I refer, of course, to the rash of highjackings and terroristic attacks which have been, in the dark years since September 11, 2001, perpetrated with . . . crab salad. Mozzarella cheese also, and stuffed herring.
Back in 2013, a ticketed passenger was denied clearance in Berlin because he had 272 grams of mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk, 155 grams of North Sea crab salad, and 140 grams of a stuffed herring product identified as “Flensburger Fördetopf” (never heard tell of that last, apparently it’s a stuffed product). So he sued. Isn’t it heart-warming, by the way, how the Germans have taken so readily to the habits of their American conquerors?
The top German administrative court has now ruled that he loses. Yep. Because such food products are “made with” liquids — you know: dangerous stuff like sour cream and milk — they are subject to the same regulations governing your shampoo or other substances that you really can’t tell what they are. But hey: It’s just hard to tell, sometimes, whether that’s really crab meat there of very artfully concealed C4. You can’t hand the would be passenger a forkful of it and tell him to eat it and show you it can be done. For that matter, you can’t take a damned toothpick and shove it to the bottom of the container to show that there’s not a miniature land-mine stowed under the
Max practiced masterfully the art of the dynastic marriage both for himself and his descendants, significantly sweeping under either direct Habsburg sovereignty or collateral affiliation large swathes of Europe, most notably direct kingship over Hungary after the disaster of Mohacs in 1526. It was Hungary which provided the “and royal” tag in the Habsburg “imperial and royal” descriptor after the Compromise of 1867. On the other hand, it was in large measure Hungarian intransigence which forever derailed what feeble attempts Franz Joseph and his advisors made to drag the empire forward as a viable geopolitical force. I forget now which German senior commander (or was it a chancellor? I’ve slept since then) observed during the Great War that Germany was “shackled to a corpse.” Magyar refusal to entertain any measure which might impair their oppression of the crazy-quilt of ethnicities within Hungary has to bear a good portion of the responsibility for the truth of that statement.
Gentle Reader will perceive how easily that for which we strive mightily, and sacrifice nearly all to defend once in our possession, can turn out to be a poison chalice in the end, after all. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose.
Max also is a pretty good example of the Habsburg penchant for eccentricity. He spent a large amount of effort on a couple of lengthy epic poems as well as a novel. The purpose, in addition to patting himself on the back for being An All-Round Swell Guy, was to glorify what he presented as the traditions of chivalry and more to the point, the Habsburgs’ role as principal exponents of ditto. There is a fascinating history of the family which takes for its focus the means and media in which the successive Habsburg rulers used their representation in visual and written arts to establish, explicate, and fix in permanence their role and claims in the European power system.
History has been less impressed with Max as author than he might have desired.
What Maximilian did do, and what to this day remains as an enduring legacy, perhaps his only enduring legacy, is the direction he gave to one of his court flunkies in 1498 to go hire, as a permanent fixture at court, some musicians and young male singers. Just over 500 years later the Wiener Sängerknaben — better known in English as the Vienna Boys Choir — is still going. Roughly 100 strong, they of course perform concerts in and around Vienna; they also split into four separate touring groups and travel all over the world performing. A couple of years ago, one of them visited the city near where I live and as a bucket-list item I took my mother to see them. They put on a pretty good show.
[Here I will confess to a bit of a personal preference. I understand that musicians must perform what their audiences want to hear. Thus I do not take it ill of the Sängerknaben that so much of the program they presented that evening we saw them was newer settings of newer things. But I prefer a greater homage to the towering music of the past. I mean, let’s face it: Just about anyone who can carry a tune in a dump truck — and I own that I am not among them, not at all, even a bit, by any standard — can sling together a passable setting of “contemporary” music, showtunes, and so forth. It’s just not all that challenging. The great music of the past, however? That takes a bit more in the way of chops. I prefer the focus of the Thomanerchor, which is even older than the Sängerknaben (they trace their roots back to 1212, I think) and which concentrates above all on the music of their one-time Kantor, one J. S. Bach. Not to take anything away from their colleagues in Vienna; it’s just that I sort of wish they’d devote their undoubted talents to challenges more worthy of them. Purely personal taste.]
Perhaps Maximilian did achieve his earthly immortality, and through the medium of art. It just wasn’t his own, or even about him. Irony will out.
Go make a joyful noise, in memory of H.I.M. Maximilian.
A couple of weeks ago a buddy forwarded to me a photo that a friend of his had taken, of House Doorn in the Netherlands. This is it:
As Gentle Reader might surmise from the bust in the foreground, this was the house in which Kaiser Wilhelm II spent the last two decades or thereabouts of his life. He is buried on the grounds there, and is likely to remain there forever. His express wish was not to be returned to Germany until it became a monarchy again, and the likelihood of that occurring is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.0.
Being the considerate, courteous feller that I am I thanked my buddy. I passed along that I have the two-volume biography of Wilhelm by Lamar Cecil, which I found to be very well done, and remarkably fair given the subject. Cecil doesn’t pull punches, but refrains from gratuitous character-blackening. But it’s his final comment on Wilhelm that sticks in the mind. Of the last kaiser it could equally be said, so Cecil, what Wellington pronounced upon George IV: He lived and died without being able to assert so much as a single claim upon the gratitude of posterity.
My buddy then e-mailed me back to allow that Cecil’s judgment echoed what he had read about ol’ Kaiser Bill in both Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, both by Margaret MacMillan. I have both and recommend them both, but the exchange with my buddy got me to thinking back to the war’s beginnings.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Great War has been a fetish of mine for right at 30 years. I can’t say I have any friends I know to give a tinker’s damn about it, but for me it is a source of endless fascination and continuing reflection. [N.b. By an odd coincidence, a very dear friend of mine had one grandfather who was a machine-gunner for the kaiser; the other grandfather had been a machine-gunner in the A.E.F.]
I have on loan from a mutual friend the BBC mini-series 37 Days, the story of the interval between the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28 and the August 3, 1914, British declaration of war. As you might expect from the Beeb, the story is told primarily from the viewpoint of the Anglo-German dyad. There are two brief scenes each of Franz Joseph and Nicholas II; the balance of the action takes place in London and Berlin. The central character around whom the narrative is framed is Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister. Ian McDiarmid plays Grey marvelously.
There are a couple of historical inaccuracies in the plot.
Franz Joseph is implied to be the motive force behind the famous ultimatum to Serbia, when in fact it was his cabinet, and above all his military Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who seized upon the assassination (which Franz Joseph greeted with, above all, a sense of relief, remarking as much in so many words) to crush Serbia once and for all, both to remove a source of agitation for the empire’s Serb minority and to re-assert Austria-Hungary’s place as a Great Power in Europe.
