A Nazi Dedication: How hHistory Can Be Normalized

Here is a dystopia that came awfully close to coming true and which shows how history can be normalized by rhetoric and so come to be just the substance of the familiar and the everyday.

Remarks at the Dedication of the Berlin Center for Judaic Studies (1994):        

In the Spring of l950, when the Fuhrer was taken from us, worn down by his years of service to the European peoples, it would have surprised the world that the international system he put in place would still be in place, stronger than ever, half a century later. His dramatic and memorable declaration of l945, "The Channel is deeper than the Atlantic", had allowed the British to accept the bitterness of their inevitable defeat: their armies decimated in Africa; their cities devastated by the Luftwaffe; their population demoralized; and a grand army about to be lifted by the then newly invented jet transports in an invasion by airbridge over the now militarily meaningless Channel. Let the British and their American and Commonwealth allies control the intercontinental oceans, the Fuhrer was saying. They shared a similar bourgeois way of life-- and a similar set of economic problems. The Continent, however, would achieve its rightful unity as the Federal Republic of Europe, a destiny which had eluded it since the collapse of Christendom as a unifying ideal some five hundred years before. Fratricide in Europe was finally over.

But the Fuhrer, whose title was retired after his death lest, like the later Caesars, his successors should presume to such a reach of power without the same reach of imagination and judgment, could not have foretold the technical advances which would guarantee his achievements. The United States, exhausted from its war with Japan, could not use its atom bomb to challenge Germany, since that might provoke us to use our own atomic weapons. The English speaking alliance was so impressed by German rocket delivery systems that they were not aware of how few were the nuclear weapons we could have actually launched during the early fifties. The Russians continued to cower behind their Slavic wall of snow, threatening but also threatened, as they had been throughout their history.

The nuclear impasse, as it has come to be called, froze in place but could not have forged those blocs of states, those continental entities, which had their own natural logic in geographical and racial realities, whatever the technological situation. What the Fuhrer had done, then, was to create a super-state system such as had never before existed and whose dynamics will allow it to survive for the proverbial l000 years.       His powerful and wise vision of the political future was supplemented with the artful application of more than a bit of the Fuhrer's well known folk-guile in handling and surviving not only the trio of foreign fools-- the drunk, the cripple, and the madman-- but members of his own volatile entourage, which included the clownish Goering, who was saved from destroying the Luftwaffe, and the Satanic Himmler, who wished to set up a state within a state, a kingdom of Jews that would know no borders, but would have the money and industrial might to rob Europe of its gains.            

The Jews were certainly not the innocent pawns of Himmler, as some have claimed, but neither did they deserve the suffering that came from their compact with that devil, who tested wills with the Fuhrer even while the great man lay on his deathbed, and who, as every European knows, and as every schoolchild should learn, was finally cast into the nether regions by the Potsdam Coalition of military officers and public figures who had heard the Fuhrer appeal to them "to save the revolution from those who would transvaluate it."

The Fuhrer would be pleased to see that his revolution in international order has indeed been saved, and there is in Europe today a new Renaissance, a flowering of music and commerce, of philosophy and technology, such as the world has never seen, as man finally comes to understand the fulfillment of his individual self in his collective self, the centuries old division between public demeanor and private inclination fused in the liberated public soul who is not afraid to do what he is, to act out and on his natural inclinations as a German or a Frenchman or an Italian, as well as on his narrower and even broader identities, those he shares with Britons, Chinese or South Americans, a common humanity based not in abstractions but in successive layers of selfhood.

These well know accomplishments of our time are not, however, the main burden of the remarks I wish to address to you, my comrades, as we think through together how not to stagnate in our good fortune but, again to quote the Fuhrer, how to "consolidate by innovation; and innovate through consolidation."

