There are some who are in darkness

9 02 2017

First off, what is this shit? Few inches of snow and schools, CUNY close? If it’s safe enough for kids to go sledding, it’s safe enough for them to go to school.

I hate snow days: I put some effort into plotting out the syllabus, so missed days throws that off. Yeah, I do allow some slack, but I’d rather I, rather than the weather, were in charge of that flexibility.

(Straigtens shirt, smooths hair.) Back to bizness, and another hoisting-up of a dmf comment:

I remember when pol-sci/history types were going around telling us that Trump’s US was not the same as Hitler’s Germany (and I don’t think Trump is a fascist, too self-consumed for that) as if we knew which factors were the determinate ones in bringing facism to bloom, never struck me as being particularly verifiable, what would be the test of such assertions/speculations?

As one of those ranting that the US was/is not Weimar, I’d offer up the following as crucial factors:

1. History. The United States were created in rebellion against the British, and both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were written by those who prevailed in that rebellion. Slavery tore the country apart, but, again, with the victory of the Union and, crucially, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the US began a shift from United States to United States.

The Weimar republic, on the other hand, was borne of defeat, and its opponents never tired of blaming the republicans themselves for the loss the autocratic Kaiser and his generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff inflicted on the nation. The German populace was completely unprepared for defeat—the Kaiser himself thought well into fall that the Germans were on the brink of victory—and thus willing to entertain the notion that they were ‘stabbed in the back’. Not everyone accepted the Dolchstoßlegende, but the poison injected into the embryonic republic did weaken it.

2. Constitutional legitimacy. The US Constitution is widely and deeply accepted as legitimate across the political spectrum, although there are, of course, wide and deep differences as to the appropriate interpretation of said constitution. Those differences, significantly, break along whose interpretation is more legitimate, not whether the founding document is itself legit.

The Weimar Constitution, on the other hand, was never widely accepted, and the parties which ushered it into existence were themselves ushered out of power within a few years of its adoption. The Social Democrats and the German Democratic Party did serve in multiple governments between 1919 and 1932, but after 1920 elections, they never held the majority in the Reichstag. Further, after Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert’s death, the anti-republican Hindenburg took over as president; while he did little during the 1920s actively to undermine the republic, he did little to support it, either.

Which leads to the third point:

3. Constitutional structure. The German republic was, like the US, a federated one; unlike the US, however, the selection of the political leader was non-democratic.

Citizens did vote directly for members of the Reichstag (varying terms) and for the president (fixed 7-year term). Unlike in most parliamentary systems, however, where the majority party (the party with the best chance of forming a majority coalition) is offered the chance by a president or monarch to form a government and take over the prime minister’s/chancellor’s office, during Weimar the president could select whomever he wanted as chancellor.

This became an issue once Hindenburg took over. Given that he despised liberalism and republicanism and distrusted universal suffrage, he was loath to select a chancellor from the majority party/coalition. In fact, he was so opposed that he initially denied Hitler the chance to form a government which, as the leading party after the July 1932 elections, was his due. It was only after the failure of various conservative chancellor’s that he agreed to offer Hitler the chancellorship, along with only two (albeit crucial) cabinet posts.

Finally, the Weimar constitution under Article 48 gave the president emergency powers to suspend the constitution—a power which Ebert himself exercised rather too often—and which was used by Hindenburg and Papen to overthrow the Prussian state government; the coup was a death blow to the republic.

There is no equivalent power available to the US president.

These are the three most important factors, I think, in arguing against any kind of equivalence, but there are others as well. While the US is a violent society, the levels of political violence are in no way comparable to those of the Weimar republic: throughout the 1920s paramilitary organizations were aligned with all of the major parties, and they regularly engaged in brawls, intrigues, and, especially on the right, assassinations. Furthermore, the judiciary indulged right-wing violence—Hitler, a non-citizen, was nonetheless able to use ‘patriotism’ in his defense of the beer-hall putsch and to secure a light sentence—and the political parties routinely agreed to amnesty deals for their respective fighters.

Let me pull out that bit about the judiciary: it, like the civil service, the army, and most police forces, was hostile to the republic and unconcerned about its health. Many of those who served in these institutions, as well as in the universities, held to a notion of an ‘eternal Germany’ to which they devoted their loyalty—not the liberal-infested and hopefully-temporary republic; they were biding their time to a return to (authoritarian) normalcy.

