ideas are wrong.

My soul seems to be saying something like that.  Yes, if I’d been filled with mortal hate, if I’d had a burning lust for revenge…  Revenge isn’t admirable, but it’s human, and has a natural human right.  (My emphasis.)

Appearances are merely external markers.  They are meant to hide as much as they reveal.  To survive society depends on necessary fictions - imagine an office where the employees constantly verbalise their real feelings, especially against those they dislike.  Culture and language is a means of avoiding conflict, which indeed may be their most important function.xxxv  We could even argue that their essential nature is to be artificial.xxxvi  Innstetten, by contrast, makes appearances concretely real.  For him they are not fictions but facts; a social idea no different from a table or chair or lounge settee.xxxvii  One consequence is that his words are the same inside and outside his head - when he talks to others it is the same as when he talks to himself.  Conventions thus lose their transparency, which makes them harder to change.  Innstetten’s dogmatic and overly literal character has turned something relative - his culture’s conventions - into something absolute, which must be accepted and obeyed, at least for the duration of his lifetime.xxxviii  This is a failure of character and intellect.  Crampas was right!  Innstetten is just a schoolmaster, intellectually narrow and unsophisticated.xxxix  This makes him an anomaly in this elite society, the reason he gains so much respect from Bismarck’s Court - because he takes the culture so literally he is the ideal official, able to effortlessly manage its methods and symbols.  Once again it suggests something of the social upstart; the person who masters all the external signs of a culture but who hasn’t grasped its inner significances, those meanings that depend upon custom and kinship, the nuances of breeding and shared experiences.xl  He doesn’t feel those invisible sinews on which all societies are founded.  

Innstetten is a man who lives in between two worlds - the aristocratic and the bureaucratic -, and he can survive (even thrive) in this social borderland for as long as there is no crisis to test his fragile position - he is Belgium just before the First World War.  We could argue that the tension between his bureaucratic mind and the aristocratic ways of the state feeds his emotional life, which he then invests totally in his society.  Germany for him is a person, but of a very particular type - a bureaucrat like himself.  He thus upholds the moral code of the German state against those who avoid or denigrate them; thus is dismissal of Crampas as a “perfect cavalier”,xli an aristocrat who mocks the conventions.  

Innstetten is helping turn the nation of kings into a country of institutions, ruled by a fixed system of ideas; his function to manage and legitimate them.  The duel is Fontane’s symbol of one nation’s decline - it kills off the old Prussia, a state founded on character and birth, and so suffused with human feeling.xlii  We can further speculate that Innstetten’s breakdown comes from a realisation of what he has done.  That he has destroyed the society he believed he was serving, because he has killed its original spirit by adhering too closely to its rules.

Or… Innstetten’s breakdown may have been caused by the shocking discovery that he has never shared its spirit, for he is a different type of person from the old Prussian aristocrat.  He is only an official.  Rules and generalisations dominate his mind, and only the facts exist.xliii  This is why the time element becomes so important to him after he fights the duel.  He needs to have some quantitative measure of value.  He needs some visible figure to gauge the amount of worth his society places on his behaviour.  For Innstetten the action itself is less important than the value his peers place upon it; but, and this is his undoing, because he doesn't share their feelings he cannot fathom their judgement.  Thus there can be no ultimate foundation to his decision; he can only try to reason it out. Inevitably he finds this doesn't work - because he is trying to turn values into facts, and feelings into figures in a situation where they are too extreme to be so measured.  And so he ends up with this temporal arithmetic. But there can be no precise date! He is perplexed and frustrated, and fails to find a “dividing line” between “honour” and “folly”; a crucial and revealing admission.  Innstetten has discovered that there are certain limits to rationality, and that he cannot reason his way out of this crisis.  There are some things, usually the most important, that we have to trust to our instincts, but these are underdeveloped in him because he is an outsider who has lost touch with his society.xliv

Until he kills Crampas Innstetten hadn’t fully grasped that society is founded on man-made rules, of which reason itself is both its creative force and product (reason arises out of this society and in turn codifies it).  He hadn't realised that society, because it is made by man, cannot be absolute, for men are constantly changing it; as he is by making its rules more inflexible.  He thus tries to enforce a moral code, even though it had already lost its meaning - Innstetten is clear that the duel is not about a question of honour but about an intellectual dilemma.  In such a character reason and society are synonymous; when Innstetten exercises his rationality he at the same time upholds its ideas; though of course this subtly changes them, in his case he is making them more rigid and lifeless.  The less plastic these ideas become the harder they are to change; a revolution occurring when they are shown by events to be palpably false, thus Innstetten’s ideological collapse after Crampas’ death.xlv  Although his beliefs had been weakened long before; because he had taken the individual human element out of them; his inability to adjust himself to the needs of his young wife the most clear example of this anomie.  

Innstetten relies too much on his rational faculty.  Reason is an instrument.  It can justify our passions or manage our institutions; it can facilitate change or accentuate stasis, although an official is more likely to protect his organisation than destroy it.  The more stable a society the more likely reason will try to limit its inherent flux; the organic nature of a culture increasingly turned into formal conventions and ritualistic methods which the rational mind helps to create and maintain; Mrs Reason a cleaner who tidies up after the artist has left her studio.  Alternatively, when a society collapses reason helps it on its way, for now the radicals come to the fore, and they, like the bureaucrats, overemphasise the value of rationality, though they now use it to delegitimise and destroy the existing culture.xlvi 

In both extremes - stasis and revolutionary change - reason comes very close to being a faith.  In a settled society this is implicit.  In a revolutionary situation it is often very explicit indeed - thus the Bolsheviks’ desire to turn the Russian peasant into Rational Man.  They believed in reason as a Christian believes in God.

Society is relative.  Man makes its absolute.xlvii  This is the tension in all societies.

Humans are absolute.  Their birth makes them so.  There is nothing relative about the body, it exists and dies.

Innstetten is so wedded to his social identity that he has mixed these distinctions up, and has got them the wrong way round; putting his society before individual humanity.  Crampas’ smile exposes these mistakes, highlighting the relative nature of the culture and Innstetten’s inability to understand it.  Ultimately, as Crampas’ last act demonstrates, a society’s conventions depend upon a person’s character, which must always carry the greatest weight, especially during a time of crisis.  After the duel although the arguments and the appearances remain the same the impact of the death has shattered the spirit that lies behind them, and it vanishes.  Innstetten reduced to an official going through the motions; a person who no longer believes in his role he has become a body without a soul.xlviii 

After the duel Innstetten lives with his own ghost – Crampas’ smiling reproof.  It is the ghost of his vanished faith, his lost belief in a society that has now become a living corpse.  The Chinaman is everywhere!  The mystical element in Innstetten’s mind, the many metaphysical shadows that haunt him (Frau von Briest, the dead Chinaman, the dying Crampas, his estranged wife…), is suggestive of a man not fully, not vitally, alive; deep inside him he is aware that something is missing; these ghosts symbols of an inner emptiness.  For though Innstetten is suffused with the spirit of his society he does not have the inner spirit of his far more independent and unusual wife; a difference that Fontane quietly elucidates by describing their different reactions to the Chinaman.  This ghost is a real, living presence for Effi, whereas Innstetten thinks of it as a mixture of legend, fairy story, and fact - it is a myth in which he believes.xlix  Until, that is, the day of the duel, when he dismisses it as nonsense.  It has its revenge!  It takes him over…

After the destruction of his cathedral like faith Innstetten becomes a ruin of doubt.   Even worse: the stones have been painted pink and lime green, and graffiti calls him a loony - he believes himself ridiculous.  Crampas, society’s most acute judge, has condemned him as a fool, because he followed his principles too rigorously.  It is a sign that he is not well bred, a mere puppet of social convention, not like a real aristocrat who, being the equal of his society, uses its codes to enhance his individuality, not erase it.  Crampas has proved that Innstetten has used the wrong standards to measure his own conduct.  It is like using a ruler to weigh a bag of potatoes.  Truly ridiculous!

If only he had known about the affair sooner - no one measures hate - or not at all.  Timing is everything,especially for someone like Innstetten who relies so much on reason to make his decisions.  His problem is that reason has no rational foundation.li  An epistemological disaster during a time of crisis, because the assumptions on which a rational person bases his life no longer exist.  Underneath society, heavily disguised by routine and habit, there is only brute nature, which is suddenly exposed when the society and its culture collapses, producing experiences and insights that are too inchoate to be rationally comprehended.lii  In such cases reason is almost useless, because it relies on a pre-existing framework of ideas that are now obsolete.  In its place we have to rely on our intuition.  That is, Innstetten must “feel” his way towards the right course of action; such feelings dependent on his emotional connection to himself and to his family.  He finds this so hard!  His emotions attenuated by having been transmuted into instrumental rationality and official obedience.  Instead he tries to find a substitute; thus his attempt to quantify the time limit to a crime of honour.  But when he analyses this idea he finds there is no “dividing line”; there is no foundation to his criteria.  Reason has let him down.

