Editorial from Irish Foreign Affairs (August 2017):
England declared itself an Empire about 500 years ago—486 years ago to be exact. The meaning of that declaration was that it asserted itself as an absolutely independent sovereign Power. By doing so it detached itself from Europe.
John Bruton, the former Taoiseach, has written a long article for the Cork Examiner about this matter. He tells us that “England felt it[self] so much part of continental Europe that Henry VIII actually contemplated being a candidate for Holy Roman Emperor” (EU protects Ireland from UK domination, Irish Examiner, 13.6.17).
That would have been in the 1520s. In the 1530s everything changed. Henry broke free of European civilisation and set in motion the establishment of an English counter-civilisation.
It took this new English civilisation about a century and a half to settle down into a regularly functioning system of state. When it did settle down, during the generation following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it adopted a strategy towards Europe that was designed for mastering Europe in the sense of disabling its coherent development. That strategy is summed up in a phrase which has a reassuring ring to it—the Balance of Power.
Here is John Bruton’s view of it:
“If one reviews European history over the period since the Reformation 500 years ago, the role England has sought to play in Europe has been that of holding the balance between contending powers.
“It used its naval strength, and the overseas colonies its naval strength allowed it to hold, to exercise that balancing European role.
“At no time in the last 500 years did the UK seem to disengage from, or turn its back upon, continental Europe. Indeed, England felt it so much part of continental Europe that Henry VIII actually contemplated being a candidate for Holy Roman Emperor.
“England sought to be sufficiently involved in Europe to exercise its balance of power role effectively, but without being so intimately enmeshed in continental issues that it lost its freedom of action. England’s extension of its power to Ireland and Scotland were contributions to its goal of defence against, and influence over, continental Europe.
“The same motivation lay behind the decisions the UK took to go to war in August 1914 and September 1939, that of maintaining a balance of power in Europe.
“The position the UK held in the EU on 22 June 2016, the day before the Brexit referendum, could be said to have been a perfect expression of that traditional English approach. The UK was having its European cake and eating it.
“The UK was a full voting member of the EU, but was exempted from aspects of EU policies that it might have found too entangling, like the Euro, the Schengen passport free zone, justice and home affairs co-operation and, for a time, the Social Chapter of the EU Treaties.
“But, as a full voting member, the UK could still influence the direction of the EU, and, if necessary, slowdown developments it did not like…
“The UK, it could be said, had the best of both worlds the day before the referendum.”
Why, then, did it decide to leave the EU? And why, in 1972, did it do something that was apparently so destructive of its mission in the world—the mission it had given itself in the world—as submitting its absolute sovereignty to a collective European sovereignty that was in the process of construction, and that lay beyond the reach of its balance-of-power manipulation?
It joined the united Europe, that was the unexpected outcome of its 1939 World War, for the purpose of subverting its development from within. In order to get in it had to simulate and dissimulate. In order to get in it had to persuade Europe that de Gaulle’s dismissive characterisation of it was no longer the case: it was no longer insular and maritime with a honeycomb of imperial connections around the world. The Empire and its pretensions had fallen away, and it had become a moderately-sized European state, attached to the European land-mass by a few miles of water.
For this purpose it appointed a Prime Minister who neither simulated nor dissimulated, but was authentically convinced that the only future for England lay in its becoming a European state. Heath had taken certain aspects of the World War propaganda too naively. But a national purpose was found for his naivete—it gained Britain membership of the new Franco-German-Italian Europe which it had disdained twenty years earlier. And then Heath was sacked— as he was trying to introduce German socio-economic structures into the British economy—and was replaced by Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher immediately set about subverting European development and reducing Europe to a condition where it might once more be brought under balance-of-power manipulation.
For a third of the century there was a continuous friction between the original European impulse and British diversionary influence. Each had its successes. But the development envisaged by the founders was not derailed. In the early 1990s, when European development seemed to be flourishing, the London Times carried and editorial on the terminal danger that this posed for Britain’s historic European policy—the balance-of-power—and therefore the danger it posed for Britain.
