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.)