Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Chancellor

By Andrew Stuttaford
The New Yorker has a (very) lengthy—and largely admiring—article by George Packer on Angela Merkel.  It’s well worth reading by anyone interested in either modern Germany or, for that matter, the modern Europe in which she is probably the most powerful political figure.
Some extracts:
Merkel’s commitment to a united Europe is not that of an idealist. Rather, it comes from her sense of German interest—a soft form of nationalism that reflects the country’s growing confidence and strength. The historic German problem, which Henry Kissinger described as being “too big for Europe, too small for the world,” can be overcome only by keeping Europe together. Kurbjuweit said, “She needs Europe because—this is hard to say, but it’s true—Europe makes Germany bigger.”
I’m not convinced by that.  When it came to what became the EU, the idea of using a more closely integrated Europe as a device to magnify national power was a French notion (later refined by De Gaulle in a manner that reflected the reality of Germany’s economic revival:  Europe was to be “a coach and horses, with Germany the horse and France the coachman”). For obvious historical reasons, Germany has always been more diffident, a diffidence that has largely been internalized by Germans of Merkel’s age and older within the political class and beyond, Germans who still believe in the EU, a version of “Europe” that is, tragically, gutting their constitution and their democracy, and, if it gets its way on the creation of a ‘transfer union’ within the Eurozone, their pocketbooks too.
And then there’s this:
In a sense, German anti-Americanism is always waiting to be tapped. There’s a left-wing, anti-capitalist strain going back to the sixties, and a right-wing, anti-democratic version that’s even older. In the broad middle, where German politics plays out today, many Germans, especially older ones, once regarded the U.S. as the father of their democracy—a role that sets America up to disappoint….
Beneath the rise in anti-Americanism and the German sympathy with Russia, something deeper might be at work. During the First World War, Thomas Mann put aside writing “The Magic Mountain” and began composing a strange, passionate series of essays about Germany and the war. They were published in 1918, just before the Armistice, as “Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man.” In it, Mann embraced the German cause in terms of national character and philosophy. He allied himself, as an artist, with Germany—“culture, soul, freedom, art”—against the liberal civilization of France and England that his older brother Heinrich supported, where intellect was always politicized. German tradition was authoritarian, conservative, and “nonpolitical”—closer to the Russian spirit than to the shallow materialism of democratic Europe. The war represented Germany’s age-old rebellion against the West. Imperial Germany refused to accept at gunpoint the universal principles of equality and human rights. Though Mann became a vocal supporter of democratic values in exile during the Nazi years, he never repudiated “Reflections.”
Several people in Berlin suggested that this difficult, forgotten book had something to say about Germany in the age of Merkel. The country’s peaceful reunification and its strength through the euro crisis might be returning Germany to an identity that’s older than the postwar Federal Republic, whose Basic Law was written under heavy American influence. “West Germany was a good country,” Georg Diez, a columnist and author, told me. “It was young, sexy, daring, Western—American. But maybe it was only a skin. Germany is becoming more German, less Western. Germany has discovered its national roots.”
Diez didn’t mean that this was a good thing. He meant that Germany is becoming less democratic, because what Germans fundamentally want is stability, security, economic growth—above all, to be left in peace while someone else watches their money and keeps their country out of wars. They have exactly the Chancellor they want. “Merkel took the politics out of politics,” Diez said.
Seen in that light, the post-democratic euro zone can, if the finances of its more wayward members can be brought into balance, be a straitjacket that many Germans find all too comfortable.
That’s not reassuring.

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