How Prussian Virtues Came About


Prussian virtues (Preussische Tugenden) are behaviors of high moral standards that are said to once have been the hallmark of the inhabitants of Prussia. Some of these values are still attributed to the German people today. The list of Prussian virtues depends on the author but can be condensed to the core values of discipline, self-control, punctuality, thriftiness, service and hard work.

Brief History of Prussia

Between 1925 and 1947, Prussia was a state that centered in the area of today’s Germany, but with boundaries extending far beyond Germany’s current borders. The House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia and expanded its size with the help of an extremely well organized army. Initially, the Prussian capital was Koenigsberg. In 1701 Friedrich I (Frederick I) became the first King of Prussia and chose Berlin as the capital. In 1871, the German states united under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. Unification created a German Empire under Prussian leadership. In the aftermath of World War I, in 1918, the monarchy was abolished, and the Kingdom of Prussia became a republic, known as the Weimar Republic.  In 1933, the Nazi regime seized control of the Prussian government. Following World War II, Germany was divided into Allied occupation zones, and Prussia ceased to exist. On 25 February 1947, the Allied Control Council formally proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.

Origin of Prussian Virtues

When Prussia became a kingdom under Friedrich I over 300 years ago, it was a poor state with fragmented territories. In 1713, his son, Friedrich Wilhelm I (Frederick William I) became King of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm was known as the “Soldier King” because he made considerable reforms to the Prussian army’s training, tactics and conscription. He demanded discipline, efficiency and good work ethics from his soldiers. During the “Soldier King’s” reign, Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues became accepted concepts. Today’s interpretation of Prussian discipline tends to be one in which the soldier blindly follows orders. But under Friedrich Wilhelm’s reign, discipline was a two-way street. Soldiers and their superiors were subject to the same rigorous rules.

In civilian society, Prussian virtues were initially frowned upon. With time, however, they began to seep in, particularly in light of the fact that Prussia had risen from nothing to greatness based on its Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues.

Prussian Virtues today

Even though the state of Prussia doesn’t exist anymore, Prussian virtues have not totally disappeared. In 2001, the German government proclaimed a “Prussian year” with celebrations of its Prussian heritage. Tolerance, reform, selflessness and modesty were highlighted to point out that during Prussian rule Jewish citizens were emancipated, feudalism and serfdom were eliminated, immigration was encouraged, the arts and sciences were celebrated and education of the young was made available and mandatory. In my own family, Prussian orderliness, sense of duty, honesty, punctuality, thriftiness, hard work, restraint and dependability were always stressed and expected.


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