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2. Germany/USA: the lesser of two evils

in EN · Europe 2017 · Germany 2017 · History 2017 · Nation 2017 · Person 2017 · Politics 2017 · Skepticism 2017 · State 2017 · USA 2017 95 views / 6 comments

Germany      Europe        USA  

GEOMETR.IT   hoover.org

 

Theodor Fontane, the master of the nineteenth-German novel, published Before the Storm in 1876. Set during the winter of 1812-13 in and around Berlin, it explores the decisive historical moment when Prussia changed sides—breaking out of its forced alliance with France in order to join with Russia in the anti-Napoleonic war.

As is well known, candidate Trump ran a controversial campaign, and as an outsider to the political system, he faced equally heated opposition from many quarters. His victory came as a surprise, as much in Germany as elsewhere, and when Merkel begrudgingly sent her congratulations, she wrapped them in a carefully worded message, intended to demonstrate her distance from Trump, in a way that is symptomatic of contemporary German political culture. Her message to the victorious candidate: “Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.”

At face value, the statement makes German cooperation with the United States conditional on the listed terms of shared values. At stake then is not, for example, security concerns that the United States and Germany might share—that is, the NATO question for which Trump would later face criticism for his seeming equivocation—but instead a transatlantic participation regarding, for example, “sexual orientation,” which Merkel even lists prior to “political views.” 

 Her representation of the German-American relationship has little to do with its actual historical development. One could parse Merkel’s statement further by noting that she invokes “dignity,” from the Basic Law, rather than the liberty of persons. Similarly her phrasing places freedom in second position, following on democracy, which designates the structure of the state, rather than opting for the reverse order, in which the democratic state would follow on individual freedom. That word order captures an aspect of the transatlantic divide.

Of course, one can hardly fault the German Chancellor for giving expression to a distinctly German political culture, and that culture, the constitution of German political life, is evidenced in the core message of the congratulatory note: conditioning the alliance on abstract principles rather than shared interests, an approach fully within a German idealist tradition.

Trump’s critics present him as having a transactional rather than a relational approach to politics, pursuing short-term advantage rather than building reciprocity and community. Yet his answer to Merkel, presented indirectly in his July 6, 2017 speech in Warsaw, had nothing to do with narrowly defined interests, although vital issues, particularly shared security concerns, were certainly crucial to his argument.

Rather, his account involved the importance of historical experience and its legacy for the present. Invoking the Polish past, especially Poland’s long struggles to achieve and maintain independence, he established the significance of national history, within the context of a broader western civilizational narrative. Where Trump’s critics caricature him as a businessman with only venal interests at stake, in contrast to high-minded principle, they misunderstand that he counters the high-handedness of Merkel’s idealist principles—George Washington might have treated them as Jeffersonian “speculation”—with history and an appeal to tradition against theory in the spirit of a Burkean conservatism.

Merkel’s statement establishes a principle of universal dignity, followed by a list of glosses and an emphasis on disregarding one’s place of “origin.”  That erasure of nationality is consistent with her open-borders policy, which would ultimately lead to her disastrous electoral results.

The dismissiveness toward place of origin also reflects the aspiration to dissolve nation-state sovereignties into the European Union. Trump argues for the opposite: the individual freedom of the citizen and the sovereignty of the state depend on each other. Hence the need to resist external adversaries, genuine threats to the body politic, as well to maintain our internal capacities, our virtues.

“Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe,” he said in Warsaw, “value individual freedom and sovereignty.” The sequence that lists individual freedom prior to sovereignty is crucial. He continues, “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.”

Trump’s liberal critics view passages like this, where he identifies an Islamist enemy and invokes national histories, as expressions of paranoia and racism. Yet his argument is very much in a Washingtonian tradition; he is concerned with the viability of the individual nation as well as the western community of nations, and he is anxious that partisanship and parochialism could enervate the capacity of the people. Thus Trump: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?”

