Friday 12 May 2017

The Price Of Crushed Hopes And Unheeded Hurts.

The Spring Of Hope: In 1848 the peoples of Europe rose in their millions to revivify the revolutionary demands of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The crushing of this "European Spring" set in motion the self-destructive philosophical and political movements which culminated, 85 years later, in the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor. We must hope that the convulsions of 2016-17 do not signal the beginnings of another such catastrophe.
TWO YEARS: 1848 and 1933; are linked by the consequences of political disillusionment and despair. In Germany, the “Year of Revolutions” – 1848 – ended in failure. The fervent hopes of German youth for a unified, liberal and democratic nation were dashed. In the years that followed they would be told that: “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.”
Eighty-five years after “the great mistake” of believing in “speeches and majority decisions” had curdled the German intelligentsia’s faith in the rational values of the Enlightenment, the grandson of their disillusionment and despair, Adolf Hitler, was appointed Chancellor of Germany. On 30 January 1933, “iron and blood” ceased to be the effective means of achieving specific national ends, and became ends in themselves. Abandoning the voices of reason for the fiery counsel of political dragons has only one ending – and it is neither happy nor civilised.
The year separating June 2016 from June 2017 may yet be similarly identified as the starting-point of a catastrophe every bit as terrible as the one which kicked-off in 1933.
It has been a year of incoherency and incomprehension: of primal political screams and contemptuous dismissals. A year in which everything has been demanded and nothing has been conceded. A year of brute force and sophisticated manipulation, in which the champions of both political approaches remained committed only to exploiting the divisions they had created.
There will be those who advance the election of Emmanuel Macron as evidence that reason has finally triumphed over passion. That the madness which began with Brexit and descended into the delirium of Trump has, at last, been tranquilised: appropriately, in the home of the Enlightenment – France.
But this would be to confuse the shrewdness of Charles De Gaulle, the father of the Fifth French Republic, with a genuinely democratic solution to the still very real problem of organised political irrationality. The run-off presidential election was devised by De Gaulle as the last line of defence against both the residual evil of Vichy fascism and the growing menace of France’s Moscow-oriented Communist Party. A prophylactic against extremism – not a cure.
And against the daughter of Vichy, Marine Le Pen, De Gaulle’s constitution has held the line. But that in no way makes Monsieur Macron the positive choice of the French people. He has become their President not on account of the man he is, but on account of the woman he is not. Nor should we be dazzled by the 66%-34% result. Madame Le Pen’s father, in his 2002 run-off against Jacques Chirac, secured barely a fifth of the votes cast. His daughter has lifted that fraction to more than a third. The National Front now calls itself the largest single political force in France.
A similar number of Frenchmen either abstained or left their ballot papers blank. Macron owes his “victory” to the votes of two-thirds of two thirds of France. If the supporters of this former investment banker attempt to claim the run-off result as a positive mandate for the neoliberal programme his “En Marche” movement is advancing, then the partisans of irrationality and brute force will advance their own claims – on the nation’s streets.
Macron’s task, now, is not to strip French workers of their rights by presidential decree, but to make sure that 2017 does not become the year of unheeded hurts, in the same way that 1848 became the year of crushed hopes. He assured his cheering supporters outside the Louvre that his greatest wish is to bring the French people together. Now that would be a real victory!
Because hurts unheeded and hopes crushed do not disappear, they fester and weep, poisoning the blood of a nation’s politics, raising its temperature to fever heat, spawning the hallucinations and delirious ravings of demagogues for whom hurt and hope are meat and drink.
We do not know what sort of Europe might have emerged had the “Year of Revolutions” not ended in despair and disillusionment. Had her best and brightest children not, over the next 85 years, convinced themselves that it was possible to go “beyond good and evil” and return unscathed.
But the Europe which actually emerged from 1848’s crushed hopes – that we do know.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 May 2017.


David Stone said...

Hi Chris
It's going to be interesting to see what happens in the parliamentary elections. Macron could well find himself with no party of his own at all represented in the French parliament. He will at best be dependant on the republicans which will be a minority with Melenchon's and Le Penn's parties sharing the majority. Just as there has been crossover in voter support for these two so there will be some compatibility in social policy. Macron might not be able to do anything he would wish to.
Cheers David J S

Nick J said...

There was poison in the result either way. Ironically Le Pen summed it up well on the eve of her defeat saying "Whether I win or lose France will be ruled by a woman" (herself or Merkel).
The EU has become the preserve of German political, industrial and bankers power. Harking back as Chris has to the words of Bismark, "iron and blood" have been replaced by Euros and bureaucrats.

