Germany and Italy forbid glorifying Nazis or fascism, but disagree over whether these tasteless, kitschy wines qualify as harmful to society.
A bartender pours a glass of Lundarelli Führerwine. (AP)
The Fuhrer is causing a furor. Italian winemaker Vini Lunardelli's breathtakingly tasteless line of Nazi-themed wines has offended again, with two American tourists understandably peeved about discovering some bottles adorned with Adolf Hitler's image in a shop in Veneto province. The Italian-produced wines bear dozens of different labels displaying, with no hint of irony, such names as "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" (a Nazi slogan meaning "One people, one empire, one ruler"), "Der Prosecco Vom Führer," and, simply, "FÜHRERWEIN." Another line bears the images and slogans of Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime.
The American tourists, incensed (one of them noted that her father lived through Auschwitz), protested to Italian authorities and to the local, and then international, media. "We would think of it as neo-Nazism," one told the U.K. Telegraph. "It makes you wonder about the sympathies of the local people." You don't have to be Jewish or the child of a Holocaust survivor to find the wine labels appalling and odious, but it doesn't hurt. Local prosecutors say they've opened a formal inquiry, and a cabinet-level Italian minister issued a statement to "reassure our American friends" and to condemn the wines for "compromising the image of Italy abroad."
Italian officials might be expressing shock, but the Vini Lunardelli wines have been offending for almost two decades, and this is not their first international incident. There's no doubt that Führerwine is offensive, and it's difficult to know the vintner's motivations for sure. But it might reflect less "neo-Nazi sympathies" and more a crass willingness to exploit shock value and Europe's particular sensitivities to the fascist legacy -- not to mention the international media attention that comes with infuriating foreign governments -- to make a few bucks. And it seems to be effective.
Lunardelli launched their "Historical Series" in 1993, printing labels bearing "personages of Italian and world political history." The first Führer vintage was introduced in 1995, becoming "a great marketing success," the winemaker later toldDecanter. In 1997, the German government began lodging official complaints. Germany takes the Nazi legacy very, very seriously: neo-Nazi parties are illegal, Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf has been officially banned for decades, and the German Parliament almost blocked approval for a relatively straightforward genetic testing law, apparently over the echoes of Nazi eugenics programs. By 2003, Germany's battle against Lunardelli had so escalated that the German justice minister wrote a formal letter to her Italian counterpart asking for Italy consider shutting down the "contemptible and tasteless" wines. The German state of Bavaria, the closest to Italy, opened an investigation as to whether any bottles had crossed the border.
Nothing came of it at first. Then, in early 2007, some German tourists ended up buying some number of the wines while in Italy. It's not clear how their purchases became public, but it re-sparked the old controversy. In September, Italian police finally moved against the wines, confiscating bottles for their "glorification of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity." The public prosecutor, according to Lunardelli, accused the winemakers of being Nazi apologists. Like in Germany, Italian law forbids the glorification of the 1930s fascist regime that helped spark World War Two, which cost tens of millions of lives. But, one month after police had seized the wines, an Italian judge ruled that they were OK to sell; the second time that Lunardelli had been exonerated of promoting fascism.
It's a sign of Germany's sensitivity to anything remotely hinting of Nazi sympathies that the government would not only formally investigate whether a bottle of Führerwein might have entered the country, but publicly request that the Italian government intervene to stop production. It's also an interesting contrast to Italy's own laws, which while similar in intent to Germany's, appear to be laxer in restricting speech, at least when it comes to these wine labels.
I don't have an answer as to whether or not the wines promote Naziism and fascism, but it's worth noting that this doesn't seem to have been Lunardelli's intent. "We would not have produced them unless there was a demand," the winemaker toldDecanter in 2007. "In fact the Hitler labels were not our idea, they were specifically requested by customers in Germany and Austria. ... When they saw the labels with Il Duce and Che Guevara, they suggested a series with Hitler." The company's website proudly boasts the line, not as a victory in Aryan soft power, but as a marketing triumph. "Thanks to this invention, the wine company Alessandro Lunardelli has obtained a lot of attention from the media all over the world both for the originality of the idea and for the quality of the wines." They say that line, which has 50 different labels, now makes up half of their sales.
In any case, some of the labels carry images of Stalin, Marx, and Che Guevara, not savory figures by any means but sworn enemies of Hitler and fascism, suggesting that the line is indeed less about glorifying any singular ideology than about shock value and the free marketing that comes with, for example, stories like this one.
The wines are interesting test case for Europe's decades-old speech restrictions against glorifying the nightmarish regimes of the 1930s and 1940s, meant both to guard against the rise of all-too-real neo-Nazi or neo-fascist parties and to maintain the carefully instituted national histories that hold these ideologies as a horrid mistake. It seems unlikely, as the Italian courts may have concluded in allowing continued Lunardelli production, that slapping Hitler's face on a cabernet label is going to increase popular support for a return of the Third Reich.