Trump draws a connection between borders (meaning both immigration policy and defense against foreign invasion) and values; this pairing echoes Washington’s connection between the union, threatened by dissolution, and morality. Washington linked morality and religion. To this, Trump adds history and will. None of these terms, however, plays a role in Merkel’s message, especially not religion. Trump meanwhile invokes the memory of John Paul II’s visit to Warsaw in 1979, describing a scene in which the assembled crowd called out for God. The Pope’s message was not only the call for a freedom of religion against the Communist government but, more importantly, the recognition that religion can be foundational for freedom, national, and personal.

Contemporary Germany and the United States both belong to the taxonomy of modern liberal democracies. This intellectual-historical parsing of the statements by Merkel and Trump runs the risk of exaggerating the differences. Each of these two political systems should be understood with sufficient suppleness to account for the possibility of varying electoral outcomes or shifting governing coalitions. Yet even allowing for this regular sort of variation—the United States under Obama or Trump, Germany under Schröder or Merkel—these two liberal democracies display some deep variations in constitutional history, culture, and institutions.

Where the American tradition invokes the figure of the free individual and the priority of liberty, Germany pursues the rational state as the vehicle with which to realize a categorical imperative. The success of the former depends on the virtue of the citizen and hence the importance of religion; for the latter religion is, at best, a marginal function, and it relies instead on the virtue of the state bureaucracy.

Aside from his reference to external threats, Trump’s Warsaw address also warns that growing domestic bureaucracy can undermine the national will. While this concern is an expression of his characteristic libertarian populism, it also points to a basic asymmetry between the two models, German and American: it is nearly unimaginable that Germany or other European liberal democracies could develop significantly in directions that would prioritize liberty along American lines, but future American elections could very well steer emphatically toward a model of European statism.

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at :org

The opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hoover Institution or Stanford University.

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GEOMETR.IT

MOLDOVA и ЕврАзийский Союз 18.12.2017

Germany/USA: the lesser of two evils 18.12.2017

Польша. Первому Евро-Майдану сделали обрезание 18.12.2017

В 2018 году начинается Будущее или Прошлое? 18.12.2017

Bez dyktatu Brukseli 18.12.2017

Ostdeutschland: Zum Schaden auch noch den Spott.  18.12.2017

Russia. End of the year and start of bid for presidency  18.12.2017

Die Türkei gewinnt Einfluss 18.12.2017

GEOMETR.IT

1. Germany/USA: the lesser of two evils

in EN · Europe 2017 · Germany 2017 · History 2017 · Nation 2017 · Person 2017 · Politics 2017 · Skepticism 2017 · State 2017 · USA 2017 83 views / 4 comments

Germany      Europe           USA    

GEOMETR.IT       hoover.org

 

Theodor Fontane, the master of the nineteenth-German novel, published Before the Storm in 1876. Set during the winter of 1812-13 in and around Berlin, it explores the decisive historical moment when Prussia changed sides—breaking out of its forced alliance with France in order to join with Russia in the anti-Napoleonic war.

Yet the dialectic of that historical moment was such that Germans could participate in the rout of the French army, while nonetheless embracing aspects of their revolutionary legacy. Even as they fought against Napoleon in their “war of liberation,” they also integrated some of the social consequences of the revolution that had begun with the storming of the Bastille.

So near the conclusion of the novel, the Prussian Major General von Bamme, commenting on social changes around him, a gradual leveling of class differences, remarks, “And where does all this come from? From over yonder, borne on the west wind. I can make nothing of these windbags of Frenchmen, but in all the rubbish they talk there is none the less a pinch of wisdom. Nothing much is going to come of their Fraternity, nor of their Liberty: but there is something to be said for what they have put between them. For what, after all, does it mean but: a man is a man.” Mensch ist mensch.

Trump VS Merkel 

In these brief comments, I am likely to err on the side of excessive schematization: the positions I want to tease out of several texts deserve more nuance and differentiation than possible in this limited space. Yet the binary character of the analysis is also a reflection of today’s highly polarized public debate, certainly in the United States and Western Europe, in the wake of various political developments, above all the 2016 election that led to the Donald Trump presidency.

