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.