Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 'Double-Truth' Thesis by Terry Eagleton

Some of the intelligentsia of The Enlightenment hoped to refashion the governing class in their own image; but for the governing class to hold one world-view, while its underlings hold another, is scarcely conducive to political stability. It is imprudent for the rulers to worship Reason while the masses pay homage to the Virgin Mary. There were those then, who thought it desirable to enlighten the masses as well. The problem with this, however, was that the common people were widely considered to be impervious to Reason,. The more radical Aufklarer like Paine and Godwin held to the possibility of general enlightenment, but this faith was conspicuously lacking among their more conservative colleagues, some of whom accordingly settled for what has been called the ‘double truth’ thesis.

According to this doctrine, the skepticism of the educated  must learn not to unsettle the superstition of the populace. It must be sequestered from the common folk, for fear of the political unrest it might incite. There can be no common ground between the more rational and more barbarous species of religious faith. This was thought  true of the relations between eighteenth-century gentlemen and the pagan hordes of antiquity, as it was between these men and their less privileged contemporaries. Others took a less jaundiced view of the past, seeing prelapsarian Adam and Eve as essentially eighteenth-century rationalists without clothes. Even so, they had spawned down the ages a monstrous progeny of idolaters, crafty clerics, brutal zealots and crazed mystics.

John Toland, despite being portrayed in Irish legend as the bastard offspring of a priest and a prostitute, takes a dim view of the common people in his Pantheisticon, urging the need to keep the truths of Reason and the doxa of the mob rigorously distinct. There must be one God for the rich and one for the poor. There is the genteel religion of love, justice and the adoration of the Supreme Being, and then there is the benighted, bloodthirsty cult of the priests. Orthodox religion is a matter of primitive terror and a priestly lust for power.

Hume is another who insists on the gulf between the reasons for religious faith advanced by the learned and those offered by the ignorant. Even so, the two camps must learn to live cheek by jowl, neither interfering with the other, if the truths of Reason are to be protected from the myths of the populace, and the piety of the people preserved from the subversive truths of Reason. As Charles Taylor observes, ‘ for the common people, a little superstition could be a good thing, satisfying their religious impulses without inculcating rebellion.” Thomas Jefferson considered that there could be no Republican virtue among the masses without a belief in God, a belief he signally failed to hold himself. One may contrast this divided vision with the republican views of Baruch Spinoza, who held that the common folk labor in delusion but wished to illuminate them. Spinoza believed that people were educable, that their desires were malleable enough to be remolded, and that this, rather than the fostering of consoling lies and politically convenient fictions, was the task of the philosopher.

For Toland, by contrast, truth, which in rationalist style is plain and lucid, must darken if it is to preserve itself from the grubby paws of the unlettered. This is one reason among several why Toland’s writings are such an extraordinary mélange of rationalism and escotericism – why the author whose most renown work is entitled Christianity Not Mysterious also produced a History of the Druids and probably belonged to a secret Dutch society known as the Knights of Jubilation. It is a mixture of the hermetic and excoteric which can also be found in Freemasonry. Only a coterie of cognoscenti can be entrusted with the most momentous truths. The free-thinker, a title which Toland is said to have invented, thus enjoys something of the privilege of the very clerics he detests.

Condorcet abhorred this intellectual double dealing, though he located it in the benighted past rather than the enlightened present. ‘What morally can really be expected,’ he asked, ‘from a system one of whose principles was that the morality of the people must be founded on false opinions, that enlightened men were right to deceive others provided that they supply them with useful error, and they may justifiably keep them in chains that they themselves knew how to break?’ In his view, it was both inevitable and desirable that progressive principles should gradually penetrate ‘even unto the hovels of . . . slaves, and inspire them with that smouldering indignation which not even constant humiliation and fear can smother in the soul of the oppressed. This, one might add, is the voice of a movement decried by some postmodern thinkers as a lamentable outbreak of authoritarianism.

