The Hollow Order
Rebuilding an International System That Works
CONTROLLED economy has become familiar almost everywhere, but controlled thought is an innovation of the new dictatorships. The German dictatorship is perhaps unique in claiming nothing less than complete control over the whole intellectual and spiritual life of the nation. By comparison, thought and conscience are relatively free in Soviet Russia and in Fascist Italy; in fact, in these countries German writers can publish works which are suppressed in Germany on the grounds that they are liberal.
Controlled economy has proved to be too difficult a task for the Hitler dictatorship. It has gone back on its program of economic socialization, and its Four Year Plan remains only a promise. Despite subterfuges, there can no longer be doubt that nothing has been done for the middle classes. The only beneficiaries of the present gamble with the destinies of Germany, besides the members of the National Socialist Party, are the big industrialists, who gain by the strangling of the labor unions and who scent fresh profits in armaments. American democracy has established a greater degree of controlled economy than the boasted totalitätsstaat, which actually has reverted to a laissez-faire economy of eighty years ago.
The régime tries to make up for its impotence in economic matters by ceaseless interference in the intellectual and moral realm. It will tolerate neither opposition nor neutrality. Thought must be either National Socialist or it must not be; consequently it is the former, because it is easier to control men's minds than their interests. It is a regrettable fact that people living modestly by their talents or their brains can be brought into subjection much more easily than the monied classes. Great consideration has been shown to the latter in Germany, even when they happen to be Jews. The great department stores, which were to have been utterly destroyed, are still open and full of customers, and the Jewish owners no longer take the trouble to conceal their identities behind men of straw. Even the Ullsteins have succeeded in retaining part control of their publishing house, which is the most important in Germany. One of the directors of a large bank chose the moment when his co-religionists were being most outrageously persecuted to declare that he had never been molested. A banker descended from a Jewish family which has been distinguished for two hundred years has had himself declared an "Aryan."
However, if Einstein were rash enough to return to Germany he could not count on such polite attentions. After all, he would be of no help in provisioning Germany for the next war. His personal fortune was slight and what there was has long since been confiscated. That method was obviously the most effective to adopt against intellectuals: their money was not protected by the chemical trusts and other groups of national importance. So we who live by our pens were promptly relieved of our bank accounts. Wishing to strike at liberty of thought, the authorities imagined that it was intimately bound up with the liberty to draw checks. They made a great mistake. The scholars who were driven from the universities and the writers who were threatened with being put in concentration camps did not come begging for mercy to those who were, temporarily, their masters. They accepted their lot, which was to suffer or to disappear. Many suicides occurred amongst the intellectuals, but they were mostly discreet, in the best of taste, not at all ostentatious. In taking leave of an existence which had lost all meaning for them they were acting in just the same way as did those others to whom political or material ruin meant more than the will to live.
Of the professors and publicists sent to concentration camps, some were deliberate martyrs, others could not believe that they would be arrested simply because they had discharged their routine duties under the republican régime. They had not counted on being accused of corruption merely because they had eaten the bread of the Republic. A certain actor who was very popular with radio audiences was punished for his popularity by six months' detention in one of the harshest camps. His mistake was in not having realized that popularity is an unpardonable crime in the eyes of the master minds who have monopolized, for their own ends and to their own advantage, every channel of publicity. It would have been wiser for him to go abroad. But he happened to be a sincere Protestant; he consulted only his conscience, and it had nothing with which to reproach him. Another prisoner, who even under the previous régime had paid dearly for his uncompromising pacifism, refused to seek safety in flight. Maybe he wished to set an example, in the hope of arousing the public conscience. But the list of victims was too long for his sufferings to have that result. Once a certain degree of violence has been reached and a sufficient number of atrocities have been committed, our sensibilities are dulled; we forget. People admit the facts, but no longer judge them, since somehow or other they must live alongside those who are responsible for them. This particular victim will continue his futile martyrdom long after his very existence is forgotten.
Most of the intellectuals considered undesirable in Germany have neither chosen to die nor accepted the kind of life which their enemies had in store for them. They emigrated, and that in itself was bad enough. They now are undergoing the fate of all emigrés, which is not only poverty and loneliness, but lack of moral consideration. The average man has little respect for those whose cause has failed, and who thereby are transformed from influential personalities into simple refugees. Moreover, the public is confused by the variegated crowd of refugees, many of whom, of course, find themselves where they are for reasons that have no connection with matters of principle. We must set to work to redeem our position by acting with complete sincerity and by not complaining too much. We are not too unfortunate. We retain one right, more precious than any other, the right to express our ideas freely. Our fellow-countrymen in Germany have forfeited that right, and it is not even certain that they would now know how to exercise it. One cannot submit with impunity to the system of controlled thought.
