“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste …” was a statement made by Rahm Emanuel during the early days of the Obama presidency. To prevent misunderstanding the former White House Chief of Staff explained himself: “…and what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you didn’t think you could do before.” In summary: a calamity of any kind is an exceptional occasion to pass legislation which citizens might otherwise reject.
We should therefore consider this chapter excerpted word for word from Karl Jaspers’ book The Future of Germany. It would benefit Americans to ponder how freedoms are taken away from citizens without their notice. It happened it Germany. It can happen here.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.
The Proposed Emergency Laws
The emergency legislation project is by far the most important domestic issue we face in the years ahead. It may create an instrument which at some fateful moment will make it possible for a dictatorship to be set up, for the constitution to be abolished, for an irreversible state of political unfreedom to be imposed, all in the same action. Moreover, it may cause the gravest threats to peace and may plunge Germany into a new, final holocaust that would mean annihilation.
THE PLANS AND THEIR TREATMENT
I cannot deal here with the plans for emergency legislation, with the proposed amendments to prevent abuse, with the years of conferences, with the government initiatives and the acquiescence of the opposition. The plans and the objections to them are known; the risks have been discussed; the crucial objections were raised first, I think, by Prime Minister Zinn of Hesse. Amazingly, however, the public at large remains unaware of the risks. They have been emphasized in print, but the press rarely touches upon them. Not even great newspapers take them seriously.
Purely negative criticism tends to be dismissed as fruitless, and indeed, the emergency laws adopted thus far seem to pose no threat as yet. The civilian call-up for air defense service is limited and the experience of the Hamburg flood disaster has shown the usefulness of certain laws for such invariably local emergencies.
The matter grows dubious when a Red menace is put forth as the case to prepare against. This menace did exist once, after 1945. Our protection against it lay with the Western Allies. Today the threat is a mirage.
One would expect our people to cry out in horror at the possible loss of their liberties and opportunities, at the chance that politicians with their heads turned by sheer bustle may unwittingly join the thugs in fashioning a noose for freedom’s neck. Nobody will have the right to say he could not or did not know the consequences.
The government and the parties, however, are talking more or less in secret. Nothing whatever is being done to assure public discussion of the vast problems and perils. They are treated as if they were technical matters for experts.
I cannot report on all this. But I should like to point out some motivations from the realm of political ethics that play a part here, and some of the deceptions by which we are taken in.
We distinguish between external and internal emergencies.
An external emergency exists in case of war. The idea is to pass laws that will make it possible in such a case to control the labor and the movements of the populace, and thus to assure its food supply and the orderly, uniform execution of whatever steps may be required. To this end it is deemed necessary to suspend such constitutional rights as the right to strike, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.
The guiding notions date from wars of the past. They could have some justification only in the improbable case that a local European war should break out, as in Korea or Vietnam, and be waged without nuclear weapons—although a nuclear power threatened with defeat would surely use those weapons. But if, as can be expected, a European war were to turn at once into a world war, we run out of comparable situations. In the nuclear age war is total mutual destruction. There are in fact no measures against the emergency of such a war. This emergency must not occur. The consequence is that one must do absolutely everything to save the peace, and nothing that might lead to war. The only countermeasure to an external emergency is a sincere and unconditional peace policy (on which more later). For all the protest marches it has not yet sunk into the minds of our people, of our politicians, of our military men, what it means that war can and should no longer be the “last resort,” the “continuation of diplomacy by other means“—and what the consequences are. At least the realization is still ineffective.
Emergency legislation for such a war will spur false hopes that even in that case we might not be beyond help. Such soothing will weaken the impulse to do everything to keep the situation from occurring. The words “No more war” apply today in a sense they never had before.
The new conditions have completely changed the point of the old military emergency measures. They would no longer save the fatherland or the people’s homes or the people. What they would do for the moment—though only for a short time—is to permit a small number of politicians and officers to save themselves.
