Living in the Weimar Republic

Weimar Germany was a tremendously sophisticated and creative place. In my own field — law — it produced some monumentally important works, notably Max Weber’s later legal sociology and Hans Kelsen’s “pure theory of law,” which was ultimately a decisive influence on H.L.A. Hart and with him the entire course of legal philosophy in the twentieth century. Weimar was also a deeply, deeply sick society, and we know where it ended: Hitler, National Socialism, the death camps, and the rubble of bombed and divided Berlin.

In many ways Weimar was a world of profound nuance. It was a world were a lot of people were very good at seeing both sides of the issue. They understood that behind the shibboleths of liberal democracy there lurked a great deal of hypocrisy. They knew that certainties could lead to horrific violence. After all, these were the men (and women) who had lived through the assaults on Verdun and who had repulsed the British at the Ypres salient. Hence, when a vicious barbarism arose in their midst they let it fester. After all, the barbarians had many legitimate grievances, and even barbarians aren’t all bad. Herr Hitler might do some good things for the country, even though we realize that he is really rather crude and rather crass.

It seems to me that one of the tricks of tolerant public discussion is to figure out the point at which you are living in the Weimar Republic. Sometimes we live in a world with great evils, and we ought to be skeptical about the ability of graduate-seminar style discussions to meet them. As it happens, I love the seminar room. (Although, when nuance becomes mushiness I can’t help but feel that the ethos of the seminar room has been deeply violated.) I am loath to believe that I am living in the Weimar Republic. Unfortunately, on this — as on most issues — I am fairly certain that I am frequently wrong.

Nuance can be moral rot as well as intellectual sophistication. Pointedly, Hitler was stopped by a man who — blessedly born out of time — brought those oh-so-obnoxious Victorian certainties into the middle of the twentieth century. Churchill was a man who believed in grandiose generalities, and he had the faults of a man with such beliefs. He also saved the world.

56 comments for “Living in the Weimar Republic

  1. Kaimi Wenger
    May 25, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    “It seems to me that one of the tricks of tolerant public discussion is to figure out the point at which you are living in the Weimar Republic.”

    Yes. But then, one’s judgment of society’s place on the Wiemar-o-meter is likely to be heavily influenced by one’s opinions on the matters on which one is opining. And so the people who have the most vehement views, I think, are also most likely to be the people who think that vehement views are requisite. Meanwhile, those with the most accomodating views are likely to be those who think that accomodating views are requisite.

  2. Kaimi Wenger
    May 25, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Or rather — just because a person’s actions are consistent with her perception on where she stands on the Weimar-o-meter is no guarantee that her actions will be reasonable.

    There was a case when I was clerking, in another judge’s chambers but we all heard about it. The defendant tried to hijack a plane, and was arrested. His attorney learned that his client’s actions were imspired by the following set of beliefs: A group of aliens was getting ready to fire a giant laser into Antarctica, destroying the Earth. (Or maybe it was a giant bomb — the details are a little fuzzy). And so he had to hijack the plane to fly to Antarctica to stop the Earth from being destroyed.

    His court-appointed attorney tried to submit an insanity plea. The defendant refused to cooperate, insisted that he represent himself, tried to fire his attorney. His reasoning was this — I can’t tell people that I’m insane, or they won’t believe me, and then no one will fly to Antarctica and try to stop the aliens from destroying the Earth.

    And we clerks sat around and said, yep, that’s internally consistent. This guy really _does_ think that aliens are trying to blow up the planet. All the more reason to force an insanity plea, but it was consistent with genuine belief on his part.

    Decisive actions; internally consistent. He thought he was living in Weimar. He was wrong.

    And in many ways, I think that the most dangerous people on Earth are those who incorrectly believe they’re living in Weimar. Before deciding that we’re in Weimar, it’s important to be very, very sure of that judgment.

  3. May 25, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Kaimi: But this is simply the problem that we always face with our beliefs: Even after we have weighed everything and tried to control for our own biases, etc. etc. we may be wrong. The problem is that we may also be right.

    My point is simply that for all of its virtues, there is a dark side to nuance.

  4. Kaimi Wenger
    May 25, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    That’s a pretty nuanced view of nuance, Mr. Oman. Personally, I think the merits of nuance should be assessed in a much more black-and-white way.

