Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On "The Pity of It All"

For Three Weeks/9 Days purposes, I have finished "The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch" by Amos Elon. Strong and interesting parts of the analysis were:
As my mom has said for years, "Germany is a place of great contradictions. There is this great, humane cultural tradition, and then there is Bavaria". Besides the standard right-wing authoritarian Germans, in batches such as 1848 and 1918 a belief in true Enlightenment liberalism and equality came out in the German people but was defeated and betrayed because the military parts of the state were never democratic. For a hundred years, anti-Semitism came in waves, but the Jews survived each wave much as they were before. This provided encouragement for them to see Hitler as a temporary phenomenon.
Germany was susceptible to fascism for many reasons. A reason I did not know before (this did not take much) was that there was a "dictatorship clause" in the Weimar constitution allowing it to be suspended. If this had happened in 1789 Americans had sufficient fear of a king that it would never pass. Germans had recent experience with a king who allowed some liberal principles to take effect, and did not have the same fear. Bad economic times and old-fashioned hate were also very influential. Also, the idea of a German nation was founded on German kultur and German spirit: both German Jews and German Gentiles sought a spiritual Germany in politics. German Jews had a greater belief that Germany was inevitably to be swept on the wave of human progress, and were very active in liberal politics and parties such as the Social Democrats as soon as they were allowed to do so.
German Jews were attracted to Germany because there was more economic and intellectual opportunity than in Poland or Russia. Being a "real German" offered the possibility of being part of the universal and not just the particular. This did not necessarily mean self-hatred. Conversion to Christianity or being entirely secular was a real possibility throughout the 19th century, and Reform Judaism in this light was a way of clinging to Jewish identity. Martin Buber offered the possibility with his Hasidic tales of having a spiritual German-Jewish nationalism, but Zionism did not catch on greatly in Germany, although Herzl was German and percieved that Jews were "separate and unequal".
A disturbing part of Hitler's rise to power was that Jews were able to see that he was evil, but counted on the decency of the German people to stop him. Perhaps because of political apathy, this decency never came through, and it could have.
Finishing the book, I felt that the best may not lack all conviction, but the best lack organization. I am sad to see many decent bloggers, such as Instapundit and M. Simon, separate from affiliation with the Democrats because of the war in Iraq, and am glad to see Tim Russo hanging tough. Unfortunately the Bush administration has backed us into a corner. Leaving Iraq would be very dangerous at present because it would encourage the current Iraqi government to merge with the insurgents, who are nihilistic beyond a doubt. An interesting idea floated in The Nation would be to link a troop withdrawal to concrete democratic steps taken by the Iraqi government, possibly with international monitoring. The Democrats in 2006 could also run with the issue of nuclear proliferation, which is becoming more worrisome as Iran continues enrichment activities. Also as I finished the book, I realized the scale of the fascist nightmare. Not only was politics corrupted under the Nazis, but the entire country was recruited for mass murder. This is much worse than the abuse of power which the Founders were afraid of. Although I agree with Ruth Wisse that we should not forget that the Holocaust was a political process aimed at Jews in particular, the prominent thought was "I don't want this to happen to my country". Republicans would do well to remember that the liberalism of the 1950s and 1960s was aimed at the hatred of the fascism which we had just fought and a desire to eliminate the racism of which we ourselves are guilty. As liberals showed fear of implementing their own ideology especially with regards to civil rights, leftism became more palatable.
Trying to use reason and recognize the decency of the other side and realizing that the USA is not the repository of all virtue is probably effective in dispelling the fascist nightmare.


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