Ireland has no foreign policy worthy of the name. It does not even have a Northern Ireland policy. It must therefore be difficult for somebody bred within the Treatyite culture (which ruled out foreign policy for Ireland) to understand that foreign policy is central to British existence. Britain must be a Power in the world, forcibly “teaching the nations how to live”, in order to feel that it exists. That Millenarian vision of Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Milton (the Puritan poet), survived the fall of the totalitarian Puritan State and became the central purpose of the Hanoverian State that is still with us.
The pioneering nationalism of England, which made nationalism the norm of the modern world, cannot live contentedly within its own nationality. It must always be interfering with others for their own good, whether they welcome it or not, and whether it is good for them or not. And it has been doing this for so long, and so spectacularly, with five World Wars to its credit and hundreds of Small Wars, that it is doubtful whether it is something itself that would be capable of existing as itself in the way that most peoples do. The Times didn’t think so about 25 years ago.
The main European development since then was the establishment of the Euro money system. Britain was unable to prevent it, and therefore it is endangered by it.
There is an argument over whether the Euro is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is undoubtedly a thing. It may fail sometime in the future but it is not failing now, and “the now” is when strategic decisions must be taken.
As the Euro continues to exist it becomes increasingly indispensable. If it seems to be in danger of failing, great efforts must be made to sustain it. And those efforts must increasingly take the form of a State structure organised around it.
British Tory Minister, Chris Grayling, concluded that the Euro development had gone so far that Europe could not allow it to fail. The point of no return was being reached. Britain should leave and make its own arrangements before it was marginalised in Europe by State development around the Euro.
He did not say that if it left now, before the State organisation around the Euro had happened, its leaving might exert a discouraging influence on the EU. That would not be a useful thing to say. It is something that should only come to light later, if appropriate.
Grayling’s position is in effect that Britain was failing to exert disabling balance-of-power influence within EU membership and that, if it hung around while the Euro was being consolidated, its future prospects as an independent Power would be damaged.
It should be taken as axiomatic that England is in the grip of an absolute nationalism with a singular destiny in the world. And Bruton does so take it.
It seems that Bruton has got over the resentment he felt as the Constitution Convention Chairman when he saw Britain brazenly pursuing its own objects against European consensus, and now admires it in recognition of the force of destiny that it was and that it still aspires to be. Why not? He has declared himself a Redmondite.
But he is too frank. He describes Britain’s 1914 war as a Balance-of-Power War. Redmond denied that absolutely in 1914. He continued to deny it in the face of mounting evidence until he died in 1918. The British Government still denies it, as do the regiments of British historians—and, of course, the Irish ones too.
And another Balance-of-Power war in 1939. Bravo!
But what is the historical meaning of Balance-of-Power? I figured it out in the seventies as I was constructing the context of “Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne”.
As I was putting the detail together, it struck me suddenly that it was the most destructive principle I had ever come across. I would’ve called it evil if that was a word I used.
I did not rush into print with this revelation. I was inclined to think I must have missed something and was mistaken. But then I came across Salvemini being struck by the same thought. He was an active anti-Fascist who had been Professor of History at Florence, and I found him being struck in one of his pamphlets with the thought of that the meaning of that reassuring phrase, “the balance of power”, was diabolical.
There were many intellectuals in post-1945 Europe who saw that European development required that the balance-of-power game should be stopped. And Christian Democracy stopped it for a generation.
The British idea of a European balance-of-power does not include Britain itself within the balance. If Europe was balanced with Britain within the balance, that would be disabling for Britain in the world role it chose for itself. It must stand outside the European balance in order to be able to determine the course of European affairs by unbalancing Europe by adding its weight to one side or the other.
There is only one academic book on English history that purports to be Irish: The Coming Of The First World War by Nicholas Mansergh—an English Imperial civil servant, academic and war propagandist who was born on a Cromwellian Estate in Munster that was lost under the 1903 Land Act. During the 2nd World War he ran the British Ministry of Propaganda (called “Information”). In 1944 he took time off to come to Dublin and deliver the “Lady Ardilaun Lectures” at the Queen Alexandra College for young ladies on the subject of the 1st World War. These were published as a book in London in 1948, and the book was used for teaching in Queen’s University, Belfast.
Mansergh gives two conflicting meanings for the term, “balance of power”:
“The classic definition… was that given by Lord Castlereagh, who described it as meaning ‘the maintenance of just such an equilibrium between the members of the family as should prevent any one of them becoming sufficiently strong to impose its will upon the rest’…”.
