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  • On the Hatred of the “Anti-Haters”

    Posted on October 24th, 2015 Helian No comments

    Europe is an amazing sight these days.  The leftists are doing what leftists do – fighting to eliminate any semblance of recognizable borders or national sovereignty, encouraging hordes of culturally alien immigrants to pour into the continent in the process.  All this is being done in the name of “morality,” more or less in the same sense as one might jump off a cliff in the name of “getting exercise.”  Leftists, whether they nominally belong to the “conservative” or “liberal” parties, control the media, the schools, the churches, and state power.  But in spite of an unprecedented barrage of propaganda from all those sources, the populations of the countries concerned are starting to demonstrate a slight uneasiness, or, if you will, common sense.  They know that, historically, allowing the numbers of unassimilable aliens in ones country to increase beyond a certain point has invariably resulted in violent social unrest, and occasionally civil war.  They would prefer to avoid those outcomes.  Denied any democratic means of expressing their opinions via, for example, plebiscites, some of them have taken to the streets in protest.  The response of their masters has been remarkable.  Aware that they lack any semblance of a democratic mandate for the profound and likely irreversible changes they have been making to Europe’s demographic and cultural landscape, and also aware that the people are not with them, they have reacted with what one might describe as a form of hysteria.

    Germany, of course, has been taking a leading role in destabilizing the continent in keeping with time-honored tradition.  As I have German relatives and a German wife, I pay particular attention happenings there.  As examples of what I have described above as the hysteria of the string pullers in that country, one might consider the following:

    • Some of the first German citizens to take to the streets were loosely organized under the rubric of “PEGIDA,” (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident.)  Several similar groups have emerged since then.  For the most part, they consist of citizens who simply gather in the streets and occasionally conduct peaceful marches.  In other words, they are people who “peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”  According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the response has been to intimidate them with threats of surveillance by the local equivalent of the FBI, rationalized by the claim that they are all merely puppets in the hands of right wing fringe elements.
    • The “respectable” and “conservative FAZ also “informed” its readers about PEGIDA by publishing an interview with one Hajo Funke, described as an “extremism researcher.”  Readers are left trembling over accounts of supposed “connections” between PEGIDA and the murder of Cologne’s mayor by right wingers.  U.S. readers should be familiar with this rather hackneyed tactic of claiming that whatever heinous crimes can be exploited for the purpose were “inspired” by whatever group one wants to smear.
    • Media giant ARD ran a story about a “chain of lights,” made up of citizens holding candles and torches to welcome immigrants.  Some of the supposed images of the event turned out to be fake, and were actually taken at a different event back in 2003.
    • Not to be outdone, Der Spiegel, Germany’s largest news magazine, cites supposed incidents of “hatemongering” against immigrants on YouTube, and “inciting the populace” on Facebook, with allusions of ongoing government investigations of the “extremists.”  Focus magazine chimes in that one of these Facebook extremists has just been sentenced to more than two years in prison for “agitating against immigrants.”  That should “get his mind right.”

    Anyone who suggests that the government might want to assume some elementary level of control over the borders and pause in implementing its radical policies until the citizens have been allowed to weigh in on the matter is commonly described in the German media as a “hater.”  This is particularly true of any mention of the subject in Der Spiegel.  That’s a bit rich considering that Der Spiegel takes the cake among German hatemongers in this century, and would have gotten at least an honorable mention in the last.

    Der Spiegel was in the very vanguard of the lucrative game of peddling hate against the United States during the latest European orgasm of anti-Americanism which reached its peak about a decade ago.  Many of the most egregious examples were documented on Davids Medienkritik, now mothballed but still an excellent source of historical source material.  I encourage readers to visit the site and page back to the posts prior to, say 2008.  Among other things, Medienkritik put together a collage of Spiegel covers that pretty much says it all when it comes to hatred.

    Spiegel Covers

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Have a look and you’ll see examples of some of Spiegel’s favorite quasi-racist anti-American stereotypes.  Of course, the gun nut and religious fanatic are there, as well as well as such favorite themes as Americans exploiting German workers, torturing prisoners, trading “blood for oil,” etc.  Such relentlessly negative coverage of the United States occasionally reached levels that can only be described as fanatical, crowding out virtually all other news on Spiegel’s website.

    At the crest of the anti-American wave in Germany, one found similar “news” stories in virtually every German publication worth mentioning, from the left wing Der Spiegel to the “conservative” FAZ to the neo-Nazi Deutsche National-Zeitung.  Standing bravely in opposition to this wave of xenophobic hate, calling for some modicum of rational and fair treatment of the United States, were a few little bloggers.  These people had nothing to gain from resisting the hatemongers, went almost completely unnoticed in the United States, and were subjected to vilification and hacking attacks in their own country.  They certainly deserve our gratitude.  As it happens, one of the most active of these little blogs went by the name of Politically Incorrect.  It’s editor was a reliable voice against the pervasive peddling of hate at Spiegel and elsewhere.  The blog still exists.  It should come as no surprise that it is now taking a stand against the suicidal policies of the German regime.

    Of course, according to the editors of Der Spiegel, Politically Incorrect’s resistance to the uncontrolled deluge of “asylum seekers,” land it among the “inciters of the German Volk,” the “promoters of murder,” the “right wing extremists,” the “neo-Nazis,” and, in a word, the “haters.”  In fact, the real haters in Germany are to be found elsewhere.  Readers should find a clue about where to look for them if they take a close look at Medienkritik’s collage of magazine covers.

    I noted in my recent posts on James Burnham how well he exposed the sources of the current push to eliminate borders and allow the free movement of human populations across the globe in liberal fantasies of universal human brotherhood.  I can think of no better demonstration of the delusional nature of this goal than the spectacle of the bitter and fanatical hatreds of the very people who are foremost in attempting to force it down the throats of their fellow citizens.  Their hate hasn’t gone anywhere.  They’ve merely found a different outgroup to hate, in the form of anyone who dares to oppose their ideological shibboleths.  And in the end, that’s why their current experiment in destabilizing their own countries is most unlikely to end well.  As the rage of these “anti-haters” against anyone who stands in their way becomes ever more hysterical, they expose themselves as the most virulent haters of all.

  • On the “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” of World War I

    Posted on May 31st, 2015 Helian 2 comments

    More than a century has now come and gone since the start of World War I.  Numerous books and articles have been published to mark the centennial, often differing sharply with each other in their interpretations of the events and personalities concerned.  My personal favorite is The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark.  I’ve been reading quite a bit of the source material myself lately.  As I speak German, these have included memoirs of many of the key players on the German side.  In reading his book, I noticed that Clark was very familiar with everything I’d read.   I also noticed that everything I’ve read was a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the material he quoted in detail.  Clark also generally refrains from categorizing every historical personality as either a “good guy” or a “bad guy.”  I avoid reading histories written by journalists, because so few of them manage to avoid this moralistic pigeonholing.   It’s much easier to understand historical events if, as Clark puts it in his introduction, one “remains alert to the fact that the people, events and forces described… carried in them the seeds of other, perhaps less terrible, futures.”

    Not everyone agrees with Clark.  Even a century later there are others, even among professional historians, who remain obsessed with the question of “war guilt.”  For example, John C. G. Röhl, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Sussex, recently published a life of Kaiser Wilhelm II, in which he insisted that Germany’s last Kaiser managed to concoct World War I almost single-handedly.  I’ve also seen several articles, such as this one that appeared on the conservative Australian Quadrant website, that are still harping about “German militarism” as if the war had ended yesterday.  If the Quadrant author is to be believed, the “ideological and cultural pathologies” of Wilhelmine Germany were direct forerunners of Nazism.

