My family moved to California in 1950, part of the post-WWII westward migration. My widowed mother, tired of Boston’s dreary winters, felt the westward pull. My eldest brother, a WWII Navy veteran, had heard good things about San Diego from sailors who had been stationed there during the war. So, California, here we come.
I would like to think those were the golden years, at least for us. California was new, bright, warm, and full of promise. The East was old and cold. And San Diego was thriving. Defense and aerospace jobs were plentiful. Land was cheap, homes were cheap. A building boom met the housing needs for optimistic migrants. You could get things done in California.
It’s not that California anymore. We are overregulated and overtaxed and people aren’t so optimistic. People want to leave.
What Happened to the Golden Years?
A recent poll of the state’s registered voters by Cal’s Institute of Governmental Studies revealed that half have considered leaving the state. The top reason was the high cost of housing (especially by young people); high taxation was second.
The poll also asked if California was one of the best places to live or a just an OK-to-lousy place to live. About half said yes and half went the other way. Interestingly 67% of Democrats said it was one of the best while 77% of Republicans disagreed. Apparently, Democrats like expensive housing, high taxes, and being overregulated.
Are people leaving California? It depends on whom you are talking about. More people are out-migrating to other states than those coming in (–156,000), but much of that was offset by international migrants(+118,000) resulting in a net population loss of only 38,000 (2018).
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that California is the most regulated state in the nation — by far. The Cato Institute analyzed the laws of each state by measuring the amount of individual legal restrictions in their legal codes. California was at the top, way at the top with 395,503 individual restrictions (laws, prohibitions). We surpassed No. 2, ultraleft New York, by almost 90,000 restrictions. Our politicians in Sacramento keep passing hundreds of new laws every year yet half of Californians are thinking of leaving.
And then there are taxes. California has the highest income tax rate of all states (13.3%). The highest combined federal and California income tax rate is now about 50% of taxable income. If you and your spouse have $200,000 of taxable income, your combined federal and California tax rate is 41.3%. That’s not something you should be applauding since California ranks 42 out of 50 states in fiscal solvency .
Two new pieces of legislation will make things worse, much worse. One is statewide rent control. The other is the reclassification of independent contractors as employees.
The War Against Low-income Renters
A rent-control law, Assembly Bill 1482, was signed by Governor Newsom on October 8, 2019 . It limits apartment rent increases to 5% plus inflation per year (not to exceed 10%). It affects units built at least 15 years ago (on a rolling timeline). Rents can be adjusted to market rates only when a tenant leaves, but tenants can only be evicted for “cause.” Newsom said “These anti-gouging and eviction protections will help families afford to keep a roof over their heads …” But what if it doesn’t? What if it will harm tenants, especially poor ones?
The advocates of rent control seem to have no grasp on the economics of price controls. Perhaps they should consult an economist. In a survey of prominent economists , 81% agreed that rent controls have not had a positive impact where they have been tried.
Why would these cold-hearted economists oppose rent control? Because rent controls don’t work and they do the opposite of what was intended: they hurt poor renters.
Here is what will happen with rent control in our high-demand coastal communities:
- Owners will raise rents to the maximum every year to protect asset values.
- Owners will be far more selective in choosing tenants, thus limiting housing for poor, less creditworthy applicants.
- Tenants will be reluctant to move from rent controlled properties which tends to freeze the rent-controlled rental market leaving fewer apartments available for rent.
- Rent controlled units will be gentrified as historical evidence shows that higher income tenants will be the most benefited class of renters.
- Affordable apartment inventory will be further reduced as owners evict tenants, tear down older buildings, and build new, more expensive units which will be exempt from rent control.
- More apartments will be converted to condos, further reducing affordable inventory.
- Owners will cut back on expenses to preserve cash flow, thus reducing the quality of rentable units.
Overall, rent control will disincentivize investors from investing in affordable apartments.
These conclusions aren’t guesses or just fuzzy theories — they are based on actual experience from rent controlled areas.
Adios Gig Economy
The new law on classifying independent contractors as employees (AB 5) is a stab in the heart of the gig economy — the economy that provides convenient low-cost services when you want them. Think Uber and Lyft for ride sharing. You will now pay more and get less. That assumes they will stay in California. Uber, as everyone knows loses money (EBITDA earnings for 2018: –$2.41 billion). If they can’t make money on their present business model, how can they possibly make money if their driver costs go way up? So, I repeat myself: will they be around in a couple years? Will those drivers who feel they are being treated unfairly be out of work?
This is a classic example of the Canute Effect.1 If you recall, Canute was the Danish king, who, legend has it, ordered the tide to stop coming in. Canute was obviously either detached from reality or just an arrogant megalomaniac who thought he could command nature.
In our case, our legislators believe they can just pass a law and make things better. It doesn’t work that way. There are controlling economic realities that they ignore or, most likely, aren’t even aware of.
Everybody knows that Uber changed the world for the better. Consumers loved the new service. Drivers signed up to make extra money, setting their own hours. So why do our politicians want to kill Uber and Lyft? We should ask ourselves: who would be better off without Uber and Lyft? Here’s a clue: in the governor’s statement supporting AB 5 he went out of his way to say, “A next step is creating pathways for more workers to form a union, collectively bargain to earn more, and have a stronger voice at work.” It’s an obvious power grab by unions who wish to unionize (i.e., kill) the gig economy. Unions are famous for protecting the status quo and fighting for more power. Taxi companies no doubt had their hand in it too.
Understand that Uber and Lyft are just the tip of the gig economy. We all lose.
