Principles vs Interests

Many people could benefit from an approach that prioritizes their interests over loyalty to abstract principles.

Should not loyalty to your group be a principle?

Extending this type of thinking to the West might well lead to more rights for majorities and fewer rights for minorities. How could a country with one dominant religious and racial identity become stronger from the admission of many races and religions? Then it would be up to the minority groups to make the case that their presence is a blessing.

When a country is at war, it employs censorship in its group interest.

Maybe it is impossible to have complete free speech. Perhaps every society has to hold certain things, certain symbols, certain identities, sacred. Perhaps every society to survive needs a soft totalitarianism in certain areas.

Is this fierce protection of Jews in the following story anti-Christian? Jews and the Christian missionaries described have clashing interests and when Jews assert their interests, that is not good for the Christians. Similarly, when Gentiles assert their group interests, that is called anti-Semitism when it clashes with Jewish interests.

From the group Jewish Israel:

JewishIsrael is pleased to see that a growing number of concerned columnists across the religious and political divide are covering the severity of the missionary problem in Israel. Writers such as Diane Bederman and Donny Fuchs have persevered despite the controversy and unpleasant challenges that come with exploring territory which is deemed “untouchable” in an era marked by Israel’s enormous dependence on evangelical Christian support.

Sacrificing principles which are fundamental to Judaism, Jewish identity and Jewish continuity should not be done in the name of “democracy”, “tolerance” or” freedom of religion and expression”. This is an issue all Jews can agree on regardless of political views or degree of religious observance…

The issue of increasing fundamental Christian influence in Israel should be of worry to every Jew concerned with the continuity of Judaism. This is an issue which should unify the Diaspora and Israeli communities rather than cause divisions along political and religious lines. JewishIsrael encourages thinking Jewish writers and activists to honestly explore this very challenging problem via a Jewish perspective, which requires putting partisan politics aside and prioritizing the survival of Israel as a unique Jewish nation.

Historian Paul Johnson writes in his book Modern Times about the 20th Century:

The new Weimar constitution was drawn up under the guidance of
the great sociologist Max Weber. It gave parliament full financial
sovereignty for the first time. It was supposed to embody all the best
features of the American constitution. But it had one serious
weakness. The President, elected for a seven-year term, was not the
head of government: that was the Chancellor, a party figure respon-
sible to parliament. But the President, under Article 48, was endowed
with emergency powers when parliament was not in session. From
1923 onwards this article was pervertedly invoked whenever par-
liament was deadlocked. And parliament was often deadlocked,
because proportional representation prevented the development of a
two-party system and absolute majorities. To many Germans, who
had been brought up on the notion that Germany and the Germans
were a metaphysical, organic unity, the spectacle of a divided,
jammed parliament was unnatural. The argument that parliament
was the forum in which quite genuine and unavoidable conflicts of
interest were peacefully resolved was alien to them, unacceptable.
Instead they saw the Reichstag as a mere theatre for the enactment of
‘the game of the parties’, while the real, eternal, organic and
honourable Germany was embodied in the person of the President
and Article 48…

The cleavage within the constitution might not have mattered so
much had it not reflected a much deeper division in German
society, and indeed in German minds. I call this the East— West
division, and it is one of the central themes of modern times, in so
far as they have been influenced by Germany’s destiny. The princi-
pal characteristic of the pre-war German regime of princes, generals
and landowners, the law-professors who endowed it with academic
legitimacy, and the Lutheran pastors who gave it moral authority,
was illiberalism. This ruling caste hated the West with passionate
loathing, both for its liberal ideas and for the gross materialism and
lack of spirituality which (in their view) those ideas embodied. They
wanted to keep Germany ‘pure’ of the West, and this was one
motive for their plans to resume the medieval conquest and set-
tlement of the East, carving out a continental empire for Germany
which would make her independent of the Anglo-Saxon world
system. These Easterners drew a fundamental distinction between
‘civilization’, which they defined as rootless, cosmopolitan, immo-
ral, un-German, Western, materialistic and racially defiled; and
‘culture’, which was pure, national, German, spiritual and authen-
tic. 17 Civilization pulled Germany to the West, culture to the East.
The real Germany was not part of international civilization but a
national race-culture of its own. When Germany responded to the
pull of the West, it met disaster; when it pursued its destiny in the
East, it fulfilled itself.

