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

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Here we have a case of will confronting will. No result, no goal on this earth is won according to the logic of proof ex argumentis. The goal favored by the emotions is everywhere established in advance; the arguments follow as apology to the mind, as a parlor game for the intellect. Never yet has one persuaded the other with logic. Will confronts will here: as to the goals, we are agreed with others of reasonable mind—I believe what they struggle against in us does not concern the struggle but the tactics.

But how should we approach low-browed louts and iron-hard farm hands except with clubs? That has been the great misery and distress of this country for centuries: that one presumed it possible to acquire unequivocal force with piercing intellect. If those of us who have peered behind the scenes, those of us who believe that the world as it is cannot be the ultimate goal of humanity, have no executor of our intellectual disposition, then we are damned eternally to live our lives with journeymen hawking their wares, where there remains to us only permission to stroll among our books, ink, and paper. It is so endlessly fruitless, if one wants to build, to believe it possible to forego the negative activity of tearing down. Let us be concrete. A speech by [Friedrich] Naumann in Weimar obligates us to absolutely nothing; the resolution of some local council reveals the citizen in all his nakedness.

The unqualified solidarity of all money-earners must be opposed by the equally unqualified solidarity of the intellectuals. It will not do to perform a theater of struggle before grinning citizens; such mere appearance prompts them only to pose their incessant questions: may we continue to haggle or may we not? May we go on profiteering in our cliques and coteries or may we not? Only the prompting will be heard, no metaphysical truth and no critical error.

Has everything already been forgotten? Are we already slipping back into our comfortable trot where peace and quiet is the first and final duty? Already the stale saying is everywhere stirring the air: “It could not have been that bad.” “Your good husband has died from pneumonia?” says the man, “well, it could not have been that bad!”

It was that bad. And surely no one would attempt again to claim that the “pioneer work of the German businessman” will “get us out of it!” We are ridiculed the world over for having hidden our best talents deep in the countryside and for having sent our mediocre ones abroad. But already the voices make themselves heard, those trying to persuade the German that everything will set itself right, if he would only deliver cheap goods. That is not what we want! We no longer want to be used because our young people have underbid everyone else in foreign parts, and because everyone here toiled but did not work. We want to be respected for our own sake.

To be respected in the world we must first undertake a thorough cleaning at home. Are we fouling our own nest? But an Augean stable cannot be fouled, and it is nonsense to put an old hayloft on a crumbling roof and then sound the national anthem from above.

We should make positive proposals. But all the positive proposals in the world come to naught if a genuine honesty does not pervade the land. The reforms we have in mind are not to be achieved through regulations, nor through new national agencies from which everyone today, each within his own specialization, anticipates salvation. We do not believe it suffices to establish a great card catalogue and an extensive personnel and then work the field with it. We believe that what is essential in the world exists behind the scenes and that a decent cast of mind can come to terms with every regulation, even with the worst, and deal with it. Without it, however, nothing is accomplished.

What we need is this decent cast of mind.

We cannot yet say yes. We cannot reinforce a consciousness that forgets from on high the humanity in human beings. We cannot encourage a people to do its duty only because for every toiler a mirage of honor has been created that only hinders essential work. We cannot say yes to a people who remain today in the frame of mind that, had the war somehow come to a happier end, would have justified our worst fears. We cannot say yes to a country obsessed with collectives and for whom corporate bodies are elevated far above the individual. Collectives merely provide assistance to the individual. We cannot say yes to those whose fruits are now displayed by the younger generation: a lukewarm and vapid species infected with an infantile hunger for power at home and an indifference toward things abroad, more devoted to bars than to bravery, with unspeakable antipathy for all Sturm und Drang—no longer bearable today—without fire and without dash, without hate and without love. We are supposed to walk, but our legs are bound with cords. We cannot yet say yes.

Persons utterly devoid of appreciation for a will to rise above daily concerns—here in Germany one calls them Realpolitiker—oppose us because we see no salvation in compromise, because we see no salvation in new insignias and new documents of state. We know that ideals cannot be realized, but we also know that nothing has happened, nothing has changed, nothing has been achieved without the fire of ideals. And—precisely this, and correctly, seems a danger to our opponents—we do not believe that the flame of ideals is merely to glow decoratively among the stars. It must burn among us; it must burn in forgotten cellars where the wood louse lives, and burn on the palace rooftops of the rich, burn in the churches where rationalism is busy subverting the old miracles, and burn among the money changers who have made of their little stalls a temple.

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