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Little Life

Michael Eldred

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1. Little Life

2. The lilac journal

3. Notes







 
I bewilder conscious, 
Or reveal lying drugged in dream, 
The Question crystalline, 
As a block of ice pulsing in my brain: 
I, who am playing dangerously with the balloon of fate,
Am Soulful and Sole Being? 
Mindful Reasoner? 
Functioning, Developed Organism! 
I am all pretension, 
Or all in mass and matter wrongly weighed! 
Confusion spins my mind, 
But, when I am gone, 
Life! who be so precious and so frail, 
What bones and dust will tell 
Have I ever been... 

Mic Eldred (6A) 
Outlook: The Magazine of Katoomba High School 1969 p. 16

The lilac journal

Message from Germany

Deutschlandreise
Die freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung entlang,
Man fährt von Freiheit ab und kommt in Ordnung an.
14.03.2013

13.04.2014

Gleichschaltung

The dictionary has no English translation for 'Gleichschaltung'. The OED defines it as "The standardization in authoritarian states of political, economic, and cultural institutions.", and Langenscheidt's German-English as "(enforced) conformity". The first quotation in the OED is from 1933, so the word is intimately related to the Nazis' successful grab for State power under Hitler. 

And today, after the post-war Germans, after their defeat, were able to set up their "freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung" of which they are so proud? They believe with impenetrable complacency that they are now free, finally truly democratic after the failed Weimar Republic. As everywhere in the Western media, 'freedom' is made a synonym for 'democracy', thus confusing a form of government with what is the core of human being itself. The German media are tame, toothless, gleichgeschaltet, replete with journalists who toe the line, entirely without their having to be told what to say and do by an authoritarian regime. Those who get to write newspaper articles, speak into microphones or stand before television cameras have already been preselected as suitable for their jobs by the cultural selection system. This eery, silent, inconspicuous preselection guarantees that only acceptable issues are raised and thought about in acceptable ways within acceptable parameters and in a given left-right spectrum by conformist commentators, craven cowards, even and especially when they are doing their best to be critical. This applies not just to the mainstream media; the refractory, 'critical' media, too, do not touch taboos of the German way of thinking and being-in-the-world which are the hidden presuppositions of the historical German mind. This is because the Germans as an historical people are clueless about freedom, thoroughly confusing it with others things such as the (redistributive) 'social justice', of which they are so proud in their 'social-market economy', or with Rechtsstaatlichkeit, which is erroneously rendered in English as 'rule of law'. What this cluelessness, this Ahnungslosigkeit consists in should become clearer in what follows.

Here 'the Germans' are not an empirically researchable set of human beings, but the place-holders for an all-pervasive, 'average' way of thinking, a mentality comprising both ways of understanding and feeling about the world. Synonyms for this are the 'German mind-set' or the 'German Man' in the sense of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit, the German Geist or mind. This mind-set is so self-evident in Germany as to be invisiblbe and therefore missed by critical German intellectuals themselves. For a starter, take the example of the German term, 'Rechtsstaatlichkeit'.

Rechtsstaatlichkeit means formal procedures within the State for making laws and administering justice that have to be conformed to; accordingly, there is no law outside of that which the State posits, and this law has to be administered impartially, in particular, without political interference by the government. Even at the extremes, when the Constitutional Court is called upon to examine conformity between legislation and the Grundgesetz, form dominates over content, i.e. there is an historically imbibed sensitivity among the Germans about being surveilled by any instance resembling the Gestapo (they learned that lesson), but that's where their sensitivity also ends when it comes to issues of freedom. Following the tradition of Roman law, German law knows no common law, which would enable an ongoing interplay between judges and civil society through which the former could adapt the law to current usages in which people actually live. The concept of Rechtsstaatlichkeit does not provide for unjust law, according to which what the State posits as law on the statute books according to formally correct democratic legislative procedure flies in the face of a mood of justice and freedom in society at large. Such a mood concerns what is felt to be 'recht und billig', i.e. 'just and fair', by people themselves. By contrast, the Anglo-Saxon concept of 'rule of law' encompasses more than impartial and principled administration of positive law, providing also for the possibility that the government may legislate unjust law that violates the socially pervasive, ethical sense of what is just and fair. Such a sensibility is lacking in Germany, lacking as it does roots in an established, civil way of life. Codification in statute law is no substitute, for it can never capture an atmospheric ethos of fairness that can only be an 'underlying mood', a Grundstimmung of an historical time of a people. Has this historical ethos been withheld from, historically bred out, stamped out of the Germans? More on this later.

Redistributive justice and commutative justice

The identification of social justice (soziale Gerechtigkeit; a pleonasm, since of its nature all justice is social) with redistributive social justice has to do with the absence of an ethos of commutative justice that can only be lived in a civil society in the interplay among the citizens themselves. This is why Aristotle, who introduces commutative justice to Western thinking, calls commutative justice as administered by a judge "corrective",(1) namely, of unjust civil transactions that are the exception in a truly civil society in which intercourse is largely just, resting as it does on social trust among the citizens. Synonyms for 'commutations' include 'transactions', 'mutual dealings', 'intercourse', 'interplay'. Such interplay is just if it is free and fair. It is free and fair if the players in the interplay estimate, acknowledge, respect and value each other both in abstactly, formally acknowledging personhood and also concretely in esteeming each other's powers and abilities without trying to gain an unfair advantage in the interplay. Fairness is thought here as an antonym to ugliness; it is hard to define, but you know it when you see it, that is, if it has been enculturated in you. This implies a culturally specific hermeneutic circle concerning the hermeneutic As through which a people interprets its world.

