Sunday, October 8, 2017

Modern Jewish Literature - First 3/8ths - Austro-Hungarian Empire - Jews Under Imperial Rule - needs to be cut

(I've learned that the best way of doing it is to write the classes up, then improvise freely and have a place to depart from and come back to)

I want to start this by showing you one of the most extraordinary photographs in the history of the world. No fiction writer could have written anything this perfect. Some people even dispute its veracity, but if it's true, and it seems that a majority of people think it is, the coincidence boggles the mind.

This is a photo taken in Linz, the fourth largest city in Austria, from what Germans call a Gymnasium - roughly equivalent to a high school. Nothing extraordinary about this photo seems apparent. But look at the right corner of this photo.  Bottom row, three from the right, is the young Ludwig Wittgenstein, skipping a grade, and even today, regarded almost universally as the greatest philosopher of of the 20th century. Top row, held back a year, at the appropriately far right, is none other than the young Adolph Hitler. The twin polls of German fate, of everything that Germany was and is, the yin and yang, or perhaps more appropriately - the thesis and antithesis, were classmates for a year.

Wittgenstein, a Jew, coming from one of Europe's richest families, whose family owned at least 13 mansions in Vienna. Like everyone in his family, he was utterly brilliant, educated to a level past what most human beings could ever conceive, given every advantage in life and completely determined to make proper use of them, utterly difficult, and treated everyone around him with complete disdain. Like all his brothers, could have been or done anything, and his father did everything he could to force his sons to follow in their father's footsteps to be an industrialist. For Wittgenstein, Linz was the boonies. The other, a boy from a town called Braunau am Inn, literally a town whose name means it's near a hotel. As a boy he was a devout Catholic who considered becoming a priest until his younger brother died of measles, and his personality forever changed. He became sensitive, wanted to become an artist, and his domineering father wanted him to follow in his footsteps to become a customs inspector. For a Hitler, a gymnasium in Linz was probably the best they could ever hope for, and to be held back a grade was humiliating.

Please understand, I'm not trying to explain Hitler or Wittgenstein. I'm trying to explain how their stories are so unbelievably typical of their time and place. They're almost archetypes of the two defining questions in Austro-German life of the period. Why are Jews so successful? And have they achieved success on our backs?

It is so easy to imagine a shy lower-middle-class kid from rural Austria who can't concentrate in class and knows he's much much brighter than anybody gives him credit for, looking at this incredibly arrogant boy king who knows the answer to every question, who mercilessly trounces this shy country bumpkin in a class discussion, and the disadvantaged boy thinks thoughts like 'If I had his advantages, I would be just like him.' or 'All that money buys him time to learn all the knowledge, but all that knowledge doesn't stop him from being a complete scheißkopf.' or 'If all the knowledge of this scheißkopf can't stop him from acting like this, maybe it's something innate in him that both makes him so intelligent and so horrible.' It's just as easy to think of Wittgenstein seeing an article in a newspaper about this insane racist in Munich stirring up trouble in the early 20's and thinking 'Hey! I know that guy!', or just hearing the idiocies of any number of other Nationalist antisemites Wittgenstein no doubt came across long before Hitler made a name for himself, and thinking to himself - all this talk of blood and soil is lunacy, the only thing that obviously connects these people together is a language, and if other people don't speak the same language, or speak the language 'mit a heccent', they are bound to be misunderstood, and therefore mistrusted.

The point of this thought-experiment is not to psychologize either of them. We're not even going to talk about either of them all that much. The point is to psychologize all those normal Germans who followed Hitler. There's something about the speculation about how these two people so seminal in the life of the world might have helped form each other, that makes us more easily see the fundamental schism in life of German-speaking people that led directly to the most progressive place in the entire world tearing itself to shreds.

One side of the schism believes in roots without wings, the other believes in wings without roots. On one side of that schism, you have Germans of small towns who think their way of life as they believe it's been practiced since time immemorial is under threat, and that they must revert to the most extreme measures to protect their way of life. On the other side of the schism, you have self-consciously cosmopolitan Germans of the cities, who find much more common cause with progressive residents of large cities elsewhere than they do with their own rural countrymen, who see the rural life as being created on the backs of oppression, and possibly that everything in history until this moment was created by idiots and charlatans who still want to keep the world in the Dark Ages, .