Because of the ambiguous nature of many social values it can be hard to judge an action that does not fit easily inside into what a community regards as acceptable behaviour.   An action on the borderlands of social taste requires an intuitive “feel”, a correct “sensing”, a sort of divining, of the local atmosphere, if it is to win approval.  Innstetten has lost that touch.  For he is no longer completely his own man or wholly a member of his own class – he is an official suffused with bureaucratic reason.  If only the decision had been easy - six months or two decades after the affair - then he would not have had to think too much about it.  But now… Where do these borderlands end?  It forces him to think, and he finds… there is no end to his thinking.  Our instincts offer the only certainty, and we have to trust them without thought.  Indeed, we do this everyday, without noticing it.  Most of our behaviour is little more than considered reflex, our senses largely determine what we say and do; conscious thought playing only a secondary, guiding, role; like the tiller on a boat.  What results is a natural and harmonious interaction; people responding to each other like yachts in a flotilla.  In such interactions we intuitively know what is right, our senses, regulated by our experiences, tell us so.liii  In a stable society these instincts do not need to be sharp, for they merely follow habit and custom.  Innstetten safe for as long as nothing radically changes in his life.

Adolescents and foreigners, because they lack the shared experiences to intuitively read these signs, often find such reflexive behaviour difficult.  This generates a tendency to make reason the supreme judge of society; which then pours the acid of first principles and logical analysis onto those invisible codes of culture, which these outsiders cannot perceive and do not really understand.liv  Innstetten shares this intellectual position, although it is camouflaged by his aristocratic birth, and by the changing nature of his society - Germany is turning into a modern bureaucratic state that needs his administrative talents.  For as long as there is no crisis this tension, between his own character and that of the culture, can be contained; but when he has to make a fundamental decision, when he has to choose between his society and his wife, he finds that reason is all that he has got, and that it is inadequate for the task.  Innstetten is fighting a fire by throwing a bucket of words at it. 

Reason is a cumbersome instrument, no matter how quick and sophisticated its operation.  It doesn’t have the flexibility and speed, the organic variety, of our senses and their concomitant feelings.lv  Its tendency is to simplify and generalise; to chop life up into concepts which are too clear and too identifiable; and which then takes time to think about.  Reason by itself is not subtle or complex or quick enough to read a social situation. The conscious mind trying to understand an event is like a novice learning a new language; there will be mistakes, uncertainty, and doubts about one’s competence – the whole process more willed, and thus more error prone, than the unconscious growth of our mother tongue.  Effi Briest a novel that describes the breakdown of one rational machine…

In social life the conscious mind should be a helper and participant; it is a team player, possibly vice-captain, but certainly not a bully or autocrat.  This is the secret of success and the guide to our most ethical behaviour – the mind constantly engaged in the justice of the situation, with its ever varying balance of thought, feeling and action.lvi  The problem of the too conscious mind is also the problem of intellectuals, and accounts for their often naive radicalism: the rational faculty unable by itself to understand a life that is far more complex and nuanced, far more free and variable, than even the most sophisticated of mental apparatuses can comprehend.lvii  But intellectuals are not modest.  Rather than accepting their own shortcomings, they often attack society because it is not made in their image.  They forget that the primarily task of knowledge is to understand the world not change it.  The resentment of so many of these and related characters - the fringe academic, the precocious adolescent, the religious fundamentalist lviii – arises from their failure to make society believe in their ideas; which tend to be generated by overly simple theories with a too tight a pattern of causal explanation.lix  This inability to fit the world into their concepts may explain their lack of worldly success (they’ve got the sequence the wrong way round), another cause of their alienated feeling.lx  Innstetten is not a disenchanted intellectual, for he has accepted the ideas that are internal to his society, but he comes very close to being one when his beliefs are shown to be false (at least as he has understood them - we must not confuse German culture with Innstetten’s mind).  Faced by a crisis he finds that the world is bigger and more complex than he had imagined, his ideas emptied of meaning by the enormity of his mistake.  After his spiritual fall he too condemns society, failing to see that it is he who has misinterpreted it, making if far more rigid and narrow than it is in reality.  We cannot blame the German state for Innstetten’s behaviour.  He alone is guilty for killing Crampas.lxi

Prussianness thus represented to Fontane’s contemporaries a mixture of militarism, Lutheranism, loyalty to state and king, order, ambition and obedience, the Kantian ethic of doing one’s duty and Hegelian apotheosis of the state - a combination of elements which Fontane regarded highly critically and to which he attributes the essential responsibility for Effi’s destruction. (Christian Grawe, quoted in Helen Chambers’ introduction to Effi Briest)

This critic is mixing up Innstetten with the author, the creative artist with the intellectual; which shouldn't surprise us given the natural affinity between the academic mind and that of the intellectual’s.  Effi’s fall is far more complicated that an individual sacrifice to an inflexible system, of which Innstetten is the stereotypical representative.  She is too odd and wild to fit easily into any society; thus professor Chambers is closer to the mark when she writes:

Effi’s problem is that she cannot complete the socially required metamorphosis from Fräulein von Briest to Frau von Innstetten, for that would entail a denial of her self, her natural, playful exuberance, the self-confident magnetic personality we see in the games in the garden on the one hand, and on the other her risk-loving nature, her propensity to let herself be carried away, her desire for the out of the ordinary, her unpredictability.  As her mother says, she is ‘altogether a very odd mixture’.

Effi’s personality resembles that of an original artist,lxii  and as such she would find it difficult to fit into any mainstream society, especially one that is small and provincial.lxiii We cannot blame Germany for Effi’s demise; to do so is to blame England when a Russian wife loses her spirit because no one in Scunthorpe speaks her native language…  The country is not at fault! Christian Grawe has mistaken an abstraction for a process engineered by human beings.  Innstetten a man who lacks the sophistication to make his culture human; he cannot shape into his own image; unlike his wife he cannot absorb himself into a pigeon and write his own poem about it.  This is not the country’s fault.  And we can prove it.  Consider Fontane: Germany did not prevent him from writing his masterpieces.  Indeed, we could argue that the very nature of this state, with its immense political and economic changes, was conducive to his artistic mentality.  Now, if Innstetten had always lived in Berlin… Effi may have found the social circles that would have stimulated her and so saved her sanity.   She is unlucky.  She married a man who lived in a town too small for her genius.  She also married him at the wrong time.  She is too odd to marry so young, and thus the metamorphosis from child to wife is far more difficult for Effi than it would be for an ordinary girl.  Effi is a woman who needs far more sympathy and understanding, far more eccentricity, than the middle-aged Innstetten can provide.

She is a victim of Innstetten’s sentimentality, and his memory of a lost love that may have become too entwined with an insecurity about his social status, thus his rigid views about honour, which is a psychological failing and not some cultural defect; the latter the current expert consensus on the meaning of this novel, according to Helen Chambers.

By placing Effi and Innstetten in different generations Fontane is showing a society in the process of change, where the old, atrophying values have lost their ethical validity but are still in place to the extent that they can vitiate the life of the up-and-coming generation in a way that is fundamentally questioned by the narrative point of view.  The age difference is at the heart of an undercurrent of political commentary which questions the hold of the old age over the new.  Innstetten’s final, impotent recognition of the hollowness of his establishment principles coupled with the dying out of his family name prefigures the inevitable demise of an antiquated social and political construct.  

This is good, but… Innstetten is one of the new men!kxiv  And it is precisely because he is a new man - the modern official - that he makes the old cultural code narrow and inflexible, turning what is essentially an organism - a culture of human interaction - into a system of fixed ideas.  Innstetten is a pedant and a bureaucrat; someone with little political skill who is thrown into a crisis he cannot handle.  Dependent on the established rules he doesn't have the talent to freely improvise in radically new situations, which are too amorphous for him to grasp. He is no Bismarck.  Innstetten is naturally inflexible and narrow.  His demise is not the result of outmoded social values; the von Briests are older than the Innstettens and they do not worry about the loss of their name (they also allowed their daughter to grow up wild and free). No!  This novel is about a particular kind of man who cannot adapt to a crisis because his mentality and his training - in the law - prevents him from acting radically and flexibly.  If anything Innstetten is a symbol for a particular kind of class that was to dominate the 20th century - the bureaucratic official and professional expert.lxv  In this respect Effi Briest is a prophecy.  It tells us what happens when the good official squeezes the life of the very thing he is meant to save.  

Bureaucrats are helpless in a crisis because they rely too much on rules which they have no interest in changing, their power and their identity dependent upon them and the institutions they serve.  This affects their whole person.  Thus although Innstetten instinctively knew he was committing folly his instinct was still to challenge Crampas.  It is only afterwards does he realise that this instinct may have been wrong. The extreme fact of the death separates these two moments, and gives each a decidedly different value; but this could not have been known beforehand, the reason why such fundamental decisions are so hard to make, and why we need our intuitions to be certain.  But of course these lie outside our conscious control.  In Innstetten’s case they were weighted too heavily in society’s favour, an imbalance closely associated with his highly rational mind.  In a crisis so much depends on luck…  Innstetten doesn't have much.  This is because he is not a fully rounded person.  He has lost touch with his nature; a disaster in a time of emergency when we need all our faculties to be quick and acute.

