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Kurt Tucholsky, "We Nay-Sayers" (1919)

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The officer. We have demonstrated in these pages why and to what extent the German officer failed in the war, and of what betrayal of his people he is guilty. It is not a matter of social status—attacks against a collective are always unjust—but a matter of the bad spirit that animates the status and has eaten its way deep into the citizenry. The lieutenant’s and his—we still say it—spirit was a German ideal, and the reserve officer needed little time to grow into the uniform. It was the infernal desire to tread upon one’s fellows without penalty, the German desire to appear to be more in service than one was in private life, the gratification of putting on airs for the wife or the lover; and down below grovels a human being. A certain devotion to duty (in a spirit that also characterized many of his subordinates) should not be denied, but duty was done, often enough, only on the basis of insatiability and the worst sort of avarice. The young gentlemen into whose character I acquired some insight during the war made no outstanding impression. But it is not, of course, a matter merely of individuals, and you can’t expect improvement if no one says so now! Now, for later, it makes no sense; now, for later, once the new army is established, it would be superfluous to leaf once more through the sins of the old regime. It must be hammered into the Germans that it must never happen again, and the message must be given to all, for indeed it was not the sin of particular reactionary circles but of all: all were involved! The wretchedness of the soldier—and with it the wretchedness of all “underlings” in Germany—was not a consequence of political conviction: it was one of too little culture. The worst instincts were awakened in the unchained citizens of the middle class; the state filled them with the authority of a superior. They did not deserve it. And to that we should say yes?

The civil servant. What do you think of an administration in which the civil servant is more important than the procedures and the procedures more important than the thing in question? How the old apparatus creaks and how impressively it swaggers! What a bother it was with all those offices and little desk sitters! What rapture when one could give orders! Of all the other offices—and there really were so many—the sitter in this one was stifled: now for once he gets his chancel Meanwhile the thing itself drowned in regulations and decrees; the little cabals and the constant frictions took up entire human lives. And the taxpayer was defenseless against his own creation. And to that we should say yes?

The politician. Politics in this country can be defined as the accomplishment of economic goals by means of legislation. Politics here was a matter of venal office holding, not of the spirit. It was reeled off and pulled apart in precinct clubs, and, against the workers, everyone else stood as one. Forgotten was the spirit, the basis for arriving at proposals and laws; forgotten the underlying mentality that, stimulus and motive in one, was what made what one wanted understandable and explicable. The diplomat of the old school proved a poor manager; “he lacks a modern spirit,” everyone said. Now the businessman is to take his place. But he lacks it too. There commenced a wild overestimation of the economic. Feudal remnants and traders tussled over influence in the state, which in reality was supposed to devolve upon each under the leadership of the intellectuals. And to that we should say yes?

The screeches of the middle-class citizen, to whom proper politics is nothing more than interference in business, do not surprise us. That intellectuals inveigh against us does. Where is the knowledge of the intellect ultimately to lead if its carriers do not for once clamber down from the heights of wisdom to apply its results to daily life and attempt to form the latter in its image? Nothing is more embarrassing or hated among the Germans than intellectuality become concrete. You are permitted everything: to advance the most dangerous demands in abstracto, to foment theoretical revolutions, to depose dear God himself—but the tax laws, they would rather keep that to themselves. They have an uncannily delicate scent and the most reliable instinct for everything capable of disturbing their dreary industriousness; their mistrust is immense, their antipathy insurmountable. They literally smell whether your loves and hates get along with their colonial import shops. If they don’t: God have mercy on you!

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