Returning from the summer break, I would have preferred writing about music AND politics, but these last months have subjected all of us to lots of politics, leaving little time for music. There can be no mistake that the world has become a more unstable place over the last months, but unlike the years leading to the cataclysm of the First World War, we see little artistic “angst” being expressed. Musicians have yet to resort to futuristic ideas of atonality and painters have not returned to abstract Expressionism. Television and cinema pump out the usual escapist pap consisting of nostalgia on one hand and crash-bang-who-dunnit-action on the other. There is not a sense in the air of an impending apocalypse. If there was, I feel certain we would be hearing and seeing it in our artistic output. Perhaps these days, even our creativity is so controlled by monopolies that we only hear and see what google, Apple and Facebook permit. In contrast, however, we’ve heard and read lots of warnings about today’s political and social environment being dangerously close to Europe on the brink of fascism in the 1930s. Of all the historic similarities and parallels being mentioned by commentators today, one aspect has been overlooked: Pan-Nationalism.
Yes fascism grew out of nationalism and developed into a uniquely right wing corporatist state. Communism, however, was equally corporatist and totalitarian in its 1930s manifestation. As Viktor Klemperer mentions in his diaries, in the 1930s, there was very little to differentiate them. Russian and Slavic nationalism played an important role in Communist Europe so that riding these statist monstrosities from the 20th century was a view of pan-nationalism that has been overlooked by commentators making comparisons with today.
Allow me briefly to offer a summery of what I mean by outlining a potted history of Europe’s pan-German history: German speaking communities were until 1945, spread across Europe and concentrated in the middle of the continent in what, until 1871 was a network of mini- and micro-states. Long before Darwin presented theories that German pan-nationalists later extrapolated into ideas of a “master-race”, there was a cultural nostalgia for a community of honest, hard-working and well-educated people who shared a common language, thanks to which they could share values and thoughts. It was a harmless, gentle community of “Dichter und Denker” or “poets and philosophers” with protestant “Christian” values seen as “German” rather than being recognised in any way as universal. It was very different from aggressive French nationalism, which had only got away with causing maximum European disruption by being a unified nation-state. It was something the German speaking people of Europe were incapable of pulling off in any meaningful way. Though it was obvious that the German speaking core of central Europe might one day be unified, it was impossible to see how this might be reconciled with the far-flung German communities in Romania, Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, the Ukraine and in deepest Russia.
A revolution in 1848 failed to provide a satisfactory solution and it wasn’t until Bismarck kicked Austria out of the Federation of German States in 1866, and then with the Franco-Prussian war, consolidating his hold on the German mini-states that in 1871, modern Germany finally became a reality. The fact that this “unified” Germany resembled today’s EU more than any sort of federated state is neither here nor there. They still had to bring in a common currency and common army. In the meantime, each former micro-state kept its king, bishop or elector and a degree of autonomy that the French would never have tolerated.
And this is where an interesting historic parallel emerges. When Great Britain finally accepted that it had lost the American colonies, it would be more than a century before it acknowledged that its own bread was now buttered on the side of keeping close to their American cousins who were stronger and wealthier. Until 1866, the Austrian Emperor was the nominal head of the German Federation. Franz Joseph was quicker to recognise reality and saw that the unified country to the north was already wealthier and stronger. He wanted to remain friends, regardless of any political costs. He recognised the frustrations of Austria’s German speakers, now in a minority within the Habsburg Empire. He believed that Austria’s German identity lay in its Catholicism, something Bismarck despised. It didn’t stop German speaking Austrians from looking at what they perceived as the greener grass on the other side of the Bavarian border. Not only were German speaking Austro-Hungarians consolidated in the regions southeast of Germany, they were also scattered across the Austro-Hungarian North and South Slavic regions along with pockets in today’s Romania. These detached from the Motherland German-speakers felt left out. They were the Falkland islanders, the Guyanese, the Tasmanians, and the South Africans of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The excluded German speakers who lived in the regions immediately south of Prussia’s new Germany resented living in a nationless-state called the “Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary” in which their language, despite being the language of government and administration, was not the dominate first language of fellow citizens. They didn’t like having to rock along with people they considered “foreigners”. Are you starting to see where I’m heading with this?