  5. John T.
    May 25, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    I think Kaimi’s right. It is very important to determine whether we’re in Weimar. I need the advice of some other LDS Counsel, Jay S. Bybee and Timothy Flanigan….. That’s what I thought. Everything’s fine.

  6. May 25, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Ha! I’ll go one better than the nuance of nuance and lapse into mere poetry:

    TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    William Butler Yeats

  7. Adam Greenwood
    May 25, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    There is a Kantian, self-introspective quality to this debate about whether nuance or conviction is more dangerous. The idea seems to be that whatever we decide will be the universal rule, so if everyone deciding they live in Weimar is dangerous, then we shouldnt’ decide we’re living in Weimar. The first problem with that is that no matter what we decide, we still live in a time and place where most of the public sphere is suspicious of conviction, and our being convicted won’t change that. The second problem is that we should decide whether we live in Weimar based on whether we live in Weimar, and not on whether we think its dangerous to think so.

  8. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    Nuance and conviction are not mutually exclusive. A *foolish* consistency (or bivalence) is a hobgoblin of little minds. And if there ever was a foolish consistency that afflicted Western civilization, it is the proposition of Aristotle with respect to the verb “to be” – namely that something must either be or not be, nothing allowed in between – sometimes known as the Law of the Excluded Middle, but that title more properly applies to truth and falsity rather than being and unbeing.

    One can hold to a multivalent semantic of being with a much greater degree of conviction that a primitive bivalent, black-and-white view of the world. Why? Because even when there are errors, an analytical semantic in shades of gray is much more stable and consistent than a semantic in strict terms of being and not being. To be or not to be is not the question – the question is how much and to what degree. Nuance requires considerable effort to do properly but has its just reward.

  9. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Emerson of course.

  10. Melissa
    May 25, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    I disagree, Adam. The public square (which doesn’t really exist as we all know) is not suspicious of conviction if good reasons are given for those things about which we are convicted. It’s true that much ink has been spilled over whether or not *religious* reasons belong in the public square since religious reasons are often understood as private and thus either publicly inaccessible or irrelevant, but that’s another debate. Demanding reasons for our convictions provides a safeguard against bigotry and zealotry that tries to disguise itself as something else.

  11. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 25, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    Barbarians are at our gates may well be a time of yang: not listening to deep-thinking prophets of peace but instinctively self-assured war chiefs. Unless your gates can’t hold, which would indicate more better-er the time of yin: sly accomodation, leaving overt revolution for another day. Then again, just because barbarians can be identified doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at our gates. Yet, in the main, I leave elected representatives to make the call for it’s being, per Ecclesiates, a time of peace or one of war — as I dream Wilson’s dream some future league of democratic nations?

  12. Nate Oman
    May 25, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    Come on Melissa, it isn’t that simple. There are major strans of philosophical liberalism, which is our dominant public philosophy, that hold that not only are religious convictions unwelcome in the public sphere, but ANY convictions based on beliefs about the good, the true, or the beautiful are properly excluded. To be sure, conviction is hardly universally reviled, but it seems entirely reasonable to suggest that conviction is per se viewed as suspect by very powerful strands of the liberal ethos.

  13. Nate Oman
    May 25, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    Ye gods! That last sentence of mine is really bad…

  14. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    Now we are using convinction in two different senses – one of surety or certainty as in the Yeats poem, and a second sense of empirically unjustified belief as many liberals regard religion.

    Contemporary liberals have most definite convictions about a lot of things in the first sense, even if they are opposed to conviction in the second.

    Given any reasonable history of how religious doctrines develop and propagate, I think the common liberal attitude towards religion is rather hypocritcal. Liberalism is a religio-ethical system not that different from any other. Just different gods thats all.

  15. May 25, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Mark Butler: Aristotle was quite explicit about there being more than one sense of “being.”

    Nate: I’m considerably less convinced that conviction is as unwelcome as you take it to be. You grant too much authority to stereotypical readers of the NYT, etc. Indeed, to the degree that philosophy is any sort of intellectual bellwether, the importance of thinkers like Charles Taylor and the rise of Continental interest in religion as a positive phenomenon suggests that conviction may be ready for a come-back.

  16. Melissa
    May 25, 2006 at 7:39 pm


    I never suggested it was simple. What I did say is that the acceptance of conviction in the public square requires a certain sort of reason-giving (this seems to be my theme today). What form those reasons should take is, of course, hotly contested.