Not all of Condorcet’s confreres endorsed his views. A.O. Lovejoy remarks that ‘since the Deists had joined ranks in a war against credulity, they were often involved in a war against the people.’ Schiller, who was rattled by the prospect of popular sovereignty, was also deeply pessimistic about the prospect of Bildung or spiritual education for the masses. He reacted with skepticism to the outbreak of the French Revolution, and doubted that the populace in their current state were capable of the civic virtue required for a republic. As one commentator astutely remarks, Schiller ‘intended his aesthetic education not only to stabilize revolution but to replace it.’ Voltaire held that the multitude would always be benighted. It would be impossible to civilize them without subverting the state. Indeed, he doubted whether they were worthy of such a favor in the first placed. Swift held much the same opinion.

There was, then a clear dilemma. You could opt for a politically docile populace, whose backward religious views implicitly question your own faith in the universality of Reason, or you could plump for a rationally-minded citizenry who might confirm your own faith in the scope of Reason, but only at the cost of potential political disaffection. Were the savants to see themselves as the vanguard, safeguarding truths which in time would become available to all, or as an elite, shielding such doctrines from the common herd?

‘They courageously discussed atheism,’ Carle Becker comments tartly of some Enlightenment thinkers, ‘but not before the servants.’; Voltaire was notoriously nervous of the effects of his own heterodoxy on his domestic staff. Religion, for him as for many of his colleagues, was a useful device for preserving morality, and to that extent social harmony. The Enlightenment yearned for universal illumination, yet desired nothing of the kind. Diderot, who probably ended up as an atheist, wrote scurrilously that if Jesus had fondled the breasts of the bridesmaids at Cana and caressed the buttocks of St John, Christianity might have spread a spirit of delight instead of a pall of gloom. Yet he supported natural religion on account of its socially unifying effects. Montesquieu, similarly, did not believe in God himself, but considered it prudent that others should do so.

Perhaps the dangers of mass infidelity were exaggerated. Hume considered that religion had much less of an everyday influence than was commonly assumed. He was not prepared to settle for a rational version of Christianity, trusting as he did neither in reason nor in Christianity. In fact, he regarded almost all religion as actively inimical to political virtue, a view also taken by Shaftsbury in his Inquiry Concerning Virtue. Virtue must  be autonomous, not strategic. Religion corrupted morality by fostering self-interest (fear of punishment, the desire for immortality), as well as by eroding the natural sources of our passion for justice and sense of benevolence. For one commentator, religion in Hume’s estimate posed a grave danger to society. Yet he also seems to have held that a moderate, non-superstitious version of it is an aid to political stability. As with many an Enlightenment sage, religion is judged in terms of its utility. It is acceptable only if it promotes the kind of morality one could still endorse without it. This, for Hume, was ‘true’ religion, which could only ever be that of a cultured minority, as opposed to what he derided as the sick dreams of the masses. Hume’s social conservatism trumped his intellectual skepticism. Indeed, he himself acted out a version of the double truth thesis in his everyday life, famously setting aside his subversive anti-foundationalism for the sake of social convention.

Holbach concurred with Hume’s low opinion of religion’s value as political ideology, observing that it was the hangman rather than the priest who underpins the social order. In any case, he scornfully inquired, who reads the philosophers? Joseph de Maistre also maintained that public order depended in the end on a single figure: the executioner. His Holy Trinity was said to consist of Pope, King and Hangman. Since he held that human beings were evil, aggressive, self-destructive, savagely irrational creatures in need of being terrified into craven submission by an absolute sovereignty, the public executioner played no mean role in his political imagination. He even had a sneaking admiration for the Jacobin’s guillotine, believing as he did that all power was divine. With his lauding of instinct, prejudice, war, mystery, absolutism, inequality and superstition, de Maistre is a graphic example of everything the Enlightenment set out to eliminate.

Perhaps society had need of a civic religion, though Gibbon thought Islam might fill the bill more effectively than Christianity. He, too, considered religion largely in the light of social utility, as a celebrated sentence from his work suggests: “The various modes of worship which prevailed in Roman times, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrates as equally useful." The more radical of the philosophes, by contrast, insisted on a complete divorce of religion and morality, maintaining that an atheistic society might prove more morally admirable than a Christian one. Perhaps a group of atheists could consort more amicably together than a bunch of stiff-necked believers. In the long run, the Enlightenments fear of a domino effect – that the collapse of religion would topple morality as well, which in turn would fatally undermine political cohesion – was to prove groundless.  Belief, whether religious or otherwise, is not what welds liberal capitalist societies together. As Marx points out, the dull compulsion to labor is generally sufficient for that. Religious faith survived into later modernity, and continued to flourish among sectors of the common people. Politically speaking, however, it was reduced often enough to a spot of window dressing  for secular governance - just as the long-dreamed of marriage of art and life, which for the revolutionary avant-garde was consummated in political murals and agitprop theater, is now found in fashion and design, the media and public relations, advertising agencies and recording studios -   more façade than foundation.