Anybody see any similarities to our own time?

If these two sides are hurtling toward unalterable violent conflict, what could have been done to stop them, or is it worth simply letting them clash and let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out?

A liberal society, a pluralist society, exists to find ways to make both ways of life and any way of life, able to be lived in such a way that it does a minimum of harm to people who live differently - and exploits the tension between all these multiple perspectives as checks and balances on one another and a constructive way of synthesizing all points of view - even as, and particularly because, it allows every side to criticize each other mercilessly. A process like this is what one historian I love called the 'vital center' of discourse. Not a vital center in the sense of some mushy ideological center that unthinkingly takes the center point between two sides, but a relentlessly analytical center that is able to process millions of variables to create a proper context and finds solutions that do the most help to the most number of people and the least harm to the least number. That is the liberal way, and that is the Jewish way.

History is not something with hard and fast rules, and yet if there seems to be a hard and fast rule to history, it's this: The more and better space a country makes for Jews, the further the country rises in prosperity, glory, well-being, and even virtues like freedom, justice, and equality. But if or when the country tires of Jews, and it's always a when, the persecution and expulsion of Jews results in near-equivalent catastrophes for the offending nation. Of course, there are exceptions, there always are. And yet, here are two of the more nebulous examples...

Example 1: The year Spain expelled Jews with the Alhambra decree was 1492... Spain went from being a multicultural place in which Catholics, Muslims, and Jews associated in a reasonably tolerant manner to a Catholic world empire run by the Inquisition that inflicted still greater sufferings onto indigenous peoples than they did on Jews. But an Empire can be a curse, particularly when it's run badly. The pilfering of the New World resulted in the kind of easy money prosperity that always becomes a curse disguised as a blessing. The wealth disparities become larger, the government grows into severer and severer debt, they never seemed to a single war against any European power, and the State no longer has the power to curb the worst excesses of their religious organizations. The Spanish were clearly better off before they attained such power, and by the 17th century, the Spanish were just a husk of their former glory. 

Example 2: It took the Roman Empire another three hundred years to fall after they decimated the population of Judea to the point that blood watered the crops. Nevertheless, the Roman Empire began to decline a generation after the Jewish genocide. The Roman Empire grew to the height of its territory at the end of Trajan's reign in 116-117 AD, about fifteen years before the Bar Kokhba Rebellion. It was Hadrian, referred to as the second of the 'Five Good Emperors', who ordered the genocide. Thirty years after the seceding Judean State was put down, the Antonine Plague hit Rome, it may have been smallpox or measles though we obviously have no way of knowing. At some points it resulted in 2,000 deaths a day just in the city of Rome, and it was estimated that the Empire lost five million people. In 180 AD, the year the Antonine Plague ended, Marcus Aurelius, the last supposedly of the Five Good Emperors, was succeeded by his son Commodus, who may have murdered him so that Marcus Aurelius wouldn't have appointed a much better successor. He allowed just about all the positions in his government to be sold and declared himself a God. All this had happened with Emperors before, but whenever it had, Rome recovered fairly quickly. Not this time. After Commodus was assassinated, the potentially great Emperor, Pertinax, was quickly killed by his own guards, and the Emperorship was auctioned off. Rome never recovered, corruption was rampant, invaders were pushing back their territory on every side, and this eternal-seeming Western Empire which took nearly a thousand years of struggle to build took less than three hundred years to completely fall.

The point of these examples is not to say that there was divine retribution. The point is to say that  treatment of Jews everywhere is a symptom of how a government uses or abuses its power. If they use the power wisely, they will continue to rise. If they use it badly, it is a symptom of an imminent decline. Other examples of how various Empires were punished: the Holy Roman Empire during the Crusades, the Germans at the end of World War II and the Russians in the entirety of the 20th century, the decline is quite a bit more obvious than that.

For better or worse, we're not going to talk much about these catastrophes before the 20th century, which is a shame because so little is taught about them in the wake of the Shoah. But if you add them up, I would at least imagine that the death toll of 3000 years of Jewish massacres would be roughly equivalent to what happened under the Nazis. This is a topic we all should know much more about than we do and which I'd like to teach about somewhere whenever I know enough about it to do it - though would that most people under the age of 70 knew enough about 20th century history...