    I doubt it.  Germany could certainly have broken the chain of events that led to war.  So could Austria-Hungary, and so could Russia.  The question of who, among these three, not to mention the other belligerents, was really the chief culprit was hardly as obvious in the days immediately preceding the clash of arms as the historians of the victorious powers so often asserted when it was over.  Writing two days after Russia had begun her “partial” mobilization in response to Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia, Lord Bertie, at the time British ambassador in France, wrote in his diary,

    It seems incredible that the Russian Government should plunge Europe into war in order to make themselves the protectors of the Servians.  Unless the Austrian Government had proofs of the complicity of Servian officials in the plot to murder the Archduke (which they did, ed.) they could not have addressed to the Servian Government the stringent terms which the Austrian Note contained.  Russia comes forward as the protectress of Servia; by what title except on the exploded pretension that she is, by right, the protectress of all Slavs?  What rubbish!  And she will expect, if she adhere to her present attitude, France and England to support her in arms.

    A day later he wrote,

    I cannot believe in war unless Russia wants it.  The Military party in Germany may think the present moment more favourable for Germany than it is likely to be later, when the reforms in the Russian Army will have been carried out and the strategic railways, converging on the Russo-German frontier, will have been constructed, but I cannot think that the German Emperor and his Government desire war.  I do not believe that they were accessories before the fact to the terms of the Austrian Note to Servia.  If, however, the Emperor of Russia adhere to the absurd and obsolete claim that she is protectress of all Slav States, however bad their conduct, was is probable, Germany will be bound to support Austria, and France will have to help Russia.

    In fact, that’s exactly how it looked to Kaiser Wilhelm himself.  As he noted in his memoirs, it was clear that if Germany fulfilled her treaty obligations to defend Austria against a Russian attack, it would certainly bring France into the war.  The Germans knew they would be facing a two front war, and reacted accordingly.  He also confirmed Bertie’s surmise about the conflict between the German civil and military officials in the days leading up to war.  In his words,

    The foreign office… was so hypnotized by the idea of “peace at any price,” that it completely ruled out war as a possible element of Entente policy, and was therefore unable to correctly assess the signs that war was possible.  Therein lies yet another proof of Germany’s desire to preserve the peace.  This attitude of the foreign office gave rise to certain contradictions between it and the General Staff and the Admiralty, who gave warning as their duty required, and advised preparations for defense.  These difference persisted for some time.  The Army could never forget the fact that it was the fault of the foreign office that they had been surprised.  And the diplomats were piqued that war had come in spite of their efforts.

    The memoirs of the Kaiser and some of the other key players in the war and the events leading up to it are often dismissed with a wave of the hand as mere justifications after the fact.  In fact, while self-justification is a typical motive, memoirs can’t simply be invented out of whole cloth, and invariably reveal a great deal about the character of the authors, regardless of how they choose to construe the facts.  Wilhelm was no angel.  He was paranoid, a narcissist, became an anti-Semite, especially after the war, and had an unfortunate penchant for bombast and bluster.  However, he was not the rabid warmonger portrayed by Röhl and many others, either.

    Perhaps the most damaging indictment of Germany was written by her ambassador in Great Britain before the war, Prince Karl Lichnowsky.  His assessment, currently available under the title, The Guilt of Germany for the War of German Aggression, pointed out the folly of Germany’s crash naval building program in alienating England.  He saw the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, as a man dedicated to preserving the peace, and an honest broker in his dealings with Germany and the other European powers.  Grey had suggested a conference of the powers, similar to the one that had preserved the peace of Europe during another spat over the Balkans a couple of years earlier, as a way to avoid war.  Lichnowsky considered Germany’s decision to refuse this offer suicidal, and a major contributing factor to the onset of war.  His assessment of Grey and British policy in general was probably a great deal more accurate than that of the Kaiser and the German foreign office.  Their paranoia about the supposed perfidious, anti-German intrigues of England’s King Edward VII and his foreign secretary is evident in the Kaiser’s as well as several other memoirs.  However, in spite of that, one cannot simply ignore the reply of von Jagow, German foreign secretary at the time, which is also included in the volume referred to above.  According to Jagow,

    We could not agree to the English proposal of a conference of Ambassadors, for it would doubtless have led to a serious diplomatic defeat.  For Italy, too, (Germany’s ally at the time in the Triple Alliance with Austria, ed.) was pro-Serb and, with her Balkan interests, stood rather opposed to Austria… The best and only feasible way of escape was a localization of the conflict and an understanding between Vienna and Petrograd.  We worked toward that end with all our energy.

    In retrospect, this “way of escape” may have appeared a great deal more “feasible,” in view of the fact that the actual alternative turned out to be Germany’s crushing defeat in the World War, but that outcome did not yet seem inevitable.  In fact, Germany did seek to localize the conflict, as is evident from the source material.  As for the German naval building program, I doubt that its aim was really to outstrip or seriously threaten British domination of the seas.  Again, one cannot simply dismiss what has been written about the subject on the German side.  According to the one man most often associated with the program, Admiral von Tirpitz, Germany’s battle fleet was necessary in order to protect her coast against a combination of France and Russia or any other two naval powers other than Great Britain.  She never aimed at more than an 8 to 5 ratio of naval power in favor of England, and would have been satisfied with 3 to 2.  There is no credible evidence that Tirpitz or the Kaiser aimed at anything beyond this.

    There is a great deal of additional material in Tirpitz’ memoirs of interest to students of events leading up to the outbreak of war.  For example, he could not understand why Germany had not simply mobilized in response to the Russian mobilization, and left the moral odium of an actual declaration of war to its enemies.  In his words,

    Did not (German Chancellor, ed.) Bethmann really consider the enormous disadvantages which were created for us by our not leaving the act of declaration of war to the enemy?… my feelings revolted at our having to assume the odium of the attacking party in the face of the world, on account of the jurists of the Foreign Office, although we could not at all intend to march into Russia, and although we were in reality the attacked party.  I therefore asked the Chancellor, as the meeting broke up, why the declaration of war had to coincide with our mobilization?  The Chancellor replied that this was necessary because the army would immediately send troops over the frontier.  The reply astonished me, because at the most it could only be a question of patrols.  But through these days Bethmann was so agitated and overstrained that it was impossible to speak with him.  I can still hear him as he repeatedly stressed the absolute necessity of the declaration of war, with his arms uplifted, and consequently cut short all further discussion.  When I asked Moltke afterwards the actual relation between the crossing of the frontier and our declaration of war, he denied any intention of sending troops over the frontier forthwith.  He also told me that he attached no value to the declaration of war from his own point of view.

    Thus the riddle, why we declared war first, remains unsolved for me.  It is to be assumed that we did it out of formal legal consciousness.  The Russians began the war without any declaration, but we believed that we could not defend ourselves without such a statement.  Outside Germany there is no appreciation for such ideas.

    That’s for sure!  In retrospect, it’s hard to find fault with his reasoning.  Unfortunately, I can’t write a complete history of the start of World War I in a blog post.  Suffice it to say that I agree with Clark that the notion that it was all Germany’s fault, with Kaiser Wilhelm the “bad guy” extraordinaire, is nonsense.  There was plenty of blame to go around.  What’s the point?  I suppose that I tend to be dubious of the value of morality tales posing as history.  In reality, there are no good guys and bad guys.  The terms “good” and “bad” are artifacts of the human tendency to attribute objectivity to moral judgments.  In fact, they do not exist as things-in-themselves, but are better understood as subjective impressions in the minds of individuals.  I read history to gain an understanding of why things happened the way they did, and what motivated individuals to act the way they did.  That information is often lost in works that seek to portray certain individuals as “good,” and others as “bad.”  Understanding of real human beings and the complexity of human motivations and behavior are sacrificed when one seeks to create a collection of wooden puppets that all fit neatly in one of these two moral pigeonholes.

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  • Oswald Spengler got it Wrong

    Posted on November 1st, 2014 Helian 3 comments

    Sometimes the best metrics for public intellectuals are the short articles they write for magazines.  There are page limits, so they have to get to the point.  It isn’t as easy to camouflage vacuous ideas behind a smoke screen of verbiage.  Take, for example, the case of Oswald Spengler.  His “Decline of the West” was hailed as the inspired work of a prophet in the years following its publication in 1918.  Read Spengler’s Wiki entry and you’ll see what I mean.  He should have quit while he was ahead.

