A review of the 100 years since the end of World War I which killed millions of people might suggest that mankind is not capable of learning. For example, as the year 2018 ends, there is again the threat of a large war, a world war. Perhaps, however, the interested party is only constantly distracted from the actually important questions, and perhaps there is only a little lack of courage to tackle these questions in principle: critical questions about the pursuit of power and the greed for money and profit.
100 years ago, right after the ceasefire between the war parties of World War I, the Viennese Individual psychologist Alfred Adler wrote a remarkable text titled “Bolshevism and Psychology”1. This text deviates strikingly from the investigations of the question of guilt and other political considerations that are still common today and begins with a fundamental lateral thinking: “The means of power have been wrested from us Germans. We have forsaken the rule over other peoples and see, without envy or grudge, how the Czech, the southern Slavs, the Hungarians, the Poles, the Ruthenes [the Habsburg term for the eastern Slavs west of Russia] gain strength in their national power awaken to a new, independent life. All yesterday’s artificially bred feelings of hatred against our fellow Entente people [above all Great Britain and France] have vanished in an instant, and we offer them fraternal sentiments, even if we feel painfully and regretfully that some roughness of the armistice, some intensification of the famine could be avoided. We Germans are inspired by a strong feeling of community; it reaches beyond our borders and is continued in a hopeful feeling towards all mankind.”
No ideas of revenge, no protest against the loss of Germany’s status as a global power and the end of the Habsburg multinational state, no lamentation about the military defeat. – But the “feeling towards all mankind” – this is clarified later on in the text - also does not support the global revolutionary visions of the Bolshevists in Russia and elsewhere which Adler saw as just another variety of pursuit for power over other people. Nor is it a plea for dissolving the recently created states in the East and Southeast of Europe which were striving for sovereignty. No, it is about something else, an inner bearing allowing people to connect with fellow beings on an equal standing.
This explains Adler’s rejection of any kind of power politics in a manner that was sensational for German and other contemporary ears: “Our people is not oppressed by the defeat. The laurel of victory adorning the forehead of the strong commander is not arousing our pain. For many years we were bewitched but now we know. Behind the distress and the misery, the star of a new insight is shining for our innocent people: We were never more wretched than at the summit of our power! The pursuit for power is a doomed deception poisoning the co-existence of people!” [Italics in the original text] The defeated of the war, Adler stated, had understood the lesson, “in order to tell the people: that the history of mankind with its horror and sorrow so far was just a continuous thread of failed pursuit for power.” Adler is speaking of the “deepest idea of all culture”, recognizing it “in the final discarding of the pursuit for power and the final rise of community spirit to the leading idea.”
The following sentences by Adler could also be formulated in 2018: “But how can it be explained that the thrill of power of a few found such willing servants and followers? No different from the fact that they, too, had a lust for power in their blood! That they too were to be found out of inner conviction where power lured, because they also hoped that with the increase in the violence of their rulers, their expectations of an increase in power would also rise. The years of capitalism with its unleashed greed for overpowering the other have fanned the robber’s lust in the human soul to excess.”
We know that Adler’s ideas did not become common knowledge. On the contrary, the politics of striving for power was continued, leading to new dictatorships and a new World War, even more dreadful than the first. In the global public, there was another short stop after the end of the Second World War, also after the Cold War in 1990 - but what mass of injustice has happened in the past 70 years and what is the situation today, within our states and in international relations?
As far as Germany is concerned, the outlook is bleak. It is tedious to list the points that are not in order.
But the other side of the scale is not empty. There are the principles of the German Grundgesetz, formulated in 1949, based on thinking in terms of natural law: mainly the recognition of and respect for the sanctity of human dignity, the basic rights, the principles of democracy (including direct democracy), state of law, federalism, social state, division of powers, the commitment to the general rules of international law, the punishability of “deeds capable of and undertaken in order to disturb the peaceful coexistence of peoples, in particular to prepare a war of aggression.” - This mainly is the humanity of man.
German politics has undermined or distorted a lot of this and tried to push it aside, affecting even the minds of people.
Isn’t it about time to remember the ideas of Alfred Adler, formulated 100 years ago after the catastrophe of World War I, to think them over and to talk about what really matters?
Germany has more than 100 parties and many more citizens’ movements. Nobody is entitled to judge their most diverse concerns. But isn’t there a lack of a free union of women and men who put public spirit at the centre of their concerns, a citizens’ movement for reason and humanity? A citizens’ movement also for the principles of the Grundgesetz. Because we citizens can no longer see how our country continues to go downhill. Because we want to rebuild, constructively and with a view to solving the material problems. Because we do not seek power.
Some people claim that everything has to get much worse before people come to their senses. We disagree: Every further victim is one victim too many. We do not expect quick successes, but all hesitation makes nothing better, on the contrary. Before the harvest, the field must be sown and cultivated. And sowing needs preparation. This begins already in winter. So when, if not now. •
1 The text including a full citation can be found in: Adler, Alfred. Psychotherapie und Erziehung. Ausgewählte Aufsätze. Band I: 1919–1929; ed. Ansbacher, Heinz L. and Antoch, Robert F., Frankfurt a. M. 1982
(Translation Current Concerns)
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