Commutative justice has everything to do with an ethos conceived as an historically arisen and cultivated, ethical atmosphere permeating society that envelops and imbues all players playing the social interplay. This atmosphere turns ugly when there is foul interplay, including in particular discrimination in which certain players are not accorded even formal respect for who they are. The language of human rights has imbibed this atmosphere of fair interplay and mutual respect and esteem, whilst at the same time abstracting it from its historical soil in liberal Western societies where such fair interplay is ethically lived every day by and large, especially in the economy. 

(Re)distributive justice, by contrast, implicates the State as the superior, powerful instance through which a redistribution of total social output and wealth is undertaken according to some criterion or criteria mostly related to ostensible needs for which the State provides. Fairness in this context has nothing to do with fair interplay but with each member of society getting their fair share. But what is fairness in this context? The Germans always have their envious eye on what the other person is getting, not on the fairness of interplay per se. German politics are largely envy debates over distribution. Instead of appreciating an ethos of free and fair interplay that does not provide for predetermined outcomes, Germans demand that the State closely oversee and regulate the interplay in society, paternalistically setting up regulations and safeguards against 'the others' who are always out to do something nasty. Because of the lack of an ethos of free and fair civil interplay, the Germans oscillate between conformity to rules and regulations laid down from above and coarse, asocial, rude and inconsiderate behaviour in dealings with fellow citizens. The 'in-between' of self-responsibly estimating and valuing each other without State supervision is lacking. Rigid rule-watching alternates with blatant rule-breaking for one's own advantage if you can get away with it; they are two sides of the same coin.

Genuine civil liberties are dead in the water in Deutschland, since Germans are interested in something else: the invention of the Sozialstaat (social welfare state) in the 1880s itself was an historic compromise between the socialist workers' movement and the iron-fisted strong man, Bismarck, that allowed the State to continue its rule over the people in exchange for taking care of the populace via bureaucratically regulated welfare. Sloterdijk speaks of "the contradictoriness between the late-absolutist and the semi-socialist motivation to tax" (die Widersprüchlichkeit zwischen der spätabsolutistischen und der semisozialistischen Steuermotivierung;  in 'Warum ich doch recht habe' Die Zeit 08.12.2010) which concerns only the State's imposition of taxataion. More broadly, the State is the superior political grand subject with the will to power in the form of the will to rule politically over its population. This conception is diametrically opposed to the liberal conception of government (not State with a capital S), whose raison d'être is to serve civil society. Indeed, government arises notionally from a social contract among the members of civil society who have the insight that a superior, ruling, political instance is necessary to preserve civil society. Not so in German political thinking, according to which the State embodies its own raison d'être and is not at the mercy of civil society. As a complement to the Sozialstaat, whose task it is to provide social welfare, the German language also has the term 'Staatswohl' or 'well-being of the State'. One dictionary definition (Langenscheidt's) of 'Staatswohl' is 'public weal', which falsifies the Staat into the 'public', in line with liberal thinking. According to Staatswohl, the State acts for its own well-being according to its own assessment of what is good for itself, especially where its own existence and survival is concerned. One essential part of this is the State's will to tax for the sake of its own well-being. German politicians often refer to the State's overriding interest in taxing for its own benefit.

Germans do not desire freedom, but want to be taken care of from cradle to grave. An equivalent way of saying this is that they are neither interested in, nor even understand, the commutative justice of free and fair interplay among themselves, which requires also the courage to take a risk. Their hearts' desire is a secure, orderly, predictable life in which they are sure of what they have and can get as a State-decreed, bureaucratically doled-out, 'socially just' share of social income and wealth. No matter that this remains a mere ideal. Anyone putting this accepted conception of distributive social justice into question is not only speaking against an article of the German constitution, but breaking a deeply rooted social taboo. Hence the self-regulating, ghostly Gleichschaltung.

Taxation justice?

Despite the sensitivity to any kind of Gestapo-like surveillance by the State, there is an utter lack of sensitivity to surveillance for the sake of what is termed 'taxation justice', which is intimately linked to redistributive social justice. Any taxation legislation a democratically elected government gets through the two houses of parliament, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, by hook or by crook, is regarded as legitimate simply on the basis of formally correct democratic procedure. No matter that it's the politicians with their vested interests in holding political power within the State who are the principal agents for imposing taxes. 

Since a society based on redistributive 'social' justice has its primary interest in being looked after by the State and getting as much as possible as the 'just share' for each citizen, there is an endless desire for the welfare state to provide more and more social welfare, for which it needs an endless, ever-burgeoning stream of tax revenues of all kinds. To ensure a reliable supply of tax revenues, with the aid of increasingly sophisticated digital technologies, the State surveils each citizen's financial affairs to the point of completely gutting any kind of bank secrecy. This has proceeded in Germany without any protest from the citizenry; on the contrary: so-called 'taxation honesty' (Steuerehrlichkeit) is trumpeted every so often throughout the media without anyone, especially not the 'critical commentators', daring to raise a voice against the State's invasion of privacy and its sheer limitless hunger for tax revenues. 

