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For only a single one of them did Fate once again raise high the torch over the future of his country, then it was extinguished for-ever.
Joseph IIX Roman Emperor of the German nation, saw with fear and trepidation how his House, forced to the outermost corner of the Empire, would one day inevitably vanish in the maelstrom of a Babylon of nations unless at the eleventh hour the omissions of his forefathers were made good. With super-human power this 'friend of man' braced himself against the negligence of his ancestors and endeavored to retrieve in one decade what centuries had failed to do. If he had been granted only forty years for his work, and if after him even two generations had continued his work as he began it, the miracle would probably have been achieved. But when, after scarcely ten years on the thrones worn in body and soul, he died, his work sank with him into the grave, to awaken no more and sleep forever in the Capuchin crypt. His successors were equal to the task neither in mind nor in will.
When the first revolutionary lightnings of a new era flashed through Europe, Austria, too, slowly began to catch fire, little by little. But when the fire at length broke out, the flame was fanned less by social or general political causes than by dynamic forces of national origin.
The revolution of 1848 may have been a class struggle everywhere, but in Austria it was the beginning of a new racial war. By forgetting or not recognizing this origin and putting themselves in the service of the revolutionary uprising, the Germans sealed their own fate. They helped to arouse the spirit of 'Western democracy,' which in a short time removed the foundations of their own existence.
With the formation of a parliamentary representative body without the previous establishment and crystallization of a common state language, the cornerstone had been laid for the end of German domination of the monarchy.' From this moment on the state itself was lost. All that followed was merely the historic liquidation of an empire.
To follow this process of dissolution was as heartrending as it was instructive. This execution of an historical sentence was carried out in detail in thousands and thousands of forrns. The fact that a large part of the people moved blindly through the manifestations of decay showed only that the gods had willed Austria's destruction.
I shall not lose myself in details on this point, for that is not the function of this book. I shall only submit to a more thoroughgoing observation those events which are the everunchanging causes of the decline of nations and states, thus possessing significance for our time as well, and which ultimately contributed to securing the foundations of my own political thinking.
At the head of those institutions which could most clearly have revealed the erosion of the Austrian monarchy, even to a shopkeeper not otherwise gifted with sharp eyes, was one which ought to have had the greatest strength parliament, or, as it was called in Austria, the Reichsrat.
Obviously the example of this body had been taken from England, the land of classical 'democracy.' From there the whole blissful institution was taken and transferred as unchanged as possible to Vienna.
The English two-chamber system was solemnly resurrected in the Abgeordnetenhaus and the Herrenhaus. Except that the houses' themselves were somewhat different. When Barry raised his parliament buildings from the waters of the Thames, he thrust into the history of the British Empire and from it took the decorations for the twelve hundred niches, consoles, and pillars of his magnificent edifice. Thus, in their sculpture and painting, the House of Lords and the House of Commons became the nation's Hall of Fame.
This was where the first difficulty came in for Vienna. For when Hansen, the Danish builder, had completed the last pinnacle on the marble building of the new parliament, there was nothing he could use as decoration except borrowings from antiquity. Roman and &reek statesmen and philosophers now embellish this opera house of Western democracy, and in symbolic irony the quadrigae fiy from one another in all four directions above the two houses, in this way giving the best external expres sion of the activities that went on inside the building.
The 'nationalities' had vetoed the glorification of Austrian
history in this work as an insult and provocation, just as in the Reich itself it was only beneath the thunder of World War battles that they dared to dedicate Wallot's Reichstag Building to the German people by an inscription.
When, not yet twenty years old, I set foot for the first time in the magnificent building on the Franzensring to attend a session of the House of Deputies as a spectator and listener, I was seized with the most conflicting sentiments.
I had always hated parliament, but not as an institution in itself. On the contrary, as a freedom-loving man I could not even conceive of any other possibility of government, for the idea of any sort of dictatorship would, in view of my attitude toward the House of Habsburg, have seemed to me a crime against freedom and all reason.
What contributed no little to this was that as a young man, in consequence of my extensive newspaper reading, I had, without myself realizing it, been inoculated with a certain admiration for the British Parliament, of which I was not easily able to rid myself. The dignity with which the Lower House there fulfilled its tasks (as was so touchingly described in our press) impressed me immensely. Could a people have any more exalted form of selfgovernment?
But for this very reason I was an enemy of the Austrian parliament. I considered its whole mode of conduct unworthy of the great example. To this the following was now added:
The fate of the Germans in the Austrian state was dependent on their position in the Reichsrat. Up to the introduction of universal and secret suffrage, the Germans had had a majority, though an insignificant one, in parliament. Even this condition was precarious, for the Social Democrats, with their unreliable attitude in national questions, always turned against German interests in critical matters affecting the Germans-in order not to alienate the members of the various foreign nationalities. Even in those days the Social Democracy could not be regarded as a German party. And with the introduction of universal suffrage the German superiority ceased even in a purely numerical sense. There was no longer any obstacle in the path of the further de-Germanization of the state.