True to its Baconian bent, the Enlightenment can still lay claim to some formidable practical achievements. Quite apart from its incalculable influence on the course of modern civilization, it had a hand in a range of political revolutions, played a role in the abolition of serfdom and slavery, help- to unseat colonial powers and through the political economists of the Scottish Enlightenment left an enduring mark on British polity.  Jeremy Benthham’s Utilitarianism was to become a cornerstone of the ruling ideology of nineteenth-century England. Enlightened thinking also transformed the public sensibility and filtered down into everyday life. Pub wisdom such as ‘Everyone is entitled to their own opinion’, ‘It’d be a funny world if we all thought the same’ or ‘It takes all kinds to make a world’ (a motto which Ludwig Wittgenstein considered ‘a most beautiful and kindly saying’) are informal testimony to its influence.

Thomas Paine’s best-selling The Rights of Man gives lie to the assumption that the Enlightenment was the monopoly of scholars and noblemen. It also  served to discredit the prejudice that the common people are able to grasp ideas only if they are first converted into iconic or mythological terms.

We have seen that reluctant atheism has a long history. Machiavelli thought that religious ideas, however vacuous, were a useful means of terrifying and pacifying the mob. Voltaire feared infecting his own domestic servants with impiety. Toland clung to a ‘rational’ Christian belief himself, but thought that the rabble should stay with their superstitions. Gibbon considered that the religious doctrines he despised could nonetheless proved socially useful. So did Montesquieu and Hume. So in our own tine does Jurgen Habermas. Mathew Arnold sought to counter the creeping godlessness of the working class with a poeticized version of the Christian doctrine he himself spurned. Auguste Comte, an out-and-out materialist, brought this dubious lineage to the acme of absurdity with his plans for a secular priesthood. Durkheim had  no truck with the deity himself, but thought that religion could be a precious source of edifying sentiment. The philosopher Leo Strauss, father of American neo-conservatism believed that political rulers must deceive the common people for their own good, keeping from their ears the subversive truth that the moral values by which they live have no unimpeachable basis. They must conceal this lack of foundation from the credulous gaze of the masses, drawing a veil over it as over some unspeakable indecency. Religious faith was essential for social order, though he did not for a moment credit it himself.

There is something unpleasantly disingenuous about this entire legacy. ‘I don’t happen to believe myself, but it is politically expedient that you should’ is the catch phrase of thinkers supposedly devoted to the integrity of the intellect. One can imagine how they might react to being informed that their own most cherished convictions –civil rights, freedom of speech, democratic government and the like – were, of course, all nonsense, but politically convenient nonsense and so not to be scrapped. It took the barefaced audacity of Friedrich Nietzsche to point out that the problem was less the death of God than the bad faith of Man, who in an astonishing act of cognitive dissonance had murdered his Maker but continued to protest that he was still alive. It was thus that men and women failed to see in the divine obsequies an opportunity to remake themselves.

If religious faith were to be released from the burden of furnishing social orders with a set of rationales for their existence. It might be free to discover its true purpose as a critique of all such politics. In this sense, its superfluity might prove its salvation. The New Testament has little or nothing to say of responsible citizenship. It is not a ‘civilized’ document at all. It shows no enthusiasm for social consensus. Since it holds that such values are imminently to pass away, it is not greatly taken with standards of civic excellence or codes of good conduct. What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that our forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is a solidarity with the poor and the powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Sessen Interviews by Bettina Stangneth

Only in the spring of 1957 did the Durer circle decide to record their conversations about the National Socialists extermination of the Jews. . . Together with the transcripts and Eichmann’s corrections, the recordings, which only emerged in the late 1990s, present an a very precise picture of Sessen’s working methods. The tapes were typed up relatively quickly by various helpers, then recorded over. New tapes were expensive, both in Buenos Aires and elsewhere, and they weren’t easy to get a hold of. Today we have around one thousand pages of transcripts (including the pages of corrections) and twenty-nine hours of recordings, including doubles of tapes that were copied later. Not only do they prove that the transcripts are an authentic source (impossible to verify at the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem and thus not admitted into evidence); they are also a window into the year 1957 – and the front room of the Sassen house.