The forces that caused the great European civil wars of the previous century have not gone away, nationalism versus pan Europeanism, German industrial strength versus a weaker periphery, socialism versus liberal capitalism, religious conflict. All still exist, supposedly resolved by the EU project. The velvet glove approach of Merkel, the hard nosed rhetoric of Juenker, the nastiness of the European central banks against Greece betray that the old absolutist / authoritarianism is alive and well. As Chris alludes to, there is only trouble down that path, and it appears that any resolve to reform is absent.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And yet some say he is going to try to impose austerity. Which – I get tired of saying – we know doesn't work. No wonder so many people support Le Pen. All we need now is a depression, and some say THAT'S inevitably on the way. Sigh.

Andrew Nichols said...

Excellent column Chris. If I was french I'd have gone with Melenchon and so after the runoff I'd have been been in despair and would have abstained faced with a choice of a barely disguised fascist and a neoliberal Tony Bliar/Clinton type who seemed to come from nowhere but obviously didnt. I'm convinced Fillon would have been the Establishment choice but did himself in by going offscript on the all important anti Russian stuff. It beggars belief that his financial fiddle with his wife wasnt well known for some time and only brought out to do him in so Macron could be unleashed. The very emergence of Macron is interesting. The socialists ran a primary process after the dreadful Hollande said he wouldnt rtun and the party membership chose Benoit Hamon who flopped. Macron missed out in the primary but powerful backers got him organised very quickly...

peteswriteplace said...

A most interesting election result.

Anonymous said...

Oh, 1848, what a grand time. Such hope. And the long bill of non-immediate gratification. Yet in incremental Britain, not so better. The 1800s didn't know what to do with democracy. There were either adventure park bumps like France or the deep, hateful, caterpillar slowness of progress in our motherland. Hateful, because all the injury and pain was felt by the poor with quiet death,sickness and deprivation. Y'know, 95 % of NZers' ancestors.

Charles E said...

My hope would be that he turns out to be a great leader like Key was for defusing extremes and pulling the huge majority to the centre.
He needs two terms, so 10 years, to drag France away from the extremes of left & right they clearly have so often suffered from.

Unfortunately, you are right that it could just be a pause before the nationalists surge forward. I predict that would be on the back of the French majority's intense dislike of their immigrant minority. I lived there in the 80s for two years and typically they were openly dismissive of their north African population as anything other than a parasitic infection, in as far as they were thought to have refused to integrate. But they would not let them do that easily anyway as the French were so clearly racist. There was a ridiculous and typically socialist fiction that France was so progressive, so colour-blind, non-racist, secular and everyone who came became French as long as the state pretended & declared they should and would. Even to the extent that they refused to keep any statistics on race & cultures in France. As though eating French food and drinking the wine would make anyone French. Laughable pretence.

What a breath of fresh air when I moved to London where their policies have been way more successful on integration, though not perfect of course. Their issues have been often from trying too hard in the other direction, accommodating, even promoting foreign cultures that should have been opposed, or not let in for a start.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh the eternal moan of "They should never have been let in the first place." That's what they said in the US about the Irish, the Italians, the Eastern Europeans, and later in the '80s the Russians, the Khmer and always the Chinese. These people were "not compatible" with their culture. And what happens? They become pillars of society in the main. Let's hope we are not just encouraging another Lionel Terry. As Trump would say "sad". :)

David Stone said...

If you move the centre any further to starboard we'll be on our beam ends. And Chris out there by himself on the port gunnel will be catapulted over the yardarm . Please show some seamanship.

greywarbler said...

David Stone
Aye aye Cap'n. You have good advice under the decks, so keep it coming.

Kat said...

What a joke. If Macron "turns out like Key" he will do nothing to advance the cause of the majority of French people socially or economically. If he "turns out like Key" he will only serve himself, bankers and cronies and then quit before he can be held accountable.

Victor said...

I’m not sure that I’ve never bought fully into all that “if only the 1848 revolutions had succeeded” schtich.

That’s partly because the revolutionaries, despite their admirable enthusiasm for representative government, constitutional liberties etc. ,were not, on the whole, children of “the Enlightenment” but of the subsequent “Romantic Revolt”. Instead of reason they deified “feelings”, including the feeling that their “Fatherland” or “Motherland” should be able to place its frontiers wherever patriotic enthusiasts felt they should be placed, irrespective of the wishes of the people actually living there. And then, in Germany, there was all that “Volkisch” tramping through ancient forests, singing heartily xenophobic songs, not to mention the occasional book burning. Richard Wagner, moreover, felt quite at home in their company, which, in itself, is almost a clincher.

