I have been on this one this week, with that story about the Japanese net rightists.
Thomas Geoghegan has a book out, about whether you were born on the wrong continent. A Europe vs. America book. I think the title is, in fact, “Were you Born on the Wrong Continent?” In it, so I read, he talks about how the many Europeans–especially the Germans—have a better standard of living than we do, even though they work fewer hours and have a higher average tax rates.
What is the reason? Geoghehan says it’s social democracy–the element of socialism.
When Germany was occupied after World War II, the experts that were brought in to help with the reconstruction were New Dealers. I think Eleanor Roosevelt (Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt) was part of the group, even. They helped to rebuild West Germany along New Dealer lines, and many of the institutions and social safety nets created exist to this day.
The well-grounded belief was that the Nazi came to power because of bad economic conditions of the 1920’s and early 1930’s. It was, in effect, a breeding ground or a swamp for that kind of thing. So to avoid a repeat of Weimar, the government should have systems in place to alleviate economic hardship, which, as we see time and again, tends to breed extremism, radicalism and scapegoating.
Fortunately in Japan, it’s simply been of the socially embarrassing sort—although when you target children, as “Sakurai” in Kyoto allegedly did, it raises a lot of very material concerns.
What I have been telling people, though, is that radicalism–either right or left—should be looked at and considered very seriously for its negative effects.
In America, we don’t have much of a tradition of left-wingerism. Where we do, it’s mostly on the issue of social norms. There are many more rightwingers afoot—including those financed by the billionaire Koch Brothers of Dixie Cup fame. (Boycott Dixie Cups, right?)
But what I’m surprised to learn is that very few people know that Europe has a history of violent right wingerism (Nazis, Italian fascists like Mussolini, etc.) AND violent left wingerism.
I don’t know if anyone remembers the name of Alfred Herrhausen. He was a president of a bank –Deutsche Bank— in Germany, and he was assassinated on his way to work in 1989. They don’t know who did it, but they think it was left-wingers in West Germany—maybe part of the Baader Meinhof group. These people, who were rather violent leftists, had killed several business people in the 1970’s, including, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, and Dresdner Bank’s Juergen Ponto.
They created an environment where, if someone was a business leader, they could feel like they were a target for assassination. This was obviously wrong, but it tends to be the place where radicalism ends up, once the genie is out of the bottle.
What I wonder about European social democracy, though, is that some of it is buttressed by the fact that everyone knows the history–and not because of any special magic of Eleanor Roosevelt. Whereas in America and Japan, there isn’t a tradition or legacy of killing off business leaders. In America, historically, violence has been directed at minority groups—particularly the blacks. And it seems as though Southerners are the ones shooting at Northern Presidents, like Lincoln and Kennedy. So high political officials. Business execs never get targeted like they have been in Germany.
I know that Japan had its share of stabbing assassinations in the 20th century. Again, mostly rightists against those who they considered soft in government. And after Japan so totally lost World War II, the rightists had occasionally targeted leftists for the same kind of violence. It hasn’t been leftists killing rightists here. Nor in America.
Against this backdrop, I read an article in Salon.com about how the bankers in America are upset that they are being vilified for all the economic trouble the banking system has created in the so-called Great Recession. This is what made me think of Alfred Herrhausen.
The American bankers don’t like the fact that they’re being demonized for the terrible economic problems that their industry brought on the Americans. The Japanese 40-year-old kids are blaming Korean children living in Japan (as their parent and grandparents did) for the fact that the older Japanese have created a screwed-up work system that squeezes the hope and joy of creating things from the younger generation here.
And in Germany, even in good times, out-of-control left wingers go killing top industrialists and businessmen, just to do it.
I do not advocate violence or any bad thing, of course. But I do wonder about that.
The Europeans have this great social democracy, courtesy of the New Dealers and Mrs. Roosevelt, that everyone admires. They also have the tradition, as it were, of bumping off business executives, which everyone is also aware of there. And elsewhere, if you read modern European history.
The first thing the Greeks did during the 2010 budget crisis was go and firebomb a prominent bank.
It’s like it’s in the European blood. Everything just seems so calm and fair and equal, and if you seem to be the one to threaten it, you have bloodthirsty people coming at you. Not just calling you bad names and making you look bad. But actually taking you out, period. And you don’t see this in Japan or America.
So, I just wonder about that. Was it because Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Deal gang helped get modern Europe going? Or is it because the people who command the industry there jump when a car backfires?