In Conversation: Alexander Tschugguel and Alexander Schönburg

St. Boniface Institute————–11 May 2020—————-5th Week of Easter-time

German Media in the Time of Corona”

English Summary Write-Up

 

In a video interview of about an hour and forty minutes, Alexander Tschugguel of the Boniface Institute discusses the biases in society and the media, primarily in Austria and Germany, during the Corona crisis as well his own experience during the lockdown, including his illness and recovery from COVID-19. His conversation partner is Alexander Schönburg, a journalist and contributor to the Bild Newspaper (Bild-Zeitung) in Germany as well as to Vanity Fair. Afterward, the two speakers highlight contributions from the comments section.

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Alexander explains that the Boniface Institute was founded to connect all kinds of Catholic groups across Europe, especially in the face of media biases. The institute plans to have regular interviews with various European Catholics in the coming months. 

After brief introductions, Alexander and Schönburg begin to address media biases in German-speaking countries.  Schönburg discusses his recent contribution to the Bild Newspaper titled “We Are Collectively Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome!” He discusses the dispossession that has occurred for many workers. Schönburg expresses his suspicion that something is off with our psychological condition as a society, namely, that we are suffering from a kind of collective Stockholm Syndrome. This means that we are seeking comfort in oppressive circumstances that threaten our freedom because we are in position of vulnerability. 

Alexander responds by saying that the acquiescent response from the populace is unsurprising. He describes his own experience being infected with COVID-19.  He and his wife discussed the possibility of his death and requested a priest. Alexander was so sick that he could not leave his bed and had problems with his memory. A team in full hazmat suits transported Alexander to the Kaiser Franz Joseph Hospital, which unfortunately is often not referred to with this name, Alexander reports.  

For Alexander, the Corona virus was “a double-edged sword.” This is seen in the media. Alexander cites the two-sided political discourse during Obama’s presidency, when the media portrayed two poles: either one was on the side of Obama or one was on the side of Putin. In Alexander’s view, the same is true for the Corona crisis: either one is a Corona virus denier or a in a panic about the virus. Alexander wants to find a third position that acknowledges the seriousness of COVID while also noting that the Corona virus is not of the same status as the Spanish flu and certainly not of the same severity as the bubonic plague.

Alexander discusses recent provisions by the Austrian government to make an app for controlling the Corona virus mandatory for all citizens.  The government said the app would not be mandatory, but voluntary participants would receive tax benefits. Once an article was published about the app under the title, negative reaction lessened. He asks Schönburg what he thinks of the situation. 

Schönburg explains that the freedom of citizens is protected by the German common law (Grundgesetz). This would make the collection of personal data in a centralized databank through such an app problematic. Schönburg says the he nonetheless trusts the German state with the collection of his personal data in cases of medical crises. He holds nothing against politicians, man of whom he knows personally. He denies conspiracy theories against politicians, saying that they “have the same drives as any other person.”  

He explains that journalists do tend to collect more sensational photos, though he thinks the Bild Newspaper does not try to spread panic and was relatively reserved in its coverage of the Corona crisis. During the currency crisis, for example, the newspaper also avoided alarmist headlines. 

Nonetheless, there have been overreaches by the police and politicians. Schönburg appeals for protections “against intrusions in very foundation areas of life.” 

Alexander agrees that the people elect the politicians they deserve. Still, he contends that the path to the social welfare state has ideological roots. Therefore, more must be demanded of politicians to protect the populace from overreaches of the state. Politicians cannot properly serve the people, Alexander says, when they rule with fear or forget their limits. Sovereignty and responsibility are vital. 

Alexander offers an example of a man in Vienna who was threatened with a 500 Euro fine for sitting on a bench that was along a path that was not 2 meters wide. He sees this as an absurd situation that emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility over political imposition. 

A certain mental degeneration can be seen in our societies, according to Alexander. He cites a loss of personal responsibility, the high divorce rate, and the institution of abortion and euthanasia as examples. He also thinks the state has overstepped its boundaries in forcing excessive curricula in schools and universities. 

Schönburg expresses his disappointment in Merkel’s speech to the people which was relatively trivial, effectively instructing citizens to simply “wash their hands.” Schönburg emphasizes that he doesn’t have problems with politicians but with the fact that our society is often based on fear. He cites Cardinal Sarah, who writes that this fear comes from the uncoupling of our social relationships for the sake of a false autonomy. Schönburg says we have paid a high price for this modern “autonomy.” He laments the prevalence of fear among the populace. 

Alexander adds that Hitler’s Third Reich was vehemently against the family and that the 50s were a time of double standards.  

Schönburg questions the meaning of conservatism. 

Alexander responds and Schönburg agrees that the 50s were also a time of heroic sacrifice and hard work to rebuild after the war.   

Alexander references a professor at Heiligenkreuz in Austria to define true freedom: a free piano player is only one who has learned all of the rules of piano playing in order to compose for oneself. The problem comes in seeing all rules as restrictions of freedoms, though some rules are misguided. 

Schönburg and Alexander observe an irony in how the populace has welcomed all kinds of restrictions in the face of the Corona crisis. 

A loss of hope and love, Alexander claims, results from a foundational loss of faith, since all three theological virtues are inextricably linked. The gift of the Catholic faith, he continues, is found in the hope of heaven. 

Schönburg recalls a passage from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in which the core complaint of modern society comes to fore when the Grand Inquisitor accuses Jesus of inaction. Unable to trust in God and unable to hope, modern society has little option than to live in fear. 

To capture this sentiment in a single sentence, Schönburg cites the reaction of the Grand Inquisitor: “We’ll  do it ourselves.” 

This concept of “trans-humanism” does not culminate in the elimination of illness, Alexander adds, but in the elimination of those who are ill. True freedom comes in accepting the God-given ability to make decisions, not in the elimination of all suffering. Alexander emphasizes the importance of cultivating talents and gifts to become more free and more human. In comparison to this, modern ideologies tend to say that humanity is the problem, stretching back centuries in Alexander’s view. 

It is not enough to say that every person is wanted, Alexander adds, but that there is a perfect plan for every person. 

Schönburg appeals for a central, core take-away for the conversation. He gestures at the importance of hope and warns against cultural pessimism among conservatives. He recommends two books: The Green Hedonist (Die grüne Hedonist), which he authored as a nuanced response to climate activism, and The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success by American journalist Ross Douthat.  

Alexander laments how the elderly are abandoned despite their contributions to this success. In the face of the Corona crisis, Faith, Love, and Hope are needed to overcome the inevitable crises to come, Schönburg concludes. 

In conclusion, Alexander cites statistics from the administering of the sacraments during the great pandemics of European history.