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Friedrich Naumann
Personal details
Born(1860-03-25)25 March 1860
Störmthal (now part of Großpösna) near Leipzig
Died24 August 1919(1919-08-24) (aged 59)
Political partyChristian Social Party
National-Social Association
Freeminded Union
Freeminded People's Party
Democratic Party
Spouse(s)Maria Magdalena Zimmermann
OccupationTheologian, Politician

Friedrich Naumann (25 March 1860 – 24 August 1919) was a German liberal politician and Protestant parish pastor. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation of the Free Democratic Party is named after him. However, Naumann is also somewhat controversial as he is accused of inspiring the Nazi foreign policy and for his anti-Armenian statements.[1]


Naumann was born in the vicarage of Großpösna near Leipzig in Saxony. He attended school in Leipzig and the Fürstenschule in Meissen, whereafter he studied theology at the universities of Leipzig and Erlangen. From 1883 he worked at the Rauhes Haus charity institution established by Johann Hinrich Wichern in Hamburg, before in 1886 he took over the rectorate of Lengenberg near Glauchau in Saxony. From 1890 he also served in the Inner mission in Frankfurt.

Originally a follower of the conservative-clerical and antisemitic Berlin movement led by Adolf Stoecker and his Christian Social Party, Naumann later became interested in the social theories advocated by his friend Max Weber, one of the most pronounced critics of Emperor Wilhelm II. His ideal was that of helping the workers, whose miserable life circumstances he had witnessed in Hamburg. His goal was to raise interest in this issue among the middle class, however, initially he was hindered by the German middle class fear of the proletariat, who were regarded as potential revolutionaries. Naumann later tried to involve Weber in politics, but this failed due to the bad health and temper of Weber.

Already from 1894 he published the weekly magazine Die Hilfe („The Help“) to address the social question from a non-marxist middle class point of view. To this end he wrote the short book, Soziale Briefe An Reiche Leute („Social Letters to Wealthy People“) published in Göttingen in 1895. Together with Rudolph Sohm and Caspar René Gregory, he founded the National-Social Association in 1896; an attempt to provide a social liberal alternative to the Social Democrats, that could address the growing social rift between rich industrialists and the poor working class.

During the 1890s Hamidian massacres, Naumann became known for expressing anti-Armenianism in Die Hilfe including the famous „potter's quote“ in which Naumann - without complete consent - quoted a German potter, whom he met during his journey to the Near East in Constantinople, as stating:

I am a Christian and hold „Love thy neighbor“ as the first commandment, and I say that the Turks did the right thing when they beat the Armenians to death. There is no other way for the Turk to protect himself from the Armenian. […] The Armenian is the worst type in the world. He sells his wife, his still under-aged daughter, he steals from his brother. The whole of Constantinople is being morally poisoned by the Armenians. It is not the Turks who have attacked, but the Armenians. […] An orderly means of protecting oneself against the Armenians does not exist. The Turk is acting in self-defense.[1]

Historian Stefan Ihrig states that „Naumann had exposed a very broad audience to justifications for killing Armenians and had made Germany’s ears deaf to the Armenian plight as well as anti- Armenianism 'morally' and politically more acceptable“.[2] But with regard to the Armenian Genocide in 1915 the „Hilfe“[3] – still edited and led by Friedrich Naumann – wrote:

Neither the German-Turkish alliance could be legitimation “for a massacre of the Armenians in an extent which has not been seen in history as yet. No doubt one must be allowed to deplore the Armenian people’s adverse fate and to speak open that not all Armenian, most notably not the entire Armenian people are hostile to Turkish – without being blaimed to be a traitor on our good cause! Also the German press has to discuss the Arminian question, without prejudice!”

Later in his life, Naumann worked for an approachment of German social democratic and liberal movements, but faced major opposition from conservatives. Industrialists like Freiherr von Stumm called Naumann and his associates „Allies of the Socialists“. Naumann wanted to preserve Christian values, which he hoped would improve the fraught relations between workers and corporate businessmen. The National-Social Association failed in the German elections of 1898 and 1903 and was then dissolved into the Freeminded Union. Naumann became a member of the Reichstag parliament upon the 1907 federal election.

In 1907, he co-founded the Deutscher Werkbund association. On the eve of World War I, Naumann proved to be a monarchist, but his sympathy for of the German emperor Wilhelm II had vanished since the well-known Daily Telegraph Affair of 1908. He espoused a kind of liberal imperialism, signing the 1914 Manifesto of the Ninety-Three, and still in 1918 backed the "Anti-Bolshevist League" of Eduard Stadtler. On the other side Naumann supported the Peace Resolution, with which the Reichstag offered peace negotiations without annexiations in 1917.[4]

In 1919, Friedrich Naumann was among the founders of the social liberal German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei, DDP) with Theodor Wolff and Hugo Preuss. As a member of the Weimar National Assembly, he became one of the "Fathers of the Constitution" of the Weimar Republic, and, shortly before his death, was elected as the first president of the Democratic Party.


Naumann is often considered an advocate of German nationalism with militarist and annexionist ideals, due to his book Mitteleuropa (1915) on the geopolitics of a Central Europe under German leadership.[5] The work had a great public impact, though it did not affect the military strategy of World War I. Like many scholars of his time, Naumann upheld the theories of Social Darwinism and Volksgemeinschaft. He shared his views with the intellectual circles he frequented, including not only Max Weber, but also Lujo Brentano, Hellmut von Gerlach, young Theodor Heuss, his wife Elly Heuss-Knapp, and Gustav Stresemann. For others he is „a key figure in German liberalism in the late Kaiserreich“, who saw his political goals mainly realized, when just before the end of war the Constitution of the German Empire adopted an amendment, which turned the state into a short living parliamentary democratic monarchy.[6]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Ihrig, Stefan (2018). "Germany and the 1890s Armenian massacres: Questions of Morality in Foreign Policy". Études arméniennes contemporaines (11): 75–92. doi:10.4000/eac.1871. ISSN 2269-5281.
  2. ^ Justifying Genocide, p. 77.
  3. ^ Die Hilfe, No 36/1915, p. 582.
  4. ^ Heuss 1949, p. 389.
  5. ^ Naumann, Friedrich (1915). Mitteleuropa (in German). Berlin, Germany: Georg Reimer.
  6. ^ Jürgen Frölich: "Naumann, Friedrich". 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. German Historical Institute. 2 June 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2021.