The Tipping Point
I just reread Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book, The Tipping Point, in which he details the things that push societal change over the edge. My fear is that California is getting to a point where the dynamism that has driven our mighty state’s prosperity will be snuffed out. Are we at the tipping point yet? I don’t really know, but with 395,503 restrictions on the books, I don’t see how it can get better.
Our politicians are quick to say this will never happen. They say we have the most vibrant tech economy in the world. Our farms feed the country. People love California. They believe they are making things better. Yet they continue to pass laws that tamp us down. At some point it will tip over and the impact of their regulations and taxes will overcome the forces that made California great. These new laws are getting us closer.
- 1. Canute Effect: A belief by politicians that they can change reality by fiat.
Science v Religion
QUESTION: Dear Mr. Armstrong,
I have been an avid reader of your blog for over four years after watching The Forecaster on Norwegian TV in the fall of 2015. First, I would like to commend you for your tireless work, your integrity and your courageous struggle for justice and freedom of speech. Your voice is a breath of fresh air at a time when so much brain power is giving in to political correctness and group thinking under the purview of scientific consensus.
During my studies, I became aware of the limitations of academia early on in terms of open critical processes. As I investigated the situation within other disciplines as physics, cosmology, geology, climatology, archaeology, history, biology and medicine, I found serious issues of dissent that was not common known and most often not mentioned in the professional literature.
In my further attempt to understand how this could be possible, it gradually dawned on me that the Western scientific tradition had been reduced to an orthodoxy. Just like any other organization having a predictable resistance against change, protecting itself against the loss of influence and power resulting from being exposed as a promoter of heresy. Partly commercial since depending on grants and external funding, willing to compromise with its own integrity and important social mission.
Since then, of course, everything has only got worse. Critical questions are increasingly ignored or ridiculed, and alternative research dismissed with contempt and excluded from funding and publication under the pretext of a lack of anchoring in consensus. As if the scientific method is a democratic process leading to unassailable dogmas decided by the votes of an academic priesthood.
This leads me to my first question inspired of your blog post about The Decline & Fall of Religion from January 7th. Could the Western scientific tradition have grown into a believe system and thus actually a new religion? For what is really a religion other than an interpretation of reality, sprung from the quest of man to understand himself and his own context? At first offering a new and more powerful set of explanations, but later just to fall as victim of the same corrupt orthodoxy as the model of explanation it once defeated.
As when mathematical reasoning was accepted as a scientific proof in order to understand the universe, or when the limitations within the scientific method, being strictly materialistic, was suggested and by time widely accepted as the very boundaries defining reality itself. Giving rise a atheistic scientific tradition believed to have the power to explain the reality without any supernatural causation.
If this is correct, when did this shift in the cycle of religion take place? What about 1860 which your blog post shows as an important turning point in this cycle? The year when Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species reached the bookshelves in Europe (first edition published 24. November 1859). A book that is supposed to offer an explanation for the existence of life simply from natural causes, and which gradually emptied the churches of the West as the believers converted to science through the educational system of academia. A shift that probably has changed and shaped the West more than any in the time after 1860. First through the industrial revolution as a powerful demonstration of the possibilities and legitimacy of the new worldview.
Later through the ideas of among others Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud leading to socialism, the dismantling of the traditional family structure and the sexual revolution. And finally the post industrial society with the educational revolution lifting billions out of poverty and into the growing mega cities of our time.
After all, does not academia bear all the hallmarks of being a religion with its self-importance, dogmas, traditions, rituals, clergy, heretics, exclusion and even venerable buildings and costumes with weird hats?
Would love hear your thoughts about this perspective, and how it might be linked to the downfall of the West.
ANSWER: Yes, I believe your analysis is correct. Science became a sort of anti-religion. In economics, science became all about the power of the state to manipulate society while ignoring any connection to any other field. It was Albert Einstein who actually commented on the observation you have made. He said in his essay “Science and religion,” published in 1954, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
I actually have no problem with Darwin despite the fact that nobody has ever discovered the missing link. There were clearly three primary species: Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. There is also genetic evidence that there was interbreeding. Nevertheless, all the evidence he gathered did not deny divine intervention. Evolution does exist insofar as the biological organisms do undergo their own cycle of evolution just as viruses do. Even humans have grown larger over the centuries. Above is the door entrance to the church built during the 4th century over the place where Christ was born. Walking through various ancient places, one notices how much smaller people were. Most Egyptian pharaohs were about 5’6 at best. A giant was someone about 6’1.
“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” That stands in contrast to what “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.”
You are correct that from 1860 onward, there was a major turning point in religion on our model. Indeed, the emergence of “science” took on the position of the anti-religion to many people. This was a major crossroads in religion and we should also include the rise of the anti-religious elements within science. That anti-religion movement was probably best articulated by Karl Marx.
To me, understanding cyclical movement is by no means anti-religion. We are looking at how the universe functions. Even the idea of the Big Bang, to me, is simply a cycle where everything moves from the center, contracts back to its origin, and explodes once again. None of those scientific discoveries provides any confirmation that there is no God. There is nothing that explains how everything works that would deny the existence of God. They are not mutually exclusive. Thus, the climate change fanatics are really just pushing their agenda which denies the nature of everything and, like Marx, assumes humans are in control of everything.
Are the US and the UK political systems converging?
[The ideas in this post are tentative, so please correct me on any errors regarding the UK political system.]
As an outsider, the parliamentary system in the UK always seemed quite different from the US system, mostly due to the different roles of the president of the US and the prime minister of the UK. In the UK, voters elect a party, or a coalition of parties, and the party elects a leader. The leader would sometimes be changed in midstream if things were not going well.