Innstetten decides to fight the duel because he has confided in his friend Wüllersdorf.  Done in a moment of passion when he first discovered Effi’s letters Innstetten regards this confession as a moment of weakness.  If only he had waited, he says; after a few days his anger would have cooled and he would have taken a detached view, and so remained silent.  By telling Wüllersdorf Innstetten believes that in future he will feel constrained by his friend’s knowledge, and so will no longer be able to act unselfconsciously in public.lxvi

'And supposing I were to take a conciliatory line in some quite ordinary matter of honour because it’s “without malice aforethought” or something along those lines, the shadow of a smile will cross your face, or it will at least register a twitch, and you’ll be thinking deep down, “Good old Innstetten, it’s getting to be a real obsession, this chemical analysis of every offence to determine its insult content, and he never finds one with enough irritants in it to be harmful.  He’s never choked on anything yet,” – am I right or wrong Wüllersdorf?'

The logic is impeccable and leads to the implacable conclusion: Innstetten cannot remain completely independent of his friend’s opinions unless he challenges Crampas.  Without the duel another person will know that there is a discrepancy (but not hypocrisy, Wüllersdorf understands his friend too well), between his outward behaviour and his inmost thoughts.  Not to fight after this confession is to raise a doubt about his commitment to his ideals - would he really kill for them?  Once someone knows that he didn't risk his life and his reputation for his principles, even though he was justified in not taking the risk (both Innstetten and Wüllersdorf are clear about this), then there is an uncertainty as to his fidelity to them.  This is not all.  Even the ideals themselves could be doubted.  If they are not strong enough to compel a man like Innstetten to fight for them they may be mere fictions, empty words that have no value.  Innstetten has to put them to the test to make them real, and to himself most of all.

Innstetten fights the duel to maintain his faith in society.  It is his biggest mistake, and suggests the fragile nature of his connection to the court.  A stronger man, a man more sure of himself and his place in society, wouldn’t worry so much over another man’s opinions, which would be of far less worth than his own sense of right.  Innstetten relies too much on external markers, which this crisis reveals to have colonised his mind - he can only think in terms of other people’s views.  Indeed, his outburst of passion, a moment of genuine and individual feeling, is dismissed as an error; when it should have made him revisit his central assumptions.  Here was a chance to recognise his humanity.  Innstetten refused to take it.  Only a death, that is, only some extreme, concrete and external fact was strong enough to make him question his beliefs.  It is a failure of imagination and sentiment, which highlights his servitude to a society he doesn't really understand - a gentlemen would not have fought this duel.  Crampas in contrast is the perfect aristocrat: he accepts the conventions but considers them of little value, thus his last mocking smile.

Crampas lives easily in his society, even though disobeys most of its rules.  Indeed he positively delights in emptying them of meaning.

'Life wouldn't be worth living if conventions were always observed just because they happened to be conventions.  The best things are all beyond that.  Learn to enjoy them.
          '…we must take things lightly, otherwise we are lost poor souls…'

Crampas is aware of the gap between a social convention and reality.  He correctly believes that life is more important than principles, except when that life is dependent on those principles - not to have accepted Innstetten’s challenge would have been to lose honour and thus status.  He can correctly judge every situation, because he has the right social instincts - he is in tune with his society -, and so achieves the correct balance to satisfy his own needs and to maintain the social equilibrium, despite his reputation as a philanderer.  It is his tact that saves everybody, until he meets Innstetten who lacks the necessary instincts of his social class.lvii  Conventions are meant as a guide, and are not be followed without thought or without improvisation.  Innstetten’s over rational mind does not comprehend such subtleties, and so he destroys them by making them too inflexible, turning them in rules that have to be followed because they are rules.  Their revenge is sweet: they kill his soul.  Only his reason is left.  It is a poor house in which to make a home.

(Review: Effi Briest)






i Although we could argue that his fear of self-consciousness arises out of his (deeply hidden) doubts about his culture.  The arguments later in his piece will explain why this may be a possibility.

ii My Fictions Kill explains why.

iii  For more detailed analysis see my Freedom Against Freedom.

iv   The most striking contrast is with Herr von Briest.  He is no intellectual.  And supremely comfortable in his own person he can live almost completely independently of society.  He doesn’t care what others think.  Thus Effi, after being asked what her father thinks of Innstetten coming back, ”Nothing.  He’s not like that.  And he knows Mamma. He just teases her.”  Although he is not an intellectual (or is it precisely because he is not one?) he understands the feelings of his wife, and so trusts her to do the right thing.

v   He thinks too much.  Heine in his delicious way has a comment on this…
“About midway between the ground and the roof stand statues of German emperors, blackened by smoke but with some gilding left; they hold a sceptre in one hand and the globe in the other, and look like roasted proctors.  One of the emperors holds a sword instead of a sceptre.  I could not work out what this distinction meant; yet it must have some meaning, since the Germans have the curious habit of never doing anything without thinking about it.” (Selected Prose)
Innstetten is a typical German.  That is, his mind is a little common, a distinct disadvantage in high aristocratic circles, though very useful in state administration, the reason why Bismarck and the Kaiser want to employ him.
Heine’s satire also suggests something else: reason is very closely tied to society.  To think too much therefore risks absorbing too much of society’s messages…
But wait!  What about the great thinkers?  Oh, it’s you again.  I thought I’d got rid of you in Freedom Against Freedom.  Well, I’ve come back, and I want answer.  I demand to know: what about these great minds…  The source of their knowledge comes from inside themselves, and it is essentially instinct and intuition.  Their thought is directed inwards, rather than outwards towards society, although of course they are influenced by their time and place, which gives them many but not all of their ideas.  No thinker is truly independent of their environment, they just feel it more strongly than most.  Heine can tell you more…
“The ancient, tremulous woman who was sitting by the stove opposite the big cupboard may have sat there for a quarter of a century, and her thoughts and feelings are closely interwoven with every corner of the stove and every carving on the cupboard.  And the stove and the cupboard are alive, for part of a human soul has entered in them.”
Add a high ratiocinating capacity to this character and you have a David Hume or John Locke.  Take it away and you are left with merely a G.J. Warnock.  But he was very clever.  Of course, it could be a sign of his stupidity.  What!  A clever mind that misunderstands the world is very close to a stupid one that is ignorant of it.  But Warnock?!  Look, he had some interesting things to say, and he was not altogether wrong; clearly he was not unintelligent.   Ok ok, I can see you are upset; I merely exaggerate for rhetorical effect.  Of course Warnock was clever.  And yet when he wrote about morality, that so human of human problems, he seemed to leave out all the important things, such as the role of society in the formation of  the moral character.  It was because he believed too much in his profession, and the assumptions on which it was based.  He also wanted to create a community of philosophers, that glassed up and centrally heated would be protected from inclement weather of the street outside; Mary Williams, Mark Jones,  Bronislaw Malinowski, John Smith, James Thomas, A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, Melanie Richards, Raymond Firth could all walk past the front door and not be seen or heard.  The ignorant and the amateurs would be excluded, as well as the specialists in other disciplines.  What he didn’t appreciate was that the true insights must necessarily come from outside such comfortable offices; a whiff of trouble from the pavement - W.G. Runciman shouting at E.E. Evans-Pritchard and throwing a punch at Elizabeth Pink as she drags him into the lobby - may actually stimulate some excitement, and thus thought, the book shelves clattering down when the mob enters the study, and Mrs Abrahams bashes Wittgenstein’s head against them…*  So all professional philosophers are self-deluded pseudo-experts?  Of course not.  I talking about trends, and the tendency of Warnock was to prefer the methods of his profession to the world outside of it.  Bernard Williams (in his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy) makes this very clear: he argues that many of the answers to ethical theory must be sort in disciplines outside philosophy, such as history and sociology.  He is right.  Warnock was no fool.  He was just a little too academic, and it misled him into putting too much emphasis on reason, which dovetailed just a bit too nicely with his affection for a self-selected club of professional philosophers; that is, characters like himself. 
If you want some fun read Heine’s hilarious descriptions of Dr Saul Ascher (in The Harz Journey); it is a wonderful satire on such an academic mind, and a marvellous antidote for those like yourself who worship it.  I worship it?  Yes, I detect some dislike of my criticisms: these clever people must not be touched!  But everyone can be criticised.  What matters is the quality of the critique.  Better, surely, to spend six weeks taking apart an author than to praise him after only a few minutes browsing his qualifications.  That is what I call real respect, for not only does it demand lots of hard graft, it also requires some real understanding of their work.   My friend my friend, you go too far; you’re going to call it love next.  But why not?
        (*Effi Briest contains a wonderful demonstration of this truth:
“One more agonized but almost friendly flicker in his features and it was all over…
“When I think of that last look, the resignation, with a smile in spite of his agony, what that look was saying was, “Innstetten, always the stickler for principles…”
       No words here.  No ideas.  Not even an argument.  It is simply a smile… that produced an impression.  David Hume was right.  All truly revolutionary thought comes from the senses.)

vi   See my Fictions Kill for the reasoning.  Interestingly both Effi and Innstetten share this fundamental view, although the emphasis is very different.  For Effi her words and actions should accord to her thoughts, while for Innstetten it is the other way around.  In the course of the novel Effi sacrifices her inner freedom to adapt to a society that oppresses her.  Innstetten, in contrast, doesn't compromise - mistaking social convention for his own mind he gives himself up to it.

