Politics: November 2009 Archives

Anselm Kiefer Deutschlands Geisteshelden (Germany’s Spiritual Heroes) 1973 oil and charcoal on burlap, mounted on canvas 121" x 268.5"

Still a home for Dichter und Denker


Five major events in German history* are directly connected to November 9, the most recent being the fall of the Berlin Wall, twenty years ago today. Whatever else we make of it, the anniversary of this latest in a series of fateful moments should be a timely reminder, in our contemporary obsession with the present, that everything has a story, if not a reason. Of course I'm talking about history.

"The German Problem".

Historians don't record statesmen and diplomats ever speaking of an enduring "French Problem" or a persistent "English Problem" (although I believe Americans should be more aware than we are that the rest of the world is increasingly thinking of an intensifying and abiding "American Problem"), but over hundreds of years, even two thousand years, for the Romans, the Byzantines, the Carolingians, all the Slavs, the French, Poles, the Danes, the Belgians and the Dutch, the Russians, the Balts, even the Spanish, and, irregularly, the British, there was always something on the order of what would eventually be known as "the German Problem".

The problem was recognized or imagined by non-Germans as the perceived threat of a large and vigorous people without natural borders. The danger was to be minimized by means of policies which would contain the Germans geographically, limit their economic authority, and, by the later nineteenth century, assemble and maintain counterweights to their real or potential power in a united nation-state. It worked pretty well while "Germany" consisted of hundreds of mostly-independent realms (Reiche), and especially during periods when Germans were enduring or recovering from plagues and dynastic battles. The horrible ravages of the Thirty Years War were mostly visited on central Europe (viz., the Germans), but in the midst of the impressive economic and cultural resurgence which followed those religious "crusades" a new player, Prussia, equipped with a modern bureaucracy and a highly-trained standing army, appeared on the field, almost out of nowhere, eventually to succesfully engage with, or seduce, the cultural forces of nationalism in founding the Second German Reich.

Whatever the merits of the proposition, for much of the planet the most important lesson to be learned from two twentieth-century world wars was the imperative of eliminating "the German Problem" once again, and this time for good.

Then suddenly the unexpected, the inexplicable happened, confounding everyone's expectations. The Berlin wall fell, the Soviet bloc and its system collapsed, Germany was peacefully reunited.

New York Times Berlin Bureau Chief, Nicholas Kulish, in a piece in the paper two days ago quoted Robert E. Hunter, senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and an ambassador to NATO under President Bill Clinton. Hunter was able to describe the profound significance of what happened in 1989. After recalling the fears of those observing from the outside that the sudden appearance of "this thing in the center of Europe, if it were allowed to become unified, was going to be a cancer once again and lead to Act III of the great European tragedy." Instead, he continued, "the German problem, which emerged with the unifying of Germany beginning in the 1860s, is one of the few problems in modern history that has been solved.”

Okay, now my eyes were too wet to immediately read further.

Four months after the proclamation of the united German Empire inside the Hall of Mirrors of the occupied Palace of Versailles, the German Austrian composer Johannes Brahms completed a large-scale piece for chorus and orchestra.

Tonight I'm going to be listening to a recording of Brahms' Schicksalsied to accompany thoughts of the deep sadness and unbridled joy linked with this date. Brahms wrote it after reading a poem by Hölderlin which was included in the author's 1797 novel of letters, "Hyperion". The poet had been inspired by the freedom struggle of the Greeks and in these lines he contrasted the glorious world of their ancient gods with a mankind continually threatened by Schicksal (destiny).

The text appears here, in both German and an English translation.

I've just now listened to a sample of the Brahms on line and I was reminded of how much of it relates to the music of his near contemporary, the German German composer Richard Wagner, represented at the time of its composition as Brahms' musical antithesis, that is, defined so by the passionate factions of each. Together they created the Brahms-Wagner "War of the Romantics", which disfigured musical life in the second half of the nineteenth century, but which, so far as I can tell, resulted in no fatalities.

the symbolic collapse of the Revolution of 1848, the collapse of the monarchy in 1918, the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Kristallnacht in 1938, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

[image from lacma]


The White House switchboard lit up with calls from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s emissaries several weeks ago with a message that was polite but firm: The mayor is going to win re-election, they said. We think the president should stay out of the race.

lead paragraph of the lead article in the Late Edition of today's Times

Did Bloomberg really tell Obama he'd better not support Thompson? Did Obama refrain from supporting Thompson because of the Republican mayor's implied theat? Does Obama need Bloomberg that much? Did Bloomberg need a no-show Obama in order to win?

This whole scenario looked crazy yesterday; today it looks insane.

Bloomberg barely tallied 50% of the vote in a very small turnout, even though he spent $100,000,000 on his campaign. His opponent, with a tiny fraction of that kind of money, was almost unknown to most New York voters, and almost invisible. Days before the election the Times reported that some black New Yorkers didn't know Thompson was black. Obama stayed away from the campaign, and never even mentioned Thompson by name.

Does anyone doubt that Thompson would have won had Obama made even the smallest exertion to associate himself with the Democratic candidate? With an upset like that Obama, whose popularity has been declining fast lately, would have become a hero everywhere in the nation. As a coward who wouldn't challenge the billionaire mayor, and his assertion of invulnerability, Obama gets nada; New Yorkers don't get change; everyone continues to lose hope.

APPENDIX: Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself this morning.

[image, otherwise uncredited, from queenscrap]


I would argue that Gawker* doesn't quite go far enough in its condemnation of Bloomberg's candidacy, since it stops a little too short of suggesting the obvious alternative. I have no hesitation myself in endorsing the Billy Talen for mayor over Thompson. Thompson (unless he's actually working for a Bloomberg victory) ran an extraordinarily incompetent campaign, and he finally appears to be something of a fool (okay, just for starters, look at where he stands on bike lanes).

Talen is the candidate of a significant political party, the Green Party, but you may never have seen him or heard him; you may not have heard of him: The commercial media ignores Talen and he's not allowed to participate in their vaunted mayoral debates or in their interviews with the approved candidates. But I've heard him talk, of course to crowds, in character as the colorful and truly-righteous Reverend Billy, but also as "layman" Billy in small groups, and to individuals, and he has a better (in both senses) understanding of the city and the world than any of the politicians foisted upon us by the corporations in whose pay they perform, and certainly superior to the small-minded billionaire who blithely, and regularly, buys his high office outright.

Vote for someone tomorrow whose ideas you share. You deserve it; we all deserve it. Talen's mayoral platform is a dream - unfortunately - but that's not a bad place to start.

Hell, if I could I'd even endorse him for president - right now - this time confident we'd get change when we voted for it.

in a post written by Alex Pareene.

[image from Bradley R. Hughes]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from November 2009.

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