Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil by [Neiman, Susan]Title: Learning from the Germans:
Race and the Memory of Evil
Author: Susan Neiman
Genre: History/Philosophy
Pages: 386 (plus citations, indices, etc.)
Rating: 3 of 5

I reject the romanticized “Lost Cause” interpretation of the American Civil War. A perusal of the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, the “Cornerstone” Speech, and similar primary source documents makes it very clear that for the decision-makers in leadership the war was fought to preserve slavery (whether that is what individual soldiers felt they were fighting for or not). This book is driven by this understanding of the Civil War and the Confederacy coupled with a recognition of the shameful evil of slavery in America and its racist legacy (“Jim Crow,” etc.).

The author, a Jewish American philosopher who currently lives in Germany, explores the difference between how Germany and the US have dealt with government propagated racism in their past history. No direct “more/less evil” or “more/fewer victims” comparison is made between Nazism and slavery. The comparison is in how these events are memorialized, acknowledged, defended, excused, atoned for, and/or (her favorite phrase) “worked off.” Personally, I have pondered this idea before and was interested to see a scholarly book on the topic. It ended up being a very different book than what I was hoping for.

The book meanders through history, the author’s personal experiences (mostly living in Berlin & visiting racially charged locations and racial reconciliation groups in Mississippi), and her own philosophical/political thoughts. Much of it felt scattery and as if she were trying to talk through her ideas on paper and come to conclusions as she was writing. As she does this, she comes from a philosophical/political perspective somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders, and tends to attribute the worst possible (usually racist) motives to those of other political persuasions.

Overall, I did find much to appreciate and ponder in this book even though there are areas where I would strongly disagree with the author. I would love to see this same topic taken on by someone whose forte was history rather than philosophy.

8 thoughts on “The Confederacy & Nazi Germany

      1. Yeah, my posting has been a bit sporadic so far this year…I hope to get back to the “approximately once per week” schedule now that everyone at home is healthy and a lot of the planning for big events/ministries at church will be coming to a near standstill for a while.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *whistles* yeah, our church is thinking about cancelling services too. Not sure how I’ll handle that.

        Are you cancelling all public stuff and what does that mean for you?


      3. The church leadership is meeting tonight, to hammer out some details, but at the very least I expect us to replace Sunday worship service (we run 120-150 on average) with livestream for a while (and we’re on the radio every week already).

        I really hate to do it, but part of wisdom is heeding instruction from those qualified to give it and taking reasonable precautions against oncoming danger. There’s that fine line between trusting God to protect and presumptuously testing God with needlessly reckless behavior (cf. Satan’s use of Psalm 91 to tempt Jesus).

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Glad you’re big enough to livestream. I’m with you on your second paragraph. My natural reaction is to scoff at those in charge saying “don’t get together in groups bigger than 10” but then yeah, I realize they know a lot more than me and I don’t want to make things worse because of a natural “reaction” against being told something.

        Good luck at the meeting…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. At this point our “livestream” might be an iphone signed in to our facebook page and using facebook live 😀

        We’ve also already cancelled our usual midweek children/teen ministries in line with our policy that if the schools cancel so do we.

        I expect the meeting to go fairly smoothly… I actually preached on a Christian response to the pandemic yesterday so hopefully some of the Scriptures we looked at have been rattling around in hearts and minds and will help guide us tonight 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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