    Fast forward to 1932, and the Great Depression was at its peak.  The Decline of the West appeared to be a fait accompli.  Spengler would have been well-advised to rest on his laurels.  Instead, he wrote an article for The American Mercury, still edited at the time by the Sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken, with the reassuring title, “Our Backs are to the Wall!”  It was a fine synopsis of the themes Spengler had been harping on for years, and a prophecy of doom worthy of Jeremiah himself.  It was also wrong.

    According to Spengler, high technology carried within itself the seeds of its own collapse.  Man had dared to “revolt against nature.”  Now the very machines he had created in the process were revolting against man.  At the time he wrote the article he summed up the existing situation as follows:

    A group of nations of Nordic blood under the leadership of British, German, French, and Americans command the situation.  Their political power depends on their wealth, and their wealth consists in their industrial strength.  But this in turn is bound up with the existence of coal.  The Germanic peoples, in particular, are secured by what is almost a monopoly of the known coalfields…

    Spengler went on to explain that,

    Countries industrially poor are poor all around; they cannot support an army or wage a war; therefore they are politically impotent; and the workers in them, leaders and led alike, are objects in the economic policy of their opponents.

    No doubt he would have altered this passage somewhat had he been around to witness the subsequent history of places like Vietnam, Algeria, and Cambodia.  Willpower, ideology, and military genius have trumped political and economic power throughout history.  Spengler simply assumed they would be ineffective against modern technology because the “Nordic” powers had not been seriously challenged in the 50 years before he wrote his book.  It was a rash assumption.  Even more rash were his assumptions about the early demise of modern technology.  He “saw” things happening in his own times that weren’t really happening at all.  For example,

    The machine, by its multiplication and its refinement, is in the end defeating its own purpose.  In the great cities the motor-car has by its numbers destroyed its own value, and one gets on quicker on foot.  In Argentina, Java, and elsewhere the simple horse-plough of the small cultivator has shown itself economically superior to the big motor implement, and is driving the latter out.  Already, in many tropical regions, the black or brown man with his primitive ways of working is a dangerous competitor to the modern plantation-technic of the white.

    Unfortunately, motor cars and tractors can’t read, so went right on multiplying without paying any attention to Spengler’s book.  At least he wasn’t naïve enough to believe that modern technology would end because of the exhaustion of the coalfields.  He knew that we were quite clever enough to come up with alternatives.  However, in making that very assertion, he stumbled into what was perhaps the most fundamental of all his false predictions; the imminence of the “collapse of the West.”

    It is, of course, nonsense to talk, as it was fashionable to do in the Nineteenth Century, of the imminent exhaustion of the coal-fields within a few centuries and of the consequences thereof – here, too, the materialistic age could not but think materially.  Quite apart from the actual saving of coal by the substitution of petroleum and water-power, technical thought would not fail ere long to discover and open up still other and quite different sources of power.  It is not worth while thinking ahead so far in time.  For the west-European-American technology will itself have ended by then.  No stupid trifle like the absence of material would be able to hold up this gigantic evolution.

    Alas, “so far in time” came embarrassingly fast, with the discovery of nuclear fission a mere six years later.  Be that as it may, among the reasons that this “gigantic evolution” was unstoppable was what Spengler referred to as “treason to technics.”  As he put it,

    Today more or less everywhere – in the Far East, India, South America, South Africa – industrial regions are in being, or coming into being, which, owing to their low scales of wages, will face us with a deadly competition.  the unassailable privileges of the white races have been thrown away, squandered, betrayed.

    In other words, the “treason” consisted of the white race failing to keep its secrets to itself, but bestowing them on the brown and black races.  They, however, were only interested in using this technology against the original creators of the “Faustian” civilization of the West.  Once the whites were defeated, they would have no further interest in it:

    For the colored races, on the contrary, it is but a weapon in their fight against the Faustian civilization, a weapon like a tree from the woods that one uses as scaffolding, but discards as soon as it has served its purpose.  This machine-technic will end with the Faustian civilization and one day will lie in fragments, forgotten – our railways and steamships as dead as the Roman roads and the Chinese wall, our giant cities and skyscrapers in ruins, like old Memphis and Babylon.  The history of this technic is fast drawing to its inevitable close.  It will be eaten up from within.  When, and in what fashion, we so far know not.

    Spengler was wise to include the Biblical caveat that, “…about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”  (Matthew 24:36).  However, he had too much the spirit of the “end time” Millennialists who have cropped up like clockwork every few decades for the last 2000 years, predicting the imminent end of the world, to leave it at that.  Like so many other would-be prophets, his predictions were distorted by a grossly exaggerated estimate of the significance of the events of his own time.  Christians, for example, have commonly assumed that reports of war, famine and pestilence in their own time are somehow qualitatively different from the war, famine and pestilence that have been a fixture of our history for that last 2000 years, and conclude that they are witnessing the signs of the end times, when, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7).  In Spengler’s case, the “sign” was the Great Depression, which was at its climax when he wrote the article:

    The center of gravity of production is steadily shifting away from them, especially since even the respect of the colored races for the white has been ended by the World War.  This is the real and final basis of the unemployment that prevails in the white countries.  It is no mere crisis, but the beginning of a catastrophe.

    Of course, Marxism was in high fashion in 1932 as well.  Spengler tosses it in for good measure, agreeing with Marx on the inevitability of revolution, but not on its outcome:

    This world-wide mutiny threatens to put an end to the possibility of technical economic work.  The leaders (bourgeoisie, ed.) may take to flight, but the led (proletariat, ed.) are lost.  Their numbers are their death.

    Spengler concludes with some advice, not for us, or our parents, or our grandparents, but our great-grandparents generation:

    Only dreamers believe that there is a way out.  Optimism is cowardice… Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him.  That is greatness.  That is what it means to be a thoroughbred.  The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.

    One must be grateful that later generations of cowardly optimists donned their rose-colored glasses in spite of Spengler, went right on using cars, tractors, and other mechanical abominations, and created a world in which yet later generations of Jeremiahs could regale us with updated predictions of the end of the world.  And who can blame them?  After all, eventually, at some “day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven,” they are bound to get it right, if only because our sun decides to supernova.  When that happens, those who are still around are bound to dust off their ancient history books, smile knowingly, and say, “See, Spengler was right after all!”

  • Contra Stendhal and Other Whimsies of Massimo d’Azeglio

    Posted on March 23rd, 2014 Helian No comments

    Massimo d’Azeglio was a 19th century Italian patriot.  He occasionally turns up on the Internet as “Massimo Taparelli” as well.  I happened to run across his memoirs in the random walk that accounts for most of what I read.  Sometimes you get lucky.  So it was with d’Azeglio, who turned out to be a highly original thinker, and whose Recollections are full of all kinds of whimsical bon mots.

    It turns out that there’s a lot about d’Azeglio that reminds me of my favorite novelist, Stendhal.  He had a highly developed sense of personal honor and dignity.  He admired the fine arts, and dabbled in painting himself as a young man, as did Stendhal in acting.  Both were profoundly influenced by their experiences in Milan, and Stendhal, who experienced a love affair there that turned out tragically, at least for a Frenchman, because the lady refused to give in, went so far as to call himself “Milanese” on his gravestone.  Both were dismayed by foreign domination of their native lands.  And finally, both were filled with hope, fear, and anxiety about whether the readers of the future, the people Stendhal dreamed of as “The Happy Few,” would notice them.  All of which makes it all the more interesting that d’Azeglio’s take on Napoleon’s occupation of Italy was exactly the opposite of Stendhal’s.

    Stendhal, of course, worshipped the great man, as anyone who has read The Red and the Black is well aware.  To hear him tell it, the only ones in Italy who opposed the French occupation were a few ultramontane priests and reactionary aristocrats.  For example, from The Charterhouse of Parma,

     On the 15th of May, 1796, General Bonaparte made his entry into Milan… A whole people discovered that everything that until then it had respected was supremely ridiculous, if not actually hateful.  People saw that in order to be really happy after centuries of cloying sensations, it was necessary to love one’s country with a real love and to seek out heroic actions… These French soldiers laughed and sang all day long; they were all under 25 years of age, and their Commander in Chief, who had reached twenty-seven, was reckoned the oldest man in his army.  The gaiety, this youthfulness, this irresponsibility, furnished a jocular reply to the furious preachings of the monks, who, for six months, had been announcing from the pulpit that the French were monsters, obliged, upon pain of death, to burn down everything and to cut off everyone’s head… At the most it would have been possible to point to a few families belonging to the higher ranks of the nobility, who had retired to their palaces in the country, as though in a sullen revolt against the prevailing high spirits and the expansion of every heart.