The ethos of free speech in Germany is underdeveloped and hampered by many moralist muzzles issuing from the corner of redistributive social justice and State-mediated so-called 'social solidarity'. There is no genuine social solidarity at all in Germany; everyone's out to get what they can from the all-caring Social State. The Germans, however, do act without speaking in massively practising tax evasion. There is no public discussion whatsoever of the justice of taxation law itself and the State's arbitrariness in imposing ever new, 'inventive' and 'imaginative' taxes, and incessantly varying the taxation regulations to raise new weirs for damming and sluicing off portions of the multifarious income streams flowing through society. 

The Germans standardly complain about their tax law being perhaps the most complicated and voluminous on Earth, but, in a certain way, they're also proud of it as a bureacratic achievement that took centuries to build and elaborate. Once politicians have invented and imposed a new tax with whatever more or less crooked, sophistical reasoning to hoodwink the electorate, or even at its behest, once imposed, you never get rid of it, its rate increases inexorably, and many a German citizen 'gets used to it', willingly bowing and begging for punishment. The State is the greatest tax swindler of all. There are ever new tricks for the political caste to dip into citizens' pocket, ever new urgent needs (such as German reunification, old age nursing, rebuilding dilapidated transportation infrastructure, child care, etc.) for which ever more financial resources must be somehow tapped. An ostensibly temporary tax for a certain need, such as German reunification, becomes reinterpreted as an indispensable permanent tax consolidated into the State's consolidated revenue, where it is somehow lost among the other billions, becoming a budgetry necessity for the government's treasurer. 

All the political parties proceed from the 'self-evident' assumption that any tax relief for the population has to be 'budget-neutral', i.e. that the State's heavy burden in caring for the populace must never be compromised by its sucking less taxes out of its income-earning subjects. Taxes such as the financial transactions tax are invented even as punishment for a sector (in this case, the financial sector of the economy) for its alleged, economically damaging misbehaviour, no matter that the thread between such misbehaviour and stock exchange transactions, effected by no means solely by financial institutions, is tenuous. And no matter that independent investors, too, will have to bear the tax burden. All that is required is that the electorate swallows the shallow and tendentious argument, which is invariably linked to one of the State's 'caring' welfare tasks. The State turns out to be a dodgy cheat who is constantly manipulating the rules, tightening the regulatory thumb-screws to suit its own fiscal ends, but no one wants to see this, let alone open his or her mouth in protest. 

Nowhere is the State's arbitrariness in imposing taxation law discussed, thus raising the question as to the principles of just taxation per se, including its necessarily quantitative definition, and how it conforms with something resembling a free society. Are there principles of just taxation at all, or are taxes merely the contingent outcomes of ongoing political power plays in which all sorts of ad hoc, and especially ad hominem, arguments find application? Instead, there is incessant discussion of taxation justice (Steuergerechtigkeit) merely in the sense of a how the tax burden is to be spread across the various sectors of society, with each sector jealously eyeing the other with a view as to whether it is paying its socially just share of the massive taxation burden. The wealthy and higher income-earners are constantly being targeted as sources for additional tax revenues on the basis of their contributing their 'fair share' to taxation revenue. Wherein lies the criterion for fairness? This question is never raised. Again, justice (Gerechtigkeit) is conceived merely in a distributive way, and not in relation to protecting and enhancing the freedom of civil society, whose existence remains only ideal in Germany. 

As in other European societies built on the originally Social-Democratic ideology of redistributive social justice, the share of GDP siphoned off by the state for (overall downward) redistribution is around half. (Scandinavian countries currently greatly exceed half, and the Scandinavians seem happy enough with their totally administered society.) Even with half of GDP falling into the State's hands to do 'good deeds', there is never enough, and a paradisical state of affairs lies forever beyond the temporal horizon. In fact, despite its long history of redistributive social justice, the distribution of wealth in Germany is among the most uneven in all of Europe. The State's will to power, eminently embodied in politicians' will to rule, couples with the mass egoism from below that desires endlessly to be cared for by ever new social welfare 'innovations' financed by downward redistribution. And yet anything faintly representing equality in sharing wealth and income fails to materialize, serving merely as a populist political incendiary to ignite the masses' prejudices. 

Culturally inculcated submissiveness to the State

It is not far-fetched to claim that the thirst for freedom has been culturally bred out of the Germans through their particular history into gutlessness. This is a kind of historico-cultural selection, distinct from Darwinian natural selection. Two historical defeats, in particular, in the German struggle for freedom from below (and the struggle for freedom always comes from below against those who wield power from above) can be highlighted as decisive crossroads (entscheidende Weichenstellungen) for the German people at which the future course of their history was set. These defeats have all but extinguished the yearning for freedom within Germany. The first defeat is the failed Uprising of the Common Man around 1524-25 in the wake of Martin Luther's reformist theological revolt in 1515 against the Catholic Church and its theology that ushered in the Reformation. Although Luther varied the original spelling of his name to make it derivative of the Greek for 'free' (e)leu/qeroj), he did not support this popular revolt, but on the contrary, its brutal suppression, since he did not aim at any kind of social revolution. The bloody period in Germany and Europe that ensued after Luther's rebellion was between Catholics and Protestants; it was a liberation only of Protestant conscience within theological confines, not a struggle for social liberty on the everyday level for the common man and woman. Hölderlin's statement that the Germans are, "gedankenreich und tatenarm" (rich in thoughts and poor in deeds), can be read in this historical context of the lack of any successful act of liberation. 