For this reason my instinct of national self-preservation caused me even in those days to have little love for a representative body in which the Germans were always misrepresented rather than represented. Yet these were deficiencies which, like so many others, were attributable, not to the thing in itself, but to the Austrian state. I still believed that if a German majority were restored in the representative bodies, there would no longer be any reason for a principled opposition to them, that is, as long as the old state continued to exist at all.
These were my inner sentiments when for the first time I set foot in these halls as hallowed as they were disputed. For me, to be sure, they were hallowed only by the lofty beauty of the magnificent building. A Hellenic miracle on German soil!
How soon was I to grow indignant when I saw the lamentable comedy that unfolded beneath my eyes!
Present were a few hundred of these popular representatives who had to take a position on a question of most vital economic importance.
The very first day was enough to stimulate me to thought for weeks on end.
The intellectual content of what these men said was on a really depressing level, in so far as you could understand their babbling at all; for several of the gentlemen did not speak German, but their native Slavic languages or rather dialects. I now had occasion to hear with my own ears what previously I had known only from reading the newspapers. A wild gesticulating mass screaming all at once in every different key, presided over by a goodnatured old uncle who was striving in the sweat of his brow to revive the dignity of the House by violently ringing his bell and alternating gentle reproofs with grave admonitions.
I couldn't help laughing.
A few weeks later I was in the House again. The picture was changed beyond recognition. The hall was absolutely empty. Down below everybody was asleep. A few deputies were in their places, yawning at one another; one was 'speaking.' A vicepresident of the House was present, looking into the hall with obvious boredom.
The first misgivings arose in me. From now on, whenever time offered me the slightest opportunity, I went back and, with silence and attention, viewed whatever picture presented itself, listened to the speeches in so far as they were intelligible, studied the more or less intelligent faces of the elect of the peoples of this woe-begone state-and little by little formed my own ideas.
A year of this tranquil observation sufficed totally to change or eliminate my former view of the nature of this institution. My innermost position was no longer against the misshapen form which this idea assumed in Austria; no, by now I could no longer accept the parliament as such. Up till then I had seen the misfortune of the Austrian parliament in the absence of a German majority; now I saw that its ruination lay in the whole nature and essence of the institution as such.
A whole series of questions rose up in me.
I began to make myself familiar with the democratic principle of majority rule as the foundation of this whole institution, but devoted no less attention to the intellectual and moral values of these gentlemen, supposedly the elect of the nations, who were expected to serve this purpose.
Thus I came to know the institution and its representatives at once.
In the course of a few years, my knowledge and insight shaped a plastic model of that most dignified phenomenon of modern times: the parliamentarian. He began to impress himself upon me in a form which has never since been subjected to any essential change.
Here again the visual instruction of practical reality had prevented me from being stifled by a theory which at first sight seemed seductive to so many, but which none the less must be counted among the symptoms of human degeneration.
The Western democracy of today is the forerunner of Marxism which without it would not be thinkable. It provides this world plague with the culture in which its germs can spread. In its most extreme forrn, parliamentarianism created a 'monstrosity of excrement and fire,' in which, however, sad to say, the 'fire' seems to me at the moment to be burned out.
I must be more than thankful to Fate for laying this question before me while I was in Vienna, for I fear that in Germany at that time I would have found the answer too easily. For if I had first encountered this absurd institution known as 'parliament' in Berlin, I might have fallen into the opposite fallacy, and not without seemingly good cause have sided with those who saw the salvation of the people and the Reich exclusively in furthering the power of the imperial idea, and who nevertheless were alien and blind at once to the times and the people involved.
In Austria this was impossible.
Here it was not so easy to go from one mistake to the other. If parliament was worthless, the Habsburgs were even more worthless-in no event, less so. To reject 'parliamentarianism' was not enough, for the question still remained open: what then? The rejection and abolition of the Reichsrat would have left the House of Habsburg the sole governing force, a thought which, especially for me, was utterly intolerable.
The difficulty of this special case led me to a more thorough contemplation of the problem as such than would otherwise have been likely at such tender years.
What gave me most food for thought was the obvious absence of any responsibility in a single person.
The parliament arrives at some decision whose consequences may be ever so ruinous-nobody bears any responsibility for this, no one can be taken to account. For can it be called an acceptance of responsibility if, after an unparalleled catastrophe, the guilty government resigns? Or if the coalition changes, or even if parliament is itself dissolved?
