This is not Weimar Germany, and the ugly scenes on the streets of our cities need not be the precursor to the overthrow of state and society which happened there. In 1920s Germany, the new republic was a patched-together job which served for the moment, but many imagined its replacement by one system or other – a return of the old order or one of the rival brands of socialism. That is when the street battles began.
Last week, Konstantin Kisin in a Twitter thread (not a fixed article, which is disappointing) set out a likely course of events following the communist attacks on monuments that week. It was grim reading but at once began to be proven accurate: the backlash by skinhead groups, the differential coverage by the media (“27 police hurt in largely peaceful protest” v “27 police inured by far-right violence”), reaction, counter-reaction and so it goes on, as long as the sun is shining and there are no jobs to go to.
It all begins to look familiar from the history books of a hundred years ago, which shows that humanity has not changed, nor has humanity changed since the Palaeolithic clans battled over rule of the tribe and their own visions of the future.
The seduction practised by the rival political gangs of 1920s Germany was a simple one: so to dominate newspaper and radio coverage that change to one version of socialism or the other seemed inevitable. It was no longer a law-and-order issue, even for a nation so keen on order; it was the feeling of inevitability. The Weimar state was a system in which few believed, and disorder indicated that its end was close, so it was just a question of choosing a side. The Nazis played it well as the team to join if you opposed the Communists who wanted to destroy everything: it must have been easy to turn a blind eye to the foul stuff they preached just to dispose of the Communists, or to think they could never do the unthinkable. It gained the earlier Nazis a following of admirers at home and abroad, who dropped away very quickly when they learned something of the truth, but by then it was too late.
The street-fighting was between two brands of socialists – the international socialists and the national socialists. Their dual monopoly, the desire to end the violence however it could be done and the feeling of inevitability sapping away at the soul worked its way and placed one set of murderous socialists on top, though it could as easily have been the other.
There may have been genuine grievances to be exploited skilfully by each side, but the activists are there to exploit, not support, like the abuser who claims to like kittens in order to get his feet under the table. Honestly intended marches expressing despair about the treatment of individuals because of their race were exploited the same way. We must not confuse the slogan with the motive though – those who tore the statue down have not wish to heal racial division but to expand and exploit it.
It is, as Hobbes described, part of “a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death“.
A history book is not a good guide to every future. This is not Weimar Germany with its air of unreality and the temporary: we are in Britain and the House of Commons, when it meets, contains a stonking majority of the ‘party of law and order’. Now it needs to make itself felt.
The necrosis of political society comes in the deceit that one must choose sides, from a choice of just two, when both are evil. In truth, there is a third side, namely common freedom under the law.
A memorandum was issued last week by Oliver Dowden. Secretary of State for Culture, Media and for some reason Sport, which was a masterclass in government not politics. It did not take a side on the issue of statues and plaques but recited the law: private property, listed structures, planning permission, due process etc. In short, ask for statues to be removed if you wish, but there are necessary procedures and owners may not agree, and if you do not get your wish, to keep or to topple, you accept that and may not take the law into your own hands.
In the circumstances, the Dowden memorandum is the perfect stand to take, as it asserts simply the rule of law, which is the side we should all be on. A political response might have been one like that issued by Emmanuel Macron in France that his republic “will not erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues” – yes, a good, laudable stance and one I could stand behind, a retort to the destroyers – but the fundamental issue is not the likenesses in bronze but the rule of law, which is equally capable of removing a statue as of protecting one, but all according to due process.
Unless there is enforceable law, then the only rule is the force of the strongest gang on the street. Then you do have to choose sides, or form your own.
In the meantime, until it starts to rain and cools the ardour of the fighting youths, there are two sets of indistinguishable thugs facing off in the streets, but we choose neither: we choose law and order.
- By Thomas Hobbes:
- By Anthony Burgess:
- By H G Wells:
- By Aldous Huxley:
- By George Orwell:
- By Jordan Peterson: