There are some weird things on my bookshelves.
One is a 1938 edition of a work of political science by a German chap named Hitler. It has to do with his struggle, supposedly. The frontispiece shows the author preening in one of his cute paramilitary costumes. The book isn't filed under poetry.
Bavaria's state government has decided, nevertheless, to republish Mein Kampf before its copyright expires in 2015. The thinking is that there should be an honest, scholarly edition of Adolf Hitler's dismal monologue before Europe's neo-Nazis set to work. I'd call that a good German choice.
What's striking about my edition, however, is that in the 1930s too few regarded the posturing of Mein Kampf as bizarre or unusual. Herr Hitler's notions were almost respectable. The old Morning Post recommended "a close study" of his incoherent loathing. The Yorkshire Post called the volume "extremely valuable". Between October of 1933 and April, 1938, the venerable firm of Hurst & Blackett went through 20 editions.
Where history is concerned, we risk myopia. The truism runs that economic collapse made Hitler possible. What's left unexamined is the connection between specific policy choices in the aftermath of depression and the advent of the anti-democrats.
Marine Le Pen and her Front National did spectacularly well in the first round of France's presidential elections. The Dutch need a new government simply because some right-wing populists refuse to tolerate more austerity. In Britain, David Cameron's biggest problem is not Ed Miliband, nor even Alex Salmond, but the rise of UKIP. In Austria, the far right are very close to becoming the dominant faction.
Misery is a manure for these types: that's another truism. Had the national and international responses to the depredations of the banking class restored employment, security and the hope of prosperity, the usual suspects would not be getting away with it. The atavistic loathing of "immigrants" would be a minority interest. Instead, it has become, yet again, precisely the sort of big lie that will get a good liar elected.
Spain has had its share, it's fair to say, of fascism. For that country Europe and democracy – one and the same – were supposed to be a way to bury the past, to guarantee that some things could never happen again. On that count, the people of the restored republic have done heroically well. Falangism is not a serious risk in Spain.
You couldn't utter the same hope, this week, for the promises of liberal democracy. Unemployment in Spain stands at 24.4%. Officially, that's 5,639,500 individuals. In reality – given the casual habits of all modern governments where definitions of work are concerned – the numbers are hellishly worse. Youth unemployment, as in Greece, has claimed every other life.
This is a catastrophe to equal the 1930s. With each wave of cuts, the economy contracts a little more. Is this still news to economists? In the first three months of the year 365,900 Spanish people lost their jobs. Spain's credit rating was cut this week by those dispassionate people at Standard and Poor's because – you should pause to let the joke sink in – there was doubt over the ability of the country's government to support the banks in their efforts to buy up the government's debts.
The bond markets will withdraw confidence, it is said, if Spain falters in its programme of spending cuts. That programme is meanwhile making it impossible for the country to grow its economy and pay down its debts. This deflationary spiral is a precise echo of the policies adopted when young Adolf was earning a name as a celebrity author.
Which raises a couple of questions. If it didn't work then, in the 1930s, and if it had certain disgusting political consequences, why are we pursuing the same course in the 21st century? More particularly, if a policy of austerity self-evidently isn't working now – give 5.6m Spanish people a vote on that – why has it become an article of faith and dogma?
If you believe our Chancellor, George Osborne, it is only thanks to his wit and a bit of luck that Britain is not occupying the sickbed next to Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, perhaps France, and unguessed others. Mr Osborne contends that, if we once relent from austerity, Spain's fate awaits.
There's a problem with that. The bond markets which appear to have become our de facto Government are also demanding growth. Improbably, unquestioned, they want growth and cuts simultaneously, plus a decent return on their loan sharking. If any of this at any point makes sense, drop me a postcard.
The reality, meanwhile, is that Mr Osborne and his colleagues intend to persist. They appear to have no better idea. It seems that they truly do understand economic and political reality only through a series of lame credit card metaphors. There is, first, an absence of human sympathy among the posh boys, then a lack of historic sense. That adds up to bad politics.
How much more can Spain endure? How many more ordinary Greeks can be gouged? There is plenty of waffle, currently, over "labour market reforms" across Europe – in plain language, cut wages and jobs at will – but no apparent appreciation of likely reactions from ordinary citizens who did not, as a matter of fact, design sovereign debt markets, shape the euro, or let the bankers run riot.
If austerity has not worked in Spain, why should it work in Britain? Mr Osborne has not "put our house in order": state borrowing continues to rise. Putting people out of work or taking benefits from disabled children has not – but who'd have guessed? – solved our problems.
As to debt, you have a choice of perspectives. On the one hand, this country had a public sector net debt in February of £989 billion: a lot of money. Add "financial sector intervention" – the banks – and the tidy sum rises to £2311bn. The sole purpose of austerity is to ensure that those with a claim to that mountain of IOUs get paid. Were you offered a vote?
Herr Hitler gave us some proof of where a bad policy can lead. I don't predict a return to fascism just because modern financial ministers are less than frank with voters. Some Europeans are about to work out, though, that a monetary union able to hold youth unemployment in Germany at 6% while half of Spanish youngsters are unemployed isn't just a fluke.
That counts as another story. For now, I offer two other thoughts. First, that if you put any society under severe threat, and if the threat arises from a rank, palpable injustice, beware.
Secondly, don't mistake luck for the natural order of things. Britain and Spain are very different countries, united by an economic dogma. Our youth unemployment is "only" 22%. Judging by the usual measures of public opinion, that still counts as tolerable.
But remember this: Mr Osborne's cuts have barely begun to take effect.
Herr Hitler loved this sort of thing. So did Franco, Mussolini and all of their ilk. They found fertile ground in economic chaos. The finance ministers and economists of the 1930s also promoted a version of virtue that paid little attention to democracy. Then democracy's enemies arrived in a swarm.
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