What finally swept away East Germany’s communist government wasn’t the lack of freedom or the low standard of living, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. Citizens became truly incensed when the home of the regime’s long-time leader, Erich Honecker, was shown on TV: though it was far from a modern Palace of Versailles, the comfortable suburban pad revealed tremendous hypocrisy. “The East Germans felt less anger at 40 years of mismanagement, incompetence, economic failure and bureaucratic cruelty than they did at the simple fact that the man telling them to make sacrifices for socialism wasn’t making them himself.”
This feeling has driven conflicts from the French Revolution to the fall of communism. It’s also “curiously familiar” to Britain today. Rather than the government’s “often grotesque mishandling” of the Covid crisis, it’s been No 10’s lockdown-breaking parties that have caught the public mood. This might sound perverse, but humans aren’t rational creatures, after all – simple hypocrisy stokes emotion the way no rational account of administrative dysfunction can. Lockdown had other parallels with Honecker’s East Germany too: “the grassing on neighbours, the interfering, busybody police, the bureaucrats mindlessly enforcing rules to the letter”. It all combines to make a hypocritical leader caught being hypocritical even more politically toxic.
Get our daily newsletter in your inbox
We cut through the noise to give you a fresh take on the world – in just five minutes a day. Sign up for the newsletter here.