Is This the West’s Weimar Moment?
Hamburg, Germany — WE Germans can never escape the trauma of our recent history. That has rarely been clearer than today, as we look around our Continent and across the Atlantic. There are almost too many differences to mention between what happened in the 1930s over here and what is going on today. And it goes without saying that Donald J. Trump and Austria’s Norbert Hofer are not Adolf Hitler. Still, Germany’s slide into a popular embrace of authoritarianism in the 1930s offers a frame for understanding how liberal democracies can suddenly turn toward anti-liberalism.
德国汉堡——我们德国人永远也无法摆脱近代历史的创伤。而在今天，当我们放眼欧洲大陆和大西洋对岸，这一点变得比任何时候都更加清楚了。上世纪30年代在这里发生的事，和今天有着太多不同。唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)和奥地利的诺伯特·霍费尔(Norbert Hofer)，无疑也不是阿道夫·希特勒(Adolf Hitler)。然而，30年代德国堕入全民拥戴威权的经历，为我们理解自由民主如何突然转向反自由主义提供了一个参照。
Setting aside debate about whether the rise of Nazism was built into the German DNA, there were four trends that led the country to reject its post-World War I constitutional, parliamentary democracy, known as the Weimar Republic: economic depression, loss of trust in institutions, social humiliation and political blunder. To a certain degree, these trends can be found across the West today.
First, the history. The Black Friday stock-market collapse of 1929 set off a global depression. As bad as things were in America, they were even worse in Germany, where industrial production shrank by half in the following three years. Stocks lost two-thirds of their value. Inflation and unemployment skyrocketed. The Weimar government, already held in low esteem by many Germans, seemed to have no clue about what to do.
All this happened as traditional ways of life and values were being shaken by the modernization of the 1920s. Women suddenly went to work, to vote, to party and to sleep with whomever they wanted. This produced a widening cultural gap between the tradition-oriented working and middle classes and the cosmopolitan avant-garde — in politics, business and the arts — that reached a peak just when economic disaster struck. The elites were blamed for the resulting chaos, and the masses were ripe for a strongman to return order to society.
Some people today imagine that Hitler sneaked up on Germany, that too few people understood the threat. In fact, many mainstream politicians recognized the danger but they failed to stop him. Some didn’t want to: The conservative parties and the nobility believed the little hothead could serve as their useful idiot, that as chancellor he would be contained by a squad of reasonable ministers. Franz von Papen, a nobleman who was Hitler’s first vice chancellor, said of the new leader, “We’ve hired him.”
今天的一些人以为希特勒是偷偷窃取德国的，当时很少有人意识到他的威胁。事实上，许多主流政治人士看到了危险，但是没能阻止他。有的是不愿意：保守派政党和贵族阶层认为，这个傻乎乎的愣头青可以为他们所用，由他作总理，会有一群明事理的部长看着他。希特勒的首任副总理弗朗茨·冯·帕彭(Franz von Papen)——一个贵族——在谈到这位新领袖时说：“他是我们雇来的。”
At the same time, even the imminent threat of a fascist dictatorship couldn’t persuade the left-wing parties to join forces. Instead of being conciliatory for the sake of the national interest, Ernst Thälmann, the head of the German Communist Party, branded the center-left Social Democrats the “moderate wing of fascism.” No wonder Hitler had an easy time uniting broad sections of the German public.
而就在法西斯独裁政权渐渐逼近的同时，左翼政党却依然不愿联合起来。德国共产党(German Communist Party)领袖恩斯特·台尔曼(Ernst Thälmann)非但没有以国家利益为重出面调停，反而称中左派的社会民主党(Social Democrats)是“法西斯的温和派”。难怪希特勒可以轻松实现德国社会各阶层的大一统。
Are we at another Weimar moment now?
The 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent global recession were nowhere nearly as painful as the Great Depression. But the effects are similar. The heady growth of the 2000s led Europeans and Americans to believe they were on firm economic ground; the shattering of banks, real estate markets and governments in the wake of the crash left tens of millions of people at sea, angry at the institutions that had failed them, above all the politicians who claimed to be in charge. 纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com
Why, voters ask, did the government allow so many bankers to behave like criminals in the first place? Why did it then bail out banks while letting car factories go under? Why is it welcoming millions of immigrants? Are there separate rules for the elites, defined by a hypermodern liberal worldview that ridicules the working class — and their traditional values — as yokels?
In America and Europe, the rise of anti-establishment movements is a symptom of a cultural shock against globalized postmodernity, similar to the 1930s’ rejection of modernity. The common accusation by the “masses” is that liberal democracy has somehow gone too far, that it has become an ideology for an elite at the expense of everyone else. Marine Le Pen, chief of the French National Front, calls these normal folk “les invisibles et les oubliés,” the invisible and the forgotten.
反建制运动在美国和欧洲的兴起，是全球化后现代性带来的文化冲击的一个症状，这和上世纪30年代对现代性的排斥是相似的。“大众”常发出的一个指责是，出于某种原因，自由民主已经过头了，成为一种损害其他人的利益的精英阶层意识形态。法国国民阵线(National Front)领袖马琳·勒庞(Marine Le Pen)称这些普通百姓是“les invisibles et les oubliés”，被无视、被遗忘的人。
Of course this isn’t 1933. Democratic institutions are much more stable today. But the power of nostalgia doesn’t depend on the times you live in. This is why, for all the differences, we are indeed witnessing another 1930s moment across the West.
It’s easy to say that people need to accept the new realities and work toward feasible reforms — however true that is. And yet most mainstream parties haven’t done even this, at least not in a compelling way. Instead, they fight among themselves, and see the rise of demagogues as a solution to their problems, not a threat to their nations. Mr. Trump is no Hitler, but that’s not the point. Today, as in the 1930s, we are seeing the failure of the liberal mainstream to respond to serious challenges, even those that threaten its very existence.