A turnabout in thinking and attitude

A turnabout in thinking and attitude

An outlook for Germany – and for peace

by Karl Müller

A few weeks before the elections to the Bundestag it looks like once again like a political shift is not going to happen. Many people who stood up for this in the past years, with good arguments, might be disappointed and discouraged. But there is no need to be so. The task of working towards a turnabout in Germany has not lost its importance. Which are the possible routes to take?

“Was ist deutsch?“ (“What is German?”) This is the title of a monumental work of more than a thousand pages that appeared in spring 2017. The author, Dieter Borchmeyer, is a professor emeritus for modern German literature and dramatics at Heidelberg University. His work is a rich source, if you are looking for quotations from German poets and philosophers from more than 200 years who have since the late 18th century dealt with the question expressed in the title of the book.

But this work follows a certain pattern: Those German voices who identified “being German” with a mainly spiritual- cultural task, with rejecting the idea of a nation state as well as any other national political goals, with merging in a much larger political entity, are rated positively throughout the book. This is taken so far as to praise Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, admirer of the imperialist Napoleon, for this very attitude. Those, however, who connected “being German” with advocating a nation state and, for reasons to be found in history, in this also used strong terms against other nations which were harassing Germany or even occupying parts of it, those authors are criticised as predecessors of German hubris and tyranny, as intellectual pioneers of chauvinism, nationalism and finally national socialism.

The western victors of World War II still wish to make the decisions…

No matter how you look at it, if you read the 2017 book by Gert R. Polli, founder of the Austrian Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung (Agency for State Protection and Counter Terrorism), you must get the impression that Dieter Borchmeyer’s attitude is still valid, also concerning German politics. The title of Polli’s book is “Deutschland zwischen den Fronten. Wie Europa zum Spielball von Politik und Geheimdiensten wird” (“Germany between the frontlines. How Germany became the pawn of politics and secret services”). It describes in detail how German politics reacted when the fact became public (Edward Snowden etc.) that the country for years had been spied out by its closest “allies” (USA, UK and France), and that this is most probably still going on, with the goal of gaining political and economic advantages – at the expense of Germany: German politics did try to make a stand by means of public declarations (Angela Merkel: “Spying among friends is a no-go”), but there was no real reaction. Relations between the secret services were too close, the German secret services were too much involved in tort, perceived dependencies on the Western victorious powers were – still – too strong.

…but history is no longer exclusively written by the victors

In this context it is interesting that the resistance of the citizens against these politics is still relatively weak and that there are hardly any convincing political alternatives. There are several reasons for this. One of them is certainly the killer argument which automatically pegs these voices as right-wing, nationalist or something even worse – nowadays complemented by the enemy stereotype Russia. This still works as a deterrent. In Germany hardly anyone wants to be classified as “rightwing”. And those who do are indeed not the persons to offer a perspective for Germany.

Another obstacle to free thinking in Germany is the thesis of the “German Sonderweg”, the special path for Germany, and the particular “German guilt”. “Right-wing” reactions to this thesis, which negate all German responsibility for the tragedies of the 20th century, are no help. Appropriate, on the other hand, are all those attempts that contribute to sigthe telling of the complete story, the complete history of the 19th and 20th century. Wolfgang Effenberger and Willy Wimmer, Jörg Friedrich and Andreas von Bülow – those are only a few examples of personae attempting to do this. This is what makes their research so important. They are among a fortunately growing number of historians and politicians who make use of the temporal distance to the events in order to examine all sources and to create a picture that breaks away from political guidelines (“History is written by the victors of a war”) They attempt to explore the real contexts and series of events. The core of their results can already be named: The thesis of Germany’s exclusive responsibility for the catastrophes of the 20th century is incorrect. The victorious powers of World Wars I and II have purposefully tried to establish their “narrative”; not out of love for the truth but because interests and political goals were and are at stake.

Clarification is the order of the day

It is the order of the day to clarify what has happened. If Europe wants to emancipate itself from the US – and this will be essential for its survival – then the whole of history must be reassessed. It needs to have its place in the thinking and feeling of the Germans. It can also liberate them – not in order to place themselves above other states and peoples – this is not a danger with most citizens of the country anyway – but in order to understand better: their own history and also the history of other peoples and states – and thus also their own presence. A healthy self-confidence can never be the result of believing yourself perfect. This kind of belief is always unrealistic and leads the wrong way. Truth, however, liberates. It is realistic and helpful to realise that other states and peoples have been perpetrators and victims of history just as we Germans were. Then it is also possible to read Dieter Borchmeyer’s book against the grain and to delight in the amount of valuable thoughts towards an independent, liberal, democratic and open-minded German identity was provided by German thinkers in the past two centuries. It is also allowable to be a little proud.

Starting points for all Germans: from Herder to Schachtschneider

Johann Gottfried Herder, the spiritual father of the modern idea of a nation state, wrote in his 1794 “Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität” (“Letters for the furtherance of humanity”): “Has not our earth room for us all? Do not states rest quietly side by side? Cabinets may deceive each other; political machines may be directed against each other until the one destroys the other. Not so homelands: they rest quiely side by side and support each other as families.” In the same year he also wrote: “A big garden full of herbs and weeds. Who would want to attend to this collection of follies and vices without distinction and […] feel superior to other nations? […] Obviously it is nature’s plan that such as one man also one family and one people should learn from and with the other, […] until in the end they all have learned the most difficult lesson: No people is the only people on earth chosen by God; the truth has to be sought by all of them, the garden of the common good needs to be built by all.”

German history has not always developed according to this maxim in the past 200 years. But the reasons for this did not lie only in Germany. Would it not be rewarding to connect to ideas like those of Johann Gottfried Herder and to step on the shoulders of the giants who started to think about and prepared a sovereign, liberal, constitutional, democratic, social and peaceful Germany?

This summer, Karl-Albrecht Schachtschneider published a new book with the title “Die nationale Option. Plädoyer für die Bürgerlichkeit des Bürgers” (“The national option. Plea for the citizenhood of the citizen”). There is no need to share all the author’s conclusions, but his analysis of the two-pronged attacks against the nation state, starting out equally from neo liberal globalism and from Trotskyite internationalism, is captivating. Both sides are misusing Islamism. Schachtschneider counters their arguments by setting down the national idea as the idea of freedom and the citizenhood of the citizen. He points out the abuse of the national idea, stating that the reason was “the illegitimate and illegal rule of people over people which, as a deadly sin of mankind, born out of greed and gluttony, hardly respects limits, nor the nature of man, which is oriented towards the identification with his own kind.” Then he continues: “There is no law without freedom […], and there is also no peace among the peoples without law. Thus the basis of all political philosophy has to be freedom. The question is: Can there be liberal entities, republics, without a national option? My answer is: No. Republicanism which, at least in Germany, has never been seriously put to the test, cannot be fought against by means of historical catastrophes based on dominion, and precisely not on freedom. The illiberal suppression of the national option should not discourage anyone who is looking for a political form capable of bringing ‘eternal peace’ to human beings and to peoples, and even less so, if the ‘arguments’ are brought forward by those trying to erect a multi-state or even global tyranny, most often for base motives like those of power or business, often having surrendered to moral propaganda out of naiveté.”

Indeed: If the national option means realising free and peaceful European republics, it would be – contrary to all mainstream propaganda – future-oriented. For it would be a decisive step towards the end of European vassalage, towards an emancipated Europe – and towards peace in the world. •

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