Future Leaders

On the very eve of the great catastrophe, the young are already planning the next one. Fischel, the banker, is in despair at how his life turned out. His wife is cold and his daughter has taken up with a group of “Christian-Germanics.”

Hans Sepp, the graduate student, who had not the slightest prospect of being able to keep a wife, had come into the household as a tutor but, owing to the conflicts that were tearing the family apart, had become its tyrant. Now he was discussing with his friends, who had become Gerda’s friends, at the Fischels’, how to save the German aristocracy from being ensnared by Diotima–of whom it was said that she made no distinction between persons of her own race and those of an alien race–and caught up in the nets of the Jewish spirit. While in the presence of Leo Fischel [a Jew, JE] this sort of talk was usually tempered with a certain philosophic objectivity, he still heard enough of certain terms and principles for it to get on this nerve. They worried that such a campaign, which was bound to lead to total catastrophe, should have surfaced in an era not destined to bring forth great symbols, and the recurrent expressions “deeply meaningful,” “upward humanization,” and “free personhood” were enough by themselves to make the pince-nez quiver on Fischel’s nose every time he heard them. He had to stand by while there proliferated in his own house such concepts as “the art of living thought,” “the graph of spiritual growth,” and “action on the wing.” He discovered that a biweekly “hour of purification” was held regularly under his roof. He demanded an explanation. It turned out that what they meant by this was reading the poems of Stefan George together. Leo Fischel searched his old encyclopedia in vain for the poet’s name. But what irritated him most of all, old-style liberal that he was, was that these green pups referred to all the high government officials, bank presidents, and leading university figures in the Parallel Campaign as “puffed-up little men”; then there were the world-weary airs they gave themselves, complaining that the times had become devoid of great ideas, if there was anyone left who was ready for great ideas; that even “humanity” had become a mere buzzword, as far as they were concerned, and that only “the nation” or, as they called it, “folk and folkways” still really had any meaning. (I,521)

 Stefan George, with his mysticism and emphasis on power, heroism and loyalty to a strong leader, was to become a favorite of the Nazis. But even Fischel had to admit that these youth’s passion and constant debates on sensuality had an appeal.

Wiser than their years, they disdained “lust” and “the inflated lie about the crude enjoyment of “animal existence,” as they called it, but talkd so much about supersensuality and mystical desire that the startled listener reacted willy-nilly by feeling a certain tenderness for sensuality and physical desires, and even Leo Fischel had to admit that the unbridled ardor of their language sometimes made the listener feel the roots of their ideas shooting down his legs, though he disapproved, because in his opinion great ideas were meant to be uplifting. (I,523)

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