Mansergh varies the definition:
“When an Englishman speaks of the need to maintain a Balance of Power in Europe he means, not the maintenance of an exact scientific balance, but rather the perpetuation of a system in which the weight of England is sufficient to bring down the scales on whichever side it is thrown” (p4).
Castlereagh’s definition looks to equilibrium in Europe: Mansergh’s to English advantage against Europe.
According to Mansergh:
“Between 1870 and 1904 England saw no need to restore a state of equilibrium in Europe. She pursued on the contrary an isolationist-opportunist policy… the logical justification for the departure from a prudent tradition was that the Central Powers did not, during those years, actively threaten the liberty or independence of the smaller states. Consequently British statesman felt no need to redress the balance, and they did not recognise that such a need had arisen until uncertainty about the underlying purpose of German policy created a feeling of insecurity in almost every country in Europe”.
It was only when Anglo-German negotiations about a proposed alliance
“revealed the indefinable, ominous character of German ambitions that British statesmen became conscious of the potential menace to the liberties of Europe involved in the military predominance of the German Empire”.
Germany threatened the independence of no European state between 1871 and 1904—or between 1871 and 1914. It tended to its own interests in other parts of the world—chiefly trading interests. In fact, the four major European states, Russia, Germany, France, and Austria, tended to their own affairs, and let each other be, during that period. There was equilibrium in Europe. But Britain was in conflict with Russia in Asia and with France in North Africa.
Balance of power was not forgotten in the British Corridors of Power. It was just that France retained the status of the likely enemy in the next war until Britain changed its mind around 1900 and decided it would be Germany. This change had nothing to do with a demand made by Germany on any European country. It had to do with developments beyond Europe.
What Britain decided to do in 1905 was not to restore a balance in Europe, but to imbalance Europe. It did this by making overtures to France which re-activated its irredentist claim on Alsace, and by indicating to Russia that it would now support its ambition to conquer Constantinople (Istanbul), although it had gone to war against Russia only two generations previously to prevent it from getting Constantinople. Germany’s offence was that it had become too effective an economic competitor with Britain in the world market, was building a Navy to protect its foreign trade, and was helping the Ottoman Empire to modernise its administration in the Middle East, which Britain was planning to occupy so that it would have a continuous land empire from India to Egypt.
Europe—the EU—cannot write its own history. It considered doing so but quickly gave it up as imprudent, Britain having been admitted to membership.
The construction of what became the EU had a defensive anti-British European purpose. The War had given rise to a European intelligentsia that understood the destructive purpose of balance-of-power and was determined that Britain should not be allowed to play that card again.
External circumstances facilitated a core development of European unity.
Europe had become very small through having been saved from Fascism by Communism. It stretched from France to West Germany. The bogey of Prussia was taken away to become the GDR. Three large states and three small states combined to form an economic union with a political dimension. Britain gave it its blessing, not expecting that much would come of it. British political commentators referred to it dismissively as an attempt to restore the Holy Roman Empire—which is to say that Protestant Britain saw it as Catholic and judged it in accordance with the Reformationist view that the Roman religion was obsolete.
Hapsburg Europe had disappeared. It was the substance of Europe for centuries but it was broken up by the Versailles Powers in 1919, and a series of ‘Nation-states’, without prior national development, carved out of it. All of those states were hot-beds of anti-Semitism between the Wars as the undeveloped national middle classes, prematurely given states to govern by the Versailles imperialists, asserted themselves against the Jews who had been the middle class of the Empire. They all failed—most notoriously, the Versailles’s favourite, Czechoslovakia, which allowed it itself to be broken by Britain in 1938 and a chunk of it given to Hitler; and Poland which, after the death of its competent dictator, General Pilsudski, frivolously broke its Treaty with Germany in favour of taking part in a military encirclement of Germany with the British and French Empires.
All of those Versailles States were taken into Soviet possession in 1945 without Western opposition—the West having been reduced by the course of the War to the USA, with Britain as its military base.
The ideology of the latter phase of the War—the Anti-Fascist phase—did not allow this arrangement to be questioned. That ideology said that a force of evil had arisen in Central Europe which endangered the whole of civilisation and threatened to restore the age of Barbarism. In the face of that danger the little difference between Capitalism and Communism was set aside. And, since it was the force of Communism that had stopped the march of this Evil, and then ground it down, Communism was entitled to secure its position at the end of the War, and take the brittle Versailles states under tutelage.