And please also understand, I'm not saying any of this to give supernatural credence to the Jewish covenant. I'm definitely a Jew, but I subscribe to my father's point of view that 'There is no God, and He gave us the Torah at Mt. Sinai.' Like almost all Jews who aren't Charedi, we just kinda 'do it', whether or not we 100% believe in it or understand it, and most modern progressives would hear that and would never be able to understand why even if you explain it to them perfectly clearly. They abide by a concept they currently call 'intentionality', a term makes no sense in a Jewish rubric.

Can someone define intentionality for me?

Intentionality is a word with lots of philosophical meanings which have nothing to do with how it's generally used, but in the sense which Social Justice types generally use it, seems to mean to live with a purpose that you choose for yourself with complete independence - and it's amazing how everybody who lives with this kind of intentionality chooses to live for the exact same causes. In Judaism, there is no such thing as complete independence of choice. Jews are all individuals, God knows..., but our individuality is just one small hub in the long and and hopefully eternal unfolding of Jewish History, to which each of us contributes our own chapter of the story, and the individuality of each of our personalities is only strengthened by the burdensome tensions that exist in our interactions with both each other and with the larger world. Many Jews try desperately hard to leave the covenant behind, only to find that it takes an unfathomably enormous psychic toll either on them or on their families. We are, for better or worse, utterly glued to this religion, and by modern standards blackmailed to stay within its bounds, and any fulfillment in our lives may be dependent on finding any place at all within it.

I'm not giving this thesis of Jewish history for any reason having to do with God, the reasons for this should be obvious in human terms - yet it never seems to be. By definition, a society which values Jews is a society primed to value people who are different from themselves and grow from the benefits of an exchange of knowledge. We Jews are the world's natural guests, the world's travelers, and please don't make this think that I mean this in any sense of self-congratulation, the world's glue.

We have been everywhere, we have experienced all manner of societies whose perspectives would never occur to people born in the lands their ancestors lived a thousand years ago or even a hundred years ago. Every place Jews have been, we have assimilated part of its ethos and carried it everywhere we've gone afterwards as part of our body of knowledge and spirit. This is a process that, whenever things get hairy, our host countries call parasitic, even though their parents were all too happy to soak up all those things we brought to them. In bad times, we're known as the world's parasites though we used to be celebrated as the world's yeast.

So let me ask a provocative question. In 2017, we all know the disadvantages to assigning collective mentalities to groups of people. But what might be the advantages of saying that 'Jews are a certain way'? Or, for that matter, any other group of people?

In the 21st century, there isn't supposed to be any such thing as a collective mentality, there is only the mentality of each individual and to say that any person conforms at all to an archetype is no different from saying that we are being placed into stereotypes. There is no question, none at all, that archetypes, the idea of saying that 'Jews are a certain way' and so is any other long-banded together group of people, has been terribly abused. Yet hard as we try, this is 2017, look around you, the harder some of us try to move the world away from archetypes and stereotypes, the more tenaciously other people cling to it. Whether or not this way of looking at the world is dangerous, it is going nowhere. The human brain is hardwired to assign individual traits to large groups of people, and whether or not it's truly a disease, there is no cure even on the horizon.

So with all those statements I've made and will make which I know some people in here will disagree with, we still have to be especially careful to never say that any group of people 'are a certain way,' including and particularly Jews, because there is no group of people in the world for whom this kind of archetypal thinking has ever been so dangerous. But in order to make sense of how other people have thought of Jews, we absolutely have to think in terms of archetypes. Particularly because that is precisely how they've always thought of us. Without even realizing it, this is the way people inevitably perceive each other. If you don't believe it, all you have to do is look at the difference in totals between the people who said they voted Trump and the people who did, and you realize that no amount of public shaming will change these people's private behavior, if anything, it may make it worse.

The human brain, and particularly the hippocampus within it, has a shorthand for each person it sees, and then moves from the collective to the individual, assigning types and traits, then moving on to make exceptions, provisos, quid-pro-quos. The best example I can give of this process to tell how the antisemitic mayor of fin-de-siecle Vienna, Karl Luegger, a huge influence on Hitler, was asked why he had so many Jewish friends, to which he replied 'I DECIDE WHO IS A JEW!'

So with that in mind, what are the traits, good and bad, that are generally associated with Judaism? (take answers from students)

Good, we have now made a composite of Jews from the average human brain which applies good and bad features to everyone it comes into contact with.

