Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Miller Of Potsdam

Regular readers know I'm no fan of shrill Hitler analogies (see this post for a brief anthology of hysteria). So while the following anecdote appears in Sebastian Haffner's Defying Hitler, I cite it here only as a pithy illustration of what the "rule of law" means at a time of presidential signing statements and rapidly expanding federal power (details here in the new Cato study by Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch). Haffner writes on page 190:
That was the Kammergericht in Berlin in April 1933. It was the same Kammergericht whose judges had stood up to Frederick the Great 150 years earlier and, faced with a cabinet decree, had preferred jail to changing a judgment they considered correct in the king's favor. In Prussia every schoolchild knows the story of the miller of Potsdam, which, whether it is true or not, gives an indication of the court's reputation. The king wanted a windmill removed because it disturbed the view from his new palace of Sans Souci. He offered to buy the mill. The miller refused, he wanted to keep his mill. The king threatened to dispossess the miller, whereupon the miller said, "Just so, Your Majesty, but there's still the Kammergericht in Berlin." To this day the mill can be seen next to the palace.
Seventy years have passed since Haffner wrote that, and several centuries since the miller---backed by the rule of law---rejected the king. The windmill still stands, as this photograph shows. How long would it last in Washington today?

40 Comments:

Anonymous muddy said...

5 minutes. And then they'd scrub all the photos.

5/03/2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Great stuff, CR.

5/03/2006 11:11 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I look forward to Colbert putting you windmill wingnuts in your place.

5/03/2006 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay Leno had a skit of the dancing Ito's during the OJ trial. Ithink of that wherever I think of our justice system.

5/03/2006 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Antonie said...

The Potsdam story comes from the age of enlightenment. The term for our own age probably hasn't been coined yet, but enlightened it is not. It might be neoconservatism.

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