A group of middle-aged men met in the neat living room of a house in Florida, a popular district of Buenos Aires. Their surroundings suited the aspirations of their project: the room was also a kind of study, full of books, records, art, pictures, and European furniture – with an atmosphere that made the conversations seem meaningful. Sassen’s was a convivial  house, full of “Dutch comforts”. He liked to live at the very limits of what he could afford: apart from National Socialism, he valued beautiful objects, education and expensive whiskey. Games of “guess the composer” and discussions of books were part of the family’s dinner table conversation, even when the children were small. Sassen’s living conditions were by no means luxurious, but they were still very different from what Eichmann was used to. He spent his weeks “on the ranch”, providing care for the Angora rabbits, and he didn’t inhabit rooms like Sassen’s at home either. But this wasn’t the only reason his weekends with Sassen were like taking a trip to another world.

The meetings themselves were what really mattered: being reunited with former fellow travelers, having access to literature, and taking part in discussions that gave his life another dimension once again. The Sassen circle’s politics had some obvious far-right features, and Eichmann was made to feel that his knowledge and his judgments were an indispensable part of a new movement. It wasn’t mere flattery: they really needed this one surviving insider. When it came to the question of victim numbers, so hotly debated in far-right circles, Eichmann was generally regarded as the only person with an overview of all the mass shootings, death-by-labor operations, starvation, and gassing – a reputation he had cultivated himself. In Argentina this image had always been his entry ticket to postwar Nazi circles.

Four years later, when he was on trial in Israel, Eichmann managed to draw a veil over the true scale of the Sassen conversations. His defense strategy essentially rested on his no longer being a National Socialist and having spent the last fifteen years as a blameless, unremarkable, and above all apolitical citizens. He had left all his old resentments – in particular, his anti-Semitism – behind long ago. (In the Nazi regime itself he had only been ‘a retiring, pencil-pushing desk jockey helpless caught up in a political machine over which he had no control’). If the backgrounds of the Sassen conversations were to come to light, there was no way he could maintain this lie, so Eichmann told his lawyer a story abut Sassen being a headline hungry journalist who had met the harmless Argentine citizen Klement by chance in a café. Sassen then paid him regular visits at home with a tape recorder, convincing him these discussions would help him write his biography. And yes, with the aid of a lot of alcohol, Sassen occasionally tempted Eichmann to lapse into old habits, and then had distorted everything afterwards, the way journalist do. According to Eichmann, not a word of the resulting material corresponded to what he had really said. This version of events was in perfect accord with the game of hide-and-seek being played by the other witnesses, none of whom wanted to admit sitting around a table with Eichmann. Sassen, in particular, made an effort to conceal his National Socialist convictions behind the façade of the professional journalist.

The atmosphere and the course of the discussion on the Sassen tapes are most reminiscent of a subject conference: a changing cast of participants spent hours at a time discussing historical theories, interpreting documents together, and arguing – occasionally fiercely – over the evaluation from the perspective of their own individual experiences. They read and discussed every book on the subject they could get hold of. Sassen often set assignments between meetings and urged the participants to devote proper attention to them. The men made notes, read out their commentaries on the books, formulated new questions, and even gave lectures.

The stamina of those present sometimes wavered, but the debate was mostly concentrated. The participants made material available to one another for the meetings: Sassen lent Eichmann books and distributed copies of important documents; Eichmann brought newspapers he had received from Europe, Sassen once translated an American magazine for the group. People reported things they had read in the Argentine press and discussed current events in world politics, as well as the increasing judicial effort in West Germany to come to terms with the Nazi past. A few of these discussions lasted well over four hours and certainly do not give the impression of being a relaxed, enjoyable way to spend one’s leisure time. The seriousness with which even the most absurd theories were constructed can be seen on every page. . .

