Excerpted from 'They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45,' by Milton Mayer:
"You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time."The change we're about to attempt is to re-acquaint ourselves with government, and to control it for common good. (Socialist utopianism, I know.) For the 95 percent, not the 5 percent. I will try to attend a project on the 19th and participate in Obama's day of service before the inauguration. He and his family will lead by example on the day before, and I am certain he will reference what they did during his speech and call us out to serve our fellow citizens in need. Will we answer, or is it too far gone?
"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’"
"Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
---------------------------------------------------...you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
"You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined."Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing).
When the concepts of service and commons seem too quaint, too exploitable for speculative ends, I think of the well-built post offices and libraries in so many American cities, of the Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Columbia River Dam, all of which enriched the commons and were built to last for another 100 years, all public stimulus projects which never would have happened otherwise without a government vigorously engaged with its populace.
I've lived and worked in many countries, and have observed: how much your government taxes you, how much it borrows pales in comparison to how and why it spends the money, and how it treats you personally.