probably apocryphal…

…but a great story anyway [pg. 14]:

“The time is World War I and militant ladies are roaming the streets of Oxford giving out white feathers of cowardice to young men of fighting age who are not at the front. (Yes, they did that.) They invade a college quad where a young don in cap and gown is walking across the lawn reading Virgil. Thrusting the white feathers at him, one of the ladies demands: ‘Young man, why are you not out there fighting for civilization?” Without hesitation and with devastatingly correct grammar he replies: “Madam, I am the civilization for which they are out there fighting.”

heh. (^_^)

8 Comments

  1. As Nietzsche sort of noted, aristocrats were doing better when they considered themselves – specifically, /greatness/ in themselves rather than great masochism – to be the real purpose of the existence of an entire society. For one thing, they didn’t surrender control of everything to a single man ; the nobles of the Magna Carta were better than the nobles of NS Germany, though some of them were among the biggest enemies of NS. Nietzsche hated the populist nationalism of Bismarck, in fact he hated it considerably more than I do. The sane mediation between populism was one of the best things about fascism, and the fueherprinzip of rule by a single man was one of the worst and most insane things. (And one should be able to look at fascism in this rationalistic way and not look at it as some unique and transcendental evil.)

    WWI was the great and seminal fuck up but it is hard to entirely blame belle epoque elites for it. While ‘home by Christmas!’ was probably an optimistic hyperbole, they honestly didn’t entirely see what was coming. Euro-wars had been short and sweet since like 1640, except for the US Civil War. WWI is part of our fate as Faustian Man, we are a little reckless and a touch febrile, we change things and experiment and re-do things, technologically and otherwise, and the results are not so predictable. Belle epoque elites were pretty good men, and better than we have now.

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  2. We should not be /too/ faustian. Some say Friedrich der Grosse’s luck in war was not the best thing for Germany in the long run. He risked everything and gained all, and so did Bismarck a century later. (All these wars were the epitome of short and sweet – look at Bismarck’s, bang b-bang, 1-2-3, finished and done. And apparently Bismarck prepared to shoot himself there behind the battle lines otherwise.) Nietzsche was over-faustian (like some of his readers), and too radically pro-aristocratic.

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  3. Heh. That reminds me of a Lytton Strachey story. He was one of the Bloomsbury Set, a famous pacifist, and notoriously queer. He got to be either defendant or witness in a Conscientious Objector trial, in which he was asked this question:

    Q: So, Sir, you do not believe in using violence at all, it seems. What would you do if you saw a German soldier raping your sister?

    A: I would try to interpose my own body.

    (I am irresponsibly and wildly paraphrasing from memory, here.)

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  4. RS wrote: “the nobles of the Magna Carta were better than the nobles of NS Germany, though some of them were among the biggest enemies of NS.

    The days of hereditary ‘arbitrary’-nobility came to an crashing end at 11 AM on 11th November, 1918. (And would have done so no matter who won).

    In other words, let’s not compare the leaders of 1930s-1940s Europe to nobilities of Old Order of Europe. Compare the good and bad aspects of the National-Socialist leadership or ideology with the good and bad of the Capitalist-Liberal leaders/ideology of our nations at the time.

    One easy mark is that we were more humane than the Nazis. They killed 50,000 civilians in England! (But, then, we killed probably double that — may triple — in one one night, 13th Feb 1945 at Dresden… A quarter-million German women and children were killed by our bombers by war’s end.)

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  5. Oscar Wilde did a variant. Asked what he would do if he saw a policeman assaulting his homosexual friend he said he would attempt to interpose his own body.

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  6. @rs – “we are a little reckless and a touch febrile, we change things and experiment and re-do things, technologically and otherwise, and the results are not so predictable.”

    humans are reckless. one of the hallmarks of humanity (well, some of humanity) is supposedly forward planning, but afaics, even most intelligent humans seem incapable of planning beyond something like 10-20 years into the future — let alone 100 or 200 or 500. makes sense that such a capability would never have been selected for, but it really irritates me sometimes when otherwise very smart people seem unable (or maybe it’s just unwilling) to imagine what the effects of some of today’s policies and practices might be for our great-great-grandchildren.

    i like thinking in aeons, and think it’s important to do so. otoh, i generally have no idea what’s gonna be for dinner tonight, and so it often winds up being pb&j. (~_^)

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  7. @rs – “And one should be able to look at fascism in this rationalistic way and not look at it as some unique and transcendental evil.”

    absolutely! feel free to discuss any and all of the unmentionables here on this blog. (^_^)

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