To further illustrate: Austria’s Georg von Schönerer in the late 19th century was barking pan-German propaganda in much the way that Nigel Farage and Liam Fox speak of the “Anglosphere”. At various points when pan-German ambitions erupted, Austrians were quickly reminded of their differences. Many Austrian Protestants from the Alpine regions are today descendants of pan-Germans from the late 19th century who decided that being German meant becoming Protestant. At the time, Catholic identity defeated von Schönerer’s pan-German ambitions. Protestantism was too much hard work. Austrian Catholicism was infinitely less demanding than dour Protestantism. Austrians preferred living comfortably on bribes, cheating on spouses and confessing everything once a week. How could this not be preferable to what Lutherans and Calvinist were offering?
But Catholicism was not the only thing that distinguished Austrians. Kaiser Franz Joseph and the dominant Liberal Party had decided what made Austrians different was their Universalism. Thus a new constitution accepted Protestants, Jews and Muslims along with Slavs, Italians and Hungarians. To call yourself “Austrian” in 1900 was the same as calling yourself “European” in 2000. Austria wasn’t a German speaking country; it was a multi-lingual, multi-cultural confection with German its language of governance. It needed to establish its multi-ethnic identity as its principal identity. Jews felt happy and proud to be included in such a landscape and contributed enormously to what they saw as “Austrian” Universalist culture. One needs only to be familiar with Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March, Hofmannthal’s Jedermann, Berg’s Wozzeck, Musil’s Man Without Qualities to understand that Austria’s culture was both more conservative and inclusive than its high-achieving, mono-cultural neighbour to the north.
Nevertheless, there remained in Austria a hard-core, vocal minority that cast itself as the victim to foreign influences. They resented anything they viewed as an advantage granted to non-Germans; they shouted down any concession that wasn’t “national” and many made no secret of the fact that they would have preferred to have carved out the German speaking regions of Austria and placed them under the Hohenzollerns rather than the Habsburgs. They banged on and on about being excluded and disadvantaged and being supremely “wronged” by foreigners who weren’t clever, weren’t upright, weren’t honest etc. These pan-Germans could see nothing wrong with Germany and nothing right with Austria.
During the final quarter of the 19th century, Crown Prince Rudolf saw the danger of pan-German ambitions and felt the multi-identity of Austria would be better served, paradoxically, with closer French relations rather than relations with Bismarck’s Prussian concoction. France post-1871 was international while Germany was inward and in danger of becoming every bit as nationalistic as France under Napoleon. Franz Joseph dismissed Rudolf and his crazy “federal” ambitions and clung to the delicate balance of sticking close to his Prussian “German brothers”, his grasping Hungarian partners-in-rule and the Empire’s agitating Slav majority. Rudolf committed suicide in 1889 though Franz Joseph’s delicate balance managed to hold until the obvious catastrophe of the First World War. In 1918, pan-Germans felt their arguments had been ignored long enough and an act of annexation was passed in the Austrian Parliament in 1919, only to be rejected by the victorious Americans and French. For the German nationalists, Austria was now officially a German speaking country, no longer multi-lingual and multi-cultural; unfortunately for Austria’s German nationalists, it wasn’t allowed to join in a common German destiny with the German neighbour to the north. This is when I compare Austria’s instant loss of Empire with Britain’s more gradual diminution. The end results were essentially the same, though Britain could continue in the delusion of being a world power, whereas it was obvious that Austria had been reduced to a European nonentity.
