Pg 175 – They Thought They Were Free – A Philologist colleague of Books author
“Yes,” said my colleague, shaking his head, “the ‘excesses’ and the ‘radicals.’ We all opposed them, very quietly. So your two ‘little men’ thought they must join, as good men, good Germans, even as good Christians, and when enough of them did they would be able to change the Party. They would ‘bore from within.’ ‘Big men’ told themselves that, too, in the usual sincerity that required them only to abandon one little principle after another, to throw away, little by little, all that was good. I was one of those men.”
Pg 171 – They Thought They Were Free – A Philologist colleague of Books author
“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.”
These quotes are easily discernible ones on compromise — on how it is dangerous to the individual to attempt to become the enemy in order to thwart him. In all of my short life, I’ve only known one person who successfully “bored from within” and came out having done more damage then had done to him. Even then, I’m sure he wasn’t completely unaffected, but his actions were consistent with his beliefs and he threw away little, if any, principles. That is the key, having a belief strong enough that it can’t be compromised on, or thrown away. A belief that is consistent with fundamental principles, that understands the proper role of authority and knowledge, and is grounded in Christ. This is not an easily attainable thing, and is a primary reason for this blogs existence. So that I, the economical engineer, can attempt to be grounded in knowledge and truth.
Compromise is so often thought of as a good thing in relationships and in trade. In marriage it happens often enough: the man gives in a little ‘here’, the gal gives in a little ‘here’; the couple comes away happier. Or in trade, maybe the gentleman selling that Persian Rug feels he won’t accept anything less than 5k for it; but someone comes along who doesn’t want to spend more than 4k. They might come to a compromised solution of 4.5k that despite their prior desires, satisfies them both and they come away happy and richer than before.
It is obvious then that compromise is not a bad thing in general. So what makes compromise in politics so bad? Government isn’t about trade or relationships — it is about how to institute force “equitably”. As “Equitable” and “force” are both terms that are run by principle, compromise implies compromising principles as stated in the quote above. The Persian Rug Trade and the Marriage example above is based on individual, subjective need so compromise means altering ones needs to better get them filled. The Persian Rug seller may really a million dollars for that Persian Rug, but $4.5k & no rug is better than $0 and a rug so he compromises his exorbitant “million dollar” desire and makes the trade. There are no principles involved, just subjective needs. “Force” is not about need, if it were so it wouldn’t be forceful, thus it is based on something else — principles. “Equitable” is usually attempted to be based on need but as it is always the government’s interpretation of the citizen’s needs, it too must be based on principles. Thus, governmental compromise implies a compromise on principles.
Principle Compromise is a dangerous term and detrimental to any and all persons. Principles are how we base our actions. Animals act on instinct; humans on principle. Principles guide our actions even if unsure of what our principles are. To act without principle is to act as an animal would. I suppose that’s why so many politicians are seen as being animalistic, they’ve compromised so much half of what they do is based on instinct (survival & power) rather than principle. This is exactly the dangers talked about by the book’s author’s colleague.
“little by little, … [he threw] away … all that was good.”
How do we prevent this? How do we not compromise our principles yet have an effect on the world around us? First, if we are to hold fast to the principles that guide us we need to know what they are. Don’t just apply a label to yourself and assume you are good to go: “I’m a Christian so Christ guides me” or “I’m evolutionary atheist so Survival of the Fittest guides me”. Delve deeper into what your beliefs are, and what are some founding principles. Once you are aware of your “first principles” as Luther put it, extrapolate on them and make sure you are already being consistent. Only then can you truly have your actions guided by principle so as to handle the onslaught of compromise in this world.
After running through this basic – yet tough and often exhaustive – exercise, what did you find? What principles guide you?
This post is a continuation of a long series of commentary on quotes pulled from They Thought They Were Free, the Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer. The book itself is home to a lot of revelations to the nature of people and I do recommend reading it. For additional reading please see the short review of the book itself and a list of other commentary like this post.