vii   For similar insight see the last question that follows Bernard Williams’ lecture, The Human Prejudice.

viii   Mary Midgley defines evil as a lack in the human animal.  Evil is here equated with emptiness or imbalance.  The assumption behind this argument is that humans are a relatively stable equilibrium of psychic and organic processes; and it is this equilibrium that defines our true essence.  (Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay)

ix   The conception of reason is dependent on each society.  Compare our modern version with that of the Universal Church in the Middle Ages.

x   Émile Durkheim is brilliant on this.  He calls ideas that operate in the everyday world “social facts”.  (See in particular The Division of Labour in Society and The Rules of Sociological Method: And Selected Texts on Sociology and its Methods.)

xi   Crampas belongs to the same society, but in breaking the rules he remains free.  What Fontane seems to be suggesting is that it is Innstetten’s relationship to his society, but not society itself, which is at fault.  It is he who makes it too limited and too rule-bound to be humane. 
The conclusion follows almost automatically: we should be less concerned about changing society than maintaining our own human goodness, which depends on our being actively free; freedom defined as an independent mind which makes its own intelligent judgements based on instinct, feeling and social understanding and sympathySecure in our own freedom we will necessarily qualify society, which must then adjust itself to our independence, whose essence is essentially reasonable.  
In summary: we safeguard our humanity by living freely within society, creating a tension between the individual and the social realm that has to be constantly renegotiated; both parties accepting a limit to their actions.  To run away into hermitdom, or to masturbate over revolution (the absolute freedom of the individual or the absolute freedom of the society), is to actually negate the free person, who requires a community in which to live out and express their individuality.  
Of course this is not easy.  As Effi Briest shows a community dislikes the truly free, and often has the power to snuff them out.  True freedom is very hard, for it requires sacrifices few can make.  It also has its dangers: the truly free can become very powerful if a community starts to believe in them; for they generate a charisma that is attractive to those who will always be trapped by their society.

xii   See my Fictions Kill for reasoning.

xiii  This is the source of the paradox that by submitting totally to his society Innstetten achieves complete freedom.

xiv   It is surely no accident that Effi thrives in Berlin’s high society, an environment well-suited to her aesthetic persona.

xv   “There are so many lives that aren’t real lives, so many marriages that aren’t real marriages…”  This is the most explicit statement of Innstetten’s need to believe that the public realm is a concrete reality.  It is this literalism that makes him so modern (Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

xvi   Here is a good example from the British civil service.
“I’m not sure that the underlying requirements of the civil servant have changed really in four hundred years… When Queen Elizabeth I appointed Sir William Cecil to be her Secretary of State in 1558 she said: ‘This judgement I have of you that you will not be corrupted by any manner of gift and you will be faithful to the State, and that without respect of my private will, you will give me the counsel you think best.  I think that summed it up pretty well.  I think that is what we still expect of our Civil Service and I think that’s what we still get out of it’.
“…'Civil Servants are servants of the Crown.  For all practical purpose, the Crown in this context means and is represented by the Government of the day…  The Civil Service as such has no constitutional personality or responsibility separate from the duly elected government of the day.’
“Civil servants are in the position of members of a ship’s crew required to obey the order of a pilot who has been seconded to them in order to negotiate the tricky shallows of which he is supposed to possess expert knowledge.  They may have sailed these waters before themselves and so have their own ideas about the right course.  But their duty is to carry out the instructions of the pilot, despite the fact that is is not he who employs, promises or dismisses them and that command is only a temporary one.” (Ferdinand Mount, The British Constitution Now: Recovery or Decline? Sir Robert Armstrong is the civil servant quoted.)
Compare the above statement with Charles Trevelyan’s view in the 19th century:
“[The Civil Service should be] an efficient body of permanent officers, occupying a position duly subordinate to that of the Ministers who are directly responsible to the Crown and to Parliament yet possessing sufficient independence, character, ability and experience to be able to advise, assist, and to some extent influence those who are from time to time set over them.”
Now contrast this with the actual Civil Service Code (at the time Mount wrote his book):
“Civil servants owe their allegiance to the Crown.  In its executive capacity, the authority of the Crown is exercised through the Government of the day.  Civil servants are therefore required to discharge loyally the duties assigned to them by the Government of the day, of whatever political persuasion.”
Mount interprets this as…
“It is the code of behaviour which enforces such rigorously high standards and that code derives from common law tradition and draws its special rigour from the disciplinary powers which the heads of the Service exercise in the name of the Crown.  The Civil Service is a self-recruiting, self-selecting, self-perpetuating, self-disciplining corps which regards loyalty to the Crown in its capacity as the embodiment of the nation as a great deal more than a mere shibboleth.”
Here is the present Civil Service Code:
“The Civil Service is an integral and key part of the government of the United Kingdom. It supports the Government of the day in developing and implementing its policies, and in delivering public services. Civil servants are accountable to Ministers, who in turn are accountable to Parliament.” 
Mount hasn't taken sufficient notice of the changes that have taken place in the definition of the civil servant’s role.  Elizabeth I is talking about an abstraction - the State -, which both her and Sir William Cecil serve.  That is, both the Queen and her first minister are servants of an abstract idea embodied in her person.  Sir Robert Armstrong reduces the abstraction to a concrete reality - the government of the day.  However, this is a significantly different species - ‘all practical purpose’ means that in day to day affairs there can be no distinction made between the Crown and government; the government is the Crown for all foreseeable circumstances.  In consequence the government is no longer a representative of an idea above themselves which they must serve, it is simply itself at any given time.
       Trevelyan retains the idea of the Crown but expands it to now include parliament.  This suggests he treats the Crown and parliament as institutions rather than abstractions.  The consequence is that civil servants are no longer on the same footing as the ministers; they are “subordinate” to them.  In theory this gives the government far more power than in Elizabeth I’s day.  She was restricted by an idea of service: her rule meant to preserve a tradition that was embodied in an idea - the idea of the State.  The duty of her servants was to help her live up to that abstraction.
The older code still recognises the Crown, but subtly empties the relationship between it and the Civil Service of meaning; for now the role of civil servants is only to help the executive carry out its functions.  It is a purely instrumental role, which is wholly subordinate to the government of the day.  Civil servants are simply managers.  They are not believers sustaining a religion; they no longer provide a service that requires both administrative capacity and a belief in a metaphysical idea; that belief giving a measure of equality between the Queen and her servants - Sir William Cecil and Elizabeth I both equal in the eyes of the State.
The current code narrows down the civil servants’ role still further.  There is significantly no reference to the Crown, while they are explicitly turned into managers and policy analysts.  The State has disappeared.  The role of the civil servant is merely to help the present government work as best it can.
        In the introduction Helen Chambers remarks on Fontane’s dislike of the opportunism and expediency of Bismarck’s policies.  It is here, in the changing nature of the state apparatus, that the argument that Innstetten represents an older and increasingly outdated morality might have some validity.  Innstetten is the German equivalent of Sir William Cecil.  He represents the old idea of the state official who puts the concept of the state above its mere workings.  Bismarck, in contrast, represents a new type of government, which is based solely on the power of institutions as they function in the here and now.

xvii   Freedom Against Freedom.

xviii   Of course I am arguing about a particular kind of freedom.  For an analysis of how the idea freedom has changed in the last fifty years see my Freedom Against Freedom.
My argument in the text is a little too narrow, concentrating as it does on the shallow depths of Innstetten.  For meaning itself is free.  Our freedom arises when we give ourselves up to it; when we play with it in art, in thought and in science.

xix   It is not those customs and codes that make us free (Innstetten’s fundamental mistake) but the ideas they embody. It is the idea itself, because it is metaphysical, that is free.

xx   For a similar line of argument, which has massively influenced this piece, see Émile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. 

xxi   Stretching the analogy until it breaks… Annie’s behaviour could serve as a metaphor for a society that gradually loses its faith down the generations; the spirit progressively leaking out until the new officials merely copy the actions of their elders…

xxii   Every society has an original spirit.  Over time it erodes until only the outer forms are left, which then require periodic revolutions to rejuvenate them.  Ibn Khaldun’s theory of asabiyah captures this brilliantly.  This spirit he associates with small desert tribes that through their cohesiveness increase in size and power until they take over the civilised cities (of North Africa); after which the spirit declines, until they are once again vulnerable to a new asabiyah from another desert tribe.  (The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History)
For a modern view of this theory see Andrew Gamble’s review of David Runciman’s The Confidence Trap, where Tocqueville’s argument, that American democracy has been inordinately successful as a social system because its population has faith in it, is updated for the 21st century (TLS 16/04/2014).  
Like much of Runciman’s work this idea is clever but superficial - he relies too much on politics, which for at least a century has been only one of the sources of power in America and liberal Europe.  A more likely explanation for the prolonged success of modern democracies can be found by using Khaldun’s theory directly.  Within both democracy and capitalism (which today are synonymous) there are cyclical revolutions in which new groups (Liberals, Socialists, Communists, Neo-liberals…) and new technologies (with their associated evangelists - such as the computer engineers of the 1960s) invade the existing society from within to rejuvenate it.  Modern societies, being largely instrumental in nature, are powerful enough to accept new faiths, which they absorb into their own, keeping it forever alive (see Olivier Roy’s idea of formatting, in his Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways, for the way in which secular industrial society shapes religion, and removes much of its meaning).  If this idea is correct the danger to capitalism is ideological stasis (as with Communism in the Soviet Union).  If this were to occur then the next revolution would become a real threat to the system as a whole.  This is precisely what happens to Innstetten.  