In the US, maverick politicians such as Goldwater and McGovern could almost “hijack” their parties, and take control against the wishes of the party establishment. Trump and Sanders are more recent examples of maverick politicians.
In the UK, ordinary party members (i.e. voters) have recently been given increasing clout in the selection of leadership. Corbyn staged a sort of internal coup with grassroots support, taking control of the Labour Party against the wishes of many Labour MPs. Boris Johnson is somewhat more mainstream, but did oppose party leadership on Brexit. Increasingly, the Conservatives seem to be being reshaped to reflect their leadership, rather than vice versa. UK voters increasingly are choosing between people like Corbyn and Johnson, rather than Labour vs. Conservatives.
In contrast, US voters are much more attached to their party in presidential votes than when I was young. But in both countries, blue-collar voters in smaller cities are moving right, and highly educated voters in bigger cities are moving left.
Many Americans prefer our three-branch system of government, with all its “checks and balances.” One often hears the suggestion that the UK government is little more than an “elected dictatorship”. But based on what I’ve read, the UK government is gradually becoming a bit less of an elected dictatorship, as the British courts are increasingly likely to push back against a government initiative.
Meanwhile, the US president is increasingly becoming an “elected dictator”:
When the Pentagon announced this month that it would divert billions more dollars in military funding to the construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall, bipartisan outrage ricocheted across Capitol Hill.
Republicans and Democrats alike issued fiery statements in defense of both their congressional districts, some of which stand to lose valuable work making military equipment, and their constitutionally enshrined power of the purse. But the howls of protest are unlikely to amount to much in a Congress where lawmakers — many of whom once prized their spending prerogatives almost above all else — acknowledge their power to steer federal dollars has been severely eroded.
The dysfunction has taken hold in large part because of decisions that members of Congress themselves have made. But it has become particularly pronounced under Trump, who has moved aggressively to divert government money when it suits his agenda.
“Congress’ appropriation power, which is pretty much the last unchallenged power that Congress has, has very significantly eroded,” said Sean Kelly, a professor of political science at California State University Channel Islands.
The root of the problem predates Trump.
That final sentence is important. Although I am strongly opposed to certain authoritarian tendencies in the Trump administration, it’s important to note that this has been going on for years, and recent events are merely an acceleration of trends that began at least as far back as WWI.
Here’s a tentative hypothesis. In a globalized world, countries like the US and UK are buffeted by similar forces, involving changes in everything from technology to cultural norms. Over time, they gradually evolve in the same way. If the US Constitution seems to prevent our system from resembling another, then those constitutional restraints will be sort of brushed away. Don’t count on our Constitution to protect us from an elected dictatorship:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
That train’s already left the station. The US Constitution says Congress declares war, Congress sets tariff rates, Congress votes on spending money for a wall. There is no taking of land except for public purposes. Those traditions have all been brushed aside.
PS. This also fits in with the famous “end of history” hypothesis. Increasingly, it seems that all over the world the debate over fundamental questions has ended, and it’s now a question of which elected dictator will be chosen. You have Putin, Erdogan, Modi, Abe, Orban, Duterte, etc. If China ever became a democracy, I wonder if they’d elect a dictator like Xi Jinping? Is China really that different from India? A 1984-style surveillance state is being created almost everywhere.
No one knew it at the time, but Silvio Berlusconi and his farcical party entitled “Forza Italia” was the canary in the coal mine for global democracy. Berlusconi took control of Italian media, and then the entire country.
The Origins of Nazism
[An excerpt from Omnipotent Government: The Rise of Total State and Total War, originally published in 1944 by Yale University as the first full-scale examination of German-style National Socialism as a species of socialism in general.]
1. The Ancient Regime and Liberalism
It is a fundamental mistake to believe that Nazism is a revival or a continuation of the policies and mentalities of the ancien régime or a display of the “Prussian spirit.” Nothing in Nazism takes up the thread of the ideas and institutions of older German history. Neither Nazism nor Pan-Germanism, from which Nazism stems and whose consequent evolution it represents, is derived from the Prussianism of Frederick William I or Frederick II, called the Great. Pan-Germanism and Nazism never intended to restore the policy of the electors of Brandenburg and of the first four kings of Prussia. They have sometimes depicted as the goal of their endeavors the return of the lost paradise of old Prussia; but this was mere propaganda talk for the consumption of a public which worshiped the heroes of days gone by. Nazism’s program does not aim at the restoration of something past but at the establishment of something new and unheard of.
The old Prussian state of the House of Hohenzollern was completely destroyed by the French on the battlefields of Jena and Auerstädt (1806). The Prussian Army surrendered at Prenzlau and Ratkau, the garrisons of the more important fortresses and citadels capitulated without firing a shot. The King took refuge with the Czar, whose mediation alone brought about the preservation of his realm. But the old Prussian state was internally broken down long before this military defeat; it had long been decomposed and rotten, when Napoleon gave it the finishing stroke. For the ideology on which it was based had lost all its power; it had been disintegrated by the assault of the new ideas of liberalism.
Like all the other princes and dukes who have established their sovereign rule on the debris of the Holy Roman Empire of the Teutonic Nation, the Hohenzollerns too regarded their territory as a family estate, whose boundaries they tried to expand through violence, ruse, and family compacts. The people living within their possessions were subjects who had to obey orders. They were appurtenances of the soil, the property of the ruler who had the right to deal with them ad libitum. Their happiness and welfare were of no concern.
