There’s a little row going on.
German conservatives are saying the symbols of the GDR should be banned in Germany because they are offensive to the victims of the totalitarian regime, and others are saying NO! because the GDR wasn’t as bad as the NS years.
Both arguments are badly flawed.
The idea that things should be banned because some people find them hurtful and offensive does not fit with a liberal democracy. Tolerance doesn’t mean anything unless you tolerate what you really don’t like.
You’re offended (as I would be) by idiots who go stomping around Treptow Soviet War Memorial on “Victory Day“, dressed up like wannabe Stalins with the flags and the badges and the hats? Well, don’t go to Treptow Soviet War Memorial on the 9th of May!
Is it fair to compare the German Democratic Republic with the Third Reich? Probably not, but is that what they’re doing? No, so that’s a straw man. The argument appears to be that the GDR was repressive, and there’s quite a lot of evidence to support that, but whether or not it can be compared to 30s Germany is irrelevant. All governments get compared to the nazis at some point by some people.
No, the question is, is the memory of the repressive nature of the old East Germany so offensive that its victims should be shielded from reminders? Should freedoms be taken away from the fools who still dream of a socialist paradise that never existed?
If not then how do we justify taking away the same freedoms from the idiots who dream of a fascist past? And so here we are again, comparing the two regimes, measuring them up for offensiveness; an ideological pissing contest.
The odd thing is that both sides agree; nobody in Germany should have the freedom to express their liking for fascism. We’ve all decided as a society that public denial of the holocaust, for example, should be punished, because it’s an obviously offensive and factually incorrect position. Selling a badge off of an old SS uniform on a sunday market? Illegal. Greeting someone in the street with a stiff, right-armed, Roman salute? Punishable!
I believe these are all judgment calls that cannot easily be legislated for, and therefore not only should we leave the stalinist idiots to their sad little nostalgic fantasies, but we should also allow far more offensive behaviour.
Freedom comes at a cost, and until Germany accepts that freedom must include tolerating the truly offensive, those states that have no regard for freedom will always brush away European criticism by pointing at our hypocrisy. Hitler laughed at American complaints about the treatment of the Jews, pointing out the Jim Crow laws that lasted until 1965. American moral authority was undermined by American racism, just as now, in the UN when european countries complain of political repression in Iran, Syria, Turkey, wherever, we hand them a get-out.
So the argument is, should Germany remain a hypocritical nation that cannot look oppressors in the eye, along with pretty much all of Europe, or become even more hypocritical, all in the name of not offending anyone?
Well, on this one, I’m sorry, but fuck the lot of you.
Just to provide a little balance, here’s Thatcher arguing clearly, and scientifically accurately, for dramatic action to combat anthropogenic climate change at the UN back in 1989.
I believe that when people are right, they’re right, and very few people are all wrong.
She suddenly goes on about how the magic of the free markets will fix everything around the 20 minute mark, but other than that…
This is the full CSpan version. My eyes get moist listening, not because I miss Ms. Thatcher, I had no special fondness for her, but because I miss what we once had in pre-Fox America – a dialogue with intelligent conservatives who took the time to actually think, feel, reason, and deduct. A common set of basic human values, and a respect for fact and science.
Can you imagine a contemporary Republican making glowing mention of Darwin? (first 5 minutes)
It’s 36 minutes. Worth playing in the background, or if you don’t have time, see the Yale video I produced using this footage, and commentary below in another post.
I strongly objected to many of Margaret Thatcher’s decisions, her support of apartheid, Clause 28, the sinking of the Belgrano, the selling off of the things the people of Britain already owned, the list goes on, I didn’t like her style, her tone, I didn’t even like her voice, but I don’t demonize her.
Policies that were considered racist and homophobic are now long forgotten. In many respects she lost the culture wars, and her brand of social conservatism has faded away, whereas no subsequent government has seen fit to roll back any of her economic changes.
Would Britain have become more liberal sooner without Thatcher? Perhaps, but we’ll never know for sure.
Did the people of Britain agree with the economic changes? Well, neo-liberalism has been the political consensus ever since.
I distinctly remember a sense that hers was a government lacking in compassion. Their faith in free markets appeared to have little time for the weak, the slow, and the vulnerable. I found this baffling at the time. I couldn’t understand how people could look down with such distain upon frailty.
I’m reminded of this because I see that same distain now. That same lack of compassion.
There was a time to be angry at Thatcher. There was a time to stand up and push against the neo-liberal economic revolution. There was a time to reject the materialism, to forgo the benefits of deregulation, to fight for a sense of community against rampant individualism.
You missed that time, Britain. You chose not to take that opportunity.
Well, you made that decision all those years ago, you bought that Thatcherite dream, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that many of you ejected any sense of compassion along the way. Being compassionate towards people you like is no compassion at all.
There’s nothing to rage against here, and nothing to celebrate.
An old woman died. My tribal allegiances died long ago.