Continuing tonite's long reading assignments (hey, I was a History Major...blame UConn)

Remember in reading this, although we use "conservative" and "liberal" often, we seldom use them correctly. "right" and "left" express political sides better if not descriptively -- and many on the left in their zeal leave liberal, western values (like, oh, free will) our society is based on sitting in the dust heep of things they'd rather do without

Michael Gove

February 04, 2003

The '68 reasons why Germany will always fail
Michael Gove
Gerhard Schröder's nation has not enjoyed a single success in ten years

Since John Major became Prime Minister 12 years ago it has been settled policy to place Britain at the heart of Europe. Last week Tony Blair recognised just how diseased that heart is, and performed a bypass.
The Prime Minister’s decision to co-author an article for The Times with seven other European leaders was a deliberate snub to the EU’s Central Powers. Mr Blair was understandably impatient with the juvenile and obstructive stance which France and Germany have taken towards dealing with Iraq. And by so rapidly enlisting his seven samurai, Mr Blair demonstrated the new weakness of Old Europe.

Nowhere is that weakness more striking than in Europe’s pivotal nation, Germany. Both the country and its Chancellor are in a parlous state. At the weekend Gerhard Schröder suffered crushing defeats in two regions which were once among his party’s securest redoubts, Hesse and Lower Saxony. The country’s economic malaise is deep and Herr Schröder’s tax-raising response to hard times has inspired deep popular anger. Unfortunately for Germany, however, the nation’s problems go well beyond its leader.

After reunification there was a feeling that Germany could at last “be somebody again”, a mood encapsulated by the federal Government’s move to Berlin, the building of a new Reichstag and the coming to power of a new generation, personified by Herr Schröder, unburdened by postwar guilt and Cold War compromises. The reality of Germany in the past decade has, however, been chronic under-achievement, without a single success to the nation’s name.

The economy has been in decline relative to its competitors, with industry choosing to relocate everywhere from Poland to Oxford. There has been a related cost in social solidarity, with unemployment passing four million, a level unheard of since Weimar. The dream of full reunification has been blighted by the lack of sustained and evenly spread economic growth.

Diplomatically, Germany is also increasingly marginalised, its European projects encountering grave difficulties. The euro is growing in unpopularity as its costs become more apparent. Germany’s plans for a common European foreign policy have been derailed by Herr Schröder’s inability to corral Europe into agreeing with him on Iraq.

Germany may console itself that its position on Iraq, as Europe’s sternest critic of the Anglo-American determination to disarm President Saddam Hussein, is at least a sign of moral strength. Unfortunately, it is only the most egregious example of one of the country’s greatest political weaknesses — the hold on power now exercised by those infused with the student revolutionary spirit of 1968.

The Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, is an old street-fighter and ally of Trotskyists, Herr Schröder rose through the SPD by allying himself with the hard-left faction in the youth movement. Other leading government figures such as the Environment Minister, Jurgen Tritten, and the new Defence Minister, Peter Struck, are also children of ’68.

That generation was in revolt at what it saw as the stuffy conformity of the bourgeois Germany which Adenauer created, and the failure of their parents fully to confront the nation’s historic crimes. But far from marking a decisive break with the country’s past failures, the actions in power of the ’68 generation only underline an historic weakness in the German character.

There has been a tendency among German elites over the past 200 years to invest the ruling ideology of the moment with the quasi-mystical quality of a political religion. Those thinkers who reacted against the French Enlightenment, such as Hegel and Herder, contributed to a romantic, anti-liberal, nationalist temper in 19th-century Germany. The Wilhelmine state which went to war in 1914 was deeply imbued with a mystical sense that its Kultur was superior to the desiccated, rationalist, mercantile outlook of the British and the Americans.

The anti-liberal beliefs which bewitched Germany in the past led to war. The ideology of the ’68 generation may seem altogether more admirable, because it finds expression in opposition to conflict. But it is, at root, just as anti-liberal, and similarly baleful for Germany’s future health. The freedom which the ’68ers oppose is the economic liberalism of America, and their hostility to the US is the animating force in their opposition to action against Iraq.

By placing themselves so stridently in opposition to the US, and its Anglo-Saxon ally, German elites have hacked away at the Atlantic pillar on which modern Germany was built. The cost, according to German elder statesmen such as Helmut Kohl, is the “removal of Germany from the field of play”.

But the damage wrought to their nation by the student revolutionaries now in the Reichstag goes even deeper. Their opposition to Anglo-Saxon economic liberalism also reinforces resistance to the market reforms Germany needs if it is to recover its industrial weight. And the legacy of that generation’s thinking has already eaten away at the nation’s future prosperity by undermining its educational base. Radical Left ideology has debased Germany’s universities, to the point where students in Bremen insisted on sitting examinations “collectively” with 20 submitting one joint thesis. The rot has set in so deep that in a recent OECD survey of the educational attainment of 15-year-olds, Germany came in the bottom third, well below Britain, France and the US.

The tragedy of the ’68 generation is that they are more like their ancestors than they will ever admit. They also want Germany to follow a special path, a Sonderweg, more elevated than that taken by grubby mercantile nations such as Britain and America. The problem with the special path Germans are now treading, however, is that it takes their nation further into the wilderness.