What then does the average person do with that knowledge? When Jews are under threat, how do they make decisions about what to do with their composite of experiences with Jews which they think they've had, for good or bad, whether their perceptions are based in reality or not? Do they help hide these smart, clever people who might accrue them financial rewards in gratitude and are occasionally as known for their moral and emotional generosity as they are for their moral and emotional pettiness - you can see how contradictory these archetypes are right away, or is it even worth taking the chance if they will be deemed enemies of the state if found out and that whatever blood libel Hitler or Torquemada or Chmielnicki or Paolo Christiani tells about us turns out to be absolutely true?

So now, picture yourself around 140 AD, when Judaism has clearly just barely been snatched from the jaws of annihilation. You have recreate your religion as something that can survive, possibly forever, in the most adverse of circumstances. What practices can you create to help secure your people's survival?

So here is Evan's grand explanation of the last 2000 years of Jewish History. Modern normative Judaism, the Judaism that has existed since the Sanhedrin, was formed in reaction to exactly this problem, and it was created to be a portable religion that put down no roots and could be practiced anywhere with a minimum of necessities. It is a religion concerned with a reckoning of the world exactly as it is with no illusions in which solutions to the problems of living are never supposed to be taken as a solved issue, but constantly experimented with and debated. To see every event in the lives of everyone within the context of every other event that happens to everything else. This is Jewish intersectionality - not the idea that all oppressions are interlinked and that by throwing off one we'll throw off the whole thing, but the idea that oppression can ever be thrown off, it can only be thrown from one group to another, and therefore we all must take on some share of this psychic wound, and all events in the world must therefore be seen and studied in the context of all other events. What is the most archetypal word in Talmudic discourse "EPHES", or as Tevye put it, 'ON THE OTHER HAND!' It is that most Jewish of ideas: value pluralism, the idea that the world consists of a clash of many truths and rights that inevitably come into conflict with each other, so therefore we must explore all these tensions and weigh them in the balance. And this view of the world was constructed nearly two thousand years before more secular Jewish thinkers thought of the same thing like Moses Mendelssohn and Isaiah Berlin.

As all Jews have drummed into us from the bris onward, community is of existential importance in Judaism. But community is only the second responsibility. What's more important than community is the polity, in which debate, rather than distance us from each other, binds us together. Debate can only break us apart if ending the debate seems like an option. And in this religion, ending the debate is obviously never an option. If we realize that life's a debate we can't escape having, then our opponents become people we're bonded together with in understanding and sympathy.

Why did Jews embrace this philosophy, because we were compelled to. In the wake of the Second Temple's Destruction, in the wake of what I think should be called Shoah Rishon, the killing by Emperor Hadrian of something like 580,000 Jews in the wake of the Bar Kokhba Rebellion of 132-135 AD (and please, none of this CE/Common Era nonsense, Jews are supposed to adjust to the world we live in, and the world we live in is trayf), the Sanhedrin or the Tanna'im, rebuilt Judaism along the lines of this extreme realism that realized that if Jews did not have a land of their own, we would be a people without defense, and we had to operate in perpetuity at the mercy of the world's brutality. A people without a land, therefore a people without a defense, therefore a people who had to gauge exactly what the world is like in order to survive. There are many reasons Jews are supposed to dress differently, but ask yourself if it might be a barometer to see whether or not our host countries will tolerate our differences, so we can therefore act accordingly? From the Bible onward, Jews clearly speak to each other, to Yahweh, Rabbis to other Rabbis, in a discourse full of microaggressions that seem almost meant to test the patience of our interlocutors. It's a process we learned from the very top down, you cannot read the books of the Torah and not realize that we have been this obnoxious from the very beginning. This is the kind of discourse that tempts non-Jews to think that we bring our suffering upon ourselves, but we are a people who should have died out during the Roman period like hundreds of other tribes no smaller than ours. For two-thousand years, we have been living on borrowed time, and there have been so many periods in which our time has seemed to be up. We've needed a discourse that allows us to immediately understand the limits of what's permissible, like a vaccine that builds up an immune system's antibodies by exposing us to a small amount of the disease. Take microaggressions out of Judaism and the whole religion would cease to exist. 