Europe “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”, as Churchill put it a few years later, was taken out of the European political situation.
(Austria was let be on the pretext that it was a victim of Fascism, but by agreement of East and West it was given the status of a permanent neutral. And, as to its victimhood, it was a patriotic Austrian Fascism that resisted unification with Germany after it became possible in 1933. Prior to 1933, Versailles vetoed the unification of democratic Austria and democratic Germany. But the merger of 1938 bore none of the signs of conquest.)
The seeds of the EU were sown and nurtured by German Christian Democracy in the shelter of the Cold War. The ideology of Christian Democracy was based on the Papal Encyclicals of the preceding half-century. The Catholic Church was the only substantial force in German society that had resisted merger into the Nazi regime.
National Socialism exerted immense attractive power on a Germany that was shattered by the Allied starvation blockade of 1919 and the disruptive conditions imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The Catholic Church, an international institution that was experienced in establishing relations with nationalist regimes which allowed the State to function without submerging the Church in it, established a Concordat relationship with the National Socialist State. A Concordat is a Treaty between Church and State, guaranteeing the Church a degree of autonomy within the nation state. It was a normal relationship on the Continent, but it was not a relationship that Britain would contemplate as a Protestant Empire during the centuries after the Reformation when it governed Catholic Ireland. Its purpose for a couple of centuries was to exterminate Catholicism. When it became clear that that would not happen, it made back-door arrangements with Rome against nationalist developments in Ireland. But Rome could not stop Irish nationalism any more than Britain itself could, and the Roman efforts were negated by Bishops who took on the nationalist outlook of the people they came from. The outcome of that last period of British Government—the last half-century, or three-quarters—was that the Roman Church acquired a position of great influence in the administrative framework of the British State in Ireland while remaining entirely free of the State. That would not have happened under a Concordat relationship.
When an Irish state was established, in 1919, the first thing Britain did was make war on it. The second thing it did was make it fight a “Civil War” against itself. It offered a degree of recognition of Irish statehood by means of a ‘Treaty’ which was finely judged to divide the national force that had fought it to the negotiating table. It insisted that those who accepted this ‘Treaty’ should make war on those who resisted it, otherwise it would launch all-out war of reconquest. A war was fought on the issue of Crown Government versus Republican Government, in which those who fought for the Crown did not want the Crown any more than those who fought against it did.
The more spirited elements of the Nationalist movement fought for the Republic. The Church used its influence to draw people into the Treaty side, and it pronounced excommunications on those who fought on the Republican side. By this means it consolidated, in the first decade of the Irish state, the extraordinarily powerful position it had achieved under the British administration.
In the early 1970s a magazine called Church & State was launched. It focussed on the comprehensively abnormal position of the Catholic Church in the Irish state, and suggested that it should be regularised by Concordat. The suggestion was met with a recoil of rejection. Insofar as it was thought about at all, it was seen by anti-clericals as a move to confer greater power on the Church, and it was seen on the other side as an attack on religion.
About twenty-five years later, the position of the Church began to crumble, but under external pressures and not through internal conflict and development. The decline of the Church, therefore, was not accompanied by a corresponding growth in the coherence of the state. And the European dimension of Irish life, which had been maintained in some degree through the Church, melted away, leaving British war propaganda to fill the vacuum of knowledge about Europe in the crucial first half of the 20th century.
The German Concordat was not a submission to National Socialism, but a hedge against National Socialism.
The Pope recognised that German national life had been restored in the form of an effective national state. So did Winston Churchill, who said he hoped that, if Britain was ever reduced to the shambles to which Germany was reduced after 1918, it would have found its Hitler to restore it.
Germany did not become the enemy in Churchill’s eyes because it had restored itself by means of Fascism. He supported Fascism unequivocally as the force that had saved capitalist civilisation from Communism. Germany became the enemy under Balance-of-Power rules just because it was a strong, orderly state once more. France was the enemy during the 1920s: Britain prevented it from disabling Germany. But then Germany restored became the enemy once more.
The Pope, accepting that there were states of many different kinds in the world, negotiated a Concordat with the vigorous new German State, establishing a degree of autonomy for the Church within it.
