|December 10, 2010||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Walter Laqueur’s Weimar: A Cultural History (New York 1980) reveals parallels (and of course differences) between that period and our own. It was not Laqueur’s purpose to compare Germany in 1919-1933 with the America of today, and I have lifted quotes out of context – nevertheless, I think they are relevant. Subtitles in bold are my own, not Laqueur’s.
A vanished world
“Germany before 1914 exuded confidence and optimism to a remarkable degree … [and] had known a sense of security such as subsequent generations were never even remotely to experience” [1-2].
“…a fairly strong democratic tradition in Germany … had grown progressively weaker  … the German spirit was poisoned almost beyond recovery …” .
Naïve and simple-minded conservatives
“…they lacked the necessary toughness and inspiration … and thought that patient work, a rational policy, free of any pathos and demagogic slogans, would sooner or later bear fruit. They could not have been more mistaken. Theirs was an admirable approach for quieter times and for mature people who, whatever the internal conflicts, basically accepted the democratic ground rules” [11-12].
“Such sensible advice was unfortunately quite out of touch with the mood of an activist younger generation … theirs was an unthinking, aimless radicalism … The common denominator was contempt for the ‘system’  … rational arguments could make no headway” .
“…they knew in their bones that something was radically wrong. They knew that forces were at work to destroy time-honoured beliefs and traditions. Modernism … was the antithesis to all that had made Germany great in the past … sickness of the soul … loss of equilibrium …” [84-85].
“… the defenders of the new state lacked conviction and fighting spirit; they were always willing to compromise.” .
“… they were utterly bewildered by the onslaught of a movement which was quite unlike anything they had ever known …” .
“… the chaos and impotence of bourgeois society at the end of its tether” .
The forces of decay
“The universities were one of the main strongholds of the anti-democratic forces during the Weimar era … The Nazis emerged as the strongest party in the universities well before they did so in the country at large … The radicalization of university life …” [17-18].
“Many of the old taboos had disappeared; there was much greater openness to new ideas” .
“Just as they hated the new state [the Weimar Republic], so they loathed its culture … everything could be put down to the guilt of society, everything was rotten, everything had to change … Such masochism was not without its dangers, for it undermined society and made it difficult to defend the Republic against the calumnies of determined and unscrupulous enemies … The pessimism of the left-wing intelligentsia was only natural; it saw its vocation, by definition, in opposing the status quo … some spokesmen of the extreme left attacked the Republic and all it stood for as something that was rotten through and through and not worth defending” [36-37].
“… forever pressing utopian demands divorced from reality … ” .
“The Nazis had a far more astute grasp of the realities of power …”.
“… much more cunning and far less scrupulous …” .
“… the contempt with which these young ideologists dismissed the heritage of freedom and liberty, and their naïve belief in the omnipotence of the state to ‘save the country’ … suffered from strange delusions … ” .
“They rejected the ‘Western ideas’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ‘arid intellectualism’, liberalism, parliamentary democracy” … the great break with cultural tradition occurred …” [109-110].
“The intelligentsia alone could study reality objectively; it alone could see the truth, the total social reality … Marxism as a movement of the intelligentsia rather than the working class …”  … “The cultural activities of the Communist Party were dominated (with one notable exception) by intellectuals of bourgeois background” .
“… the desperate onslaught against the old world and its political, social, and artistic conventions” .
“After the end of the First World War Berlin became the entertainment capital of Europe” .
“The behavior of many judges was simply outrageous … extremists of the right could, quite literally, get away with murder, whereas those of the left had to face the full severity of the law … a judiciary meting out blatantly biased political justice …” [13, 45].
Economic and political problems culminating in crisis
“German heavy industry … found itself severely weakened in comparison with its competitors in world markets” .
“… even the experts were at a loss as to how to cope with its [economic] problems … the currency situation was handled with almost incredible ineptitude” .
“… the conviction that Germany was badly governed, that the established political parties and parliament were incompetent, that new men and ideas were needed to cope with the crisis” .
Loss of national character and unity
“…the two sides [right and left] were no longer speaking the same language … There was not the slightest willingness to take each other’s point of view seriously, let alone compromise … The left, insofar as it was at all aware that there were intellectuals outside its own camp, regarded their outpourings as mere gibberish on which no sensible man would waste much time. For was it not a well known fact that an intellectual, by definition, had to be a man of the left? … The gulf was unbridgeable …” [41-42, 44].
“…men devoid of scruples rose to influence, power and wealth …” .
“… a growing sense of rapidly approaching doom, of finis Germaniae … The vision of impending catastrophe … the general climate of uncertainty and fear which was rapidly spreading … ” [35, 260].
“…a general cultural decline … it laid waste heart and soul …” .