What is a book? We cannot hope that it shall aways fulfill John Milton's vision.
A modern prejudice holds that two scholars—if organized in a “project”—are always better than one, truth being an antagonist inclined to yield itself to mass assault rather than in individual combat. That this is a prejudice, is made clear by Solomon F. Bloom in his critique of a recent Unesco-sponsored group effort to understand Nazism, The Third Reich.
What is a book? We cannot hope that it shall aways fulfill John Milton’s vision. “A good book,” Milton said in defending the freedom to publish in Areopagitica , “is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” So much has the idea of a book deteriorated that one hardly knows today what to expect between hard covers. In the academic world, perhaps nothing has accelerated this deterioration so much as the practice of compiling any disparate and disconnected pieces that an enterprising editor can find a common label for. Is it the industrial assembly line, or the collective spirit of our age, that has suggested to scholars the novel notion of hunting in packs?
It is true that group life can be a powerful stimulant to learning and writing. Montesquieu’s Persian Letters germinated in an appreciative salon which heard them read before it saw them in print. Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding originated in a discussion group that met regularly to canvass its problems. But neither group nor salon pretended to do the job itself. In the end a solitary individual had to shut himself up in a room and do some highly private worrying and inditing.
Group effort is, of course, essential for production of an encyclopedic character. The Cambridge histories were classic cases in point. But even there the intellectual coherence of the group determines whether its joint work crosses the line that separates factual survey and description from insight and interpretation. Among collective enterprises of this sort, the Histoire génerale, edited by Lavisse and Rambaud, was distinguished by a high degree of integration and unity. Its contributors, unlike the miscellaneous group that wrote the chapters of the Cambridge histories, shared a point of view, a method of analysis, and a manner of expression.
Yet today symposia are produced by people who haven’t met and books are written by groups that have nothing in common. It is hardly consoling to reflect that it is usually the most complex subjects that are assigned, on the principle of the division of labor, like Adam Smith’s pins, to tribes of strangers. Nothing could be more praiseworthy than the object of the book—let us call it that—before us: The Third Reich1 At Beirut in 1948 the General Conference of UNESCO resolved to sponsor a study by leading historians of “the methods and procedure used to propagate Nazism and Fascism in the period preceding the Second World War: this should help to make possible the identification of similar movements in the future, from the first moment of their appearance. The conclusions reached in this report ought to be made known as widely as possible.” (Italian Fascism was dropped from the report because the authors dealing with it were not ready in time.) It was thought essential to study the causes and the historical setting of Nazism as well as its methods, although this changed the original simple aim of the project.
UNESCO persuaded the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies to undertake the planning and supervision of the project. The council appointed a Standing Committee, which in turn appointed three sub-commissions. It was these sub-commissions that assigned subjects on the philosophic origins, the circumstances, and the techniques of Nazism, the final sub-divisions into which the project was divided. Twenty-seven historians, hailing from half a dozen countries, including Germany, most of them able and well-known men, went to work.
What could be more scientific, efficient, and up to date?
The result is a tome of more than nine hundred pages which is anything but a manual making it easy for people to distinguish Nazi movements at a glance, and in the germ. The sponsors were careful—and I suppose happy—to leave the responsibility for the conclusions to the individual contributors. That will satisfy everybody, except perhaps the reader who may look for the certified detecting rod he has been promised.
This is not, of course, to say that when twenty-seven accredited scholars play on a theme of this sort, nothing good can come of it. There is much material here, on a wide, indeed a bewildering, variety of subjects. Not all of it is new or surprising—but then novelty is hardly desirable in a subject where originality is not synonymous with penetration. It is virtually impossible, in a limited space, to describe and evaluate, or even summarize adequately, the range, content, and points of view of these essays.
BY way of illustration, The Third Reich contains a series of meaty chapters—mostly by French scholars—on the ideological and literary sources that fed Nazism. Edmond Vermeil, Jean Jacques Anstett, Louis Sauzin, Claude David, and Roy Pascal have written effectively and objectively on the masquerade of prejudice as folk poetry, chauvinism as “world historical” mission, and amoralism as Nature worship that disfigured the German scene for a century. We may notice, as a sample, Anstett’s article on Paul Lagarde, a quiet and penetrating analysis of a “radical conservative” writer of Bismarck’s day. He identifies and labels the evil inherent in Lagarde’s preachment of a mission that placed Germans in inevitable conflict with Slavs and Frenchmen, and in. his exaltation of the interests of the “organic” nation above religion and humanity. Lagarde was “anti-Semitic out of resentment: the Jewish people had succeeded by virtue of its national religion in being what the German people had not yet succeeded in being: a nation. . . . Hatred and self-contempt are therefore a form of compensation for a deep-seated sense of inferiority.” Lagarde countered one messianism with another, but a messianism indifferent to universal ideals.