One of the plans for an external emergency envisions the construction of civilian bomb shelters. We find information on this point in an article by a leading physicist, C. F. von Weizsacker, entitled The Illusion of Security (Die Zeit, December 25, 1964). If we can expect peace, he writes, shelters are superfluous; if an enemy wants to destroy Germany and the Germans—which Russia has the means to do—any protective measures are futile, and thus equally superfluous. It is only in the large range of contingencies between these extremes that we can discuss protective measures. But their value depends on the “war picture”—on the objectives of the belligerents at a particular time and on the changes in these objectives, above all on their escalation. The possible situations that would have to be considered are very numerous. They have not all been thought through by any means, and the usefulness of shelters, shelter materials, and so on, for the many possible special cases has not been clearly demonstrated by any means. Von Weizsacker rejects the government-proposed program of increased protection (at a cost of I30 billion). One thing alone strikes him as definitely useful: an educational campaign to prepare people for sensiblebehavior in the face of war threats and incipient combat activities. “This preparation,” he writes, “must be without any ‘harmless coloring,’ for today the truth about the possible course of hostilities cannot be concealed, and to detect any such coloring will make the public suspicious in peacetime and more prone to panic in case of war. The democratic system in which we profess to believe rests on the conviction that people can take the truth.”
The experts tell us that populations cannot be effectively protected from nuclear attack. What can be done, at enormous expense, is to build shelters for a very limited number. One such effective shelter, we hear, is the command post of the French force de frappe at Taverny, the site of its curious— because for practical purposes plainly senseless—war games.
We ask: What chosen few shall thus—how long?—be spared? The emergency laws give the people into the hands of that small group. The people themselves are in fact left to perish.
It is another form of the control which the military exercised over people and politics in 1914. Recurring now, it would have a more radical import, for today we are no longer dealing with war as conceived in past times. We are dealing with actions and events as they would happen now, in an age when man is undergoing a transformation that will either give him new, unpredictable capacities or bring about his doom.
We can no longer justify demands based on traditional military concepts. They express the egotism of a profession essentially still unadjusted to the new situation, the new tasks. The turn it must now take is not at all clear as yet.
The military must be radically stripped of control over policy, of final decisions on the overall plans they have drawn up for military operations. It is the statesman’s job to view the situation as a whole. This should have been done earlier; the precedence granted the military was one reason why World War I came about, and why we lost it. It is symbolic that when French troops mutinied then, Clemenceau went to the front in mufti and subdued the uprising; our Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg appeared in uniform even in the Reichstag, making speeches while the generals took action and set our course.
Do we want emergency laws to make a popular uprising against war impossible?
Do we want a terroristic control mechanism to exclude the chance that people might resist everywhere?
Such a revolt would be magnificent, and it is possible. When there was talk of a plan to lay nuclear land mines on our eastern frontier—it was denied, but the denials were not given credence—we heard that peasants and police in the border zone were of one mind: “If the mines are laid,” they agreed, “we’ll dig them right out again.” A rational people’s hearts and minds can defy the irresponsibility of government and military. The police can rise against the government, the soldiers against the generals.
We have one great example. On October 28, 1918, with the war definitely lost, the 80,000-man German navy was picked to “save the nation’s honor” by a “decisive battle.” The combat alert signal was flashed on the high seas. What happened? The stokers doused the fires in the boilers, forcing the ships to return to port. The lunacy of an absolute militarism had rightly cost the officers their authority. Safely ashore, they wanted to regain it, and six hundred sailors were put under arrest. This second act of lunacy set off the so-called revolution which swiftly spread throughout Germany. The example shows how reason can prevail by disobedience. At some future moment of lunacy, acts like those are to be hoped for on both sides of the nations whipped into war. However unlikely, the chance must not be excluded.
If the worst happens, do we wish to entrust our future—or non-future, rather—to the military machine and a civilian government that does its bidding?
Do we wish our unthinking minds to be filled in advance with concepts and laws and ideas so wholly inadequate to the new realities that they will doom us finally and completely?
Would we not rather keep our freedom of movement if this extremity should befall us despite all political peace efforts? If we must die, do we not want to be free to die as we wish?
