Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Yow! Michael Kelly isn't pulling any punches in his latest column, on German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
The original Paul Berman essay from The New Republic, which forms the basis of Kelly's history of Fischer, is something I've been recommending to lefty friends since it came out, if only to make them think again about their reflex Popular Frontism. Berman is a lefty, but also a liberal - that is to say, he can be saved. He wrote a not-terribly-convincing book about the Generation of 1968 that tried to tie the heroes and martyrs of Prague Spring together with the Parisian, American and German radicals of the sort that Fischer ran with, an attempt to square his own personal circle. He wants to believe that there was something true and beautiful about the '68-ers and what they were trying to do, but doesn't deny their crimes. He wants to domesticate the '68 radicals not by lying about what they were but by showing that they've changed. He thinks that if he does this, he'll be able to redeem what was good about their motives, and redeem them personally. The impetus for the original piece on Fischer was to explain how this "former" radical had become a supporter of NATO and, specifically, the NATO war in Kossovo.
Fischer is different from most radicals who have gone legit in that he was a real radical - he was, by any reasonable definition of the term, part of a terrorist network. He wasn't just playing. Can such a man ever be redeemed? I don't know. In some societies, there is no choice. The Cultural Revolution in China touched just about everyone; if a counter-revolution had occurred there, and everyone who participated in the violence of that period were banned from positions of responsibility, the result would have been disaster. Does the Generation of 1968 pose a similar problem? On some level, Berman clearly thinks so. Even more: because he approves of their motives, he thinks it is morally necessary to redeem that generation's radicals. And the price of redemption, for him, is reconciliation with the moral value of "the system." He felt that Fischer had, to a great extent, proved his reconciliation by supporting the Kossovo war. Fischer had not become a neo-conservative like so many former radicals, but he had become, arguably, something like a Wilsonian: an advocate of international rules, supported by raw power (albeit collective power, not "unilateral" power), for the protection of the innocent and defenseless.
Is that enough to put a man's evil past behind him? I don't know. I know that I trust Fischer a whole lot more than Schroeder because Schroeder strikes me as an unreconstructed German, if you know what I mean. It's not just that Schroeder is so obviously self-serving; it's that he seems to have little consciousness of the weight of German history and its significance. There was a good piece in the Weekly Standard, I think, arguing that this is a typical problem on the German Left; they don't blame themselves for the Nazi period, so they are able to pursue what amounts to a nationalist agenda for Germany without worrying about echoes of the German past. Fischer, like the '68ers generally, seems to have been incorrectly reconstructed. He felt the weight of German history, but instead of turning to a Westernizing conservative orientation a la Adenauer turned to extreme radicalism and violence, becoming much of what he had set out to fight. Can such a man ever be trusted? Can he even be trusted if he came all the way over and became a neo-con? The paleos don't trust neo-cons partly because they think they are still Trotskyites under the skin, eager to spread their new revolution (democracy, not socialism) by force.
No one escapes their past. That's why our choices matter. The danger of accepting folks like Fischer into the corridors of power is that they begin to think that their "service" in the revolution is a credential rather than a blot. It's a danger worth running for the right person, but it is a reason to be vigilant. I, myself, think Fischer can be redeemed. I think he's one of the few leaders of the Greens who is not irredeemable, and the Greens are as good a proxy as any for what has emerged as the New-New Left. I vastly prefer him to Schroeder. But, to paraphrase the Misfit, it may be that he'll only be a good boy if it it'd be somebody there to shoot him every minute of his life.
Thanks to Instapundit and The Corner for the link to the Kelly column.