Still, Neo-Nazism and the ethnic nationalism behind it remain real, if marginal, forces in Europe. Treating Hitler and his Nazi slogans as kitsch, as fodder for a bit of silly shock value, would seem to risk divesting these images of the horror and shame that two generations of Germans and Italians have ingrained to remind themselves of one of history's greatest crimes. Buying a bottle of Der Prosecco Vom Führer might just be a bit of harmless fun, but maybe, from the German perspective, that's exactly the problem.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
George Will is denouncing a GOP that has been ailing for years, but quitting won’t help—an American political party can only be reformed from within.
This past weekend, George Will revealed that he had formally disaffiliated himself from the Republican Party, switching his Maryland voter registration to independent. On Fox News Sunday, the conservative pundit explained his decision: "After Trump went after the 'Mexican' judge from northern Indiana then [House Speaker] Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore.” For 40 years, George Will defined and personified what it meant to be a thoughtful conservative. His intellect and authority inspired a generation of readers and viewers, myself very much among them.
His departure represents a powerful image of divorce between intellectual conservatism and the new Trump-led GOP. Above all, it raises a haunting question for the many other Republicans and conservatives repelled by the looming nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president of the United States: What will you do?
Hillary Clinton wrote something for The Toast today. Are you sobbing yet?
Either you’ll immediately get why this is crazy, or you won’t: Hillary Clinton wrote a thing for The Toast today.
Are you weeping? Did your heart skip a beat? Maybe your reaction was, “What. Whaaaat. WHAT,” or “Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” or “OH MY GOD,” or simply “this is too much goodbye I'm dead now.”
Perhaps your feelings can only be captured in GIF form, as was the case for someone commenting on Clinton’s post under the name Old_Girl:
Reader comments like the ones above are arguably the best part of Clinton’s post, because they highlight just how meaningful hearing directly from Clinton is to The Toast’s community of readers. The Toast is a small but beloved feminist website known for its quirky literary humor. It announced last month it couldn’t afford to continue operating. Friday is its last day of publication.
What percentage graduated from high school and enrolled within a year at a four year institution where they live on campus?
Who are today’s college students?
The answer surprises most people who attended four year universities, according to Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Addressing audiences, like the one he spoke to Friday at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he frequently poses this question: “What percentage of students in American higher education today graduated from high school and enrolled in college within a year to attend a four year institution and live on campus?”
Most people guess “between forty and sixty percent,” he said, whereas “the correct answer is five percent.” There is, he argued, “a real disconnect in our understanding of who today’s students are. The influencers––the policy makers, the business leaders, the media––have a very skewed view of who today’s students are.”
“This western-front business couldn’t be done again.”
On this first day of July, exactly 100 years ago, the peoples of the British Empire suffered the greatest military disaster in their history. A century later, “the Somme” remains the most harrowing place-name in the annals not only of Great Britain, but of the many former dependencies that shed their blood on that scenic river. The single regiment contributed to the First World War by the island of Newfoundland, not yet joined to Canada, suffered nearly 100 percent casualties that day: Of 801 engaged, only 68 came out alive and unwounded. Altogether, the British forces suffered more than 19,000 killed and more than 38,000 wounded: almost as many casualties in one day as Britain suffered in the entire disastrous battle for France in May and June 1940, including prisoners. The French army on the British right flank absorbed some 1,600 casualties more.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
There needs to be more nuanced language to describe the expanding demographic of unmarried Americans.
In 1957, a team of psychology professors at the University of Michigan released the results of a survey they had conducted—an attempt to reflect Americans’ attitudes about unmarried people. When it came to the group of adults who remained single by choice, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents—reflecting the language used by the survey’s authors—said they believed that the singletons remained so because they must be “immoral,” “sick,” or “neurotic.”
It’s amazing, and reassuring, how much has changed in such a relatively narrow slice of time. Today, certainly, marriage remains a default economic and social arrangement, particularly after having been won as a right for same-sex couples; today, certainly, those who do not marry still face some latent social stigmas (or, at the very least, requests to explain themselves). But the regressive language of failed morality and psychological pathology when it comes to singledom? That has, fortunately, been replaced by more permissive attitudes.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The trend helps explain Trump and Brexit. What’s next?
On Wednesday, Facebook made an announcement that you’d think would only matter to Facebook users and publishers: It will modify its News Feed algorithm to favor content posted by a user’s friends and family over content posted by media outlets. The company said the move was not about privileging certain sources over others, but about better “connecting people and ideas.”
But Richard Edelman, the head of the communications marketing firm Edelman, sees something more significant in the change: proof of a new “world of self-reference” that, once you notice it, helps explain everything from Donald Trump’s appeal to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.