    After the French were temporarily driven out in Napoleon’s absence,

    These gentlemen, quite worthy people when they were not in a state of panic, but who were always trembling, succeeded in getting round the Austrian General:  a good enough man at heart, he let himself be persuaded that severity was the best policy, and ordered the arrest of one hundred and fifty patriots:  quite the best men to be found in Italy at the time.

    Which brings us to some essential differences between the two men.  Whereas d’Azeglio adored his father, Stendhal loathed his, and always blamed him for the loss of his mother, whom he madly adored, at the age of four.  And whereas Stendhal always envied the aristocracy he portrayed with such spite, d’Azeglio actually belonged to it.  His father might easily have passed for one of “these gentlemen,” although by his son’s account he was a brave soldier who wasn’t given to trembling, and was neither harsh nor greedy.  So it was that, though both men were romantic patriots, and both were in some sense products of and profoundly influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution, d’Azeglio’s recollection of the occupation was not so rosy.  In his words,

     I have already said that to the minds of his contemporaries Napoleon appeared as an irresistible Fate; and this is true.  Imagine, then, the bewilderment of all those who, though crushed under that enormous weight, and without hope of rescue, continued to chafe under injustice and disgrace, when the first ray of a possible redemption gleamed forth, – when came the earliest tidings of the report, borne almost on the wind, Napoleon is vanquished!  Napoleon is retreating!

    At last, one blessed day, came the glad tidings that Napoleon was no longer our master, and that we were, or were about to become, free and independent once more.  He who was not at Turin on that day can form no idea of the delirious joy of a whole population at its utmost height.

    Quite a difference for two men who were fundamentally quite alike.  No doubt a good Marxist would just apply his cookie cutter and come up with a smug class interpretation.  I doubt it’s quite that simple.  Family loyalties and clashing national patriotisms undoubtedly played a role as well.  In any case, d’Azeglio had no illusions about the kind of men who came back to take Napoleon’s place.  He was in full agreement with Stendhal on that score:

    I felt the reaction – I know its effects; and although even it has not made me regret Napoleon and French dominion in Italy, it is none the less true that we lost a government which, sooner or later, would have secured the triumph of those principles which are the life of human society, to revert to a government of ignorant and imbecile men, full of vanity and prejudice.

    Neither the Romans nor Europe could then foresee that the sovereigns, and the ministers representing the re-constituted governments, would be so blind as not to perceive how different were the men of 1814 from those of 1789, and not to know that they would certainly be most unwilling to give up that portion of good to which the great genius of Napoleon and the changes wrought by time had accustomed them.  The princes and their ministers who returned from exile found it convenient to accept the heritage of Napoleon sub conditione; they retained the police and the bureaucracy, the taxes, enormous standing armies, and so forth; but the good system of judicial and civil administration, the impulse given to science and personal merit, equalization of classes, improvement and increase of communication, liberty of conscience, and many other excellent features in the government of the great conqueror, were all ruthlessly flung aside.

    In a word, in spite of his reflexive loathing for Napoleon, not to mention his aristocratic father and a beloved brother who became a fanatical Jesuit cleric, d’Azeglio was much too intelligent to blind himself to the great man’s virtues.  Stendhal would have smiled.

    Here are a few more d’Azeglio-isms for the delectation of my readers:

    War exercises over nations a more salutary influence than a long peace.  Fidelity to a difficult and perilous duty educates men, and makes them fit to perform more peaceful tasks well and worthily… A singular conclusion might be drawn from all this, – viz. that a nation, in order to preserve those virtues which save it from decay, is necessarily obliged to kill a certain number of its neighbors every now and then.  I leave the reader to meditate on this question, and intend to study it myself one day.  Meanwhile, let us proceed.

    It is not in our natures to believe more than the priests themselves; and facts have always shown that the priests of Rome believe very little.  The Italians, therefore, have never considered dogmatic questions very seriously.

    Both parents had too much good sense to fall into the error so common in those parents who undertake the education of their children, viz. that of studying their own vanity or convenience instead of the good of their pupils.  I was never subjected to any of those domestic tortures to which, through maternal vanity, those unhappy children intended to act the laborious part of enfants prodiges are so often condemned… Adulation and incitement to pride and vanity, though they may be a mistaken form of parental affection, are in fact the worst of lessons for the child, and the most baneful in their results.

    But my education was governed by the Jesuit system, and the problem it has always so admirably solved is this – to keep a young man till he is twenty constantly employed in studies which are of little or no value in forming his character, his intelligence, and his judgment.

    In factious times, past and present, we fall into the habit of calling the men of our own party good, and our adversaries bad; as if it were possible that a country should be divided into two distinct bodies; five millions of honest men, for instance, on one side, and five millions of rascals on the other.  Men who profess these ideas are, as is natural, often bamboozled, or worse, by a scoundrel, whom they believe honest for no other reason than that he belongs to their own party.  To avoid this, let us forbear from selecting friends and confidants only on account of their political opinions; and let us remember that, if two different opinion professed by two opposite parties cannot be equally true, logical, and good, two men belonging to the said opposite parties are just as likely to be two arrant knaves as two honest men.

    It would seem the evolutionary psychologists weren’t the first ones to notice the existence of ingroups and outgroups.  The Recollections contain many other interesting and amusing sentiments that you’re not likely to run across on Foxnews or CNN.  As they say, read the whole thing.  D’Azeglio would have been pleased.

     

    Massimo d'Azeglio

    Massimo d’Azeglio

  • Warmongering at “Der Spiegel?”

    Posted on August 23rd, 2013 Helian No comments

    Pity the poor President.  He can’t do anything right!  Or at least not according to Der Spiegel.  After furiously condemning him for lethal drone attacks, murdering civilians in Afghanistan, and personally eavesdropping on German phone conversations via a direct line from the NSA, the editors are now upset with his pusillanimous lack of warlike spirit in Syria.  In an article on the Spiegel website entitled “Barack Obama’s Syria Policy:  President for Procrastination and Delay,” Washington correspondent Sebastian Fischer dolefully informs us that after not one, not two, but three really serious, we mean it this time, warnings from Obama, Assad blew him off and attacked his own people with chemical weapons anyway.  Assad “gives a whistle” about US threats.  Wringing his hands, Fischer wonders, “How can this be?  Is Obama too weak?”

    It would seem so, as Fischer continues, “Particularly alarming for Obama:  The indifference of the dictator Assad isn’t an anomaly.  The US President isn’t getting through to Egypt’s military, either.  He can warn and scold as much as he wants, but the new rulers in Cairo pay no attention to him.  And what of Russia’s President Putin, the only one who might still have a shot at reigning in Assad?  He’s done his best to show how unimpressed he is with America.”   Spiegel’s man on the spot goes on to tell us that, “In Washington, this kind of impotence is received with bitterness.”  Ending his piece with a bit of humor, Fisher writes, “On Wednesday Obama’s press secretary was asked just where the President’s ‘red line’ was located in the case of Egypt.  ‘Well,’ joked Josh Earnest, ‘I didn’t bring along my red pencil.'”

    Aficionados of US-German relations will remember wistfully how we were assured at the end of the Bush Administration that the advent of Obama would usher in a golden age in relations between the countries.  I can assure the lay reader that the honeymoon has been over for a long time.  Readers of German who need a good laugh should look at the comment section after the article.  In keeping with the time-honored German tradition when it comes to articles about the US, it contains numerous revelations of various “plots” by our government, many of which are mutually contradictory, yet, we are assured, “proved” by oodles of evidence.  In this case, the commenters are as full of novel insights as ever.  One HäretikerX assures us that Obama is a “Bush puppet.”  Ihawk explains that any intervention in Syria “must and should be under the leadership of Russia,”(!) apparently because Syria belongs to the Russian sphere of influence.  Eppelein von Gailengen chimes in, “A toothless tiger has come undone.  That’s especially true of Obama and his policy.  No bite, no concept of the future, no recovery in the job market as a result of a lack of any economic growth worth mentioning.”