The enforcement of the projected emergency laws in case of war would turn the people into a flock of sheep driven to slaughter, led by the last politicians of the nationalist, absolutist brand. Such men, as power-mad as they are stupid, have a sense of compulsion in the disasters they have brought about, a sense of having no alternative. Actually directionless, taking orders from whichever source, they terrorize and are terrorized.
Should the catastrophe have one consequence for the mighty and another for the little man? Or should they, still equally free as citizens and human beings, make each his own choice under the conditions of their doom?
All people have a right to make their own decisions, and when their fate in catastrophe is at stake, this right can no longer be delegated to an elected government—least of all if this government would put the whole population into a kind of military straitjacket.
In this situation of our time a people unwilling to go to war must have the right and the chance to revolt—by strikes, by disobedience, by resistance to all those powers which cannot save us but would have us lose our liberty along with our lives. Perhaps the people would rather surrender and live, even with consequences just like the ones they resisted. But they want the chance of salvation. This chance does not He in suspending freedom in emergencies. It lies, before any emergency, in the policy of a government that does not threaten other countries and so acts that no other country need feel threatened. And in an emergency it lies in the possibility of joint disobedience by the armies and peoples that are being spurred against each other.
The times are past when an external emergency could be treated as a contingency to be coped with by real and effective means. There is a basic military turn of mind whose frank and candid statement would be, in substance: “If the world goes down it should go down in order.” Against panic, the natural human reaction, the military mind does not rely on individual strength, which it thinks nonexistent, but on faith in authority. If men die according to rules, holding prescribed illusions, they will be less afraid. Such military thinking means that man’s own self must be pulverized between the millstones of external and internal terror. He must be denied the right to die his own death, to feel his horror and his calm, to meet his fate lucidly.
To terrorize people into making an orderly end serves only to increase its inhumanity. This kind of order lets a man evade the seriousness of the situation; it makes him unfree and keeps him from being himself. However rationalized, it is irrational and stupid. A people with a sense of dignity must rise in outrage against the men and the measures to be imposed upon it, and against the blind fools who will do such a thing and not see it.
Total militarization robs a people of its soul. As human beings we want to know our fate, to face it and to bear it, to die as befits our doom.
In the Federal Republic there can be no internal emergency that would require a suspension of constitutional rights. Our people are unarmed, and so are our party organizations. There are no private armies in the Nazi pattern, nor is there a state within the state. No outburst of popular violence can be a match for the police power so long as this is at the government’s disposal. If it is not, we should blame the government’s folly.
The internal emergency is a fiction created by men.
They would use it either to shore up power positions—to aid employers, for instance, by removing the right to strike—or else to suppress the dissent needed to maintain a freedom constantly jeopardized by an irrational government that ignores legality and basic rights. The people cannot abide the force that such a government uses; so they must have means of self-defense, ways of resisting without military weapons.
This is why political strikes must be possible. It was a political strike that defeated the Kapp putsch, the German rightists’ attempt at a coup d’etat in 1921. The military stood aside then, partly refusing to obey the legal government—on the ground that “Germans do not fire upon Germans”—or actually aiding the coup, firing on Germans after all.
With the people’s part in policy-making and control severely limited thus far by our constitution, they have a particular need of the rights left to them—above all, of the right to strike, which the constitution explicitly guarantees them.
A memorable case occurred in Gottingen. The parties failed to agree on a candidate for the state ministry of education. He had to have a party card, and as there obviously was no man of stature on their lists, the God-forsaken party chieftains picked an individual who happened to be disqualified from the position of administering schools and universities. It was an extreme case. In Gottingen the students went on strike, and even the professors, little inclined to acts of that sort, voiced a protest: to have such a man for your superior was simply too much. The parties bristled. This was illegal, they said. The government was the people’s choice, their representative and sole agent in the appointment of ministers; no legal basis existed for any protest, and the professors’ attempt to arrogate a right of protest to themselves had to be vigorously rejected. Yet the minister turned out to be so utterly unfit to run the university that the Gottingers received support from educated circles throughout Germany. The government parties could not help themselves; they had to drop their minister. They then appointed another party member, a good man personally but wholly lacking in the experience and the breadth of vision required to deal with the problems of a university. In any case, he soon resigned.
