American Weimar or American Habsburg?

Aaron Sibarium has an interesting article on the Weimarization of America thru the normalization of political violence and intimidation…it is a trend I’ve raised concerns about in the past, for example, here:  The United States of Weimar?  An article by Dominic Green, though, argues that Weimar is less of a threatening precedent for American today than is the Habsburg monarchy of Austria-Hungary:

The Habsburg monarchy was riven with ethnic division, but:

Where the Hapsburgs had nationalism, we have ‘identity’. Like the Hapsburgs, we have racialized nationalism within an imperial framework. The result is what English-speakers call ‘Balkanization’. You need only look at the history of the Balkans in the half-century before 1914 to see where our current path leads.

I was reminded of a quote from historian AJP Taylor:

The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

Taylor also noted that the ethnic conflicts were exacerbated by the government dominance of economic life. “There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings.” The present-day US doesn’t have that level of government dominance, certainly, but the degree to which many nominally-private activities are now government-funded (universities, healthcare)–combined with the extreme politicization of everything from coffee to football–is helping to drive those same behaviors of intergroup squabbling.

Also from Dominic Green:

Above all, the typical affluent young American, the sort who in a more stable time might have thrown in his or her lot with the bureaucracy or a management job in the Mittelstand, the corporate heart of the economy, now resembles no literary figure so much as Ulrich, the protagonist of Robert Musil’s 1913 novel The Man Without Qualities.

Ulrich is a forerunner of our college-educated millennials: morally enfeebled, sexually frustrated, professionally stunted. He has acquired enough sophistication to see through the forms of politics and social life — ‘critical thinking’, as the imposters of our schools call it — but not enough conviction to act in a way that might improve his life by bringing him into authentic contact with ‘reality’, which he knows is somewhere out there but cannot touch.

I’m reminded of some comments by the deposed German Kaiser and by the writer Goethe, 94 years apart…not sure how directly relevant these points were to the Austria-Hungary of the time, but they are relevant to America today:


Another thing that struck me, in addition to the one-sidedness of the education in the schools, was the tendency, among youths planning their careers in those days, to turn their attention to becoming Government officials, and always consider the profession of lawyer or judge the most worthy goal…As long as the state consisted, so to speak, of government and administration, this tendency among German youths in the shaping of their lives was understandable and justified; since we were living in a country of officials, the right road for a young man to select was the service of the state.  British youths of that time, self-reliant and made robust by sports, were already talking, to be sure, of colonial conquests, of expeditions to explore new regions of the earth, of extending British commerce; and they were trying, in the guise of pioneers of their country, to make Great Britain still stronger and greater, by practical, free action, not as paid hirelings of the state.


To be sure, there were even then enterprising men in Germany—brilliant names can be cited among them—but the conception of serving the fatherland, not by traveling along a definite, officially certified road, but by independent competition, had not yet become sufficiently generalized. Therefore I held up the English as an example, for it seems to me better to take the good where one finds it, without prejudice, than to go through the world wearing blinkers.

That was from ex-Kaiser Wilhelm, a rather insightful comment, I thought, from a man who showed few signs of insight or introspection during his reign.

Goethe, 94 years earlier, contrasted German childhood with its English equivalent:

In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.

(Goethe thought this kind of upbringing resulting in taking the spirit out of the boys, to the extent that English young men were more attractive to the Weimar women than was the local talent.)

Both Goethe and the ex-Kaiser are talking about people being encouraged to follow the safe, credentialist, bureaucratic path. Dominic Green, echoing Musil, is talking about people today…especially millennials…who don’t even reach that level, but remain morally enfeebled, sexually frustrated, professionally stunted.  Surely we have both types among millennials and other generations, as well as many who don’t fall into either of those categories…but I do think the parallel is an interesting and worrisome one.

I’m also not quite so ready as is Green to disregard the danger of Weimarization in America, although it’s true that we have many defenses…a long-lived Constitution, a tradition of law and democracy, a strongly federal structure of government…which the Weimar Republic lacked.

