It’s more than two decades since brewers Beamish and Crawford invoked a slogan that if it was relevant then is even more relevant and reassuring today. The regional brewer promised that their stout was “consistency in a world gone mad”. That declaration spoke, at the same time, to our longing for stability and an almost genetic, rebellious disposition to cheer on an underdog. The latitude to indulge that juxtaposition is, in our all too often cold, hard world, a thing of luxury. It should not be underestimated. Such a luxury can only endure if it is built on solid, sometimes taken-for-granted, foundations.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of one of the seminal events underpinning our world. The Nuremberg trials drew a line between Europe’s darkest, modern collapse and today’s progressive, largely peaceful Europe. The location was and is symbolic. Nuremberg hosted spectacular Nazi rallies each year and the Satanic Nuremberg laws were a catalyst for the Holocaust. As these events fade from living memory they become almost ephemeral warnings, rather than a constraining presence.
The Guardian columnist Rafael Behr warns about the tide of memory. “Memory is the vaccine, preserved in memorials, transmitted down generations in the hope of reaching herd immunity. But if it is not taken up, and witnesses fall silent, the antibody count in the cultural bloodstream declines.”
That decline is apparent in ways that would horrify those who lived through the catastrophe that made the Nuremberg trials necessary. In recent days, Hungary and Poland blocked the EU’s budget, including a €750bn Covid recovery fund, over an EU clause that links funding to the rule of law across the community. Though the impasse threatens to cost those countries billions in EU funding they seem determined to march to a more confrontational beat than the rest of Europe. How this concludes is anyone’s guess but, as with Brexit, the EU cannot set aside the core principles that sustain it and us.
If the regressive instincts of Orbán and Morawiecki would appall those who sat through Nuremberg, it is easy to imagine how they might judge Brexit and the increasingly implausible prime minister Boris Johnson and his knock-about cabinet. They have become the antithesis of their measured, though not faultless, predecessors. Their parish-pump nativism is an affront to those who built today’s Europe.
In this polarised world, it is all too easy to be deaf to those with views that challenge our own — just as Europe was indifferent to American declarations that we are too reliant on America’s military protection. Those who sat through Nuremberg would not have allowed that situation develop and it’s time, despite many other pressing demands, to address that real-world issue, one that is already all too apparent in our inability to protect our coastlines and fisheries.
The Nuremberg generation, if they might be called that, were determined to build a lasting peace. That they, especially post-war Germany, succeeded should not be taken for granted or imagined a permanent reality. In a world gone mad, that kind of consistency demands a level of commitment and effort greater than that active today.