Of course, the king took an interest in the material well-being of his subjects. But this interest was not founded on the belief that it is the purpose of civil government to make the people prosperous. Such ideas were deemed absurd in eighteenth-century Germany. The king was eager to increase the wealth of the peasantry and the townsfolk because their income was the source from which his revenue was derived. He was not interested in the subject but in the taxpayer. He wanted to derive from his administration of the country the means to increase his power and splendor. The German princes envied the riches of Western Europe, which provided the kings of France and of Great Britain with funds for the maintenance of mighty armies and navies. They encouraged commerce, trade, mining, and agriculture in order to raise the public revenue. The subjects, however, were simply pawns in the game of the rulers.
But the attitude of these subjects changed considerably at the end of the eighteenth century. From Western Europe new ideas began to penetrate into Germany. The people, accustomed to obey blindly the God-given authority of the princes, heard for the first time the words liberty, self-determination, rights of man, parliament, constitution. The Germans learned to grasp the meaning of dangerous watchwords.
No German has contributed anything to the elaboration of the great system of liberal thought, which has transformed the structure of society and replaced the rule of kings and royal mistresses by the government of the people. The philosophers, economists, and sociologists who developed it thought and wrote English or French. In the eighteenth century the Germans did not even succeed in achieving readable translations of these English, Scotch, and French authors. What German idealistic philosophy produced in this field is poor indeed when compared with contemporary English and French thought. But German intellectuals welcomed Western ideas of freedom and the rights of man with enthusiasm. German classical literature is imbued with them, and the great German composers set to music verses singing the praises of liberty. The poems, plays, and other writings of Frederick Schiller are from beginning to end a hymn to liberty. Every word written by Schiller was a blow to the old political system of Germany; his works were fervently greeted by nearly all Germans who read books or frequented the theater. These intellectuals, of course, were a minority only. To the masses books and theaters were unknown. They were the poor serfs in the eastern provinces, they were the inhabitants of the Catholic countries, who only slowly succeeded in freeing themselves from the tight grasp of the Counter-Reformation. Even in the more advanced western parts and in the cities there were still many illiterates and semiliterates. These masses were not concerned with any political issue; they obeyed blindly, because they lived in fear of punishment in hell, with which the church threatened them, and in a still greater fear of the police. They were outside the pale of German civilization and German cultural life; they knew only their regional dialects, and could hardly converse with a man who spoke only the German literary language or another dialect. But the number of these backward people was steadily decreasing. Economic prosperity and education spread from year to year. More and more people reached a standard of living which allowed them to care for other things besides food and shelter, and to employ their leisure in something more than drinking. Whoever rose from misery and joined the community of civilized men became a liberal. Except for the small group of princes and their aristocratic retainers practically everyone interested in political issues was liberal. There were in Germany in those days only liberal men and indifferent men; but the ranks of the indifferent continually shrank, while the ranks of the liberals swelled.
All intellectuals sympathized with the French Revolution. They scorned the terrorism of the Jacobins but unswervingly approved the great reform. They saw in Napoleon the man who would safeguard and complete these reforms and—like Beethoven—took a dislike to him as soon as he betrayed freedom and made himself emperor.
Never before had any spiritual movement taken hold of the whole German people, and never before had they been united in their feelings and ideas. In fact the people, who spoke German and were the subjects of the Empire’s princes, prelates, counts, and urban patricians, became a nation, the German nation, by their reception of the new ideas coming from the West. Only then there came into being what had never existed before: a German public opinion, a German public, a German literature, a German Fatherland. The Germans now began to understand the meaning of the ancient authors which they had read in school. They now conceived the history of their nation as something more than the struggle of princes for land and revenues. The subjects of many hundreds of petty lords became Germans through the acceptance of Western ideas.
This new spirit shook the foundations on which the princes had built their thrones—the traditional loyalty and subservience of the subjects who were prepared to acquiesce in the despotic rule of a group of privileged families. The Germans dreamed now of a German state with parliamentary government and the rights of man. They did not care for the existing German states. Those Germans who styled themselves “patriots,” the new-fangled term imported from France, despised these seats of despotic misrule and abuse. They hated the tyrants. And they hated Prussia most because it appeared to be the most powerful and therefore most dangerous menace to German freedom.
The Prussian myth, which the Prussian historians of the nineteenth century fashioned with a bold disregard of facts, would have us believe that Frederick II was viewed by his contemporaries as they themselves represent him—as the champion of Germany’s greatness, protagonist in Germany’s rise to unity and power, the nation’s hero. Nothing could be further from the truth. The military campaigns of the warrior king were to his contemporaries struggles to increase the possessions of the House of Brandenburg, which concerned the dynasty only. They admired his strategical talents but they detested the brutalities of the Prussian system. Whoever praised Frederick within the borders of his realm did so from necessity, to evade the indignation of a prince who wreaked stern vengeance upon every foe. When people outside of Prussia praised him, they were disguising criticism of their own rulers. The subjects of petty princes found this irony the least dangerous way to disparage their pocket-size Neros and Borgias. They glorified his military achievements but called themselves happy because they were not at the mercy of his whims and cruelties. They approved of Frederick only in so far as he fought their domestic tyrants.
At the end of the eighteenth century German public opinion was as unanimously opposed to the ancien régime as in France on the eve of the Revolution. The German people witnessed with indifference the French annexation of the left bank of the Rhine, the defeats of Austria and of Prussia, the breaking-up of the Holy Empire, and the establishment of the Rhine Confederacy. They hailed the reforms forced upon the governments of all their states by the ascendancy of the French ideas. They admired Napoleon as a great general and ruler just as they had previously admired Frederick of Prussia. The Germans began to hate the French only when—like the French subjects of the Emperor—they finally became tired of the endless burdensome wars. When the Great Army had been wrecked in Russia, the people took an interest in the campaigns which finished Napoleon, but only because they hoped that his downfall would result in the establishment of parliamentary government. Later events dispelled this illusion, and there slowly grew the revolutionary spirit which led to the upheaval of 1848.
