Now and then trends emerge that are so portentous they seem to demand the creation of new words. The one we are in the big middle of right now is President Obama’s campaign to garner the approval of that notorious crank, world opinion, by engaging in prolonged and systematic deprecation of the nation that elected him. The events of Friday combined to crystallize the salient features of this trend: the award to Obama of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the much-praised modesty – humility – with which Obama informed a waiting world of his acceptance.
Today the Nobel for Peace is, of course, a popularity contest, in which a panel of aging European progressives picks its Prom King. It has nothing to do with making, keeping, or even promoting peace, and everything to do with progressivist gemütlichkeit. But as Thomas Friedman observed this morning, it is the prize, the prize of prizes, the most prized prize of all: it’s the prize you go for by hewing to the Western leftist line on everything about war, peace, and diplomacy, from advocating Smart Power to regretting Western use of fossil fuel power to decrying the existence and in-your-face puissance of American military power.
So the Nobel symbolizes beautifully the objective of Barack Obama’s obsequies before the world. On a different level of analogy, his well-earned humility about receiving the award symbolizes, with an ineffable perfection of logic, the humility appropriate to leftist progressivism before any award purporting to commemorate a meaningful contribution to the welfare of mankind. Yet, in a marvelous confluence of elements, a magniloquent and complacent humility is admired as both the approach and the reaction. Humility becomes, in fact, a measurable and prescribable quantity, something necessary to a system, for which units of measure are assigned. Perhaps we could call units of humility “Obamas.”
At any rate, if any language can capture a perfect storm of concept and method, it’s German, Master of the Universe in the compound-idea department. “Nobel humility” or “Nobel modesty” does convey an intelligible meaning in English, but in a blank and ultimately one-dimensional sort of way. Make it a faux German neologism, on the other hand, and it acquires not only a heft but a cadence, a sense of inevitability and “Of course!”-ness, a hint of self-conscious juxtaposition conveying euphemism, irony, humor.
One could have used Demut, implying humility with submission and weakness, rather than Bescheidenheit, which conveys more of a sense of appropriate but not self-denigrating modesty. I think Bescheidenheit works better, however, because, at least for now, it’s where the euphemism and irony come in: Obama, the modern measure of progressive humility, is not thought of by his fans as showing Demut, but as embodying Bescheidenheit. Plenty of excellent expressions carry the sense of an ironic wink, and this one certainly should.
Equally important, Nobelbescheidenheit sounds rhythmic and pleasing, whereas Nobeldemut just sounds awful, as if it might be a German brand of assembly-required furniture. There will be time and more (we hope) to migrate to this ghastly expression when its necessity becomes painfully clear. (At that point the alliteration of Demut with dhimmi and dhimmitude will be in its favor.)
Having only a glancing familiarity with German, I invite expert commentary from readers on the assembly of the neologism itself. I went back and forth on Nobelische-ing the thing, and tried out Nobelenbescheidenheit as well as Nobelischenbescheidenheit. I ended up liking Nobelbescheidenheit the best: its simplicity and lack of eliding syllables or adjectival development seemed to convey best the idea of a true neologism, one that, in the modern sense, plops down on a language and operates on rough and ready terms, out of urgent necessity. But I’ll appreciate hearing what impression Nobelbescheidenheit makes on others, and if you think it can be Germanized better without sacrificing that indefinable quality of poetry.
19 thoughts on “Die Nobelbescheidenheit”
Don’t speak the German . I know a family of African-Americans .Talking about the Obama Nobel prize, the mom in the family began her comments on Obama with he’s an African. There comes a point when the playing at being an American runs into bad acting. All of us really are Americans, I mean this is our home. It’s like the line in the Bible, I know mine and mine know me. Eventually, the elites will separate out from the rest of us in their inability to believably voice the
American experience. It may take a little longer, but the separation is beginning to occur. It’s the difference between ML King getting the Nobel prize and all of us recognizing his American experience and now Obama getting the Nobel prize and the action doesn’t resonate.
Orcas — thank you for a really good comparison there, between MLK Jr and Obama. I hadn’t really contemplated that before, but you’re right: Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life would understand and, if you will, vibrate sympathetically to the very AMERICAN experience of MLK. His political ideas were grounded in American tradition, and his personal background was as American as baseball and apple pie.
Obama, by contrast, has very little “American” experience. Many, many people have recognized this, of course. But it’s a really good point that whereas MLK was quintessentially American, Obama’s experience with America has almost all been through segments of society, both foreign and in our homeland, that resent and deprecate America.
When MLK was awarded the Nobel, it was for a man of fundamentally and unashamedly American character. This can’t be said of Obama. But the comment, of course, is not only on the Nobel committee — it’s on the American voters who elected Obama as well.
Yep, you little sweethearts get to decide who is or isn’t a real Merikin.
Hi Fuster: The point I was trying to make was I happen to know an extended African American family that now can’t figure out what political narrative ,if you will, Obama is appealing to. I contrast this with two historical figures, Mohandas Gandhi and ML King. Both men had a lot of political advisers who helped shape the political narrative that they wanted presented to the public.I’ve never been able to understand what message Obama wished to present to America which is one reason why I’m no longer registered as a Democrat. I just think there are a lot more people now who really don’t know what it is that the Democratic elites think they’re doing.