A rather disjointed post, I’m afraid, but hopefully it makes at least some sense and can serve as a springboard for discussion.  Your thoughts?


16 thoughts on “American Weimar or American Habsburg?”

  1. I’m pretty sure Kaiser Wilhelm had certain rather… unique… reasons to meet men who thought joining the bureaucracy was an awesome idea. Meanwhile, other Germans were busy stomping on France during the Franco-Prussian War and turning Germany into an industrial and technological powerhouse. As for Goethe, I think that considering German demographics during the 19th century he was a little off base, especially compared to French demographics of the same era.

    I’ve seen the idea of Weimar America before, perhaps even here. Yet as Mark Twain wrote, history doesn’t repeat but it rhymes. I think the US is undergoing The Fourth Turning during which the shambling incompetents who have run our society into the ground get challenged, and they may or may not retain power.

    This looks a lot like Weimar Germany, I certainly agree. I recall from the book that people realize that society has taken a wrong turn, and seek to make it right. Thus I find it unsurprising that comparisons to a notorious historical failure would be made, and would even be appropriate.

    The outcome of the crisis is obviously uncertain, not least because this is the very day the 2020 election is taking place.

    Yet I note that even if the outcome tonight is not to my liking, the outcome of prior events and prior elections has also not been to the liking of the eventual victors of the societal crisis, either. For example, the Antebellum South had emerged victorious in the festering slavery crisis because of the Dredd Scott decision. If that decision had stood, slavery would have been essential legal everywhere in the country regardless of local law.

    But it did not.

  2. Dominic Green wrote: “The American future won’t be Weimar, but late-Hapsburg: a dual monarchy, divided between itself and within itself … waiting for the historical intrusion that will free it from the slow spiral of decline.”

    Arguably, the United States has always been divided — a large share of the colonists opposed Independence, and fought for the Crown; the divisions were enough less than a century later to spark a Civil War; Vietnam evolved into something like a civil war fought in somebody else’s backyard. So what’s new with divisions?

    As for waiting for a historical intrusion, we already know that a bloated government cannot indefinitely spend more than it takes in, and an over-regulated country which drives out its industrial base cannot indefinitely trade IOUs for imported goods. The question is whether we change course voluntarily, or whether we wait until disaster forces a change of course.

  3. I went to bed early last night, as I did in 2016. Waking up was not as much fun as 2016 was with its big surprise. Trump needed to be far enough ahead this morning to be beyond the range of fraud. He isn’t so I assume the Democrats will win for Biden and Harris. Fortunately, we have held the Senate and improved the House, so two new states and a packed Supreme Court still seem a distant threat. China will be sitting just behind Harris as she tries to enact her agenda. Biden is a nonentity and will soon fade away, having served his purpose. Divided government has been a common theme for 25 years. Two years of Harris will probably result in big gains in 2022.

    I wonder if Trump will start a TV network ? I have seen some speculation. Dreams of him running in 2024 are just that. He will be 78.

  4. I’m going on the assumption now that it’s all over. They didn’t clear the margin of fraud, and Dems run all the states in question. The question is how long the farce of pretending Biden in capable of being president can be maintained. I can’t imagine it will last much into next year.
    Without the Senate, we’re going to see nothing but executive orders, which will all be met with lawsuits as instantly and comprehensively as everything Trump has tried to do have been.
    I dunno what the Senate map looks like for next time, but you have to say right now that the GOP will seize back the House, since that always happens nowadays. Which would mean Biden getting impeached, on the tiny chance he’s still around by then.
    Blue states are completely hosed right now. New York’s only hope has been for the Dems at the federal level to bail them out, both directly with a massive cash infusion, and through repealing the SALT limits. They’re now going to have to make brutal cuts to the budget, which will mean a massive exodus from upstate.
    And what’s next for Trump? Well, the stabbed-in-the-back narrative he’s got, and the changes in the GOP base he was able to enact, now means he’s never going away. He’s the kingmaker in the GOP for the rest of his life. I’d honestly be shocked if Ivanka isn’t the GOP nominee for president in the near future.