The people must be free to manifest their will and their resistance by direct action. The emergency laws would rob them of their remaining means of resistance—means that are legitimate but would then be no longer legal. Such laws are shackles. Instead of passing emergency laws we should develop legal means to give the people some active role during their four-year abdication between elections. This would remedy our actual, present emergency, which borders on nongovernment.
The proposed laws would protect our rulers, not our people. In fact, laws that provide for declaring an internal emergency, and for steps to combat it, are steps to protect an oligarchy of our parties, the powers of its government, and the powerful interests finked with it, however selfish and irrational.
The government and the oligarchy must not be protected from the people. They are not the only ones who stand for the people; the people have other elected representatives in labor unions and employer associations, in farmers’ leagues and other organizations. Besides, the people also exist as such, without intermediaries—though they cannot act as such, except in moments of overwhelming unanimity and vital resolution.
If a government, on the ground of emergency laws, resorts to violence against nonviolence, against masses which offer passive resistance only, political ethics will justify the use of force against the government even if the law does not. Such force would be futile, of course, unless police and soldiers, both recruited from the people, should side with the people against their demented leaders. The least hope for such a stand can be placed in our officers, whose traditional esprit de corps and hidebound professionalism leaves them insensitive to existential realities and solely attuned to orders and effective force.
In any case of internal emergency—if one uses this word for strikes and disorders—the government should ask itself what it has done wrong. As long as the people have not formed an army, acts of violence can be met by police action and punished without difficulty. But strikes, protest marches, speeches, writings, and expressions of outrage are the legal and legitimate replies when abuses of power or the lack of a mere minimum of justice create conditions which the people cannot counteract by way of elections to the Bundestag.
THE INEVITABILITY OF ABUSE
With emergency legislation supposed to be good in itself, there is talk of its possible abuse. The powers that be, we hear, might bring about a situation and then declare it an emergency so as to create the premise on which the new state structure would void constitutional rights, and thus the basic law itself. Although the possible concrete event cannot, of course, be anticipated in a theoretical construction, it is believed that sufficient guarantees against abuse might be built into the emergency laws. But there is no way to prevent an abuse of such laws, for their principle is to exclude controls. In the end the principle of total force reappears behind any restrictive clauses. Without this principle there are no dictatorial powers.
Experience tells us that whatever a government does under the cloak of legality—even a legal abolition of legality itself, such as the 1933 Enabling Act—will be taken in stride by the Germans as long as they do not notice what is going on. We cannot expect prompt resistance to an abuse of the emergency laws. The powers they grant are too terrifying.
On the other hand, we can be sure that they will be abused if the politicians involved are not reliably libertarian and democratic in their political ethics, as regrettably few are today. The threat is still greater if power is wielded by men who see no need for veracity, who wink at illegality and take wheeling and dealing for politics, by men who will play false, who are not credible and thus not trustworthy. If we get an emergency law we must reckon with the possibility that such politicians may hold key positions. People will give in, then, and cease to resist. With violence on the march, fear prevents an isolated individual from futile, suicidal exposure. He acts like everyone else, or he keeps quiet. We saw it in 1933, in our neighbors and in ourselves. Once the moment comes it is too late. Recent events teach us that an abuse is not merely possible but probable. Remembering that men like Strauss and Adenauer could put the prosecuting officials in the Spiegel case into a state of panic as if the republic were in danger, that the Minister of Justice was left in the dark, that things “somewhat outside the bounds of legality” took place at the time— remembering this, we are bound to ask what would have stopped those men from declaring an emergency and proceeding to act at their pleasure if the law had been in force. Those incidents must never be forgotten in our country. The crack then suffered by the Federal Republic has not yet been mended; the wound has not yet healed. All conferees about emergency legislation must bear these facts in mind. To prevent abuses we shall have to do without such laws.