If some are emigrés in spite of themselves, often with little to recommend them, there also are others who left the country without being forced to do so. They are acknowledged "Aryans," war veterans, scholars and writers on the conservative side. They revolted against the suppression of freedom of thought. Too proud to take over the posts of persecuted colleagues, they followed them into exile, and their exodus continues. Every now and then some distinguished German professor leaves Germany to teach abroad, perhaps in a language which he has to learn for the purpose. Make no mistake, these departures are so many protests against the present régime. In extreme circumstances like the present, every act of the sort is a manifesto. The Nazis flattered themselves that they had in their favor one great poet, just one, whose mystic evocations seemed to justify the advent of the Third Reich. Once this Reich was established the poet refused to recognize it in word or deed. He left the country, died abroad and, in accordance with his wishes, was buried in foreign ground.
Anyone capable of moral humiliation would be discouraged by rebuffs of this kind, but they slide off the backs of people who are entirely preoccupied with the business of protecting their physical rule. Never have human beings been so deeply convinced of the single virtue of material facts. To them a nation is a race, determined zoölogically, which can be modified at will by sterilization, outlawry, and other coercive measures. Similarly, thought becomes materialized in their hands and is simply a mechanism conveniently placed at the disposal of the strongest. Only official truths are admitted, and only such creative work as happens to serve the purpose of the authorities. Everything in the arts and sciences which contradicts or goes beyond the National Socialist doctrine is looked upon as non-existent, simply by reason of the fact that the artists and thinkers concerned have left Germany. Having eliminated all opposition, the government is far from regretting the loss of eminent personalities which added to the permanent glory of the country. It is delighted to have to deal only with minds which are timid, with talents so mediocre that they can easily be directed. The method of selection is to ask all artists and writers to reply in writing to the two essential questions: Are you Aryan? Do you undertake to support the national government with all your strength? Anyone who refuses to sign immediately loses his public; there is no longer any audience in Germany to which he can address himself. The irreconcilables have been eliminated in advance; there remain only the weak and the mediocre to be dealt with, not to mention the shrewd who, after having made their way in a free régime are quite prepared to profit from the methods of a dictatorship.
Having drawn up a list of the talents remaining available to them, the government then turned to the great problem of organizing them, hoping by lumping them into a mass to make up for the lack of individual distinction. As president of the Musical Union they even got Richard Strauss; and a former favorite of the German Republic, Gerhart Hauptmann, decided also to curry favor with the powers that be. I refuse to believe that these great masters have weak characters. I think, rather, that they have been accustomed for so long to seeing the national genius embodied in their persons that it seems to them impossible that they should not continue to represent it, no matter what the government happens to be. Apart from these two old men, who are too remote from actuality to be able to be very critical, the National Socialists have placed only secondraters at the head of their intellectual organizations. There are seven of these special unions, grouped in a General Cultural Union, presided over, as one might expect, by the Minister of Propaganda. German culture is now merely an instrument of propaganda, in the service of the government. It is entirely subordinated to the will of a single chief, named Goebbels. He is known today all over the world; but on his own, independently of the propaganda instruments of the party and the movement, he couldn't interest even a thousand readers in his plays and novels. As a matter of fact, it is not survivors like Hauptmann and Strauss who give the measure of German culture today. It is Goebbels. Having created nothing, he has at last propagandized himself into existence. When the party came to power, the victorious propagandist simply imposed himself upon a culture to which he had never contributed.
Further, the doctrine of the National Socialist Party does not admit individual thought or brilliant exceptions, which are the essence of real talent and superior intelligence. One must think as everybody thinks before confessing to gifts which are not everybody's. Moreover, if the Minister of Propaganda has to choose between a devoted mediocrity and a man of talent who is willing to make concessions, he will choose the former, though he pretends publicly to set great store by talent. His theory is that art cannot exist without talent, but that extremely individualistic talent creates an abyss between art and the nation. This preposterous theory was the subject of his inaugural speech before the Cultural Union. He informed his regimented audience that, before the advent of the Hitler government, the literary public had been rapidly dwindling, that the masses were becoming indifferent to literature. He conveniently forgot dozens of recent examples to the contrary. "All Quiet on the Western Front" sold a million copies in Germany alone. Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks" reached a sale of a million just in one cheap edition. As German is spoken by less than sixty million adults, these are high figures. German books were never read so widely as after the Weimar Republic came into existence. Democracy, by freeing the workers and by levelling classes, had served culture well by opening up its golden seams to millions who previously had been isolated from it.