But pan-nationalism endured post 1918 and it would be another twenty years before Austrian pan-Germans saw their dream fulfilled with Austria’s annexation by Hitler’s Germany. It was at this point Austrians and Germans could start to see their national divisions and it wasn’t just Hitler, an Austrian who had now become more German than any Prussian, forcing his hated Viennese to drive on the right-hand side of the road; it was the removal of any- and everything he perceived as non-German, which in Hitler’s world meant Jews, Social Democrats, Communist and indeed, anyone who thought differently or had a darker complexion. Vienna, and as it happened, all of Austria, had an abundance of all of the above. Only then did Austria and Germany realise, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, that they were “two countries separated by a common language.”
Leaving the EU on June 24th, 2016, and joining the Anglosphere as Liam Fox, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Theresa May seem intent on doing, resonates with Austria’s March 13th, 1938. It’s not the rise of fascism that’s dangerous; it’s the rise of pan-nationalism. These people did not actually see leaving the EU as “regaining sovereignty”. That was mere propaganda as they knew perfectly well that in today’s world, “sovereignty” is only available to places like North Korea. Leaving the EU meant joining the Anglosphere, which they believe their natural sense of superiority and post-imperial entitlement, will allow them to dominate. They didn’t see themselves standing a chance against the EU’s tradition of post-war Social Democracy. British Tories by contrast are even more gung-ho, free-trading, tax-dodging, open marketers than their American cousins. In their view, a common language is all that’s necessary. Both the British and the Austrians felt their ancient experience of Empire would give them the upper-hand in any union with wealthier, new-fangled, uncultivated country-cousins. Austria, which once produced a Metternich, could offer an Eichmann to German compatriots. The United Kingdom with its experience of the Raj can match by offering the United States the benefits of Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Nigel Farage.
Nationalism and pan-nationalism are dangerous. Why nationalism always seems to lead to war is a question for political historians, but from Napoleon onwards, war has always followed demented flag-waving. We caught an unpleasant premonition of pan-national solidarity when Tony Blair committed the UK to war in Iraq. The wiser counsel of German and French leaders simply did not register. Today, pan-Anglo-nationalism offers us the spectre of Nigel Farage yanking Tory government strings into UKIP acquiescence and ever closer bonds with America’s Donald Trump. Blair and Bush almost appear harmless innocents by comparison.
It’s not clear to me where and how this dysfunctional relationship began. Post-war Britons as young adults were bedazzled by North American affluence and became obsessed with what they identified as unregulated capitalism, which they perceived as America’s key to wealth. It wasn’t British plumbers, carpenters or factory workers who were travelling to the United States in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s; it was business people, professionals and university students who saw their equals as far better off than their equivalents in England. It’s no coincidence that it’s this generation of Britons who are the most visibly pro-Anglosphere, while British “millennials” recall only a lifetime of being largely on level parring with their European contemporaries and better off than most of today’s Americans. Their parents still can’t see this and stick to their post-war memories of austerity; to them, it was European Social Democracy that killed off the British Empire.
History doesn’t repeat itself, and the UK is not likely to see itself annexed by the United States such as Austria by Germany in 1938. But make no mistake, it does not require an act of unification, in Henry Kissinger’s warning words about leaving the EU, to make the UK into an American dependency. As Blair demonstrated when he ignored the advice of European leaders but listened instead to George W. Bush: agreement was achieved on the basis of a common language, not a common logic. This is when things start to get dangerous.
Oh dear. I found your blog today and was looking forward to reading your work (having admired your many recordings over the years). But this post is so full of bile and wilful misunderstanding of Brexit, the British people and America that I will not be returning. I strongly suggest you stick to writing about music. If you must comment on politics then you might consider the current rise of the far-right in Austria and other EU nations. You clearly know very little about the “Anglosphere”.