The Pope has been condemned, long after the event, for not launching the Catholic population of Germany into an assault on National Socialism instead of making terms with it. But the Vatican was not the guardian of the Treaty of Versailles. That responsibility was uniquely Britain’s. Britain, by disabling France, had made itself the policeman of the Versailles restrictions on Germany. It had the legal authority, because Versailles purported to be a system of international law. And it had the power. Although it had connived at the secret re-arming of Germany by the Weimar Governments, the scale of this was trivial. National Socialist Germany was effectively an unarmed state in 1933.
Hitler said it was his intention to free Germany from the Versailles shackles. Britain could have stopped him without firing a shot. But what Britain decided to do was collaborate with him in breaking the Versailles terms.
The first major act of collaboration—not of “appeasement”, which implies conciliating a strong force—was the Naval Agreement of 1935. This was done by Britain on its own authority, without reference to the League of Nations.
Britain collaborated with Hitler to break the Versailles Treaty—and then in a later generation it holds the Pope accountable for recognising the German regime as an accomplished fact and securing a degree of autonomy for the Church under it!
(The fact that the Reformationist Germany, the Germany where the Reformation that brought ‘freedom’ to the World after 1000 years of Roman despotism was born, became part of the National Socialist regime, is not a detail one tends to hear about.)
The Concordat was a discordant element in the state. It was the major compromise made by the regime, and it was seen within the regime as a base of resistance to it. Elements of the regime favoured an all-out campaign of destruction against this Church, which had been a thorn in the side of all the Empires that preceded the Fourth. And now the Pope is condemned for not launching a Church assault on the regime.
There is a millenarian strand in English life deriving from the part that the Reformation played in its origins as a declared Empire. This strand might be quiescent for generation but it can always be enlivened when there is occasion for it. In 1914 it was the atheistic social scientist, H. G. Wells, who gave frenzied expression to it with his pamphlet, The War That Will End War. It has become a strand in the general national culture, and is no longer dependent on Christian belief.
Millenarianism is posited on the end of the world in one way or another. In 1914 it was the end of the Fall of Man. The defeat and eradication of Prussia by means of total war would free the world from the source of Evil in it and there would then be perpetual peace. The world as it had been known throughout recorded history would cease to exist.
Well, ‘Prussia’ was defeated. Germany was subjected to a rigorously enforced starvation blockade by the Royal Navy for eight months after the Armistice in order to compel it to confess that it was Evil by signing the clauses of the Versailles Treaty that said it was. Some hundreds of thousands of Germans died in that post-war starvation blockade that was needed to persuade it to purge itself of its war-guilt. The League of Nations was established to monitor the era of Perpetual Peace. The Irish voted to establish an independent Government in Ireland. Their delegates were locked out of the Versailles Conference on Britain’s insistence. And Britain made the war on the electorate that had voted so presumptuously.
(In Catholicism—Christianity phased into the life of an Empire of long-standing—the world is treated as ongoing and durable. The Millennium is not denied—that would not be Christian—but neither is the expectation of it encouraged. It has the status of an improbable possibility.)
When England switches from the drunken millenarian mentality to a very sober Realpolitik, or vice versa, memory ceases to function. Each phase is perfect in itself, connected with its complementary phase by complete absence of memory.
England went into active collaboration with unarmed Nazi Germany in 1933 and helped it to arm itself. It gave Hitler permission to build a Navy, in breach of Versailles. It allowed him to build an army greatly in excess of what was allowed by Versailles, and to push it up against the French border—the “remilitarisation of the Rhineland”. It allowed him to unite Germany and Austria—a thing which it had forbidden Democratic Germany and democratic Austria to do in the 1920s. Finally, in the Fall of 1938, it gave him a chunk of Czechoslovakia to add to Germany, and the advanced Czech arms industry—that was ‘Munich’.
Munich established Germany in a position of de facto hegemony in Eastern Europe, under which Czechoslovakia was comprehensively dismantled, bits going to Poland, bits going to Hungary, and Slovakia detaching itself to be an independent state.
