Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weimar America


As Obama speaks before several hundred thousand Germans today, I came across this piece about the Weimar Republic from the Arch Druid Report . You remember the Weimar Republic, towards the end, housewives were bringing buckets and wheelbarrows of money to the grocery store just to buy bread. The author, John Michael Greer, writes of the parallels of that time and today. Here is part of it:

"The politics of peak oil form one of the most explosive and least often understood dimensions of the emerging crisis of industrial civilization. Too often, when questions of politics enter the peak oil discourse, they focus on the belief that the problem of peak oil can be solved by throwing one set of scoundrels out of power so that another set of scoundrels can take their place. This seems hopelessly misguided to me.

To start with, peak oil is not a problem that can be solved. It’s a predicament – a phenomenon hardwired into our species’ most fundamental relationships with physical and ecological reality – and like any other predicament, it cannot be solved; it can only be accepted. It differs in detail, but not in kind, from the collisions with ecological limits that punctuate the historical record as far back as you care to look.

Like every other species, humanity now and then overshoots the limits of its ecological support system. It’s our misfortune to live at a time when this has happened on a much larger scale than usual, due to our species’ recent discovery and reckless exploitation of the Earth’s once-abundant fossil fuel reserves.

Expecting a change of leaders, or even of systems, to make that reality go away is a little like trying to pass a bill in Congress to repeal the law of supply and demand.

Still, leaders and governmental systems make great scapegoats, and just now scapegoats are very much in fashion.

Consider the rogue’s gallery of villains blamed in the media for recent surges in the price of oil: speculators, oil companies, environmentalists, Arab sheiks, Nigerian rebels, and the US government, which – succumbing to a rare fit of common sense – refused to drain the nation’s strategic oil reserve so that vacationers could have cheap gas for their holiday driving." ( clip)

With this setup, the author moves to the German Weimar Republic:

"One factor that made the political situation in Weimar Germany so vulnerable to this sort of self-destructive evasion of crucial realities was the intellectual bankruptcy of the mainstream political parties at the time.

The late 19th century saw the emergence of a political consensus across the then-industrial world that united all mainstream parties behind the principles of free trade, governmental noninterference in economic affairs, and imperial expansion into the Third World.

Finding substantive differences between Liberals and Conservatives in Britain, Democrats and Republicans in America, and equivalent parties in other countries around the turn of the last century was a task best pursued with a magnifying glass.

It took decades of crisis, culminating in the economic debacle of the Great Depression, to break the grip of that consensus on the political imagination of the industrial world.

We are in a similar situation in America today. (and the world?)

If anything, contemporary political thought is far more impoverished than it was in 1908, when the radical fringes of society swarmed with alternative theories of political economy.

Since the collapse of classical conservatism in the 1960s, and the implosion of the New Left in the 1970s, political debate in the American mainstream has focused on finding the best means to achieve a set of ends that few voices question at all, while a great deal of debate outside the mainstream has abandoned political theory for a secular demonology in which everything wrong with the world – including the effects of the Earth’s ecological limits, of course – is the fault of some malevolent elite or other." more

The author finishes with these words:

"it’s time to take a hard look at some of our most basic assumptions, and replace scapegoat logic with a reasoned discussion about where we are headed and what other options our society might want to consider."

If are to avoid a Weimar America,

We must must do more than review our basic assumptions,

We must exorcise ourselves of them.

For those who do not learn from history,

are bound to repeat it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your column about obamas speech.


The answer has to be intent. The winners wanted Europe to function and people were given jobs to rebuild their own countries. But what the winners want from Africa, from the Middle East is different. These places are seen basically as mines. The Obama speech makes clear that if the world is looking for models of how to heal countries and societies, we have them, we need only to look at Germany.


8:23 AM  

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