A Dutch scholar, Louis de Jong, gives a judicious account of the successes, and failures, of the Fifth Column. There is a succinct summary of the anti-Semitic policies by Léon Poliakov, author of the invaluable Harvest of Hate. A. J. P. Taylor employs his accustomed scalpel to good effect in laying open the intrigues and maneuvers that preceded “The Seizure of Power.” There are chapters on the role of the Communists, on methods of propaganda, on economic conditions and developments, and on religious issues.
In general, the French and English contributions are objective and astringent in tone and factual in content, while the Germans run to heavy “philosophy” and “philosophy of history.” Some of them are defensive, and even apologetic. The Publishing Committee has found it necessary, for example, to add a note suggesting that the estimates of reparations paid to the Allies after 1919 that are cited by Professor Friedrich Lütge in an article on economic conditions are based on partial sources.
The chief trouble is that the book breaks clear down the middle. More than one third of it—and probably the most valuable third—is devoted to the intellectual and spiritual antecedents of Nazism. Nothing else than these can explain adequately, if not the reason for the political rise of Nazism, the far more significant fact of its acceptance and toleration by respectable circles and conservative elements in Germany. Yet several German contributors challenge the premise of this section. Professor J. J. Schokking of the University of Cologne can detect in Nazism no doctrine or aim at all. To him, it was only an armory of techniques for seizing power: provocation, intimidation, infiltration. Jews were harried and murdered not “for reasons to be inferred from any racial theory, but because the pleasure of Jew-baiting symbolized submission to the party’s collective will.” Nazism, he contends, had no race philosophy. “The close connections that unquestionably existed between Nazi activities and attempts to ‘purify’ the German people in accordance with the precepts of the so-called race theories [why ‘so-called’—did they not exist?] were far more complicated. This question, however, does not fall within the scope of this article.” That is unfortunate. If Professor Schokking will look at Hitler’s Tischgespräche, he would find a blueprint of a racial empire, down to the music that would be played to lull the slave peoples, and the question of whether, and how, they were to be treated for toothache.
Professor Theodor Litt of Bonn University employs another technique for sundering the connection between German history and Nazism. He converts ideas into “ideas,” things inherently suspect and fake. “‘Ideas,’ thanks to their ambivalence, can be only too easily changed into the opposite of what they originally meant. And a people which takes ideas as seriously as the German people does [and as, evidently, Professor Litt does not] is particularly open to their inherent dangers.” In other words, no matter how high-minded a culture Germany might have and no matter how it might be degraded and perverted by a self-interested political party, the German people would fall for it, and all this because it is too fond of ideas! Corresponding to Jewish anti-Semitism, there seems to be a German anti-Germanism.
The most remarkable exercise in disengagement is produced by the most eminent of the German contributors to The Third Reich. Professor Gerhard Ritter of the University of Freiburg-Breisgau has written the leading article of the second section of the book, which deals with “the circumstances which made possible the transformation of an ideology into a political programme.” It has the promising title of “The Historical Foundations of the Rise of National Socialism.” Professor Ritter rejects all attempts “to explain the distinctly militarist nature of German nationalism by its origins at the time of the wars of liberation (1813), and the glorification of war throughout the nineteenth century, which is shown by quotations from all sorts of authors.” Such procedures “may be useful in illustrating the historical characteristics of German views on the state, even in Hitler’s time.” They “become sterile if they are used to explain the rapid decline of the Weimar Republic and the triumphal ascent of the Hitlerian Party from 1930 to 1933.” Germany was “unprepared internally” for that ascent. If Professor Ritter’s judgment were restricted to the mechanics of obtaining power, his case might be arguable. But he ventures to say that “history can never be written by means of quotations from literature, since it is almost always possible to find such quotations contradicted elsewhere.” Are there then no controls by which to validate the use of literary and ideological sources? Are there no criteria for determining the relevance, effectiveness, and consequence of ideas? Ritter’s position has been examined by Professor Albrecht von Rantzau in his essay on “The Glorification of the State in German Historical Writing,” published in Hans Kohn’s collection of recent writings on German History (1955). Von Rantzau characterizes Ritter rather paradoxically as “a strongly disillusioned apologist for nationalism.” Ritter traces the evil to the influence of the West on Germany. It was Democracy, invented by the French, and Evolution, invented by the English, that introduced the demonic and irrational into German political life.