  17. Melissa
    May 25, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    I might just add to Jim’s comment that the Audi/Rawls line of argument is out of favor in my little corner of the academy (as you might imagine). Taylor, Wolterstorff, Stephen Carter, etc. are much more influential these days.

  18. manaen
    May 25, 2006 at 7:48 pm


    Nuance can be moral rot as well as intellectual sophistication. Pointedly, Communisim was stopped by a man who — blessedly born out of time — brought those oh-so-obnoxious Mid-western certainties into the latter part of the twentieth century. Reagan was a man who believed in grandiose generalities, and he had the faults of a man with such beliefs. He also saved the world.

  19. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Jim F: I am not talking about different *senses* of being I am talking about different *degrees* of being. Aristotle was most definitely opposed to the latter. Whatever his more subtle thoughts on the subject, that principle has become the most salient aspect of Western thought ever since to very serious consequences, *especially* in theology.

    Consequences so severe that we have a hard time escaping them today – we are addicted to bivalence. Just watch any depiction of a police interrogation or a court room cross examination. So many times when a question is deserving of subtlety the examiner demands to be answered in terms of Yes or No.

    Same with our penchant for endless categories and classifications and our pathetic bewilderment when something won’t fit, as if the categories were laws of nature.

    So much semantic naivete – so many people who debate whether something is or is not, as if the question was always matter of an external reality instead of a question of preference and consistent definition. There are few things more sad than to watch somebody argue for the the manifest truth of the bounds of a synthetic being.

    Now I am not saying this is all Aristotle’s fault – he just gets the credit for being bivalence’s most prominent advocate.

  20. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    As long as one is not in a second rate post modern lit. crit. class, it is pretty easy to tell nuance from mush, whether one is reading Supreme Court opinions or listening to Bob Dylan.

    Shades of gray does not imply swirl and blur – The truth is Ansel Adams not Picasso.

  21. Jonathan Green
    May 25, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    Nate, I think your reading of history is bad. Namely, the forces of nuance did not bring Hitler to power, but rather the stronger bloc that preferred Hitler’s version of certainty. Understanding both sides of an issue was not the “moral rot” that led to Hitler. The Holocaust was not pre-programmed to happen in 1418 or 1517 or 1648 or 1871 or 1918 (although it may have been set in motion in 1933), and it is not a direct result of the cultural evanescence that we usually think of when we mention Weimar, but rather an outgrowth of the forces that opposed that cultural moment and found it decadent. Churchill did great things, but winning the war in Europe was largely the accomplishment, unfortunately, of the Red Army and a man whose certainties were decidedly less salutary than Churchill’s.

    My point is that you are not necessarily living in the Weimar Republic (in the sense of experiencing the prelude to disaster) even if you’re in the Weimar Republic. The flipside of that, is course, is that you could be living your metaphorical Weimar at any time, in any place. So the question you pose is interesting: a graduate seminar is rather more useful in 1927 than in 1943. But assuming that you do figure out that you’re living in Weimar, will you be able to accurately predict which set of barbarians is the true threat to humanity? Will you get an appointment at Princeton in time so you can sit things out for the duration?

  22. May 25, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    Whoa. Did Mark Butler just diss Bob Dylan and Picasso? Maybe I’m messed up from the mental warp that took place as I transitioned from Greenwood to Oman.

  23. Mark IV
    May 25, 2006 at 9:02 pm


    I’ll agree that Churchill was not a “on the other hand” kind of guy. But the source of his influence was not his convictions, but rather his ability to articulate them, and to argue them persuasively. Melissa is right.

  24. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    I am not the only Mark Butler around here, if that is the source of your confusion, danithew. I would change my name, but I happen to like it, and “Mark B.” is already taken. I can’t imagine a swap would improve the situation.

    I meant to ‘diss’ the Supreme Court too by the way.

  25. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Also, while I do not think much of Picasso I will take the Impressionist version of reality any time, especially over mere shadow play.

  26. May 25, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    One of the Mark Butlers has a blog, I believe. If the one with the blog would link his name to his blog he might not only get more traffic, but it could help to eliminate some of the confusion. Yes, it seems like a very nice name.

    I was wondering a little about Supreme Court opinions being used as a standard, since my understanding is that some are better written than others.

