Newspaper article International New York Times

Wellness Trumps Politics

Newspaper article International New York Times

Wellness Trumps Politics

Article excerpt

What is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? The political century has given way to the personal century.

The German capital on a sunny Sunday afternoon is about as laid- back a place as may be imagined. Couples lounge in the grass beside the Landwehr Canal in the Tiergarten, jugglers perform, kids on bikes in bright helmets zigzag through the throng.

The city, it seems, has not a care in the world.

Just back from the water there is a small memorial to Rosa Luxemburg, the socialist revolutionary murdered in 1919 by rightist paramilitaries. Her body was tossed in the canal. The murder presaged two decades in which Germany would be the crucible of a fierce struggle between left and right, Marxism and Fascism.

Across Europe, opposing ideas vied for the minds of the masses tugged into cities by industrialization, radicalized by the devastation of war, polarized by the Bolshevik revolution in Moscow. Politics was the battleground of capital and labor, industry and the proletariat. Rightist revanchists confronted Marxists bent on wresting control of the means of production. The Weimar Republic, aptly described by the novelist Alfred Doblin as a political set-up lacking "proper instructions for use," was never free of political violence. Out of it, in 1933, came Hitler and his marauding SA Brownshirts. It did not take them long to trash every independent institution and turn Germany into a lawless dictatorship.

The Nazis' first business was with the left -- socialists and communists who, unlike Luxemburg, had survived. The first concentration camps, like Dachau, were filled with them. The battle of ideas had to be settled, the left extinguished. The Jewish question could be resolved later, even if Jewish leftists (or "Judeo- Bolsheviks" as the Nazis called them) were immediately the object of particular vitriol and violence, the fodder on which the SS prepared for the greater savagery to come.

All this was not so many decades ago. Yet sometimes you have to pinch yourself to be reminded that politics was the business of the 20th century and Berlin the epicenter of an ideological struggle that involved two world wars and the prolonged division of Europe. What, you may ask, is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? And what does politics amount to today?

Most Westerners today are no longer driven by politics. By that I mean that they are no longer possessed by political ideas that they feel can change society. There is no great clash of ideologies. Politics in the 21st century has largely lost its capacity to inspire, or if there is a gust of inspiration (as with early Barack Obama) it proves illusory. …

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