In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm’s initial reaction is presented as being bellicose, when it was nothing of the kind. At least at first. For obvious reasons the Austrians wanted to know whether they had Germany’s backing in doing anything to Serbia as such in response to the assassination. So they sent Alexander, Count von Hoyos a foreign service official, with a memorandum in hand to see the Austrian ambassador to Germany, who was then to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm and the German Reichskanzler, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. Bethmann-Hollweg’s initial reaction during that meeting — and more importantly, the kaiser’s as well — was cautionary. But during the Austrian ambassador’s meeting with kaiser and chancellor, Hoyos was meeting with his own German counterpart to “explain” the memorandum’s actual meaning. Hoyos had long been, it seems, a proponent of violent reckoning with Serbia, and the gloss he put on the memorandum was that Austria wanted a short, victorious war against Serbia and it expected Germany to live up to its alliance obligations. That “interpretation” was then communicated up to Wilhelm, and by the time dinner came around that evening, Wilhelm was wearing his war paint and declared that whatever Austria wanted to do, Germany would back it to the hilt. Thus was the famous “blank check” given.
The final point of inaccuracy in the BBC miniseries is that it presents Bethmann-Hollweg as being much more belligerent, and much more energetic about provoking warlike measures by the Austrians, than he actually was. He’d never served in the army and had no illusions about its out-sized role in Germany policy-making. He had long been an unsuccessful opponent of Admiral Tirpitz’s quixotic naval construction programs.
But that’s not what this post is about. The BBC miniseries very accurately presents the role played by the German General Staff, the Generalstab. The generals very very much wanted a war, but not a war between Austria and Serbia. They were looking for war with Russia, a preventive war.
What follows below is the (slightly edited) e-mail I sent to my buddy:
If you back up a half-step from the historical narrative and look at the meta-story of it, what you realize is that what was going on was that the responsible organs of government – the kaiser and the reichskanzler — abdicated a central decision-making function – how to address the continent-wide instabilities created by two decrepit, ancient political systems (Austria-Hungary and Russia) as they desperately fought for continued relevance in a notoriously volatile part of Europe — to supposed “experts” viz. the Army Generalstab.
Everyone and his cousin knew the issue – What to Do About the Balkans, Dear – to be fiendishly complicated.
But hist! the Generalstab more or less hijacked the decisional process. For them the issue wasn’t the Balkans as such, it was the supposed settling of accounts (“Which accounts, exactly?” the innocent bystander might have asked) with Russia. For decades – ever since Caprivi had let the Secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse in 1890 (I think it was), the Generalstab had assumed a war with Russia as part of Germany’s treaty obligations to Austria-Hungary. To be true, they’d at first discounted the possibility that despotic Russia and republican France could ever find their way to the same bed, but in 1894 it had happened. But they were “experts,” after all, and what good is an “expert” if he can’t “solve” any problem you set him, right?
In 1914, the “experts” of the Generalstab offered several assurances to the responsible decision-makers: (i) There was a rapidly approaching, apocalyptic event – the overtaking of Germany by Russia in military and economic power – the result of which, if not stopped, was the utter destruction of Germany as a flourishing polity and puissant European power. (ii) Only the Army had the power to stop it. (iii) The only method of addressing this on-coming apocalypse was to cede authority and command over events to the experts, who were to be given free hand in crafting a salvation from it, and that salvation was a specifically military solution. (v) There were no unknown developments to fearfrom the experts’ be-all-and-end-all solution of provoking a general war against Russia in the east (oh, for example, the American industrial economy being effectively thrown into the scales on the other side, or Italy getting bought by the Allies with promises of Austrian territory). (vi) Any known risks of side-effects had been fully accounted for and contained (the Schlieffen Plan and knocking France out of the war in six weeks, thereby reducing the British and more critically the Royal Navy to impotence . . . assuming Britain even bothered to come in at all).
You will readily recognize in the above the fundamental paradigm of the modern state. The organs pursue their own agendas, which they form internally and without reference, by and large, to the determinations of the responsible political organs. Those agendas grow from the agencies’ own objectives, the ultimate outcomes of which, whatever other attributes they might enjoy, invariably display one common feature: the increase in the control exerted by that agency, and the protection of its insiders. The agencies invariably present their programs never as a trade-off among competing priorities, but rather as the sole chance of staving off catastrophe. The agencies explicitly take the position that no one from outside them can possibly understand their pet issue(s) or be morally entitled to take a position on them which must be respected and is entitled to be accounted for in any ultimate resolution. The agencies strenuously maintain, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that they possess full knowledge of every possible consequence of their actions, have accounted for those consequences, and have so arranged everything – Everything, I tell you!! – that no meaningful harm can come from just turning the keys over to them, and if we’ll all just shut up and do as they say, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Hold that template up to nearly every single agency of modern government, and you will see it fits like pigskin on a pig. The legal system? Check. The EPA? Check. The Fed? Spot-on. The educational industry? Oh boy yes; try making a suggestion about how classroom education might be improved to someone carrying an NEA card in her purse and see how much an Outsider gets listened to. Pretty much any of the alphabet-soup agencies? Like it was tailor-fit to them. The military? Pretty much yes, although the cultural memory of Vietnam has done a great deal to pop a lot of seams in the cloth (kind of ironic that the one aspect of modern America which doesn’t fit perfectly the paradigm of summer, 1914 is precisely the American military in its relationship with the responsible organs of government).
And now remind me how the Kaiser’s decision to put the generals in the saddle in July, 1914 worked out.
We are glibly informed by our president that, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” and so he’ll jolly well do as he pleases and Congress be damned.
We have the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which actually isn’t a “board” at all, but rather a non-firable single administrator whose budget comes from the Fed’s surplus income and who answers to no one (mercifully, that structure was just the other day ruled to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit).
We have the EPA just more or less deciding to destroy the American power system through regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant”. The courts, indulging the lunacy, agreed that what comes out of your chest as you exhale is subject to regulation by the EPA. Think about that one, Gentle Reader. The product of one of your basic life processes is subject to regulation in Washington, D.C. You are a discharge point. The EPA runs the National Point Discharge Elimination System (at least for wastewater; I can’t say off the top of my head whether it applies to airborne pollutants — like your breath — as well). Can you say “residency permit” and “internal passport,” Gentle Reader? Don’t think it can’t happen; the Army Corps of Engineers famously tried to regulate wet-weather pools on private land as being “navigable waters”.
