17 October 2014

Defeat of freedom in Germany

In the dénouement of his novel, Der Untertan (The Loyal Subject), Heinrich Mann describes very precisely the defeat of liberal strivings in Germany:

"Sie [die Mächtigen 'heute' 1897] hüten sich, die Dinge auf die Spitze zu treiben wie jene Privilegierten vor der [1948er] Revolution. Aus der Geschichte haben sie leider Mäßigung gelernt. Ihre soziale Gesetzgebung [1880er unter Bismarck] baut vor und korrumpiert. Sie sättigt das Volk gerade so weit, daß es ihm sich nicht mehr verlohnt, ernstlich zu kämpfen, um Brot, geschweige Freiheit." (Der Untertan Zeitverlag 2009 S.376)

"They [those in power today, 1897] take care not to push matters to crisis-point like those privileged ones before the [1848] revolution. Unfortunately, from history they have learnt moderation. Their social legislation [passed in the 1880s under Bismarck] takes precautions and corrupts. It satiates the people just enough so that it's no longer worth it to seriously fight for bread, to say nothing of freedom."

Mann's novel describes graphically the extinguishing of freedom in Germany through its main characters, including especially the Kaiser's victorious "loyal subject", Diederich Heßling, but also the declining liberal Buck family, whose son is speaking in the quotation. There is a tragic trajectory of German history from 1813, when German liberals joined forces with the conservative nobles to repulse Napoleon, through the collapse of this alliance of forces after 1815 to the failed 1848 revolution, the victory of Prussia over France in 1871, the unification of Germany under the Prussian Junker, Bismarck, the rise of German militarism under Kaiser Wilhelm II with its world-imperialist ambitions culminating in the First World War and German defeat, the subsequent rise of Nazism and a second attempt by Germany to achieve world-domination and, finally, the post-war social welfare state (Sozialstaat) in which "it's no longer worth it to seriously fight for bread, to say nothing of freedom".

Today, the Sozialstaat seems to be collapsing inexorably under its own weight, its subjects being ever more anxiously concerned only with order and securing against erosion of the material standard of living, with being looked after.

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