Sunday, October 25, 2015

Symptoms of Modernity. Jews and Queers in Late-Twentieth-Century Vienna by Matti Bunzl.

Symptoms of Modernity is an anthropological, cross-cultural study concerning the conditions and progress of the LGBT and Jewish communities in Austria. Matti Bunzl is able to link these two groups because both were perceived, by the majority of citizens, as containing traits which opposed the nation’s Aryan self-image. The existence of Jews and LGBT people contradicted the dominant culture’s view of itself as Aryan men and women, having specific gender roles, within a culturally homogeneous nation.

From this jumping-off point, Bunzl presents the similar history of these groups from pre-World War II to the early 21st Century. The reader sees an evolution from oppression and exclusion, through the inter-war Nazi period of extermination, to the post-War period of disregard. The trajectory becomes more positive in the 1970s as both groups organize publicly and begin demanding rights. One then observes increasing progress through the 1990s and into the 21st Century, which is influenced by both demands from these two communities within the nation and modernizing transnational pressure exerted primarily by the European Union that Austria wished to join.

The chief post-war stumbling block, which prevented Austrians from making much progress around homophobia and anti-Semitism, was the nation’s self-identification as “Hitler’s First Victim.” Those familiar with the history of the Anschluss will remember that the Austrian population overwhelmingly supported the Nazi “invasion.” German soldiers were welcomed at the border with flowers and treated to parades in Vienna. After the confetti was swept-up, Austria’s citizens brutally, enthusiastically participated in the Third Reich’s program, of killing and deporting to concentration camps, their Jewish and LGBT citizens. They were “Hitler’s First Cheerleaders.” But the loss of the war made remembering this behavior inconvenient. So the victim myth was born. Unlike their relatives in Germany, Austrians remained unrepentant. While Germany began a program of classes in public schools that addressed national responsibility for the Holocaust, Austria continued its ideology of racial purity and gendered images of Aryan men and women that excluded LGBT people and Jews. By the late 20th Century, Germany was electing leftist chancellors like Willy Brandt and rising Green Party members like Petra Kelly, while Austria was electing conservative ex-Nazis like Kurt Waldheim and rising reactionaries like Jorg Haider.

Bunzl’s work is a unique contribution to the study of Austrian history and society. His examination of the intersections between the experiences of Jewish and LGBT communities is a first. The author teaches Anthropology, as well as History. His research is based upon both historical archives and direct, anthropological field study. As a result, his perspective is on the development of the two cultures, their institutions, their connections with each other and their relationship to the dominant culture, as they politically awaken and culturally expand over time.

The language of this book is a combination of academic anthropological expression and over-thinking. Its dense professional vocabulary sometimes results in ideas sounding more original and complex than they are. For example, Bunzl will say that the two communities “share a common genealogy of cultural abjection” (Bunzl, p. 12), rather than “they are similarly oppressed minorities.” Through a novel use of terms, Professor Bunzl also argues for a thesis statement that is intellectually obtuse and linguistically awkward. The author calls the LGBT and Jewish communities “symptoms of modernity,” meaning that they were “the abject products of the nation’s reification as a fantasized space of ethnic and sexual purity, as well as the signposts of its historical trajectory” (Bunzl, p. 216). Aside from the author’s ever-present, convoluted language, the idea is flawed on its face. It’s not Jewish and LGBT people who are “symptoms.” Indeed, calling oppressed minorities “symptoms” dehumanizes them and configures them in a subservient position as indicators for the dominant culture, when they should be represented as independent peoples. It would be simpler and more accurate to say “the way LGBT and Jewish people were treated showed how the Austrian culture was changing.”

The value of Symptoms of Modernity is not only in its unique presentation of Vienna’s LGBT and Jewish communities, but also in its optimism. Bunzl shows vibrant groups overcoming a horrific past and arriving in a more liberated, culturally rich present. His images of Pride Marches, social events, Jewish museums, strong organizations and protests, are affirmative pictures of healthy growth. A particular nugget of interest is his portrait of an iconoclastic political group of LGBT Jews called Re'uth. It’s not all rosy. This anthropologist presented signs that Austria was developing new nationalist prejudices targeting non-European immigrants. These anti-immigrant sentiments are poignant to read about, as Austria and the EU face their Migrant Crisis of Syrian refugees. But by and large, Bunzl celebrates the changes that have taken place and the regenerative ability of humanity.