    If I could have re-written my comment, I would have kept the “dissed” but changed “messed up” to “disoriented.” Oh well.

  27. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    Not to imply that Picasso was an impressionist of course.

  28. Mark Butler
    May 25, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Edmund Burke is a classic example of the value of having an ‘on the other hand’ approach to questions, as well as the value of skepticism with regard to plans to reconstruct the world from principles of pure reason.

    Somehow I think he and Winston Churchill have more in common with each other than with the French and German extremes of both Left and Right.

  29. May 25, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    Great comment, Jonathan.

    I do take a little issue with your Red Army comment though. A historic land grab in the expanses of the East as the Germans retreat to the homeland is impressive but not to be lauded as winning the war in Europe. D-Day was at least as essential as the Red Army’s annexation of Poland etc.

  30. TMD
    May 26, 2006 at 12:12 am

    I think a discussion of whether or not conviction versus nuance is not a useful way of looking at this. Rather, it’s a question of being able to come to conclusions and then being willing to act upon them. If we think of some of the more important opponents of fascism, at least at some point along the way–Churchill, but also De Gaulle, Bonhoeffer, Stauffenberg or even people like Arendt, these are not people lacking in the capacity for nuance (to say that of Churchill is to shrink him to a public cariacature of four years out of a 60 year public career). Indeed, perhaps the defining characteristic of the strain old-fashioned European conservativism that defined people like Churchill, De Gaulle, and others like Mannerheim was its nuance. Nuance is, in my book, essential to reasoning about which convictions apply, by more fully appreciating the nature of the situation. Nuance is only problematic when it prevents the coming to a conclusion.

    Some people are, I think, conditioned against the formation of a conclusion by culture and personality.

    I think it safe to say that the same was true of interwar France, as Germany–if not more so. The pathologies of that society were no less deep, they just didn’t have the bad luck to have someone charismatic come to embody a particularly bad aspect of it.

    Johnf: I side with Jonathan. The western front was a side show. An important side show, perhaps, but not the ultimate basis for the end of the war. D-Day would have failed if Stalin had put just a little less effort into fighting the war.

  31. Jonathan Green
    May 26, 2006 at 7:53 am

    (Johh F., TMD, I think “who really won the war” is a fascinating question, but a distraction from Nate’s point, which deserves more discussion. Now that we’ve staked out our positions, I vote we table further discussion for the time being.)

    Nate, when you observe the world in general, what is it that makes you think of Weimar?

  32. Adam Greenwood
    May 26, 2006 at 9:11 am

    “The public square (which doesn’t really exist as we all know) is not suspicious of conviction if good reasons are given for those things about which we are convicted.”

    I don’t see much evidence of this, Melissa P.

  33. Adam Greenwood
    May 26, 2006 at 9:18 am

    “the source of his influence was not his convictions, but rather his ability to articulate them, and to argue them persuasively.”

    I don’t think this is accurate. Churchill was as eloquent as ever during the 1930s but he remained firmly on the sideline. He came into power eventually because events bore him out and because people knew he *meant* what he said, and what he said was uncompromising. One can conceive of a less eloquent Churchill but not a less bulldog one.

    On the Eastern Front:
    I think its generally right that the Red Army did the bulk of the fighting and the defeating of the Nazis. But I also think its true that if England had patched up a peace with the Nazis after the fall of France–which I think would likely have occurred in Churchill’s absence–that the Nazis would have wiped the floor with the Soviets. Even as is, it was too near run a thing.

  34. Bryan Warnick
    May 26, 2006 at 10:05 am

    john f: “I do take a little issue with your Red Army comment though. A historic land grab in the expanses of the East as the Germans retreat to the homeland is impressive but not to be lauded as winning the war in Europe. D-Day was at least as essential as the Red Army’s annexation of Poland etc.”

    Not to get off topic, but really the Western Front was a relatively minor skirmish during WWII. About 80% of German causalities occurred on the Eastern Front. The Red Army was almost single-handedly responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany, at least in terms of human blood (they were fairly needy on Western supplies, to be sure). D-Day was probably as much about checking post-war Soviet expansion as anything else.

  35. May 26, 2006 at 10:18 am

    Very cynical Bryan. Comrade Stalin would be proud.

