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Political leadership of the general public
TODAY it is my conviction that in general, aside from cases of unusual talent, a man should not engage in public political activity before his thirtieth year. He should not do so, because up to this time, as a rule, he is engaged in molding a general platform, on the basis of which he proceeds to examine the various political problems and finally establishes his own position on them. Only after he has acquired such a basic philosophy, and the resultant firmness of outlook on the special problems of the day, is he, inwardly at least, mature enough to be justified in partaking in the political leadership of the general public.
Otherwise he runs the risk of either having to change his former position on essential questions, or, contrary to his better knowledge and understanding, of clinging to a view which reason and conviction have long since discarded. In the former case this is most embarrassing to him personally, since, what with his own vacillations, he cannot justifiably expect the faith of his adherents to follow him with the same unswerving firmness as before; for those led by him, on the other hand, such a reversal on the part of the leader means perplexity and not rarely a certain feeling of shame toward those whom they hitherto opposed. In the second case, there occurs a thing which, particularly today, often confronts us: in the same measure as the leader ceases to believe in what he says, his arguments become shallow and flat, but he tries to make up for it by vileness in his choice of means. While he himself has given up all idea of fighting seriously for his political revelations (a man does not die for something which he himself does not believe in), his demands on his supporters become correspondingly greater and more shameless until he ends up by sacrificing the last shred of leadership and turning into a 'politician; in other words, the kind of man whose onlv real conviction is lack of conviction, combined with offensive impertinence and an art of lying, often developed to the point of complete shamelessness.
If to the misfortune of decent people such a character gets into a parliament, we may as well realize at once that the essence of his politics will from now on consist in nothing but an heroic struggle for the permanent possession of his feeding-bottle for himself and his family. The more his wife and children depend on it, the more tenaciously he will fight for his mandate. This alone will make every other man with political instincts his personal enemy; in every new movement he will scent the possible beginning of his end, and in every man of any greatness the danger which menaces him through that man.
I shall have more to say about this type of parliamentary bedbug.
Even a man of thirty will have much to learn in the course of his life, but this will only be to supplement and fill in the framework provided him by the philosophy he has basically adopted When he learns, his learning will not have to be a revision of principle, but a supplementary study, and his supporters will not have to choke down the oppressive feeling that they have hitherto been falsely instructed by him. On the contrary: the visible organic growth of the leader will give them satisfaction, for when he learns, he will only be deepening their own philosophy. And this in their eyes will be a proof for the correctness of the views they have hitherto held.
A leader who must depart from the platform of his general philosophy as such, because he recognizes it to be false, behaves with decency only if, in recognizing the error of his previous insight, he is prepared to draw the ultimate consequence. In such a case he must, at the very least, renounce the public exercise of any further political activity. For since in matters of basic knowledge he has once succumbed to an error, there is a possibility that this will happen a second time. And in no event does he retain the right to continue claiming, not to mention demanding, the confidence of his fellow citizens.
How little regard is taken of such decency today is attested by the general degeneracy of the rabble which contemporaneously feel justified in 'going into' politics.
Hardly a one of them is fit for it.
I had carefully avoided any public appearance, though I think that I studied politics more closely than many other men. Only in the smallest groups did I speak of the things which inwardly moved or attracted me. This speaking in the narrowest circles had many good points: I learned to orate less, but to know people with their opinions and objections that were often so boundlessly primitive. And I trained myself, without losing the time and occasion for the continuance of my own education. It is certain that nowhere else in Germany was the opportunity for this so favorable as in Vienna.
General political thinking in the old Danubian monarchy was just then broader and more comprehensive in scope than in old Germany, excluding parts of Prussia, Hamburg, and the North Sea coast, at the same period. In this case, to be sure, I understand, under the designation of 'Austria,' that section of the great Habsburg Empire which, in consequence of its German settlement, not only was the historic cause of the very formation of this state, but whose population, moreover, exclusively demonstrated that power which for so many centuries was able to give this structure, so artificial in the political sense, its inner cultural life. As time progressed, the existence and future of this state came to depend more and more on the preservation of this nuclear cell of the Empire.
If the old hereditary territories were the heart of the Empire continually driving fresh blood into the circulatory stream of political and cultural life, Vienna was the brain and will in one
Its mere outward appearance justified one in attributing to this city the power to reign as a unifying queen amid such a conglomeration of peoples, thus by the radiance of her own beauty causing us to forget the ugly symptoms of old age in the structure as a whole.
The Empire might quiver and quake beneath the bloody battles of the different nationalities, yet foreigners, and especially Germans, saw only the charming countenance of this city. Wblt made the deception all the greater was that Vienna at that time seemed engaged in what was perhaps its last and greatest visible revival. Under the rule of a truly gifted mayor, the venerable residence of the Emperors of the old regime awoke once more to a :-niraculous youth. The last great German to be born in the ranks of the people who had colonized the Ostmark was not officially numbered among socalled Statesmen'; but as mayor of Vienna, this capital and imperial residence,' Dr. Lueger conjured up one amazing achievement after another in, we may say, every field of economic and cultural municipal politics, thereby strengthening the heart of the whole Empire, and indirectly becoming a statesman greater than all the so-called 'diplomats' of the time
If the conglomeration of nations called 'Austria' nevertheless perished in the end, this does not detract in the least from the political ability of the Germans in the old Ostmark, but was the necessary result of the impossibility of permanently maintaining a state of fifty million people of different nationalities by means of ten million people, unless certain definite prerequisites were established in time.
The ideas of the German-Austrian were more than grandiose.