In point of fact, it was the Easterners who had ruled Germany
throughout, who had created the war-anxiety, got Germany into
war, and then lost it. In the minds of most Germans, however, the
‘stab-in-the-back’ mythology refuted this factual analysis because it
attributed the loss of the war to the defeatism and treachery of the
Westerners, who had then signed the armistice, accepted the disas-
trous peace, introduced the Republic and enthroned ‘the rule of the
parties’. It was thus the Westerners who were responsible for all
Germany’s misfortunes in the post-war world, as was only logical,
for they were the puppets or paid agents of the politicians of the West
in Paris and London, and of the international financial community in
Wall Street and the City. Their outpost in Germany was the
parliament in Weimar. But authentic German culture still had its
redoubt within the Republic, in the person of President Hindenburg,
an Easterner par excellence, and in the authority of Article 48. In
time, that vital bridgehead could be extended.

For the moment, however, the Westerners were triumphant.
Weimar was a ‘Western’ republic. It stood for civilization rather than
culture: civilization was in office, culture in opposition. It is no
coincidence, either, that German civilization reached its gaudiest
flowering during the 1920s, when Germany, for a brief period,
became the world-centre of ideas and art. This triumph had been
building up for a long time. Germany was by far the best-educated
nation in the world – as long ago as the late eighteenth century it had
passed the 50 per cent literacy mark. During the nineteenth century it
had progressively established a system of higher education which for
thoroughness and diversity of scholarship was without equal. There
were world-famous universities at Munich, Berlin, Hamburg,
Gottingen, Marburg, Freiburg, Heidelberg and Frankfurt. The Ger-
man liberal intelligentsia had opted out of public and political life in
the 1860s, leaving the field to Bismarck and his successors. But it had
not emigrated; indeed, it had spread itself, and when it began to
resurface just before the Great War, and took command in 1918,
what was most striking about it was its polycentral strength.

Of course Berlin, with its 4 million population, held the primacy.
But, unlike Paris, it did not drain all the country’s intellectual and
artistic energies into itself. While Berlin had its Alexanderplatz and
Kurfurstendamm, there were plenty of other cultural magnets: the
Bruehl in Dresden, the Jungfernsteg in Hamburg, the Schweidnitzter-
strasse in Breslau or the Kaiserstrasse in Frankfurt. The centre of
architectural experiment, the famous Bauhaus, was in Weimar, later
moving to Dessau. The most important centre of art studies, the
Warburg Institute, was in Hamburg. Dresden had one of the finest
art galleries in the world as well as a leading European opera house,
under Fritz Busch, where two of Richard Strauss’s operas had their
first performance. Munich had a score of theatres, as well as another
great gallery; it was the home of Simplicissimus, the leading satirical
magazine, and of Thomas Mann, the leading novelist. Frankfurter
Zeitung was Germany’s best newspaper, and Frankfurt was a leading
theatrical and operatic centre (as was Munich); and other cities,
such as Nuremberg, Darmstadt, Leipzig and Diisseldorf, saw the first
performances of some of the most important plays of the Twenties. 18

What particularly distinguished Berlin was its theatre, by far the
world’s richest in the 1920s, with a strongly political tone. Its
pre-eminence had begun before the war, with Max Reinhardt’s reign
at the Deutsche Theater, but in 1918 republicanism took over
completely. Some playwrights were committed revolutionaries, like
Friedrich Wolf and Ernst Toller, who worked for Erwin Piscator’s
‘Proletarian Theatre’, for which George Grosz designed scenery.
Bertholt Brecht, whose play Drums in the Night was first staged in
Berlin in 1922, when he was twenty-four, wrote political allegories.
He was attracted to Communism by its violence, as he was to
American gangsterism, and his friend Arnolt Bronnen to fascism;
Brecht designed his own ‘uniform’, the first of the Leftist outfits –
leather cap, steel-rimmed glasses, leather coat. When The
Threepenny Opera, which he wrote with the composer Kurt Weill,
was put on in 1928 it set an all-time record for an opera by receiving
over 4,000 performances throughout Europe in a single year. 1 ^ But
the bulk of the Berlin successes were written by liberal sophisticates,
more notable for being ‘daring’, pessimistic, problematical, above all
‘disturbing’, than directly political: men like Georg Kaiser, Carl
Sternheim, Arthur Schnitzler, Walter Hasenclever, Ferdinand Bruck-
ner and Ferenc Molnar. 20 Sometimes the ‘cultural Right’ went for a
particular play, as when it tried to disrupt the first night of Der
frohliche Weinberg by Carl Zuckmayer (who also wrote the script
for The Blue Angel). But it was really the theatre as a whole to which
conservatives objected, for there were no right-wing or nationalist
plays whatever put on in Berlin. After watching a Gerhart Haupt-
mann play, a German prefect of police summed up the reaction of
Kw/tar-Germany: ‘The whole trend ought to be liquidated.’ 21