  36. Mark IV
    May 26, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Adam, # 33,

    …He came into power eventually because events bore him out and because people knew he *meant* what he said, and what he said was uncompromising.

    Well, you may be right about that. The power of his speech was often a reflection of the strength of his convictions.

  37. May 26, 2006 at 11:02 am

    “I might just add to Jim’s comment that the Audi/Rawls line of argument is out of favor in my little corner of the academy (as you might imagine). Taylor, Wolterstorff, Stephen Carter, etc. are much more influential these days.”

    Rawls and Audi remain quite influential in the legal academy, although they don’t command anything like universal respect. I am not especially surprised that religious studies has a more nuanced view of religion than does law. On the other hand, I suspect that law is a bit more closely related to the public square is it now exists. It certainly has more influence on the rules that in large part constitute public life.

  38. May 26, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Nate: I suspect that law is a bit more closely related to the public square is it now exists. It certainly has more influence on the rules that in large part constitute public life.

    I agree that this is probably true of the law. But I doubt that it is much more true of the academic study of the law than it is of any other academic discipline.

  39. May 26, 2006 at 11:21 am

    OK, on Churchill. I think that Adam is right about the role of England and the Red Army. I think it is entirely correct to point out that the German Army was destroyed in Russia not France or Holland. On the other hand, I think that that had England signed a seperate peace with Hitler in the summer of 1940, Barbarrossa would likely have succeeded and Stalin would have signed another deal with Hitler by 1942. As it ended up happening, Stalin just about did that.

    As for the Soviet reading of D-Day, I think it is wrong. Stalin was right that the allies dithered about opening a second front, but he is wrong to assign the dithering to a sinister and well-thought out anti-soviet strategy. Rather, what you had was a fundamental disagreement between the English and the American’s on strategy, a disagreement that has roots in their historical experience. Britian saw Hitler as Napoleon, and wanted to adopt the strategy that worked against the Napoleon: probe around the periphery of the continental empire for weaknesses and vigorously support any and all continental resistance to the Empire. The Americans saw Hitler’s Germany as the Confederacy, and wanted to adopt Grant’s strategy: Put together a large army, put it close to the enemy’s heartland, come to grips with his army in a series of decisive battles, and destroy it. The argument over these strategies consumed 1942 and 1943. Ultimately they compromised. The Allies landed in North Africa and Italy while supporting partisans in places like the Balkans (this was for the English), but did eventually land a large army close to Germany that came to grips with the main force of the German Army itself, but much later than the Americans wanted.

    As for Weimar, I do think that one of the reasons that Hitler was able to succeed was because he was viewed as having legitimate grievances and making legitimate contributions by many people who nevertheless thought there were things deeply wrong with Nazism. To be sure, there were also lots of Germans who simply baught into the certainties of the barbarism, but not all. Furthermore, folks like Chamberlain who facilitated the Nazi rise to power in the 1930s do so in part because they were deeply suspicious of the Manichean rhetoric of Churchill and the other (pitifully few) critics of Nazi expansion, preferring a more nuanced view of Hitler, his grievances, and his aims. I have a very hard time not believing that the world-weary sophistication-cum-cynacism of Europe generally and Wiermar in particular did much to make the cataclysm of World War II more horrific than it otherwise would have been. To be sure, Europeans of the World War I generation had earned the right to be skeptical and cynical. This didn’t make their skeptical cynacism any less destructive.

    As for myself, I don’t live in Weirmar, I live a seminar room. I am just glad that the world is not filled with people like me. (Even though I do think that we are useful to have around.)

  40. May 26, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Nate: I suspect that law is a bit more closely related to the public square is it now exists. It certainly has more influence on the rules that in large part constitute public life.

    “I agree that this is probably true of the law. But I doubt that it is much more true of the academic study of the law than it is of any other academic discipline.”

    Perhaps you are right. On the other hand, I can point to intellectual movements within the legal academy that have resulted in shifts in the law. There is, however, a very good argument to be made that those days are behind us. In a sense, the legal academy is always parasitic. It used to be almost entirely parasitic on the work of the law, especially the courts. One result was that it had the ability to influence the courts because it was producing a mass of ideas that were immediately relevent to adjudication. Increasingly, the legal academy is parasitic on other disciplines, borrowing heavily from philosophy and economics. The result is that what it produces is less relevent to the work of the courts and now no longer has the influence that once it did. On the other hand, law as an academic discipline has virutally not influence of any kind of the disciplines from which it borrows.

