Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Damn Godwin

It’s cute. Nosemonkey got into a huge thread argument about this quote:

Gerhard Schröder has proved the most feckless and unprincipled Chancellor in the history of democratic Germany.

And noting that this set includes Hitler.

The comments proceed to a big argument about whether or not Hitler was truly elected, or whether that counted as “democratic Germany”. This is a comment I hear often regarding non-constrained democracies, that they can elect monsters like Hitler. Not only was democracy pretty perverted by then – but let’s be honest about the German public at the time. They had had liberal institutions for a while, and they did not want them. The members of the Nazi party resorted to any extreme and method to get power and punish the Social Democrats, as well as other right wingers (the Chancellor before Hitler presumptively took control of Prussia when it acted out). Constitutional curiousities would not have helped – they are easier to manipulate than the public will.

An example: in order to solidify Hitler’s power, when the Reichstag took a vote on expanding the Chancellor’s powers, his goons stood outside the legislature with machine guns. This sort of intimidation works on small institutions where power and decisions are collected into individual people. The larger the body that was needed to change these rules, the harder it would be for “safety of our lives” to be a concern.

Then the original author of the quote comes in and says, regardless of the democraticness of Hitler’s election – one could never say he was feckless and unprincipled. He was too principled, especially in sticking to bad principles (anti-Semitism), and feckless (meaning Lacking purpose or vitality; feeble or ineffective) is also not something you would say about the most vicious and irresistible conqueror of the twentieth century.

I think this is a more important point (and I wish Oliver remembered this with regard to Schroeder). Political opportunism does not take lives. Bold principles do. The entire point of a democracy is to create rulers that respond to the whims of the people, and to keep people with crazy ideas that have no willingness to change according to real world situations, out.

(This is not a side-swipe at Bush actually. Bush is in fact pretty opportunistic and has changed according to the winds as much as Clinton ever did. This is a side-swipe at Bush’s lieutenants.)


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