Sleepwalking

Forgive a few weekend musings.

Germans voted for and supported Hitler. Were they mesmerised? Were good people silent, leaving “too few free spirits to do any good”?

I have today been reading Sarah Bakewell on the mid 16th Century essay ‘Voluntary Servitude’ which discusses “the ease with which tyrants dominate the masses, even though their power would evaporate instantly if those masses withdrew their support.” (The “too few free spirits” phrase above also comes from her life of Montaigne, as do all following quotes.)

Today we continue to vote for those who have our own worst interests at heart.

Montaigne’s friend La Boétie “simply says that the people need only stop co-operating, and supplying armies of slaves and sycophants to prop the tyrant up.” In today’s democracies we simply can stop voting for them. “Yet this almost never happens, even to those who maltreat their subjects monstrously.”

La Boétie (around 1545) writes “that tyrants somehow hypnotise their people. … They cannot wake from the dream.” La Boétie, in Bakewell’s words, makes it sound almost like a kind of witchcraft. “If it occurred on a smaller scale, someone would probably be burned at the stake, but when bewitchment seizes a whole society, it goes unquestioned.”

Even George Osborne now compares that Farage poster to Nazi propaganda.

I think of carefully planned, slowly released, incitement to terrorism, in its new specificity. This is not attacking a ‘symbol’ – burning a flag, killing Lee Rigby in London simply because of his uniform, or aid workers and journalists for being ‘Western’. The terrorising murder of an important, singled-out, political actor is really different.

No one death is mourned any more, nor any less, than the other. But the issue of terrorism, of terrorist behaviour, is sharply different. Gangs of arms-length thugs marauded and murdered in the dark streets of inter-war Germany. But the socialist leaders were very specifically targeted.

Targeting an immigrant today is callous and totally indefensible. Targeting a prominent activist supporting immigrants is very different and far more dangerous.

We cannot all copy Spartacus’ colleagues and say “I am an immigrant.” But what if – to counter Hitler’s yellow star – everyone in Britain today, who has at least one grand-parent not born in this country, would wear a sign, say a white flower, and wear it with great pride. Would that not be something wonderful?

(I couldn’t take part, but today being Father’s Day, I note that my children’s grandparents, other than my own parents, are an anti-semitic Pole kidnapped by Russia as a young teenager, an Austrian Jew, an Arab Christian from Lebanon and a German Jew; all normal British citizens.)

A final thought. What if on one day – the day before the referendum, for example – every single British person with one grand-parent not born in Britain declined to work that day; downed tools, refused, was on strike for Britain and humanity. Then the country would notice.

June 19, 2016

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