The second defeat was that of the 1848 revolution on the continent in Europe, which itself took place during the long period of European reaction inaugurated by the 1815 Vienna Congress. Both the Reformation struggles and the defeat of the 1848 revolution were associated also with mass emigration from Germany toward the West of those seeking a freer way of living. The rise of Nazism out of Prussian and then German militarism also provoked a mass exodus of population, notably of German Jews. From these waves of German emigration, most ended up either in Latin America or in liberal Western Anglo-Saxon countries. The United States, in particular, have been deeply shaped over the centuries by German immigrants seeking freedom from religious persecution or simply a freer life with better economic opportunities. 

Back home in Germany, the rigidity of top-down government through bureaucratic regulation and control has remained without any liberal air being breathed into it. Today's post-war Germany has adopted only a cosmetic veneer of more liberal attitudes, since the roots of freedom can lie only in historical struggles with victories that have aggressively pushed back the State's power over its population, opening spaces for free and fair interplay in a civil society worthy of the name. Hence the Germans are a subjugated people living an illusion of freedom. It took me my first twenty out of thirty-plus years' living among the Germans before I saw through this illusion. My positive prejudices for Germany and the Germans were whittled away and evaporated. They are having themselves on. You notice it especially in the inbred German obeisance to authority which by some (including, inter alia, Catholics and Ernst Jünger) has been equated with freedom itself. Instead of negotiating fairly in the power plays among free citizens with an eye to the inherentjustness at issue, the eye turns upward to some superior instance that has already laid down the law, regulation, expert opinion, etc. which then simply has to be obeyed. Centuries-long dressage has been integrated into the German mind-and-soul as second nature, so that Germans submit to authority with pleasure. This is noticeable already in Germans' enthralment to slavishly and mindlessly obeying pedestrian red lights. 

When disputes arise, the first recourse is to refer to some higher, ostensibly authoritative instance in the hierarchy with the exclamation, "I can't do anything about it." ("Ich kann auch nichts machen." or "Wir sind daran gehalten, ...") Formal authority and obedience to it invariably trump a discussion of the issues themselves, which again points to the lack of an ethos of what is 'just and fair'. Eichmann's excuse, "I was just obeying orders..." is still valid for today's Germans, despite their revulsion at Eichmann himself and their attempts to view their history self-critically. Through merely formal obedience they put themselves unwittingly on the same plane as Eichmann without being able to draw a clear line. References to Rechtsstaatlichkeit and the Nazi regime's having been criminal and undemocratic do not suffice here. Post-war calls for 'civil courage' are constantly counteracted from the cradle on by a dressage in obedience to authority, and acts of political civil courage themselves are often nurtured in the bosom of left-wing ideologies of authoritarian alternatives. Thus are the Germans pursued by their historical shadow. 

This observation has nothing to do with accusing the Germans of today still being secretly Fascist (although there are certainly still Fascist, authoritarian longings in the populace), for the state of affairs is far more subtle, and hence more disturbing. The 1968 revolt of young Germans against their Nazi fathers aimed at a visible target; very many Nazis continued their careers and held power in the State almost without interruption after the war and its catastrophic end. Nazism is only one (grotesque and brutal) historical form, a culmination of the Germans' ultimate failure to take on and fight for the challenges of freedom. It is immeasurably more difficult to uncover present-day Germans' flight from freedom, which is more insidious, covered with a veneer of being open-minded, easy-going, good-humoured, 'hip', 'cool' or whatever other faddish epithets invariably linguistic imports from the West, never from an eastern direction seem to apply. This veneer splits open when things get serious to reveal an ugly, willing, gutless, craving subjugation. Nauseating, how the Germans not only cover up their own inability to freedom, but are entirely clueless about the freedom that lies in treating each other fairly, without squinting upward to a superior instance for instructions. They're continually squinting upward and, frankly, they don't care for freedom with its challenges.

14.04.2014

The missing civil society

The absence of a civil society in Germany is due to the political suppression of its first seedlings in the early nineteenth century after 1815. Before that, for a brief period in the eighteenth century, there was a nascent openness to and enthusiasm for liberal ideas espoused further to the West in England, Scotland and France whose traces can be found in, say, Kant, Wilhelm von Humboldt and the early Hegel. Not for nothing was Kant a citizen of the mercantile Hanseatic city of Königsberg. The impulse toward freedom does continue in a queerly distorted way under 'left Hegelians' such as Feuerbach and Marx, and Heinrich Heine ("denke ich an Deutschland in der Nacht/bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht"), but liberalism as a political doctrine has never taken firm root in Germany, which has always been concerned more with order and security than with liberty. This is demonstrated also by Marx's dismissal of 'bourgeois liberal ideology' in favour of a nominally freer, but ultimately authoritarian alternative. Marx missed seeing the essential nature of freedom. German liberal politics had an unsavoury nationalist flavour from the start and up to the 1950s. Today, the German Liberal Party (FDP) is standardly maligned as neo-liberal and as a party serving merely the interests of its 'clients' (sections of the better-off middle classes or certain industries) inimical to the demands of State-administered, redistributive social justice. 

