Archive for October, 2011

“A capitalist society needs a political system and a set of political values that can accommodate the clashes of opposed interests without blowing up. That is what a party system provides. If the Irish dominate the city under the Democratic banner, the Italians can organize as Republicans and carve out a niche. Industries that benefit from protection can struggle peacefully against industries dependent on free trade. Class tensions can be ventilated and adjusted; after a Gilded Age of robber barons, a progressive income tax can, if the majority wishes, redress the social balance.
“A capitalist society that does not have a viable party system is a crisis waiting to happen. It is like a crab that cannot grow unless it throws off its shell from time to time. Social conditions and power relations are changing, but there is no way for these changes to work their way slowly into legislation and reform. Pressure for change builds until it becomes irresistible, and change when it comes can be abrupt and destabilizing.”

— Walter Russell Mead, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), pg. 309.

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The good old days

“Today we reel at the speed of globalization and long for the placid, pastoral times of, say, Edwardian Britain in the years before World War I. Yet people living in those times did not think their lives were placid or that the pace of change was slow. As suffragettes chained themselves to the fence around the House of Commons, as Lloyd George took on the House of Lords, while revolution brewed in Ireland and the ominous German naval buildup relentlessly continued across the Channel, the Edwardians longed for the pastoral, peaceful days of an earlier time–when the pace of change was slower and society was more stable. They might long for the peaceful tranquility of Jane Austen’s England–forgetting that Austen wrote during the Napoleonic Wars, when the world seemed on fire to those who lived in it.”

— Walter Russell Mead, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), pg. 286.

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“Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was in the interests of the Nazi leadership, no matter how humorlessly they may have portrayed themselves in the public sphere. Many Germans were conscious of the dark side of the Nazi regime. They were also annoyed at laws forcing them to do this or that and at party bigwigs who treated themselves to lives of luxury while making arbitrary decisions about the lives of others. But that didn’t translate into anti-Nazi protests. Those people who let off a bit of steam with a few jokes didn’t take to the streets or otherwise challenge the Nazi leadership.

“Conversely and significantly, the vast majority of the joke tellers who were denounced and brought before special Nazi courts received a mild punishment, if any. Usually they were let off with a warning. ‘Whispered jokes’ were a surrogate for, and not a manifestation of, social conscience and personal courage.”

— Rudolph Herzog (trans. by Jefferson Chase), Dead Funny : Humor in Hitler’s Germany (Brooklyn : Melville House, 2011), pgs. 2-3.

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