    Well, what of it?  Should we write off Germany yet again?  Far from it, dear reader!  Even at the peak of the latest high tide of anti-Americanism in Germany at the end of the Clinton and start of the Bush Administrations, when the media there from right to left was full of furious anti-US propaganda every day, and it was often difficult to find anything on the Der Spiegel website about Germany because of the number of incredibly vile, hatemongering, foaming at the mouth attacks on Amerika, there were always a few decent and honest German bloggers and commenters who defended us.  As a good atheist, I can only say, “God bless them!”  It seems to me there has always been more of that type in Germany than in any other country, and especially more than in the US.  Now there seem to be more of them than ever.  Here are some examples from the comment section of Fischer’s article:

    From a Spiegel reader on Facebook:

    When the US attacks, bad!  When the US doesn’t attack, bad!  As far as some people are concerned, America can never be in the right, and is always responsible if anyone is killed.  What about Europe and its responsibility?  Oh, right, European politicians don’t have a clue.  Well then.

    From eknoes:

    According to the comments in forums like this, Obama is a “toothless tiger” if he doesn’t do anything, and “interfering in the internal affairs of other states” if he does.  As far as the usual Spiegel commenter is concerned, he can never do anything right.

    From Ruhepuls:

    When the American’s play “big brother,” and intervene – if necessary with armed force – in some conflict, then they are accused of striving for hegemony (imperialism).  But if they stay out of it, then they are accused of failing to use their power to pursue “humanitarian” goals.  What the heck!  No matter what the Americans do, it’s always wrong!

    From omarius:

    So this time the Americans are standing aside… and they still can’t please anyone… apparently the professional leftists have discovered a problem that doesn’t have a political solution.^^

    …and many more similar entries.  Write off the Germans?  I don’t think so.  Taken one commenter with another, they’re saner than most.

  • German “Greens” and the Poisoning of Eastern Europe

    Posted on April 22nd, 2013 Helian No comments

    A while back in an online discussion with a German “Green,” I pointed out that, if Germany shut down its nuclear plants, coal plants would have to remain in operation to take up the slack.  He was stunned that I could be so obtuse.  Didn’t I realize that the lost nuclear capacity would all be replaced by benign “green” energy technology?  Well, it turns out things didn’t quite work out that way.  In fact, the lost generating capacity is being replaced by – coal.

    Germany is building new coal-fired power plants hand over fist, with 26 of them planned for the immediate future.  According to Der Spiegel, the German news magazine that never misses a trick when it comes to bashing nuclear, that’s a feature, not a bug.  A recent triumphant headline reads, “Export Boom:  German Coal Electricity Floods Europe.”  Expect more of the same from the home of Europe’s most pious environmentalists.  Germany has also been rapidly expanding its solar and wind capacity recently thanks to heavy state subsidies, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, especially in Germany.  Coal plants are required to fill in the gaps – lots of them.  Of course, it would be unprofitable to let them sit idle when wind and solar are available, so they are kept going full blast.  When the power isn’t needed in Germany, it is sold abroad, serving as a useful prop to Germany’s export fueled economy.

    Remember the grotesque self-righteousness of Der Spiegel and the German “Greens” during the Kyoto Treaty debates at the end of the Clinton administration?  Complying with the Kyoto provisions cost the Germans nothing.  They had just shut down the heavily polluting and grossly unprofitable industries in the former East Germany, had brought large numbers of new gas-fired plants on line thanks to increasing gas supplies from the North Sea fields, and had topped it off with a lame economy in the 90’s compared to the booming U.S.  Their greenhouse gas emissions had dropped accordingly.  Achieving similar reductions in the U.S. wouldn’t have been a similar “freebie.”  It would have cost tens of thousands of jobs.  The German “Greens” didn’t have the slightest problem with this.  They weren’t interested in achieving a fair agreement that would benefit all.  They were only interested in striking pious poses.

    Well, guess what?  Times have changed.  Last year U.S. carbon emissions were at their lowest level since 1994, and down 3.7% from 2011.  Our emissions are down 7.7% since 2006, the largest drop among major industrial states on the planet.  German emissions were up at least 1.5% last year, and probably more like 2%.  Mention this to a German “Green,” and he’s likely to mumble something about Germany still being within the Kyoto limits.  That’s quite true.  Germany is still riding the shutdown of what news magazine Focus calls “dilapidated, filthy, communist East German industry after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” to maintain the facade of environmental “purity.”

    That’s small comfort to her eastern European neighbors.  Downwind from Germany’s coal-fired plants, their “benefit” from her “green” policies is acid rain, nitrous oxide laced smog, deadly particulates that kill and sicken thousands and, last but not least, a rich harvest of radioactive fallout.  That’s right, Germany didn’t decrease the radioactive hazard to her neighbors by shutting down her nuclear plants.  She vastly increased it.  Coal contains several parts per million each of radioactive uranium and thorium.  These elements are harmless enough – if kept outside the body.  The energetic alpha particles they emit are easily stopped by a normal layer of skin.  When that happens, they dump the energy they carry in a very short distance, but, since skin is dead, it doesn’t matter.  It’s an entirely different matter when they dump those several million electron volts of energy into a living cell – such as a lung cell.  Among other things, that can easily derange the reproductive equipment of the cell, causing cancer.  How can they reach the lungs?  Very easily if the uranium and thorium that emit them are carried in the ash from a coal-fired plant.  A typical coal-fired plant releases about 5 tons of uranium and 12 tons of thorium every year.  The German “Greens” have no problem with this, even though they’re constantly bitching about the relatively miniscule release of uranium from U.S. depleted uranium munitions.  Think scrubber technology helps?  Guess again!  The uranium and thorium are concentrated in the ash, whether it ends up in the air or not.  They can easily leach into surrounding cropland and water supplies.

    The last time there was an attempt to move radioactive waste to the Gorleben storage facility within Germany, the “Greens” could be found striking heroic poses as saviors of the environment all along the line, demonstrating, tearing up tracks, and setting police vehicles on fire.  Their “heroic” actions forced the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants.  The “gift” (German for “poison”) of their “heroic” actions to Germany’s neighbors came in the form of acid rain, smog, and airborne radiation.  By any reasonable standard, coal-fired plants are vastly more dangerous and damaging to the environment than the nuclear facilities they replaced.

    It doesn’t matter to Germany’s “Greens.”  The acid rain, the radiation, the danger of global warming they always pretend to be so concerned about?  It doesn’t matter.  For them, as for the vast majority of other environmental zealots worldwide, the pose is everything.  The reality is nothing.

    coal-power-plant

  • Second Thoughts about Green Energy in Germany

    Posted on January 7th, 2013 Helian No comments

    Der Spiegel, Germany’s top news magazine, has been second to none in promoting green energy, striking pious poses over the U.S. failure to jump on the Kyoto bandwagon, and trashing nuclear energy.  All this propaganda has succeeded brilliantly.  Germany has a powerful Green Party and is a world leader in the production of wind and solar energy, the latter in a cloudy country, the lion’s share of which lies above the 50th parallel of latitude.  Now the bill has come due.  In 2012 German consumers paid more than 20 billion Euros for green energy that was worth a mere 2.9 billion on the open market.  True to form, Der Spiegel has been churning out shrill condemnations of the high prices, as if it never had the slightest thing to do with promoting them in the first place.  In an article entitled “Green Energy Costs Consumers More Than Ever Before,” we find, among other things, that,

    The cost of renewable energy continues climbing year after year.  At the beginning of the year it increased from 3.59 to 5.27 (Euro) cents per kilowatt hour.  One of the reasons for the increase is solar energy:  more new solar facilities were installed in Germany in 2012 than ever before.  The drawback of the solar boom is that it drives up the production costs paid by consumers.  The reason – green energy producers will receive guaranteed compensation for every kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.

