Passing Bull 251 – Comparing cases and playing the man

‘We may have made some mistakes financially, but your lot trashed the whole economy.’  This is standard fare in politics.  Playing the man – the Latin is ad hominem – is not meeting the argument.  It is a recognised fallacy.  But comparing one case to another may be revealing, and not just as showing hypocrisy on the part of the person putting an argument.  Comparing cases, and distinguishing them, is part of the lifeblood of debate and it is essential to the process of the common law.

This came to mind as I read a biography of Von Karajan by Richard Osborne.  Karajan had joined the Nazi Party and had to be cleared by the De-Nazification Tribunal.  Furtwangler faced a similar issue.  Both were attacked – in my view unfairly.

Karajan had said he made a mistake in joining the party. I don’t know why – he might have been unemployable if his ‘patriotism’ had been put in issue.  Eight million Germans signed up.  That was not in itself a crime.  Mr Osborne points out that David Oistrakh joined the Communist Party.  Does that mean he supported the crimes of Stalin?

Way back to the time when pioneering British socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb excused the mass murder of the kulaks, the peasant landowners in Stalin’s Russia, on grounds of a pressing need for greater agricultural efficiency in the Soviet Union, there has been a long history of toleration – even on occasion justification – of ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin’s acts of genocide that would be unthinkable in the case of Hitler’s.

That is an illuminating comparison.  As is the reference to the ‘raucous’ support of Hitler given by Karl Böhm, ‘the shrewd lawyer with the peasant’s instinct for survival.’  ‘Anyone who does not say a big YES to our Führer’s action and give it their hundred per cent support does not deserve to be called a German.’  Neither Karajan nor Furtwangler got even close to that, and if you looked hard enough you might find something unseemly in the dressing table of the ensainted Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

Edmund Burke said ‘I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.’  The Nazis claimed to do just that.  Robert Jackson (later a U S Supreme Court Justice) said at Nuremberg:

We should also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people…..If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no storm troopers would have been needed….The German no less than the non-German world has accounts to settle with these defendants.

Mr Osborne tells us that Yehudi Menuhin shared this view. 

In 1949, a tour of Chicago by Furtwangler had to be called off in the face of death threats.  The President of the Chicago group issued a most dignified statement.

….I was confident however in my belief that all of us who have made great sacrifices to bring the war to a victorious conclusion had done so in the hope that our victory would above all else bring about a world attitude of tolerance.  To find that this attitude of tolerance has not yet been realised and accepted by many people , including even some outstanding artists, is tragic evidence of the fact that our victory as yet has not been complete.

The whole catastrophe started with an ascription of guilt to a whole people.  Guilt by association is the first refuge of the coward.  And we may want to reconsider our views on moral cowardice in view of the moral landslide now on show in the Republican Party.

Bloopers

Apollo said in a statement it was ‘firmly committed to transparency.’  It added: ‘Leon has communicated directly with our investors on this issue and we remain in open dialogue.’

Financial Times, 23 October, 2020

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