Marie Antoinette & Chancellor Scholz
Is there a special connection with the point in time at which certain books fall into our hands? Perhaps no more than the lovers of my life have a conspicuous accumulation of birthdays in Leo through Libra. Be that as it may, it is in any case a delight to enjoy the literary talent of Stefan Zweig, especially when he takes on such an essentially unliterary subject as the life of Marie Antoinette.
Why unliterary? As Zweig himself writes, Marie Antoinette was a thoroughly uninteresting person, endowed with no particular interest other than enjoying herself on the surface and keeping all the deeper and more subtle aspects of life at bay. Why did he write about her anyway?
Even a character that is completely banal in the true sense can be lifted into a special tragedy over the course of time, which forces him into unexpected directions of his character and which then grants his life a certain size.
Describing this is truly no easy task for a writer, and Stefan Zweig's talent is revealed precisely in the fact that he finds here a literary vantage point from which he can grasp both the broad lines of the story and the intricacies of the interpersonal dramas, each with adequate accuracy and depth Forbearance can chisel.
Incomparably fine, he patiently weaves a network of close-up and far-reaching views of the late 18th century, which alienates the reader bit by bit from the grossly simplified perspective of those born later and reveals an incredibly complex and multi-layered portrait of a declining epoch.
I have no scientific evidence whatsoever for my parallels, which I allow myself to draw here, to our present in 2021.
Overwhelmed by news and snap shots of analysis, clearing your head for the broad lines of the story isn't easy. How easy it was just a few decades ago, when the world was oriented towards two major social plans and everyone who was looking for something different had to define themselves based on them. Today, the social systems seem to have blended beyond recognition and the search for orientation leads both into the past and astray.
Wonderful prerequisites for the emergence of something completely new, such as digital universal democracy, as I will be happy to explain in another blog.
Apparently the current confusion was triggered by a pandemic. But if you are honest, the causes go much deeper. A society based on growth has reached the limits of its growth in many respects. Not only due to the finite resources of our planet, which would not be able to supply us all with electric cars, for example.
Capitalism has been reduced to absurdity in Western countries since 2008 with the start of bond purchases by the central banks and was imperceptibly transferred to a hitherto undefined mixed system that neither socialism nor capitalism, necessarily the next crisis, which is for capitalism as a such would be necessary for survival, wants to prevent.
The debt, which has increased exponentially since then, can realistically no longer be reduced by a steadily aging society. How long we can weigh ourselves in apparent security and walk like a somnambulist as if the cake batter has risen too far, I can say the least. Everything still seems to be in the best of order and even Japan, due to its age structure and non-existent immigration, which has been on this path for the longest, still looks like a healthy, agile country.
What the reading of Zweig's Marie Antoinette shows is the inconspicuousness of the many individual developments, which then culminate in such a brutal as great event of the French Revolution. The financial ecstasy of Marie Antoinette alone would not have led to the revolution. Nor the dumb character of your husband and regent of France, Louis XVI. It was only the years of negligence and detachment of the then ruling class from the needs of the population, combined with a variety of political and economic problems, that led to an explosion that was looming long enough, but whose consequences nobody could foresee.
Today we are in the wonderful situation that people like to express themselves unfiltered and quickly via all available media, so that due to this thoughtlessness, the language often unintentionally reveals the intellectual and character weaknesses of the people behind the statements.
The Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg recently shared his hope that “finally to be able to govern normally again”. As if governing was a great art at a time when all people were prosperous and the automobile industry provided ample tax revenue. I'm also sorry to have to say to him: this hope will not come true and with this attitude he will probably end up as a tragic figure. Shortly thereafter, the Saxon Prime Minister worried that people "can no longer see the truth". It's good that at least he's in possession of it. It continues with the new Chancellor Scholz, who was kindly loaned to the Federal Chancellery for a short period of time from his job as sub-department head in the Hamburg-Süd tax office. He would also like to be a "chancellor of the unvaccinated" and yet sees "no divided society".
Marie Antoinette would have expressed herself differently in her Rococo Castle Triamon, but the refusal to face social reality is shockingly similar. All of this in itself does not herald the fall of the Federal Republic. And even if we did: didn't we have the German Empire, Weimar Republic, Third Reich, Federal Republic and GDR in the 20th century and still survived?
But there are other fine lines in the emerging web of the present that, taken together, are preparing something that is not yet recognizable as a positive vision. Beginning with countries like Somalia, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, state organizations are dissolving either through wars or economic decline and it does not appear that there are new actors with the power to take the place of the past authorities.
In addition to the monopoly on the use of force that the states are losing here, alternatives to the money monopoly of the state are being created through cryptocurrencies. El Salvador has made a pioneer here and introduced Bitcoin as the official national currency. For countries like Venezuela, Dash has become an alternative currency that offers individuals at least some protection from their government's disastrous economic policies.
And even in apparently highly developed countries like the Federal Republic of Germany, trust in a free constitutional state is negligently jeopardized with a large number of small, clumsy decisions or events, which, taken together, send society as a whole down a steep slope whose downward-pulling dynamic is difficult to escape.
Human societies always need a compelling story to hold them together. This does not necessarily have to be based on facts or correspond to any kind of truth. That was not the case with either capitalism or communism. Yes, whole countries are founded on these stories, which, it almost seems to me, work all the better the less true they are.
Just think of Switzerland and the Rüetli oath, a well-made story by the foreigner Friedrich Schiller, who still encourages the Swiss today to see themselves as the spiritual descendants of the Gallic village of Asterix and Obelix and to studiously suppress their wars of conquest against the Italians .
Or think of the image misused by every American President of the United States as the radiant city on the hill, which is a shining example for the poor, unfree and oppressed people of other countries.
The fact that up to 50 million legal residents of the country were dispossessed and slaughtered for this purpose, to whom of course no Holocaust museum is dedicated, is swept aside as a quasi-necessary evil on this glorious path as collateral damage to history.
So you see, stories don't have to be true. They just have to be good and people have to believe in them.
But the belief in these very national stories, which are supposed to justify one's own arrogance, is currently dying all over the world. Not to the same extent everywhere, and not entirely at the same time. The trend may also be difficult to discern among the generation now holding the reins of power. However, it will not be too long before these rivulets unite to form a larger stream and then the dynamics will no longer be reversible.
If the French Revolution is any indication of what awaits us today, then we are in for exciting times. And maybe there will be someone again like the inconspicuous actor Collot d'Herbois in 1778, who wrote an eulogy for the birth of Marie Antoinette's heir to the throne, only to sign the death sentences for the royal couple 11 years later as President of the Jacobins.
Let us hope that we will be spared the horrors of the guillotine and the horrors of the great wars for that future time, and that we will embrace change with generosity and truth