Berlin was also the world-capital in the related fields of opera and
film. It was crowded with first-class directors, impresarios, conduc-
tors and producers: Reinhardt, Leopold Jessner, Max Ophuls, Victor
Barnowsky, Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Leo Blech, Joseph von
Sternberg {The Blue Angel), Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder {Emil and
the Detectives), Fritz Lang {Metropolis). In designing and making
scenery and costumes, lighting-effects, the standards of orchestral
playing and choral singing, in sheer attention to detail, Berlin had no
rivals anywhere. When Wozzeck, a new opera written by Arnold
Schoenberg’s gifted pupil Alban Berg, received its premiere at the
Berlin State Opera in 1925, the conductor Erich Kleiber insisted on
no less than 130 rehearsals. 22 The 1929 Berlin Music Festival
featured Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Furtwangler, George Szell,
Klemperer, Toscanini, Gigli, Casals, Cortot and Thibaud. 23 Against
this background of talent, craftsmanship and expertise, Germany was
able to develop the world’s leading film industry, producing more
films in the 1920s than the rest of Europe put together; 646 in the
year 1922 alone…

The Right, in short, could practise violence with little fear of legal
retribution. Judges and juries felt they were participating in the battle between German culture and alien civilization: it was right to
recognize that violence might be a legitimate response to cultural
provocation. Thus when the great liberal journalist Maximilian
Harden, who was also a Jew, was nearly beaten to death by two
thugs in 1922, the would-be killers got only a nominal sentence. The
defence argued that Harden provoked the attack by his ‘unpatriotic
articles’, and the jury found ‘mitigating circumstances’.

The universities and especially the professoriate were overwhelm-
ingly on the side of Kultur. The jurists and the teachers of German
literature and language were stridently nationalist. The historians
were the worst of the lot. Heinrich von Treitschke had written of
Germany’s appointment with destiny and warned the Jews not to
get in the way of the ‘young nation’. His hugely influential History
of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, a Wilhelmine classic, went
into another big popular edition in 1920. Contemporary historians
like Erich Marcks, Georg von Below and Dietrich Schafer still
celebrated the achievements of Bismarck (the anniversaries of Sedan
and the founding of the empire were both public universities’
holidays) and the lessons they drew from the Great War centred
around Germany’s lack of ‘relentlessness’. They provided academic
backing for the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth. The academic community
as a whole was a forcing-house for nationalist mythology. Instead
of encouraging self-criticism and scepticism, the professors called
for ‘spiritual revivals’ and peddled panaceas. 51

By sheer bad luck, the most widely read and influential book in
1920s Germany was The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler,
a foolish and pedantic schoolteacher. He conceived his book in
1911 as a warning against undue German optimism. He wrote it
during the war in anticipation of a German victory. Its first volume
actually appeared in 1918, when defeat gave it an astonishing
relevance and topicality. Thus it became a best-seller. The essence
of the book was social Darwinism. He defined eight historic cul-
tures and argued that the ‘laws of morphology’ applied to them.
The last, the culture of the West, was already showing symptoms of
decay, such as democracy, plutocracy and technology, indicating
that’ ‘civilization’ was taking over from ‘culture’. It seemed to
explain why Germany had been defeated. It also heralded a coming
age of cruel war in which would arise new Caesars, and democrats
and humanitarians would have to be replaced by new elites of
steel-hardened heroes who would look not for personal gain but
for service to the community. 52 He followed it up in 1920 with a
sensational essay, Prussianism and Socialism, which called for a
classless, national socialism, in which the entire nation worked
together under a dictator. It was exactly the sort of argument
Mussolini was beginning to put forward in Italy.

