January 13, 2021

BARI WEISS ON THE GREAT UNRAVELING. The old order is dead. What comes next?

[Princeton’s Robert P. George] pulled out his phone, then, and asked what I knew about Heinrich Heine. I knew the Nazis had burned his books, that he was a Jew who had converted to Christianity. That was about it.

In 1834, Robby told me, Heine wrote a prose poem that prophesied the evil that would swallow Europe a century later. He read it to the table:

“Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal Germanic love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals.”

Tears rolled down my face as he spoke these lines, as they do now as I re-read them:

“Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.”

How did Heine see it? How, a hundred years before Hitler, did he possess the terrible vision that “a play would be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll”?

He understood, first, that the “talisman” was fragile, that the veneer of civilization was so much thinner than most people understood. And he understood that if it was torn “the ancient stony gods,” who never really died, could be awakened from their sleep once again.

Second, Heine saw with total clarity that revolutions in the street begin as revolutions in sense-making. “Do not laugh at one who foresees in the region of the visible the revolution that has already occurred in the invisible domain of the spirit. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”

The invisible revolutions of the 21st century — revolutions that began with word games and lies — are increasingly apparent in the “region of the visible.”

Did we hear, in the shattering glass and gunshots at the Capitol on Wednesday, our own version of Heine’s prophetic crashing? I’m not sure if that horrific date will be the our grandchildren will remember or if it will be another. What I am sure of now is that there will be more thunder.

Read the whole thing.

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