Friday, October 7, 2011


This is one of two aphorisms attempting to define the new National Socialist term, "Gleichschaltung," from the collection of Musil texts in the forthcoming translation of Amann's Robert Musil: Literature and Politics (discussed below):

Gleichschaltung.   Another measure of the strangeness of what is happening today with the German spirit is that a word has come into usage for a large part of these happenings which presents the native speaker with no less difficulty than it does a foreigner.   “Schalten, ” the action word at its foundation, belongs to the older history of the German language and had possessed in the present day only a weakened life, so that there were indeed many derivations of it in use, while it itself was somewhat petrified and only used in specific situations.   So one can say, for example, that someone schaltet free (disconnects or isolates) from something, but the simple sentence one schaltet, no longer carries a complete meaning.   On the whole, the word is most often seen in the formula “schalten und walten, ” which means something to the effect of to manage and to have a free hand, but which is spun with a bit of poetical moss.   One grasps that there is some romanticism behind the idea of using the word schalten.   Its original meaning signifies to push, tow, set in motion, force.
            This romantic word has the most modern of children.   A Schalter is something at the train station, namely a ticket office, and something having to do with electrical room lighting signifies a little window that one can push open and closed, but also there is, in an electric power station, something called a large “Schalt- board”.
            According to Der Tag of December 24th 1935 the “National Socialist Party Correspondent” writes:  “The judgment in the Reichstag arson trial, whereby Torgler and the three Bulgarians were set free on technicalities, is, according to the people's feeling for justice, a flat-out false judgment.   If the judgment had been delivered in accordance with the true justice which should again be valued in Germany, it would have had a different conclusion.  The entire basis and conducting of the trial, which was witnessed by the whole Volk with growing dissatisfaction, would, however, have had to have been different”.   These “technicalities” consisted of the fact that the state court of law could not be convinced that the grounds of the charges were sufficient.
            Every feeling, every unchecked person is radical.  A component of the law arises here:  the law must also protect the law-breaker!   Otherwise a lie will be punished by the death penalty.   See for example the condoning of castration for exhibitionists (Der Tag December 24, 1935) put at the discretion of the judge.
            On the other hand:  legal punishment is really a tolerating of the crime; this has its price.  One must “pursue” the crime”; this is what the strong state demands; utilize every means until it is exterminated.   (And the argument that the prohibitive effect does not increase along with the cruelty of the punishment? )

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