Then, through God-knows-what operations in the collective unconscious, it decided to make war on the Germany which it had just restored to the status of a major Power. And it chose as the occasion of war the one remaining German complaint about the Versailles Treaty: the anomalous and unsustainable position of the German city of Danzig within the Polish state but not governed by it. Danzig was a popular German issue. Its status under the League of Nations had not been accepted by the Weimar democracy. Its transfer to East Prussia would have made little difference to the structure of Europe compared to the Sudetenland, the Anschluss, the Rhineland, the Naval Agreement etc. But Britain, having done all those other things, and raised Germany to the status of a major European Power, chose to affront it by inducing the Poles to revoke their Treaty with Germany and enter into a military alliance with Britain and France against Germany.
What political sense was there in this sudden British switch from collaboration with Nazi Germany to war against Nazi Germany, using the trivial issue of Danzig as the occasion?
British historians don’t ask questions like that. Irish historians should be asking them as the Irish State refused to take part in the War and was sceptical of the British propaganda reasons about it—but Irish academic historians approach all questions affecting British interests with frightened minds.
Balance-of-Power considerations influenced British policy against France in the 1920s. If British war propaganda of 1914-18 had been acted upon in the making of a post-war settlement after 1918, France would have become the hegemonic state in Europe. But when the War ended, Britain discarded its own war propaganda. It is insisted that the Germany of 1914 should be maintained as a territorial unity as a counter to France (with some irritating losses), and therefore as a likely enemy to a France which had delighted in plundering and humiliating it.
But what balance-of-power consideration led it to collaborate in the rapid restoration of German military power in the Nazi period? Presumably the consolidation of the Communist State in Russia, which in the early thirties secured an agricultural base through Collectivisation for rapid industrialisation.
But what further consideration then led it in 1939 to decide to make war on the German State which it had restored as a major European Power?
Germany was not a World Power in 1939. Britain was. Germany only acquired the status of a World Power for a moment by its competent conduct of the war into which it was pressed by Britain. And Britain did not treat it as a rival World Power in 1939.
Britain became an ally of Russia only after it had effectively lost its war on Germany in 1940 but refused, as the dominant Naval Power in the world, to make a settlement, and Germany tried to force Britain to make a settlement by taking Russia out of the running as possible British ally.
In 1939, Britain, keeping all options open, had refused to make an alliance with Russia but had not ruled it out either. In September 1939, having provoked a German/Polish war with its military alliance with Poland, it left the Poles to fight alone, and contented itself with declaring war on Germany. In the Spring of 1940, with the declaration of war with Germany lying on the table, it made active preparations to make war on Russia in Finland. When the Fins made a settlement, it prepared to breach Norwegian neutrality in order to prevent trading relations between Scandinavia and Germany. Germany sent a military expedition to Finland and responded to the declaration of war on it by attacking in France.
One is left with the impression that Britain was a headless World Power, lost between competing notions of its fixed idea of balance-of-power, and not knowing what it was doing or what it wanted to do.
Germany, through skilful military action of an essentially defensive character, with inferior forces, in a war that had been pressed on it by the blundering World Power, took on the illusory position of being itself a World Power for about four years. It was defeated when numbers of men and quantities of resources came into play, as they did in Russia in 1942.
Whatever Britain’s reasons might have been for suddenly deciding to make war on Germany in the Spring of 1939, instead of collaborating with it, if it had made serious preparations to wage that war, it would in all probability have won it. Or, what is even more likely, there would have been no war in Europe in 1939. Hitler responded to military encirclement by striking at Poland because he saw that Britain and France were making no credible preparations to give effect to their military guarantee to Poland.
Britain might have contained the German development with which it had collaborated for five years. But it appears that containment is incompatible with the millenarian streak in British political culture.
If Hitler must be regarded as a monster, let it at least be said that he was developed by British policy—and that he was an Anglophile monster.
British balance-of-power strategy is not the neat thing presented by John Bruton. It has always been catastrophic in its consequences for Europe. And it is hard to see how the chaos of things called the Second World War can be understood on balance of power terms at all.
The saving of Western Europe from utter catastrophe can be seen to depend on two things. The American policy of “pastoralising” Germany could not be implemented in close proximity to the Communist force that had destroyed the Nazi state. And the emergence from its Concordalist refuge of the Christian Democracy that had resisted the regime.
