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We are all Germans now

In Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well. You are not supposed to look after yourself; you are not blamed for being incapable of looking after yourself; it is the duty of the German policeman to look after you. That you may be a helpless idiot does not excuse him should anything happen to you. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you are in his charge, and he takes care of you—good care of you; there is no denying this.

If you lose yourself, he finds you; and if you lose anything belonging to you, he recovers it for you. If you don’t know what you want, he tells you. If you want anything that is good for you to have, he gets it for you. Private lawyers are not needed in Germany. If you want to buy or sell a house or field, the State makes out the conveyance. If you have been swindled, the State takes up the case for you. The State marries you, insures you, will even gamble with you for a trifle.

“You get yourself born,” says the German Government to the German citizen, “we do the rest. Indoors and out of doors, in sickness and in health, in pleasure and in work, we will tell you what to do, and we will see to it that you do it. Don’t you worry yourself about anything.”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel.

The remarkable thing about this is that Jerome found it remarkable. Baffling, even. It was, in 1900 when the book was first published, utterly contrary to the British way of life. He was astonished that the German state married people, amazed that it insured them, and bemused that it gambled with them. Why would it do that, when enterprising Britons were perfectly capable of doing it all for themselves? The Germans liked it that way, presumably. Indeed, he goes on at great length about how content they seemed to be with this state of affairs. But, humourist though he was, he could see the fatal flaw in the system:

Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be exceptionally well governed; if this continue, it will go well with him. When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine.

Which, of course, it did. Twice.

Three times, in fact, for the unfortunates in the East. Think about that: in the century since the Gutenberg edition of the book came out in 1914, this magnificent, orderly, governing machine went catastrophically, murderously, wrong for the Prussians, Pomeranians,and Silesians, et al. on average every 33 years. Granted, the third failure followed on almost immediately from the second, but it’s not a good strike rate, is it? Should the rest of us really be trying to emulate this?

(By the way, don’t let that passage put you off the book. It’s very funny.)


  1. :-D

    You KNOW what is about to happen…. right?

    That is what the Police are FOR!

    XX If you have been swindled, the State takes up the case for you.XX

    Yes, in Britain it is called the CPS.

    XX German state married people, amazed that it insured them, XX

    Need I mention the British Registrar?

    Or “State pension”, “N.H.S?”

    NO! It did or never HAS insured us. We insure ourselves for a great deal of money. THEY supply the “firm” to do that.

    “Private Lawyers….” My Wifes family made a FORTUNE (And their “von”) fom being private lawyers from before PRUSSIA even existed, let alone Germany. (They were listed as Lawyers as far back as 1470.)

    AS to XX this magnificent, orderly, governing machine went catastrophically, murderously, wrong for the Prussians, XX

    In der Zeit von 1480 bis 1940 waren die europäischen Mächte an 278 Kriegen beteiligt – aber deutsche Lande, Preußen und später Gesamtdeutschland bloß an acht Prozent davon; England dagegen an 28 Prozent, Frankreich an 26, Spanien an 23, Rußland an 22 und Polen an elf Prozent (nach Quincy Wright: „A Study of War“, Band I).

    In the time from 1480 until 1940 the European powers were involved in 278 wars. BUT, the German lands Prußia, and later the whole of Germany (As we know and love it today) were involved in only 8%. England, however, 28%. France 26%. Spain 23%. Russia 22%, And Poland with 11%. (Quincy Wright: „A Study of War“, Band I).

  2. Mr Ed says:

    FT, the CPS only extends to England and Wales, and only came into being in 1986′ another creature of Mrs Thatcher. In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal has that role, and others. The ‘ Fiscal originated as the Crown’s official who popped up at Court to collect fines, and evolved into the Prosecutor.

    And Germany certainly made up for its historic lost ‘opportunities’ in the 20th Century.

  3. Paul Marks says:

    Since the end of the Second World War Germany has actually been less statist (in some ways) than the United Kingdom. Not just in terms of less inflation (although avoiding British style wild monetary policy from the Central Bank is very important), but in terms of government control of industry (German industry remains dominated by family owned manufacturers) and even in terms of taxation and government spending.

    However, Germany still had very severe problems – very severe ones indeed. They are hidden at present, but they are there – and they will become obvious soon. Also government policy is going to get worse.

    The German Social Democrats just had their second worst election result in the last 60 years – yet (by querks of the German P.R. electoral system) they look as if they are about to dominate government policy. It is as if Ed Miliband lost the next election (by a landslide) – and then determined economic and social policy for the nation.

    More government spending on “infrastructure” (the nonsense make-work government projects that all despots go in for, being unable to see the costs – the “unseen” not just the “seen” to quote Bastiat), higher minimum wage laws (stand by for more unemployment), more welfare for immigants (and on and on).

    It appears that Germany is heading back to the unstable days of the Weimar Republic.

    Bavaria should secede.

  4. XX Bavaria should secede.XX
    From what?

    It was Bayern that refused to sign up to the constitution in 1949.

    They are, therefore, not part of Germany any way.

    (Just a shame that the rest did not follow the example)

  5. Sam Duncan says:

    “You KNOW what is about to happen…. right?”

    Yes. :) But you seem to be missing the point: every similarity you mention came into being after JKJ wrote his book. As I said, it would seem strange to most modern Britons that he found anything remarkable about the German welfare state in the late 19th Century.

    He points out, elsewhere in that chapter, that British policemen were seen more or less as “walking signposts”. You ask them for directions when you’re lost, and ignore them the rest of the time. And, in 1900, that was pretty much the case. “Looking after you, come what may” is not what the Police in the Peelian tradition are for. They’re a “force of uniformed civilians”, intended to assist the law-abiding majority in our job of keeping the peace.

    As for insurance, I’m sure that’s what he meant. Which is still much greater state involvement than Britain had in 1900. As Paul said in the thread that prompted me to post this, a century ago Britain had Friendly Societies for that kind of thing. Around that time, about 10 years after Jerome was writing, it became compulsory to have a policy with one, but that was the extent of the state’s interference.

    “Private Lawyers….” My Wifes family made a FORTUNE (And their “von”) fom being private lawyers from before PRUSSIA even existed, let alone Germany. (They were listed as Lawyers as far back as 1470.)

    Yes, but this wasn’t before Germany existed. It was 1900. Also, he doesn’t say they don’t exist; he says they aren’t needed. Big difference.

    Certainly, Mr Ed’s right about Scottish fiscals. We’ve had them for a long time. But he’s also right about the CPS. It’s not even 30 years old.

    I was trying to be colourful with the Prussians, Silesians, etc. I simply meant, of course, eastern Germany. If you lived there (and survived long enough) you would have suffered at least three catastrophic failures of good government since JKJ wrote his book: WWI, the Weimar hyperinflation and the rise of Nazism with WWII as the result (arguably that’s three separate incidents, but let’s be charitable), and the DDR.

    Paul makes a good point about the relative trends in (initially, West) Germany and Britain since WWII, to be fair. But my intention was never to bash Germany; it was to bash our own politicans for following a 19th Century idea that Germany has since, rightly, been much more wary of.

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