Ritter’s more positive contribution to the discussion, however, reveals his true attitude. He ascribes the rise of Nazism to Germany’s quest for a leader whom she could trust to fuse her energies. “If the situation is simplified somewhat,” he writes, “ . . . Hitler’s mission in history was to accomplish that which the Emperor [William II] and his government had been unable to accomplish in the First World War: to weld the nation into a closed, warlike community under the leadership of a really popular Fuehrer, respected by all.” Ritter extols the examples of Lloyd George and Clemenceau, who “could guide their people through waves of hope and despair, through attacks of pessimism and failures, and inspire them with courage to continue—to continue until the end of the crisis, when American aid began to make itself felt.”
Professor Ritter emphasizes the natural need of the German people to show “its worth was as great as its vitality,” and to satisfy itself that it held “the place and rank which it deserves.” This need bred “a forced atmosphere, composed of national consciousness of strength, of inferiority complex, and of the fear of being cut off from other countries.” It led to a yearning for a higher coherence and integration of purpose and policy. But our author is not critical of the motives and authenticity of this quest. He does not stop to ask himself, coherence for what? After unification, Germany had been coherent enough to create a successful industrial economy, to develop complex and energetic educational institutions, and to achieve a territorial and diplomatic position that was all but dominant on the European continent. Germany impressed the world, even if she did not impress herself, as a nation, if anything, too coherent and electric. What then was lacking? It seems that the German leaders, having conceived the ambition to dominate the Continent completely, and to extend their domination beyond it, had failed to weld their nation into a unity sufficiently tense to make good that ambition. Professor Ritter does not raise the question of whether the ambition was either justified or feasible. Would he argue that if William II had been a Clemenceau he would have won the First World War? And if all Germany lacked was “Führerschaft,“ why then did she not win the Second World War, when she had it in plenty?
One is left with the notion that a great nation is one which can integrate itself and breed the leadership to win world wars. Iron coherence, and warlike self-assertion, alone validate national self-esteem. They are worth while in themselves, regardless of aim or result. Professor Ritter pictures Germany as a romantic hero isolated from the world and confronting it wilfully. His conception of leadership smacks of the miraculous. He forgets that such leaders as Lloyd George and Clemenceau were typical products of the parliamentary arena, one of the most significant contributions of that Western spirit which he condemns.
In short, Professor Ritter exemplifies the very disease that the intellectual historians, whose methods he rejects, have tried to diagnose. He is object rather than subject in this discussion. His case is important, for, as von Rantzau observes, Professor Ritter’s “publications after 1945 may be . . . taken as highly representative of the [German] historical scholarship of the present day.”
The German contributions to The Third Reich raise some disturbing questions in the mind of the reader. We have noticed the disposition to sever Hitlerism from the mainstream of German history. When it is accepted, the blame is laid on the populace rather than the leadership and the upper classes. The Nazis knew, observes Professor Litt, that “there is no better way of mastering a German than by the lofty formulae of a metaphysical system conferring on any and every political action the consecration of eternity.” Ritter accuses his compatriots of lacking critical ability, and “political and moral flair.” This lack seems to him to be “the most serious guilt with which the Germans can be reproached and this reproach is not diminished by the fact that Germany was certainly not the only country to lack political and moral instinct where Hitler was concerned”—a common and typical proviso.
The role of the conservatives, the military, and the industrialists, is distinctly underplayed. The Germans have left it to an Englishman—Professor Taylor—to point out the simple fact that Hitler did not seize power, but was given it. The calculations behind that gift are familiar to everybody. “If we look back over this wretched story, we see a man bent on success on the one side, and a group of politicians without ideas or principles on the other . . . the greatest responsibility lay with those who let Hitler in and established him as Chancellor. Hitler recognized it himself.”
Finally, there is an ambivalent attitude toward the “Führer.” A goggle-eyed admiration of the skill and the “virtuosity” of the demagogic methods of the Nazis breaks through more than once. Ever since the successes of Bismarck, Germans have exhibited a fascination for trickery, duplicity, and magic in politics. The leaders who organized the cabinet of January 1933 and gave Hitler the Chancellorship thought that they were perpetrating a very clever stroke and duping each other. When Hitler began to “put things over” on the “simpletons” who governed England and France—this was his own estimate of them—the enthusiasm over his sharpness and cunning hardly knew bounds. It is not easy to turn around now. The result is a general desire to forget Hitler. Only one essay in this book deals with him, and it was written by an English scholar. Unfortunately Allan Bullock’s discussion of Hitler’s political ideas is conventional. “Up to the present,” Professor Ritter observes accurately, “precise scientific research on Hitler’s intellectual origins has scarcely begun.” What are German, and other, historians waiting for? What will become, in another decade or two, of the host of witnesses who might have valuable testimony to give?