Their advocates have pointed to the grandiose phenomenon of the elected dictator in the days of the Roman republic. That dictatorship was a blessing during war emergencies; the political strength of the early Roman statesmen—of the senators, who were described as an “assembly of kings”—was such as to keep the dictator from becoming a menace. Later, as the selflessness of patriotic Roman statesmen declined, the form of dictatorship was the road that led first to the civil wars and then to the militarily based monarchy of the empire and the loss of political freedom.
Our state structure rests upon fear and distrust of the people, but the people in turn do not sufficiently or effectively show the distrust of parties, governments, and politicians which they ought to feel at this time. Once again the subject mentality seems to be asserting itself, trusting the government to do right. This is the responsibility and the guilt of every one of our people. It was our undoing before 1914, and before 1933.
The hidden disparity seems nonexistent because it is not expressed. No trust is placed in the people, but they on their part will only occasionally and ineffectually distrust the oligarchy. There is no reaction in principle, no will to exercise control. The subject grumbles but remains beholden to the authorities. Neither side admits to itself what it thinks. Asked about it, both will say the contrary, demanding trust as if trusting were the self-evident, decent, moral thing to do.
How far can one trust a state and its representatives while acts deserving of the most profound distrust are committed— even though they are forgotten amazingly fast?
TOWARD A MILITARY DICTATORSHIP
The emergency laws would become tools of a military dictatorship. The present global trend is toward such dictatorship wherever nations are neither totalitarian nor capable of democratic freedom. A pure type of military dictatorship does not exist; its one common trait is the vital role played by the army in seizing and maintaining domestic power.
De Gaulle too started out in this fashion. He came to power through the army in Algeria, giving it false pledges. The whole was predicated on the nonresistance of a parliamentary democracy whose party politicians were in disarray, corrupt, senselessly splintered, and politically obtuse for all their individual acumen—for at crucial moments the few men of impressive insight would succumb to partisan concerns, to narrow party viewpoints, to coincidences. Then, when de Gaulle had legalized his power, when he broke his pledges and pursued a sensible Algerian policy against the army, the army became his deadly enemy. But all it could do then—in the famous night when its paratroops were expected to seize Paris, oust de Gaulle, and take over, in the night when he and Debre delivered their unforgettable emergency speeches—was to throw a scare into de Gaulle. The origin of his regime makes it a legalized military dictatorship, capable now of maintaining itself for a while without resort to military power. It can do so chiefly because de Gaulle’s rule is humane, leaves the public spirit free, and exerts the magnetism of a dignified, highly cultured, oratorically brilliant personality, the embodiment of a great Frenchman. As republicans (in the Kantian sense) we are committed to political liberty and thus opposed to such military dictatorships as Franco‘s and Salazar‘s, although these, unlike the totalitarian ones, claim no right to rule beyond their borders, either militarily or ideologically. The totalitarians, whether Communists or Nazis, claim that to be human is to live their way. They aim at world conquest and propose to force this way of life upon all men. Nonconformists, in their view, are worthless and must be exterminated.
The military dictatorships in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are something else again. If nations have never known political freedom, if they do not know what it is and do not want it, they cannot know what to do with it when it is imposed, and thus supposedly bestowed, upon them. They will find their pattern of order in a military dictatorship, with a variety of reasons determining its origin and the form it will take.
It is almost a miracle that there can be anything else, for at some point force is always indispensable to keep a state in being. That this force may be reduced to a minimum and channeled into legal forms is the miracle, the exception due to the strength of a people’s will to be free. Political freedom implies the individual freedom of the many; where it fails, democracy first turns into a restrictive government and then into a despotic one. But freedom must be reacquired over and over, by education and tradition, in practice and in risk.
The Federal Republic would produce its own peculiar and presumably indirect type of military dictatorship. This would probably mean the definitive consolidation of the oligarchy of parties, which the military, in exchange for the fulfillment of its every wish, would uphold in fact. The oligarchy would submit to strict discipline by elected officials, would promote a military way of life for all, and would preserve the rule of law in most private areas, though not where political action and free thought are concerned.
