‘Halt die Klappe!’ They Said
It’s a big day for using German in headlines on this blog. “Halt die Klappe!” means “shut up” in German — and that’s what the German establishment said, in effect, to the late Rolf Peter Sieferle, a distinguished historian whose final book appeared after his death last fall. The establishment loved him, until this book came out. And now? Christopher Caldwell explains:
But last month, a posthumous collection of Mr. Sieferle’s observations on Germany’s political culture, “Finis Germania” (the title plays on a phrase meaning “the end of Germany”), hit No. 9 on the prestigious Nonfiction Book of the Month list — and a scandal erupted. Certain passages on Germany’s way of dealing with the Holocaust horrified reviewers. Die Zeit called it a book of “brazen obscenity.” The Berliner Zeitung wrote of Mr. Sieferle’s “intellectual decline.” Süddeutsche Zeitung retracted its earlier praise. The Nonfiction Book of the Month list was suspended until further notice.
The book-buying public reacted otherwise. As critical anger rose, so did sales. Soon the book was selling 250 copies an hour, according to its publisher, and ranked No. 1 on Amazon’s German best-seller list, a position it held for almost two weeks, until the publisher ran out of copies.
What exactly had Mr. Sieferle said? Was this a betrayal of his intellectual legacy, as critics claimed? A vindication of it, as his sales suggested? Or had he simply gone off the rails at a time when public opinion was doing the same?
You’ll need to read Caldwell’s piece to learn what it was that Sieferle said. But here is a summary by one of this blog’s readers, who says that this sorry episode is emblematic of the state of the West today:
1) a legendary and lauded German intellectual publishes a book that is critical of mass migration and German self-loathing
2) said book becomes moderately popular.
3) Elite publication responds not by engaging ideas but by CANCELING ITS MONTHLY NONFICTION BOOK FEATURE.
4) people respond by ignoring elite freakout and buying more books.
Incidentally, thanks to the efforts of my new German friend Tobias Klein, a Berlin-based Catholic journalist, we may soon be able to publish a German language version of The Benedict Option. I hope the German elite class hates it too. Should be good for sales.