It has been asserted that the roots of present-day nationalism and Nazism are to be found in the writings of the Romantics, in the plays of Heinrich von Kleist, and in the political songs which accompanied the final struggle against Napoleon. This, too, is an error. The sophisticated works of the Romantics, the perverted feelings of Kleist’s plays, and the patriotic poetry of the wars of liberation did not appreciably move the public; and the philosophical and sociological essays of those authors who recommended a return to medieval institutions were considered abstruse. People were not interested in the Middle Ages but in the parliamentary activities of the West. They read the books of Goethe and Schiller, not of the Romantics; went to the plays of Schiller, not of Kleist. Schiller became the preferred poet of the nation; in his enthusiastic devotion to liberty the Germans found their political ideal. The celebration of Schiller’s hundredth anniversary (in 1859) was the most impressive political demonstration that ever took place in Germany. The German nation was united in its adherence to the ideas of Schiller, to the liberal ideas.
All endeavors to make the German people desert the cause of freedom failed. The teachings of its adversaries had no effect. In vain Metternich’s police fought the rising tide of liberalism.
Only in the later decades of the nineteenth century was the hold of liberal ideas shaken. This was effected by the doctrines of etatism. Etatism—we will have to deal with it later—is a system of sociopolitical ideas which has no counterpart in older history and is not linked up with older ways of thinking, although—with regard to the technical character of the policies which it recommends—it may with some justification be called neo-Mercantilism.
2. The Weakness of German Liberalism
At about the middle of the nineteenth century those Germans interested in political issues were united in their adherence to liberalism. Yet the German nation did not succeed in shaking off the yoke of absolutism and in establishing democracy and parliamentary government. What was the reason for this?
Let us first compare German conditions with those of Italy, which was in a similar situation. Italy, too, was liberal minded, but the Italian liberals were impotent. The Austrian Army was strong enough to defeat every revolutionary upheaval. A foreign army kept Italian liberalism in check; other foreign armies freed Italy from this control. At Solferino, at Königgrätz, and at the banks of the Marne the French, the Prussians, and the English fought the battles which rendered Italy independent of the Habsburgs.
Just as Italian liberalism was no match for the Austrian Army, so German liberalism was unable to cope with the armies of Austria and Prussia. The Austrian Army consisted mainly of non-German soldiers. The Prussian Army, of course, had mostly German-speaking men in its ranks; the Poles, the other Slavs, and the Lithuanians were a minority only. But a great number of these men speaking one of the German dialects were recruited from those strata of society which were not yet awakened to political interests. They came from the eastern provinces, from the eastern banks of the Elbe River. They were mostly illiterate, and unfamiliar with the mentality of the intellectuals and of the townsfolk. They had never heard anything about the new ideas; they had grown up in the habit of obeying the Junker, who exercised executive and judicial power in their village, to whom they owed imposts and corvée (unpaid statute labor), and whom the law considered as their legitimate overlord. These virtual serfs were not capable of disobeying an order to fire upon the people. The Supreme War Lord of the Prussian Army could trust them. These men, and the Poles, formed the detachments which defeated the Prussian Revolution in 1848.
Such were the conditions which prevented the German liberals from suiting their actions to their word. They were forced to wait until the progress of prosperity and education could bring these backward people into the ranks of liberalism. Then, they were convinced, the victory of liberalism was bound to come. Time worked for it. But, alas, events belied these expectations. It was the fate of Germany that before this triumph of liberalism could be achieved liberalism and liberal ideas were overthrown—not only in Germany but everywhere—by other ideas, which again penetrated into Germany from the West. German liberalism had not yet fulfilled its task when it was defeated by etatism, nationalism, and socialism.
3.The Prussian Army
The Prussian Army which fought in the battles of Leipzig and Waterloo was very different from the army which Frederick William I had organized and which Frederick II had commanded in three great wars. That old army of Prussia had been smashed and destroyed in the campaign of 1806 and never revived.
The Prussian Army of the eighteenth century was composed of men pressed into service, brutally drilled by flogging, and held together by a barbaric discipline. They were mainly foreigners. The kings preferred foreigners to their own subjects. They believed that their subjects could be more useful to the country when working and paying taxes than when serving in the armed forces. In 1742 Frederick II set as his goal that the infantry should consist of two-thirds foreigners and one-third natives. Deserters from foreign armies, prisoners of war, criminals, vagabonds, tramps, and people whom the crimps had entrapped by fraud and violence were the bulk of the regiments. These soldiers were prepared to profit by every opportunity for escape. Prevention of desertion was therefore the main concern of the conduct of military affairs. Frederick II begins his main treatise of strategy, his General Principles of Warfare, with the exposition of fourteen rules on how to hinder desertion. Tactical and even strategical considerations had to be subordinated to the prevention of desertion. The troops could only be employed when tightly assembled together. Patrols could not be sent out. Strategical pursuit of a defeated enemy force was impossible. Marching or attacking at night and camping near forests were strictly avoided. The soldiers were ordered to watch each other constantly, both in war and in peace. Civilians were obliged by the threat of the heaviest penalties to bar the way to deserters, to catch them, and deliver them to the army.