It is an unfortunate fact of Life that it is far, far easier to do harm than good. It took the better part of 600 years to build the cathedral at Cologne (or Köln, as we Germanophones would say it); one truck bomb lit off by an ISIS sleeper cell (and the German security services have admitted that such are already there) could bring it down with a few hours’ work. The German Generalstab managed, with a few weeks manipulation of processes and personalities, to provoke a war which just about destroyed European civilization; in fact, it did destroy it. If in 1895 you’d asked anyone but a raving lunatic whether it was OK to shoot and gas 6,000,000 people because of where — not just they, but their ancestors going back six generations — went to church, they’d have tried to calm you down while they quietly fetched the gentlemen bearing the straitjackets. If you’d suggested that it was OK to kick hundreds of thousands of people off land they and their ancestors had inhabited for centuries (as happened in Poland, and eastern Germany, and the Sudetenland), they’d have very carefully put a table between you and them. If you’d proposed that it would be a very good thing to starve to death your entire independent agricultural class, they’d have run for the hills shouting there was a madman on their tails. And yet by mid-century all this and much, much more had happened, and had been blessed not just by the perpetrators but by “serious” third-party observers, such as The New York Times whitewashing the Holodomor.
What might an uncontrolled administrative state work by way of mischief? I am afraid that I will live long enough to find out. I am terrified that my sons almost certainly will.
[Ed. — Wow. I haven’t put anything up on this humble little blog since spring. What have I been doing? I couldn’t tell you, for the life of me. The time just sort of heaves and sighs, and poof! there are another few months gone under the bridge. Is this what we have to look forward to, as we age?]
You can see it in the slightest things, sometimes. Someone in whom a particular mind-set, a philosophy, a Weltanschauung is so stamped that it has become a part of who he unthinkingly is will sometimes do or say something and not realize that he has laid bare, to some degree, the most fundamental mechanisms of his soul. Reporters, the overwhelming majority of whom in Western societies are hard-core leftists, are especially prone to do such things. They’re so far to the left that they don’t even realize that they are leftists; that’s just how the world looks to them. And so they’re forever turning cards face-up on the table so that the rest of us can see what’s going on behind their eyes. They’re no more self-conscious about it than a dog licking his balls.
I recently ran across a splendid example of it, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the newspaper I’ve used as my internet start page ever since CNN took to shilling for al Qaeda back in 2006. [Remember the snuff film they produced, of U.S. soldiers getting killed by snipers in Iraq? They made and released that film in an explicit, self-proclaimed effort to influence the outcome of the 2006 mid-term elections. CNN took that film, which its own makers had announced as an intention to subvert the American political process, and ran it, again and again and again. What would we have thought if the Germans had made a similar film in 1944 and then Movietone had run it with the newsreels before every showing of every film in the U.S?]
The article deals with a statute with a wonderfully German name: the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, or the Federal Education Improvement Law. With typical glee in abbreviation and acronym (the Gestapo’s nickname was also one: in truth its full name was the Geheime Staatspolizei) it’s universally known as Bafög. In round numbers it provides for federal level financial aid to German students who are attending university (and presumably the technische Hochschulen as well). The process starts with filling out a standard form, much like the FAFSA form here in the U.S.
At least, the Bafög provides that financial aid to students whose families aren’t well-off above a certain threshold.
The article’s title — “Unity and Justice and Bafög” is a play on the first words of the German national anthem: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, unity and justice and freedom. The point of the article is that our newly-minted Abiturient — the holder of the coveted Abitur, which allows you to attend college in Germany — looking forward to the freedom and Selbstbestimmung (self-determination) of adulthood, with the university years as joyful, stimulating, liberating, challenging, endlessly intriguing opening chapter, is in for a let-down when he sits down to fill out the Bafög application. You see, on page 3 of the form the student is required to state his parent’s income and resources. Too much and you don’t get any Bafög assistance.
Oopsies! Turns out the blossoming student isn’t viewed as being quite liberated from his parents, after all. More to the point, his ability to be a care-free student —
is materially affected by attributes of his family. Wait. Isn’t one of the Big Points of university exactly the separation of the student’s identity from that of his background?
The article correctly states the issue implicated: We are called upon to take a position in the “eternal conflict between freedom, equality, and justice”. You see, the problem with Bafög is that it is taxpayer funded. By all taxpayers. Including the baker whose son is doing an apprenticeship at the local machine shop, whose daughter is a waitress at the restaurant down the street, and whose wife is a nurse’s assistant at the hospital. His and their money is being taken from them to fund the heightened life prospects of our new student. Remind us again how this is just and equitable, if the student’s ability to launch himself in life with recourse to the resources of those who — at this point in life at least, before spouse and children appear — have the No. 1 Biggest Stake in his future prospects, is not to be taken into account. [Note that just making university “free” to everyone doesn’t address our baker’s objections. He’s still having to fork out to give someone else’s child a leg up in life, irrespective of the ability to help of that child’s parents.]
The article suggests that from our hypothetical tradesman’s perspective, it would be much fairer to require the student and his family to borrow the money and then pay it back from his presumably greater earnings. As they do it in America, the author points out. But what has been the result of that system in America, the author asks. “Mountains of debt” just at the outset of one’s career.
The other way to go is the Scandinavian model, in which everyone — including the children of millionaires — has a right to support from the state. To treat the children of the wealthy differently would be “not to take them in earnest.” Whatever.
And now, the tell. “The liberation from the oppressing bonds of background, which it [the money-for-everyone system] promises the student, has another hook. It only come as a package. In other aspects of life as well the state prefers to work directly, without disruptive intermediaries such as the family, with people.” It is a “großangelegtes Vereinzelungsprojekt” — a comprehensive atomization project — with “grave side effects.”
There you have it. The socialist system rests upon what is in substance an unlimited claim upon the individual humans who make up society. It cannot and will not tolerate any other locus of power or independence.
First and foremost is the nuclear family. It is no accident that among the earliest “reforms” of every socialist dictatorship (and they all are, even the Scandinavian ones with the smiley face) is a programmatic subversion of the nuclear family. Divorce laws are loosened, the legal privileges of married status are withdrawn. Children are removed, sometimes by force (membership in the Hitlerjugend or the Young Pioneers was not optional), and often by enticement (universal “free” day-care, anyone?) from their parents’ supervision. The adults from whom they receive their daily, drip-drip-drip of influence are no longer the parents (or grandparents, or older siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so forth) but rather government functionaries, teaching lessons, values, and self-understanding chosen by the state. Children are encouraged to spy and report on their parents. Those who do (or who are said to have) are celebrated, publicly.
Churches come into the cross-hairs for the same reasons. From the liquidation of the hierarchy under the Bolsheviks to Hitler’s co-opting the German churches — kudos to Bonhoeffer and the other organizers of the Confessing Church movement in Germany; they weren’t going along to get along — there is a remarkably consistent pattern in the subversion of religious organization by socialist government.