    As a result, German consumers saw their bills for electricity increase by an average of 12% at the beginning of 2013.  The comments following the article are at least as revealing as its content.  The environmental hubris of the population shows distinct signs of fading when tranlated into terms of cold, hard cash.  Examples:

    What a laugh!  The consumers pay 17 billion Euros, and the producers receive 2.9 billion Euros.  Conclusion:  End the subsidies for solar facilities immediately!!  It’s too bad that the pain of consumers – if the Green Party joins the government after the Bundestag election – won’t end, but will only get worse.  Other than that, solar facilities belong in countries with significantly more hours of sunlight than Germany.

    Those were the days, when (Green politician) Trittin told shameless lies to the public, claiming that the switch to green energy would only cost 1.5 Euros per household.

    In ten years we’ll learn what the green energy lies are really going to cost us.

    The real costs are even higher.  When there’s no wind, or clouds cut off the sunlight, then the conventional energy sources held in reserve must make up the deficit; the oil, coal and brown coal energy plants.  If production costs are calculated correctly, then their expense should be included in the price of green energy.  All at once there is a jump from 17 billion to 25 billion Euros in the price we have to pay for the “favors” the Green-Red parties have done us.

    Specious arguments about the supposedly comparable costs of the nuclear power plants Germany is in the process of shutting down are no longer swallowed with alacrity.  For example, in response to the familiar old chestnut of citing exaggerated costs for decommissioning nuclear plants and storing the waste a commenter replies:

    Hmmm, if nuclear energy is so expensive, why are so many countries in central Europe – for example, the Czech Republic – interested in nuclear power?  Certainly not to breed actinides to build nuclear weapons in order to become “nuclear powers.”  The cost of long term waste storage in terms of the energy produced only amounts to about 0.01 Euros per Kw/h.  Even decommissioning expenses don’t add significantly to the overall cost… Let us split atoms, not hairs.

    A “green” commenter suggests that the cleanup costs for the Fukushima reactors be automatically added to the cost of all reactors:

    According to the latest figures for November 2012 for Fukushima:  100 billion Euros.  Distributing this over the total energy production of 880,000 GWh (according to Wikipedia) that’s 11 cents per kilowatt hour.  That amounts to twice the “prettified” cost of nuclear power (without insurance and without subsidies) of 5 cents per kilowatt hour.  And even then the Japanese were lucky that the wind didn’t shift in the direction of Tokyo.  But the 100 billion won’t be the last word.

    Drawing the response from another reader:

    Let’s see.  Japanese nuclear power plants produce 7,656,400 GWh of energy.  In comparison to economic costs in the high tens of billions, 100 billion suddenly doesn’t seem so unreasonable.  It only adds 1.3 cent per KWh to the cost of nuclear energy.  Peanuts.  In Germany, renewables are currently costing an average of 18 cents per KWh.  That translates to 100 billion in under four years.  In other words, thanks to renewables, we have a Fukushima in Germany every four years.

    In response to a remark about all the wonderful green jobs created, another commenter responds,

    Jobs created?  Every job is subsidized to the tune of 40,000 Euros; how, exactly, is that supposed to result in a net gain for the economy overall??  According to your logic, all we have to do to eliminate any level of unemployment is just subsidize it away.  That’s Green politics for you.

    Another unhappy power customer has noticed that, in addition to the hefty subsidy he’s paying for his own power, he has to finance his well-healed “green” neighbors rooftop solar array as well:

    Whoever is surprised about the increases in the cost of electricity hasn’t been paying attention.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  At the moment the consumer is paying for the solar cells on his neighbor’s roof right along with his own electricity bill.  Surprising?  Who’s surprised?

    It’s amazing how effective a substantial and increasing yearly hit to income can be in focusing the mind when it comes to assessing the real cost of green energy.

  • The Unlucky Soothsayers

    Posted on November 8th, 2012 Helian No comments

    The election is history and the unlucky soothsayers I referred to in my last post are eating crow. To paraphrase Billy Joel in one of his songs, “they didn’t have quite enough information.” For the edification and amusement of my readers, here are some of Tuesday’s losers.

    Noted Republican strategist Karl Rove. He thought the polls suggested that more Republicans and fewer Democrats would show up to vote than in 2008.  He was wrong.

    Fox News talking head Dick Morris. He didn’t think as many minorities and single women would show up as in 2008. Here’s his alibi for the day after.

    In an article entitled, “Reflections on Mittmentum,” the ever hopeful Roger Kimball, who blogs for PJmedia, wrote the day before the election,

    My own sense of the matter, as I have said here on many occasions, is that Mitt will not only win but win handily.  The final tally, I suspect, will show Mitt the victor with something like 330 electoral votes.

    The day after, a chastened Kimball wrote,

    But I misread and misread badly both the mood of the country and the depth of support for Obama’s failed policies. I will doubtless get around to rejoining Ron in the battle, but a little hiatus for reflection will not come amiss.

    That is certainly a sentiment his fellow prophets will agree on.  Soothsayers over the water also got their comeuppance on Tuesday.  Christopher Carr of Australia’s conservative mag, The Quadrant, had assured his readers,

    On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney will be elected President of the United States by a comfortable margin.  It will not be a cliffhanger, despite the chorus of conventional wisdom.

    Carr added that, because of his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate, and his strong performance in the debate, Romney’s victory was assured.  In his post mortem after the results were in, he sadly concluded,

    Mitt Romney played Mr. Nice Guy. President Obama played the demagogue. But nice guys finish last.

    In Germany, Der Spiegel’s token conservative pundit, Jan Fleischhauer, also had it wrong.  In an article entitled “Bad, Bad Romney,” a satirical dig at the usual German version of reality in which the Republicans are bad guys and the Democrats good guys, he writes,

    In the media the battle for the White House is already decided; Mitt Romney… has no chance.  Unfortunately, wishful thinking isn’t much help in a democracy.  The Republicans may not have the press on their side – but they have the numbers.

    Not one to dwell on his mistake, Mr. Fleischhauer penned another article entitled “Our Obama-Love is Infantile” a couple of days after the election analyzing the “root causes” of German anti-Americanism.  It was probably more useful to his readers, noting, for example, that Germans have been hopefully and confidently predicting the downfall of the United States for the last 40 years.  In fact, it’s probably been longer than that.  I note in passing that, in reading the many comments after the articles on the U.S. elections on German webzines, there are a lot more Germans pointing to the faults of their own country and condemning the ubiquitous destructive criticism of the United States than there were, say, ten years ago.  The usual received wisdom according to which the U.S. is the decaying embodiment of evil imperialism, run by shadowy financiers, and inhabited by Bible-thumping Christian versions of the Taliban, is still there in abundance.  However, more nuance is gradually being added by those who ask questions such as why, if we are so evil, and Germany such a paradise, so many Germans are looking around for the best shortcut to a Green Card.

    One thing that both the lucky and the unlucky pundits will likely agree on is that the electorate is fractured along racial and gender lines as never before.  Political ingroups in the U.S. are rapidly becoming less defined by ideology, and more defined by demography. Romney won the vote of white males over thirty by a massive majority. Obama won the black, Hispanic, Asian, and single female votes by similarly huge majorities. His majorities trumped Romney’s.  It seems that similarly constituted Democratic majorities will continue prevail more frequently than not in national elections for a long time to come.  To the extent that political and economic issues mattered in this election, they mattered less in their own right and more as cultural attributes associated with race and gender than in past elections. The Benghazi debacle was a huge deal for white males over thirty. It was a non-issue for young black women.

  • Artifacts of the Defenders of the Faith

    Posted on September 26th, 2012 Helian No comments

    Pundits on the right have been less than pleased by what they view as a timid defense of freedom of speech and appeasement of radical Islamists by both Obama Administration officials and public intellectuals on the left in the wake of the murder of Ambassador Stevens and the accompanying violence in the Mideast.  See for example, this piece by Ann Althouse, and this by Victor Davis Hanson.  If the wobbly stuff emanating from the L.A. Times, The New Republic, and MSNBC is in any way representative, they have a point.  In fact, the Left in the US and Europe has been exchanging admiring glances with the Islamists for some time.  It’s not surprising.  Following the collapse of Communism, radical Islam is the only game in town if your tastes run to extreme ideologies and you like to imagine yourself as a savior of the world.  Unfortunately, it takes a very flexible intellect to abandon the ideological shibboleths embraced by the Left for the last couple of decades in favor of a misogynistic and fundamentalist version of Islam.  Hence, the love affair has been carried on from a distance for the most part.  If it’s any consolation to Professors Althouse and Hanson, things have been worse.  Much worse.

