When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Thomas Mann fled to Switzerland.
Like many other writers who disapproved of the Nazis, his good friend Hermann Hesse stayed in Germany. So long as you keep your head down, Hesse reasoned, and stay out of politics, you’ll be fine.
Like many others, Hesse was eventually proven wrong. The revolution came for him, and he ended up at Mann’s place, sheepishly asking if he could crash on his couch for a little while.
When war broke out in 1939, Mann promptly moved to the United States.
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He was, it seems, remarkably good at reading the writing on the wall.
The list of refugees who passed through Mann’s various homes reads like a who’s who of the intellectual history of the twentieth century. Imagine how many times he must have had to repress the urge to say “I told you so”. Imagine how many times he must have heard people say “I should have listened to you.” (I suspect that Jonathan Kay might have a guess).
I couldn’t help but think about Mann and Hesse at this past weekend’s Quillette get-together in Toronto.
So many refugees end up in The Quillette Circle: people who thought they were going to be fine until the mob turned on them. People who got sick of hurting others for sport. People who got sick of groups that asked them to check their brains at the door, or refrain from ever asking questions x, y, and z. Politics does indeed make for some strange bedfellows.
What a motley crew! And yet rarely have I hung out with such sweet, kind, tolerant, and self-deprecating people.
Quillette people know how to party. And they know how to laugh—especially at themselves. I hope we can hold on to this humility. I hope we can resist the urge to recreate the very pieties we’re fleeing. Regardless, for now, this really is a great deal of fun. And it’s all due to Claire Lehmann and Quillette.
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