The Cultural Revolution was more of the same. A couple of years ago I read a fascinating biography of Chairman Mao, and of course that period comes in for some close examination. Traditional Chinese society is, of course, exactly that: deeply and abidingly traditional. Although the Reds had completed their formal conquest of the country by 1949, and even though they had starved — very intentionally, by the way — somewhere between 45 and 60 million people — mostly peasants — to death during the Great Leap Forward (the link is to the Wikipedia article, which give a high of 42 million and a low of 18 million; on the other hand, this history gives the 45-60 range), Chinese society still remained in many of its core organizing principles the same traditional society it had been. Mao realized that he had to smash, irretrievably, that hold which tradition had, because in traditional Chinese society the state, as such, played so small a part in everyday life. Hence the Cultural Revolution’s targeting of everything which traditional China revered, first and foremost the teachers.
It was Mussolini who made famous the formulation: Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state. This is the first and basic credo of the socialist. You can pretty it up and say, “Government is just the name for the things we all do together,” but it’s the same thing. You can stick a label on it — Gleichschaltung — so you can speak in catch-phrases. You can even attempt to replicate it, to some degree, in the context of a free association, in such things as labor unions, with their ladies’ auxiliaries, athletic teams, children’s groups, and so forth. But that doesn’t really work, does it, without coercion. Witness what happened in places like New Harmony: Without the coercive power of the state, the experiment in an all-encompassing socialism flew apart under the stresses of its own centrifugal forces.
Which is why, at bottom, if the premise of socialism is this unlimited claim upon the individual lives of the people, its essence is violence, physical coercion.
But how does this fascism-with-a-smiley-face play out in wonderful Scandinavia? Let’s go back to that FAZ article for a reference to just one of those “grave side effects”: “There are for example few lands in which so many people as in Sweden die completely alone, without any connection with their family.” Or we can look at the WHO data on alcohol-related disorders: For males, the rate in the U.S. is 5.48%. In Sweden it’s 6.32%; in Finland 6.39%; in Norway (you know, that place we’re all supposed to be like) it’s a whacking 9.05%. Here’s a link to an article in The Washington Postabout the prevalence of diagnosed depression. In the U.S., according to the map at the link, the rate appears to be in the 4-4.5% range. It’s hard to tell from the map (there’s a further link to the underlying study, if Gentle Reader wants to read that far), but it looks like Sweden comes in at 4.5-5%, and Finland and Norway at 5.5-6%. Those don’t sound like terribly bad numbers, until you consider that the jump from 4% (the U.S. low-end) to 5.5% (the low-end in wonderful Norway) is a 37.5% leap.
It looks, in other words, as though whatever else the intrusion of the state into every nook and cranny of its citizens’ lives is working for the better, it still seems not to do a very good job of avoiding your dying drunk, depressed, and alone.
Be all that as it may, Hanson looks at two shootings: the first, in 2014 of the violent criminal Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, and the second of Kathryn Steinle, in San Francisco. Brown was black; Steinle was white. Brown had just committed a robbery; Steinle was walking down a pier with her father. Brown had just attacked and attempted to seize the weapon of the police officer who had matched him to a minutes-old radio alert of the robbery, and was shot dead in his tracks , from the front, while charging the officer. Steinle was shot dead in the back while . . . well, while walking with her father, minding her own business. Brown was shot by a police officer; Steinle was shot by a multiple-convicted felon whose very presence in the United States constituted a crime. The police officer who shot Brown was white; the convicted felon who shot Steinle was Mexican, an illegal alien.
After Brown was killed in the midst of his attempted third felony of that day (first: robbery; second: attacking and attempting to steal weapon from law enforcement officer; third: second attempt to attack and steal weapon from same), Dear Leader’s administration and his political allies very carefully stoked the fires of racial hatred, and Ferguson burned. After Steinle was shot dead by the felon who was very intentionally released by the City of San Francisco in spite of a request by federal authorities that they hold him until he could be deported (this would have been his sixth deportation), there were . . . crickets.
Hanson has the temerity once more to point out the very different treatment of the two killings, one indisputably justified (Brown’s), and the other (Steinle’s) indisputably an abomination, all but engineered by the left-extremists in the San Francisco city government.
Maybe VDH didn’t want to violate Godwin’s Law, which holds that the longer an internet discussion goes on, the closer to 1.0 approaches the probability that someone will make an explicit comparison to the Nazi era. But since Hanson put up his post yesterday, and today is November 9, I’m going to do the belly-flop for him.
On November 9, 1938, Germany exploded. Well, to be more precise, a segment of Germany exploded. That segment was the segment represented by synagogues and Jewish businesses. They were torched, their owners and congregants beaten, in many cases beaten to death. There was so much broken glass in the streets from smashed windows that the Germans knew it as “Kristallnacht,” or “crystal night.” Here’s the Wikipedia entry, for those curious.
Why did Victor Davis Hanson’s post on the political reaction, and the carefully orchestrated violence, in response to Michael Brown’s death put me in mind of November 9, 1938? Because Kristallnacht too was a highly orchestrated orgy of violence in response to a single killing. Ernst vom Rath was a German diplomat stationed in Paris. On the morning of November 7, 1938, a Polish Jew then living in Paris a teenager, Herschel Grynszpan (he had fled Germany in 1936; after his arrest he stated that he acted to avenge the news that his parents were being deported from Germany back to Poland), shot him five times. Rath died on November 9, by which time the Nazi powers had had time to organize “spontaneous” demonstrations of outrage inside Germany.
The destruction of November 9, 1938, was no less “spontaneous” than the observances surrounding the announcement that officer Darren Wilson, the police officer who successfully defended himself from Michael Brown, would not be indicted for any criminal offense.
Carousels are circular. Stand in one place long enough and everything you’ve seen before you’ll see again. Sort of makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what else from the 1930s and 40s we’re going to see again in the coming years? Holodomor? Molotov-Ribbentrop? Munich? (Dear Leader sure made a run at that last by handing the Iranian mullahs a green light for nuclear weaponry.) Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?
Sobering thinking, it is.
[N.b. I don’t know whether I’ve pointed it out before on this ‘umble blog, but November 9 is a date pregnant with significance in German history. In 1918, the German republic was proclaimed and the Kaiser abdicated; in 1923, the Beer Hall Putsch failed; in 1938, they put on Kristallnacht; in 1940, Neville Chamberlain, the man who more than any other enabled Hitler to become the continental-scale monster he did, finally died; and, in 1989, the Berlin Wall, the physical embodiment of the war’s outcome, came down. Can’t make this stuff up.]
The Frankfurt International Book Fair began recently. It’s among the largest of its kind in the world and is regularly the setting for important doings in the world of literature and books.
