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Stefan Zweig, "The Monotonization of the World" (1925)

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Defense. What to do now? Storm the capitol, summon the people: “To the trenches, the barbarians are coming to destroy our world!” Cry out once more in Caesar’s words, this time more earnestly: “People of Europe, preserve your most sacred possessions!” No, we are no longer gullible enough to believe that with associations, with books and proclamations, we can rise up against a world-encompassing movement of such a monstrous sort and defeat the drive to monotonization. Whatever one might write, it remains a piece of paper cast against a gale. Whatever we might write, it does not reach the soccer players and the shimmy dancers, and if it did, they would no longer understand it. In all of these things, of which I am mentioning only a few, in the cinema, in radio, in dance, in all of these new means for mechanizing humanity there is an enormous power that is not to be overcome. For they all fulfill the highest ideal of the average: to offer amusement without demanding exertion. And their insurmountable strength lies in the fact that they are unprecedentedly comfortable. The new dance can be learned by the dumbest servant girl in three hours; the cinema delights the illiterate and demands of them not a grain of education; to enjoy radio one need only take the earpiece from the table and hang it on one’s head, and already there is a waltz ringing in the ear—against such comfort even the gods would fight in vain. Whoever demands only a minimum of intellectual, physical, and moral exertion is bound to triumph among the masses, for the majority is passionately in favor of such; whoever continues to demand autonomy, independence of judgment, personality—even in entertainment—would appear ridiculous against such an enormously superior power. If humanity is now letting itself be increasingly bored and monotonized, then that is really nothing other than its deepest desire. Autonomy in the conduct of one’s life and even in the enjoyment of life has by now become a goal for so few people that most no longer feel how they are becoming particles, atoms in the wash of a gigantic power. So they bathe in the warm stream that is carrying them off to the trivial. As Caesar said: ruere in servitium, to rush into servitude—this passion for self-dissolution has destroyed every nation. Now it is Europe’s turn: the world war was the first phase, Americanization is the second.

Source of English translation: Stefan Zweig, “The Monotonization of the World” (1925), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 397-400. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Stefan Zweig, “Die Monotonisierung der Welt,” Berliner Börsen-Courier, February 1, 1925.

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