    On the other hand, the law review are more fun to read now than they were a generation or two ago.

  41. annegb
    May 26, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    I liked what Kaimi said in #1. I wonder if we all think the sky is falling. Well, you all, not me, necessarily.

  42. Mark Butler
    May 26, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    My point is that one can have a vigorous convinction based on a hostility to radical forms of vigorous convinction. One need not be a radical to vigorously oppose appeasement of nations clearly headed down a very dangerous track. That is why I see Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill in the same light – they are conservatives in the true and proper sense, opposed by instinct to radical extremes on both sides. Such conservatism does not make a person a namby-pamby, a world weary cynic, nor supreme practioner of Realpolitik, though there is certainly a European brand of conservatism that has all three tendencies, sad to say.

  43. Mark Butler
    May 26, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    “conviction” that is.

  44. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 26, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    Let’s set mister Hitler AS SYMBOL aside for just a moment — whose, yes, wicked expediencies history has been fickle enough to carve in base relief — ‘n’ kinsider the real world fact that we humans have a psychological predisposition to accept often quite autocratic, national/ tribal leaders in the interest of protecting Our people against those only too real, nefarious Others out there. Just a random list: Pharoah? Joshuah? Nebachanessar?(sic.) Alexander? Caesar? Attila? the Crusaders? Muhammad th’ 2nd (namely: the sultan who sacked Constantinople)? Napolean? “Bee” Young? (ahem: yes, my good friend on the Left, uncle Joseph Stalin? But we won’t mention him.) Ataturk? Franco? the founders of Israel? and, as we say in New Jersey: ek setara? huh? Fact is, there’s scary, scary places on the globe even today — where we might consider to follow liberal inclinations ta wanna impose some more enlightened version of the Rule of Law upon. Only to see some of the people there inclined to support their own version of freedom-fighting, tribal autocrats aginn us.

    The thing is, I believe such a tribal impulse to be universal; so — I’ll live with it. “We believe in being subject to kings — ” blah blah. Yet at the same time I actually believe in the benefits, in the higher evolved-ness, the greater enlightened-ment of liberalism and, in general, liberality. And in the Rule of Law.
    – – –
    Democracies are usually too willy nilly by nature to get involved in genuine, prolonged-action crusades — although sometimes, I guess though fear, we can be led into em? So, during the Cold War we made all sorts of friends with autocratic folks — well, the ones on the Right. And: this whole Iraq thing might have been attacked — by longstanding practice — by empowering a local Big Man, some client “Assad of Syria” or another. But instead we’re marching here behind banners reading Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!: So interesting.

  45. Mark Butler
    May 26, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Kimball, It is quite a stretch to put the founders of the modern state of Israel in the same category as Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler, particularly because they were the ones who were willing to compromise, leave Jerusalem under international control, were not the ones who initiated hostilities, and so on.

    Now while the Palestianians indeed have many legitimate grievances, their leaders willing and repeated subscription to the tenets of terrorist totalitarianism from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat and his more radical successors, makes their claims to legitimacy as *competent* authorities hard to swallow without choking.

    While the most orthodox of the Jews may indeed hope for the establishment, even by conquest, of Jewish hegemony over the entire world, has the idea that their enemies should be exterminated, literally wiped off of the face of the map, that a killer of an infidel does God honor, and so on ever had any real traction, even among the most ardent?

    Where among the Jews historical enemies, that attitude is so prevalent as to be almost unremarkable. One might say the same about the virtues of Alexander and the civilization he installed over the regimes he replaced. Civilizing conquests, however improper, surely have something to be said for them above sheer lust for blood, revenge, and recrimination. And no, all civilizations are not created equal.

  46. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 26, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    Apparently you speak nuance but don’t practice it, Mark? As my list DIDN’T include Hitler. (And even my Leftist buddy Stalin was put in a parethetical aside.) Instead, when I got to its latter entries, it was to include, randomly, people — like Ataturk, Franco — who merely fit the description of successful nationalist leaders who originally rose through revolutionary/ extra legal means. (My earlier part of the list, where I was doing great emperors, left out Charlemagne in its post Roman period, too. But then I left out all premodern, European imperial powers, I guess. )

    However, since you do mention it: Re Israel “not attacking”? Palestine was an Ottoman holding, turned English one. And, after the English withdrew, the Jewish nationalists, yes, seized control — and prior to this her partisans very much had indeed engaged in much terror slash freedom fighting. And although, yes, once Israel had already been established some years under the Jewish nationalist rubric of the Law of Return, it was attacked. But this was after the fact of their having been founded, and my list only mentions the nation state of Israel’s founding.