The commissioned officers of this army were as a rule noblemen. Among them, too, were many foreigners; but the greater number belonged to the Prussian Junker class. Frederick II repeats again and again in his writings that commoners are not fit for commissions because their minds are directed toward profit, not honor. Although a military career was very profitable, as the commander of a company drew a comparatively high income, a great part of the landed aristocracy objected to the military profession for their sons. The kings used to send out policemen to kidnap the sons of noble landowners and put them into their military schools. The education provided by these schools was hardly more than that of an elementary school. Men with higher education were very rare in the ranks of Prussian commissioned officers.1
Such an army could fight and—under an able commander—conquer, only as long as it encountered armies of a similar structure. It scattered like chaff when it had to fight the forces of Napoleon.
The armies of the French Revolution and of the first Empire were recruited from the people. They were armies of free men, not of crimped scum. Their commanders did not fear desertion. They could therefore abandon the traditional tactics of moving forward in deployed lines and of firing volleys without taking aim. They could adopt a new method of combat, that is, fighting in columns and skirmishing. The new structure of the army brought first a new tactic and then a new strategy. Against these the old Prussian Army proved impotent.
The French pattern served as a model for the organization of the Prussian Army in the years 1808–13. It was built upon the principle of compulsory service of all men physically fit. The new army stood the test in the wars of 1813–15. Consequently its organization was not changed for about half a century. How this army would have fought in another war against a foreign aggressor will never be known; it was spared this trial. But one thing is beyond doubt, and was attested by events in the Revolution of 1848: only a part of it could be relied on in a fight against the people, the “domestic foe” of the government, and an unpopular war of aggression could not be waged with these soldiers.
In suppressing the Revolution of 1848 only the regiments of the Royal Guards, whose men were selected for their allegiance to the King, the cavalry, and the regiments recruited from the eastern provinces could be considered absolutely reliable. The army corps recruited from the west, the militia (Landwehr), and the reservists of many eastern regiments were more or less infected by liberal ideas.
The men of the guards and of the cavalry had to give three years of active service, as against two years for the other parts of the forces. Hence the generals concluded that two years was too short a time to transform a civilian into a soldier unconditionally loyal to the King. What was needed in order to safeguard the political system of Prussia with its royal absolutism exercised by the Junkers was an army of men ready to fight—without asking questions—against everybody whom their commanders ordered them to attack. This army—His Majesty’s army, not an army of the Parliament or of the people—would have the task of defeating any revolutionary movement within Prussia or within the smaller states of the German Confederation, and of repelling possible invasions from the West which could force the German princes to grant constitutions and other concessions to their subjects. In Europe of the 1850s, where the French Emperor and the British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, openly professed their sympathies with the popular movements menacing the vested interests of kings and aristocrats the army of the House of Hohenzollern was the rocher de bronze amid the rising tide of liberalism. To make this army reliable and invincible meant not only preserving the Hohenzollerns and their aristocratic retainers; it meant much more: the salvation of civilization from the threat of revolution and anarchy. Such was the philosophy of Frederick Julius Stahl and of the right-wing Hegelians, such were the ideas of the Prussian historians of the Kleindeutsche school of history, such was the mentality of the military party at the court of King Frederick William IV. This King, of course, was a sickly neurotic, whom every day brought nearer to complete mental disability. But the generals, led by General von Roon and backed by Prince William, the King’s brother and heir apparent to the throne, were clearheaded and steadily pursued their aim.
The partial success of the revolution had resulted in the establishment of a Prussian Parliament. But its prerogatives were so restricted that the Supreme War Lord was not prevented from adopting those measures which he deemed indispensable for rendering the army a more reliable instrument in the hands of its commanders.
The experts were fully convinced that two years of active service was sufficient for the military training of the infantry. Not for reasons of a technical military character but for purely political considerations the King prolonged active service for the infantry regiments of the line from two years to two and a half in 1852 and to three in 1856. Through this measure the chances of success against a repetition of the revolutionary movement were greatly improved. The military party was now confident that for the immediate future they were strong enough, with the Royal Guards and with the men doing active service in the regiments of the line, to conquer poorly armed rebels. Relying on this, they decided to go further and thoroughly reform the organization of the armed forces.
The goal of this reform was to make the army both stronger and more loyal to the King. The number of infantry battalions would be almost doubled, the artillery increased 25 per cent, and many new regiments of cavalry formed. The number of yearly recruits would be raised from under forty thousand to sixty-three thousand, and the ranks of commissioned officers increased correspondingly. On the other hand the militia would be transformed into a reserve of the active army. The older men were discharged from service in the militia as not fully reliable. The higher ranks of the militia would be entrusted to commissioned officers of the professional corps.2
Conscious of the strength which the prolongation of active service had already given them, and confident that they would for the time being suppress a revolutionary attempt, the court carried out this reform without consulting Parliament. The King’s lunacy had in the meanwhile become so manifest that Prince William had to be installed as prince regent; the royal power was now in the hands of a tractable adherent of the aristocratic clique and of the military hotspurs. In 1859, during the war between Austria and France, the Prussian Army had been mobilized as a measure of precaution and to safeguard neutrality. The demobilization was effected in such a manner that the main objectives of the reform were attained. In the spring of 1860 all the newly planned regiments had already been established. Only then the cabinet brought the reform bill to Parliament and asked it to vote the expenditure involved.3
The struggle against this army bill was the last political act of German liberalism.