But the other reason that I don’t share too many regrets about the revolutions’ failure is that most of their goals were actually achieved within the course of just one subsequent generation, viz. a united Germany under a constitutional monarchy (albeit a heavy-handed Prussian one); a united Italy, also under a constitutional monarchy, with the Papacy stripped of most of its secular power and both the Hapsburgs and Bourbons permanently expelled from the peninsular; a democratic republic in France and a Hungarian diet free to oppress its Slavic and Romanian subjects without too much interference from Vienna. Moreover, the Bourgeoisie was everywhere on the road to dominance, even when it had to share political power with the traditional landed classes.

Nor do I see the clear linkage that’s often been asserted between the failure of these revolutions and the emergence, some eight decades later, of European fascism. The causes of this doleful development were manifold but the two most significant were surely the psychological impact of the Great War and the perceived failure of constitutional democracy to cope with economic collapse, particularly after 1929.

Classical liberalism had no immediate answer to mass unemployment. But, then, neither had its critics on the democratic left, beyond waiting for the arrival of Socialism, which didn’t seem likely to turn up any time soon. Only a very small number of people, back then, were open to the notion that capitalism could be tamed through demand management and other similar relatively sophisticated tools (David Lloyd George and the young Harold Macmillan were amongst them).

And so, increasing numbers turned to none of the above but to those who promised prosperity, security and even salvation through abandoning both liberal individualism and socialist class solidarity for membership of an obedient, militarised, national community, held together by charismatic leadership, an eclectic mix of economic policies, shared hatreds and alleged ties of blood and destiny.

Fascism was, in other words, a product of the collapse of the first great age of liberal globalism. So, is it any surprise that it’s returned to plague us, now that the second great age of liberal globalism seems to be drawing to a close?

....more to come

Victor said...

....concluding previous post

All of which brings me to young M. Macron. He certainly seems to have bought the entire neo-liberal kit set and GS is undoubtedly correct in pointing out that this is no way to restore France to prosperity.

But it’s also true that France’s 3,000 page Labour Code, whilst protecting those already in work and perhaps helping to boost productivity, is also probably contributing to the country’s obscenely high level of youth unemployment. So I don’t think that Macron faces choices that are either easy or obvious.

I also continue to think that the ideological identity of this Europhile neophyte is still a work in progress and may well be determined by who comes out on top in September’s Bundestag elections.

Despite some rather Teutophobe postings on this thread, I don’t personally see anything particularly sinister about this. It’s just that Germany has the bigger and more dynamic economy and Macron, like every previous president of the Fifth Republic, is bound to regard the German chancellor as his most important international partner.

So, comes September, will it be “Merkel and Macron” or a rather different animal called “Schulz and Macron” leading Europe and providing the only plausible counter-weight to Trump, Putin, Xi, Modi and all the other authoritarian tough nuts? Today’s state election in Nordrhein-Westfalen should give us a clue.

Victor said...

David Stone

Beautifully put.


Anonymous said...

Guerilla Surgeon said...
Oh the eternal moan of "They should never have been let in the first place." That's what they said in the US about the Irish, the Italians, the Eastern Europeans, and later in the '80s the Russians, the Khmer and always the Chinese. These people were "not compatible" with their culture. And what happens? They become pillars of society in the main.
Overall outcomes in comparison to the population of UK-born residents are summarised in the following table.

Employment rate Wages Rate of benefit claim Approx adult population
EU15 Better Better Better 1.25 million
EU A10 Better Worse Worse 1.25 million
USA, Australia and NZ Better Better Better 250 thousand
Africa (excluding South Africa) Similar Similar Worse 1 million
South Africa Better Better Better 150 thousand
India Better Better Better 700 thousand
Pakistan and Bangladesh Worse Worse Worse 650 thousand
Rest of World Similar Slightly worse Slightly worse 2 million

Anonymous said...

Thus a media machine owned by business tycoons is manufacturing popular consent around a candidate supported by financial circles which are far from concerned with democratic ethics or the general population's interests.

greywarbler said...

What a worthy comment to match Chris's post. And a great take on the not-so-primrose path that was followed after the revolutions. After an earthquake like that all sorts of matter gets thrown up, with probably a lot of liquefaction to muddy the waters. But it forces change, and you point out it did turn our to be useful change, if not matching the feelings and desires of many.

And feelings and patriotism are such an intoxicating brew. After reading in recent years how peoples were stirred up by agitating patriot poets, I think they should have the fire of their feelings diminished by many buckets of cold water, till their temperature declines to something bearable to human health. Feelings seem to affect the portion of the brain that handles practicality, fairness, and sensible planning.