xxiii   Modern Jihadism seems a classic instance of this trait.

xxiv   A person who feeds off the carrion of culture.

xxv   Although we could argue that Innstetten’s problem is that his society isn’t quite modern enough for him.  He would have been happier in the more purely bureaucratic government of the Federal Republic; a regime less contaminated with the aristocratic concern with character.

xxvi   For a brief but acute description of the inductive mind see the conclusion of Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Looked at in our own peculiar way we could argue that this book is Effi Briest updated for the 20th century.  The author is the heroine, and the city planners are Innstetten.

xxvii   Indeed, Innstetten’s moment of mental collapse (when the spirit of society leaves him) is the moment when he experiences a flash of inductive insight - Crampas’ dying smile.  That is, for the first time he looks at the world in the same way as his wife. 

xxviii   Compare Innstetten’s character with that of Gilbert Ryle (in the footnotes to Dusty Answer).

xxix   Most of thought is wordless.

xxx   Contrast with Effie, who has her own internal language.

xxxi  In the Harz Journey.

xxxii   Of course the actual meaning of the concept may be different from the common usage, particularly as the ordinary citizen tends to use the old meaning long after it has become obsolete.  “Democracy” is a classic example (see my Hi Dan…).

xxxiii  Ernest Gellner argues that it is particularly this language, what he calls the language of high culture - the written word as opposed to face-to-face contact -, that is the distinctive feature of modern society.  (Nations and Nationalism).
Such a language both speeds up communication and simplifies it.  The danger is when we assume that such a simple and (largely) abstract language is the only one that exists.  Do this and it becomes a fact.  Very quickly this fact is then turned into a truth, to which humans, it is believed, must necessarily conform.  That is: modern society has a tendency to make language concretely real; in large part because they so closely resemble each other - modern language and modern society are essentially the same thing.  The results can be extraordinary (see footnote below).

xxxiv   When the old culture began to fall apart in the 1960s it was almost inevitable that people started to worship authenticity - the individual human personality was the only thing they had left to believe in.  Here is a curious example how his migrated into politics…
“The central tenets of the ‘cult of the tea room’ are that the Labour Party is, or at any rate ought to be, not merely a predominately but an exclusively working class party: that the working class can be properly represented only by people of working class origin, who alone understand its aspirations and have its interests at heart: that middle class recruits to the party, so far from being assets, are liabilities, who have no rightful business in it and who, if they do manage to join it, ought at least to keep their origins dark: and that the elaborate intellectual constructs of the middle class Radical are therefore, at best, unnecessary, since the party can be guided much more satisfactorily by the gut reactions of its working class members, and at worst positively dangerous, since they lead the party away from its working class roots.” (David Marquand, quoted by Dennis Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus?)
Of course most of these cult members were from the bourgeoisie!  They had turned the workers into an abstraction, which they then worshipped as a class.  Just like Innstetten these activists submitted themselves to an external definition, but in their case they believed it reflected their authentic non-social self.  Of course this was another social construct; albeit purer and more reductive than his; thus the echoes of Social Darwinism - note the emphasis on a working class origin.  This is what made them so odd and so modern: they mistook social abstractions for natural objects and even real people, which they then used to destroy the existing political culture; a culture that was able to distinguish between an idea and a living person; the old Labour Party elite fully aware of the gap between the aspirations of its working class voters and socialist theory.  
Innstetten always knew there was difference between himself and his society; his goal to submerge his own identity until they were fused into a single entity; like a Christian he strove to transcend himself by becoming one with an ideal.  These Labour activists, in contrast, have completely internalised the forms of their society’s thought until they think it is their own.  It is this almost total conditioning that made them so dangerous.  Believing that abstractions are concretely real their tendency was to treat individual people as if they were ideas.  The consequence: when an individual didn’t tally with their abstractions they accused them of being an anomaly; a bad student who hadn’t learned his lessons.  The general rule is true, the particular exception is wrong, and this by definition.  This is nicely caught by Kavanagh:
“ A number of social, psychological, and sociological studies have explored the nature of this working class support for the party.  Without these ‘deviants’, usually amounting to about a third of the electorate, Britain would not have have had a balanced two-party system.” (My emphasis)
Of course these Tory voters are only ‘deviants’ if we assume the objectives of the Labour Party are the same as the aspirations of all working class men and women; which is not so obvious once we think of all aspects of a human personality, and not just their economic welfare. The puzzle over the Conservative working class is only a puzzle for as long as you accept three assumptions:  there such a thing as a united and homogeneous working class; that class is only interested in material comfort; and that comfort can only be satisfied by the Labour Party.  
The radicalism of the 1970s was an odd phenomenon.  A movement that began in the early 60s with Gramsci ends in the early 1980s with Karl Kautsky; the original thinkers had been replaced by bureaucrats.  That is, one type of middle class person had been superseded by another; David Marquand describing is a conflict between two different ways of looking at world; between those who actually think about ideas and those who merely use them.  We are back to Innstetten!  Though note: by the 1970s the content of the social ideas had changed completely.  For these activists personal authenticity was the all important factor, while Innstetten believed in conformity to society’s ideals.  In his case society worked like capillary action sucking up the individual’s identity until they became one.  The activists, by contrast, had already been conditioned by their society - they were living within its forms of thought.  For although they believed otherwise it was only the content of these social forms that they wished to change; this was because they could only see the world through the abstractions their society had already created.  Poor saps!  They had been educated to see the world in no other way (my Freedom Against Freedom has lots more analysis).

xxxv   This is the main thesis of Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression.

xxxvi   Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man has some wonderful stuff on this idea.

xxxvii  It is this that makes him so modern.

xxxviii  And suggests something particular about the thinking mind - it has a metaphysical quality* absent from most routine thought.  That is, the critical mind is separate from our ordinary mental operations, which are largely mechanical and are closely connected to language use. In Innstetten this mechanical quality naturally fuses with the static tendencies in ideas and language to turn them into inanimate objects.  
In contrast the metaphysical mind, being both looser and more complexly patterned, is in tune with the metaphysical qualities of ideas; they share the same nature, which is reduced and narrowed down as soon as their enter the language faculty.  In the critical mind the thought is largely internal, while the semantic content of the language is determined mostly by the community; a girl born in France to French parents will not speak Portuguese (unless she lives amongst speakers of that tongue).  The more powerful the metaphysical mind the greater the propensity to give one’s own internal meanings to words… Effi the supreme contrast to Innstetten.
*(Hume called it imagination, A Treatise on Human Nature.)

xxix   See my comments on Jim Latter in Fictions Kill.  He is very similar to Innstetten.  They are both literalists in a world that lives off myths (that is: true fictions).

xl   Anthony Burgess has great fun with this in A Right to An Answer.  Mr Raj is an extreme case of someone who understands the external signs - he speaks fluent English - but is ignorant of their subtler, unspoken meanings…
“‘But,’ said Mr Raj, ‘there is the question of your authority.  You are not the husband of this lady, her husband having gone away and left her, nor, I think, are you her brother.  You are not old enough for her father nor for her uncle, and you are too old for her nephew or her son.  So I ask for your authority.  Perhaps, of course, you aspire to be her lover.  In which case I grant you some slight authority.  But perhaps I too might have temerity of the same aspiration, and then I ask you to leave the lady alone.’ The terms carried no nuances for Mr Raj: this speech was more insulting in its effect than in its intention….”

xli   It is a very precise double description.  The Oxford dictionary defines the term thus:
“archaic: a courtly gentleman, especially one acting as a lady's escort.
“adjective: showing a lack of proper concern.”

xlii  In the 19th century Lord Russell argued against civil service exams because he thought it would select people without the necessary (i.e. aristocratic) character.  They would be unsound.  (Peter Hennessy, Whitehall).

xliii  Of course I am exaggerating.  Innstetten is a mixture of the old aristocrat and the new state official; and it is this tension that destroys him in the end, as he tries to uphold the old aristocrat ideals by using the official’s most powerful instrument - rational calculation.

xliv  Talking about her mother’s rejection of Innstetten Effi says:
“[H]e wasn't inclined to stay in the neighbourhood any longer, and it must have put him off army life in general.  It was peacetime after all.  To cut a long story short he resigned his commission and went off to study law, ‘really made a meal of it’ as Papa puts it; but when the war of 1870 came along he joined up again, with the Perlebergers, mark you, not with his old regiment, and he got the Iron Cross.  As you would expect, because he’s very dashing.  And immediately after the war he went back to his files…”
Innstetten left his immediate social circle, and only returned to it after he had mastered a trade - the legal profession.  Both emotionally and intellectuality he lives at a tangent to his upbringing.  We could argue that his marriage to Effi is an attempt to recapture that aristocratic spirit, although by now it is too late; his intellectual nature dominating his instincts and intuitions, which if he had married Frau von Briest would have been more intensely cultivated, turning him into a more balanced member of the aristocracy.