In short, almost all governmental and a number of major civil society institutions were explicitly anti-republican and would at best do nothing and at worst abet those plotting to overthrow it. There are certainly those in the US who don’t accept the legitimacy of Democratic rule—see the Obama presidency, assaults on voting rights, or what’s happening in North Carolina—but there are institutional (largely although not solely judicial) barriers to wiping out the rights of Democrats and their sympathizers.

One last thing: As much as I don’t think we’re Weimar, I’m also not as confident as I was 4 months ago that we are exceedingly unlikely to become Weimar. I still consider it unlikely—there are far more buffers against collapse in the US than there were in 1920s Germany—but I admit that I will paying very close attention to those buffers over the next 2-4 years.

I was complacent before November 8, believing a defense of our republic unnecessary; no longer.

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We got computer

21 12 2016

So I’ll be collecting all of the sources and resources I’ve mentioned in these various ‘Life during wartime’ posts on the—hm, what should I call it? I KNOW—Life during wartime page.

Please do add any suggestions in the page’s comments (which I just enabled).

In the meantime, let’s listen to this series’s musical inspiration:

~~~

As I’ve said, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. The possibilities range from ordinary Republican (bad enough) to Oh holy hell-shit-fuck! and everywhere in between—and, honestly, given how little I now realize I know, anywhere outside of that range as well.

I tend toward thinking it won’t get as bad as it could possibly be (fascist takeover, nuclear war), but given that either of these are a rather plumper non-zero possibility than I, well, I would have thought possible two months ago, I have to keep them in sight—even if only out of the corner of my eye.

Reading about Weimar leads me (as I’ve banged on about repeatedly) to believe that we’re not Weimar, that the Liberal elements of our political culture are stronger and our democratic institutions sturdier than those German republicans were ever able to enjoy. And while we are a violent society, our levels of specifically political violence is, compared to Weimar, low.

But we are polarized, and a good chunk of our society—the economic sector—can’t be counted on as bulwark against authoritarianism: if they can make money off of this administration, they won’t oppose it.

Nor can we count on certain cultural institutions to take a stand in defense of Liberalism and pluralism.  It’s not at all clear that the news media will defend itself against attacks on it or on its reporters; a “scrupulous neutrality” may end up being more neutered than scrupled.

And Google, which used to think not being evil was important, refuses to adjust its algorithms regarding Holocaust denial (which has led to a campaign to fuck with that algorithm to drive the denial off the front page) and a search for “oven definition” offers this as the first item:

oven-googleYes, “a cremation chamber in a Nazi concentration camp.” Excellent, excellent. Right up there with Twitter reinstating the neo-Nazi Richard Spenser’s account,  or A&E’s planned series on the KKK.

And we on the left aren’t doing ourselves any favors with our sniping at those nearest to us rather than aiming our fire at the other side. I’m not against criticism (Santa Maria, I am not against criticism), but I’m seeing too much of the I WAS RIGHT/YOU SHUT UP variety and not enough of the What worked, what didn’t?

As Mark Twain is popularly attributed as saying, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I don’t trust anyone who knows for sure why we lost, not least because I used to know for sure that Donald Trump would never be president. The sting to my ego, however, is nothing compared to damage to come—damage which will be even greater if we fight each other rather than the forces which threaten us all.





When Johnny comes marching home again

11 10 2016

THE US IS NOT WEIMAR! I have shouted, hissed, flatlined, more than once.

And yet.

No, I’m not going back on that, but I wonder if a) the US was Weimar before Weimar was Weimar, and b) at least regarding the parties on the right, there isn’t something to the parallel.

B first: The Nationalist (DNVP, or German National People’s Party) was the main conservative party during the short-lived republic. It contained a mix of reactionaries and restorationists, militarists, aristocrats, and industrialists. It was anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, and rather constantly seeking to undermine whatever government (there were many)  was seated at the moment.