The want of a civil society is felt above all in how people deal with each other in everyday life. Their interplay is not imbued 'naturally' with mutual estimation, at most with formal, usually stiff, respect for the person, since the interplay is invariably subject to State regulation to which the players look, at least in principle, for guidance and the applicable rules. Interchanges are not about attaining a mutually satisfactory outcome, but with adherence to regulations and rules from on high. Above all, trust as the indispensable medium of sociation is lacking in the everyday interplay, and for good reason, because a society that is State-regulated from the top is asocial. It does not develop its own ethos and customs of self-responsibility and mutual esteeming and valuing, which go hand in hand with kindness, friendliness, considerateness. When the State's overseeing eye is averted, people behave like pigs. All sorts of crooks, who at most keep formally 'to the letter' within the rules and regulations laid down by the State, are busy trying to defraud, or at least take advantage of, unsuspecting victims, especially through contractual traps. 

The German Civil Code

There is no disputing that a Civil Code covering such important aspects of everyday sociation as contract law exists and is enforced in Germany. This Civil Code serves to protect private property and dealings with it, and thus also the private lives of citizens that can only be shaped within the protections afforded by private property. Privacy amounts to others, including especially the government, being deprived of any right to interfere with you as a private individual so long as you don't overstep the boundaries of personal freedom that civil law provides for and protects. On the face of it, the German Civil Code is much like those in other Western countries. Differences only become apparent in the way the code is i) interpreted by the judiciary and ii) trumped by others laws, in particular, social welfare and tax law. 

Re i): the interpretation of the civil code in the administration of justice in the courts has to conform with the spirit of what is just and fair in the dealings among citizens. This is often vitiated in German courts by the preponderance of formal procedures behind which the judge or magistrate rigidly hides instead of showing a more supple appreciation for what is fair and equitable in the case before the court. Furthermore, the lack of a spirit of civility among the citizens themselves gives rise to nasty civil disputes in which the mere letter of the law is insisted upon. 

Re ii): the State takes the liberty of making incursions into and curtailing the privacy of private lives for the sake of securing its tax-raising and also its administration of welfare benefits. The more the welfare state provides benefits to you, the more it has the legal right to invade your privacy and interfere with your private affairs in line with the social welfare regulations and the surveillance required to ensure that you're not defrauding the welfare benefit system. The State will then have a say, or even prescribe, how you can dispose of your private property, or penalize you with a tax if you don't conform with the State's desired behaviour, e.g. when saving for retirement. Taxation is then said to have a 'steering function', pointing you paternalistically in a certain direction 'for your own good'.

19.04.2014

Enculturated mistrust, especially of foreigners

Even presenting yourself as who you are is not taken at face value. Instead, invariably you are asked for State-issued ID (passport or Personalausweis with a photo and, these days, biometric data for good measure), even in innocuous circumstances. Who you are, your identity, is an identity with the State, that overbearing other. Mistrust of the other citizen as another person worthy of respectful friendliness is the deeply ingrained default setting for quotidian interchanges. The other doesn't take your word for it, but wants proof coming from some higher instance, preferably the State, or at least a recognized superior expert authority. You are the State's subject or, even worse, a foreigner with a residence permit, who always has to be treated with scepticism. A foreigner's presence is not accepted self-evidently as a matter of course, but as some kind of curious anomaly. The Germans are not as xenophobic as the Japanese, but that's no comfort here.
A couple of years ago, Chancellor Merkel was suddenly heard speaking of a "Willkommenskultur", a "welcoming culture", thus belatedly taking up a slogan employed by the U.S. and some other Anglo-Saxon countries for over a century. The Germans are slow on the uptake in this respect, too, and not just late arrivals in world history (with disastrous consequences). With an inexorably worsening demographic structure, the Germans have finally twigged that maybe they need to entice foreigners to settle in Germany on a genuinely welcoming basis, without bureaucratic hurdles, The qualified status of guest-workers who, from the start, are not destined to ever become really at home in the country is finally being recognized by some Germans as the affront it always was. At glacial pace, there is today even a move toward allowing dual citizenship under certain circumstances, as if becoming a German citizen were a supreme, highly coveted prize you have to grovel for, and as if it were a pleasure to subjugate yourself to the German State with its endless, complicated bureaucratic interferences and dictates. Since the thirst for freedom has been sucked out and dried up, what's left is the longing to (at least) be looked after by the social welfare State, whose benefits ideally promise social security as a constitutionally guaranteed right. 

The welfare State is horrendously expensive, quite apart from issues connected with abuse of the welfare systems, and the State jealously aims to guard and curtail its charitable acts through complex regulations and laws that are invariably interpreted in the State's favour, including by the courts. The hostility toward foreigners includes political debates in the media about so-called 'social-dumping', which is a peculiar German appropriation and abuse of the English language to try to say that foreigners in general, including fellow EU citizens, are out to take advantage of German welfare benefits to the hilt and beyond. 'Sozialdumping' supposedly signifies that other EU countries' are dumping their poor populations on the German Sozialstaat. A better word would be 'social-welfare sponging or bludging' by those out to milk the welfare state, but this includes German citizens themselves. The tremendous financial strains on the social welfare state all over Europe provide ready xenophobic arguments for right-wing populists in each country, as if all immigrants were out to sponge welfare benefits. 

Happiness for true German citizens is seen to reside at core in being cared for by the welfare State through all vicissitudes of life by a massive bureaucracy that purports to have worked out the appropriate formulae to deliver the diverse array of welfare goods sustainably. Security and stability through paternalist precalculation is the practised ideal. 'Freedom' is lived not in any sort of civil society, but asocially in premium-segment cars on the Autobahnen on those stretches that have not yet been signposted with speed limits. 