He had always been accustomed to living in a great empire and had never lost his feeling for the tasks bound up with it. He was the only one in this state who, beyond the narrow boundaries of the crown lands, still saw the boundaries of the Reich; indeed, when Fate finally parted him from the common fatherland, he kept on striving to master the gigantic task and preserve for the German people what his fathers had once wrested from the East in endless struggles. In this connection it should be borne in mind that this had to be done with divided energy; for the heart and memory of the best never ceased to feel for the common mother country, and only a remnant was left for the homeland.
The general horizon of the German-Austrian was in itself comparatively broad. His economic connections frequently embraced almost the entire multiform Empire. Nearly all the big business enterprises were in his hands; the directing personnel, both technicians and officials, were in large part provided by him. He was also in charge of foreign trade in so far as the Jews had not laid their hands on this domain, which they have always seized for their own. Politically, he alone held the state together. military service alone cast him far beyond the narrow boundaries of his homeland. The German-Austrian recruit might join a German regiment, but the regiment itself might equally well be in Herzegovina, Vienna, or Galicia. The officers' corps was still German, the higher officials predominantly so. Finally, art and science were German. Aside from the trash of the more modern artistic development, which a nation of Negroes might just as well have produced, the German alone possessed and disseminated a truly artistic attitude. In music, architecture, sculpture, and painting, Vienna was the source supplying the entire dual monarchy in inexhaustible abundance, without ever seeming to go dry itself.
Finally, the Germans directed the entire foreign policy if we disregard a small number of Hungarians.
And yet any attempt to preserve this Empire was in vain, for the most essential premise was lacking.
For the Austrian state of nationalities there was only one possibility of overcoming the centrifugal forces of the individual nations. Either the state was centrally governed hence internally organized along the same lines. or it was altogether inconceivable.
At various lucid moments this insight dawned on the ' supreme ' authority. But as a rule it was soon forgotten or shelved as difficult of execution. Any thought of a more federative organization of the Empire was doomed to failure owing to the lack of a strong political germ-cell of outstanding power. Added to this were the internal conditions of the Austrian state which differed essentially from the German Empire of Bismarck. In Germany it was only a question of overcoming political conditions, since there was always a common cultural foundation. Above all, the Reich, aside from little foreign splinters, embraced members of only one people.
In Austria the opposite was the case.
Here the individual provinces, aside from Hungary, lacked any political memory of their own greatness, or it had been erased by the sponge of time, or at least blurred and obscured. In the period when the principle of nationalities was developing, however, national forces rose up in the various provinces, and to counteract them was all the more difficult as on the rim of the monarchy national states began to form whose populations, racially equivalent or related to the Austrian national splinters, were now able to exert a greater power of attraction than, conversely, remained possible for the GermanAustrian.
Even Vienna could not forever endure this struggle.
With the development of Budapest into a big city, she had for the first time a rival whose task was no longer to hold the entire monarchy together, but rather to strengthen a part of it. In a short time Prague was to follow her example, then Lemberg, Laibach, etc. With the rise of these former provincial cities to national capitals of individual provinces, centers formed for more or less independent cultural life in these provinces. And only then did the politico-national instincts obtain their spiritual foundation and depth. The time inevitably approached when these dynamic forces of the individual peoples would grow sponger than the force of common interests, and that would be the end of Austria.
Since the death of Joseph II the course of this development was clearly discernible. Its rapidity depended on a series of factors which in part lay in the monarchy itself and in part were the result of the Empire's momentary position on foreign policy.
If the fighf for the preservation of this state was to be taken up and carried on in earnest, only a ruthless and persistent policy of centralization could lead to the goal. First of all, the purely formal cohesion had to be emphasized by the establishment in principle of a uniform official language, and the administration had to be given the technical implement without which a unified state simply cannot exist. Likewise a unified state-consciousness could only be bred for any length of time by schools and education. This was not feasible in ten or twenty years; it was inevitably a matter of centuries; for in all questions of colonization, persistence assumes greater importance than the energy of the moment.
It goes without saying that the administration as well as the political direction must be conducted with strict uniforrnity. To me it was infinitely instructive to ascertain why this did not occur,. or rather, why it was not done.l He who was guilty of this omission was alone to blame for the collapse of the Empire.
Old Austria more than any other state depended on the greatness of her leaders. The foundation was lacking for a national state, which in its national basis always possesses the power of survival, regardless how deficient the leadership as such may be. A homogeneous national state can, by virtue of the natural inertia of its inhabitants, and the resulting power of resistance, sometimes withstand astonishingly long periods of the worst administration or leadership without inwardly disintegrating. At such times it often seems as though there were no more life in such a body, as though it were dead and done for, but one fine day the supposed corpse suddenly rises and gives the rest of humanity astonishing indications of its unquenchable vital force.
It is different, however, with an empire not consisting of similar peoples, which is held together not by common blood but by a common fist. In this case the weakness of leadership will not cause a hibernation of the state, but an awakening of all the individual instincts which are present in the blood, but carmot develop in times when there is a dominant will. Only by a common education extending over centuries, by common tradition, common interests, etc., can this danger be attenuated. Hence the younger such state formations are, the more they depend on the greatness of leadership, and if they are the work of outstanding soldiers and spiritual heroes, they often crumble immediately after the death of the great solitary founder. But even after centuries these dangers cannot be regarded as overcome; they only lie dormant, often suddenly to awaken as soon as the weakness of the common leadership and the force of education and all the sublime traditions can no longer overcome the impetus of the vital urge of the individual tribes.
Not to have understood this is perhaps the tragic guilt of the House of Habsburg.
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler: Chapters Below.
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