Re-reading Doctor Zhivago, I was struck by the following passage:
That’s just the point, Larisa Feodorovna. There are limits to everything. In all this time something definite should have been achieved. But it turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil, they aren’t happy with anything that’s on less than a world scale. For them transitional periods, worlds in the making, are an end in themselves. They aren’t trained for anything else, they don’t know anything except that. And do you know why these never-ending preparations are so futile? It’s because these men haven’t any real capacities, they are incompetent. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself, the phenomenon of life, the gift of life, is so breath-takingly serious. So why substitute this childish harlequinade of immature fantasies, these schoolboy escapades?
Zhivago’s words here provide an interesting parallel to the observations of Sebasian Haffner from inter-war Germany…
After the insane inflation of the early 1920s was cured by the introduction of the Rentenmark, and the political climate was stabilized under the chancellorship of Gustav Stresemann, people could breathe a sigh of relief:
The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.
But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.