This year’s fair was opened with an address from Salman Rushdie. You’ll recall him; he was the author who found himself the subject of a fatwa in 1989 because some Islamic cleric didn’t like something he’d written. For years he’s had to live quasi-underground, well-guarded. Rushdie, by the way, is far from the only author who’s found himself the target of the Islamofascists; Ayan Hirsi Ali, born Muslim and the victim of genital mutilation, has written extensively about we may gently call Islam’s woman problem. There is now a price on her head. To show their understanding and support for her ordeal and her courage in speaking plainly and publicly, in 2014 Brandeis University first offered and then withdrew, at the request of an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator organization (which is to say, the Council on American-Islamic Relations), the offer of an honorary degree.
Be all that as it may, Rushdie seems to have spoken pretty plainly, and in favor of freedom of expression. The link above is to The New York Times write-up of his address. It contains only the most bland of his statements: “Limiting of freedom of expression is not just censorship; it is also an attack on human nature.” True enough. But it wouldn’t be the NYT we know and love so well if they didn’t suppress things that didn’t support The Narrative.
So let’s go to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’scoverage. Rushdie categorically denied that freedom of expression is a culturally-specific human value; it is, he says, “universal.” In fact Rushdie characterized as “the greatest attack” on freedom of expression exactly that conceit of Western thinkers that the freedom is somehow specific to Western culture. Ouch. He specifically called out the rising tide of bullshit “trigger warnings” on American campuses and the general intent and effect of political correctness, which he firmly placed among attacks on freedom of expression. And he apparently didn’t spare the examples, calling out the law students who don’t want to read case books and other materials that use the word “rape,” or the Columbia University (!!) undergraduates who object to reading classical poetry because it depicts the gods having their way with women. And so forth. Rushdie also called out the “remarkable alliance between parts of the European Left and radical Islamic thinkers.” When an ideology — Islam — labels itself a religion, its enmity towards women, Jews, “and others” (homosexuals? Christians? apostates?), for some magical reason, gets “swept under the rug.”
Rushdie pointed out that while authors who are truly persecuted seldom survive, their art lives on. He named the examples of Ovid in the Roman Empire, Osip Mandelstam’s death in GuLAG at the hands of Stalin, and one of Franco’s victims. I will point out that he names no Western author . . . could that be because in fact we don’t kill our authors? No matter how much they may bellyache about how awful it is to be black/Central American/homosexual/female, etc?
In the FAZ‘s gloss, linked above, the author asserts that Rushdie’s address confronts the “error” that at the center of human are well-being and “the good life,” in which each may do as much of what he pleases as he will. To demonstrate that this is an “error” the author cites us to the characters of slaves in Roman comedies. They run the household, they go shopping, they celebrate; yet, they remain slaves, because everything is subject to the master’s reservation of approval (or not). This demonstrates, so our newspaper article’s author, that freedom is not a hallmark of private action but rather of a political state of being. And thus freedom of expression is the “test case” for freedom, because with “the impression that politics is more important begins self-enslavement.” I do wish the editors had allowed the author to write at greater length, because I find those last sentences tantalizing. Would it not be more correct to say that private actions are a hallmark of freedom? In fact, the very notion of “private action” does not exist in the absence of freedom; Solzhenitsyn writes in his magnum opus of the politicization of sleep itself under Stalin. What is more private than one’s opinions, formed from the processes of one’s own mind? In other words, you cannot suppress opinion and expression without a receding, pro tanto, of freedom itself.
And here let’s pause again to point out that none of Rushdie’s points above made it into the NYT write-up. Why not? Well, what legacy media institution is more invested in precisely the kinds of self-censorship in the name of a political superstructure condemned by Rushdie than the left-extremists at the Gray Lady? For them, the personal truly is political.
Well, so much for Salman Rushdie and his slap at the face of the apologists for Islamofascism. From Tuesday’s FAZ we have another article, on a Pegida demonstration in Dresden. The supra-headline is “Pegida radicalizes itself,” and for Exhibit A they trot out a photograph, at the linked article, of a toy gallows carried to the demonstration. On it are two miniature hangman’s nooses, with — what? an effigy? a photograph? — no, with two placards reading “Reserved for Siegmar Gabriel” (actually they even misspelled his name: it’s “Sigmar”) and “Reserved for Angela Merkel” printed on them. Take a real good look at the “gallows”: You couldn’t hang a slab of bacon from it. It’s a model, fer Chrissakes.
As Lutz Bachmann, the movement’s founder, correctly points out, every year during the Carnival parades around Germany there are many more explicit, and explicitly grisly depictions of currently-hated politicians. Geo. W. Bush was a favorite target.
But hist! we must not allow this expression to stand, must we? And sure enough, the prosecutor’s office is “investigating” the incident. As of press time no name had been announced of who made or who brought or who was carrying the gallows and its — O! the horror — two placards. And what is the alleged crime? Breach of the peace through threat of criminal action, and encouragement to criminal action. Really? This toy gallows was being carried in the middle of a hetzed-up public demonstration; if the peace had been disrupted then precisely in what increment did that toy increase the disturbance? And “encouragement”? Where, exactly, is the encouragement? Where exactly is there a statement that, “I’m going to hang Angela Merkel,” or “I want you to go fetch Siegmar Gabriel so I may hang him”? How in the name of illogic can you get any further than, “I think Merkel and Gabriel should hang”?
Remind me again how this pursed-lipped investigation by the prosecuting attorney’s office squares with the paean to freedom of expression so praised coming from Salman Rushdie’s mouth?
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, no less than for the NYT, the commitment of Europe to freedom of expression has to be written down in the “pious platitudes” column.
When I did my two junior years — high school and college — in Germany, I had to get used to the repeated observation by the locals on how lousy American beer was. Not that I viewed myself as carrying any brief for the American brewing industry, or that I entertained any chauvinistic opinions that nothing about Home could possibly be second-rate to anything, and in no event objectively bad, but it still rankled. It rankled because the observation was perfectly true, and because of the sheer repetitiousness of it. The favorite pejorative was “Spülwasser” — dishwater.
From today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, we have a report on the American craft-brewing phenomenon. The report is that the number of breweries in the U.S. is now over 4,000; since 2007 the number of micro-breweries has tripled. All this since the 1970s, when fewer than a hundred enormous breweries shared the market. Germany has, in contrast, “only” 1,400 breweries. Poor dears; you could drink a different beer each day for almost four years and not have to repeat.
The report points out — truthfully — that American brewers are working with much more flexible rules than the Germans, bound as they are to the Reinheitsgebot (the purity law which dates to the early 16th Century; Brussels in recent years decreed it unenforceable for beer imported into Germany, because allegedly protectionist, but just try selling a beer in Germany that doesn’t comply with the Reinheitsgebot . . . and more power to them for it; the law still, it seems, applies to German domestic beer). One unnamed American craft beer advertises itself as having <sound of throwing up in mouth> raisin skins mixed in, to give it a fruitier taste.
On the other hand, and demonstrating commendable fairness, the article also points out that in many cases, the novel tastes don’t rely on adulterations like raisin skins, but rather on entirely new varieties of hops. Thus the craft beers produce a wondrous tapestry of new beer tastes (assuming that’s what you’re after) without violating even the letter of the Reinheitsgebot. The German firm which is the world market leader for hops — the Barth Gruppe — warns that this trend, which until recently simply wasn’t recognized or which was dismissed as a “bubble,” is now “irreversible.” Because the so-called “flavor hops” are predominantly grown in the U.S., if current trends continue the U.S. will soon surpass Germany as the world’s leading producer.
“In fact: American beers taste good.” That sentence would never have been even whispered 30 years ago, when I was last living there, let alone written in any reputable publication (because as of then it just wasn’t true). “The world is turning away from German beer,” the article observes. And the final sentence, more in sorrow than in anger: “A changing of the guard is underway.”
They may have signed the articles in May, 1945, but when one of the flagship German newspapers writes the above sentences, that’s what surrender looks like. You can bomb their cities into rubble; you can slaughter their soldiers and sink their sailors. That’s just a trial of raw force, after all. You can make cars that are bigger, faster, cheaper, cleaner <cough, cough!>, or safer; all those are just trade-offs among the physical constraints of motor vehicle design. But to beat them on quality? In beer? Do that and you jerk away one of the German’s central pillars of his self-image.
Here I must say that I do not particularly enjoy all this fruity-beer nonsense. I prefer the German taste; I also am something of a Guinness fanatic. Back in the day I drank an enormous (does the expression “enough to float a battleship” mean anything to you, Gentle Reader?) amount of Weizenbier — wheat beer — in both its Hefeweizen and Kristallklar variants. The only American wheat beer I’ve ever found that tastes even remotely like the Real Thing is Yuengling’s “summer wheat,” which is truly awesome, but which those lunkheads only brew, as the name implies, during summer. Ummm . . . . guys: Weizenbier is a year-round pleasure; just ask the folks from Donaueschingen. But de gustibus non disputandum est, I suppose; as long as you can produce that taste within the confines of the Reinheitsgebot, more power to you.
In September/October 1938, Hitler, with the active connivance of the cowards in Downing Street, dismembered a sovereign neighbor state, Czechoslovakia. This despite the very specific French treaty with Czechoslovakia which had been signed for the very express purpose of thwarting German aspirations against the Czechs’ territory. Had Chamberlain been willing to support the French by watching their backs on the Rhein, the French were willing to honor their treaty commitments to the Czechs. But Chamberlain was a coward, and his ruling Conservative Party had so neglected (under the circumstances, one might with some justice say “subverted”) the Empire’s defenses that Neville backed down, leaning on the French to do the same, and thereby selling out France’s treaty partner.
As only became known five years later, when the July 20 conspirators were in the process of being liquidated, had Chamberlain not chickened out in fall, 1938, there were armed groups of assassins literally gathered within blocks of the government district in Berlin, with detailed plans to kill or capture the entire Nazi senior leadership and liquidate the National Socialist state. They were standing by for orders which their leaders expected to be able to give them at any moment. Most of the senior military command was on board with the plot; Czechoslovakia had extremely formidable defenses and a very-highly-regarded self-defense capacity. But when Chamberlain caved and the military realized they were going to be handed the Czech defenses without a fight (I can’t recall which of the senior German commanders it was who, upon touring those defenses later, opined that there was no way they’d have taken them by assault), leaving the balance of the country indefensible, they were unwilling to move forward and the whole thing fizzled. The armed men stowed their weapons and went home. Many of the top players later were hanged for their parts in the July 20 conspiracy, or for their associations with those folks, or, in the case of Admiral Canaris and his assistant, Major General Hans Oster, when their parts in the 1938 conspiracy came to light in consequence of the post-1944 purges and investigations.
In March, 1939 Hitler completed his liquidation of the rump Czechoslovakian state. The Western powers looked on in fear. Britain’s response was to issue the unilateral guaranty of Polish territory which then was called on September 1, 1939, when Hitler sent his armored columns swarming into that country. With eventual results as known.
Hitler’s pretext for his initial assault on Czechoslovakia was the Sudeten Germans, who had settled in Bohemia centuries before, as early as the 12th Century, at the invitation of the then-kings of Bohemia (this was even before the Habsburgs acquired the franchise, so to speak). What is important to understand is that the areas in which they principally settled never were part of any of the lands which later went to make up the German Reich. The Germans who settled there occupied precisely the same relationship to their land of origin as the Chinese who settled in Manhattan.
All that notwithstanding, the Nazis cooked up this “heim ins Reich!” movement among the nationalistic elements of the Sudeten Germans (although they’d also settled elsewhere — Franz Kafka was a German Jew born and raised in Prague — they were concentrated in the Sudetenland). I’ve never read a specific history of that era in that place and among those specific actors, but what is pretty easy to glean is that Hitler was using the Sudeten Germans to de-stabilize the Czech government, both from within (via the usual 1930s-vintage political thuggery) and from without, as Dear Concerned Führer stepped forward to offer himself as their protector.
Suffice it to say Hitler got everything he could have dreamed of, and more. The Sudeten Germans went heim ins Reich, all right, and a fat lot of good it did them. And then of course Hitler loses the war and offs himself, leaving the Sudeten Germans to their fate. And what a fate it was. Gentle Reader must understand that Reinhard “Hangman” Heydrich earned his nickname as the deputy “Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia,” which is to say, a good chunk of what had been Czechoslovakia before the war. The Czechs took him out in mid-1942, using explosives dropped to them by the British.
When the war was over, Edvard Benes (sorry: can’t rig the diacritic over the final “s”; Churchill, by the way, pronounced his name “Beans”), the Czech president so viciously sold down the river in 1938, resumed his office, and promptly set about giving the Sudeten Germans their stated wish, insofar as that conformed to what they’d allowed to be done in their name seven years before. He expelled them en masse, back to the dear ol’ Reich.
Seventy years ago today, in a town then called Aussig (now called Usti nad Labem), there was an explosion in town, in a former sugar factory (must have processed sugar beets there). In the time-honored tradition — think principally of what happened to towns’ Jewish populations from the 14th Century onward every time the plague, or the cholera, or a swarm of locusts, or whatever passed through — the locals decided it must have been the work of the (newly declared) outsiders, viz. the Sudeten Germans. And the pogrom began. Their homes were ransacked, their businesses trashed, they were herded into the streets — men, women, and children indiscriminately — and beaten, or shot. Quite a number of German workers on their way home after shift were crossing a bridge over the Elbe on their way home. They were thrown into the river and shot as they swam. Total dead may have been over 200. No information about the total injured, or the extent of the property destruction.