Nick J said...


I will rise to the bait re Teutophobia. The reality is that what I said about German bankers, German industrial strength, and their consequent economic and political strength is just a fact, they could just as easily be Martians. Go back a decade prior to the foundation of the EC you will find a continent at war, resisting German hegemony. This has been the story of Western Europe since Wolsey initiated British policy of supporting the second power on the continent against the first. There has always been a struggle between a power attempting to have hegemony, and the others attempting to establish a balance of power. For a thousand years since Charlemagne the latent power of a united Germany was managed by keeping them divided. Bismarks unification fundamentally destroyed this "solution".

Years back I struggled with the Course of German History, AJP Taylors famous tome in which he made it explicit that Germany always tried to find a secure place as the people of the centre, pressed on one side by the Slavs, and contained on the other by the French. Hostile to both parties. Seems dreadfully xenophobic now, but Taylor was writing in 1945. Now I reread and see the same pattern re-established in the German approach to the European project, the same containment of the West through economic power, the same expansion east, the bringing of the whole continent to doing what suits the German politicians and bankers. Brussels an extension of Berlin. Am I phobic? Yes in the same way that when I see a lion, knowing their track record I am very wary.

There was a good clue in the above book to what you correctly identify as the non rational romanticism of the Nazis. Victor, I agree with most of what you said about 1848 and the lack of linkages. The failure of liberalism to provide a positive here and now to large swathes of the population tends in my mind to focus the people on Utopian alternative visions. The romantic version being fascism, the materialist rationalism being Marxism. And for the last half century a Utopian European project that promised peace and prosperity for all. None delivered, and as Solzhenitsyn pointed out it becomes heresy to point out that Utopia is not perfect, after all Utopia cannot by definition be anything other than perfect. And when the heretics become the majority the whole facade collapses. This is today's reality.

I am not anti EU, my position is that it needs reform to recognise that there are structural imbalances that allow the demons of the past to reappear. Nationalism for example: if you allow one nation economic and political pre-eminence then another will respond with an opposing nationalism. The currents of history are never conquered, you can only dam the stream, dig channels but they will forever reappear. That is a challenge the EU has successfully managed until the last few decades when the Euro was introduced. Unintended consequences I suspect.

Charles E said...

Kat said...
'What a joke. If Macron "turns out like Key" he will do nothing to advance the cause of the majority of French people socially or economically. If he "turns out like Key" he will only serve himself, bankers and cronies and then quit before he can be held accountable.'

Don't be ridiculous. Of course Key (and Clark) advanced the cause of the majority of people both socially and economically, from the centre. Otherwise they would not have won nine elections!
So the centre is large and moderate, less and less interested in what was 'left' or 'right' not just here but in all Western countries. That is what Macron has pounced on while the dinosaurs of left and right become the fossils they deserve to be. Merkel is central too of course. And across the English channel as we write, Labour moderates and the SDs are talking about starting a new centre party. Get that right and it will do very well I predict.

Victor said...

Apologies for a typo in the first line of my post of 22.02

"never" should read" ever"

greywarbler said...

Charles E
You never seem to have an understanding of what is going on today and why politically and economically just have anodyne thoughts.

I would say that materialism became the force after WW2, and has left a complacent upper middle class, professional class and nouveau riche which has found nirvana, and lost any sense of countrywide solidarity as NZ people, promoted up to and during WW2. Hence the widening income and standard of living gap; beggars, aspirational, and toffy-nosed, groupings. So:

So the centre is large and moderate, less and less interested in what was 'left' or 'right' not just here but in all Western countries.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous. Should I say JH? Before Chris banned your incomprehensible ramblings on immigration I went to the trouble – at some cost to my studies I will admit – of reading half a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles about the effects of immigration, including one that was entitled something like "Why does everyone come to different conclusions about the benefits or drawbacks of immigration." And I came to the conclusion that it's quite possible that no one really knows. Including I might Especially you let's say. :)

Charles E said...

Correction: Nine years a piece or six elections ...

greywarbler said...

Concerning Germany I thought this quote from Kennedy Graham related to the post.
Both Chris and NickJ were thinking about Germany.
This from Kennedy Graham:

Another scar on global democracy appeared recently, this time in Germany.It seems that the number of soldiers on duty with extremist political leanings has become a concern to the military leadership in that country.

Soldiers were found openly possessing Nazi memorabilia. Germany’s defence minister and the Chief of its Defence Forces ordered an investigation, vowing that “right wing extremism needs to be rooted out”.

