Comment // Mind

Power: A German monologue

A German philosopher addresses blithe assumptions predominant among his own nation.

So you reckon—? You reckon if America ramps up its social programmes a bit and enforces a few speech codes on college graduates, the racial problem there will disappear in a puff of smoke? You reckon if the French Government pumps more EU money into the Paris suburbs, the aggressiveness of that crowd is going to melt away like snow under the sun? You reckon, if Israel’s Arab neighbours... No? Oh. But then what about the Russian-Ukrainian war? Why is our media suddenly at war? Where did the change of heart come from?

I can see you’re brushing this aside. That’s at least something. But whatever, do you honestly believe you have the solution to the world’s problems pigeonholed neatly away and that the powers that be in those countries are just too stupid or too irresponsible or too arrogant or too ‘right-wing’ to implement these very simple plans? Do you really believe that? You see, that’s very German. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to offend you, but you are missing a piece of the puzzle to this world: a tiny little piece that, when it is pointed out to you, just makes you shrug your shoulders in contempt: you lack an understanding of power. No, not what you’re thinking. I know you love power: you want nothing more than to exercise power, preferably for a good cause; for what else? Anything else would be, to use a term you’re fond of, a power trip. Is there anything more contemptible?

You see, this is what I mean. You don’t understand that power is an autonomous factor; you don’t want to understand that it follows its own laws, that it cannot be reduced to good or evil causes or to leaders’ personality disorders. Let’s talk about states. States have power, but they also express it, in accordance with the general rules of this expressiveness. It really does not matter who is the head of state. If there is a good person installed as head of state who is prepared to use all the means of power at his disposal for a purpose (of course, it must be a purpose for mankind, because all good purposes are of this nature), then he is jeopardising the existence of that state. Why? Because his fellow players in competing states play the game differently. Do you get it? No? Thought not.

It doesn’t have to be a good cause. Does the phrase ‘perfidious Albion’ mean anything to you? The shock that rattled German leaders to the core when Britain sided with France and Russia and declared war on the Reich in the summer of 1914? No? Too bad. Coming back to you now after all? Well, well. Where did the shock come from? Very simple: an ideology was in vogue at the time among the German ruling class—and it wasn’t the only country so affected—that held that a Romance, a Germanic and a Slavic race were wrestling for supremacy in Europe, which dominated the world at the time. Do you see? Britain was der traitor. That was how it appeared in the imaginations of this scientifically-educated German ruling class.

Oh yes, they had Darwin on their minds, this lot; they weren’t knuckle-dragging racists, they were enlightened folk who fancied they knew what the world was all about. What they didn’t know... They didn’t know that they were paying homage to a scientific delusion. They were just as unaware of this as the Pan-Slavists further east, who were to succeed in initiating the largest prison of nations of all time—on the basis of an ideology that sprang from the mind of a German philosopher, of course! Do you think all these people were convinced they were serving a wicked cause? You’d have to be a bit odd to believe such a thing!

Of course, today Putin is der traitor. He has single-handedly turned the peaceful continent of Europe into a bubbling cauldron. And why? Because he didn’t want to recognise NATO’s mission of peace on Russia’s western border? Because he refused to give up something that, according to the correct interpretation, should not have existed since 1945—although we understand nothing, I repeat, nothing about history if we leave out this aspect of a state’s display of power—namely, its sphere of influence or, militarily speaking, its glacis? Because he wanted to play a little régime change in the neighbouring country, something that would never occur to his Western partners? Or because he did not succeed in bribing the Ukrainian leadership sufficiently to make them compliant with his ideas of being prosperous neighbours? Speaking of bribes... Be that as it may, only a good cause justifies the means, whether it’s deaths on the battlefield or the side effects of vaccinations. A good cause is always the one in which the question of power remains unmentioned, not to say invisible, even though it has just been raised.

The world, to the extent that it is economically vital enough to enjoy this luxury, is experiencing a new onslaught of good causes right now. This time, it’s about the state—or, from a slightly different point of view, about the international community, depending on whether we see the ‘climate goals’ that were decided upon when nobody was looking as the reason for the Great Reset or as the lever that will bring it about.

Yes, there is a difference. In the former scenario, we assume the biological necessity of the transition to a new economic model; in the latter, we are setting out on the long march to mankind’s next paradise, based on a proven ideologist practice, without any compelling reason (if we leave aside the speculation about the monetary system for a moment). This is despite the fact that previous attempts in this domain have regularly ended in disaster; hell on earth. But we are also seeing how states that can afford it, patented partners-in-virtue, are stealthily tiptoeing away from good causes; that they are nothing more to them than playing cards in the age-old game that power plays with itself, not because individual players crave power, but for no other reason than because it is power.

What reason was there—and is there—for the élite to turn Western, Northern and Central Europe into an immigration zone since the Nineties and absurdly even to deny its nations their cultural identity to this end? No-one knows, because they do not care to explain themselves; probably could not even explain themselves without resorting to duckspeak. The EU is a consummate machine for accumulating power; it has achieved such mastery in this discipline that it knows how to push any alternative thought to the margins of legitimate discourse and recalcitrant member states to the grumbling sidelines.

A ‘project’ of Brussels scale has too many stakeholders to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. They have just one thing in common: they profit from the general direction of travel—each in their own way and in their own field. The power machine guarantees their existence and their profits. If that were not reason enough to work to bring it about, what is? It doesn’t concern itself with the consequences for others, all the more so if these others no longer come into the equation except as ‘service providers’ and ‘workers’. What would Europe be if it did not exist as this project? Probably no more than a faded idea, comparable to the fantasies of the ordoliberals or the saviours of the West, who are always assured of the polite applause of a cultivated audience.

This appetite for power, historically speaking, does not begin when a head of state or international federation is overthrown somewhere. It begins deep down in the slums, in immigrant neighbourhoods, in alternative scenes that can plod along for a long time until, by some unlikely happenstance, they gain the upper hand. But the struggle for power—the most primitive form of which is expressed in rioting—begins, as has long been known, not in the depths of misery, as the saying goes (that is, when social injustice is screaming at its loudest), but only when the muscles are already being flexed and a rising economic tide is gradually making itself felt. The struggle for power begins when the gap between real success and anticipated success yawns; that is, when there is reason to hope. There is something exuberant about hope. Appetite comes with eating, says the German proverb.

True, there are always people whose greatest desire is inconspicuously to shin up the greasy pole—to integrate themselves, as the saying goes. But there are always the others for whom the question of power is the other way around: it’s them or us! They may claim the present for themselves—let us take the future! That’s how Lenin ended up sitting in Zurich, but that’s just an old European reminiscence.

Today, his successors in spirit are sitting around the world, nurturing the most outlandish visions. They are not sitting on packed suitcases; that would just serve to make them conspicuous. They are literally sitting on expectations. Sure, not every one of them has what it takes to explode some time in the near future. But all told, they make an explosive mixture, in the face of which the most overblown carbon dioxide worries pale. No, I’m not talking about identity politics, that toy for henchmen. I’m talking about power.