08 December 2023

The Public Vilifiers

Gottfried Keller (1878/1883)

Vermin lies in rest
In dust and crumbly mud,
Concealed, as the flame
Is hidden in the ash.
A gush of rain, a gust
Awakes the evil life
And out of nothing rise
The plague, the blaze, the smoke.

Out of his gloomy den
A malefactor moves
To roam, to snatch our purse,
But finds much better price.
He finds an idle brawl
On nothing, a mad lore,
A banner that is torn,
A people in simplicity.

He finds, wherever he goes,
The void of paltry times
To stride in without shame
And morph into a prophet.
Upon a dustheap he
Puts down his roguish foot
To hiss his compliments
Into the baffled world.


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Enwrapped in infamy
As if it were a cloud,
A liar before the people,
He soon stands tall and mighty,
Surrounded by supporters
Of low and noble rank
Who sniff a chance to profit
And prostitute themselves.

They disperse his parole
As once god’s messengers
did with those leaves of bread,
It bubbles on and on.
At first he lied alone,
The dog. Now it’s a thousand.
And roaring like a storm,
His pounds accrue with usury.

The crop is shooting up,
The land is greatly changed,
The crowd lives in disgrace
And jeers at the foul deed!
What used to be just fiction
Has now turned into truth,
The good have disappeared,
The bad ones troop about.

And if one day at last
This plight will crack like ice
It will be talked about
For ages, like black death.
And children on the heath
Will build an effigy
To burn joy out of sorrow
And light from ancient horror.

The week on Verfassungsblog


Gottfried Keller wrote his poem about the “public vilifiers” on the occasion of a campaign of lies and smears against a Jewish psychiatrist in Zurich. When he published it, the anti-semitism controversy, stoked by the cleric Adolf Stöcker and the historian Heinrich von Treitschke, was raging in Berlin. Adolf Hitler’s contemporaries quickly realised how strikingly well the poem fitted the Nazi leader; Erika Mann performed it in the “Pfeffermühle” and Hans Scholl read it to the White Rose on his sister Sophie’s birthday in 1942. Now, another 80+ years later, it seems to me that it is time to remember this poem again and to allow its wrathful force to infect, inspire and empower us. I did the translation one night a while ago when I couldn’t sleep, and I ask to forgive its shortcomings while I hope it transmits at least a fraction of the original’s poetic power.

Fighting anti-semitism and affirming Israel’s right to exist is German “raison d’état”, as the current saying goes, and as irritating as this weirdly pre-democratic choice of terms is, Verfassungsblog unequivocally shares these goals as such. However, if a definition of anti-semitism as susceptible to abuse and controversial as the IHRA working definition is linked to it and made binding, then we are in serious constitutional trouble. This is explained in detail by an author who, “due to the narrowing of the discourse described in the text in connection with the academic job insecurity caused by the WissZeitVG“, asked us to publish her text, as an exception, under the pseudonym CLARA NEUMANN.

Hamas is a criminal terrorist organisation, not a freedom movement, and military defense against it is permitted under international law. This does not change the dilemma that international humanitarian law must be observed even in a legal war. STEFAN OETER analyses what this means for Israel and Gaza.

In Thuringia, the red-red-green minority government is struggling to get its 2024 budget passed. If it fails, then Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow could call a vote of confidence to bring about early elections – which is not so easy under a literal interpretation of the constitution. Unlike Robert Böttner last week, SEBASTIAN DETTE believes that a restrictive interpretation is possible and necessary in this respect.

In the forthcoming European elections, MEPs will be elected to the European Parliament also in Hungary. What could the European Court of Justice do to ensure free and fair elections? Can or must the Hungarian courts refer problematic cases to Luxembourg? DÁNIEL G. SZABÓ answers this question in the affirmative.

Austria is haunted by the affair surrounding the former section chief in the Ministry of Justice, Christian Pilnacek, who was recently found dead. At the core of the affair is the independence of the judiciary, political pressure and the possibility to influence investigations. PETER HILPOLD explains what the affair is all about and what European law has to say on the subject.

The annual rule of law dialogue, with which the EU Council purports to tackle the rule of law issues of Member States, is currently under evaluation. BENEDETTA LOBINA does not expect much from this attempt to revitalise this essentially self-congratulatory instrument, which is completely toothless and ineffective when it comes to protecting the rule of law in the EU.

Will the new Polish government be able to both restore and maintain the rule of law in Poland? MAREK SAFJAN, the Polish judge at the European Court of Justice, believes this is very possible if the constitution is now taken seriously again. After all, the current situation is no more difficult than that of 1989.

In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has secured his majority with the promise of an amnesty for Catalan separatist leaders. GERMÁN M. TERUEL LOZANO considers this amnesty to be unconstitutional and contrary to the rule of law.


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The regulation of artificial intelligence in Europe through the AI Act is about to cross the finish line, but Germany, France and Italy, in line with BigTech interest, are pushing to water it down. JASCHA BAREIS describes what is at stake. MAXIMILIAN WAGNER explains why committing BigTech to material values instead of regulating it is not a solution.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legendary US Supreme Court judge, would have turned 90 this year. In an essay that goes off the beaten track, MATEUSZ GROCHOWSKI reflects on the music dedicated to her and the relationship between law and music in general.

The majority of the Federal Constitutional Court does not consider German electoral law to be too incomprehensible to be constitutional. However, a minority of three of the eight judges in the Second Senate take a different view. YANNIK BREUER and JANNIK KLEIN consider what a way out of the dilemma between complexity and clarity might look like.

In Belgium, a court has condemned the climate policy of the federal and two regional governments as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. ALICE BRIEGLEB and ANTOINE DE SPIEGELEIR consider this judgement to be exemplarily well crafted, in sharp contrast to the deplorable state of Belgian federalism. MATTHIAS PETEL and NORMAN VANDER PUTTEN focus on the tension between what is legally necessary and what is ethically desirable.

The debate surrounding the Federal Constitutional Court’s ruling on the compatibility of climate investments with the debt brake continues with an article by GÜNTER FRANKENBERG: According to him, the ruling lacks the rigour of reasoning that it demands of legislators.

The attempt to adapt German road traffic law at least a little more to the requirements of climate justice has failed in the Bundesrat. TESSA HILLERMANN, CHARLOTTE JAWUREK, FRIEDERIKE PFEIFER, LUISA SCHNEIDER and JULIAN SENDERS analyse the matter.

Demonstrations on German motorways are often banned with the argument that the motorway would then have to be closed for a long time. But JANNIS KRÜßMANN has found out that this is not true.

Whether the German BAföG system still complies with the welfare state principle of the Basic Law is a question to which the Federal Constitutional Court is expected to give an answer in the near future. SHARI GAFFRON and JULIAN SEIDL see an urgent need for reform.

LISA RIEDNER reconstructs how the reforms of the traffic light coalition in social, migration and family policy intertwine to form a social (state) regime that serves not only to protect, but also to marginalise and discipline.

That’s all for now. All the best to you!

Max Steinbeis

SUGGESTED CITATION  Steinbeis, Maximilian: The Public Vilifiers, VerfBlog, 2023/12/08, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-public-vilifiers/, DOI: 10.59704/dfdafb6577d66944.

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