Actually MLK was the number one hate figure for our right wing fringe when he was alive. The torrent of abuse, rage and hatred directed against him by the spiritual predecessors of the likes of Rush, Glenn, and Michelle pales in comparison with the current wave of self-pitying rage oozing from the “give me back my country” crowd. Now that he’s safely dead and buried (his asassination was greeted with undisguised glee by the right-wing fringe whose hatred inspired his assassin) he can be acknowledged as a true American – and used here to make it appear (unconvincingly) that the people who cannot accept our President are not motivated by racism. This faux-eulogy of MLK is another version of the old “some of my best friends are Jews/blacks” etc.
Barrack Obama is the elected President of our country. Once he was elected he became the President of us all. Criticise his policies by all means. But trying to de-legitimize him a different thing altogether. This is my country too. It is also the country of the majority who elected barak Obama and who still support him, and of those who disagree with him but acknowledge and respect him as their Commander in Chief.
Barack Obama is, like most Americans, the child of immigrants (His forbears include Irish and Kenyans). I would be delighted to know exactly what you have in mind when you say that he isn’t a “true” American. You leave the weasel-words in the air. We deserve to be told. I suspect you really mean that any of your fellow citizens who dont share your views are un-American, or unpatriotic.
The Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress have called their opponents un-American, political terrorists and more. So maybe you want to tone down the righteous indignation since you are probably not going to take them to task.
It wasn´t our guy who put a 9/11 truther and a maoist in the White House. Barack Obama is still the guy who made Rev. Wright his mentor. Those are his choices. Face it.
Liberals gave him the nomination because of his race, so it is natural for them to believe opposition to him is racial. That´s not my problem.
The President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He is no one else´s Commander in Chief. I bet you never called Bush your Commander in Chief, did you? Nor should you have.
Finally – you really like the word “torrent”, do you?
I don’t know enough German, but I’d like to see the concept of “nudge” in there.
I think that’s why many Americans are faintly miffed about the award: It’s patently a hint to us about how the Norwegians want to see us behave. An immature, adolescent country like the USA is especially apt to resent such hints. “Don’t you think you’d like to put your underwear in the hamper instead of on the floor?”
By the way, JED, your little niece looks ever so sweet but I’m sad to see that she is continuing her wastral ways. At this rate she is going to be a very high-maintenance date as a teenager; I’m afraid that sometimes scares the boys away.
Orcas, I can understand anyone not feeling as though Obama earned the prize and therefore not feeling excited about it being awarded to an American president. I can also easily identify with anybody not feeling warmly toward Obama and/or not understanding what it is that makes him tick.
I have difficulty accepting is that you, or the silly sister replying to you (and bless her sweet heart), have any better of an idea of who is a “real” American than the rest of us do.
Fuster: What I’m trying to say is that the Obama White House seems to wish to shape a narrative to various target audiences, all politicians do that. Some political figures in the past have been much more careful of what implications, many unintended, might occur in the various target audiences. I don’t think the Obama White House is all that good at propaganda. Like it or not we are at war over what the U.S. population will accept as the American narrative. Those of us average citizens didn’t start this war , the elites did.
I’m not sure which of the “elites’ Obama represents, or if there is a war about the American narrative.
You haven’t spent much time in high schools recently. For Columbus Day, I heard a high school teacher disclose to his class the shocking fact that when any of the Indians Columbus was bringing back on his ships from Spain died, they simply threw the body overboard! No mention of what they did with Spanish sailors who died. What’s more the Spanish sailors introduced all sorts of diseases to America. No mention of the diseases they brought back to Europe. The concluding thought of the lesson was that it would have been much better if the Indians had discovered–and conquered–Europe. Besides the weird ahistoricity of all this, there is a self-assured sense that of course in some basic way America is wrong, a blight on human history.
That’s very much the stance Obama has been taking. Speaking in Cairo of the evils of slavery in America, when in Sudan the slave takers are at work, and when an Egyptian woman or a Copt has no standing in court when accused by a Muslim man. Aplogizing in Europe for “going it alone,” when no country in Europe was able to step forward to end the genocide in Bosnia.
Leftist points of view rule the Humanities and Social Sciences at almost all institutions of higher education, and the high school teachers who were their students are now pushing these views in high school. Perhpas “elite” is not hte best term for this–intellectual and pseudo-intellectual make more sense.
Oddly, it seems to me that it’s really an inverted form of American exceptionalism. Not the idea that America works in a more idealistic way in the world than most countries (for instance, all that tsunami relief); but a notion that everything in the world is caused by America, that rogue states are soley motivated by their fear of American power. If we approach them with an open hand, they will gradually learn to relax and stop trying to take over their neighbors.
Margo, I think that you’re partially right. Many in this country think that we are better than most any other country in the world.
Apologizing for when we fail to excel is a pretty strong sign that the president thinks that we are exceptional.
I agree with you that the president seems to think this country is exceptional–that it should have no faults, and any faults should be subject to severe condemnation, even in the presence of those with far worse faults.
