The prior consolidation of a decent politics

Michael Ignatieff has a fascinating review-article in The New Republic taking off from the book Countrymen by Bo Lidegaard, the editor of the Danish newspaper Politiken. The book is about the fact that the Danes did not co-operate with the Nazis in rounding up and killing all the Jews during World War 2. Ignatieff – who would be the Canadian PM now if Stephen Harper hadn’t won that election – makes a striking point:

The Danes knew long before the war that their army could not resist a German invasion. Instead of overtly criticizing Hitler, the Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. It was in those ominous years that the shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture, just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim that there existed a “Jewish problem” in Denmark. Lidegaard’s central insight is that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination.

That’s connected to what I’ve been saying for the past few days, and at intervals before that too: that some things really shouldn’t be “up for debate” and that we should prefer even a kind of dogmatism or stubbornness when it comes to those things. The Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. Not have a conversation with them about it, not debate it, not weigh the pros and cons of it, but inoculate them against it. The shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture. Not offered, not suggested, not included on a list of goods, but drummed into the political culture. This was done just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim. Not skeptical, not unconvinced, not dubious, but deeply resistant. Why? Because human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics. That’s why.

Some things it just really is worth drumming into people until it’s in their bones and sinews and blood vessels, until they can’t not believe it.

H/t Kristjan Wager for the link.

Comments

  1. says

    Some things it just really is worth drumming into people until it’s in their bones and sinews and blood vessels, until they can’t not believe it.,

    It’s how religion does it. Get ‘em young and get the ideas settled in early. In this case one needn’t even be authoritarian about it; there are good arguments for why people should be treated equally (better arguments than “god says so!” anyway)

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    What?? You mean “us vs. them” isn’t the road to harmony and prosperity?? You’re making the baby jesus cry, young lady!

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    Blanche: Dualism and dichotomy is central to religion: the saved vs the damned etc.

    It is after all about group solidarity. Believing is the path to belonging.

    Yet in this instance the ‘shared political imagination’ was highly inclusive of all Danes and extremely worthwhile, in stark contrast to the obedient groupthink of that other ghastly religion, Nazism.

  4. Silentbob says

    It’s a two-edged sword though, isn’t it? I can imagine a Christian conservative taking from this that we must inoculate against the “gay agenda” or some such malarky by drumming homophobia into the population with dogmatism and stubbornness. They think “decency” is on their side.

  5. quixote says

    It’s a two-edged sword only if you’re convinced there’s no way to choose between different moralities. A purely logical approach, I gather, will get you into that fix. Or you could decide to go with what works, in the evolutionary sense. What lasts is not harming each other and treating each other fairly as that is understood by the members. Other models lead to collapse. (If you’re thinking, “Well, then everyone would collapse,” yes. Indeed they would. Look at history.)

    So, short form, a list of 10 or 12 commandments such as Ophelia had a while back can provide an effective shared morality that allows one to choose between drilling equality versus bigotry into people.

    There’s no way to avoid the need to have a shared morality. People who do not or cannot see that they have to restrain themselves to the same extent that they need restraint from others will never make good neighbors. The only hope is that you don’t succumb to their unsustainable habits before those habits finally KO them.

  6. Katherine Woo says

    …that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination.

    Solidarity and shared values, what a comical notion in the era of multiculturalism.

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    Well, ‘drumming into heads’ is a little off-putting. As they Danes were drumming virtue into their citizens, the Germans were busy drumming evil into theirs.

    But so many habits and attitudes are worth cultivating. We DON’T debate and re-evaluate our shoe-tying technique every day. We’d never make it out the door. We (supposedly) learn not to piss on the floor at a pretty deep and non-negotiable level as well.

    ‘Engaging with’ and ‘discussing’ worthless, discredited notions is a kind of inadvertent ‘drumming OUT” of the more reasonable and functional ones. Whether it’s homeopathy and Big Foot, or gross sexism justified as ‘human nature.’

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