These events, not just in Germany but elsewhere, have a common thread. It is the perceived mistrust and weakness of the democratic institutions and an increasing feeling of disconnect between political representatives and the population at large.

It is one of history’s many ironies that it required German intellectuals to point out some insights into modern political psychology. Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents (1930) described what an underlying tension between human civilization and the individual. One the one hand, as individuals we instinctively pursue the quest for freedom; on the other, the body politic requires a degree of social conformity.

The Austrian-British philosopher, Karl Popper, wrote his famous The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) while in exile in New Zealand. The work is a scathing attack on totalitarianism and a passionate defence of liberal democracy as the only form of government that allows evolutionary change – which may include structural change where required.

The rest of the post makes good reading and thinking too.

Anonymous said...

Survey: Nearly Half of White, Working Class Americans Say They ‘Feel Like a Stranger in Their Own Country’

The same will apply to France. Elites will respond by doubling down on censorship: saturating opinion (with no right to comment).

Chris Trotter said...

TO: VICTOR @ 22:02 14/5/17

Hmmm, just a little too ex post facto for my liking, Victor.

Yes, there was much romantic angst at play in 1848, but to visit the subsequent bastard children of Romanticism on the Year of Revolutions is to vindicate my thesis - not refute it.

A victory for liberalism in 1848 would have spared Europe the "Blood and Iron" militarism that filled the void created by its defeat. And it was precisely this amoral, might-is-right variety of statecraft that paved the way for Neitzsche's "ubermensch" at the end of the century.

The powerful influence of militarism - especially in Germany - made the outbreak of a general European war in 1914 all-but-inevitable.

The shadow of the defeat of the 1848 revolutions is a very long one.

Had the spirit of international amity portrayed in the illustration prevailed, that Viennese drifter, Adolf Hitler, would never have amounted to more than a bore in a bar - or, more likely, a cake-shop.

AH said...

Here is what my side R saying

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous – or should I say JH – again. Half of Americans feel like strangers in their own country, because the country is getting less religious, less prejudiced against gay people, against women, against black people. All the things that in the 1950s and 1960s kept them happy. If course this would be the older, whiter, more male half. Most of the people that feel like strangers have never even seen a migrant. And they are certainly not the poor and downtrodden.


Nick J said...

Grey, fine article. I have often wondered what that academic refugee Popper learnt during his exile in NZ? I think of him residing in a very socially divided state where the First Labour government was pushing through welfare, where the Depression was at its height, whilst NZ remained part of an Empire at war. One could question NOT what his observations were BUT did he see anything at all? Maybe he was in such trauma from the totalitarian experience that he had a sort of Stockholm syndrome when prescribing extreme free markets as a cure? Whatever happened the seeds of a different form of oppression were baked into the "cure". Speculation from me of course.

As a note on AJP Taylor I reread again his chapter on the curious long term effect of Luther. Taylor cites Luther as the original German "romantic" with his rejection of the Renaissance and a retreat into an imagined mythical German past.....the long shadows Chris mentions do have amazing resilience over centuries if this is the case. He implies that Luthers siding with authority against the people as the foundation for German dualism, making a "Hitler" figure pretty much inevitable. Maybe, maybe not but it does indicate that emotion based ideas have a very long shelf life. For more fun reading on the issue of emotions and symbolism and Nazis back to Jung. All good fun unless you are on the receiving end of a panzer division or German banker or Brussels bureaucrat.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

JH. You're back. With yet another reference to a complete and utter raving white wing whack job. Sneaking references to immigration in yet again. I suppose at least we should be grateful for its brevity. If only Steyn himself were as brief. Or maybe just shut up altogether.

Paulus said...

Macron was the Finance Minister for Hollande.
It is accepted that the Hollande Government was a dismal failure, so why should Macron now change his spots.
I wish him luck, but the French are notable fickle.
The Parliamentary elections will tell the future of Macron.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous – or should I say JH – again. Half of Americans feel like strangers in their own country, because the country is getting less religious, less prejudiced against gay people, against women, against black people.
You sound like a left-wing authoritarian personality

Victor said...

Hi Nick
Thanks for not disappointing me.

No-one who cites AJP Taylor can be all bad! As a teenager in the early 1960s, I devoured quite a few of his books and well remember his television lectures, delivered at prime time on the BBC, without notes and with only the barest of visual aids. Can you imagine that sort of thing happening today on free-to-air TV?

Many years later, in 1980, I actually spent a memorable half hour in AJP’s company (why and how is a long but not particularly interesting story), whilst he discoursed passionately on the Battle of Britain, the fortieth anniversary of which was about to occur. He was a bit old and frail by then. But the razor sharp mind and gift for disquisition were still there in spades, as was his perennial genial crustiness.