The old man, Hindenburg, won the presidency as an independent (but with the support of the old-line conservatives) in 1925 (thumping his former colleague Ludendorff, running as a Nazi) and beat Hitler for the job in 1932. When the Nazis won the most votes in the last free parliamentary elections in November of ’32, thereby paving the path to the chancellorship in January of 1933, Hindenburg crony (and Vice Chancellor) Franz von Papen famously told those worried about Hitler that ‘You are wrong. We’ve engaged him for ourselves.’ To another he said, ‘Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak.’

Well, that didn’t work so well, not least for Papen: he and his wife were murdered during the Night of Long Knives in 1934. (Nope, wrong: Papen was only put under house arrest, served as an ambassador for Nazi Germany, was acquitted at Nuremberg, and only died in 1969. It was General Kurt von Schleicher and his wife who were cut down.)

Anyway, there are some rough parallels to be drawn, I think, between the Nationalists and establishment (such as it is) Republicans, and between the Nazis and anti-GOP Trump supporters.

Again, these parallels are rough: I don’t think Trump is Hitler or his more, ah, avid supporters Nazis, although there are certain shared enthusiasms across both sets of followers. And the GOP establishment cannot fairly be compared too closely to the Nationalists: while they certainly want to restrict voting and are less than fully committed to civil rights for all citizens, they’re not actively plotting coups or looking to eliminate the Constitution.

Caveats deployed, the energy and anger of the anti-GOP Trumpeters, their bitterness toward any Republicans not waving his flag does echo the melodramatic intensity of Nazis, with the more lukewarm GOPpers standing in for the old Nationalists.

And the hatred for Democrats and Clinton, the cries to make America great again, the sense that the country has been corrupted and must be cleansed? Well, yeah, that too.

Back to a.

My knowledge of American history isn’t great, so treat this comparison even more gingerly than the previous one:

Was the US, or, more specifically, the former Confederacy, during Reconstruction akin to Weimar? That is, a fragile republic, all-too-soon overthrown by forces which never accepted the legitimacy of the rule?

I’m not going to go on about this, because I know neither the history of Reconstruction and its dismemberment nor that of the imposition of Jim Crow, I don’t know how well the anti-republican (and -Republican) forces and the political cultures match up, and there are clearly major differences.

Still.

Still, the lines are there, aren’t they?





The sailor who can read the sky

1 09 2016

How nice to not dread teaching.

I’ve mentioned this course before: Politics & Culture. I’m on the 4th version of it, and think I’ll be able to stick with this for quite awhile.

The first (women and human rights) and third (half mash-up, half Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) were slogs: they never quite came together. The third, built around Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development, was fine, but I got bored with it after awhile.

This version, which I introduced last fall, focuses on the Weimar Republic, and it all came together pretty well. As I did before, I’m using Richard Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich, a coupla’ chapters of Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, and Carl Schmitt’s The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (I’ve already warned the students about this one), as well as various online primary-source documents; for this semester, I’ve shifted a few things around, added some docs and discarded others, but otherwise kept it together.

And, oh yes, as I think I’ve mentioned 10 or 20 times, I totally dig the subject.

Happily, the more I read about it—I’m a little abashed, actually, at how little I knew going into it last year—the more I want to read about it. Which is good, not just for my own curiosity, but because I like to smother a subject.

It’s not enough to know just what’s on the syllabus, but all those bits and lines which both feed into and lead away from those topics. Or, to put it another way, if I want to cover a 4×4 square, I have to paint 6×6 or 8×8. Last year, it was more like 5×5 or even 4 1/2×4 1/2; this year, I think I’ll be closer to 6×6.

The over-painting metaphor no longer works for my bioethics course, which I’ve been teaching for years. Now, it’s about adding dimensions, tipping things over, and, most importantly, being willing to rip apart the fabric in front of the students. I’m now so comfortable with my knowledge of the subject that I’m willing to shred that knowledge, to say, What else is there?