In the post above I am talking about his sense of proportion about this country, compared with others. It’s severely lacking.
By the way, the idea of American exceptionalism is not that America is better than everyone else, it is that America is constituted differently from other countries and actuated in its political life by rather different mix of motives including some that are concerned with protecting the helpless against the strong, and promoting liberty and democracy in our foreign policy.
Sadly, this argument, while superficially amusing at times, is dripping with gratuitous insults and deprecatory references to Europeans. Europeans have the internet and read US publications. They have become rather bemused at the torrent of ever-shriller hatred directed against them from accross the Atlantic from self-styled conservatives.
Europeans are people who, by and large, share not only their genetic inheritance with most Americans, but provided us with our core political, cultural, and social inheritance. They are also the people who both stand with us when we are true to our shared values, and tell us to our faces, as good friends do, when we are not. You will however notice that the torrent of opinionated hatred and deprecation is not being reciprocated, and that the vast majority of Europeans remain positive about our country and its people. However, the constant use of insult and terms such as “appeasers” is slowly and inexorably alienating our best friends on this planet. While it may be superficially amusing to listen to the rantings of Rush & Co., this torrent of ill-will is doing long-term damage to the interests of our country on the way to scoring a few cheap shots.
@ peterwise on October 16, 2009
at 1:49 pm
I have the internet, too, plus I live in Europe and speak German. And being well acquainted with the “ever-shriller hatred” of America that is on display not only in blogs but publicly owned media over here, all I can tell your Europeans buddies is to stfu and look in the mirror.
By the way, the many anti-American rantings I had the privilege to witness were all of them informed by the Michael Moore school of American liberalism. In fact, Moore sold proportionally more books in Germany than the US. That had an impact. Not Rush. Hardly anybody has heard of Limbaugh and what the few know is informed by liberals feverish hatred of him.
It is the American left that is whipping up anti-American sentiment abroad. Your average European sees America through the lens of the American media, American intellectuals and entertainers. And they all can´t wait to take their partisan politics public in front of the world, something Europeans would never do. There is no American as provincial and navelgazing as the American liberal. These liberals – professors, actors, what have you – show up on German tv and think nothing of bashing their country. And then they turn around and wail that the Right made us unpopular. I have seen it happen countless times. And you don´t know what you are talking about.
“Europeans are people who, by and large, share not only their genetic inheritance with most Americans, but provided us with our core political, cultural, and social inheritance. They are also the people who both stand with us when we are true to our shared values, and tell us to our faces, as good friends do, when we are not.”
What nonsense. First, as for genetic inheritance, tell it to Pat Buchanan, maybe he cares (he admires Europeans too, at least the continental variety). Our political, cultural and social inheritance is specifically anglo-saxon. The idea of Europeans as final arbiters of what our values are (since when? 1788? 1871? 1945?) is inane and proves once more that there is no American as provincial as the American liberal.
Welcome, El Gordo. Your posts will come up automatically from now on. I imagine you and peterwise will have much to discuss.
Having lived, worked, and traveled in Europe, I know there are many good things about the continent and its people. I can certainly vouch for El Gordo’s point that Europeans tend to know about the US through the media — theirs and ours — and through Americans famous in the entertainment industry. (Even, indeed, from American TV programming.) There is an extent to which the same can be said about Americans’ knowledge of Europe.
I’ve seen very few social outcomes in Europe that look to me like something Americans should emulate through the coercions of government. That includes national health care, whether viewed from the standpoint of effectiveness for the individual, or of fiscal impact. It also includes the attitudes of the EU political elite — which are a different thing from the political elites of many of the individual nations.
It would be nice if people on both sides of the Atlantic could cease ranting about each other. I don’t see the irony with which many people — also on both sides of the Atlantic — view the Nobel award to Obama turning into piety about left-progressivism any time soon, however.
Thank you for your kind words. I think America is some kind of giant Rorschach test for Europeans and vice versa. One thing conservatives should realize is that Europe (even more than the US) is not a monolithic block. At least not yet. While they usually have too much state intervention, the devil is in the details. I´m no expert on the health care or education systems of, say, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Finland or Sweden but I know they differ substantially from each other. From what I have read, with regard to education, taxes and health care Sweden is now arguably to the right of us. That does not mean that we will be able to apply their experiences (it´s a small country; they don´t have 400,000 illegal immigrants and ambulance chasing lawyers) but it is something to consider. The debate would be more fruitful if the current administration were actually interested in finding the best market-based solution instead of the simply implementing an outdated single-payer system in the medium term.
If Democrats accuse their Republican oppononents of not being true Americans because they oppose Democratic Party policies I condemn them unreservedly.
I am inclined to call the President, pro-tem, the “Commander in Chief” because that is what he is. He is the Commander in Chief of our armed forces. Yes I acknowledged George Bush as “Commander in Chief” and President – while loyally disagreeing with some of his policies. That’s the American way – loyal disagreement. Embittered refusal to accept as legitimate anyone or anything that one doesn’t like is becoming the American way too – among the angry minorities that skulk as the opposite fringes of our polity.
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