Plucky King Leopold

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2010

Jesus Christ. Louis Michel, the former European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is reported by the EU Observer as offering his opinions about Leopold II, King of the Belgians and one-time private owner of the Congo:

bq. “Leopold II was a true visionary for his time, a hero,” he told P-Magazine, a local publication, in an interview on Tuesday. “And even if there were horrible events in the Congo, should we now condemn them?” … “Leopold II does not deserve these accusations,” continued Mr Michel, himself a descendent of the Belgian king and a “Knight, Officer and Commander” in the Order of Leopold, Belgium’s highest honour. … “The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and boosted economic growth. Leopold turned the Congo into a vast labour camp? Really? In those days it was just the way things were done.” …. Admitting there were “irregularities,” he said: “We can easily be tempted to exaggerate when it comes to the Congo … I feel instinctively that he was a hero, a hero with ambitions for a small country like Belgium.” “To use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the Congo is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.”

Let’s be clear about this: what Michel has said is comparable to Holocaust-denial. If you doubt this, or even if you haven’t read it yet, then Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost should set you right. Perhaps 10 million people, perhaps half the population of the area, died during the “Free State” period, victims of Leopold’s greed for the region’s natural resources, chiefly rubber.

Orwellian Undertones?

by John Holbo on June 24, 2010

Jonah Goldberg points out that there is something sinister, even progressive, about the German phrase, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – quite apart from the association with Auschwitz. “The Orwellian undertones to the phrase are real, and the associations with the Holocaust are horrific, but Arbeit Macht Frei was a popular “progressive” slogan on the road to serfdom.” Do you know where the phrase came from?

The Arbeit Macht Frei sign [at Auschwitz] was erected by prisoners with metalwork skills on Nazi orders in June 1940, and was a cynical take on the title of an 1873 work by the lexicographer, linguist and novelist Lorenz Diefenbach in which gamblers and fraudsters discover the path to virtue through hard work.

I appreciate that Republicans are hard-pressed to come up with a positive platform in 2010, but this seems an unpromising trial balloon: we must restore a culture of healthy recklessness and corruption, lest, by treading the perilous path of work and responsibility, we be beguiled into serfdom.

It’s like ‘the Fascist octopus has sung its swan song,’ but with Poor Richard’s Almanack as the libretto.