xlv  Hegel’s theory of history comes very close to arguing this, except that he puts the relationship between ideas and phenomena the other way round.  For him the idea is the driving force in history, until in 19th century Prussia it fuses with the concrete particular to create an organic-metaphysical unity.  Nature is a machine whose purpose is to produce reason; it completes its task in Berlin around 1800. (For my own very simple interpretation of Hegel see Art and Life.)
In contrast I’m arguing that history is the successive emergence of new phenomena, which reason tries first to control, and then to explain.  History is a battleground between new facts and old ideas, the cycles of stability and change depending on which is uppermost in any given period.  In modernity these transformations occur much quicker because modern societies have generated a constant stream of new facts.
Seen in this light reason is an essentially conservative quality.  Although in times of crisis reason becomes radical, for it reflects the state of the collapsing culture, and is suffused with the passion of the rebels who are fighting against it.  Albeit the core of much revolutionary theory is often old ideas revivified - thus Lenin’s idea of the revolutionary vanguard; Thatcher’s return to 19th century liberalism.
Effi Briest is a wonderful case study in miniature.  Effi’s new life is suffocated by Innstetten’s obedience to convention. Crampas, with his dying smile, then destroys these beliefs, which are proved grossly inadequate for the occasion.  A new fact has been produced that the old ideas can neither control nor explain; the reason they so quickly evaporate from Innstetten’s mind.

xlvi  The best example is Lenin’s destruction of the Russian state in the months leading up to the October Revolution.  He was the great opportunist, although without a well-organised party he would not have been able to capture the state.  It was this organisation that in the end was the crucial element in his success.  Once in power he acted like a Tsarist high official.
Revolutionaries are essentially bureaucrats.  Perhaps we should call them frustrated officials (see my comments on Lenin in Religion of Revolution).  
Mrs Thatcher is very close in style to Lenin, and indeed, like him, helped to create a far more rigid and bureaucratic culture than the one she inherited.  What she disliked about the state bureaucracies was the freedom they gave to people inside them, coupled with her populist leanings, and her instincts for the zeitgeist - Mrs T. was a child of the Sixties, suspicious of experts and elites.  (See my Freedom Against Freedom for a description of the new class of people who have come to lead the Western world in the 21st century.  Thatcher is a transitional figure, again like Lenin; two personalities well-suited to a time of cultural breakdown.)  
Simon Jenkins appears to confirm this in his Accountable to None: The Tory Nationalization of Britain: most of the big Thatcherite projects - such as privatisation and the Poll Tax - she was opposed to initially, the impetus coming from younger ministers or the Treasury.  For although radical in her pronouncements her instincts were cautious and conservative, at least until after her third election victory, when she embarked on what Jenkins calls her radical phase.  To summarise: when she first became prime minister she was still essentially a corporatist.  Interestingly, Jenkins’ compares Thatcher’s government to Attlee’s, and there is some justice in this, but I think Lenin is the better comparison - by the time of the 1945 Labour government a consensus had already been achieved amongst the British elite; Attlee simply administered it.
One can’t help but feel that Capitalism for Thatcher, like Communism for Lenin, was an expression of an unconscious wish to escape their own rather rigid and narrow selves.  These abstractions, and some of the men and women who embodied it, representing an internal dynamism that was at odds with their own bureaucratic minds. 
Mrs Thatcher’s success depended not on her ideas, but on her will, and her feeling for the spirit of the times.  Of course she talked a lot about ideas and principles, but she never questioned them, for like Innstetten she believed them to be ordained by nature.  They are facts, and therefore truths, which everyone else must learn, like we do the multiplication table. She treated them like rocks, and she would throw them at her opponents’ heads. Thatcher was a real revolutionary.  That is, she was someone who uses a small cluster of highly dogmatic ideas to destroy an existing social system.

xlvii  One of the curious aspects about Post-modernism is that although it recognises this truth it then makes this relativism absolute: all societies, it argues, are essentially the same, and should be treated with equal respect.  However, it is not possible for an individual human being to embody this idea; because we will always privilege our own culture above another’s (the one we are born into or the one which he acquire through social immersion - for some wonderful examples of the latter read William Dalrymple’s White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-century India).  We tend always to the absolutest point of view.  The cultural relativists are no different.  They privilege their own Western, liberal, educated culture, which they too make absolute - thus their belief that all cultures are relative.
The Post-modernists overlook the mechanisms by which the conventions of a society are turned into religious doctrine.  Tellingly, they, like Innstetten, privilege the ideas of society over the beliefs of individuals; because they assume that they are the same thing.  They are not, although on the surface they can appear identical.  For once inside the individual our minds add something concrete and particular to them, which turns them into a faith.  We add ourselves!  This is why societies cannot be relative to their members, although they are certainly relative to each other.  