The transcripts do not identify individual speakers but the tapes  allow us to identify many of them and also rule out a few people as possible listeners. Everything speaks against the concentration ‘doctor’; Josef Mengele having been present. Eichmann and Sassen knew Mengele personal, and Eichmann would have insisted on drawing him into the conversation, as he did with other participants. When the discussion turns to Hottl, he addresses “Dr. Langer”, as ‘he knows Hottl professionally.” He would have handed responsibility to Mengele on certain topics, given his knowledge of Auschwitz and Nazi ‘medicine”. Several times he expresses his regret at having nobody to back him up: “It is a shame I don’t have any comrades from this time whom I worked with, as I have come to realize, having abstained from all these thoughts for many years, that there is much that I have forgotten.” Sassen also gives a lengthy reading from a text about Mengele. Josef Mengele, as his diaries show, was mistrustful and exceedingly cautious. For this reason alone he would never have involved himself in an undertaking as open as the Sessen discussions. However, Sessen must have spoken to Mengele about Auschwitz at some other point: he was still justifying Mengele’s “experiments” on people in the camp, talking about how ‘cul;tured’ he was, in an interview for Argentine television in 1991. Mengele, he said, had always sought to discover “the essence, the philosophy” of human existence, by examining people “under exceptional circumstances. Sassen saw sadistic torment without sense or reason as “a demonstration of humanity”.  .  .

What makes the Sassen documents such a powerful source in the first instance is the men’s language, which the text ad the recordings bring to us in an unmediated form. Anyone who has heard Adolf Eichmann’s interrogation by Avner W. Less, or listened to the trial recordings, will be familiar with his idiosyncratic speech, by turns whining, cold and occasionally petulant. His endless sentences are full of twists, turns, and circular thinking as he exhausts listeners with descriptions of opaque hierarchies and responsibilities, and with excuses about a sense of duty and being under order. The experience of listening to Eichmann-in-Argentina, in a circle of sympathizers, is clearly different (and still more intolerable) .  .  .

The language becomes entirely perverted where Eichmann turns metaphors on their heads, talking about expulsion and murder using gentle images of life. An institution for forced immigration was his “first child”, where he was able to “be creative in my work.” All individual acts of robbery and expulsion that took place in Austria were committed to “provide the country with injections of Jewish solutions.” Even deportations and exterminations were “born.” This was why he felt so superfluous in Budapest, when he was forced to stop deporting people to Auschwitz: “As far as I know, I couldn’t have done anything fruitful anymore.” When the fruits of your labor lie in the rising columns of murder charts, you need a rather different understanding of growth and life. In Eichmann’s language, he didn’t send people to death camps; the camps were “fed with material.”

Neither Eichmann nor his interlocutors had a problem calling things by their names” Jews were “gassed”; “idiots sent to the slaughter”; those who were deported were “killed non-stop in the concentration camps like on a conveyer belt.” A Himmler had hoped, people seemed to feel more strongly when they didn’t beat around the bush although tastelessness was individual; all the participants had their own particular preferences: Sassen favors sexual innuendos about the “technical implementation of the reproductive urge” and “men’s desires,” when faced with the atrocities in the camps. Anyone who seems suspect is a “jackass” or a “chump.” Alvensleben likes to bluster about “the way crowds of Jews can be incredibly rowdy and a “responsibility” (to kill Jews) that “is in the blood.” D, Langer, meanwhile, enjoys giving detailed accounts of the torture methods used in Mauthausen.

But let no one say that these men didn’t also have delicate feelings. Eichmann, as he tells his comrades here, feels “genuinely heartsore for the Reich” “I trembled for the Reich,” he says, from which  one could see “how fully I was committed to this struggle, with my whole being.” He was shocked to hear about the extermination plans for the first time and comforted himself using Himmler’s words: “The word is easy to say, but it is monstrously difficult.” “The whole business of the Final Solution” was a “killer of a job” – words Eichmann spoke without any sense of irony. Only Himmler’s calls not to murder with unnecessary cruelty” were “music to my ears.”