He was a good and kind man, an excellent historian, a superb writer and an inveterate controversialist. And, understandably for a man of his epoch, he was also an inveterate Teutophobe. I don’t think he would have believed that Germany, after thirty years of reunification, would still have its eastern border on the Oder-Neisse line or that it would still be a liberal democracy, let alone one which gloried in the prowess of its multi-ethnic football team.

I too, by some reckonings, should be a Teutophobe. Most of my father’s family and a large slice of my mother’s were murdered by the Nazis and their allies. Moreover, my mother managed to get born in, of all places and times, Belgium in July 1914. As she was extremely premature, she was rushed to a special unit in Brussels, which, a few days later, fell under bombardment from howitzers manufactured by Krupps of Essen.

My mum was rescued from this death trap by none less than Albert, King of the Belgians, who drove up to the hospital in his limousine and ordered the staff to load a dozen babies into the back seat, she being one of them. You might say that she survived unscathed. But for the rest of her life, Mum displayed symptoms not unlike those of “Shell Shock” whenever noise grew too loud or circumstances too stressful.

So why am I not a Teutophobe? Partly because I don’t think you should be phobic about any nation, per se. But, essentially because I accept that Germany underwent a fundamental change in the years after 1945. And I accept this on the basis of having lived in the country for three years on and off in the 1970s, as well as on the basis of frequent trips back, of numerous soul-baring conversations with all manner of Teutons, of learning the language (all those damned verbs at the end of the sentence) and of friendships with Germans, some of which have now lasted for more than half a century.

The physical pre-conditions for this change are easy enough to understand; the destruction of much of Germany’s cities in the latter part of World War Two, the displacement westwards of a very large percentage of its population, the social levelling caused by these events and the urgent need to start rebuilding, virtually from scratch.

....more to come

Victor said...

concljuding previous post.....

But, while paying occasional lip- service to the concept of “collective shame” for the events of 1933-45, the wartime generation fundamentally left the moral reckoning involved to their children, viz. your and my contemporaries. A generous view of the oldies is that they had their plates full with rebuilding. A less generous view is that guilt was far more widely spread in their society (and perhaps in their own lives) than they were willing to acknowledge.

That’s one of the reasons why the generational wars of the 1960s were particularly hard fought in the Federal Republic and why, unfortunately, they erupted again, in the following decade, in successive waves of terrorism.

But it’s also why so many of the then younger generation backed Willi Brandt, the man who’d worn Norwegian uniform during World War Two, who went down on his knees on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto and who seemed best capable of helping them regain their lost honour. And it also helps to explain the later success of West Germany’s Green movement and of the bravely principled dissidents of the DDR.

I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time pondering what it must have been like to grow up with a deep sense of shame about your country and its traditions and, by extension, your own parents and most of their contemporaries. From what I’ve observed, such circumstances tend to create people with firmer than average ethics, a bent for self-questioning and a profound aversion to xenophobia.

A few years ago, I remember reading an interview with the son and granddaughter of a leading Nazi (I think it was Hans Frank ). The son had spent his whole adult life atoning for his father’s crimes and doing good in quiet, practical ways. He told the interviewer of the shame that he will nevertheless always carry with him. But when the interviewer asked the granddaughter whether she felt guilt or shame, she said no, her father had carried the guilt and shame for her and he was her rock. And so it should be.

So forgive me if I find comparisons between the Third Reich and post war Germany more than a bit trite and Basil Fawlty-ish. Yes, the German economy has been very successful and the Euro has certainly helped by lowering export prices. But the Germans never wanted to give up on the iconic Deutschmark . It was just the price France demanded off them for agreeing to unification.

And, yes, the German government can be tight-fisted towards less austere nations. That’s because, like its voters, it’s perpetually traumatised by folk memories of the Great Inflation of 1923, which tends to get (wrongly) confounded in German minds with the subsequent Great Depression and the Nazi takeover.

And, oh yes, German bankers are just like other bankers. They like making money.

But, frankly, living, as we do, in the Asia Pacific region, I’d feel a mite happier if I thought that Japan had gone through just ten percent of the soul-searching on its wartime role that Germany’s imposed on itself these last seventy years.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous. Thank you for the at–a–distance psychoanalysis. You sound like a bigot.

Victor said...

Hi Chris

Maybe we’ve both been a bit too sweeping in our statements, and probably not for the first time.