    Would it make you feel better if I were to list “Gee” Washington? OK: done!

    p/s: One Jew early Jewish Nationalists assassinated was an orthodox rabbi who taught that Israel must not be form a political entity until the Messiah come — which is actually more in line with traditional Orthodox thinking than having a secular state march to the fore in its undertaking.)

    Also: A current news item has the Council of Churches or some such entity castigating Israel for its systematic violations of “international law”.

    I think, historically lookin back, this Iraq campaign and all these more minor of nation building enterprises of late will be seen to have been the most important thing going. (Shrugs. Don’t gotta be no genius to see THAT! lol.) In any case, though I’m this armchair guy who wouldn’t know my way around a symposia/ seminar on the subject 4 nuthin — Still, I think how to best support installation of advanced conceptions of the Rule of Law various places is a very, very important question. So “true” Jingoism — and, likewise anachronistically, what’s truly the Kiplingesque “white man’s” (read: Westerners) burden — isn’t the valor of early and easy conquest at all. It’s the peace keeping.

    This “Jewish settlements in Palestinian territorities” business is so bizarre to me.

    I live in Teaneck, New Jersey. And, should the skinheads succeed in their idea to create homelands for “Aryans,” Jews, et cetera, Teaneck would be a Jewish homeland. Then I could imagine such a concept as, in America, there being possible “a Jewish settlement in the Aryan Nationalist territories of New Jersey.” Bizarre huh! ‘Caus this is what exists in Israel today!!

    Hence, the first step in “true” jingoism/ nation building is for the United States to support the SAME kind of rights elsewhere as it insists on at home! No more strong men as clients. No more weapons sales. No more supporting regimes (such as once South Africa and now Israel) where justice is so patently not blind to ethnicity. Would that campuses be alive to this quest.

    Maybe in some other generation?

  47. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 26, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    “The Jews’ (/”Aryans'”/ whatever ethnicities’) historical enemies.”

    In the US — NOT the Ameri-K.-K.-Kay of slavery but, subsequently, wherein ethnic-favor’s worked against — such talk would rightly be considered completely counterproductive — despite there being more truth to the Jews’ having had, from Roman times to the 1940s, more “Aryan”-European enemies than Middle Eastern ones!

  48. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 12:17 am

    Mark, sorry for yet another addemdum here. But, even though I suppose various comparison could be made between Zionism and National Socialism, I specifically didn’t do so. And, in any case, since my casual list’s modern criteria was

    ( i. ) successful/ ( i i. ) nationalists/ ( i i i.) revolutionaries;

    while revolutionaries, Hitler — due in part his whacked-out extremes in such percieved expediencies as ethnic cleansing — wasn’t successful; whereas uncle Joe’s imperialism — purporting to be a revolution of the proletariat — earns an asterisk since it’s not framed (at least) as being nationalist . . .

  49. TMD
    May 27, 2006 at 12:54 am


    The peculiar thing is that liberty was often defended, indeed extended, in times of external peril, by people of quite conservative bent. You may find Franco typical of the european conservative, but was not De Gaulle, who came to the presidency of France not once but twice through revolutionary means, ultimately the best friend of individual liberty the French had had in generations?

    The key difference between the men who democracies turned to (sometimes extraordinarily) and those that came to power solely through armed means is these democracies choose whom to turn to in time of crisis. Thus it was to Churchill and not to Mosely (the former labourite) to whom they turned. De Gaulle’s response when asked in 1958 to being accused of intending to trample liberties (“Have I ever done that? Quite the opposite, I have reestablished them when they had disappeared. Who honestly believes that, at age 67, I would start a career as a dictator?”) is instructive in this sense, for it suggests that people turn not only to those who will keep them safe, but to those whom they trust with their liberties and with their ultimate values.