Well, I can only say “Oh dear!” back to you. This article was written some time ago, but re-reading it, there’s not much I could imagine changing. As someone born in America, with an American mother, brought up between the United States and Austria until accepting a job with a British company in the last 1970s, I feel fairly confident that I can see where history diverges and converges. Austria’s sudden loss of Empire offers many interesting comparisons with Britain’s gradual reduction of influence, and indeed, Empire. The elite institutions remain, a civil service, made up of people who are often educated beyond their natural intelligence remains, deluded politicians in a binary system of politics that is played as if on a rugby field: a winner and a loser – government and opposition. Britain was on the winning side of all the major 20th century conflicts and never saw fit to change its system of governance. You mention Austria’s far right in coalition. It could be argued that a system that allows every vote to count may result in parties of the extremes, but is this worse than suppressing them with a voting system that originates from an era when enfranchisement was only reluctantly parcelled out like sweets? What we see in the UK now is a high-jacking of both parties by their extremist fringes and a creaking constitutional set-up that allows them to get away with it. When the far-right joined the coalition in Austria in 2000 as the junior partner, it was weakened, not strengthened. The priorities of the right are often provincial and small-minded: the right to smoke in restaurants being the condition made by the far right for the present coalition with the ÖVP – the centre right party in Austria. The ÖVP demanded of the far right a commitment to the EU and the European project. I’m not sure who got the bigger pound of flesh under the circumstances. Following Brexit, most of the Europhobe parties of the continent, including Austria’s far-right FPÖ dropped their dreams of leaving the EU. If I could encounter the same degree of multi-linguicism in Anglosphere countries as one encounters in Austria or indeed, anywhere in Europe, it would be easier to dismiss the view of a pan-Anglo-sphere as misguided. Instead, one meets hardened resistance to any attempt at learning the language of others, thus accessing their media and understanding their thinking. Under Labour, foreign language requirements were simply dropped, and most of the port-soaked Tories I encounter travelling abroad seem to think that barking slowly and loudly in English is the equivalent of fluency in German or French. Sorry – or perhaps – “oh dear” – but a country without a constitution and an upper-chamber made up of political stooges and washed up politicians – larger than any chamber outside of Communist China – a system of governance that by Lord Hailsham’s own definition is an “elected dictatorship” – the very disdain for consensus, the horror at the idea of “Federal” all point to a state that remains stuck in the 19th century. Attempts to reconnect with former colonies are as futile as the King of Portugal wishing to move his capital to Brazil. I haven’t misunderstood Brexit, I fear I understand it all too well, and I’m very sorry for the UK and my British friends.
Just out of interest, have you tried either (a) reading a British newspaper other than the Guardian, or (b) actually discussing (in a meaningful manner) Brexit with someone who didn’t vote “Remain”? If you did either of those things you would understand (maybe) why your post above is rather ludicrous. Your reference to “port-soaked Tories” doesn’t do you any credit, I’m afraid, but does rather reveal your political prejudices which in turn partly explain your ignorance about the British political system. Your reference to “[reconnecting] with former colonies” shows a fundamental ignorance of what Brexit is about. However, I doubt you’re receptive to a perspective that differs from that of the standard “liberal elite”. As I say – stick to music and leave the bigotry to others.