xlviii  In her introduction Helen Chambers assumes that Innstetten’s later recognition of the emptiness of his official post is inherent in the position itself.  This is not clear.  If Innstetten had remained innocent about his marriage, and his life had continued to be properly integrated, with a harmony between his consciousness and his public and private lives, it is not so certain that he would have become disillusioned with his official success.  Both Effi’s affair and his poor response to it, which includes alienating her own daughter, exposes the loss of his humanity, and the feelings this arouses hollows out his public life.  A delicate balance, between his soul and his own sense of official responsibility, which is central to a character like Innstetten, has been upset.  A disharmony has been created, which like the doubt expressed in the quoted passage, gradually destroys his happiness and the belief in his official titles.  
Innstetten is an unusual man.  In his healthy state he is not a simple official.  By nature he is not an automaton, thus his mystic belief in ghosts.  It only after the duel that he loses his soul.
His problem, as professor Chambers rightly acknowledges in her discussion about the importance of culture in German character formation, is his inflexibility – his tendency to follow the roles too rigidly.  This is made worse by age.  When confronted with the affair he should have listened to his emotions, but they had been weakened by reason and social conformity.  His balance has been lost, although his feelings have not been completely atrophied.  It is only after killing Crampas, and when he loses his faith, that Innstetten really does become a calculating machine; thus his treatment of Annie, whom he turns into a ventriloquist’s dummy - “Yes, if I’m allowed”. 
These differences between myself and Professor Chambers are minute, but they lead to significantly different conclusions.  She argues that Innstetten is a symbol of “an antiquated social and political construct”, while I believe Innstetten was too modern for the aristocratic world in which he lived.  He is a man caught in a time of change, who lacks the necessary charisma (and skills of improvisation) to either adapt to a time of crisis, or to create a new society out of it (compare him to Lady Kaede in my To The Knacker’s Yard).  That he is older than Effi is highly significant, not because that age itself is a symbol of a particular social order (professor Chamber’s view), but because of what his middle age really means - he lacks the youthful spirit to deal with radically changed circumstances.  Until he discovers the affair Innstetten still believes in his society, in consequence he makes it live; he is constantly augmenting its spirit (however narrow and unyielding the results).  That spirit only begins to die when he finds it doesn’t have the resources to deal with a momentous crisis.  It dies when Crampas smiles at him.  It is the moment Innstetten knows he has failed.
xlix  Of course a myth can be a living presence.  Indeed this is the case with Innstetten.  Although to believe in a myth it is not necessary to believe that it has the same reality as a cat or a dog, or you and me; which is precisely Effi’s position.  These contrasting perceptions of the Chinaman suggest the central differences in their minds - the one more literal and prosaic, the other more metaphysical and poetic.  The fantastic is real to Effi Briest, while it is only a story for her husband.
Helen Chambers believes that the Chinaman represents “problematic sexual experience”, and relates it directly to Effi’s virginity. This is of course possible, even probable; she gives good evidence to suggest why this is so.  But I wonder…  Are we reading too much of Freud back into the 19th century?  
Couldn’t we interpret Effi’s response in a different, more emotional and more spiritual way?  For her the Chinaman is as real as the bedroom curtains which unsettle and frighten her when they move in the night.  Like a child that makes no distinction between a real rabbit and a fantasy one (a wonderful example is given by Gillian Beer in her interview with Alan Macfarlane), Effi believes that the ghost is a real living being.  To her the world of the spirit is as important, if not more so, than her physical environment, for it is this spirit world that determines how Effi thinks and how she values her actions.  She is very explicit.
“…the right feelings…that’s what’s important, and if you have them the worst can’t happen to you….”
The Chinaman represents a threat to these “right feelings”.  This is because he is a different kind of spirit (less alive, less vital, less embodied than a person’s soul), which she is afraid will take her over.   And she is right to be afraid.  By the time she leaves Kessin he has entered her soul and killed it, leaving only his ghost behind.
“Yes, I’m plagued by fear, and shame too at my own duplicity.  But not shame at my guilt, I don’t feel that, or not properly, or not enough, and that’s what’s crushing me, the fact that I don’t feel it.  If all women are like this, then it’s terrible, and if they’re not, and I hope they aren’t, then things don’t look good for me, then there’s something wrong in my soul, I don't have the right feelings.”
Effi's conscience has been emptied out, and all that is left is the fear of society and the shame it can cause her (if she reveals the truth).  Her inner spirit world - her soul - has become a void; and she exists in a limbo land between her former self - rich and inward-looking - and Innstetten’s rule-bound but still faith-filled society.  She lives as a ghost. 
Let’s go further…  
What the Chinaman represents is the spirit of Innstetten’s place; he is the spirit of Kessin, and of society more generally.  For Innstetten this spirit is a background presence that he accepts as real, but to which he pays very little attention, concerned instead with concrete things and daily events, and the conventions which all respectable persons must automatically accept.  For him the spirit of a place is a diaphanous thing; it is therefore easily accommodated within his psyche, he even welcomes it as a useful and necessary tool - for social advancement or moral control (Crampas remarks about a ghostly guardian may actually be true, the reason Effi takes them so seriously).  
Effi - young, an outsider, and untamed by social convention (her mother’s greatest worry) - is much more susceptible to atmosphere; she thus perceives the Kessin spirit to a far greater degree that Innstetten.  But for her it is not only a real presence but a dangerous one too; it is a threat to her own soul and she must fight it.  There is a battle, which she loses, and she succumbs to the spirit of Kessin society.
       Today is made up of a graveyard of yesterdays…  So much of what we do is conditioned by the thoughts and actions of those long since dead.  Tradition is a collection of ghosts that instruct us, enliven us, and constrain us.  Innstetten can accept such a view, because he sees nothing wrong in submitting himself to his society, and to the tradition on which it is founded.  Like the art he catalogues these “ghosts” are simply data to be collected, learned, and used to advantage in the present (he may even hope to be a ghost himself one day). Innstetten is a man comfortable with spectres.  They give him respect and power, and are the basis of his freedom; for being ghosts they cannot hurt him.
Effi has a very different kind of spirit.  One that has more body to it.  Full of vigorous life it is therefore a threat to Innstetten’s ghost.  The house in Kessin is in danger!  Effi’s soul could take it over, and Innstetten and the society he represents would lose their power.  For this is a new spirit, a spirit of the age perhaps, that could destroy the old… 
“Briest, who treated the survival of other families with scant concern as he really only believed in the Briests, sometimes joked about his and said, ‘Yes, Innstetten, if things go on like this, Annie will end up marrying a banker (a Christian one I hope, if there are still any left), and His Majesty, in deference to the old baronial line, will have Annie’s haute finance children recorded for all time as “von der Innstetten” in the Almanach de Gotha, or, which is less important, ensure they have a place in Prussian history’ - ruminations to which Innstetten responded with a moment’s slight embarrassment, Frau von Briest with a shrug of her shoulders and Effi by contrast with hilarity.  For proud as she was of her lineage, this applied to her own person only, and an elegant, cosmopolitan and above all very, very rich banker as son-in-law would not have been at all contrary to her wishes.”
Effi, like her parents, is more secure in her identity than Innstetten; whose insecurity is what makes him modern.  It is why he invests so much in society, unlike the Briests it means something profound to him; it is an integral part of his self-image, revealed here by his touchiness over the disappearance of his family name. Such external symbols are extremely important to Innstetten, because he defines himself through them. He is the society he serves.
Effi’s fear of the ghost is a fear that this society will triumph.  The spirit of the place will defeat the spirit of the age (Briest’s reference to rich cosmopolitans is suggestive), and she will be left bereft of her inner essence; which is indeed what happens, although it is her shame and fear of that society that are the agents of destruction.  By the time she leaves Kessin the spirit of the place as entered her soul and corrupted it.  Only a ghost is left.  The Chinaman is living inside her.  Although it takes only a few years in Berlin for her to expunge him: “[i]t had happened once upon a time, but far, far away, as if on another planet, and it all dissolved into a mirage and turned into a dream”.  A little later it will leave Innstetten entirely.
“‘Oh, some nonsense: an old ship’s captain with a granddaughter or a niece who disappeared one fine day, and then a Chinaman, who may have been her lover, and in the hallway there was a little shark and a crocodile, both suspended on strings and always in motion. Makes a marvellous story, but not now.  There are all kinds of other things flitting through my mind.’”
At the time of the duel the Chinaman is turned into a nonsensical story and ceases to exist.  Then a few hours later Innstetten believes that his principles are mere “artificial concepts”.  The ghost gone, the society has left him, and he too is a body without a soul.

 Surely the central meaning of this novel.  Think of Crampas and his skill in knowing exactly the right moment to seduce Effi.  Success in life depends on an instinctive harmony between a person and their environment, allowing for behaviour that is reflexive but always well chosen.  It is about having a “feel” for the occasion, a sense of “timing” and the “touch” to perform an action well (J.E. Neale’s biography of Queen Elizabeth I suggests this queen had this ability to the extent of genius).  
Within their own worlds Crampas, Innstetten and Effi all have these abilities.  The tragedy for the latter two is that their marriage creates a disharmony between themselves and their environment, so that both lose their touch when a crisis occurs.  In contrast Crampas is always in his element; he is thus the most successful and most fully integrated personality in the novel; even in dying he stays true to himself – thus that last devastating smile.
Timing is everything.  Innstetten chose a von Briest at the wrong period of his life.  It is his tragic error.

li   This was David Hume’s key insight.

lii   Later these raw experiences will be given some intellectual form.  The overly rational person is someone who believes that these forms are the true foundation of both their knowledge and their existence.

liii   This, I believe, is the foundation of David Hume’s philosophy of the mind: to work efficiently it has to be in balance with the rest of our physical being; too much reason, though essential for abstract thinking, will distort and can even destroy it (for Hume’s famous quote about the dangers of his thought to his sanity see my In Pieces).
Such a view accords with Hume’s conservatism.  By relying on our instincts we will tend to preserve the existing society; for “correct touch” is intimately associated with custom and habit. Its danger is social stasis.  Exquisite actions finely tuned to a specific time and place may be slow to adapt to external forces or long term trends.  In these cases the indifference of reason and the ignorance of the outsider may be the only means to drastically re-shape the local environment to meet such threats. 
Innstetten's failure of judgement - to fight the duel - is also an example of his success, for it shows that through the force of his own reason he has the power to destroy his community, thus his killing of Crampas and his banishment of Effi.  In a custom-bound society the rational man is a radical man.  However, when society itself is run on rational lines the rational man becomes a conservative, because the exercise of reason itself becomes a form of custom and habit (Peter Hennessy’s Whitehall is a case study of this phenomenon).*  For as long as he was a safely married man working in a secure job Innstetten was such a conservative, happy to maintain his society.  Then he discovers the letters.  He becomes a mad anarchist with a bomb….
*(A somewhat journalistic account that is more concerned with criticising the corporate ethos of Whitehall than understanding it; the author believing that Britain’s economic was decline due to an antiquated civil service, welded to 19th century laissez-faire principles.  While there is significant truth in such a view, it is only a partial understanding of the economic history, and is woefully inadequate as a political explanation for Britain’s failures of state; which are brilliantly elucidated in David Marquand’s The Unprincipled Society.  Hennessy is a bit too brash.  He is the young kid in the office who knows that he is right, he just learned everything at university.  Seeing only the faults of the organisation and believing his ideas are foolproof he is not aware of the consequences of this actions, believing a strong bureaucracy will create a progressive state - it will be made in his image.  Callow youth!  What he hasn’t quite grasped is that the Civil Service was constructed in such a way as to make it weak, its founders, all too aware of the dangers of a too-powerful bureaucracy overriding a fragmented political class, created an ethos that made the service subordinate to parliament.  
There are times when he seems confused.  During what Hennessy regards as the Civil Service’s heyday - World War Two - democracy was suspended, the reason it could assume so much power.  The author cheer leads this success, and laments it wasn't continued during peace time, although in other places he attacks elitism and seems generally in favour of social democracy.  He hasn't understood what John Stuart Mill realised all too clearly - the problem of bureaucracies is their effectiveness, and their tendency to prize efficiency and conformism over individual freedom (On Liberty).  Llewellyn Woodward notes that already by mid century the Victorian state was becoming more powerful than the politicians, whose legislative reforms created an administration they were no longer able to completely control (The Age of Reform).  By the 1950s this was even more the case, but Hennessy, it seems, would have preferred an even stronger central bureaucracy….  fine if economic modernism is your only desire, but hardly conducive to individual freedom.
In a successful developmental state such as postwar Japan the role of the politicians was to protect the bureaucrats as they re-engineered the whole economy to compete with the advanced industrial nations; society thus tended to sacrifice the aspirations of its citizens to its economic plan (Chalmers Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975).  
The British political class being far stronger in the 19th century than their 20th century Japanese counterparts had found a way to protect themselves; helped massively, of course, by a liberal culture that was wary of the state.  But Hennessy had his wish…  And Simon Jenkins shows what happens when the fetters are taken off an executive, and the civil service is used to facilitate government policy rather than evaluate it (Accountable to None: The Tory Nationalization of Britain).  It is the reason why Ferdinand Mount wants to slow the executive down by entrenching laws within the constitution (The British Constitution Now: Recovery of Decline?).   Harold Macmillan began over sixty years of state modernisation which has resulted in the most centralised and powerful executive in British history.  Has it been a great success?  Are we cheerleading now?
My friend, what are you doing?  I can’t see what this has to do with Effi or her husband.  Tell me please my friend, what are you getting out.  I am worried…  I had a feeling, rather vague and fleeting… Innstetten and Hennessy… they are similar: the one is an insider-outsider, the other an outsider-insider, Innstetten the more conservative of the two.  And… there is something else… the essentially destructive nature of reason, when it is used by these character types.  Dangerous men, although civilised and well-meaning...)

