More on Being Prussian

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece for — “We are All Prussians Now” — in which I compared Otto von Bismarck’s unconstitutional rule in Prussia in the 1860s with the United States of America today. Particularly the ineffectiveness of the “opposition” to make good on their rhetoric against Bismarck struck me as one of the greatest similarities:

A deeply unpopular government, in Pinson’s words, facing a unified opposition in parliament just plowed ahead as if it had the mandate of heaven, as it could and did command majority support among the people it governed. Despite whatever popular sentiment existed against Bismarck as chancellor, there was no popular sentiment against the state. And the political culture of Prussia did not allow for any opposition to either government or state. Merely suggesting that no one should pay their unconstitutional taxes got parliamentarian Johann Jacoby arrested and tried for treason …

The author of the book, Jewish German liberal Koppel Pinson, wrote fairly extensive about Bismarck’s political successes in the 1870s, after the German Empire was proclaimed at Versailles in January, 1871. Also especially interesting is how easily Bismarck was able to leverage the support of the German liberals and even socialists — because the liberals and socialists believed in both einheit (national unity) and freiheit (freedom), but when forced to sacrifice one for the other, they were more than willing to sacrifice freedom for national unity and purpose. For various reasons, both the liberals and the socialists wanted a strong German nation led by a strong national government. The liberals wanted that because that was one of the aspirations of the Revolution of 1848. The socialists because they believed they would inherit that power for themselves eventually.

What I find most interesting about this is how easily those with multiple agendas regarding government are manipulated and used by those with a single, focused agenda about government — power. Bismarck wanted power merely to have it. He wanted to strengthen the state and connect the German people to it — that is one of the main reasons Bismarck worked to create a welfare state in Germany, in order to link the majority of Germans to the state and those who ruled it. The Liberals and Socialists had other goals. Power was not an end in and of itself for them, it was a means to an end. Those who view power as a means to another end can easily lend themselves to those for whom power is the end.

Consider the utter ineffectiveness of Democrat opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq as well as the sabre rattling against Iran. Democrats, for the most part, are not opposed to the exercise of state power, of U.S. empire, are not opposed to an imperial presidency, and thus are eager to support (and easily misled by) the Republican executive branch when it comes to the waging of war. (Republican opposition to Democrat wars is just as unprincipled, as the GOP is truly the part of unfettered presidential dictatorship.) They want to preserve that power, want to exercise it themselves. But by being committed to that power, the Democrats are simply enabling the Republicans to conduct the policy they claim to dislike so much.

And because they don’t get the game is about power, rather than about what gets done with power, they’ll always end up in opposition, slavishly voting to approve war and empire.