4. The Constitutional Conflict in Prussia
The Progressives, as the liberals in the Prussian lower chamber (chamber of deputies) called their party, bitterly opposed the reform. The chamber voted repeatedly against the bill and against the budget. The King—Frederick William IV had now died and William I had succeeded him—dissolved Parliament, but the electors returned a majority of Progressives. The King and his ministers could not break the opposition of the legislative body. But they clung to their plan and carried on without constitutional approval and parliamentary assent. They led the new army into two campaigns, and defeated Denmark in 1864 and Austria in 1866. Only then, after the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover, the possessions of the Elector of Hessen, the Duchies of Nassau, Schleswig, and Holstein, and the Free City of Frankfort, after the establishment of Prussian hegemony over all states of Northern Germany and the conclusion of military conventions with the states of Southern Germany by which these too surrendered to the Hohenzollern, did the Prussian Parliament give in. The Progressive party split, and some of its former members supported the government. Thus the King got a majority. The chamber voted indemnification for the unconstitutional conduct of affairs by the government and belatedly sanctioned all measures and expenditures which they had opposed for six years. The great Constitutional Conflict resulted in full success for the King and in a complete defeat for liberalism.
When a delegation of the chamber of deputies brought the King the Parliament’s accommodating answer to his royal speech at the opening of the new session, he haughtily declared that it was his duty to act as he had in the last years and that he would act the same way in the future too should similar conditions occur again. But in the course of the conflict he had more than once despaired. In 1862 he had lost all hope of defeating the resistance of the people, and was ready to abdicate. General von Roon urged him to make a last attempt by appointing Bismarck prime minister. Bismarck rushed from Paris, where he represented Prussia at the court of Napoleon III. He found the King “worn out, depressed, and discouraged.” When Bismarck tried to explain his own view of the political situation, William interrupted him, saying: “I see exactly how all this will turn out. Right here, in this Opera square on which these windows look, they will behead first you and a little later me too.” It was hard work for Bismarck to infuse courage into the trembling Hohenzollern. But finally, Bismarck reports, “My words appealed to his military honor and he saw himself in the position of an officer who has the duty of defending his post unto death.”4
Still more frightened than the King were the Queen, the royal princes, and many generals. In England Queen Victoria spent sleepless nights thinking of the position of her eldest daughter married to the Prussian Crown Prince. The royal palace of Berlin was haunted by the ghosts of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
All these fears, however, were unfounded. The Progressives did not venture a new revolution, and they would have been defeated if they had.
These much-abused German liberals of the 1860’s, these men of studious habits, these readers of philosophical treatises, these lovers of music and poetry, understood very well why the upheaval of 1848 had failed. They knew that they could not establish popular government within a nation where many millions were still caught in the bonds of superstition, boorishness, and illiteracy. The political problem was essentially a problem of education. The final success of liberalism and democracy was beyond doubt. The trend toward parliamentary rule was irresistible. But the victory of liberalism could be achieved only when those strata of the population from which the King drew his reliable soldiers should have become enlightened and thereby transformed into supporters of liberal ideas. Then the King would be forced to surrender, and the Parliament would obtain supremacy without bloodshed.
The liberals were resolved to spare the German people, whenever possible, the horrors of revolution and civil war. They were confident that in a not-too-distant future they themselves would get full control of Prussia. They had only to wait.
5. The “Little German” Program
The Prussian Progressives did not fight in the Constitutional Conflict for the destruction or weakening of the Prussian Army. They realized that under the circumstances Germany was in need of a strong army for the defense of its independence. They wanted to wrest the army from the King and to transform it into an instrument for the protection of German liberty. The issue of the conflict was whether the King or Parliament should control the army.
The aim of German liberalism was the replacement of the scandalous administration of the thirty-odd German states by a unitary liberal government. Most of the liberals believed that this future German state must not include Austria. Austria was very different from the other German-speaking countries; it had problems of its own which were foreign to the rest of the nation. The liberals could not help seeing Austria as the most dangerous obstacle to German freedom. The Austrian court was dominated by the Jesuits, its government had concluded a concordat with Pius IX, the pope who ardently combated all modern ideas. But the Austrian Emperor was not prepared to renounce voluntarily the position which his house had occupied for more than four hundred years in Germany. The liberals wanted the Prussian Army strong because they were afraid of Austrian hegemony, a new Counter-Reformation, and the reëstablishment of the reactionary system of the late Prince Metternich. They aimed at a unitary government for all Germans outside of Austria (and Switzerland).
They therefore called themselves Little Germans (Kleindeutsche) as contrasted to the Great Germans (Grossdeutsche) who wanted to include those parts of Austria which had previously belonged to the Holy Empire.
But there were, besides, other considerations of foreign policy to recommend an increase in the Prussian Army. France was in those years ruled by an adventurer who was convinced that he could preserve his emperorship only by fresh military victories. In the first decade of his reign he had already waged two bloody wars. Now it seemed to be Germany’s turn. There was little doubt that Napoleon III toyed with the idea of annexing the left bank of the Rhine. Who else could protect Germany but the Prussian Army?
Then there was one problem more, Schleswig-Holstein. The citizens of Holstein, of Lauenburg, and of southern Schleswig bitterly opposed the rule of Denmark. The German liberals cared little for the sophisticated arguments of lawyers and diplomats concerning the claims of various pretenders to the succession in the Elbe duchies. They did not believe in the doctrine that the question of who should rule a country must be decided according to the provisions of feudal law and of century-old family compacts. They supported the Western principle of self-determination. The people of these duchies were reluctant to acquiesce in the sovereignty of a man whose only title was that he had married a princess with a disputed claim to the succession in Schleswig and no right at all to the succession in Holstein; they aimed at autonomy within the German Confederation. This fact alone seemed important in the eyes of the liberals. Why should these Germans be denied what the British, the French, the Belgians, and the Italians had got? But as the King of Denmark was not ready to renounce his claims, this question could not be solved without a recourse to arms.