Under the National Socialists, Germany has promptly lost the habit of reading. Partly this is because people have little time for it, being constantly occupied with manifestations in favor of the government, military night marches, and forced labor on behalf of a few people of wealth. Every German is conscripted for life. Never being alone for a minute, how can he think? Goebbels nevertheless expects him to be interested in a certain kind of literature, described as heroic romanticism. But these writings remain quite unknown to the general public. The nation to whom they are addressed is neither romantic nor heroic. It has been stuffed with lies, but is not more romantic on that account. It has been steeped in violence and braggadocio, but that is far from heroism. A few victories fairly won and some spirit of sacrifice might help; but sacrificing others is not enough.
Obviously, the new National Socialist cultural system would not work without violent pressure on the unwilling. "If you refuse to buy our books, we shall compel you to, otherwise you will lose your job." That is how the author of "My Struggle," who is also its publisher, and who besides has the advantage of being both Chancellor and the owner of the chief newspaper in his party, speeds up the sales of the National Socialist Bible. Radio owners have been sent to jail for deciding to give up their receiving sets, because they could not stand hearing over and over again the speeches of the National Socialist leaders. The régime imposes its own press and will tolerate no other. Its aim is to keep the outer world from penetrating into Germany. Literature, drama and moving pictures are strictly controlled. Only propagandist movies are now permitted, camouflaged, of course, if they are intended for export. The theatre has not yet received proper attention. As the playhouses are empty, it would be logical to compel the taxpayers to attend as a matter of duty and applaud the new romantico-heroic dramas.
The least resistance to all this comes from the youth. Always susceptible to irrational enthusiasm and appeals to collective action, the young men of Germany are the very basis of the dictatorship. They were the first to applaud it, and it rewards them by endlessly dwelling upon the inestimable value attributed to physical youth in certain epochs. Indeed, the ability to appeal to youth is clearly of the utmost value to leaders who are on bad terms with critical minds; they have nothing of that kind to fear from the young. Neither a critical sense nor common sense prevented the students from driving out professors who happened to be Jewish, democratic, or simply merely honest. Nor has it prevented them from taking bloody reprisals against their classmates who hold different ideas from theirs. From the beginning, the movement exploited the youths of less than twenty years. These swarmed in the streets whenever there was a demonstration against the Republic or against freedom of thought. If thought is now controlled in Germany, instead of being free, it is chiefly the fault of the younger generation. They sing "We are the Soldiers of the Future." It is hardly necessary to say that youths of twenty are always the soldiers of some future or other. But what future can lie before these German youths, already weighted down for all their lives by the injustices and contemptible actions they have committed?
That is one of the grave disadvantages of controlled thought. It has distorted the minds of whole generations of young folk, and it leaves them no time for learning. Indeed, students of National Socialist opinions have had to be granted special facilities at their examinations. So many scholars of great distinction have left the country that the world a few years hence seems destined to witness the mental decline of a nation which might have continued to be distinguished in all domains of scholarship and science, abstract as well as applied. Where would have been the world's chemical and mechanical inventions, its great industries, if men had not been able to think freely and work freely? And at the same time the spiritual springs of the nation are destroyed by lies and hypocrisy.
Another disadvantage of controlled thought is the absence of safety valves. These have all been closed. There is no criticism, there are no warnings. Catastrophes can approach unannounced. History has recorded, times without number, the dangers and degradations caused by the suppression of freedom of conscience. It is sad to see one generation of men going back on the moral conquests made by its predecessors. For a certain time, it is true, truth may be regarded as a mere matter of convention. But such truths are not the Truth, to which disinterested men will devote their lives. Nobody will be able to enjoy the immense experience of meeting face to face the perils of the Unknown by the exercise of the intellect. The delicious pains of creation will be unknown, since the artist is forbidden his own conception of humanity, and must evoke only official visions. It will no longer be said that personality is the supreme happiness of man. The personality of a Goethe could never have been regimented by this régime of jealous, rancorous mediocrities.
They are powerfully entrenched and their capacity for harm is far from exhausted. They will last, and they will make the most of their opportunities before they disappear. But disappear they will, and free thought will survive them. On that score, too, history leaves no doubt. Though thought is persecuted, already it resists. The layman is still quiet; but the Christian churches are in revolt against the doctrine of racism. The churches do not recognize zoölogical races. They recognize only humanity, whose spiritual welfare has been put in their keeping. That welfare is also the concern of intellectuals, even though they are not so well organized as the clerics and are more exposed to worldly considerations. There will come the moment when they will realize their degradation and react against it. For the rest, Eternal Thought is in no wise affected by the abdication, forced or voluntary, of a few thousand intellectuals inside a certain set of frontier posts.