The bridge the workers were thrown from was at the time, and to this day remains, named after Edvard Benes. It was Benes and his administration who crafted the expulsion statutes.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain there has been some movement of reconciliation between the Czechs and the Germans. But from this write-up about the pogrom at Aussig in today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, it seems to be of extremely modest extent. In fact it seems that the Czechs have held, more or less, to a philosophy of good riddance. They certainly didn’t ask for the war. In truth, in 1945-48 as the new political and ethnic polarities of post-war Europe were taking shape, can you really blame someone who was born and grew up in a Wilsonian hell-hole of “self-determination” among the crazy-quilt patchwork of Eastern and Central Europe for deciding that he was going to lance, once and for all time, that particular ethnic boil?
The Sudeten Germans were a loose end in July, 1945. And they got tied up. The dead among them as well must be reckoned with the war’s casualties, as must the dead in Poland, where the killing also extended for months past the war’s nominal end.
As with so many other things, I confess myself ambivalent about what happened to the Sudeten Germans. It was unspeakably cruel, of course, forcibly and with no compensation at all, to uproot an entire people from what had been their homeland for up to 700 years. On the other hand, so long as they were there they were available for further exploitation by future unscrupulous madmen, uses which the Czechs had just watched play out on their own home soil. Gentle Reader might protest, “But the war was over. Everyone could tell that would never happen again. Those days were over and done with.” To which the only reply is that no one could tell anything of the kind. “It’ll never happen again,” is precisely what was said in 1918-19, exactly the promise that goofy megalomaniac Wilson made to the peoples of the old Habsburg Empire. Remind me how that worked out, again?
I’m paraphrasing here, but I recall running across a quotation from Winston Churchill, from when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. He presided, as Gentle Reader will recall, over one of the most portentous arms races in human history, the naval capital ship race between Imperial Germany and Great Britain. Someone tried to downplay the necessity of Britain’s engaging in and winning that race by pronouncing that of course Germany would never dream of attacking Britain and destroying its existence by intercepting its sea lines of communication. Churchill pointed out that at the Royal Navy it wasn’t their job to see that Germany wouldn’t do it, but rather that it couldn’t. I will submit that in the immediate post-war years, Edvard Benes was faced with similar considerations. Gazing out over his bleeding, war-torn land, his job was not to see that groups like the Sudeten Germans wouldn’t again be used to destroy the country he was sworn to defend, but that they couldn’t be so used.
And so the Sudeten German question got finally resolved.
One of my favorite books is William Manchester’s The Arms of Krupp. I have it in paperback and it’s been read enough that my copy is falling apart. Once day I suppose I’ll hunt up a hardcover copy on Amazon, but that’s a priority that’s going to have to wait. I have a few of Manchester’s other books, including his now-completed (posthumously, by his hand-picked editor) biography of Churchill — The Last Lion— and the last book, I think, that he ever wrote himself, A World Lit Only by Fire, a book about the world and plane of human understanding shattered by Magellan’s voyage.
At the risk of understatement, in the Krupp history Manchester avoids the pitfall of falling in love with his subject. Rather the opposite; in fact, at least some contemporaneous reviews — here, for example — took him to task for erring too far in the other direction. A few years ago, a Harold James published a new history of the family and its company, Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm (here I am violating one of my informal rules (hey, it’s my blog, right?), namely that of not linking to books that I have not read), which has been favorably contrasted — here and here, for example — to what is now perceived as Manchester’s lop-sided portrayal of the family and its doings.
All that is as it may be, as the English say.
I wanted to focus on a person who figures prominently in the latter part of Manchester’s book, a boy name of Berthold Beitz. Beitz was brought in as the front-man of the firm in the 1950s. He’d been head of an insurance company after the war. Here it is helpful to understand the outsized role that insurance companies play in the German economy and in society. Let’s just say that insurance occupies a much more honored niche in both than is the case here. Manchester portrays Beitz as being almost a cartoonish wanna-be American. Using first names. Glad-handing. Everything big, loud, and overdone. Very much contrary to how the family and firm had done business before.
The family and firm had need just at that time (1953) of a front-man. Alfried Krupp, the last sole proprietor, was then still somewhat in bad odor, he having been caught with a large number of dead slave laborers about his person. Manchester’s book is in fact dedicated to the nameless dead children in the cemetery at Buschmannshof, in Voerde-bei-Dinslaken, who were born to Krupp’s slave laborers, died, and were buried there. His father, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach — who was not even a born Krupp; the Kaiser himself gave Gustav the Krupp name upon his marriage to Bertha (for whom the Big Bertha siege gun of the Great War was nicknamed) — was to have been one of the defendants at the first Nuremberg trials, sitting in the dock with Goering, Heydrich, Sauckel, and the rest of them. That’s how egregious their behavior was. But by the end of the war Gustav was a drooling imbecile and in fact had in 1942 (I think; it may have been the next year) given the entire firm to his son Alfried. For whatever reason the Allies never tumbled to that fact, and so Alfried, under whom the worst of the firm’s wartime atrocities occurred (Manchester even cites to an occasion on which the S.S. complained of how Krupp was treating its slave laborers), escaped a hanging court.
So Beitz was brought in as the first outsider to have a decisive voice in the firm’s running. Manchester portrays him has more or less running it into a ditch, over-extending it with questionable dealings with Third World countries and Warsaw Pact countries, the abilities and willingness to pay of which were all dicey at the time and proved to be the firm’s undoing. Again, according to Manchester (it’s been several years since I re-read the book), the firm began doing an ever-greater percentage of its business in places where a prudent vendor would have given serious thought to the merits of up-front payment. And then of course those same “developing” (a misnomer: they didn’t “develop”; the West developed them, and paid through the nose for the privilege) countries welshed on enormous contracts, which drove the firm from private ownership. Ended up going public, a step which the Founder, Alfred (his parents gave him the English spelling of the name) had vehemently opposed. Of course, to complete the irony, Krupp and Thyssen have now merged (look at the next elevator Gentle Reader rides in). Thyssen was Alfred Krupp’s arch-enemy back in the day.
The merger, by the way, was Beitz’s doing. He stayed with the firm for 60 years, and died July 30, 2013, just shy of his 100th birthday.
What I didn’t know until I read his obituary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (sorry, their archives are pay-walled) was that he was inducted into Yad Vashem for his actions in saving Jews during the war. He’d been in charge of a large petroleum facility in the Ukraine, sufficiently high up that he had the power to designate workers as critical war workers. He also was sufficiently lofty to receive advance notice of proposed round-ups and liquidations. And so he began using his critical-worker designation powers willy-nilly. In favor of all manner of people, including children. He and his wife also hid Jews in their home. According to the Wikipedia write-up here, he was eventually credited with saving on the order of 800 Jews from extermination, for which he was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. It is, I understand, the highest accolade that the children of Abraham can bestow upon a Gentile.