It would be a mistake to judge all these problems from the point of view of later events. Bismarck freed Schleswig-Holstein from the yoke of its Danish oppressors only in order to annex it to Prussia; and he annexed not only southern Schleswig but northern Schleswig as well, whose population desired to remain in the Danish kingdom. Napoleon III did not attack Germany; it was Bismarck who kindled the war against France. Nobody foresaw this outcome in the early 1860s. At that time everybody in Europe, and in America too, deemed the Emperor of France the foremost peacebreaker and aggressor. The sympathies which the German longing for unity encountered abroad were to a great extent due to the conviction that a united Germany would counterbalance France and thus make Europe safe for peace.
The Little Germans were also misled by their religious prejudices. Like most of the liberals they thought of Protestantism as the first step on the way from medieval darkness to enlightenment. They feared Austria because it was Catholic; they preferred Prussia because the majority of its population was Protestant. In spite of all experience they hoped that Prussia was more open to liberal ideas than Austria. Political conditions in Austria, to be sure, were in those critical years unsatisfactory. But later events have proved that Protestantism is no more a safeguard of freedom than Catholicism. The ideal of liberalism is the complete separation of church and state, and tolerance—without any regard to differences among the churches.
But this error also was not limited to Germany. The French liberals were so deluded that they at first hailed the Prussian victory at Königgrätz (Sadova). Only on second thought did they realize that Austria’s defeat spelled the doom of France too, and they raised—too late—the battle cry Revanche pour Sadova.
Königgrätz was at any rate a crushing defeat for German liberalism. The liberals were aware of the fact that they had lost a campaign. They were nevertheless full of hope. They were firmly resolved to proceed with their fight in the new Parliament of Northern Germany. This fight, they felt, must end with the victory of liberalism and the defeat of absolutism. The moment when the King would no longer be able to use “his” army against the people seemed to come closer every day.
6. The Lassalle Episode
It would be possible to deal with the Prussian Constitutional Conflict without even mentioning the name of Ferdinand Lassalle. Lassalle’s intervention did not influence the course of events. But it foreboded something new; it was the dawn of the forces which were destined to mold the fate of Germany and of Western civilization.
While the Prussian Progressives were involved in their struggle for freedom, Lassalle attacked them bitterly and passionately. He tried to incite the workers to withdraw their sympathies from the Progressives. He proclaimed the gospel of class war. The Progressives, as representatives of the bourgeoisie, he held, were the mortal foes of labor. You should not fight the state but the exploiting classes. The state is your friend; of course, not the state governed by Herr von Bismarck but the state controlled by me, Lassalle.
Lassalle was not on the payroll of Bismarck, as some people suspected. Nobody could bribe Lassalle. Only after his death did some of his former friends take government money. But as both Bismarck and Lassalle assailed the Progressives, they became virtual allies. Lassalle very soon approached Bismarck. The two used to meet clandestinely. Only many years later was the secret of these relations revealed. It is vain to discuss whether an open and lasting coöperation between these two ambitious men would have resulted if Lassalle had not died very shortly after these meetings from a wound received in a duel (August 31, 1864). They both aimed at supreme power in Germany. Neither Bismarck nor Lassalle was ready to renounce his claim to the first place.
Bismarck and his military and aristocratic friends hated the liberals so thoroughly that they would have been ready to help the socialists get control of the country if they themselves had proved too weak to preserve their own rule. But they were—for the time being—strong enough to keep a tight rein on the Progressives. They did not need Lassalle’s support.
It is not true that Lassalle gave Bismarck the idea that revolutionary socialism was a powerful ally in the fight against liberalism. Bismarck had long believed that the lower classes were better royalists than the middle classes.5 Besides, as Prussian minister in Paris he had had opportunity to observe the working of Caesarism. Perhaps his predilection toward universal and equal suffrage was strengthened by his conversations with Lassalle. But for the moment he had no use for Lassalle’s coöperation. The latter’s party was still too small to be considered important. At the death of Lassalle the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein had not much more than four thousand members.6
Lassalle’s agitation did not hinder the activities of the Progressives. It was a nuisance to them, not an obstacle. Neither had they anything to learn from his doctrines. That Prussia’s Parliament was only a sham and that the army was the main stronghold of Prussia’s absolutism was not new to them. It was exactly because they knew it that they fought in the great conflict.
Lassalle’s brief demagogical career is noteworthy because for the first time in Germany the ideas of socialism and etatism appeared on the political scene as opposed to liberalism and freedom. Lassalle was not himself a Nazi; but he was the most eminent forerunner of Nazism, and the first German who aimed at the Führer position. He rejected all the values of the Enlightenment and of liberal philosophy, but not as the romantic eulogists of the Middle Ages and of royal legitimism did. He negated them; but he promised at the same time to realize them in a fuller and broader sense. Liberalism, he asserted, aims at spurious freedom, but I will bring you true freedom. And true freedom means the omnipotence of government. It is not the police who are the foes of liberty but the bourgeoisie.
And it was Lassalle who spoke the words which characterize best the spirit of the age to come: “The state is God.”
- 1. Delbrück, Geschichte der Kriegskunst (Berlin, 1920), part IV, pp. 273 ff., 348 ff.
- 2. Ziekursch, Politische Geschichte des neuen deutschen Kaiserreichs (Frankfurt, 1925–30), I, pp. 29 ff.
- 3. Sybel, Die Begründung des deutschen Reiches unter Wilhelm I, 2d ed. (Munich, 1889), II, p. 375; Ziekursch, op. cit., I, p. 42.
- 4. Bismarck, Gedanken und Erinnerungen, new ed. (Stuttgart, 1922), I, pp. 325 ff.
- 5. Ziekursch, op. cit., I, pp. 107 ff.
- 6. Oncken, Lassalle (Stuttgart, 1904), p. 393.
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