Boredom while teaching a long-taught subject is always a risk—as I noted, I got bored teaching version 2 of Politics & Culture—but teaching long allows one really bring out the sheen on a topic. The problem with v. 2 was that while I cared some, I didn’t care enough about the central topic to want to spend time with it even when I wasn’t teaching it.

That’s not a problem with Weimar, or with biotech. I want to know, for myself, and it’s this greediness which in turn makes me excited to share.





Who knows, tonight, we may lose the battle!

16 12 2015

How about some numbers?

I’m a theorist, yes, but when it comes to elections, you gotta talk numbers.

So how about some numbers for Reichstag elections 1919-1932?

  • January 1919 (percentage of seats; bold are Weimar Coalition 1919-20; after 1920, parties in minority)
    • Social Democrats (SPD) 39%
    • [Catholic] Center (Z) 22%
    • German Workers Party (DDP) 18%
    • Nationalists (DNVP) 10%
    • Independent Social Democrats (USPD) 5%
    • German People’s Party (DVP) 4%
    • Others 2%
  • June 6, 1920
    • SPD 22%
    • USPD 18%
    • DNVP 15%
    • DVP 14%
    • Z 14%
    • DDP 8%
    • Bavarian People’s Party (BVP) 5%
    • Communists (KPD) 1%
    • Others 2%
  • November 30, 1923 (seats)
    • DDP +DVP + Z 168
    • SPD 103
    • USPD 83
    • DNVP 71
    • BVP 21
    • KPD 4
    • Others 10
  • May 4, 1924 (percentage)
    • SPD 21%
    • DNVP 20%
    • Z 14%
    • KPD 13%
    • DVP 10%
    • German People’s Freedom  Party (DFVP) + Nazis (NSDAP) 7%
    • DDP 6%
    • BVP 3%
    • Others 6%
  • December 7, 1924
    • SPD 27%
    • DNVP 21%
    • Z 14%
    • DVP 10%
    • KPD 9%
    • DDP 6%
    • BVP 4%
    • NSDAP 3%
    • Others 6%
  • May 20, 1928
    • SPD 31%
    • DNVP 15%
    • Z 13%
    • KPD 11%
    • DVP 9%
    • DDP 5%
    • BVP 3%
    • NSDAP 2%
    • Others 10%
  • September 14, 1930
    • SPD 25%
    • NSDAP 19%
    • KPD 13%
    • Z 12%
    • DNVP 7%
    • German State Party (DStP, former DDP) 3%
    • BVP 3%
    • Others 12%
  • July 31, 1932
    • NSDAP 38%
    • SPD 22%
    • KPD 15%
    • Z 12%
    • DNVP 6%
    • BVP 4%
    • DVP 1%
    • DStP 1%
    • Others 2%
  • November 6, 1932
    • NSDAP 34%
    • SDP  21%
    • KPD 17%
    • Z 12%
    • DNVP 9%
    • BVP 3%
    • DVP 2%
    • DStP 0% (tho’ still held 2 seats)
    • Others 2%

The November 1932 were the last free parliamentary elections; after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the fix was in, so while elections were held that year, they were in no way free. Even then, however, the Nazis couldn’t manage a majority: they received only 43.9% of the vote in the March 5 elections.

A coupla’ things to note about these numbers (helpfully provided by Fuad Aleskerov, Manfred J. Holler, and Rita Kamalova in their paper, Power Distribution in the Weimar Reichstag 1919-1933; note that they go on to analyze those electoral results and various governing coalitions):

  1. These are parliamentary election results, which may or may not have been reflected in who was chosen as chancellor—and there were alotttttta chancellors in this period.
  2. As noted in a previous post (as well as in bold, above), the Weimar coalition didn’t rule past 1920.
  3. A number of parties in parliament were, in fact, anti-parliamentarian: the rightist Nationalists (DNVP) most notably early on, and the Communist KPD and fascist NSDAP later.
  4. The two Catholic parties kind of straddled the republican line: The Center party (Z) was decidedly anti-left, but also valued their ability to participate fully in government; they moved to the right by the end of the 1920s. The Bavarian People’s party (BVP) was more conservative (and, obviously, found its power base in Bavaria) throughout this period.
  5. Finally, and rather importantly, look at those figures for NSDAP: After the failed beer-hall putsch in 1923, Hitler vowed he would take power via ‘legal’ means. Yet in elections from 1924-28, they were a marginal force in politics—the Nationalists were the main representative of the right in parliament. It was only after the onset of the Depression did the Nazis’ electoral fortunes improve.

That last bit is rather important: absent economic crisis, it is not clear that the republic would have fallen, nor that the Nazis would rise to destroy it all.

It’s an incredibly complex matter, complexities which I’ve barely touched on here nor in previous (and likely, future) posts, and which I’m still sorting out myself, but whatever other elements contributed to the end of Weimar, it’s nonsense to conclude that the republic fell of its own accord.

