Thursday, June 16, 2016

Quote of the day – “The enemy stands on the Right”

“There stands the enemy (to the right), who drips his poison in the wounds of the people – There stands the enemy – and about that there is no doubt: the enemy stands on the Right!”
These are the concluding words of an impassioned speech by Joseph Wirth in the German Reichstag in the aftermath of the murder of Walter Rathenau by an organization of nationalist thugs in 1922.* According to Wikipedia:
Rathenau’s assassination was but one in a series of terrorist attacks by Organisation Consul. Most notable among them had been the assassination of former finance minister Matthias Erzberger in August 1921. While Fischer and Kern prepared their plot, former chancellor Philipp Scheidemann barely survived an attempt on his life by Organisation Consul assassins on 4 June 1922. Historian Martin Sabrow points to Hermann Ehrhardt, the undisputed leader of the Organisation Consul, as the one who ordered the murders. Ehrhardt and his men believed that Rathenau’s death would bring down the government and prompt the Left to act against the Weimar Republic, thereby provoking civil war, in which the Organisation Consul would be called on for help by the Reichswehr. After an anticipated victory Ehrhardt hoped to establish an authoritarian regime or a military dictatorship. In order not to be completely delegitimized by the murder of Rathenau, Ehrhardt carefully saw to it that no connections between him and the assassins could be detected. Although Fischer and Kern connected with the Berlin chapter of the Organisation Consul to use its resources, they mainly acted on their own in planning and carrying out the assassination.

The terrorists’ aims were not achieved, however, and civil war did not come. Instead, millions of Germans gathered on the streets to express their grief and to demonstrate against counter-revolutionary terrorism….

…Initially, the reactions to Rathenau’s assassination strengthened the Weimar Republic. The most notable reaction was the enactment of the Republikschutzgesetz (Law for the Defense of the Republic), which took effect on 22 July 1922. As long as the Weimar Republic existed, the date 24 June remained a day of public commemorations. In public memory, Rathenau’s death increasingly appeared to be a martyr-like sacrifice for democracy.

Things changed with the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. The Nazis systematically wiped out public commemoration of Rathenau by destroying monuments to him, closing the Walther-Rathenau-Museum in his former mansion, and renaming streets and schools dedicated to him. Instead, a memorial plate to Kern and Fischer was solemnly unveiled at Saaleck Castle in July 1933 and in October 1933, a monument was erected on the assassins’ grave.
* Quoted in Eric P. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, 2007, p. 100.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quote of the day – on arguing with bigots

“Do not think that antisemites are completely unaware of the absurdity of these answers. They know that their statements are empty and contestable; but it amuses them to make such statements: it is their adversary whose duty it is to choose his words seriously because he believes in words. They have a right to play. They even like to play with speech because while putting forth ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutor; they are enchanted with their unfairness because for them it is not a question of persuading by good argument but of intimidating or disorienting. If you insist too much, they close up, they point out with one superb word that the time to argue has passed. Not that they are afraid of being convinced: their only fear is that they will look ridiculous or that their embarrassment will make a bad impression on a third party whom they want to get on their side. Thus if the antisemite is impervious, as everyone has been able to observe, to reason and experience, it is not because his conviction is so strong, but rather his conviction is strong because he has chosen to be impervious.”
- Jean-Paul Sartre, “Portrait of the Anti-Semite”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“Put Your Hands Up”

Quote of the day – interests and truth

“There are always groups whose interest is furthered by truth, and their representatives have been the pioneers of human thought; there are other groups whose interests are furthered by concealing truth. Only in the latter case does interest prove harmful to the cause of truth. The problem, therefore, is not that there is an interest at stake, but which kind of interest is at stake.”
– Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, p. 248

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

Quote of the day – Trump reality vs. Trump illusion

“Although Donald’s business career is marked by early successes overshadowed by later, repeated failures, flirtations with personal bankruptcy, sequential corporate bankruptcies, the squandering of billions of dollars, and the safety cushion of a multimillion-dollar inheritance from his wealthy father, he is prime-time TV’s most sought-after and enchanting guru for aspiring entrepreneurs. Donald is the country’s premier embodiment of the self-made man.” – Timothy L. O’Brien, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald (2005)
I highly recommend Chapter 8, “TrumpSpin,” to members of the media.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Quote of the day - The City without Jews

“A human wall encircled the beautiful, calm, and noble parliament building. The wall extended from the city’s university and went all the way up to the Bellaria. This one morning in June at 10 o’clock, it seemed that the whole of Vienna had gathered to witness a historical event of unprecedented magnitude…. And again and again, an excited one would step forward and address the audience around him; and again and again, the same call could be heard:

‘Out with the Jews!’

…Suddenly, the masses cried out with one voice:

‘Let’s cheer for Dr. Karl Schwertfeger: hip, hip, hooray! Long live the liberator of Austria!’

…‘You’ll immediately hear what will happen. Our chancellor Dr. Karl Schwertfeger will explain meticulously the “Deportation of all Non-Aryan People from Austria Act’…

…‘Ladies and Gentlemen! I am here to introduce an act and an amendment to the constitution which together will do nothing less than to enforce the deportation of the non-Aryan, Jewish population of Austria.

…Throughout my five years as party leader, the so called liberal press and the social democratic press alike, or, in other words, all the newspapers published by Jews have tried to make me look like some sort of boogeyman. They portrayed me as an angry anti-Semite and as a fanatic hater of Judaism and the Jews. Today, now that the power of the press has come to an irrevocable end, I feel the urge to declare that all of this talk is nonsense. Oh, yes, I’m brave enough today to stand here on this very platform and to declare that I’m a friend of the Jews rather than their enemy!

…Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cherish the Jews. …I am prepared to admire the down-to-earth Jewish virtues, their extraordinary intelligence, their efforts to climb the social ladder, their exemplary sense of family, their internationality, and their ability to adapt to any milieu!

…Nonetheless, that’s exactly the reason why, with time, I came to believe that we, the non-Jews, can no longer live amongst and with the Jews. It’s either hook or crook. We have to either lose our Christian ways, our very essence, or renounce the Jews.

…They’ve taken control over our economy, our spiritual and our cultural life.

…And now that we hold the power in our hands, we’d be fools, no, our own enemies and the enemies of our children if we did not make use of this power and drive away the small minority that is destroying us. This has nothing to do with catchphrases and slogans such as “humanity,” “justice,” and “tolerance,” but with our mere existence, our very lives, and the lives of future generations!’

…And 10.000 throats answered from the street: ‘Out with the Jews!’

Dr. Schwertfeger let the excitement fade out, received handshakes from his fellow ministers, and then started talking about how the law would be implemented. One would proceed with utmost care and fairness and in accordance with the demands of humanity and the terms of the League of Nations….” - Hugo Bettauer, The City without Jews (1922)
The City without Jews is a satirical work describing the unforeseen consequences of the deportation of Jewish people from Austria. It’s not a great work of literature but it is a short, lively story with some darkly funny moments.* That it was written as political satire with no knowledge of what was to happen in Austria or to the author himself and the comedic treatment of the situation and the leading anti-Semites (allegedly based on real political figures) make it a difficult book to read. Its prescient details – the greeting “Heil!” gains popularity after the deportations, for example – leave a knot in your throat.

In an interesting coincidence, two of the characters who are government representatives are Secretary of the Treasury Trumm and Privy Councilor Tumpel, who argues shortly after the expulsion that “the Indogermanic naivety of our people ventures out again!”

In 1925, following open calls for his death in Austrian Nazi publications and the release of the Expressionist film based on the popular book, Bettauer was murdered by a young Nazi named Otto Rothstock. Pleading insanity, Rothstock was sent to a psychiatric institution, from which he was released within months.

* I’ve read some reviews suggesting that Bettauer at times falls into anti-Semitic stereotypes, but I believe they’re missing the point. As a satirist Bettauer – a Jewish man who converted to Evangelicalism in his late teens, possibly to try for a career in the Austrian military – was likely using and exaggerating these stereotypes for comedic and critical effect. This would seem to be confirmed by the stereotypes of Austrian Christians, who often state themselves that they have to expel the smart and adaptable Jews for whom, in their honest simplicity, they’re no match. Some of the funniest moments are in the descriptions of Vienna in the months and years after the Jews have been deported – style, glamour, and sophistication gone; the city giving way to “ruralization”; women wearing dirndl skirts (“which, indeed, look very nice when worn in the open country. Here, they looked like a bad joke or caricature”); cultural establishments turned into beer halls; businesses going to pot; and so on. I think what Bettauer is trying to do is to show how the anti-Semitic stereotypes implied a contrasting, and amusingly stereotypical, picture of non-Jewish Austrians.

Recommended: Wild Tales (2014)

I loved this film despite hating its underlying premise.

As the title suggests, and the opening credits make explicit, Wild Tales is based on the notion that we’re a heartbeat away from “regressing” to our animal nature. As expected, this nature is characterized by: violence, vengeance, irrationality, lust, the reflexive defense of kin and tribe, greed, and gluttony.

This sort of speciesism – which itself underlies a great deal of racism, sexism, and political repression - we can and should avoid, particularly in works that aspire to political satire or social criticism. Director Damián Szifrón has discussed the film’s theme:
Despite the clear common theme of violence and vengeance, what connects the accounts, according to the director, is ‘the fuzzy boundary that separates civilization from barbarism, the vertigo of losing your temper, and the undeniable pleasure of losing control’. This is explored through the concept that human beings have animalistic features. Szifron considers the main difference between human and animals is the capacity one has to restrain oneself as opposed to animals who are guided by their instincts. Humans ‘have a fight or flee mechanism, but it comes with a very high cost. Most of us live with the frustration of having to repress oneself, but some people explode. This is a movie about those who explode’. It deals with ‘daily life’ aspects and ‘is a movie about the desire for freedom, and how this lack of freedom, and the rage and anguish it produces, can cause us to run off the rails’. The main issue, according to Szifron, ‘is the pleasure of reacting, the pleasure of reacting toward injustice’. (my emphasis)
The Freudian distinction between a repressed “civilization” and a “barbarous” freedom, in addition to isolating the human characters with their alleged instincts and drives, presents an obstacle to working out a real approach to political freedom and social justice. As I said, I loved the film, but it could have been a much stronger work of art, a stinging and biting social satire, had it questioned and challenged received wisdom about “civilization” and “barbarism,” “human” and “animal,” rather than reproducing it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quote of the day – hammock literature

This one hits a little too close to home.
…Literature? Yes. Hammock literature. Literature made of sugar and vanilla. Tourist literature. The Blue Travel Guide and General Confederation of Labor. Poetry, not in the least.

…And this:
Oh father of my father, you were standing there before
my soul which had not been born and, under the wind
the dispatch boats glided into the colonial night
Come on now, real poetry lies elsewhere. Far from rhymes, laments, sea breezes, parrots. Stiff and stout bamboos changing direction, we decree the death of sappy, sentimental, folkloric literature. And to hell with hibiscus, frangipani, and bougainvillea.

Martinican poetry will be cannibal or it will not be.
- Suzanne Césaire, “Poetic Destitution,” Tropiques, no. 4, January 1942 (quoted in Suzanne Césaire, The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945))

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now!

“We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history.”

If you prefer, you can read the transcripts here and here.

Recommended: Testament of Youth

Sunday, May 8, 2016