I agree, though, there was a lot of decent, mid-nineteenth century constitutional liberalism in the air in 1848, along with generous proto-socialist ideas for helping the disadvantaged. But there were also a whole heap of nationalist programmes that would ipso facto have clashed with each other had they ever been put into effect. We’ll simply never know whether this would have led to battles bloodier than Magenta, Solferino, Sadowa or Sedan.

I would also agree that Bismarckian Realpolitik was responsible for at least one of the many causes of the Great War, viz. the cession to the new German Empire of Alsace and Lorraine. From that point on, Franco-German enmity became the sinister lodestar of European diplomacy.

I don’t know whether that or German militarism or militarism in general made the First World War inevitable or “all-but-inevitable”. But I promise not to cite your views churlishly back at you, next time you insist, as is your occasional wont, that it was all the fault of Anglo-German economic rivalry and/or the machinations of the British foreign office.

But I really don’t think that Neitzschian ideas owed their currency to the collapse of the revolutionary hopes of 1848 and I don’t see how you can infer this.

Neitzsche was influential primarily because he articulated what many saw as a philosophically satisfying response to the “death” of God. In other words, he was responding to a crisis of faith that had been haunting the European intellect since the days of Hume, Kant et al, a crisis that only intensified as scientific empiricism joined with philosophic doubt to challenge traditional metaphysics.I don’t see much enlightenment dawning from conflating these broad cultural movements with the adventures of Garibaldi, Kossuth or Lamartine in 1848 (though it might be a great subject for an experimental novel).

And, of course, Neitzsche (who was only four years old in 1848) wasn’t a nationalist, despised his fellow Germans and was firmly opposed to Antisemitism. If anything, he was more of an Ayn Rand style Libertarian than anything else. But this didn’t stop his sister, Elisabeth, from posthumously bowdlerising his writings for the benefit of German nationalism and, subsequently, the NSDAP regime.

Moreover, whatever happened or didn’t happen in 1848, Darwin was still going to publish his book about the Origins of Species eleven years later, providing, whether he liked it or not, a new ostensible source of authority for those who argued that nature was red in tooth and claw and conflict an irreducible part of our being.

Soon, it was being argued that various types of human were actually different species. No, that wasn’t Darwin’s fault. But a different political outcome in 1848 wouldn’t have stopped it.And then there was the rise of the machine, which made men fell like gods and constantly provided bigger and better means for killing each other, thus making wars bloodier and dreams of revenge more compelling.

I could go on but I’m Bowalleyed-out for today and probably tomorrow as well!

Victor said...

And just to show that my soul is not so dead that I don't appreciate the motive force of early nineteenth century revolutions, here's this:

Note to pedants: I think this piece was written to commemorate the Polish rising of 1830. From memory, Poland was one of the few places in Europe where there wasn't a revolution in 1848, perhaps because its potential leaders were all in Siberia or already in exile in the west.

greywarbler said...

It is strange - coincidence. I looked up Wikipedia for info on the Age of Enlightenment recently and came across the mention of 1848 as a pivotal year for politics and power. Then Chris you have it at the top of your post. Now I am reading one of Anne Perry's books in which she pictures the Victorian life which backgrounds many of her crime novels.

She has two of her characters considering a past battle for political freedom in Rome, which was able to begin, win, and achieve, but only for a while. Perry makes history come alive though I don't know it is entirely factual:

The French troops were marching into Rome. Mazzini had surrendered, to save the people. Garibaldi had gone north towards Venice, his pregnant wife fighting beside him, dressed as a man, carrying a gun like everyone else. The Pope had returned and undone all the reforms, wiped out the debt, the liberty and the soul in one act. But that was all in the past. Italy was united now; that much at least had come true...

We wanted a republic, he went on. A voice for the people. Land for the poor, houses for those who slept in the streets, hospitals for the sick, light for the prisoners and the insane...

You hadn't the means, she reminded him....In the end whether the French armies had come or not, the Republic would have fallen because those with the money would not give enough to keep its fragile economy going.

That sounds familiar - just listen and read our NZ news each day. Did someone say to people something like this? -
'You have achieved success and realised your dream, now your task is to hold onto it.' If not said, it should have been.

Nick J said...

Victor, fascinating as ever. To have conversed with Taylor, fabulous. That is another conversation altogether. Your story of your grandmother and the rest of your families experience add real colour to history, they make it real in the sense that you can relate to events with how they affected, or were received and remembered first hand by people who you can place in time and context. Thank you for the reply.

PS your mention of the way Germany handles "guilt" for the past is another topic that needs to be explored, especially when there are so many other states and nations that have similar and more recent examples to address. I suspect the legacy of communism in Russia and China with the horrific headcount is similar in terms of historic memory and trauma.