The Sozialstaat and the asocial society

Like other Europeans, the Germans are terribly proud of their social welfare state and all it provides. Social welfare has become a self-evident premise of European thinking on the modern state which has spread also to other parts of the world. It is regarded as the pinnacle of achievement of progressive social-democratic politics, not just by the German Social-Democratic Part (SPD), one of its inventors, but even by the nominally Liberal Party (FDP). Social welfare is written into the German constitution as a citizen's right and an obligatory priority for the State to provide. The constitution speaks of the "social market-economy" (soziale Marktwirtschaft), a term heard in the media copiously every day, along with that other hybrid compromise formulation, "free-democratic fundamental order" (freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung) that in truth describes a Deutschlandreise departing from freedom and arriving in law and order. The "social" part of "social market-economy" refers not to society, but, perversely, to the Sozialstaat, whose essential task it is is the keep society sociable and oversee its sociation in all aspects, for the citizens themselves are not to be trusted; they are asocial. 

21.04.2014

Flight from risky freedom to the all-caring State

Germans get nervous when it comes to market-economy (capitalism) for, apart from being unpredictable, thus going against the grain of their beloved 'planning security' (Planungssicherheit), it is regarded as the realm of unadulterated, unashamed, greedy egoism, and thus as morally repulsive. The capitalist multinationals are often singled out as targets for this revulsion. The Germans are clueless about the non-precalculable gainful game (das Gewinn-Spiel), disinterested in learning its essential features, and the State has long had an interest in keeping the populace dumb about what a market economy is to inculcate its dependency. Economics is not a standard subject at school, Adam Smith is apparently only for dyed-in-the-wool neo-liberals, and basic financial nous is thinly spread. Nobody even tells school pupils what a bank basically is, i.e. that it relies crucially on the working capital which depositors entrust to it. German banks invariably hoodwink depositors by acting as if it were an act of grace to accept depositors' savings, for which, of course, they 'unfortunately' have to charge fees for their trouble. Due to the deeply imbued ignorance of financial and economic matters, this lie goes unchallenged. 

A market economy can't be precalculated, despite all calculative endeavours, these days through modelling on high-powered computers. That unsettles Germans, for they never learn, and have never learned, that freedom demands risk-taking courage and that the future cannot be precalculated nor even secured water-tightly against all deleterious eventualities. The dressage in fearfulness, the underlying or basic mood (Grundstimmung) of the German people, starts in childhood with parents' constantly crying out 'Vorsicht!' or 'Achtung!' or 'Paß auf!' (all meaning: 'Watch out!') to their children to save them from the 'dangers' that are supposedly all around. The German obsession with insurance of all kinds is just one aspect of their obession with security and order in general. Germans crave, and are duly sold, insurance policies of all kinds. Another is the Germans' proverbial risk aversion expressed in such behaviour as preferring a savings account offering near-zero interest to a solid blue-chip stock paying a reasonable dividend because, as they are told quel horreur! stock prices fluctuate incalculably. This risk-phobia is often put down to the Germans' experience in two World Wars, including horrendous inflation and debasement of currencies, but this explanation is unconvincing, for it omits the more deeply rooted historical German lack of confidence with its associated will to subjugation to the State for the sake of order inbred over centuries, as indicated already by the divergent reactions to war experiences by other European populaces. 

The modern Sozialstaat seems to be a great deal, for it at least promises welfare benefits in a totally administered life in exchange for subjugation. Give a poor dog a bone. Even a rare German critic of the Holy Sozialstaat such as Peter Sloterdijk ('Die Revolution der gebenden Hand' FAZ 13.06.2009) doesn't twig to the abyssal depth of the Germans' fear of freedom nor does he see, despite all erudition, the intimately related distinction between commutative and distributive justice. In fact, conceptual clarity in general is not a strength of this self-titled "literary philosopher".

Militarism-cum-pacifism

The indelible blot, the ineradicable stigma on the Germans that (presumably) will forever signal their abdication to the second ranks of world history goes by the name of Auschwitz. Alongside the war-time massacres, the holocaust was both genocide and world-historical suicide of the Germans themselves. No wonder the Germans have flipped from militarism to pacificism, which is the same thing with an opposite sign. It can't be said that post-war Germans have not faced up to this self-inflicted nightmare and have not atoned for their monstrous collective crimes in multiple respects. The Nazis were not just a criminal regime at arm's length from average German sentiment, but only possible nourished by German historical soil that includes both a series of defeats of movements from below to push back authoritarian rule from above, and also a proud history of disciplined absolutist militarism associated above all with the name of Prussia. For a time, Prussian discipline was admired by many foreign countries especially those with hierarchical and authoritarian social structures, such as Turkey, Russia, Japan and China as an exemplary model that was actively studied and emulated. 

Military discipline spilled over first of all to the Prussian, and then the German, bureaucracy as the organ for executing the State's will to rule, which likewise has (or had) its many admirers and emulators abroad. But discipline, under the name of effectivity, has spread also into all sorts of manufacturing and production, thus finding a less objectionable playground, manipulating and organizing things rather than people. German industriousness and quality standards in production are admired today worldwide, enabling German economic prowess and well-being by virtue of massive German exports of well-made, high-tech machines of all kinds.

