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Germany in Confusion

ISSUE:  Autumn 1932

The Birth of the German Republic. By Arthur Rosenberg. Translated by Ian Morrow. New York: Oxford University Press. $5.00. The Germans. By George N. Sinister. New York: Lincoln MacVeigh: The Dial Press. $3.00. Hitler. By Emil Lengyel. New York: Lincoln MacVeigh: The Dial Press. $3.00. Young Europe. By Valentine Thomson. Garden City: Double-day, Doran and Company. $3.00. Berlin. By Joseph Hergesheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50. Pear and Trembling. By Glenway Wescott. New York: Harper and Brothers. $2.00.

Arthur rosenberg’s “Birth of the German Republic” is a study of social forces comparable, both in depth and clarity, to that of Wilhelm Dibelius in his “England.” As a member, from 1925-28, of the Reichstag Committee of Inquiry into the causes of Germany’s collapse in the World War, Professor Rosenberg had an unexampled opportunity for a review of facts and documents precedent to the change of regime in 1918, and to this opportunity lie brought a capacity for sifting that mass of material in a way to bring out its constitutional significance. Contrary to the case in far too many histories, the book has a unity which goes much deeper than the unity of temporal sequence: the line of its development is the line of the development of the German Constitution, from the time of its establishment under Bismarck to the time of its remodelling by the members of the Weimar Convention, with the constitution understood not as a series of legal sanctions but as a series of relationships between living social forces, complete with the ambiguities and tensions and changes which are the inevitable accompaniment of growth.

The pages in which German constitutional growth for the past two generations is reviewed give ample evidence as to why the word “constellation” is so often employed in reference to political situations in Germany. Any political unity is a unity made up out of a group of different interests, but the extent of their difference, in Germany and pre-war Austria-Hungary, surpasses anything else in the experience of the parliamentary world. A striking conclusion to be drawn from this book, which incidentally is quite as useful in explaining the events following the Reich elections of March, 1932, as those of the period it is written to cover, is that no German constitution has ever succeeded in grouping all of the powerful elements in the German State. Bismarck’s constellation had as its principal triad the army, Protestant landed Junkerdom, and the bureaucracy. The middle class was sometimes taken in, sometimes kept out. The Center was mistrusted, the working class ignored. The Weimar constellation was traced in another part of the political heavens, and included the Centrum and the double star that rose in the 19th century, industry and the proletariat. A careful and detailed analysis of the process by which the former dropped below the horizon and left the latter in the ascendancy is the subject of Dr. Rosenberg’s study.

Particularly if one bears in mind the intensity of political passions in contemporary Germany, the book gives the impression of an extraordinary fairness and historical calm. As between the right and the left, it is not difficult to see on which side the author’s sympathy lies, yet the incompetence of the Social Democrats at various points is not glossed over in his review. Occasionally his statements seem open to challenge, as for instance when he attributes the consolidation of the British attitude against Germany exclusively to trade rivalry and not to the development of the High Seas Fleet. (The opposite opinion of von Kuhlmann on this point, in his recently published “Thoughts on Germany,” is an interesting contrast to Rosenberg’s view, particularly since Rosenberg has a good deal to say about von Kuhlmann and the two are in complete agreement on the irresponsibility resulting from the absence of contact between the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and the Supreme Command.) But the book as it stands is both a valuable record and a valuable interpretation, as important to the further history of the German Republic as to the incidents of its birth.

In a very much more popular fashion, the managing editor of The Commonweal has put down his impressions of “The Germans.” They are to a considerable extent geographical: Mr. Shuster goes from one part of Germany to another in somewhat the manner of the 18th century traveller, with an eye that takes in the social, political, and agrarian problems of the country while not overlooking its cooking, its music, or its art. Reparations, the Polish corridor, social insurance under the present government, and Utopia under Hitler all come into his view; the best of the chapters is possibly that on “Contemporary Culture.” It is unfortunate that the book should be slowed up by a heaviness in style which is not at all a heaviness in ideas.

