Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How could it happen? / 9 / "Decadent Liberals".

In reading about the fears and problems during the Weimar Republic, there was something mentioned which I did not understand.  Some people abhored a "decadent liberalism" which seemed to go together with democracy in their minds. --  We have democracy now.  I have lived in a democracy all my life.  They have not been particularly decadent.  Everyone works hard and tried to get ahead.  There has been freedom of speech, religion, etc.  The freedom has not ruined things.  After finishing the book on Heinrich Mann, I think I may have an inkling how democracy was linked to "decadence".
The Kaiser, the monarch, was no more after the first world war.  He who had been the bastion of continuity, Prussian discipline and diligence.   Together with Bismarck we had had a kind of superior and forceful leadership that made things happen, keeping matters mostly fairly intelligently on the straight and narrow.  The next William had had it with Bismarck and those with more expansionistic, less cautious, grandiose ideas came to the fore.  Jewish emancipation had been a bone of contention;  with the entry of Jews into guilds and other professions, other Germans experienced a kind of new competition, one that might disadvantage them in the age of increasing industrialization. Knowledge of finance was a definite asset to the initiated.  Leaders had always availed themselves of this expertise while keeping the Jews out of the business.   There were all sorts of fears and all sorts of ambitions. 
So who are the decadent liberals?  I am thinking they might possibly have called Heinrich Mann one of them.  His novels dealt with sex and not usually the marital kind;  love was to be the byword for politics.  As we love each other, we should let this love flow into the life of the state.  A kind of hope for the ideals of the French Revolution, even if they involve bloodshed, should inspire those of higher spiritual life.  The "masses" needed educating into this higher spiritual life, which was definitely not a Christian spiritual life and it certainly was not according to "bourgeois values".  It did turn out in the end that the "liberal" had sympathies with the communists, as the conservative and catholic blocks always feared.  All of this is true about Heinrich Mann.  At first he contrasted Rousseau with Goethe but later on he managed to bring them together.  Heinrich Mann was ever attempting to educate the public.
The fear of Communism was paramount and pervasive.  Russia had been taken over by the revolutionaries.  During the Weimar Republic the Communists gained power in Munich for a while but were beaten back by militias together with the limited army.  All sorts of armed groups operated at the time.  Various parties shot each others leaders.  There were 400 assassinations during the Weimar Republic.  Communism did not only threaten industry and its owners but also was always atheistic.  Liberalism, perhaps was more aligned with some vague spiritual ideals of brotherhood, which worked for some perhaps in alignment with liberal Protestantism or cultural Protestantism.  But really, Liberalism was not necessarily distanced from Communism or atheism.  It could accommodate itself either way or no way.  It was therefore not really trustworthy. 
Heinrich Mann was very incensed later on,  that it was simply the fear of liberalism and communism which had led the conservative center to allow Hitler to participate, as it seemed to him.  The whole disastrous course of events was predicated on keeping Communism down.  There was a choice between devils and Heinrich Mann's side was not chosen to keep Hitler out.
It was likely a great detriment, also, that the conservative side was so uncomfortable with democracy.   How many pined for the strong hand of the monarch and his system, stability and faith?  Or perhaps "bourgeois values", in some people's terms? -- I can't come up exactly what "bourgeois values" means, but I am thinking that Heinrich Mann did not approve of them.  The opposite would be the "liberal decadence", supposedly.
Personally, I am not a big reader of big novels, such as Heinrich Mann wrote.  The other day, when looking at the Christmas book I wrote about, there was a lovely excerpt of Thomas Mann's "The Buddenbrooks", which described the Christmas customs of his culture.  I was drawn in by this magnificent writer, but certainly, there were many ironies in what he said.  Thomas Mann seemed to be ever ironic but Heinrich Mann was said to be ever satirical.  That sort of thing hurts and not everyone is amused.   Another sign of "liberal decadence"?  
I did read a long novel the other month.  It was Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina".  Was it "decadent liberalism"?  There is a certain element in restraint in Tolstoy but institutional religion did not come off too well, nor those in bureaucratic positions,  nor those who were turning to Protestantism,  nor was atheism quite the thing.  The hero comes in the end to a position of doing the best he can do in his sphere, appreciating that there are higher things than he can know.  It was some sort of spiritual revelation but it was not Christian, in that Christ would have been superfluous in the system, or lack of system.  "Decadent liberalism?" -- What do I know about novelists and poets?-- No doubt changes had to happen, but why throw over the entire apple-cart.   You will have too many reasonable people against you, and neither Communism, state-atheism or Fascism showed helpful.  The spirit of a people cannot be raised in a willy-nilly way, or simply by lecturing by a set of intellectuals.  Maybe creeds not deeds should have been the motto rather than deeds instead of creeds.
Just one hint more, perhaps.  The below quote came from something in my FB links.  It makes a general statement about novelists.  They seem to feel that orthodoxy hems them in.    It has seemed to me lately what has hemmed "creative" people in, is their dislike for the creed and their desiring to do as they please sexually.  Sexual issues certainly came to the forefront in the 19th century.  Maybe it is all a bit "decadent".  I don't want to toe a total Pharisaical line.  We know that we always make mistakes, but the "decadent" don't want to call it a mistake or a sin. 
Prior, whose scholarly work centers on the novel, reminds us that as a form, the novel has always been about unbelief. She writes that the novel “was the outgrowth of the passing of the age of belief into the age of unbelief…. It is the form of an unbelieving epoch, even if it took a few centuries for that latent feature to surface.”
In other words, the kind of search for meaning that the novel offers has, over time, naturally and understandably drifted away from religious ways of understanding who were are and why we are here, just as the culture has.

Heinrich Mann was buried by a Unitarian Minister in California after he was exiled in 1933.  He was on the first list of people Hitler decided to exile as he came to power.   Against Thomas Mann there was an order for taking into custody but he was already out of the country. 

The brothers Mann.

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