Former Archbishop Canterbury: Today’s political landscape resembles 1930s Germany

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Former Archbishop Canterbury: Today’s political landscape resembles 1930s Germany

Dr Rowan Williams warns that 'nationalism, populism, and extremism' are as big a threat to society now as before the Second World War

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams

A former Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that today’s political landscape in Europe and the U.S resembles that of Germany in the 1930s and urged the world not to forget the lessons of the past.

Dr Rowan Williams made the comments in the introduction to a new study guide examining Amy Buller’s seminal text ‘Darkness over Germany,’ which includes a contribution from Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

The guide has been produced by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) in collaboration with Cumberland Lodge. A spokesman for CCJ said: “Buller’s observations and warnings concerning nationalism, populism, and extremism are as pertinent now as they were then”.

Acknowledging that liberal democracy was “not in a good way,” Williams reminded readers of the features and first signs of fascism, noting their presence today.

“The rise to prominence of charismatic and authoritarian leaders in several countries, the growing presence of populist and sometimes openly racist political parties at elections, the rising temperature of public debate and the delegitimising of opponents and minorities, the rhetoric of ‘the people’s will’ – all these very visible features of the international scene represent in different ways a rejection of some or all of the classical pieties of democracy.

In a specific reference to Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential election win, the former Church of England leader said: “There seems to be a hunger for rapid and simple solutions. It is connected with nostalgia for what is presented as strong and highly personalised leadership – readily identified with a commanding media presence, irrespective of any actual delivery of better standards or security.”

Williams said the republication of Buller’s “long-neglected classic” was “as timely as could be” because it examined how democracy collapsed and how fascism took root.

The guide goes on to take learners through the book and examine the major themes, such as the nature of abusive attitudes and incitement, engagement with faith communities, and crucially, “what constitutes dangerous ideas”.

CCJ President Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg of New North London Synagogue said Buller’s text not only explored the evils of Nazism but the causes of it, including “unemployment, hopelessness, the feeling that one’s life is useless and one’s talents unwanted”.

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