    Because ultimately, there are times when those with psychological predispositions against drawing conclusions are unfit to lead. Sometimes–and we might see this in Halifax, Chamberlain’s preferred successor–the refusal to draw conclusions is ultimately a failure of vision, of becoming so enamoured with the nuaces of the situation that one fails to recognize the true, larger situation.

  50. Mark Butler
    May 27, 2006 at 1:26 am

    I do not dispute that the members of the list bear some similarity – my point is precisely that listing them together without a proper discussion of what made them different is a morally pernicious relativism of the sort that would equate the Kingdom of God with the reign of the devil.

    I am aware of Jewish history prior to Israel’s independence, that all of it was not perfectly honorable and upright, and that there were elements, notably the Stern Gang, whose deeds rank in the annals of the truly despicable, and who are rightly dishonored in shame and embarrassment in Israel today.

    And yet the contemporary Palestinian equivalents of the Stern Gang are national heroes, destined for heavenly glory! The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was in league with the Nazis and his heirs quote Hitler’s works with back slapping approbation.

    Most of the Haganah’s actions were defensive in nature. If we were in their situation, subject to constant Arab attacks to general British indifference, we would justify our measured response by referring to the following verse:

    We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded. (D&C 134:11)

    It is worth remembering that the modern state of Israel was created by the United Nations not by some revolutionary war for independence. The war started with major attacks by the Arabs on Jewish settlements soon after the resolution (UN Res. 181) for the partition of Palestine into two states was announced in late 1947.

    The Jewish state of Israel survived the attacks and the siege of Jerusalem despite being massively outgunned and outnumbered, with no thanks to any other country. They had to smuggle all their arms in as the Mandate was ending – the U.S. and British policy at the time was to hope they went away – sort of like our policy in the former Yugoslavia – can’t possibly let the poor Serbs defend themselves can we?

  51. Mark Butler
    May 27, 2006 at 1:40 am

    I should add that by any rational standard Stalin is responsible for more deaths than ten Hitlers put together. Stalinist communism is the very antithesis of liberal democracy, so why contemporary ‘liberals’ still get all mushy over him I fail to comprehend.

  52. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 10:31 am


    Thanks for hewing to the thread’s subject much better-er than me. And your factoring out those who rose democratically “vee” those who rose solely through force of arms . . . is SOOey-tainly instructive!!


    It’s good to see you’ve come back to, lol, “nuance”. Although, we guess, at the upcoming festivities honoring uncle Ho & uncle Fidel, we should cross you off the list to bring the Jell-O salad? Wink. (Um OK. For those slow on the uptake — waves hand — I’M MAKING FUN HERE of the Left’s soft spot for Marx and the recent tensions of “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the Party!” vee “Better dead than red.”)

  53. Mark Butler
    May 27, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Well, if that is the case I apologize, Kimball. Stalin wasn’t exactly the type of guy easy to be nuanced about however. One might rightly explain him, but true sympathy is another story.

  54. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Yet another aphorism:

    Absolute power corrupts ——-

    . .– (the auto-didact) LORD ACTON ( 1834 – 1902 )

    And while we’re at it how bout

    Those who cannot remember the(ir) past are condemned to repeat (their mistakes).

    . .– (the Harvard man of letters) GEORGE SANTAYANA ( 1863 – 1952 )

  55. May 29, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    Well, that depends on your view of history.
    It seems more and more is turning up, that perhaps propaganda had much more of an influence on history for this time than any other time.
    These people, esp. the women and children, were being murdered after the war by the “winners”. The way “civilized” people do it–with embargoes, restrictions, etc.–not the way barbarians like Hitler did it (with weapons). Unless, of course, you skip over the ending of the war, where the Allies did quite a bit of it unnecessarily on others, too.
    But the point is understood, and it’s hard–impossible–for most peole to see themselves in the light of history. That’s hard to do even in personal ways for many (like four marriages, four divorces–and gee, what a coincidence, the men all had the same faulty traits…).

  56. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 29, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    Whoever this John Rawls guy is (1921-2002), he apparently has things to say about tolerating the intolerant?

    e.[-XEMPLI) g.[-RATIA], MikeinWeHollywood over in the Proposed Constitutional Amendment thread’s pretty good at this; yet at some point society decides to make whoever’s beyond the pale of acceptable bigotry pay by their being shunned/ snickered at? (Ironic, huh.)

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