Nick J said...

Apologies Victor, Mother.

Victor said...

Hi Nick

It all goes to show that no-one in their right mind should want to live in "interesting times".

As to "guilt", the postwar German response was in many ways influenced (and initially constrained) by the fact that most (though...Sean Spicer please note... by no means all) of the victims were non-German, whereas, in the other cases you cite, the victims were typically of the same ethnicity as their persecutors and murderers and lived in the same country as them.

For this reason, although you might argue that an entity called "Germany" caused the Shoah or the brutal destruction of vast swathes of the Soviet Union, it's rather harder to argue that an entity called "Russia" caused the purges and gulags or that "China" caused millions of deaths in the Great Leap Forward.

Be that as it may, one of the FRG's first presidents made what I think is a valid point in referring to "collective shame" rather than "collective guilt". To my mind, guilt is always individual, no matter how many individuals might be involved therein.

In my experience, many Germans continue to feel that sense of shame but their number is inevitably diminishing with the passage of time. And, of course, there have always been those who've resented a sense of shame being foisted on them.

To a great extent, the Federal Republic of Germany has, in fact, been the Penitential Republic of Germany . This has spurred it into becoming something of an exemplar of liberal democratic values, albeit a rather neurotic exemplar, obsessively engaged in taking its own pulse.

I hope that it remains a relatively decent place, as the shame continues to wears off. On the whole, I expect it will.

Victor said...


A novel you might enjoy, if you haven't read it already, is "The Leopard" by Giuseppe di Lampedusa.

It's set in Sicily, primarily in the years 1860-61, when Garibaldi is engaged in his second attempt to unify Italy. This time, he more or less succeeds, but only by making all sorts of compromises, including agreeing to a "liberal" monarchy rather than a radical republic and ultimately dealing himself out of the picture.

The book is based on the life of the author's grandfather, a prince and a grandee of the soon-to-be dissolved, Bourbon-ruled "Kingdom of the two Sicilies"

In order to retain as much as possible of his family's position under the new order, the Prince also makes compromises, abandoning his loyalty to the Bourbons and arranging for his beloved but impoverished nephew to marry the daughter of a wealthy and clumsily aspirational bourgeois, with links to the new regime.

In the mid-1960s, Visconti (also an aristocrat but a Marxist one) turned the book into a movie, starring Burt Lancaster (dubbed into Italian) and (be still, my ludicrously beating old heart)Claudia Cardinale.

The movie version accentuates a theme implicit in the book, about the aristocracy and bourgeoisie climbing into bed together and then, jointly, holding the mass of people down with even greater firmness than under the old order.

So the prince succeeds but only at the expense of multiple betrayals. And, ultimately, you're left wondering whether it was all worth it for anyone.

It's a truly magnificent book and, alas, this brief description fails to do it anything remotely approaching justice. The film is also reasonably good, albeit
a mite dated.

In a way, The Leopard is a sort of prequel to the Godfather movies, as it's the grasping new bourgeois rulers of Sicily who push young Vito Corleone's father into revolt and force the future Capo to flee to New York.

And, of course, he too dies wondering whether it was all, ultimately, worth it, as does his son and heir, Michael.

greywarbler said...

Thanks Victor - will get onto that in due course. It may perhaps be followed by Sir James McNeish's book Fire under the Ashes, where a bloke called Danilo Dolci tries grassroots revolutionary ploys down in the south of Italy. It could be said that this looks at how the mass of
people were left after all the maneouvring of those at the top.

Notably Dolci upsets the region's leaders by organising a work strike. The place is corrupt with crim's hands out for percentages in every enterprise and it kills off initiative, and literally people. The men are chronically workless, while things fall to pieces around the place. They go and work on filling the potholes on the roads and cause an uproar by stirring the stagnant waters of the defunct region.

Danilo Dolci -

I suggest there is similar going on here. Valuable work that could be done, planting trees, that aren't pinus radiata to diversify our forests and ensure that seed stock is used and saved. DOC can't afford lots on its budgets, but trainee people in Task Force Green could work. Lots of small jobs with people feeling useful, rewarded and worthwhile could be done here.

And the people who prevent this are as close to crims as any fraudsters are; the National Party which gatecrashed originator, Labour's new style country culture; both did the dirty on the citizens, and National tuned it up to run amok in the country. This October there is another Operation Katipo, carrying forward from Timaru's last venue, with our armed forces joined by other international parties on a working holiday in the Nelson region. What is their scenario this time? I think it is to slap down an insurrection from within NZ against the established government. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.