Bunzl, Matti. Symptoms of Modernity. Jews and Queers in Late-Twentieth-Century Vienna. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Illuminati Without Illusions. History Minus Modern Conspiracy Theory. From van Dulmen.

The purpose of this essay is to offer the public a factual history of the Illuminati. There is so much misinformation and spurious (frankly paranoid) conspiracy theory on the internet concerning this past organization, that some clarity is useful. While this German Enlightenment organization was indeed a secret society, its history is no secret. There are several legitimate sources of information on which a balanced, earnest reader may draw. This essayist has chosen The Society of the Enlightenment. The Rise of the Middle Class and Enlightenment Culture in Germany, as his source. Richard van Dulmen, the book's author, is Professor of Modern History at the University of Saarland. The structure of this article will contain first, a short history of their origins; second, an explanation of the structure of this organization; and third, a brief description of their principles and plans which resulted in their being outlawed.

“The League of the Illuminati was founded in 1776 in the university town of Ingolstadt by the twenty-eight year old Professor of Church Law and Practical Philosophy, Adam Weishaupt.” (Dulmen, p. 105). Its original intention was to oppose the Catholic Jesuit sect’s goals and philosophy. He recruited its first members from among his students. Weishaupt originally conceived of the nascent association as a secret organization to avoid outside (read State and Jesuit) interference, and to exert greater personal control over the agenda. As interest in his group expanded to other towns in Germany, the program of the Illuminati expanded as well. It began to include a more affirmative tenor of not just opposing Jesuits, but advancing Enlightenment notions of reason. When, in 1778, the Munich chapter of the Freemasons became enthusiastic about the Illuminati program, Weishaupt lost control of the organization. Munich was not prepared to accept Weishaupt’s autocratic leadership and appointed itself “Aeropagus” or “the highest collegiate of the league.” Munich was joined by journalist Aldoph Freiherr von Knigge in their bid to assume leadership. Weishaupt spent the next six years in a losing battle for control of the organization until its 1785 demise, when it was officially banned by the government of Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria.

There was a three-tier structure to this organization. The Novitiate was an entry level where “young Illuminati were educated…each under the individual supervision of a leader. They were taught to lead a moral life, to educate themselves, to read a particular canon of books, view everything in a critical light and write short tracts…it was essential to display both absolute obedience to the leader and discretion.” (Dulmen, p. 113). Tier two, the Minervals, were “the league’s foundation, a type of learned society, meeting in lodges.” (Dulmen, p. 113). The third and final tier was the Arcana. It was conceived as “the foundations upon which the whole edifice stood.” But no one ever attained this grade. The organization only survived eight years and was disbanded before any member exhibited enough learning to qualify. So the Minerval tier “exercised the decisive influence.” (Dulmen, p. 114).

Principles, Plans & Termination.
The principles of this organization were benign enough: they wished to realize “the dream of the kingdom of reason, in which equality before the law, freedom of thought and freedom from violence would reign supreme.” But the implementation is what got the Illuminati into so much trouble: “It was the deliberate intention of the league that…all important religious, governmental and, not least, didactic institutions should be infiltrated by Illuminati sympathizers in order that they might operate in the best interests of reason.” The plan was to surround “the ruling princes with a network of Illuminati sympathizers so that they would be left with no alternative but to govern in the spirit of Illuminism.” (Dulmen, p. 113). When Illuminati documents were brought to Prince Karl Theodor, he exhibited a disinclination to be thusly influenced. His March 2, 1785 edict banning all secret societies ended the organization.

The League of the Illuminati was an Enlightenment era phenomenon. There is no surviving secret society from that time period. As for the current conspiracy theories: The Rothschilds are not members of any modern version; this was not a society that would have accepted Jews. The Kennedys are not members of any modern version; there is no way that the former Illuminati would have accepted immigrants into their membership. The Extra-terrestrials are not members; I suppose it’s the immigrant thing again. The Illuminati began and ended in the Seventeenth Century. I hope this short essay has cleared-up some misconceptions.

Dulmen, Richard van. The Society of the Enlightenment. The Rise of the Middle Class and Enlightenment Culture in Germany. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992.