    It’s instructive to occasionally step back from the flood of information about current events that constantly pours in over the public media and look at the equivalent sources of information and opinion from times gone by.  Consider the first half of the 1930’s, for example.  The Great Depression had a strong tendency to adjust the attitudes of the public intellectuals of the day.  Many of them were also fascinated by, and strongly supportive of, the totalitarian regimes that had recently appeared on the scene, some leaning to the Communist and some to the fascist variants thereof.  I found interesting examples of both while thumbing through an old copy of The Atlantic Monthly.

    The issue in question, dated November 1934, began with a piece by Vincent Sheean entitled “Youth and Revolution.”  I highly recommend Sheean’s books, such as Not Peace but a Sword and Personal History to interested readers.  Sheean was an excellent writer and journalist, and had a knack for turning up at key places just as events that shaped history were happening.  He was also a forerunner of what a whole generation of later journalists became; a self-appointed champion of noble causes who saw the world in stark black and white, with few shades of grey in between.  He had no illusions about Hitler at all, and witnessed and wrote about Nazi brutality against the Jews at a time when many “experts” who should have known better were dismissing such stories as “atrocity fables.”  Hitler was a “bad guy.”  Stalin and the Bolsheviks, on the other hand, were “good guys.”  When it came to the bloody deeds of the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Sheean didn’t miss a trick, but was strangely blind to the ample evidence of similar mayhem available at the time if the perpetrators happened to be Communists.

    In the article he wrote for the Atlantic, Sheean describes a trip to China in 1927.  To set the stage historically, he arrived in China during the Northern Expedition, in which Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek triumphed over a coalition of warlords and succeeded in uniting most of the country in 1928.  Nanking had fallen to them in March 1927, a couple of weeks before Sheean arrived, and tensions between Chiang and the Communists in the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) were coming to a head.  They would soon culminate in Shanghai Massacre and the purge of Communists from the party which, until then had been supplied with arms and money from the Soviet Union.  The Soviet envoy, Mikhail Borodin, was allowed to “escape” from the country.  Here are a few excerpts from Sheean’s article:

    The moment of triumph was inevitably the one in which the two elements among the Cantonese victors would separate.  Genuine revolutionaries – those who wished to change the conditions of life in China, and not simply the forms or names of government – found themselves obliged to cling to the Left Wing of the Kuomintang, in which Russian influence was paramount.  The others – those who took part in the revolution for their own advantage, or were prevented by the tenacity of middle-class ideas from wishing to disturb the established arrangement of wealth – collected around the treasuries of Shanghai and Nanking, under the patronage of the Chinese bankers of those cities and their new ally, Chiang Kai-shek.

    …the difference between an academic acquaintance with Communism and an actual perception of its spirit is very great.  The step required to pass from the first state to the second is so easy that it may be accomplished in a moment, and so difficult that it may involve the effort of a lifetime… but when the step has at last been taken, the barrier passed, we enter a world in which all parts of the structure of existence are so related and harmonized, so subjugated to a sovereign system, that its ordered beauty and majesty give us the sensation of a new form of life, as if we had moved off into space and taken up our abode, for a time, on another star… The world of Lenin (which is, in effect, all around us) can be entered in a moment, but only if the disposition of circumstances, persons, influences, can conquer the laziness of a bourgeois mind.  The required combinations occurred for me at Hankow, and were given force and form, particularly, by Michael Borodin and Rayna Prohme (Russian editor of the left wing Kuomintangs newspaper).

    Borodin, a large, calm man with the natural dignity of a lion or a panther, had that special quality of being in, but above, the battle that seems to me to deserve, in itself and without regard to the judgment of the world, the name of greatness… As I knew him better I perceived – or, rather, he showed me – how his political philosophy made breadth and elevation inevitable in the mind that understood it.  He was an Old Bolshevik.

    Such were the musings and reminiscences of a “mainstream media” journalist in 1934.  As the reader will gather, Sheean was singularly ill-equipped intellectually to give his audience a balanced view of the Stalinist regime in Russia, or an understanding of the real nature of Communism.  I encourage anyone who thinks he was the only one writing the sort of stuff cited above in 1934 to look through a few of the intellectual journals of the time.  The question among many of the authors who contributed to them was not whether capitalism was dead, but which flavor of socialism would replace it, and whether the “inevitable” transition would occur violently or not.  For the record, Borodin disappeared into the Gulag in 1949, and died in captivity in 1951, having escaped that fate much longer than most of the old Bolsheviks.  The current state of the “worker’s paradise” in China should be familiar to most readers.

    Apologists for the other brand of totalitarianism extant at the time, fascism, were fewer in number, but hardly uncommon.  One of them, William Orton, a professor of economics at Smith College, contributed an article to the Atlantic entitled “New Wine in Germany.” It soothed readers’ “irrational” fears about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime that had seized power in that country in January 1933.  Orton had no more problem with Hitler’s suppression of “bourgeois” freedoms than Sheean had with the suppression of those freedoms by the Communists.  He wrote at a time when much of the propaganda about atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in World War I had been debunked, spawning an attitude among intellectuals that all reports of atrocities were to be taken with a grain of salt.  This instance of “learning the lessons of history” was particularly unhelpful at a time when the Communists and Nazis were competing for the title of greatest mass murderers of all time.  The many eyewitness reports coming out of Germany and the Soviet Union were dismissed with the sage observation that, “It’s necessary to break a few eggs to make an omelet.  Orton applied this logic to the violent Nazi persecution of the Jews that Sheean, among others, had already described in great detail.  Here are some of the things he had to say about the “New Wine in Germany.”

    It is not difficult, after three thousand miles of travel in Germany, to recognize in one’s mind a certain general impression; but it is almost impossible to convey that impression in speech or writing.  One has the sense of a tremendous spiritual or psychological fact – overwhelming in its magnitude, urgent in its significance.  But since the ingredients of this fact are primarily neither personal nor political, it eludes the scope of both the ordinary news story and the ordinary article.  Perhaps the film could do it justice.

    A sound film, of course, it would have to be.  Drums – no, not the drums first.  Silence – the silence that surrounds a great ship coming into harbor; and, somewhere up above, a band playing the new national anthem, the ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ – a fine music, reserved, steady, powerful in its measure, swinging out in the sunshine over the massed decks, over the narrowing water, over the crowded dock, over thousands of arms held motionless in the splendid gesture of the Fascist salute.  Swing the camera along those lines of hands, held tense, not flaccid; close up to the faces; look at the lips, look at the eyes, shining, shining…

    Confronted by this transition from party to government, British and American opinion exhibits a reluctance to face the facts that amounts to a positive refusal.  Atrocity stories are played up, blunders magnified, oppression emphasized, …until a fair estimate of Hitler and his system is out of the question.  There was the same display of stubborn short-sightedness in regard to the Italian and the Russian revolution, but in neither case was the myopia as acute as in this one.  The roots of the disease must be exposed, since it renders a realistic attitude to modern Germany impossible.

    Evidently Orton considered himself just the man to cure the “myopia,” and convey a “realistic attitude” about Hitler.  He continues,

    Germany is completely united in the determination to assert her equality of status with other powers; she has the means to do so, and there exists neither the right nor the possibility of preventing her.

    Whether we will or no, we must take the risk of believing in the German people.

    Germany has no present desire to provoke a war; and she has given certain tangible evidences (as Mussolini did not) of this fact.  Hitler said, a few weeks ago, that ‘no colony was worth a single German life.’  His lieutenants have repeatedly said that with the return of the Saar there will remain no further cause of quarrel with France.  There is good ground for accepting these assurances.  But more weighty evidence is supplied by the ten-year treaty with Poland and the agreement recently concluded by Danzig with that state.  To anyone who knows at first hand what conditions are like on the eastern border, those two settlements are an impressive demonstration of the will to peace.

