A couple years ago I was on a panel at a science fiction convention along with a Catholic priest and some other people. I don’t remember what the precise topic was, but as we were chatting afterward, the Jewish writer and the priest constituting two-thirds of a corny American religious joke, I remember he agreed when I observed that “whatever decadence is, we’ve definitely got it.”
Another way of expressing our situation is in a famous quote from the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci, who died in Mussolini’s prisons: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” For the latest evidence of this, look no further than Germany, where the authorities have arrested some 25 individuals on charges of plotting a far-right coup d’etat. The participation of a member of a dethroned German royal family who is styled Heinrich XIII, a bespectacled figure with Larry David hair who lives in an apartment in Frankfurt, is prompting much amused commentary, a temptation that will not be resisted here. With apologies to Herman’s Hermits:
I am Heinrich XIII, I am
Heinrich XIII I am, I am
I played footsie with the Nazis next door
Nazis wanna Nazi like they did before…
However, if you know your European history, it’s clear that Heinrich the Hapless is only a very late example of dethroned European royalty plotting a comeback, a move that frequently succeeded in the nineteenth century. There tends to be a comic opera air about such scheming, but it becomes a lot less funny when we recall that a young German aristocrat named Anton Arco-Valley assassinated the leftist Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner in 1919, and that the German Kaiser Wilhelm II (depicted above), who went into exile in the Netherlands after losing World War I, supported the Nazis’ attempt to, as we might say, make Germany great again.
The German authorities of our own time are always vigilant about threats from the far right, and have also learned anew from the January 6, 2021 American poo-poo putsch how dangerous apparently marginal characters can really be, while American media tended at least initially to focus on gaudy trivialities like putschist Jacob Chansley’s ridiculous horned costume. For us Americans, the question again is why our putschists have mostly been treated so gently by the judicial system even when charges are brought. Their German counterparts reportedly include a doctor and a sitting judge, but this professional status is not going to gain them the deference the January 6 defendants have mostly enjoyed from the U.S. judiciary due to their being realtors, retired cops and soldiers, etc. Maybe that difference has something to do with the fact that Germany’s main center-right party, the Christian Democrats, wants no truck with twenty-first century fascists, whereas the U.S. Republican Party is now dominated by them.
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