Christian democracy did not return to Germany with the Occupation Forces. It had been there all the time, without becoming an agency of the Nazi regime. And its leader, Konrad Adenauer, had been politically active since the Great War. He had experienced British conduct in the 1920s. He had been removed as Mayor of Cologne by the Nazis. He knew what happened in Germany in the 1930s and he acted on that knowledge—regarding which the Germany of the past quarter century is in denial—in the construction of the post-war set up. His immediate purpose after 1945 was to prevent Britain from gaining the kind of influence on German development that it had in the 1920s.
The National Socialist Party, after slipping into Office in 1933, had quickly established itself in unchallengeable dominance by breaking the mass movements of Weimar politics, Communist and Social Democratic. But it had not done this by mass slaughter. It had done it by drawing the substance of those movements to itself by the application of a very slight degree of pressure and giving them an achievable purpose in the form of restoring a functional national state with strong social welfare dimension.
The Brown Book Of The Hitler Terror had the purpose of showing the dreadfulness by which Nazi political power was consolidated. There is no account in it of any great slaughter.
The significant political killings had been done in the chaos of 1919, under the conditions of the Armistice and the intensified Allied starvation blockade, for the purpose of safeguarding the democratic Republic that had recently been declared. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were killed by Freikorps elements with the approval of the flimsily established, self-proclaimed, Social Democratic Republic, which was recognised as the Weimar democracy by the Versailles Conference a few months later, at which it agreed to sign a confession of German guilt for the World War.
In 1933 the only political leader killed by the Nazis was Fritz Gerlich, Editor of the Catholic newspaper Der Gerade Weg, which was relentless in its hostility to National Socialism.
Gerlich was not accorded the status of heroic martyr in defence of Parliamentary Government after Britain decided to make war on Hitler after supporting him actively for five years, and set about creating a mythology to serve as a history of the period.
Hubert Butler, who is now much in vogue for his condemnation of independent Ireland as a hidebound system of Catholic bigotry, published a number of essays on Germany in the 1930s. He sought a pure martyr to the cause of Parliamentary democracy against Fascism—one who had not collaborated for a while before becoming disillusioned. He awarded the prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a Protestant. But Ossietzky’s martyrdom was rather belated. It came in 1936.
Another figure given publicity in recent times as a ‘good German’ of the fascist era is Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenberg, grandfather of Kim Bielenberg, because he was executed for trying to kill Hitler.
But that was in the Hitler Plot of 1944. And anybody who was in a position to play a part in that assassination attempt had to have been a good Nazi—a very, very good Nazi—for eleven years. (See Manus O’Riordan’s Martin McGuinness And Some Third Reich Comparisons in Irish Political Review, June 2017.)
Poor Fritz Gerlich was never a good Nazi. He had not even been an ordinary decent citizen who kept out of politics. He had never been anything but an anti-Nazi. But he did not fit the bill of the post-war mythology because he was a Catholic, and the mythology said that Catholicism was the seed-bed of Fascism.
The first major bout of political killing happened in 1934. It was not directed at Social Democrats or Communists, but at a wild element within National Socialism—the Roehm leadership of the Brownshirts which wanted to carry out a scorched-earth assault on many traditional elements of German national life, including the Catholic Church.
But the Roehm purge was a very mild affair compared with killing sprees later carried out for democratic purposes—that is, with the approval of the USA and Britain—in many parts of the world. In 1965 in Indonesia, for example, a million people were killed for the purpose of establishing a pro-Western regime.
The Brownshirt purge of 1934 stabilised the National Socialist regime as a functional compromise between socialism (as a social welfare system) and entrepreneurial capitalism, allowing a very wide range of social opinion to participate in it. The only substantial body of non-participation was the Catholic Church, preserved by its own system of dogmas and shielded by the Concordat.
The Christian Democracy emerged in 1945 to restore the German state from within. It availed of the opportunity to put the social system advocated by Papal Encyclicals into effect. And it ensured the stability of the new regime by maintaining extensive continuity with many elements of the old regime.
In collaboration with the Christian Democracy of Italy and Belgium, and with a disorientated France which was in many respects a continuation of the Vichy regime, though in denial about it, Germany established the nucleus of what became the European Union.
Britain, bewildered by the idea of Christian Democracy, stayed out. Then it got back to destroying what had been created in its absence. Having failed to do that sufficiently it is now getting out again.