    Anti-semitism had been a problem, but Hitler had wisely put a stop to it:

    Anti-semitism got altogether out of hand; until, when Streicher’s organ, Der Stürmer, attacked the President of Czechoslovakia, that too had to be temporarily suppressed.

    It was with such stories of Hitler’s “will to peace” and his “suppression of anti-Semitism” that Orton reassured and “enlightened” the  great democracies on the eve of the greatest existential struggle in their history.  It is not recorded that he suffered any ill consequences for this “service.”  As far as one can tell, it was forgotten, and he continued as a respected professor at Smith until his death in 1952.  Searching the Internet, one learns that, “Russell Kirk praised Orton as a “humane economist,” “at once liberal and conservative,” seeking to “liberalize and humanize the Dismal Science.”

    In a word, conservatives frustrated with the Left’s flirtations with radical Islam should take heart.  Things have been worse.  At the moment, at least, the United States and the European democracies don’t face an immediate threat to their existence.  Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe that we will not continue to be “enlightened” about similar threats as we move into the future.  Whether such “enlightenment” will be a significant contributor to our eventual downfall only time will tell.

  • The German Media: “Freedom of the Press” from a Single Point of View

    Posted on August 31st, 2012 Helian No comments

    Niall Ferguson’s recent publication of an article attacking Obama in Newsweek generated a lot of useful data on the nature of political thought.  Consider, for example, the hundreds of comments left on liberal and conservative political blogs and websites.  They’re easy enough to find on Google.  On the former, the commenters are typically furious because of their conviction that Ferguson’s article is nothing but a pack of lies, and on the latter they are triumphant because of their conviction that Ferguson not only answered but demolished the charges of deception, and exposed his opponents as the real liars.  For the most part, the comments are morally charged, and seem to fully vindicate Jonathan Haidt’s point about the emotional dog with a rational tail.  To the extent that any of the commenters attempt to use reason at all, it is to vindicate intuitions about whether Ferguson is “good” or “evil” that are entirely predictable depending on whether they dwell on the right or left of the political spectrum.  There are virtually no instances of the apparent use of reason to weigh and balance the evidence before forming an opinion.  The more obsessed an individual is with politics, the more predictable his opinions become on any politically loaded issue.  If there is any good news in all this, it is that both sides are well-represented in the social media, at least in the United States.  The rare individual who is inclined to weigh the evidence on both sides and attempt to formulate an opinion informed by reason at least has easy access to both points of view.  The result is a salutary restraint on the ardent partisans of both sides that encourages them to occasionally temper their ideal worldview with doses of reality.  If only one point of view were represented, there would be an opposite tendency to replace reality with fantasy.

    The German media provides a good example of how this works in practice.  As in the U.S., the social media in that country has powerful voices on both the “left” and the “right.”  There are pronounced differences among the partisans of both sides, particularly regarding issues of local interest.  However, as regards, the U.S., the message from both sides is remarkably similar.  This was very evident in the most recent of the periodic eruptions of anti-American hate in Europe that reached its climax during the final years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush Administrations.  Coverage of the United States, whether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the right or Der Spiegel magazine on the left, was uniformly anti-American and quasi-racist.  For example, Americans were universally stereotyped as prudish, religious fanatics, gun nuts, etc.  Occasionally the bitter attacks on the U.S. took up so much space on Der Spiegel’s website that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  The anti-American wave only subsided when a few people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice (and be shocked) by what they were seeing.  Apparently the big dogs in the German media concluded that, profitable though it undoubtedly was, they would have to tone down what had become blatant hate mongering if they wanted to preserve some chance of continuing to win prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”

    Today things are significantly more subdued although the media still throws a chunk of red meat to the Amerika haters now and then.  However, the one-sided nature of the reporting is still the same.  Consider, for example, the recent coverage of the Republican National Convention.  Whereas, after a brief honeymoon, the Obama Administration is now generally portrayed in the German media as merely ineffectual, the Republicans are decidedly bad guys who are typically described as “radical,” “extreme,” and “crazy.”  They are, of course, “racist” as well.  Thus, for example, there was heavy coverage of incident in which two unknown individuals threw nuts at a black CNN correspondent and told her that was how they “fed the animals,” but no mention of the seemingly more egregious racism behind the defacing of Republican Mia Love’s Wikipedia entry, and little, if any, notice of the fact that persons of color were prominent speakers at the convention at all.

    Paul Ryan is described as an “extremist” in both the “rightist” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“Ryan is known as a proponent of budget slashing and massive cuts in the area of social welfare”) and the “leftist” Der Spiegel (“Romney’s choice for Vice President has prepared a plan of battle that includes more explosive for America’s democracy than all (Sarah) Palin’s vices – nothing less than a declaration of war on America’s social solidarity”), based on either grossly distorted and one-sided portrayals of his record, or, more commonly, no evidence at all.  In spite of the fact that the federal budget proposed by Ryan calls for increased spending every year for the next decade and beyond, he supposedly wants a “skeleton state.”  In condemning Ryan, Der Spiegel goes so far as to provide its readers with a fairy tale version of “history” that would never pass the “ho ho” test if there were anyone around with an interest in bothering to challenge it:

    Ryan sees himself as a tribune of the people.  He likes to quote Ronald Reagan’s remarks to the effect that, if the rich had more, their riches would “trickle down” to the rest of the citizens.  The result of this experiment is well known:  Reagan had to massively increase taxes in 1982, because the U.S. budget deficit had become gigantic.

    In fact, Ryan couldn’t quote Reagan’s remarks about “trickle down” economics, because the term is a straw man used by his enemies.  English speakers can easily Google the facts about economics in the Reagan years, and see for themselves that the 1982 tax increase was not “massive” by any reasonable definition of the term, and particularly not when compared with the tax cut of 1981, that it represented a compromise in return for spending cuts, that there was a net overall decline, not increase, in the tax rate during the Reagan years.  Furthermore, in spite of tax cuts, as noted by economist M. T. Griffith,

    As a result of the Reagan tax cuts, tax payments and the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% climbed sharply. For example, in 1981 the top 1% paid 17.6% of all personal income taxes, but by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5%, a 10 percentage point increase.  The share of the income tax burden borne by the top 10% of taxpayers increased from 48.0% in 1981 to 57.2% in 1988. Meanwhile, the share of income taxes paid by the bottom 50% of taxpayers dropped from 7.5% in 1981 to 5.7% in 1988.

    The “gigantic” U.S. budget deficit of 1982 was only about half what it is today as a percent of GDP.  The arguments and interpretations of the legacy of the Reagan years continue in the U.S. to this day, with lots of spin on both sides.  The point is that the version in the German media is generally a great deal more crudely one-sided than one typically finds in the U.S., even among the most ardent partisans on either side.  Only one point of view speaks with a significant voice in the social media.  “Fact checking” by the other side is not a concern, because there is no other side, other than a few brave but insignificant bloggers.

    The Eastwood speech was another prominent feature of the convention that was portrayed one way by the Right, and an entirely different way by the Left.  In Germany, it was portrayed only one way, more or less in lockstep with the version you’re likely to find in the New York Times or Washington Post.  Which version you happen to prefer is beside the point.  The point is that, on this as on so many other complex issues dealing with the U.S., in Germany, you only get one version, and it’s usually a great deal cruder and tendentious than its equivalent here.

    According to Marx, a monopoly of the social means of production in the hands of a single economic class is a bad thing.  In practice, it seems to me that a monopoly of the social means of communication on behalf of a single point of view may be a good deal worse.  That was the state of affairs that prevailed in the U.S. in the 60’s and 70’s.  With respect to “news” about the United States, it is a state of affairs that prevails in Germany, and probably a good number of other countries to this day.  Where such monopolies exist, formal “freedom of the press” is meaningless.  Keep that in mind the next time you feel like whining about Rush Limbaugh, Foxnews, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the right, or about George Soros, MSNBC, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the left.  As long as both of them exist, it’s a good thing.  They keep each other honest.