Hitler’s appearance on the scene of German politics is graphically outlined in the eye-witness manner by the journalist Emil Lengyel. “Hitler” is a step by step record of his rise from a cafe revolutionist in Munich at the end of the Empire to the head of the best organized of Germany’s private armies and the arbiter of a third of Germany’s votes. With Mussolini as a model, the Nordic myth as an inspiration, and the Jew as a scapegoat, Hitler has contrived a combination of reactionary discontent which, at any rate as long as things are going badly, assures him enthusiastic support. The reactionary industrialist swells the Fascist campaign fund to keep Social Democracy (or worse still Communism) from his workers. The Prussian junker, with his mortgaged estate and his cherished iron cross, sees a chance to use Hitler-ism as a means of re-establishing the old order. The peasant farmer, in the toils of the money lender, and the whole deflated middle class which suspects the manipulations of the gloved hand of international finance, receive double solace from the prospect of a Germany which shall be Jewless, and one hundred per cent Teutonic, and strong. William Martin, of the Journal de Geneve, has said of dictators that they are like professional bicycle riders: if they stop, they fall. Whether Hitler can maintain his present momentum is a question, but there is no question that to the thousands of followers who jam the Berlin Sportpalast on the news that he is speaking, he supplies all the emotion and excitement of the final spurt in a six-day race.

Mme. Thomson’s “Young Europe,” which includes several chapters on Germany, is an unimportant book by a person who knows important people. As a series of personal impressions, it ranks far below M. Henri Beraud’s “Rendezvous Europeens,” and the light of the events of the last year contrasts sharply with the Locarnan afterglow that tints its platitudinous pages: “But one cannot go on sketching or picturing all the international figures in Geneva. One thing there is to say: in that international beehive all seem animated by the same spirit. One could not find among the delegates of the League of Nations anyone who does not believe he is working for a better future. In the shadow, in the full light, great men, little men all cooperate heartily.

‘On earth peace, good will toward men.’”

Beer, raspberry syrup, coffee, and lovely adjacent girls, served or serving in Berlin, at Egern, in Vienna, in Budapest, plus nineteen self-shaken Martinis as an indication of American independence in Berlin again just before sailing: the absorption of these things by Mr. Hergesheimer is presented as an account of central Europe. The blurb on the jacket of his “Berlin” suggests that the omission of all galleries, museums, palaces, and houses of parliament makes “the result in no sense the conventional travel book.” Could there, as a matter of fact, be a travel book more conventional, more expressive of the conventions of the Europe-bound American business man of a certain age? It is a shame that it could not have been published four years ago, when more of the boys had the wherewithal to go to the hotels, the bars, and the restaurants whose names Mr. Hergesheimer has so conveniently listed. The date of publication would have made no difference in the contents, for the author not only ignored the historical places mentioned by his publisher; he also would have “nothing political or economic. I had neglected — but that was my privilege—the future. I had thought that Germany, in a way far from apparent, had both lost and won the late war,” Under such circumstances it is quite natural that the book should have the air of being written by a journalist without an assignment, sitting, observantly sitting, always sitting, at the tables of endless cafes. Mr. Hergesheimer really had a pretty thin time— even his final, all-night, morn-to-midnight effort to be gay was hardly worth what it cost. A too close following of conventional travel information has ruined more than one European trip.

All of the trouble which has Germany as its scene is obviously not indigenous. Mr. Glenway Wescott’s “Fear and Trembling” is a mental record of a summer trip which he and three companions took last year through the southern sections, but since Mr. Wescott did not succeed in getting away from himself, Germany appears only in rather parenthetical passages. The admiration for De Quincey with which the book opens explains the multiplied imagery of the style, and the quotation from Goethe on the title-page, “Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil,” explains the mood of the recital. Had Mr. Hemingway kept a less compressed record of what was thought and said by his companions in Spain in “The Sun Also Rises,” the two books would afford an interesting parallel, for except that the German voyagers were more self-consciously intelligent their atmosphere is much the same. Another obvious comparison is with “Point Counter Point,” for Mr. Wescott’s tremors exhibit the same cosmopolitan shifting from subject to subject, accompanied by a moment of precious commentary, which is the characteristic movement of Mr. Huxley’s London intelligentsia. They waver from point to point, and any contrapuntal effect (this makes Mr. Wescott’s admiration for Bach all the more pathetic) is rendered impossible by the absence of a theme of realized authenticity. The book may be summarized, alike in its stylistic facility and in its psychological fu-tilitarianism, by a comment of Mr. Huxley on one of his characters: “He uses the big words too easily.”


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