I appreciate your scepticism, but my views on Brexit are formed on what I see as the front-line. I’ve lived in the UK since the late 1970s, and gave up American citizenship in order to take on British citizenship. It wasn’t anti-Americanism that drove me to that decision, but the fact that I had lived in Europe for most of my life and needed an EU passport in order to continue carrying out the recording work I do. I wasn’t an Anglophile, but a Europhile who spent each week in a different country recording a different ensemble, soloists or vocalist. The company I worked for was based in the UK, and the person I fell in love with 33 years ago, and have been married to since 2005 is British. I’ve been able to live in 5 countries – both inside and outside the EU. I grew up in an international family that allowed me to acquire languages and experience different schools. I am Mrs May’s “Citizen from nowhere” and have a right to be resentful of her disdain. I now work for a university in Vienna. My doctorate was written on the subject of the post-war restitution of music as a cultural good, a dissertation that demanded considerable research in both history and even law. I live the life of a British Tory. My husband is a trustee of the IEA, a free-market think-tank and a close personal friend with members of Mrs. May’s cabinet. I have met them and on one occasion even cooked one of their most prominent members dinner following an impromptu arrival at our London flat. Our present homes are divided between 25 acres in the Cotswolds and a flat in Vienna. I have never voted Tory, but living in the Cotswolds, I should have perhaps more accurately described the Tories I encounter as “gin-soaked” rather than “port-soaked”. It hardly matters: I don’t drink myself and watch mystified as my British friends abuse alcohol with an abandon I have only ever seen in Scandinavia. With this, you have the details of my personal context. The details of my views on Brexit come from the coalface: not once did the pro-Brexit website blogs of either the IEA or Daniel Hannan mention the sort of Brexit that left the UK bereft of the Single Market or Customs Union. Their arrogance was assuming the UK was so important, it could remain part of both without having to pay into the EU kitty – or pay amounts that were pitifully small. The arguments – in addition to the British love of German cars and French wine – was that the UK paid in so much to the EU budget, that the rest of the EU could never – WOULD never make up the difference. The British never saw the EU as a post-war settlement, but as a transnational trade agreement that had evolved into a closer union of laws and regulations. War torn Europe saw the EU as just another tool in the kit of making sure another war such as the one that ended in 1945 would never happen again. On the continent’s scales of Freedom vs. Equality, the latter was nudged as being more important to the assurance of peace and stability: out went the elite schools and institutions and excellent education was made available to everyone, not just those who could afford it or were bright enough to receive a scholarship. It was “free at the point of use” and post-war Europe’s answer to the NHS – it was seen as infrastructure investment and it has paid off in the long run. Another post-war tool was to change voting systems where they didn’t exist already, along with devolution of local government into a federated system of states that were self-governing enough to keep central government in check. German and Austrian aversion to debt along with a tradition of building up small companies that were passed through generations, aided by skilled and educated workers were responsible for the so-called “Wirtschaftswunder” post-1945. It was a shock for me arriving from Austria in the UK in the mid-70s and encountering fellow-Europeans who were worse off than my friends in Budapest and East Berlin. Many, perhaps most British young people of my generation had never been abroad. Food was poor quality and choice was limited. Hygiene and health were poor and nearly everyone smoked. My first thought upon coming to England was how skinny everyone was – but not skinny like Twiggy-fashionable, but skinny as in pigeon chested, knocked knees, bad teeth and sunken cheeks. My first visit to Glyndebourne in 1978 – an encounter with Britain’s cultivated middle-classes, only underlined how far the country’s well-being had fallen behind. Women were dowdy and men wore soup-stained, dandruff covered dinner jackets that were bought so long ago that every seam was stretched to bursting. Nobody could travel unless they had foreign currency, since it was impossible to take more than a small amount of Sterling out of the country. To record abroad, Decca had received special dispensations that allowed me to take thick envelopes of travellers’ cheques. My parents were shocked at conditions and despite having a good job with excellent prospects, they felt the macro-environment was too poor to provide for a stabile future. They implored me to return either to the United States or Austria. I remained as I loved the job Decca had offered me. The slow levelling-off between the UK and EU came over the next 20 years. By the mid-1990s, there were few differences to be noted between quality and standards of living in Germany and Britain. I saw this as resulting from EU membership and the hard-work of governments to get the economy on a sustainable footing – away from manufacturing products that were shoddy and impossible to sell. I see Brexit as returning the UK to those miserable days – as then, just as now, jingoism seemed to increase with the nation’s loss of wealth. Patriotism is a