Study Guide

The Man in the High Castle Politics

By Philip K. Dick

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Essential to avoid politics. For he did not know Mr. Baynes' views on leading issues of the day. Yet they might arise. Mr. Baynes, being Swedish, would be a neutral. Yet he had chosen Lufthansa rather than SAS. A cautious ploy... Mr. Baynes, sir, they say Herr Bormann is quite ill. That a new Reichs Chancellor will be chosen by the Partei this autumn. Rumor only? So much secrecy, alas, between Pacific and Reich. (2.6)

Like Tagomi's comment about not converting Baynes (see "Themes: Prejudice"), he doesn't want anything to get in the way of business. But note how politics slips in even here. It's hard to get away from politics (whether or not the Nazis won).

An Italian, thirty-four years old, from the Nazi part of the world… he had been in the war, all right. But on the Axis side. And he had fought at Cairo; the tattoo was their bond, the German and Italian veterans of that campaign—the defeat of the British and Australian army under General Gott at the hands of Rommel and his Afrika Korps. (6.41)

Politics is often about power, but here we see how politics impacts history. (Or put another way: we see the politics of this different history.) So, Juliana imagines how Joe's life was shaped by the accidents of his birth (he happened to be born Italian at a certain time) and by the accidents of politics (there was that little war).

"Lot of hot blood stirred up in political discussion." Paul said. "Everywhere you go. Essential to keep head."

"Yes," Childan agreed. "Calmness and order. So things return to customary stability."

"Period after death of Leader critical in totalitarian society," Paul said. "Lack of tradition and middle-class institutions combine—" He broke off. "Perhaps better drop politics." He smiled. "Like old student days." (7.42-4)

Just like in our world, here's another perfectly nice dinner party that almost gets ruined by politics (oh, and also by Childan's racism). But look at how politics slips in even here, in a dinner party brought together by a shared love of American antiques. (Although maybe that whole "American antique" market is itself political… ) Notice also how we learn about the characters through their opinions: Childan wants stability, no matter who is in charge, whereas Paul notes the weakness of Fascist society.

There should be a news broadcast on, he realized. Seating himself, he turned on the radio. Maybe the new Reichs Chancellor has been picked. He felt excitement and anticipation. To me, that Seyss-Inquart seems the most dynamic. The most likely to carry out bold programs.

I wish I was there, he thought. Possibly someday I'll be well enough to travel to Europe and see all that has been done. Shame to miss out. Stuck here on the West Coast, where nothing is happening. History is passing us by. (7.143-4)

Let's define politics as "the history that's happening now." (Redefining words is fun.) That's some of Childan's feelings here. The important political decisions aren't going on in San Francisco, but off in Germany and Japan. There's not a lot of political power around Childan (even though he sells to powerful Japanese politicians).

Relations between Reiss and Kreuz vom Meere were rather strained. Their jurisdiction overlapped in countless matters, a deliberate policy, no doubt, of the higher-ups in Berlin. Reiss held an honorary commission in the SS, the rank of major, and this made him technically Kreuz vom Meere's subordinate. The commission had been bestowed several years ago, and at that time Reiss had discerned the purpose. But he could do nothing about it. Nonetheless, he chafed still. (8.6)

Even the politicians in San Francisco aren't very powerful. Here's Reiss thinking-complaining about the relationship between the formal consul position (his) and the German secret police's position (Kreuz vom Meere's). But as he notes here, the German government set up that conflict on purpose—and there's nothing he can do about it.

Reiss leaned back in his chair. "Care to make a bet?"

"Not on the Partei deliberatons. If that's what you mean."

"It'll be The Hangman."

Lingering, Pferdehuf said, "Heydrich has gone as far as he can. Those people never pass over to direct Partei control because everyone is scared of them. The Partei bigwigs would have a fit even at the idea. You'd get a coalition in twenty-five minutes, as soon as the first SS car took off from Prinzalbrechtstrasse. They'd have all those economic big shots like Krupp and Thyssen—" He broke off. One of the cryptographers had come up to him with an envelope. (8.33-6)

People love discussing politics, even Reiss and his secretary Pferdehuf (which yes, sounds like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets). As we've seen in the last quote, Fascist politics can be purposefully full of conflict, with different agencies and factions fighting. Does that sound at all like the Japanese or American governments in this book?

His hands were shaking. Call from Doctor Goebbels; did that do it? Awed by the mighty? Or is it resentment, feeling of being hemmed in... goddam these police, he thought. They get stronger all the time. They've got Goebbels working for them already; they're running the Reich.

But what can I do? What can anybody do? (11.44-5)

Let's not feel too bad for Reiss—or maybe we should feel bad for him. He's just one guy, trying to get along, doing the easy thing. (He's basically a Nazi Childan—which is a little redundant considering how much Childan loves the Nazis.) Dick's great trick is to show us an evil jerk and then show us that he's not so evil, he's just weak. He's not going to stand up to Goebbels. Although…

In fact, he thought, it might be worth seeing how a little foot-dragging here and there could possibly stall your activities, Herr Polizeifuhrer. Something negative that could never be pinned down. For instance, when the Japanese come in here to complain, I might manage to drop a hint as to the Lufthansa flight on which this fellow is to be dragged away... or barring that, needle them into a bit more outrage by, say, just the trace of a contemptuous smirk—suggesting that the Reich is amused by them, doesn't take little yellow men seriously. It's easy to sting them. And if they get angry enough, they might carry it directly to Goebbels. (11.54)

In our last quote, Reiss thought he couldn't fight the system. But here he goes on to think how he can get Kreuz vom Meere in trouble (possibly because he hates that guy's name, which is so long). By this point, he's imagining using the system (and Goebbels). That's kind of tricky and clever, but also like he's willing to go along with the system.

Mr. Baynes said, "Administration of the East—that is, the area now held by Japan—would be by the Foreign Office. Rosenberg's people, working directly with the Chancery. This was a bitterly disputed issue in many sessions between the principals last year. I have photostats of notes made. The police demanded authority but were turned down. They are to manage the space colonization, Mars, Luna, Venus. That's to be their domain. Once this division of authority was settled, the police put all their weight behind the space program and against Dandelion." (12.55)

Here's one side effect of the Fascist system of pitting one agency against another: the police were given control of the space program, so they're going to try to slow down (or stop—or sabotage) the "war with Japan" program. That might work out for Japan, which now has a reason for interfering in Germany's politics. (But do you think Japan's government has dueling agencies?)

"This is not the way civilized individuals conduct business," the consul said. "You're making this all bitter and vindictive. Where it ought to be mere formality with no personality embroiled." He threw his cigarette onto the corridor floor, then turned and strode off. (14.224)

When Hugo Reiss goes to visit Tagomi, Tagomi isn't thrilled. Tagomi turns down the German request to send Frank Frink to his death and also tells Reiss to do business with him only by phone. It's hard to say "I don't want to see you" and make it sound diplomatic. As Reiss notes, Tagomi is letting his personal feelings get in the way of good politics. Though then Reiss tosses his cigarette on the floor, because he's also letting his feelings get in the way of politics. Is there politics without personal feelings?

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