One trope in this polarized discourse provides a promising opportunity to link this debate to concerns about alternative constitutions of democracy: the assertion that has circulated in parts of the liberal press that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now the leader of the free world (or the West), since the American President has, so the argument goes, disqualified himself from that role.

To be sure, the adulation of Merkel has lost a lot of its credibility in the wake of her own poor electoral performance in September. Still, she is often taken to stand in as an alternative to the American President. What does Merkel represent and why does she function as a foil to Trump? Why would Germany—of all countries, given its national history—suddenly be seen as a plausible candidate to lead a liberal West? How do contemporary Germany and America represent alternative models?

A good piece of the trans-Atlantic sniping between Washington and Berlin is, of course, merely a function of electoral politics. Merkel faced the Bundestag elections in September, and in the campaign she had to highlight her distance from Trump; had she not done so, her results would have been even poorer. But leader of the West? This is more than Angela Merkel wants, nor does Germany have the military strength to fill that role.

From a German point of view, Americans are deemed excessively individualistic; from an American point of view, Germans can appear to be excessively conformist, authoritarian, and obedient. Under-socialized loners on the one hand, pliable crowds on the other—Americans versus Germans: this is the stuff stereotypes are made of, but these images are also pertinent to constitutional structures and cultures—liberty versus fraternity.

 Washington VS Kant

Washington was a man of his age, an Enlightenment thinker, whose address can be juxtaposed with elements of the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s essay, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), in order to contrast American and German constitutional cultures. Kant is a crucial source for German political thought and liberal democracy in general.

Yet in this well-known text, which culminates in a call for the public use of reason, Kant approaches the public with a tone that can be described at best as scolding, at worst as arrogant. While Washington jabbed at the intellectual Jefferson, Kant stands as the intellectual who looks down at the “deplorables,” the bulk of the population that refuses to think.

“Laziness and cowardice,” he writes, “are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.”

The respective constitutional languages echo this difference. The German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) commences with a listing of the participating states, the nder, which have pride of place in this federal statement, in contrast with the populism of the American rhetoric announcing “We, the people” as the source of order. The first section of the Basic Law concerns fundamental rights and commences with an assertion of human dignity (“Würde”), a response to Nazi era atrocities as well as the legacy of a tradition of Catholic teaching that productively corrects the idealist inheritance.

***

American and German constitutional cultures and their respective modes of liberal democracy evidently represent alternative outcomes that we can map back onto Fontane’s novelistic reflection on the French revolutionary appeal: liberty here, fraternity there. The United States developed a libertarian, or a libertarian populist, route (libertarianism and populism themselves are by no means easily compatible), while Germany followed an idealistic, Kantian path, prioritizing obedience to the law (no matter its provenance), the state and first principles: on the one hand, the principle of liberty; on the other, subordination to the community of the law (fraternity).

Washington invoked the importance of experience over speculation. That was another swipe at the excessively theoretical Jefferson, but it highlights a greater distinction: the United States is inductive, Germany deductive; and the contrast between empiricism (an Anglo-American tradition) and German idealism continues to echo through current political debate, including the question of the leadership for the West, which returns us to the contrast between the German Chancellor and the American President.

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at :http://hoover.org

The opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hoover Institution or Stanford University.

* * *

GEOMETR.IT

МАЙДАН и ТЕАТР ОДЕОН  15.12.2017

Die Pressekonferenz des Jahres in Russland  15.12.2017

В. ПУТИН: Не втягиваясь в гонку вооружений. Не разрушая бюджет  15.12.2017

Maraton pytań do prezydenta  15.12.2017

Russia. The perisdent`s speech 15.12.2017

Что за смысл жизни — обогнать всех на коньках?  15.12.2017

Молдова. Киллер придет завтра? Усато-Додонистая Плаха  15.12.2017

A.Babis. Идея о Европе 2-х скоростей вызывает смех  15.12.2017

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