Eichmann still had plenty to be proud of in Argentina in 1957. Deaths had been necessary: “The only good enemy of the Reich is a dead one. In particular I have to add, when I received an order, I always carried out this order with the executioner, and I am proud of this to this day. If I had not done this, they would have not gone to the butcher.” Hungary, and the mass deportation of more than four hundred thousand people in a few weeks, had been his masterwork: “It was actually an achievement that was never matched before or since.” If only there had not been all those problems before that point. The thing that pained Eichmann the most was when the trains weren’t full. It was “a very poor business in Belgium.” And it was even worse in Denmark, when he wasn’t allowed to transport people to their deaths as he wished. “I had to recall my transports, for me it was a deadly disgrace.”

Of course, notoriously, Eichmann’s direct experiences of murder were disturbing to him. And in this respect – having to witness such unpleasantness which both Langer and Eichmann gave the impression that they had looked upon powerlessly – as things were enacted that they had helped bring about- they both regarded themselves as victims. This same self-centered attitude can be found in the accounts of many other perpetrators, all the way up to Himmler, whose Posen speech was full of sympathetic words for the poor, suffering murderers.

The reversal of perpetrator and victim is a psychodynamic shift that does more than just ease the perpetrator’s burdensome memory of what he has done: it is more than an act of retrospective repression. It is the suppression of the very consciousness that allowed these perpetrators to commit their deeds in the first placed. Eichmann was clearly aware of the need to shield himself as much as possible. “But there is a good one thing nature.” He explains. I can switch off and forget very quickly, without trying to.” He had some effective methods for helping this process along, the primary strategy being the consumption of alcohol. His knowledge of the mechanisms of repression, however, like his self-awareness, went far beyond the use of this simple drug. The conscious mind can be deliberately distracted, and not only by escaping into nature, as he described in “The Others Spoke” (he found sunsets particularly consoling). “I still have a very devout saying from my youth,” Eichmann explained to the Sassen circle, “ and I always do it when I find something horribly unpleasant and I can’t stop thinking about it. And in order to forcibly distract myself, do you know what I say? You’ll laugh! I believe in God the father, and the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, died under Pontius Pilate, suffered and so on and so on, was raised from the dead, and so on.”

Father Anton Weber, one of the people who helped Nazi fugitives obtain new identities in Rome, said there was a trick he used to check that they had really found their way back to the Faith. “I made them say the Our Father. Then it quickly emerged who was genuine and who wasn’t.” Eichmann would certainly have impressed him with the pace of his creed, managing it in five seconds: “I somehow realized early on, as a child – still a devout believer at the time, of course – that once I’d said that, I didn’t think about anything else.”

Cynical, pitiless, misanthropic, morally corrupt, with no understanding of tact or limits – these are all inadequate description for the words Eichmann, Sassen and their group came out with in 1957. There is nothing here to remind us of the future prisoner in Jerusalem. Eichmann’s words in Argentina weren’t thoughtless drivel but consistent speech based on a complete system of thought. They were, we might say, judgments in excess. It isn’t the foundations of the argument that are missing, but the group’s willingness to criticize the structures of totalitarian thought and to change their dogmatic approach. These men valued consistency for the violence that it allowed them to wield over themselves and others. It became an end in itself. Twelve years after the war, they still hadn’t obtained any degree of distance from it: Fritsch, Sassen, and Eichmann were still ideological warriors, in the midst of battle, who had lost all weapons but language and magniloquence.

Eichmann:  “. . .I, the ‘cautious bureaucrat,’ that was me, yes indeed. But I would like to expand on the issue of cautious bureaucrat’, somewhat to my own detriment. This cautious bureaucrat was attended by a . . .a fanatical warrior, fighting for the freedom of my blood, which was my birthright, and I say here, just as I have said to you before: your louse that nips you, Comrade Sassen, does not interest me. My louse under my collar interests me. I will squash it. This is the same when it comes to my people. And the cautious bureaucrat, which of course I was, that is what I ha been, also guided and inspired me: what benefits my people is a sacred order and a sacred law for me. Yes indeed.

And now I want to tell you, as a conclusion to all these records for we will soon be finished, I must first tell you: I have no regrets! I am certainly not going to bow down to that cross! The four months during which we have gone over the matter here, during the four months in which you have taken pains to refresh my memory, a great deal of it has been refreshed, it would be too easy, and I could do it cheaply for the sake of current opinion .  .  . for me to deeply regret it, for me to pretend that a Saul has become a Paul.

