Three or four years ago, whilst attending a performance by the radically subversive music duo The Rubberbandits, a friend sent a text, “It’s Weimar.”
There was a chilling moment when reflecting on his words. Weimar permitted artistic and social radicalism, it allowed freedoms unimaginable before the Great War. Weimar also failed to develop durable democratic institutions, it failed to address the rising mood of populism and disaffection, it failed to stop the advance of National Socialism.
It was uncomfortable to think that the current times might bear any resemblance to Weimar. There was a hope that any discernible similarity might quickly disappear. The text pre-dated any of the political developments of the past two years; it pre-dated the rise of British xenophobia and the triumph of populism in the United States. It causes one to wonder how durable might be our democratic institutions.
The relentless rolling news coverage of Brexit and Trump has brought an instinctive desire to change channel – ITV 3 and BBC 4 have become the places of refuge. Last night was a delight, at nine o’clock on BBC 4 there was the first programme in a series, The Art of France. It was a programme that offered an escape from ugliness, an encounter with pure beauty. Watching only news-free television channels has been accompanied by keeping the car radio tuned to RTE Lyric FM, where news is confined to brief bulletins at half past the hour.
Retreating from the unpleasantness of the world, it is not hard to imagine why pastors ministering in oppressive regimes might have retreated into their books and their parish duties.
“It’s Weimar.” My friend’s comment surfaces in the consciousness. Victoria Barnett’s book, “For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler,” identifies those who, like myself, retreated from the horrible reality of the world outside into the privacy of their own studies and ministry. A reflection in 1988 by Hans Thimme, a pastor in 1930s Germany, makes no attempt at excuses:
. . . All of us were compromisers, somehow, one almost has to say that, even those who were consistent opponents. Only in retrospect does one notice how one existed somewhat schizophrenically I was a pastor of the Confessing Church, and I never made any secret of that … but I always said, I am not against the state; I’m against this ideology. But basically one couldn’t separate the ideology from the state, since this ideology was the official state. And here one made compromises, and – it’s hard to say. I don’t know if I could do differently, if the situation repeated itself.
Turning to BBC 4 instead of watching the nine o’clock news means avoiding realities that are immediate, it means compromise, but it is hard to know how to make any difference.
The parallels with the 1930s have become quite scary. The populism of UKIP and Tory eurosceptics as well as Cameron’s opportunism brought Brexit; the disconnect between politicians and the people who have lost out economically and been punished by austerity helped Trump and may help Gert Wilders, Marinne LePen, and Golden Dawn if there is a Greek election (which is a real possibility as the EU wants the Greek government to make more cuts); a leader of Merkel’s Bavarian CSU partners has agreed with Trump. The so-called centre-left has either stood by or cooperated while its supporters suffered under austerity. Scary times indeed.
The increase in the gold supply, coupled with the vast increase in the food supply from the US meant that large sections of the population of Europe were left behind in the 50 years before the first war. The real error non historians make is in thinking the issues of the 20s and 30s came about because to the war. They were in place and very active long before then. France was the only country to get through the post war years with something like a stability, and that mostly because it’s issues were exposed around the time of Dreyfus.
What makes today so similar is the sheer lack of awareness by a ‘liberal’ cohort living within a financial thought experiment concocted by themselves that anyone of worth exists outside it.
The Weimar comparison was made by a well-known Irish economist.
The Great Depression of the 1930s arose not from the Crash of 1929, but from the classical economists’ response to it which created a huge demand deficit and a downward spiral
Two problems the economists don’t really address. It isn’t that there are economic shocks, it’s who and where within the system it hits hardest. It isn’t Detroit or Newcastle that caused Trump or Brexit, but the utter idiocy of how over the last few years the economic crises has been ‘solved’.
And what the Establishment in the western countries have succeeded in doing is destabilizing and removed hope from the very sections of society that are the Base. For the sake of neat mathematics and a delusional banking system they decided to undo 400 years of progress where a combination of hope and safety held the keel even.