This is only possible in a religion of managing low expectations. Judaism certainly has ideals, but it is not the kind of ideals which other nations have, the kind of idealism which the Tanakh showed them how to have - to rise up and say that they are a nation with a destiny of their own choosing. For two thousand years, that's existed in its various ways for Christians, but not for Jews, and it certainly does not exist for Charedi Jews even in our day. We are a collective people because we exist to follow a path of laws handed down not just from a remote God on high, but more importantly, by a community of people we love and love us. But within those laws, we exist to study them and engage with them and interpret them as individuals. Every Yeshiva bocher is supposed to give their own d'var Torahs, in which they explicate their interpretations for every other member of the Yeshiva or the community, whose interpretation can then be critiqued. That is Jewish idealism. But the idealism of so much of the Tanakh, of Yishayahu who says that the Lord increases the power of the weak, that those who hope in the Lord will soar with wings like eagles. The idea that this was achievable on Earth died out for us with Shimon bar Kokhba, and a hundred-fifty years later when Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire en masse, the same texts would begin a process of awakening that desire in a hundred other nations.

But the ability of Jews to succeed in any given place was dependent on the tolerance, perhaps even the liberalism, of the given people who were their hosts. Let's fast forward nearly a thousand years to Charlemagne. Germany housed Jews for nearly a thousand years before the Enlightenment. When they first invited Jews in, the Holy Roman Empire was created. It was roughly 800, probably because of Charlemagne's own decree, that Jews were first allowed to be moneylenders, and because of this practice, the Holy Roman Empire grew in prosperity. Three hundred years later, when the Holy Roman Empire lost a long power struggle against the Catholic Church, even the allies of Jews felt compelled to expose Jews to persecution; the Church felt free to begin the crusades, and Jews began to be massacred all around the Rhinelands. The Crusades continued on and off for two-hundred fifty years, and eventually were halted by the Black Death which killed one-third of the European population.

Through the centuries, lots of Jews want to attribute divine retribution to these moments when the goyim suffer for how they made us suffer, but as we say in the Talmud, Lo Ba'Shamayim Hi! Which ultimately means that the truth is not in the skies but here on Earth. A world preoccupied with saving souls and crushing the infidels will neglect the needs of this world and let it go to seed. If the powerful were more preoccupied with establishing success here on Earth and creating prosperity, they would have empowered Jews rather than persecute them, and the prosperity would have led to better practices of science and medicine, and in turn, the Christians would have learned, as Jews long since had, to sanitize their water wells, rather than blame Jews for poisoning them.

Can people in here give some examples in recent history of how a moral decline has lead to a decline of the powerful in privilege? Even of the relatively powerful?

What Charlamagne and his successors of the Carolingian Dynasty practiced was, in its own absurdly non-equivalent way, the closest thing to liberalism anyone knew how to practice in 800 AD. Yes, like everything in politics eternally, it was partly self-interest. But let's take it as a given that it's in ultimately in people's self-interest to be generous. They were practicing the wisest governance they knew how to form, and the best the world was going to get. They probably found these infidels distasteful, but the Church banned usury - money-lending, so they made the compromises they needed to build a society that worked better. They chose prosperity, and they chose life, while the Church of their period chose fanaticism and death.

So now let's fast forward yet another thousand years. Whatever it is that we now call liberalism and absurdly apply to the practices of other ages, it is a very fragile thing that depends on so many factors going the correct way. So let's think for a bit about the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867. Traditionally, Austria was the most conservative of the great European powers, and after the devastation of the French Revolution, it found itself the most prosperous Empire in Europe. Its economy stable, its budget always balanced. The lesson learned by Metternich, their longtime Prime Minister, was to clamp down on any liberal reform which, he believed, would automatically turn into revolution. The result was that he provoked a revolution in 1848, and this led not only to his resignation, but the abdication of Emperor Ferdinand - who may have been mentally challenged - and the accession his nephew Franz-Joseph, who would rule for the next 70 years. After twenty years of military defeats in which the position of the Austrian crown was severely weakened,  Empire Franz Joseph issued a compromise, a compromise mind you, which declared all races equal before the law, and the decline of the Empire was sealed. We will talk quite a bit more about the humiliating compromises needed to create and maintain a liberal rule of law, particularly because so often seems that the majority of Jews have the stomach strong enough to maintain political compromises long past the moment when the majority of everyone else has taken sides - the end result of course being that these weak, waffly, untrustworthy Jews are left as the perfect scapegoat.