I tell you , Comrade Sassen, I cannot do that. That I cannot do, because I am not willing to do it, because I balk inwardly at saying we did anything wrong . No, I have to tell you quite honestly, that if of the 10.3 million Jews identified, as we now know, we had killed 10.3 million, I would be satisfied, and would say, good, we have destroyed the enemy. Now through the vagaries of fortune, most of these 10.3 million Jews remain alive, so I say to myself: fate wished it so. I have to subordinate myself to fate and destiny. I am just a little man and don’t have to fight against this, and couldn’t and don’t want to.

We would have fulfilled our destiny to our blood and our people and to the freedom of peoples, if we had exterminated the most cunning intellect of all the human intellects alive today. For that is what I said to Streicher, what I have always preached: we are fighting an enemy who, through many, many thousands of years of schooling, is intellectually superior to us. Was it yesterday or the day before, or a year ago, I don’t know, I heard or read: even before the Romans had their state, before Rome had ever been founded, the Jews there were able to write. This is an understatement. They should have said, aeons before the Romans erected their state, aeons before the very founding of Rome itself, they were able to write. Look at the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Look at a race that today has recourse to, may I say, six thousand years of written history, a race that has been making laws for let us say five or six thousand years – and am I not wrong, I believe when I estimate a seventh millennium. The fact that the Christian church today makes use of this law making is very depressing  for me. But it tells me that this must be a race of the first order of magnitude, since lawmakers have always been great. And because of these realizations I fought against this enemy.

And you must understand that this is my motivation when I say, if 10.3 million of these enemies had been killed, then we would have fulfilled our duty. (Pause for effect) And because this did not happen, I will say to you that those who have not yet been born will have to undergo that suffering and adversity. Perhaps they will curse us. (Pause for effect) Alone, we few people cannot fight the Zeitgeist. We have done what we could.

Of course, I must ay to you, human emotion also played a role here . I too am not free of this, I too was defeated by the same weakness. I know this! I too am partly to blame for the fact that the real, complete elimination, perhaps foreseen by some authority, or the conception that I had in my mind, could not be carried out. I gave you a small example of this. I was an inadequate intellect and was placed in an office where in truth I could have done more and should have done more.

What I told you must serve as an apology: one, that I lacked a profound intellect. Second, that I lacked the necessary physical toughness. And third, that even against my will there were legions of people who fought this will, so that while I myself already felt handicapped, I was then also curtailed in carrying out the other things that would have helped me to a breakthrough, because for many years I was bogged down in a struggle against the so-called Interventionists (who wanted to make exceptions for their friends). I want to close by telling you this.

Whether you will put this in an book, I do not know, perhaps it is not a good idea at all. And perhaps it should not go in. This is just by way of a conclusion, to what I have taken on in all these months of refreshing my memory, and which I also feel compelled to tell you.  .  . It is hard what I have told you, I know, and I will be condemned for being so hard in my phrasing, but I cannot tell you anything else, for it is the truth! Why should I deny it?"

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Use of Bench Warrants in the War on Crime and Drugs by Alice Goffman

In 2007 Chuck and I went door to door and conducted a household survey of the ‘6th St.’ neighborhood in Philadelphia. We interviewed 308 men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Of these young men, 144 reported that they had a warrant issued for their arrest because of either delinquencies with court fines and fees or failure to appear for a court date within the previous three years. For that same period, 119 men reported that they had been issued warrants for technical violations of their probation or parole (for example, drinking or breaking curfew).

According to contacts at the Philadelphia Warrant Unit, there were about eighty thousand open warrants in the city in the winter of 2010. A small portion of these warrants were for new criminal cases – so-called body warrants.  Most were bench warrants for missing court or for unpaid court fees, or technical warrants issued for violations of probation or parole.

Until the 1970s, the city’s efforts to round up people with outstanding warrants consisted of two men who sat at a desk in the evening and made calls to people on the warrant list, encouraging them to either come in  and get a new court date or get on a payment plan for their unpaid court fees. During the day, these same men transported prisoners. In the 1970s, as a special Warrant Unity was created in Philadelphia courts to actively pursue people with open warrants. Its new captain prided himself on improving and updating the unit’s tracking system, and getting these files on computer.