  5. Xennady….”Germany into an industrial and technological powerhouse.”

    Wilhelm personally knew well some of the people who who had done & were doing this…the shipping magnate Albert Ballin was a close associate of his and apparently an actual friend. Walter Rathenau ran AEG, the German version of General Electric and greatly expanded it, he ran raw materials procurement for Germany during the First World War, apparently quite successfully.

    I guess he (Wilhelm) must have in retrospect viewed people like this as exceptions who were too rare.

  6. Nobody in a talking mood, huh?
    I’ll say it again, I don’t see anyone not named Trump who can come anywhere near to approximating his appeal to the new GOP base.

  7. I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. Assuming Biden does win:

    I’m surprised by two things. I would have thought that Nevada and Arizona with the example of California so close would show more sense. If I was a Democrat, I’d be livid that they were trying to fob off a barely animated corpse as a candidate. Anybody that believes the grass roots have any say in how the party is run should have had their nose rubbed in the truth good and hard by now. When Harris is president, we’ll have to make sure we keep reminding them that she couldn’t even win a single delegate.

    I can’t see Trump running in ’24, way too old. I doubt the Republicans will do better than the Dems with a nomination. The process that got us Trump wasn’t any better than the Democratic clown car this year. I’m sure that there will be no shortage of Republicans convinced they need to be President, the shortage will be candidates with some sort of plan and conviction for what comes after.

    If we have a working majority in the Senate, then it’s four more years of nothing. Considering the intestinal fortitude of some of the members, that’s a big if. 58% for Trump in Utah might have a bracing effect on Romney.

  8. I guess he (Wilhelm) must have in retrospect viewed people like this as exceptions who were too rare.

    In retrospect, he was right.

    If only the Kaiser knew!! Surely he would have done something to solve the problem before it led to catastrophe…wait, what?!

    He was the Kaiser!!

    Oh. Oh no.

    I feel so bad for him now.

  9. It’s not over. Look at CNN. They assume it’s over, or want viewers to assume it’s over. Why?

    When your adversary wants you to believe something, is putting substantial resources into convincing you of something, it’s usually a good bet and a good tactic to believe the opposite.

    Demoralization is a choice. There’s no need to indulge it. The election outcome will play out with time.

  10. Nobody in a talking mood, huh?
    I’ll say it again, I don’t see anyone not named Trump who can come anywhere near to approximating his appeal to the new GOP base.

    Sorry, I was at work. And I don’t do despair, not when I have food every single day.

    Anyway, no one thought Trump had any appeal to the new Trump Oh Pee base before Trump either.

    The process that got us Trump wasn’t any better than the Democratic clown car this year.

    I disagree. It got us Trump. The clown car the GOP establishment attempted to assemble back then would have driven us to Jeb Bush. Please clap. Pleeeze…

    If we have a working majority in the Senate, then it’s four more years of nothing.

    I disagree. It’s four more years of demonrats in the executive branch conniving to end the Republic.

    He’s the kingmaker in the GOP for the rest of his life.

    Bingo. And presuming he is cheated out of his re-election, he also has no reason to not dish dirt on how the GOP establishment stabbed him and his supporters in the back, over and over again.

  11. Demoralization is a choice. There’s no need to indulge it. The election outcome will play out with time.

    I agree. Demoralization is the goal of the enemy.

    More crudely, stop sniveling.

    Just stop. Don’t assume we have already lost because our mortal enemies assert that we have.

  12. Don’t watch TV, it is a hostile psychological warfare operation.

    The election is not over. It is in a new phase.

    Trump is a fighter.

    This phase was expected.

    He will fight and win each phase.

    Don’t give up, don’t piss your pants, don’t bemoan the death of the Republic.

    All is still in play.

    Expect a win.

    Pray for a win if you are able to do that.

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