So here's series of important questions. Let's say you're someone like Michael Bloomberg, or for that matter, David Ben-Gurion. You are a very intelligent, generous, and public-spirited person who has acquired an incredible education. Let's further say that you have truly enormous power and privilege. You know how to guarantee rights better than any democracy. Is it better, then, to rule like a benevolent dictator when you know for a fact that you can run your city or country much better than it would be in the messiness of any democracy? Or is it better to let your people choose their fate for themselves when you know that they will probably make something of a hash of it?

This was not unlike the situation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Emperor Franz-Joseph I, who ruled the Empire for roughly 70 years, is about as much evidence as the world has that a dictator can be benevolent. The Emperor may have thought that he could provide a freer, fairer, more equitable system of government than any messy democracy, and by the standards of his time, it's shocking how tolerant his empire was. During a period when America was segregating itself, England and France were consolidating their imperial kleptocracies, and Germany put all its money into building its military, Emperor Franz-Josef was trying to find ministers who would create an empire in which everyone could have freedom of speech, press, movement, and economic mobility. But right up to the end of his rule in 1916, he insisted that it was his prerogative to name every minister of his government. It is amazing how well Franz-Josef ran the Austro-Hungarian Empire for so long, but by not compromising on issues of sovereignty, he in effect caused World War I.

The closest figure we had to Franz-Joseph, not at all in temperament but in worldview, is probably Teddy Roosevelt. Perhaps in modern America we would call people like him 'White Saviors'; people of enormous power and influence who give their subjects freedom and prosperity not as their fundamental right, but as a gift. Give everybody fundamental prosperity, give them the freedom to do whatever they want to do and express whatever they want to express, but don't let them decide how administer that for themselves because they don't know what they're doing and will only screw up a good thing. As Americans, most of us hear that and say 'That's monstrous.' As Jews, most of us hear that and say, 'OK, what's the catch?'

Of the two-dozenish peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the only people in the Empire who truly loved being Austrian subjects were Jews. Jews, who had no nation to go home to in this era of extreme nationalism, believed in the dream of a far-reaching Empire of many nations under a benevolent sovereign who cares about his people, even if he sees himself as their superior. It was a dream of its time and place, no 20th century person would ever believe that a dictator can guarantee rights like that. Even if a dictator somehow does, the very fact that he's a dictator makes his subjects bristle at his rule. But we didn't just love Franz-Joseph, we quasi-worshipped him. You look at Jewish siddurim of the period and you see prayers and songs not for and in honor of his country, but for and in honor of him.

But Jews believe that an aristocratic sovereign like Franz-Joseph I, who seemed to live forever, can guarantee them all the rights and opportunities denied them by monarchs and mobs everywhere else. All they have to do is be Austrian: convert to Catholicism, go to concerts and the theater, take jobs into the civil service and on the courts, go into businesses that would help this trans-national Empire that gave us everything stay prosperous.

There were many problems with this worldview, but there were two principle problems with this. One is that even most Austrians did not want to be Austrian, they wanted to be German. They did not want to be at the head of an Empire where all other dirty races were considered their equals before the law. They wanted to be united with their true brethren in Germany, and Germany had not been anything resembling a united country since the Thirty Years War, 300 years before that. Every nation has an adolescent trauma, and the Thirty Years War was Germany's. In the meantime, there was no Germany - just dozens of kingdoms and electorates and duchies and principalities and free cities whose leaders were always forming alliances that they tore up the next day to make new alliances.

In a pre-modern era when quality of life can only be raised in relative terms, you need a greater reason for living. In an era like the Dark Ages, which could promise no quality of life at all except among the noble class, salvation was the reason for living - if you endure the horrors of this life, you can attain a far greater life in a world to come. But in an era like the Renaissance or Baroque which could promise at least a marginal improvement in quality of life and a business class large enough to call the middle class, the glory and honor which was always the reason for living in the courtly class becomes the great reason for living for any man of property. Life may not be worth much, but at least I own something, I've proven that my life is worth living, and perhaps more worth living than yours.