The German set-up 

All of this efficiency above all, as a deeply ingrained attuned way of thinking, a mentality or mind-set could be said to fall under the Heideggerian verdict of the set-up (das Ge-Stell), that configuration of beings, including human beings, as a stock to be deployed in all sorts of technologically enabled productive movements. It is more than ironic that Heidegger placed his hopes precisely in the German people as the agents to point the world-historical way forward out of the ontological constellation of the set-up.

The aversion to risk-taking, which amounts ultimately to an aversion to freedom, makes Germans malleable to the demands of the set-up as mediated unknowingly by the German State with its elaborate bureaucracies, including its welfare apparatus. Freedom is understood as atomistic individual freedom, which in turn is portrayed as egoistic and inimical to the (compulsory) solidarity demanded by (redistributive) social justice, which just happens to be the sole responsibility of the overbearing Sozialstaat. Society itself is the "Ellbogengesellschaft", i.e. the 'elbow society', or rather the 'dog-eat-dog society', whose members use their sharp elbows (and canines) against the others to get ahead. This kind of moralism is part and parcel of everyday German sentiment. Solidarity with others is invariably State-imposed from above. Germans even seek cozy warmth from the Sozialstaat; any attempt to cut back welfare benefits comes up against bitterly complaining, mainly left-wing, cries of "soziale Kälte" (social coldness), as if civil society, if it ever existed in Germany, would have a heartless Siberian climate. These strange, self-alienated protests pair naturally with the denunciation of all things 'neo-liberal', which is ironic in a society that historically has never fought for and enjoyed the personal liberties lived in a genuine civil society. Perhaps the Germans should first taste palaeo-liberalism, breathe its atmosphere, before railing against neo-liberalism. Then they might acquire a feel for civil freedom to inform an adequate critique of neo-liberalism.

24.04.2014

A lack of civility and service

In contrast to productive efficiency and quality in all kinds of manufacturing, for which Germany is famous worldwide, German service industries are well-known to be deficient, not up to international standards. The Germans are not service-friendly. This is no surprise. For a society without civil society, there is no soil of trust and mutual estimation among people in their dealings with each other. Civility the self-evident element that has become historical second nature in a civil society is lacking. Hence, in the stead of civility, service transactions are encumbered from above with formal contractual conditions that  (ideally) can be enforced by the State if the contractual partner fails to perform. Or conversely, 'uncivil' formal contractual tricks are deployed in transactions to legally defraud or at least mislead and trap consumers, whilst utterly abusing the trust on which dealings must be based, especially if a service economy is to flourish. Ever more top-down legislation and regulation by the State is no remedy, but this is not understood by the Germans, who invariably holler for more State protection. Today, under commercial incentive and international competitive pressure, there is nevertheless a slow learning process underway in Germany whereby retail companies are adopting more service-friendly practices from abroad, in particular, from Anglo-Saxon countries where on the whole there is a healthy mix of commercial interests with friendliness and trust.

27.04.2014

Social-totalitarian conformity

The social-totalitarian ideology of being cared for by a highly elaborated social welfare system is accompanied by a progressive anaesthetization of the sensibility for personal freedom. The costly social welfare state is constantly straining financially to deliver the welfare goods, pilfering from future generations along the way. Cost arguments in the social health care system increasingly play a part in restricting personal freedom, for it is said that 'irresponsible' personal behaviour violates the solidarity demanded by cost-efficient efforts to keep a population alive and functioning. Your smoking and drinking damage your own health, which falls back on and adds to total social health-care costs. Empirical scientific research demonstrates that your smoking potentially harms the health of others through their inhaling the smoke from your cigarettes, so there is an argument for being considerate to others as an essential aspect of civility. The total health-care cost argument, however, is a totalitarian, blanket one derived from the universality of monetary value. Since we're all in the same welfare-state boat financially, this gives others the apparent right to interfere with your personal life-habits for your 'own good', for science 'objectively proves' some of them to be ill-advised.

These social-totalitarian tendencies, of course, can be found in all 'developed' countries where there are social welfare systems. What is special about Germany is that it is the birthplace of the Sozialstaat so that social totalitarian ways of thinking are deep-rooted and any resistance to them is easily put down to socially irresponsible 'egoism'. Liberal ways of thinking are out of their element here and fail to gain traction politically. They are often branded 'American' or 'English'. German preferences are weighted in favour of a calculated total-social set-up which extends today, under Green-influenced politics, to include also an ecologically sustainable economy, thus extending the realm for which the State is called upon to care. The right to self-determination enshrined in EU law is relativized and eroded for the sake of a totally caring State which, of course, must be protected against abuse by employing all kinds of invasive means against citizens and foreigners of all stripes. 

The aversion to precarious freedom

A favourite 'dumping' word in German is 'Lohndumping', signifying low wages that scarcely suffice to get by. Yet another favourite word is 'prekär' (precarious) as an antonym for 'secure'. Anything precarious in life triggers anathema among the Germans. The struggle against lousy wages imposed where there is blatantly unfair bargaining between employers and employees is easily confused with some kind of 'social right' to be guaranteed a 'living wage'. If you don't have a well-secured job in Germany, you're part of the 'Prekäriat', a portmanteau word from 'precarious' and 'proletariat'. On this criterion, small entrepreneurs, especially the self-employed, are part of the Prekäriat. It goes without saying that the spirit of entrepreneurship in Germany is anaemic and, where it does spring up, it is hampered by social-totalitarian bureaucratic structures in the State and more subtly by the risk-averse mind-set.