Perhaps all these tendencies fall into a pattern.
1 The Third Reich: A Study published under the Auspices of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies and with the Assistance of the UNESCO. Edited by Maurice Baumont, John H. E. Fried, and Edmond Vermeil (Frederick A. Praeger, 910 pp., $9.00).
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The Study of Man: Nazism on the Assembly Line
Must-Reads from Magazine
RIP Paulina Płaksej.
It’s only Monday evening, which means Americans face another full week of political and cultural squalor. For an antidote, consider Paulina Płaksej, who died Sunday, aged 93. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Daniella Greenbaum broke news of Płaksej’s death on Twitter, which alerted me (and many others) to her inspiring life and that of her family, Polish Catholics who fed, hid, and rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Zachariasz and Bronisława Płaksej, Paulina’s parents, moved from Lviv, Ukraine, to Kałusz before the outbreak of the war. There, Zachariasz worked as an accountant at a local mine and developed warm relations with the area’s Jews. Toward the end of 1941, when the Nazis forced the Jews of Kałusz into a newly created ghetto with an eye toward their extermination, Zachariasz and his family “acted as couriers, smuggling notes in and out of the ghetto,” according to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Soon, assisting persecuted Jews became the family’s main business.
It helped that they resided on the outskirts of town. As Paulina later recounted, “we lived in seclusion and not in the center of the town, so it was very convenient for us. We were surrounded by gardens, orchards, the river was flowing nearby, and there was a slaughterhouse not far away. The Germans rarely visited this place, so our life was peaceful…” Even before the creation of the ghetto, Jewish children would stop by the Płaksej home for a bowl of hot soup and a brief respite from the cruelty of daily life under occupation.
Her father, Paulina recalled, “was a very religious person, and he believed that you should always help a man, your fellow creature, as our religion has it. The Jewish victim was not simply a Jew, but your fellow, a human being, wasn’t he?”
The Płaksejs took extraordinary risks to that end, creating an underground pipeline from the Kałusz ghetto to safety for Jews targeted for liquidation:
The first family to escape [the ghetto] was Sara, Solomon, and their son, Imek. They temporarily hid at Paulina’s house. When it became too dangerous for them to stay there, Zacharias found a safer place for them to hide. He brought Sara, Solomon, and Imek to a trusted friend who was already hiding Jews in a bunker beneath his barn. Later, another Jewish woman, Rozia, escaped from the ghetto and sought out the Plaksej family. They also brought her to the farmer’s bunker. Paulina regularly brought whatever food and supplies were needed. Sara, Solomon, Imek, and Rozia, along with thirteen other Jews, stayed in this bunker for over a year. To this day, the identity of the farmer is not known.
In 1944 Miriam, another inhabitant of the ghetto, learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and deport or murder the inhabitants. Miriam asked Zacharias to save her two-year-old daughter, Maja. Zacharias contacted Miriam’s former maid and arranged for her to come rescue Maja. The maid brought a horse and cart, and the Jewish police helped smuggle the little girl out of the ghetto. The maid told her neighbors that this little girl was her daughter who had just returned from living with her grandparents.
Miriam was in one of the last groups of Jews to be deported to Auschwitz. As her group was marched to the train, Miriam quickly took off her armband and joined the crowds in the street. She went straight to the Plaksej house asking for help. They hid her in their wardrobe for a number of months. Zacharias obtained forged papers for her and took her to another village where she would not be recognized as a Jew. There she was picked up as a Pole and sent to a German farm as a forced laborer. After the war, she returned to the maid’s house, picked up her daughter, and reunited with her husband. Due to the efforts of Paulina and her family, all of the Jews they helped survived the war.
The State of Israel in 1987 recognized Paulina and her parents as Righteous Among the Nations. May we never forget these stories, and may we all strive to follow in their footsteps, even and especially amid our contemporary squalor.
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Podcast: Kavanaugh and Rosenstein.
Can you take what we say about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh seriously considering we’re conservatives and he’s a conservative? Are we defending him because we are genuinely discomfited by how insubstantial the allegations against him are, or are we doing so because we agree with him ideologically? We explore this on today’s podcast. Give a listen.
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A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
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A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.