EMERGENCY LAWS AND THE CONSTITUTION
The proposed emergency legislation cannot be said to “supplement” our constitution. What it amounts to is an authorization to repeal the constitution’s guarantee of basic rights. It would have to be passed as a constitutional amendment, by a two-thirds majority. And though this majority would not be taking a step equivalent to political suicide like the 1933 Enabling Act, it would be passing a law apt to have the same results some day.
LABOR VIEWS AND LIMITATIONS
The Social Democratic zeal for emergency laws with safeguards against abuse is said to have been cooled off by organized labor. In an interesting interview a prominent union leader named Brenner took a strong stand against all such laws. He recalled that after a speech of his in which he mentioned our continuing class society and the increasing entanglement of economic power blocs with the machinery of government, the then interior minister Gerhard Schroder was asked why we needed an emergency law: “Well,” said Schroder, “with the kind of speeches Brenner makes. . . .” And an industry representative named Paulssen, asked why management always yielded to union demands, explained: “We have to, as long as there is no emergency law. They’ve got us over a barrel, with the labor market as it is.”
But then Brenner went on: “If you pursue a consistently peaceful policy—like Kennedy‘s, for example—you don’t need to keep people in constant fear of possible aggression.” What an error! The contrary is true; our policies and our lives today have to be built on concern—not necessarily on pure fear, but on a fear-borne, fear-transcending sense of mankind’s fate. Fear may be abused for legislation that will provide a false security, or no security, but fear is needed to come to the right peace policy. Casting out fear makes men thoughtless and blocks the high road to peace. Government and business may abuse fear so as to crush freedom; but Brenner abuses the urge to enjoy life, the pursuit of empty consumption and production, so as to win power by fooling the masses. He demeans the ideawhich men have of themselves. He encourages dissimulation in the face of actual global violence. We must heighten our fears by looking truthfully at the realities if we would find roads to peace and accept the renunciations it requires. One thing that will have to be renounced is the will to power, as frightfully apparent among labor leaders as among leaders of the state and the economy. Power is legitimate only if it serves the ends of reason. Nothing else can make it meaningful. In itself, power is evil.
COMPARISON WITH NAZI UPHEAVAL
A sense of approaching disaster is the dark background against which we feel we live today. What is in store for us? “There must be a change” to avert catastrophe. Let us compare the situation with that of the 1920’s, before Hitler came to power.
Video excerpted from The Nazis: A Warning From History
In those days all went well for a while, despite war reparations. And yet, among malcontents and those who had lost caste an ideological brew was already astir, needing only the rise in the unemployment rate to lead to Hitler’s ascent. The ideologies made a most heterogeneous mixture. Their impact, enhanced by the metaphysical patter of some writers, was emotional rather than rational; amid the confusion of irrationality they constituted something like a faith. The citizens of the Weimar Republic lacked a turn of mind that would have linked them and enabled them to resist. Even so, the situation then was no more hopeless than it is today.
The differences are great. In those days want and unemployment—now prosperity. A state within the state arising then, in party organizations and armed bands, neither of which exist currently. Then a bewildering unrest, with helpless governments swiftly succeeding each other; today, for all our noisy party struggles, a governmental stability that casts a pall over our politics and may survive even what would be pompously called a “constitutional crisis.” In 1933 the upheaval benefited one organized totalitarian party and one leader; now it would buttress the rule of an oligarchy of parties. Then the politicians of the past were removed in large numbers; now the effect wouldbe to entrench the present party representatives in their posts.
The revolutionary process also would be quite different. The 1933 upheaval occurred under the central direction of the Nazis. Today the change would begin almost unnoticeably, not according to plans laid by an organization, not even in line with any widespread feeling.
There would, however, be the same militarization of everybody’s way of life. People would be either giving or obeying orders. Planning would be general and rationalistic, beginning with an ever-broadened peacetime draft for civil defense— which after initial reluctance would expand into a patriotic function of the universal paramilitary sense of life.