By the 1990s, every detective division in the Philadelphia Police Department had its own Warrant Unit. Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the US  Marshalls all run their own separate Warrant Units out of the Philadelphia force as well.

As the number of police officers and special units focused on rounding up people with warrants increased, the technology to locate and identify people with warrants improved. Computers were installed in police cars, and records of citizens’ legal histories and pending legal actions became synchronized – first across the city’s police force and then among police departments across the country. It became possible to run a person’s name for any kind of warrant, from any jurisdiction  in the country, almost instantly.

The number of arrests an officer or a unit makes had been a key indication of performance since at least the 1960s. When technology improved, taking people in on warrants became a ready way for police to show they were actively fighting crime. Those officers or units who cleared more warrants or arrested more people were informally rewarded; those who cleared or arrested fewer people were encouraged to catch up.

In interviews, Philadelphia police officers explained that when they were looking for a particular man, they access social security records, court records, hospital admissions records, electric and gas bills, and employment records. They visit a suspects usual haunts  (for example, his home, his workplace, and his street corner) at times he is likely to be there, and will threaten his family or friends with arrest if they don’t cooperate, particularly when they themselves have their own lower-level warrants, are on probation, or have a pending court case. In addition to these methods, the Warrant Units operating out of the Philadelphia Police Department use a sophisticated computer-mapping program that tracks people who have warrants, are on probation or parole, or have been released on bail. Officers round up these potential informants and threaten them with jail time if they don’t provide information about the person the police are looking for. A local FBI officer got inspired to develop the program after watching a documentary about the Stasi – the East German secret police. With another program, officers follow wanted people in real time by tracking their cell phones. .  .

6th Street is not the poorest or the most dangerous neighborhood in the large Black section of Philadelphia of which it is a part – far from it. In interviews with police officers, I discovered that it was hardly a top priority of theirs, nor did they consider the neighborhood particularly dangerous or crime ridden. Residents in adjacent neighborhoods spoke of 6th Street as quiet and peaceful – a neighborhood they would gladly move to if they ever had enough money.

Still, 6th Street has not escaped three decades of punitive drug and crime policy. By 2002, police curfews had been established around the area for those under age eighteen, and police video cameras had been placed on major streets. In the first eighteen months that I spent in the neighborhood, at least once a day I watched police stop pedestrians or people in cars, search them, run their names for warrants, ask them to come in for questioning, or make an arrest. In the same eighteen month period, I watched the police break down doors, search houses, and question, arrest, or chase people through houses fifty-two times. Nine times, police helicopters circled overhead and beamed searchlights onto local streets. I noted bocks taped off and traffic redirected as police searched for evidence –or, in police language, secured a crime scene– seventeen times. Fourteen times during my first eighteen months of near daily observation, I watched the police punch, choke, kick, stomp-on or beast young men with their night sticks.

The problems of drugs and gun violence are real ones in the 6th Street community, and the police who had come into the neighborhood are trying to solve them with the few powers that can be granted them: the powers of surveillance, intimidation and arrest. Their efforts do not seem to be stopping young men from attempting to earn money selling drugs or from getting into violent conflicts; whether they are helping to reduce overall crime rates is beyond the scope of this study.

Since the 1980s, the War on Crime and the War on Drugs have taken millions of Black young men out of school, work and family life, sent them to jails and prisons, and returned them to society with felony convictions. Spending time in jail and prison means lower wages and gaps in employment. This time away comes in critical years in which other  young people are completing degrees and getting married. Laws in many states deny those with felony convictions the right to vote and the right to run for office, as well as access to many government jobs, public housing and other benefits. Black people with criminal records are so discriminated against in the labor market that the jobs for which they are legally permitted to apply are quite difficult to obtain. These restrictions and disadvantages affect not only the men moving through the prison system but their families and communities. So many Black men have been imprisoned and returned home with felony convictions that the prison now plays a central role in the production of unequal groups in US society, setting back the gains made in citizenship and socioeconomic position that Black people made during the Civil Rights Movement

Whatever their effect on crime, the sheer scope of policing and imprisonment in poor black neighborhoods is transforming community life in ways that are deep and enduring, not only for the young men who are their target but for their family members, partners and neighbors.