Can a fluctuating majority of people ever be made responsible in any case?
Isn't the very idea of responsibility bound up with the individual?
But can an individual directing a government be made practically responsible for actions whose preparation and execution must be set exclusively to the account of the will and inclination of a multitude of men?
Or will not the task of a leading statesman be seen, not in the birth of a creative idea or plan as such, but rather in the art of making the brilliance of his projects intelligible to a herd of sheep and blockheads, and subsequently begging for their kind approval?
Is it the criterion of the statesman that he should possess the art of persuasion in as high degree as that of political intelligence in formulating great policies or decisions? Is the incapacity of a leader shown by the fact that he does not succeed in winning for a certain idea the majority of a mob thrown together by more or less savory accidents?
Indeed, has this mob ever understood an idea before success proclaimed its greatness?
Isn't every deed of genius in this world a visible protest of genius against the inertia of the mass?
And what should the statesman do, who does not succeed in gaining the favor of this mob for his plans by flattery?
Should he buy it?
Or, in view of the stupidity of his fellow citizens, should he renounce the execution of the tasks which he has recognized to be vital necessities? Should he resign or should he remain at his post?
In such a case, doesn't a man of true character find himself in a hopeless conflict between knowledge and decency, or rather honest conviction?
Where is the dividing line between his duty toward the general public and his duty toward his personal honor?
Mustn't every true leader refuse to be thus degraded to the level of a political gangster?
And, conversely, mustn't every gangster feel that he is cut out for politics, since it is never he, but some intangible mob, which has to bear the ultimate responsibility?
Mustn't our principle of parliamentary majorities lead to the demolition of any idea of leadership?
Does anyone believe that the progress of this world springs from the mind of majoritiesand not from the brains of individuals?
Or does anyone expect that the future will be able to dispense with this premise of human culture?
Does it not, on the contrary, today seem more indispensable than ever?
By rejecting the authority of the individual and replacing it by the numbers of some momentary mob, the parliamentary principle of majority rule sins against the basic aristocratic principle of Nature, though it must be said that this view is not necessarily embodied in the present-day decadence of our upper ten thousand.
The devastation caused by this institution of modern parliamentary rule is hard for the reader of Jewish newspapers to imagine, unless he has learned to think and examine independently. It is, first and foremost, the cause of the incredible inundation of all political life with the most inferior, and I mean the most inferior, characters of our time. Just as the true leader will withdraw from all political activity which does not consist primarily in creative achievement and work, but in bargaining and haggling for the favor of the majority, in the same measure this activity will suit the small mind and consequently attract it.
The more dwarfish one of these present-day leathermerchants is in spirit and ability, the more clearly his own insight makes him aware of the lamentable figure he actually cuts-that much more will he sing the praises of a system which does not demand of him the power and genius of a giant, but is satisfied with the craftiness of a village mayor, preferring in fact this kind of wisdom to that of a Pericles. And this kind doesn't have to torment himself with responsibility for his actions. He is entirely removed from such worry, for he well knows that, regardless what the result of his 'statesmanlike' bungling may be, his end has long been written in the stars: one day he will have to cede his place to another equally great mind, for it is one of the characteristics of this decadent system that the number of great statesmen increases in proportion as the stature of the individual decreases With increasing dependence on parliamentary majorities it will inevitably continue to shrink, since on the one hand great minds will refuse to be the stooges of idiotic incompetents and bigmouths, and on the other, conversely, the representatives of the majority, hence of stupidity, hate nothing more passionately than a superior mind.
For such an assembly of wise men of Gotham, it is always a consolation to know that they are headed by a leader whose intelligence is at the level of those present: this will give each one the pleasure of shining from time to time-and, above all, if Tom can be master, what is to prevent Dick and Harry from having their turn too?
This invention of democracy is most intimately related to a quality which in recent times has grown to be a real disgrace, to wit, the cowardice of a great part of our so-called 'leadership. What luck to be able to hide behind the skirts of a so-called majority in all decisions of any real importance!
Take a look at one of these political bandits. How anxiously he begs the approval of the majority for every measure, to assure himself of the necessary accomplices, so he can unload the responsibility at any time. And this is one of the main reasons why this type of political activity is always repulsive and hateful to any man who is decent at heart and hence courageous, while it attracts all low characters-and anyone who is unwilling to take personal responsibility for his acts, but seeks a shield, is a cowardly scoundrel. When the leaders of a nation consist of such vile creatures, the results will soon be deplorable. Such a nation will be unable to muster the courage for any determined act; it will prefer to accept any dishonor, even the most shameful, rather than rise to a decision; for there is no one who is prepared of his own accord to pledge his person and his head for the execution of a dauntless resolve.
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler: Chapters Below.
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