Karl Kraus
Translated by Peter Winslow


My attitude towards politics can be summed up in a recent and engaging conversation of mine: “And who is going to be the Minister of Commerce?” “The same one we have now.” “Oh, and who is that?” … I am just as interested in foreign policy. If I were interested in the suspense afforded by detective novels, then the inner-workings of diplomacy would have even more of an allure for me than they actually do: I would not be able to get enough of that spectacle where nations are pursued by an international criminal enterprise with wanted posters and fact sheets. When I say that politics does not interest me, anyone who has lost his or her mind to politics is free to believe me. In truth, politics is not a career, not some occupation, but it is for this reason that politics is a problem. What attracts me to and brings me to think about politics time and again is the very fact that there is any politics at all. I believe that politics is at least as admirable a manner to be done with the earnestness of life as playing with tarot cards is and that, because there are people who make a living playing with tarot cards, career politicians are certainly a plausible phenomenon—all the more so given that they always win at the expense of those not playing the game. But it is at it should be that kibitzers have to pay for being nothing more than patient on-lookers. If politics did not exist, then the people would have nothing more than their inner-life and, by extension, nothing that would be capable of contenting them. Only suspense can provide them with the raw materials of life. Art is of no help at all to them here, but politics and crime are raw materials. The greater the action, the lesser the intellectual strain in grasping that action. The greater the political event, the more the intellectual poverty which is occupied with that event becomes obvious. Politics is stage effects. When Shakespeare walked across the stage, the noise from the weapons and fight scenes drowned out the thoughts of each and every audience. The greatness of Bismarck—who took to creativity in molding the stuff his politics were made of (and why should an adventure in the waste not become an occasion of creation for the artist?)—ought to be gauged with the metric of theatrical action, of the effect of the performances and entrances and exists stage whatever. And if we Germans fear God and nothing else in this world, then we do so out of respect for him and the sound of his thunder, not for his personality. Rhythm is everything, meaning is nothing. There was greatness in the act of the bereaved in Friedrichsruh when they slammed the coffin closed on an uninvited guest, but the people did not sense that greatness because they, in another fit of on-looking, continued to have an eye and an ear only for the gestures and the tone of the man who had thrived amidst the raw materials of politics like no other before him. Did he not give his all to the people? Hand to heart, what do the people prefer: The Miller and His Child or When We Dead Awaken? Who, besides politicians, complains about the stupidities in politics? Are the clever things in politics more clever? Is silence more suspenseful than talking? One interview, it is said, and six million almost had to go to war! But are the reasons for which they would have otherwise had to do so any more enlightening? Is the disparity any less? That an interview resulted in such a consequence is not the ponderable here, that an interview is capable of having consequences is; that politics exists is. That mankind has come of age and knows no better past-time than being on the look-out for the suspense afforded by politics. The disparity between cause and effect is what the entire political game is about. And it is in this disparity that we find the reason for why it is foolish to complain about causes from a political point of view. The greater the danger, the more heady the satisfaction that political interests enjoy; the greater the event, the more glaringly the intellectual void shines of which that event was born. Whether an emperor speaks more or less is the quintessence of our life’s worries. This, and only this, is my political issue. If we talk of nothing else for an entire month, then we shall be failing culture more than any talk against politics ever has. I grant that there is, for you and me, no fun in refraining from such talk and that refraining from such talk has political consequences; but politics is to blame for that—which we have to render speechless in order to strip the emperor’s words of all their perils. There is no worldly business more regrettable than that business of engaging in politics when an impulse to experience something does not turn the materials it has into a work of art. Yet, Wilhelm II would more likely be able to have a personal relationship with his misapprehensions than Herr Harden could with his truths. It is the worst possibility of politics that a political mistake aids in the rise of an abraded public image, and the greatest danger in Wilhelm II’s words are Herr Harden’s successes. The interview with the emperor was an evil; but did we not have more of a reason to pause when the German nation suddenly learned that it was ‘die Interview’ and not ‘das Interview’? If England, France, Russia, Italy, and Austria were to declare war on Germany, it would certainly be a lamentable consequence of a political nuisance. But would it not be more horrifying if we had to read that the King, Marianne’s guardian, the Russian tsar, Umberto’s offspring, and old man Austria were united in a vendetta against the German head of state? The consequences would be unimaginable! … As you see, the standpoint from which I judge political affairs is a seemingly low one. My horizon is so narrow that the setting of those affairs finds no room for consideration. I judge the intellectual substance of each and every political event based on the quality of the people engaged with those events, the value of the seed based on the quality of the wheat it brings forth. I see what occupies Germany’s pub chairs and what is set in its newspaper columns; I see that German hearts are full of whatever is coming out of their mouths. But now a great German artist has died: Rudolf Wilke, one of the greatest ever to have spoken to German hearts in vain, an artist who did not allow death to defraud him of the best and ample of creativity and who, as a dying man, created something that is seldom granted a life coming into bloom; an artist, who created drawings while on his deathbed which, with lines but hinting at the backdrop, not only have more of a relationship to life than all the actions played out in any political scene, but also exhibit a timeless scorn pocketing up all the ridiculousness of the day.[1] The life of Rudolf Wilke was lost on most Germans because the materials he weaved with were too non-descript for them and because the occasion had been dispensed with in the shaping and working of those materials. And so a death was lost on them as well, and German newspapers have not found thirty lines for the death of an artist and less than three when political life demands its rights. The silence is bloodcurdling and penetrates the noise of the day. It is the stigma of a journalized world: because the life of the emperor is so current, the death of an artist must remain in overset.





[1] Kraus’s “in die Tasche stecken” here appears to be an unattributed (perhaps even unwitting) citation of Shakespeare’s “pocket up” in King John:

BASTARD And hang a calve’s-skin on his recreant limbs.
AUSTRIA Well, ruffian, I must pocket up these wrongs,
BASTARD Your breeches best may carry them” (3.1, line numbers 125-127).

In his “Citing Austria’s psychology” (“Zur Psychologie Österreichs”), two years prior to the present essay, Kraus quotes extensively from King John and included these lines among his citations at 5. Kraus’s “in die Tasche stecken” can be readily understood as an intimation that the ridiculousness of the day may be best carried/borne by the outward appearance (Verkleidung) of Wilke’s scorn for that ridiculousness (read: his artwork); in fact, this seems to be precisely what Kraus is intimating.



Works cited


Kraus, K. “Politik.” Die Fackel, No. 264-265. (1908): 1-4. Print. (source text)
———“Zur Psychologie Österreichs.” Die Fackel, No. 209. (1906): 1-7. Print.

Shakespeare, W. King John. Ed. Honigmann, E.A.J. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. Revised Edition. Ed. Proudfoot, R., Thompson, A., and Kastan, D.S., London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2011: 603-632. Print.