Let me restate my points.
A meaningful discussion of the consequences of emergency laws will have to deal with the real threats we face in the possible future. If there is a way to meet these threats it can only be truthfulness on the part of peoples and of politicians.
The people cannot be protected from nuclear warfare. Any claim that they can be so protected is a tranquilizer, dangerous because it weakens a possible defense against war itself. What can be done is to save a small minority by building underground shelters at enormous cost to the whole tax-paying population. Faith in peace is another tranquilizer, whereas outright fear of war will cause paralysis. False tranquillity and sheer intimidation both will doom any defense against the evil.
The questions we must ask ourselves are these. If the worst happens, should people meet their nuclear death in a vise of coercive laws which would then be enforceable only by terror, or should they die free, unduped, aware of what is happening? Should freedom be curtailed or jeopardized in peacetime if this will be of no real help in a cataclysm? Since in fact the military cannot save us, should it totally control us at the end, together with its ally, the oligarchy of parties? Should a kind of Noah’s Ark provide its self-chosen inmates, the men in positions of political or military power, with a chance to survive underground, to make a new beginning?
War has become something entirely new, but the quest of security by emergency laws follows the old lines of military thinking. Those past realities do not exist any more. Let us not fool ourselves about the scope of the havoc that would first hit the civilian populace. It is out of proportion to anything there ever was.
There are two basic political attitudes. A politician will either fear and despise the people or he will seriously, not just in talking for public consumption, reckon with and think of and for the people. In other words, there are politicians who do not want freedom, who are suspicious of it, who distrust humanity and accordingly wish to subordinate it—to place it under men who are just as human but supposedly called to rule, whether as vicars of God or as experts on historic necessity or as the vanguard of the future. And there are politicians who want all men to be free, whose every act or measure or law depends upon whether or not it promotes human freedom.
The power-hungry can make a chain of the very intricacy of the institutions, competences, and jurisdictions that are supposed to prevent abuse of the emergency laws. What we sense in the drafts of those laws, besides the immoderate desire for security, is sometimes a positive lust in promoting the laws. The complexity of this authorization to wipe out man’s basic rights at one stroke would put all means of oppression at the disposal of an unlimited self-will, pleasing those who give the orders as well as the ones who carry them out.
And the others believe that emergency laws would protect the state, and thus their freedom. Poor fools! The dialectical process that leads from safeguarding freedom to crushing it endangers our political existence. At first the population will not notice it. It will all be done “legally,” as in 1933, by act of the proper democratic institution. The state of emergency is a self-perpetuating instrument, a means to turn the exception—as against the normalcy of freedom and democracy—into the permanent state of government. This is true even though the drafts of the laws refer to time limits.
Since all governments and parties work through men, and since power corrupts men, power must be restricted. Power breeds more power, more absolute power. It obscures judgment. It becomes evil unless it serves an idea that will give it meaning and a relative end. A protection that allows power to become absolute is no protection. It destroys precisely what it is supposed to protect.
If I envision our possible course—from the oligarchy of parties to an authoritarian state, from the authoritarian state to dictatorship, and from dictatorship to war—I do not mean to say that I predict it. By outlining the possibility I want to make thinking men do their best to avoid this course. No one can know concretely where it would lead. The possibilities are endless. The changes in the world situation are incalculable. There is no predicting the motives of other powers which affect our existence.
It seems certain to me that trends which may eventually cost us our freedom are strong in our present parties—and equally certain that these trends need not prevail. If we see them in time, if we clear-headedly do not want them, we can check them.
It is almost incomprehensible that what goes on remains unnoticed by a majority of our politicians and our people, including, as in the years before 1933, a majority of those who are making it come to pass.
And why are our allies, the true democracies, willing to give up their rights of intervention in an emergency? The only conceivable explanation is a fundamental trust in the West German people’s and politicians’ ability to help themselves— the same unjustified trust that is now placed in so many nations. The democracies have forgotten what happened in 1933, even if they remember the later crimes of the Third Reich.
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