A life-in-death paradise

Far from enhancing the boundary conditions for entrepreneurs and the self-employed to self-responsibly hazard having their powers and abilities honoured in the market-place, on the left there is even a push toward introducing a no-strings-attached Bürgerrente (citizen's pension) for each person without regard to individual abilities and exertions to have them valued appropriately. The Sozialstaat will accept you into its suffocating bureaucratic arms in an act of unconditional 'social love'. Abstractly universal human dignity (you were born with "inalienable human rights") is supposed to suffice for this guaranteed hand-out from the welfare state, without recognizing that an individual's self-esteem has to do essentially with how others esteem and value that individual's powers and abilities, of whatever kind and degree. An unconditional citizen's pension is a recipe for extinguishing any impulse to freedom whatsoever, since the latter is associated essentially also with risk, struggle and challenges. Resistance needs to be overcome in power plays to gain your own stand in life and so become who you are. Dependency on the welfare state amounts to living in limbo, but to all too many Germans, this promised existential state of life-in-death appears as paradise. For the Sozialstaat itself, despite the expense, encouraging and providing for dependency is a major way in which the State's rule over its populace is legitimated and cemented. Politicians across the spectrum are keen on elaborating the already intricate bureaucratic welfare apparatuses in return for re-election. None dares say a word against the constitutionally anchored Sozialstaat.

30.04.2014

 Why these reflections?

The preceding can easily be read as the resentful reflections of a grumpy old Australian immigrant whom Germany has disappointed. His nostalgia for the liberal atmosphere of his home country makes him idealize it, holding it up as the tacitly presupposed foil against which Germany is being judged. This could hold true only if I had not been disappointed also by Australia, hence emigrating to Germany over thirty years ago. So Australia cannot be my ideal, but rather a drive for freedom that has motivated me from the outset, even before focusing on philosophy studies in 1975 at the University of Sydney. The question of freedom is at the centre of my thinking. For me it is not merely an academic question, but accompanies and agitates me in life's daily struggles. 

My reflections on Germany aim at unearthing something about the Germans that is blindingly obvious and hence hard to capture in words. Perhaps the best we can do is to resort to the usual, familiar, well-established and widespread stereotypes of the Germans, which do hit something, but at the same time can readily be dismissed as generalizations. The concern here is to uncover the contradictions between the image of a modern liberal-democratic Western country and the deep-seated unfreedom of a willingly subjugated people. This 'deep seat' is the all-pervasive German mind-set itself that you learn to taste after a time. It pervades even the minds of modern, progressive Germans to whom reactionary or socially conservative attitudes are suspect, if not anathema. All Germans are immersed in this German mind, this German Geist, which is nothing other than the historically shaped and attuned time-clearing of this people. 

Where is the German novelist or playwright who could bring to light this subtle, invisible obviousness, this shadow looking over the Germans' shoulders? 

The easy visibility of human rights as a political weapon

The critique of other, openly authoritarian countries such as Putin's Russia or Lukashenko's Belarus is infinitely easier, for it is the regime itself that suppresses and distorts the accepted liberal-democratic institutional structures, including free speech of the media criticizing the government. The people itself, or 'progressive' sections thereof, see this clearly and revolt, offering political resistance about which even the crudest journalism can report. The universally accepted criteria of human rights are ready to hand and effortlessly applied as a yardstick to criticize such regimes that are shown to authoritarianly suppress their people's freedom. Such suppression is open to considered public view in media reports by reputable, regime-independent journalists that are readily understood, no matter whether the facts of the matter are disputed or not. 

Criteria of human rights can be and are applied also to criticize Germany in some areas, such as the treatment of political refugees, and there are ongoing political struggles over such issues in which NGOs play a key role, in particular, by naming and shaming. The light of public opinion is shone on the government's practices and policies that infringe human rights as laid down and signed up to in important documents of international law, starting with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The universality of this declaration is itself an achievement of Western liberal thinking that has been raised to this plane, thus finding acceptance worldwide among those actively protesting against repressive regimes, of which there are still plenty. In such cases, there is the regime on the one side and its population on the other with its supposed desire for at least political freedoms such as free and fair, democratic elections, the most superficial, albeit indispensable, of all political freedoms. 

Political freedoms, however, consisting as they do in freedoms in citizens' relations with the state, are not the soil of freedom. Freedom must be lived and cultivated first and foremost in everyday life in social relations, i.e. in the dealings that people have with each other. That is the touchstone: what is the atmosphere a people breathes, its ethos? How do people esteem, estimate, value each other in the power plays of quotidian life as a matter of second nature, i.e. of themselves, independently of what the State lays down as lawful behaviour? What ethical aether have people inhaled? Only if this ethos is the air of civil freedom can it then also, albeit not without political struggle, infiltrate and permeate the State, transforming it into a government whose first and essential definition is to serve its people, not merely rule it. 

     

    Notes

    1. "corrective justice in the commutations" (to/ e)n toi=j sunalla/gmasi diorqwtiko/n di/kaion

    2.  Aristotle Eth. Nic. V 1131a1). Back 
       
    3. xxx (Back to 53)
 

Copyright (c) 1969-2014 by Michael Eldred, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

 
Last modified: 19-May-2014
Version 1.0 1969
First put on site 22-Feb-2011


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