How are we, for example, to deal with the dark cloud that hangs over our heads because of the shameful policy towards the Jews that was carried out during the Fuhrer's waning days and can no longer be dismissed as mere excesses of consolidation, as if the liquidation of peoples were a policy natural to the German soul. Yes, Rome had liquidated Carthage, but the Fuhrer had not done so with his enemies to the East or the West, so it is fair to ask why these terrible events took place within the continent under German control, and not make facile generalizations about the circumstances of a time of trouble, or the human costs involved in any great transformation. Germans do not look away from the truth.

Perhaps we can begin with one of those authors who have been, as they say, "rehabilitated" in the last few years. Simone Weil, the French Catholic Jewess, had multiply conflicting identities that led her not only to suicide, but to probe for a more solid basis for her life, and so led her to the ancient Greeks, on whom all European Civilization is built. Paul de Man, in the introduction to the selection of her works which he edited ten years ago, when it was still a brave thing to do, captures her essential flavor: "This is a woman who contrived and forced absolute oppositions, between power and grace, between self and society, between education and authority, only to overcome them, so that each term became an expression of what it would eliminate: society the source of the self, education grounded in the idea of the authority of the teacher and of truth, and most important, power as the awesome capacity to offer grace. Weil struggles to reconcile the truly European but abstract understanding of order and liberty found in Kant with the passion and cultural identity of the Romantic and nationalistic movements which follow Kant. Weil is part of the unleashing of a self-confident freedom that is actual and not just theoretical, but which her own prismatic consciousness does not allow her to adequately appreciate. The contemplation of Kantian-like antinomies results, in her tragic case, in a morbid, inward-turning despair."

This passage allows us to appreciate the limitations of the Jewish soul and the difficulties in dealing with it that led to extravagant and fantastic attempts to resolve the dilemma of the Jew in Europe. The Jewish soul has a literalness, as Wittgenstein recognized, a poetical antipathy to poetry, that is the companion piece to its cultural uncertainty, inevitable in a people without a homeland, and so incapable of that act of free will, that act of grace, which gives full volition to the acceptance of any national patrimony. All nations other than their ancient one are to them means towards personal happiness rather than ends in themselves. Jews did not experience nationhood as a way of life, a way of being rather than a comparative advantage to material benefit, until, with the help of German diplomacy, their remnant was able in the past quarter century to establish a homeland in the Mideast-- one that has drawn little support, one might add, from their American co-religionists who seem happy to have sold their culture for a mess of material privilege, and their Russian coreligionists who, as in all other matters, remain silent.

These diplomatic initiatives, and the financial aid to establish the Jewish homeland, were not undertaken as reparations for past crimes, though it would be in keeping with German magnanimity to treat them as such, for what is wrong about righting a past injustice, especially when it involved the wholesale slaughter of a people, and not just its culpable elite, by a madman acting in the guise of state authority? The S. S. did not understand, refused to understand, could not understand, that cultural and racial problems require cultural and racial solutions: the imposition of a healthy disrespect between the parties, and a segregation more dear than life itself. Murder merely cheapens the cultural chasm. To alter Weil, power can establish grace, but if it is wrongly used, it merely asserts its own unknowingness.

This literary-cultural analysis could be further pursued, but is merely the backdrop for the pertinent political question of how to regard the historical record, whether it is a threat to our accomplishments or not.

I take the negative answer. The atrocities of the late forties are certainly a blemish on the German record, and cannot be justified as an excess of a youthful revolution still finding itself. But these atrocities did not have to be: they were not central to the idea and practice of the revolution, which was to be brutal to its actual enemies, forgiving to its possible allies, and tactful with those with whom it should sever connections. The Jews were unnecessarily but understandably seen as a threat because they were in our midst rather than across the Channel, and because they had collectively subverted German history, for which their children deserved, by right, only ostracism. The establishment of Israel was a way for Germany to free itself of its own double legacy of Jews as a burden and of Jews as victims. It was a rational solution as well as a moral one, and one of which we have no need to be ashamed, though we should continue to look out for diabolical figures, even those in our own midst, who continue to have a Himmler-like thirst for blood that they believe compensates for the racial greed of another group. Germany, and Europe, will prosper when we overcome dichotomies rather than choose between them.