I can think of no higher recognition than to be recognized in one’s own lifetime as Righteous Among the Nations. Has a biblical ring to it which sort of chokes one up, upon reflection. I think what impresses as significant is the mental image of the individual standing on his own, alone, among the nations of all the earth, all acknowledging his virtue and courage (part of the selection criteria for Yad Vashem is that the person must have acted as he did at peril of his own life, and for the purpose of saving the lives of Jews).
I don’t know whether Beitz’s war-time rescue activities were widely known when Manchester was writing (his book dates to the late 1960s, which means it would have been researched and written towards the middle of the decade). Would knowledge of that have altered how he was portrayed in the book? I’d sure hope so, given how negatively he is shown.
The take-away from all this is that it’s going to be a long, long time before the last is written or spoken upon any of us.
Farewell and rest in peace, Berthold Beitz, Righteous Among the Nations.
Today is April 20. On this day in 1889 Alois Hitler and his wife had a baby boy. They named him Adolf.
Yes, it is downright weird to imagine a pudgy little bundle of smiles and drool, playing with mommy’s fingers as she feeds him and tries to get him to eat his vegetables (little Adolf of course grew up to become among history’s more prominent vegetarians).
Allow me to state that I don’t think anyone will ever know, in the sense of understanding at any meaningful level, how Hitler became Hitler (or how another Adolf — Eichmann — became Adolf Eichmann). I sure as hell don’t think that anyone will ever understand how an entire people could so take leave of its senses as joyfully (and they did it joyfully) to follow the Nazis down the path they did. I do not think the reasoning human mind is capable of understanding evil of that depth. I’m not even sure the people who stood by the roadside, throwing up the Nazi salute and screaming themselves hoarse as the big open-top Mercedes crawled past with the brown-haired little man with the odd haircut and funny moustache standing in the back, returning their salutes, could explain it, even if only to themselves, afterward.
Godwin’s Law has become something of an insider’s reference in the internet. Very briefly summarized, it holds that as the length of discussion of any topic increases, the probability approaches 1.0 that someone will make a comparison to Hitler and/or the Nazis. As a rule of thumb, this is the point at which further discussion becomes pointless, and in fact marginal intellectual return on investment turns negative. On the other hand, the historical fact of the Nazi party’s trajectory, and the sinister enigma at its center, in fact do spread a smorgasbord for meaningful moral comparison and reflection. I mean, generally speaking, if you find yourself proposing a moral or political position which was propounded by the Nazis, you’re very likely doing something wrong.
There are other helpful Just Don’t Go There reference points out there in history. The other day I got to listen to someone inveighing against abolishing the federal estate tax. I pointed out to my interlocutor all the flaws, financial, legal, practical, and moral about keeping this idiotic tax in place. And I finally observed that if your support for keeping an extortionate tax on gratuitous transfers is just to suppress some group of society (in this case, the successful, whether they built their success on their own or not), then you’re proposing to use the tax system to punish individuals and that’s no different from how Medieval Europe treated its Jewish population. “As a general rule, if you find yourself supporting something that closely aligns with how the medieval Europeans treated the Jews, you’re doing something wrong.”
But the spectacle of perhaps the most over-educated, hyper-cultural, super-literate society on the planet (I once saw a comparison of literacy rates among the major combatants in World War I; the Germans were head and shoulders above everyone else) willingly embracing that system just provides such grotesqueries as to be unsurpassed as a source of admonitory comparison. I mean, how likely are we here in the U.S. to be able to draw any useful inferences from Mao’s Great Leap Forward at any but the most abstract level? American society has never looked like mid-20th Century China. Ever. Not even when Jamestown was starving to death in the early years. The vicious, degraded, semi-savage settlements that Charles Woodmason visited, and about which he so scathingly wrote, didn’t resemble that China. Even the Russia that became the Soviet Union is sufficiently far removed from what Western Civilization has ever been that it’s hard to understand the parallels even when we observe them.
But the Germans under Hitler? The reason why those comparisons sting is that like it or not the Germans are us. Something like 40% of the U.S. population claims some sort of German descent. Our university system is patterned on the Prussian model. The modern welfare state traces its origins to 1881 when Otto von Bismarck established the first comprehensive social security system. The outdoors Sunday as a day of healthful recreation, including especially physical recreation, in the open air is a creature of German immigrants; until then the Scotch-Irish and English had decreed that Proper Folk glumly sat around all day, reading from the Bible or being hectored in church. We herd our tiny tots into kindergarten. We instinctively reverence our professoriate, even when its constituents have long since forfeited any reasonable claim to that deference. And so forth.
So here I’m going to violate Godwin’s Law.
Modern left-extremist America has joyfully embraced the notion of society not atomized into individuals who may freely combine to form (and yeah, I know this analogy is clumsy, but it’s valid) compounds whose properties are not only different from their individuals elements but wonderfully, usefully so, but rather compulsorily grouped into tribes of mutually repellent elements. The left-extremists (and here I would remind Gentle Reader that all leftists are inherently extremist) not only postulate that everyone is the member of a tribe, but they vehemently deny that the tribes can ever belong together, or mix in mutually beneficial ways. For that matter, “mutually beneficial” is a concept they do not recognize. In their cosmology, for any tribe to advance necessarily implies the diminution of the other tribes. The notion that your prosperity is no cause of my misfortune thus violates a fundamental premise. The recent silliness at a convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is — while thoroughly, thoroughly silly — still perfectly emblematic. Likewise the White Privilege Conference (I thought it was a joke when I first came across reference to it, but it’s real . . . all too real).
“4. Staatsbürger kann nur sein, wer Volksgenosse ist. Volksgenosse kann nur sein, wer deutschen Blutes ist, ohne Rücksichtnahme auf Konfession. Kein Jude kann daher Volksgenosse sein.”
Here’s an English translation of the whole platform. Point No. 4 is rendered: “4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.”
The Nazis’ official position and the modern left-extremist position coincide beautifully. The world is divided into groups who do not overlap, whose interests cannot overlap, who can never be each other’s fellows. Each requires for its actualization the suppression of the other(s).
In fact, examine very closely all of the specific demands of that 25-point program. How many of them would or would not be applauded at an Elizabeth Warren rally? At an Occupy gathering? At a conclave of Dear Leader’s closest advisers in the Oval Office?
I’m afraid I just busted Godwin’s Law all over the floor. My apologies. But the fact remains: If you agree with the Nazis, you’re very likely doing something wrong.