cheap commodity for governments to offer. But back to your other question: I read the Guardian as my UK paper of choice, but our household also has access to the Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator and the New Statesman. I read German and Austrian papers and occasionally dip into Spanish, Italian and French ones – more to read reviews than for commentary or news. My resolute objections to Brexit are down to the fact that I’m able to watch and hear the conversation from the other side on a daily basis. The swagger has gone and the reality is dawning. It is not a situation people were asked to vote for. Even the dystopian ideals of “sunlit uplands” with low taxes and low regulation are sabotaged by a poorly educated workforce, a lack of foreign workers along with a British mania for property ownership accompanied by poor rent laws that shut people, such as a qualified foreign workforce out of important markets. Why should my half-Italian half-Austrian god-daughter with her doctorate in international business law, or my Romanian god-son with his MBA choose to move to London where they could never afford decent housing or good schooling for their children close to work? Europe presents a better option and as such, will attract good people from abroad – many from the UK. I left Royal Holloway for a job at an Austrian university. The UK has entered a perfect storm. It’s worth asking why the media cheerleaders for Brexit are owned by non-stake holders. No other country allows non-stake holders such a large share of its domestic media. Can you name one British owned paper, with its owner not based off-shore that campaigns for Brexit? I can’t think of one. The Guardian, FT, New Statesman and Economist all remain opposed – and all are British owned, or managed by British stake-holders. Survey after survey shows the young are pro-EU, offering an impending demographic time bomb if the older generation are unable to deliver on the promises of greater prosperity. So far, they have only loaded the young people of the UK with debt and now even threaten to remove the opportunity of studying at less expensive universities offering the same degree courses abroad. This was not the Brexit the IEA or Daniel Hannan imagined or wanted. I was shocked at how little they appeared to know about the mechanics or even the constitutions of the EU. With Brexit, th UK was sold a British Leyland Maestro – a dud, offered with great flag waving, chest thumping and jingoism. I feel sorry for the British, of which I now count myself, and sincerely hope that Brexit can be stopped.
First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to post such comprehensive replies to my comments. I should have done that yesterday, and on re-reading my posts I see they bear a bit of “knee-jerk” reaction in their tone. Secondly, whilst I was interested to read your second post and your background history (I had assumed you were still an American citizen), I’m afraid that will have to disagree on Brexit, and I say that as someone who is fully aware of what might result from the decision. There are many good reasons why people voted to leave, and I can think of many equally good reasons why people voted to remain. As I said to people at the time if they asked me what I thought, I don’t think there’s necessarily a right answer and my view has always been that if someone thinks that this issue is a “no-brainer” then they probably haven’t considered the issues properly. I have long been sceptical of the EU and I think it exacerbates many of the problems it seeks to address. I’m also very aware of how differently those on the Continent view the EU to many people here in the UK. For example, I don’t have your access to that Continental viewpoint but I’ve always thought it rather regressive to think that the states of “Europe” have to form a political union in order to prevent themselves from killing each other – that seems to me to be a sad view of the European character; however, I appreciate that there may well be a subconscious feeling on that point that the British in general do not share. For my part, with a wife from New Zealand, family living in Australia and Ireland and an ancestor who founded one of Canada’s finest universities, I do align with the Anglosphere and that’s probably why I reacted as I did to your initial post. But it’s not about jingoism, rather noting the direction of travel of the EU and deciding that it’s not for us. We’ll have to see where Brexit takes us – naturally I am more positive about the future, both for the UK and the rest of the EU which can now continue down its path without the annoying carping of a back-seat driver that can’t decide whether it wants to leave the car.
That’s enough politics, I think. Please let me re-state why I visited your blog in the first place. I collected all the Decca Entartete Musik CDs as they were originally released and the project remains one of the recording industry’s great achievements. I remember listening to the opening of “Die Gezeichneten” in my room at university with some musical friends, us all thinking it was the most beautiful beginning to any opera that we’d ever heard. It was excellent that you could continue with other relevant releases (“Irrelohe” being one of my favourites) and I think I saw your name on some recent Opera Rara purchases. Music and politics cross paths (and swords) sometimes, but the former can often be a good escape from the latter. So many thanks indeed for the music; I hope there’s much more to come.
Hi. To make things clear, Europeans are worse off then American’s. That hasn’t changed since the 1890s. Every piece of concrete socioeconomic data displays this. Thanks.