Even when the situations in Germany weren't desperate, they were considered humiliating. For three or four hundred years, France and England were bathed in all the honor and glory that Germany never attained, and Germany's tragedy is to finally achieve some measure of honor and glory in an age when honor and glory began to be irrelevant to everybody else. Except for Prussia for under Frederick the Great - one of history's greatest leaders who wanted to make Prussia into a great European country, not a German one; no great military glory ever seemed to come from Germany. . For the six hundred years before the twentieth century, it was almost a given of practical wisdom that a great country required the strongest possible sovereign. When Hitler came, many people greeted it as finally the moment, three or four centuries overdue, when a strong sovereign could do for Germany what Elizabeth I had done for England and Francois Premiere had done for France. Finally, in 1871, a Prussian Minister named Otto von Bismarck found a way to unite Germany, and Austrians were completely cut out of this glorious moment which German-speaking peoples had longed for for well over two-hundred years.

But before an adolescent trauma must come a formative experience. The formative experience of the German people, not as tribes but as a collective people, was the Reformation; a, literally, multi-century event which ended in a thirty-year war between Catholics and Protestants claiming eight million martyrs. What was the founding idea of this Reformation for which so many people martyred themselves; no doubt mostly unwillingly?

(wait for someone to say Salvation by Faith...)

Salvation by Faith. The idea formed in response to the corruption and decadence of the Renaissance and Baroque Catholic Church, that no Christian pilgrim needs a priest to intercede for them. God is everywhere, including in your hearts and minds, He hears your prayers, He responds, and your relationship to Him needs no intermediary at all.

Whether or not that's at all true, that belief set all of Northern Europe course whose effects are felt to this day, particularly in Germany - a country whose "Protestant" work ethic is finally allowing them some liberal success after so many generations striving to do good amidst so much evil.

Look at a few quotes from Luther (call on reader):

…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone. 
What does this mean? (wait for answer...)

At least in the traditional interpretation, it's intended to mean that all work is holy work, and the more you work, the more favor you find in God's eyes.

Second quote (call on reader):

Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture.
 What does this mean? (wait for answer)

The traditional interpretation of this is, 'teach them to read.'

There's no questioning the radicalism of this idea. No longer would clergy be the intercessors for people who had no way of following a paper trail to see if they were being duped. Whatever hidden, mystical truths exist in the Bible, every Protestant has the right, and indeed, the responsibility to find them. But every revolutionary idea is paid for in blood, and if we in the 21st century owe Martin Luther a huge debt of gratitude for the gifts he gave us, perhaps we should thank him over the centuries of dead bodies for which he's responsible.

So now, let's go to a third quote (call on reader):

They are our public enemies. They do not stop blaspheming our Lord Christ, calling the Virgin Mary a whore, Christ, a bastard, and us changelings or abortions (Mahlkälber: "meal calves"o). If they could kill us all, they would gladly do it. They do it often, especially those who pose as physicians—though sometimes they help—for the devil helps to finish it in the end. They can also practice medicine as in French Switzerland. They administer poison to someone from which he could die in an hour, a month, a year, ten or twenty years. They are able to practice this art
You read this and you wonder how anyone could doubt where all this is eventually going. And just in case, let's read one more Luther quote:

We want to deal with them in a Christian manner now. Offer them the Christian faith that they would accept the Messiah, who is even their cousin and has been born of their flesh and blood; and is rightly Abraham’s Seed, of which they boast. Even so, I am concerned [that] Jewish blood may no longer become watery and wild.

There it is, 300 years before the 'new', un-Christian antisemitism of 19th century Germany which holds that a Jew cannot help but remain a Jew, even after conversion. We are not a religion, we are a race, our blood is 'watery and wild', and it's only one step removed from saying that Jewish blood will pollute German blood.

So how then, did the German-speaking lands go from a place with a charismatic leader that hated Jews so mercilessly, to a country that celebrated Jews so vociferously, back to a country with a charismatic leader that hated Jews so mercilessly?


