An Open letter
Dear Herr H.,
There are much wiser personalities among the German speaking people who have adopted a comparable point of view to yours, a similar outlook on life, if you will.
Gottlob Frege, an outstanding philosopher of mathematics (Fundamental Laws) for example. Even Ludwig Wittgenstein was highly apologetic about his Jewishness. Karl Kraus was extremely uncomfortable to say the least. But they were private individuals not elected representatives. Of course you could point out not just one Old Testament antecedent, but many comparable to every one of your own prejudices. Indeed, George Steiner performed just this line of argument in one of his theatre writings: "The portage to San Cristobal of A.H.". A.H's defence in the trial which takes place in the play is: "my position is not original, you have invented the precept of the chosen people etc. etc."
But here we are referring to texts and costumes that are four thousand years old, we would not suspect you, Herr H., to be associated with such a fairy tale – in no way. It would not suite a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Were you not afraid to be contaminated on the other side of the Charles River?
One wonders, have you ever contemplated, Herr H., or tried to imagine the catastrophic depletion in the reservoir of the human gene pool if your position was adopted seriously and universally?
Or perhaps it suited you just fine to live by the camp fire and hunt mammoths, with wooden clubs, axe and stones? Perhaps all you wish is to be a member of austere (rather than Austrian) autarchy under permanent azure sky?
Radical Swiss students demonstrated for and advocated to do away with the Alps in order to reestablish an horizon of Mediterranean landscape once and for all. Yes, some French social scientists have been there before, they have provided analytical explanation and theoretical constructs to explain every type of xenophobia not necessarily as the condition of one who suffers from some dislike, hatred, fear of strangers or aliens, but as a form of social necessity, possibly pleasurable. In the social sciences, from time to time, we find an explanation for every human inclination, just how inevitable human affairs are as they are. Consider, that even Voltaire was not completely free of prejudice.
And yet, we know Herr H., you are not alone, and you know it too, you are simply a more visibly attractive exemplar, and you know rather well what your neighbours would like to believe, and so there is nothing more simple than to tailor your utterances to that effect, and hey presto, they are on your side. Is it not a simple application of the law of supply and demand? No, you did learn one or two things at Harvard. After all, the objective of ridding yourself, and everybody else, not of strangers, no, God forbid, just of your own blood and flesh, the Social Democrats, does justify the means. If there ever was an objective that justifies the means this was such a one, you reasoned. In the face of the relative stability of the electoral body, the indescribable comedy of the Social Democratic Party, whose whole structure was conceived of formerly as that of a workers party in order to subject elected officials and parliamentary groups to manoeuvre by partial interests, you had little choice, somebody had to do something.
Your responsibilities are above all to those who would elect you, you and your friends, and who could deny their right to have you and your friends as their legitimate representatives?
Yes, Herr H., we ought to understand. We have been there before. One of our lost sons, Karl Marx, believed history to be doomed to repeat itself, what occurred first as a tragedy, Marx assured us, will turn up again as a farce. But the old man made many mistakes, and his desire for a better world in the light of the prophets (not profit) clouded his judgement some of the time. He was prone to error, after all he too, alas, was only human, human all too human. And you, Herr H., did you not make an error, an enormous error of judgement?
First of all you did not believe a word you have uttered. After all you are not a mere politician, you, of all people should know how to lie, to whom and when. Secondly all this loose talk was surely not meant to be repeated, certainly not repeated aloud, and abroad. It was meant naturally, for domestic consumption. Very much like a certain kind of beer, or wine for that matter. It just did not occur to you that the rest of the world will pay so much attention to what a local Austrian politician tells his electorate. You were obviously mistaken. Terribly mistaken.
Because we do care.
If we, you and I, our generation, did learn anything from our experience, and the experience of others, past and present, it is that words are deeds, and most terrible of all, they are followed in their inexorable modality to their inevitable end, a multiplication of deeds, only to be repeated again and again by millions of listeners who have never ever resisted what they have been only all too eager to hear, disregarding their better self, their own better judgement. You, Herr H., you knew that you could count on them, your own flesh and blood, sisters and brothers, their inherent refusal to act as responsible human beings, their refusal to judge for themselves, refusal to act upon their inherent inalienable gift of rational insight, love of just world, knowledge of good and evil, of pain and pleasure.
Your own assertions, against foreigners, strangely and peevishly enough did not take into account the simple fact that you yourself must be one when you reside abroad, in your own death for example, thus you have made yourself a victim of illogicalities comparable with the "barber paradox". A village barber advertised that he didn't shave any people in the village who could shave themselves, but he does shave all those who do not shave themselves. Of course, the barber was boasting that he had no competition, but one day it occurred to him to ask whether he should shave himself. If he does shave himself, then by the first half of his assertion – namely, that he does not shave those people who shave themselves – he should not shave himself, but if he does not, then, in accordance with his boast that he shaves all people who do not shave themselves, he should.
The barber is in a logical predicament and so are you Herr H But, being logical is clearly not your concern.
Anticipating you, Herr H., the Greek dramatist made the chorus chant, "it is best not to be born." "Yes", replied Polgar, "but who has such luck?"
Perhaps we were too lenient, far too long. We have ignored your propensity to move in a certain direction as soon as the obstacles were removed and active resistance was not in place any more. We almost forgot your and your friends' collective refusal to entertain post-Newtonian theory of motion. Perhaps you continue to believe in a partial application of reason and rationality. Yes, you do make such a good audience for the best and highest level of musical performance and cultural events, architecture, art exhibitions and drama etc., etc. In spite of this evident cultural effort, every second person, sitting right next to you in the concert hall or standing next to you in the art fair must be in a political collusion with a person who entertains a cave man's desire, everything but the air of Parnassus.
Herr H., you must agree with me, you have recently appointed a government which began its first day in business placing priority on an immediate cut in the budget for such frivolous activities by half. Who could compare the responsibility of a politician and the ever-diminishing responsibility of the artist. No doubt, Herr H., you do know your Pappenheimer's preference. Their true appetite is for something else, or should I say for the blood of somebody else, certainly not for Nectar amateurs and Ambrosia eaters.
How could it be?
Yes, it was, it is, and it will be again in the absence of resistance.
If I write to you not in German, it is because other people, very much like yourself, forced my mother and father not to speak and write in their mother's tongue.
The inhumanity we inflict on others cannot escape our own fate. Return, return. Return before fire, air, water and earth will revolt against, not against you, you are not a nincompoop, but against the persona – a persona of great wickedness and distortion you have elected to perform. It is neither too late, dear Herr H., nor is it too early.
Goodbye Herr H.
Yehuda Emmanuel Szafran
Philosopher, Columbia University, New York
(The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation)
(New York, April 2000)
An Open letter