~~~

In addition to the Aleskerov, Holler, and Kamalova piece, I also relied upon Richard Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich and Detlev Peukert’s The Weimar Republic for various electoral and party information.





What good’s permitting some prophet of doom

15 12 2015

Ahem:

It’s a sort of Weimar Republic problem. The liberal left have the upper hand, and use it so carelessly and arrogantly, so totally despising those who disagree with them,  that they risk losing not just their own superficial gains, but the whole of free society. I believe this to be true, and have tried arguing it with members of the new elite, quite often. They haven’t been interested.

Excuse me Mr. Peter Hitchens but did YOU NOT READ MY LAST POST wherein I noted that THE LIBERAL PARTIES IN WEIMAR NEVER HELD A MAJORITY IN PARLIAMENT PAST 1920?!

No, no, you clearly did NOT.

~~~

h/t Rod Dreher

(And yes, I’ll continue my long-form diatribe tomorrow.)





We leave the door of Destiny ajar

14 12 2015

Superficially, one might see the resemblances between Weimar and the US:

  • the concern, even hysteria, over supposedly inhuman enemies
  • polarization in society
  • economic insecurity
  • sense of wounded nationalism
  • dizzying movements within the culture
  • distrust of government
  • violence

But even more apparent is the crucial difference between the two:

  • the acceptance of Constitution itself

This is crucial because, in Weimar, large portions of the polity never accepted the constitution, never accepted the republic.

Part of this was due to, as I mentioned, the post-abdication government’s acceptance of the Armistice, and of the signing of the hated Treaty of Versailles: the German public couldn’t believe it had lost, and considered the harsh terms of the Treaty unjust. That the loss of territory, control over industrial regions, and, of course, reparations, made economic recovery difficult only heightened the skepticism toward a government which had apparently allowed all of this to happen.

Not everyone felt this way, of course. While liberal parties never managed to hold a majority in the Reichstag after 1920, the Social Democrats, the German Democratic Party, and the Catholic Center Party did hold significant chunks of parliament throughout this period, with various liberals holding the chancellorship as well.

But even had the Constitution been configured differently—the chancellor was appointed by an elected president, he was not simply the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in the Reichstag—it’s difficult to see how the republic could have overcome the irreconcilable differences in the polity itself.

Germany was divided between the reactionaries (those who wanted to restore the monarchy), the conservatives (ranging from nationalist-bourgeoisie to militarists), and liberals (social democrats, liberal-bourgeoisie); tucked in amongst these were Catholic interests, which tended toward conservatism (fear and loathing of the left) but which also appreciated the chance to participate in governance; the Communists, which by the 1920s subordinated themselves to Moscow; and various fascist groups, which had almost no role in government but which fought and killed in the streets throughout the decade.

Finally, after 1925 and with the election of Hindenburg, the republic’s president was a man who loathed the republic.

But it wasn’t just the politicians and the parties (many of which had paramilitary arms which regularly engaged in violence), but the institutions of the state itself were cool to the republic. The civil service was thoroughly conservative, as was the judiciary as well as the army. Bureaucrats, judges, and military officials rarely attacked the republic directly, but they never accepted it as legitimate; in the case of the judiciary, they would often sympathize with rightists who were brought before the bench, and raising a “patriotic” defense was often the ticket to either acquittal or a lenient sentence.

So, for example, none of the surviving conspirators in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau served more than five years, and only one of the conspirators involved in the Kapp putsch served any time at all.

And, most famously, the man at the head of the beer-hall putsch in Munich, one Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler (he didn’t become a German citizen until 1932), not only wasn’t deported, he was given free rein to speechify in court, and given only a five-year sentence in ‘fortress incarceration’—of which he served only a year.

The US polity is at least somewhat polarized (there is some controversy as to how much), but one touchstone for pretty much everyone is the Constitution: everybody who is anybody says they love it.

We don’t all love it the same way, of course, but does anyone think that the assassination of the Secretary State would lead to a sentence of less than 10 years? That the attempted armed overthrow of a state government (with the announced intention to overthrow the federal government) by a non-citizen would lead to prison term of merely 5 years? and that he’d be out after a year? and not deported?

In fact, for as violent a society as the US is, our violence is, largely, non-political. This hardly makes it benign (especially when perpetrated by officials of the state, i.e., the police), but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have paramilitary wings and their members tend not to participate in assassination attempts of political figures.

Furthermore, when someone is killed for political reasons—say, a doctor who performs abortions—most political leaders will distance themselves from the act itself (even if they do express sympathy for the motive). Just as if not more importantly, prosecutors, juries, and judges tend not to wave away such murders.

In other words, whatever the problems with our republic, most citizens, most elected officials, and most of the members filling the institutions of government, nonetheless accept the structure of the government.

I am very critical of elected officials (say, some Republicans) who suggest that other elected officials (say, some Democrats) are illegitimate, in no small part because attacks on the existence of the opposition in government is an attack on the legitimacy of the government itself—a dangerous proposition for any member of government to take. But even with Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and the birther conspiracies and Mike Huckabee’s intimations that the president is some kind of traitor  (Jesus FUCK, Huckabee!), I have no doubt that any attempt on the life of the president, members of his Cabinet, or of anyone running for president would be met by near-universal condemnation.

(Yeah, near-universal: there will always be those who celebrate assassination, and some of the public condemners might be private celebrators, but it would be understood by all that public glee at the murder of a public official punches one’s ticket to the fringe.)

Which is to say, as much as folks may dislike the government, it’s probably not going too far to say they’d dislike the violent overthrow of that government even more.

To be continued.