We're not going to talk much about Wittgenstein's writings. I don't have the competence or the particular kind of intelligence you need to have any meaningful insights about philosophy. I'm not an intellectual, I just play one in classrooms and on the internet. I am, however, what used to be called an aesthete, somebody who tries as best he knows how to give high art and culture the appreciation they deserve and so rarely get these days, and in order to do that, you have to delve at least shallowly into intellectual matters. And in my pretentious opinion, Wittgenstein has the precision of poetry. That may seem like a contradiction, but if you've ever tried to read most academic writing, you'll understand exactly what that means. There are plenty of famous intellectuals who will claim that their works can't be understood unless you're indoctrinated into their lexicon, or jargon... The problem inevitably becomes that you have to be a true believer in what they're selling in order to sit down for long enough for the jargon to make any sense at all, rather like certain passages of commentary in a certain religion we know..., and even after you do, if you disagree, many people will simply say that you're no better than someone who never read the work at all. Wittgenstein is exactly the opposite, you look at his work, and you instantly realize that this is not just the opposite of sludge, but that you look at nearly every sentence and every sentence and at very least, three or four meanings occur to you instantly. Even if you don't understand everything, you can't come away from Tractatus, his most famous book, without looking at the world completely differently. The most famous line is the last one "Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent." It seems like obvious homespun wisdom, but go home and think about that line, you'll realize that can mean a hundred separate things about the limitations of what we can say to each other - whether by choice that it's too painful to say, or the limitations of our intelligence that can't truly convey the complexity of our thoughts, or those simple times when you think you've explained yourself perfectly only for the person listening to completely misinterpret everything you said. Or think of the quote: "It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." Taking Kabbalistic texts out of the equation, can any sentiment be more Jewish than that?


Luther was a revolutionary, and whether revolutionaries are reactionary revolutionaries like Hitler, or progressive revolutionaries like Stalin, they always seem to have a big problem with us. As ever, we see the seeds of this problem in the US - not to a terrible extent, but there is neither any mistaking the antisemitism of the torch rallies who believe that weak cosmopolitan liberals like Jews are conspiring to harm us - all you have to do is remember that the tiki torch carriers in Charlottesville were chanting - 'The Goyim Know', 'Blood and soil', 'Jews will not replace us.' And then, you hear the chants of anti-zionist protestors who chant 'From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free', which is of course a reference to the Palestinian vow to toss all Israelis into the Sea. So let's be perfectly clear on this, this is a classroom where almost all manner of criticism on Israel is fair game, but just in case I have to say so, criticism of Israel's existence will get you politely asked to leave.

Every country, as the West Wing pointed out, has an original sin. The original sin of Germany was its Jews. And yet, it took 400 years from Luther's final sermons, which were warnings against Jews, to get to the Shoah. In the meantime, the relationship between Jews and Germans could not have been more fruitful, or more mutually beneficial. As happens so many places, a country on the make imports Jews for their intelligence and practicality, they become the toast of their host countries, and then when times get rough, the same people who celebrate Jews so highly turn on them just as vehemently.


Even in this era of ideological polarization, and let's say it, extremism, still appears to be just a tempest in a teacup compared to where the hatreds of a hundred years ago. Who knows? That may change very very quickly. And whether mass violence and war and democide comes again in the next few weeks, months, years, decades, or centuries, it will come again, and it will be barbaric.

But for the moment, 15% of each side of the country finds 50% of the country absolutely intolerable to live with. Yes, the two Americas clearly have different values, and yes, these differences are being masterfully exploited, as they always are. But think of Seinfeld talking about breakups (call on reader):
"Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can’t do it in one push; you gotta rock it back and forth a few times and then it goes over.”
If history is any guide, we're probably not there yet. Europe had at least a misunderstanding every year for forty years before the one that began World War I. It had lots of Communist uprisings before the Soviet Union became a quasi-permanent fixture. The truth is that to anybody paying attention, peace time is not much less anxiety provoking than wartime.

Like 50% of the country, I panicked when Trump was first elected. But even if the worst about Trump is true and he wants to be like Mr. Shicklgruber, he is clearly much too stupid to be anything like the Austrian in that picture, he wouldn't know the first thing about how, and he has 100x too much ego to listen to the people who could make him that. But the fact that we have elected someone both this evil, and this stupid, who can still do this much no matter how ineffective he is, and can still says that when someone with both murderous intentions and the intelligence to enact them comes around, we seem like we would be rather powerless against him. For a person of my generation, the cusp between Generation X and Millenials, I am nearly positive that we will be dealing with crises like this every year for the rest of our lives. The great tragedy is that sanity will prevail in most of them, but all it takes is one chain reactions of misunderstanding and the life of the entire world is at stake. It's one thing to believe we can withstand Trump, it's entirely different to believe democracy can withstand fifty years of Trumps, all of whom will learn from the mistakes of the last.

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