Neatly complementing Spengler’s analysis was the work of two
other important Easterners. Carl Schmitt, Germany’s leading legal
philosopher, who poured out a flood of books and articles during
these years, constantly stressed the argument that order could only
be restored when the demands of the state were given preference
over the quest for an illusory ‘freedom’. The Reich would not be
secure until Weimar was remodelled as an authoritarian state around
the principle embodied in Article 48. 53 The point was restated in a
historical perspective by the cultural historian Arthur Moeller van
den Bruck in a brilliant book published in 1923. The Germans, he
argued, were the leading European creators. Their first Reich, the
medieval empire, had formed Europe. Their second creation, Bis-
marck’s, was artificial because it had admitted the corruption of
liberalism: that, of course, was why it had collapsed under test.
Weimar was a mere interlude of chaos. Now the Germans had
another opportunity: by purging society of liberalism and capitalism,
they could build the third and final state which would embody all
Germany’s values and endure for a thousand years. He entitled this
remarkable exercise in historical prophecy The Third Reich, 54

Spurred on by their professors, the German student body, which
averaged about 100,000 during the Weimar period, gave an enthusias-
tic reception to these Easterner philosophies. The notion that the
student body is in some constitutional way a depository of humanita-
rian idealism will not survive a study of the Weimar period. Next to
the ex-servicemen, the students provided the chief manpower res-
ervoir of the violent extremists, especially of the Right. Student
politics were dominated by the right-wing Hochschulring movement
throughout the 1920s until it was replaced by the Nazis. 55 The Right
extremists proceeded by converting half a dozen students on a
campus, turning them into full-time activists, paid not to study. The
activists could then swing the mass of the student body behind them.
The Nazis did consistently better among the students than among the
population as a whole and their electoral gains were always preceded
by advances on the campus, students proving their best proselytizers.
Students saw Nazism as a radical movement. They liked its egalita-
rianism. They liked its anti-Semitism too. Indeed, the students were
more anti-Semitic than either the working class or the bourgeoisie.
Most German student societies had excluded Jews even before 1914.
In 1919 the fraternities subscribed to the ‘Eisenach Resolution’,
which stated that the racial objection to Jews was insuperable and
could not be removed by baptism. The next year they deprived
Jewish students of the ‘honour’ of duelling. In 1922 the authorities at
Berlin University cancelled a memorial service in honour of the
murdered Walther Rathenau rather than risk a violent student
demonstration. This policy of appeasement towards student violence
became the pattern of the 1920s, the rectors and faculties always
capitulating to the most outrageous demands of student leaders
rather than risk trouble. By 1929 the universities had passed almost
wholly into the Easterner camp…

It is probably true to say that Hitler’s cultural assets were the
source of his appeal. Popular detestation of Weimar culture was an
enormous source of political energy, which he tapped with relish.
Lenin’s notion of giving up music to concentrate on politics would
have been incomprehensible to him. In Germany, music was politics;
and especially music-drama. Hitler exemplifies the truth that ar-
chitectural and theatrical skills are closely related. His romantic-
artistic instincts led him to rediscover a truth almost as old as the
polls itself, which certainly goes back to the Pharaohs: that the
presentation of the charismatic leader, whether Renaissance mon-
arch or modern democratic politician, is at least as important as the
content. One of the reasons Hitler admired Wagner was that he
learnt so much from him, especially from Parsifal, which became the
model for his political spectaculars. The lesson he derived from the
Western Front was that wars could be won or lost by propaganda: a
thought which inspired his famous sixth chapter of Mein Kampf. The
object of all propaganda, he wrote, was ‘an encroachment upon
man’s freedom of will’. 67 This could be achieved by the ‘mysterious
magic’ of Bayreuth, the ‘artificial twilight of Catholic Gothic chur-
ches’, and both these effects he used; but he also plundered the tricks
of Reinhardt and other despised Weimar producers and the cinema of
Fritz Lang. The scenes of his oratory were designed and set with
enviable professional skill; the attention to detail was fanatical.
Hitler was the first to appreciate the power of amplification and the
devilry of the searchlight: he seems to have invented son et lumiere
and used it with devastating effect at his mass night-meetings. He
imported political costumery and insignia from Mussolini’s Italy but
improved upon them, so that Hitlerian uniforms remain the standard
of excellence in totalitarian sumptuary. Both Stalinism and Maoism
imitated Hitler’s staging, exceeding it in scale but not in style.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Adolf Hitler, Christianity, Islam, Israel. Bookmark the permalink.