liv   Mr Raj, in Burgess’ Right to an Answer, has immense power - it is palpable in the book - precisely because he doesn't grasp the nuances of English life.  He is impervious to its customary influences.  Armed with his armour plated assumptions he is invincible, the unspoken subtleties of England unable to withstand his ideas and arguments, which appear to win every time.  It is no accident that he is a social scientist, another social type who deals in surfaces.

lv   There is an excellent discussion of this by Bryan Magee in his Confessions of a Philosopher; particularly the section on Bernard Williams and Harold Wilson, where he describes their ability to know all the answers through a kind of magical osmosis - it is done in a flash and without thought.

lvi   Thus the most powerful person in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is the businessman – because he has an instinctive understanding of people.

lvii  See the excellent analysis on how Bertrand Russell raised his children in Mary Midgley’s Wisdom, Information & Wonder: What is Knowledge For?.  He tried to reduce their physical and emotional education to a rational standard, which led to baneful effects.

lviii   The problem of religion is that is too rational.  A.N. Whitehead has some acute things to say about this in Science and the Modern World.  Of course I am here defining religion as an institution, and not as a mystic faith.  For the validity of the latter see Bertrand Russell’s Logic and Mysticism.  Russell's argument is that knowledge is mysticism purified by the rational faculty.  Reason a cleaning woman tidying up the flat after a party the night before.

lix   Marxists, Freudians, Baptists, Neo-liberals…

lx    One could argue they are life’s eternal students, who mistake knowledge for the real world (like Julian Assange, as described in my Freedom Against Freedom).
In The Rotters' Club Jonathan Coe comments that for some people school will be the most successful time in their lives.  Their personality fitted perfectly to its environment it is the place where they will exercise their greatest power.  
It is also the time when reason can have the most influence, and when particularly bright kids will be seduced by the brightest and most charismatic of their colleagues, who may never have such impact again; because custom and habit, and the superior wisdom of reflexive experience, dominates most adults’ lives.  At secondary school and six form college a child's mind is still highly plastic; thus it is during our late teenage years and early twenties that we acquire most of our social traits and many of our cultural tastes.  A charismatic individual has immense power at such an age.  However, he will lose this power later on, because when he grows up he will live amongst adults who, their characters already formed, will be far less susceptible to ideas and opinions radically different from their own.  He can get little traction on such adults, and will often be unable to explain why, as his own powers have not diminished, and his personality is largely unchanged.  
Over time this once powerful character will be viewed by the people around him as an odd person congenitally incapable of fitting in.  This can lead to loneliness and bitter critique – society condemned for irrationally casting out such rational and reasonable (and potentially powerful) men.  There can be huge nostalgia for the past when they ruled.  Maybe this explains the Garden of Eden: Genesis written by a disgruntled intellectual after his community has rejected him.  Reason, that exercise of the too conscious mind, is the original sin.
There are other aspects of precocity that I want to explore, particularly the precocious child’s seeming inability to mentally grow. There is something fixed and rigid about their intelligence.  They seem fixed to a small number of ideas acquired in their teenage years.  This lack of mental growth appears related to their quick intelligence – having acquired a world view very quickly they are able to defend it easily against all future attacks (which really should be influences).  That is, as young men and women they build a castle on the hill, and spend the rest of the lives defending it.  I am thinking of using Jane Gardam’s Crusoe’s Daughter to write about this character type.
For another variant of such a personality see the intellectuals described in Norman Cohn’s Warrant for Genocide. These characters have the propensity to treat very simple and dodgy ideas as impregnable facts…
My friend my friend, you seem to have gone off the point.  Where is Innstetten?  Where is Crampas?  Is Effi your precocious teenager…  Maybe she is.  Although I was thinking more of Innstetten.  There is a certain adolescent quality to his mind.  That self-consciousness, and that sensitiveness to the views of others.  There is also that schoolmaster jibe…  Are teachers clever kids who never quite grow up…?  Did he choose Effi because he thought he could mould her…  Was his marriage a return to the schoolroom?  If so, he found a kid far more precocious than himself….  I see my friend.  Effi Briest is really about two misfits.  This is one way of putting it.

lxi   This is the difference, I think, between Fontane and Fassbinder, discussed in my Freedom Against Freedom.  Helen Chambers, however, tends to side with the latter, as we see above.

lxii   Compare professor Chambers’ description of Effi with Schopenhauer’s of the artist (in my Russian Climate).

lxiii   See my Fictions Kill.  Helen Chambers shares a similar view:
“…the assertion of Effi as herself at the end, only in death, equally implies that the individual cannot survive independent of a particular social and historical context.  Even if society’s values are wrong the only possible existence is social existence, and you either conform or go under.”
Such analysis assumes there is a society whose values are right (our’s?); a somewhat utopian belief.  Effi is too odd to fit in easily.  This is her problem.  Like Innstetten she needed luck.  In her case she needed a milieu that was out of the ordinary; a rare occurrence that no one has the right to expect.
There is also a false dichotomy in this quote, which assumes that the individual cannot exist in tension with their society - they must either “conform or go under”.  But it is the tension between the independent individual and their society that produces new life; Fontane surely an example of such a fruitful coexistence.  Effi too.  She becomes reconciled to Berlin until ‘these cares gradually left her altogether.’  Kessin, we now realise, was too small for her, it was too alien.  
Her problem is not so much German culture but how that culture is manifested in small towns like Kessin; thus the scene where Effi delights in telling anecdotes about provincial places.  They are too mentally cramped for a woman with her sensibility.  Contrast Kessin with the highest realms of state; these are far more conducive to Effi's personality, thus the “affectionate friendship” of the Minister’s wife (a young woman, which shows the importance of age in this novel), and her election as a lady-in-waiting for a court ball.  
This rehabilitation ends when Innstetten adopts his narrow and rigid reasoning to an affair that a more worldly man would have allowed to fade away in silence.  Innstetten lacks the culture of a true aristocrat.  This is Effi’s tragedy.
Helen Chambers argues that Innstetten represents old and out-dated values in a time of modernisation.
“That the loyal servant of the state should agonize over this matter of form and convention and decide in favour of a traditional code which demands the meaningless sacrifice of human beings and human values signals that the society portrayed is a society in decline.  It is an age of transition and Fontane spotlights this transition and ruminates the unease, diagnoses the illness without being able to help the patient…  The cult of honour, which derives from the military code, a male construct, is shown to lack moral foundation and be unequal to the dilemmas of real life in the social and domestic sphere, and indeed politically irrelevant too in the age of Bismarck’s Realpolitik, where pragmatism and opportunism have determined they very shape of the contemporary state.  The inflexibility of the code is radically at odds with the ‘the re-evaluation of all values’ - to use a phrase from Fontane’s contemporary Nietzsche - that was going on in Germany above all in the young metropolis Berlin in the years of industrial expansion that followed unification.”
It is not the code that is inflexible.  It is Innstetten’s interpretation of it that destroys both Effi and himself.  This is because he is outside the culture that originally made it.  He is too much the bureaucrat - he much too modern - to grasp its nuances.  There is also something of the provincial mentality about him, which may be his biggest failing of all.  It is the culture of the small town that defeats him, because it makes him interpret the moral code too narrowly.  
You want a symbol?  Innstetten is the official mind of the small German states that were amalgamated into Bismarck’s German empire, where they found themselves out of their depth.  The old rules no longer applied, but they were the only rules they knew.

lxiv   See footnote liii.

lxv   See Freedom Against Freedom, and also Harold Perkin’s The Rise of Professional Society: England Since 1880.

lxvi   For further analysis of this scene see Freedom Against Freedom.  

lvii   Compare Innstetten and Crampas with Louis Trevelyan and Colonel Osborne in Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right.  Trevelyan is a more extreme version of Innstetten, and Colonel Osborne is a weaker copy of Crampas; but the conflict is again between a man who has the feminine touch and one who loses himself to reason, which he discovers has no foundation at all.   It was almost as if the 19th century was scared of the rational intellect…
There is something odd about the highly educated man when he enters society.  He is out of place, and a risk to himself and others, because he over-rationalises the rules that govern the social world.  The classic novel that satirises this mentality is Tolstoy’s War and Peace, where Pierre is shown as the holy fool of the drawing room.
The 20th century was the century when his type of person came into dominance.  The effects are all around us… a society built on external forms rather than those based on the spirit.
Of course I am returning to my central argument: Innstetten is a modern man, not some relic of the 16th century.   My friend, this is getting to be an obsession…

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