THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has warned that a loss of confidence in the political process could awaken the same forces as arose in Germany in the 1930s.
A “collapse of confidence in society’s ability to argue well, and therefore make good decisions”, could lead to the delegation of decision-making to a class or an individual, i.e. a Führer.
Lord Williams was speaking in St Paul’s Cathedral last week, at the launch of a new edition of Darkness Over Germany, a 1943 account of pre-war debates with leading Germans written by Amy Buller, who went on to found Cumberland Lodge, a centre for reconciliation in Windsor Great Park (Feature, 5 May).
The new edition has been subtitled: A warning from history.
Among those Miss Buller spoke to were members of the ruling political class in Germany, who believed that they could use Hitler and then rein him in. “But using tyranny as a short-term political strategy to ‘tide us over’ is not a very safe policy,” Lord Williams suggested.
Among the elements that led to the rise of Nazism were a subversion of the structures of government, simply bypassing the German parliament and ministries; intense localism, which gave young men a sense of worth and purpose — “but very few problems are merely local”; and spiritual bankruptcy: the Nazi message had been “the age of uncertainty is over for you” — a very attractive but misleading promise.
As for the present, he warned, Brexit was “taking our eyes off the ball in some other areas”, such as homelessness, alienation, and a dysfunctional penal service.
Introducing the debate, the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Canon Mark Oakley, warned: “Populism is not fascism, but it is often its harbinger.”