Germany, a state under the rule of law, – quo vadis?

Alfred Adler’s analysis of World War I and today’s Germany

by Karl Müller

On 1 August Switzerland celebrated its national holiday. It thus commemorates the Federal Letter of August 1291. In the figurative sense, 1 August could be a memorial day for all states and peoples: it was a signal for demanding lawfulness instead of power, against arbitrariness and deprivation of rights. For some years now, we have been observing a renunciation of this fundamental progress towards civilisation in many states – even in a state like Germany which in its constitution is defined as state under the rule of law. The resulting damage is considerable already – not least in people’s minds.

“Alfred Adler investigated the inner life of the people of his time, a time of extreme mental and physical burden. Germany has not yet reached this point. But fundamental steps towards the decline into a pure power state have been taken in recent years. The prevailing principles in this process were lie, breach of law and violence. And for the very reason that we are not yet living in times like World War I Alfred Adler’s remarks are particularly worth considering. Preventive action is still possible.”


Article 20, paragraph 3 of the “Grundgesetz” (German constitution) stipulates: “Legislation is bound to the constitutional order; executive power and jurisdiction are bound to law and order.” This is the principle of  the due course of law, codified in the German constitution and according to Article 79, para 3 not negotiable.
In recent years, however, the German constitutional reality has deviated considerably from this key policy areas. Many voices have repeatedly drawn attention to this, especially with regard to the German migration policy since the summer of 2015. This already had happened likewise for some time with regard to the war missions of the German Bundeswehr (army) abroad and nowadays is taking place increasingly in relation to the principles of freedom of expression and information according to Article 5 of the “Grundgesetz”.

No “conspiracy theories”

An article in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of 22 November 2018, which was recently pointed out to the author, shows that we are not talking about “conspiracy theories” or “conspiracy theorists” here. The article was written by Dr Dieter Weingärtner, head of the legal department at the German Federal Ministry of Defence from 2002 to the end of September 2018. The article was titled “Zur Verteidigung?” (“In defence?”), stating already in the opening credits: “How the Federal Government is bending into shape the ‘Grundgesetz’ regarding when it comes to foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr.”

“German security policy tends […] to ignore the constitutional situation”

At the end of his text the author with daring mental acrobatics – and possibly in obligation to his employer – is pleading for “a reinterpretation of the constitution”. Although taking a politically positive view of foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr, his juridical assessment is quite clear: “German security policy tends […] to ignore the constitutional situation.” “The fact that the Grundgesetz, according to its wording […] does not provide a basis for bilateral armed operations of the Bundeswehr or for participation in a ‘coalition of the willing’ is […] ignored.” “If necessary the Federal Government bends into shape the constitutional bases of the deployment according to its needs, promptly obtaining the approval of the Bundestag.”
It is also emphasised that these breaches of the constitution are no legal or political trifles: “The constitution is the basic legal order of a community. It takes the fundamental decisions of the state order. This includes the exercise of state sovereignty, especially in its strongest form, military force.”

The text of the constitution is unambiguous

The head of the legal department in the German Ministry of Defence could (and should) have presented this analysis much earlier; for all this was already true when the Bundeswehr joined NATO’s war of aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, which violated international law. But this is not about the author of the article, but about the cause. And therefore: Every independently thinking person will come to the same conclusions. The constitutional text is, after all, clear and easy to understand for everyone.
But then why is there no non-violent resistance by a large majority of German citizens to replace the government? Why is the protest limited to just a few? Why has so far the perversion of the achievements of civilisation, namely that power with all its unscrupulousness should again prevail over justice, been allowed to advance step by step?
Is it only a lack of information? Or are there other reasons for this?

Alfred Adler and World War I

Here, an attempt by the Viennese individual psychologist Alfred Adler to explain the situation will be brought up for discussion. Adler formulated his thoughts 100 years ago, in 1919, one year after the armistice in World War I and in the year of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty had established that the Central Powers, especially Germany and Austria-Hungary, were exclusively to blame for the war. It is worth reconsidering this text after 100 years in the light of the current situation, and thinking about its significance for our present.
The thesis that the masses had enthusiastically gone to war, was already widespread at the time. Adler wrote the text “The Other Side” in order to relativise this allegation. Adler’s contemporary Sigmund Freud regarded World War I as proof of his thesis of the aggression drive of man which had broken its ground in war. Adler contradicted this thesis. He titled his treatise “The Other Side. A Mass Psychological Study on the Guilt of the People.”1

“Education” for self-unsureness

At the beginning Adler interprets the admiration of the people for the military in the Habsburg monarchy before the beginning of the war: “Daily these people were subjected in their schools to lectures on their obligation to honor the ruling house. […] Distorted history boasts of bellicose glory of the fatherland […] and seduces the souls of boys to seek mystical bliss in bloodshed and battles. Incessant eloquent sermons pour from thousands of pulpits preaching the exhilaration of servitude and slavish obedience. Every seat of learning teaches the student the art of subservience. Boredom hoves over peace organisations there is no one, no popular movement, that organises against this trend. Newspapers and periodicals, politicians and parties seek the favour of the ruling powers.”2 His first conclusion was: “It took decades for the nation to be trained in weakness and obedience to authority and for people to forfeit their self-respect.”3
Hereafter Adler describes the rulers’ methods to keep the people submissive by all means as soon as the war had begun. Nevertheless, there were numerous attempts to avoid to go to war. Open resistance, however, was largely absent. Why? Adler writes: “For any kind of open resistance this people, which had a blanket pulled over its head, was lacking the unifying bond of mutual trust, a strong, trained sense of community (Gemeinschaftsgefühl).” That is what is lacking.

Why people embrace the slogans of their suppressors

On the other hand we have the mental reaction to this shortage: “Most of those [who volunteered], however, […] were victims of a false sense of remorse. […] Fettered and with our heads in the sand is how we all heard the call to die. There was no way out […]. In such a situation the volunteers did whatever would ease their crushed souls: They made virtue out of a necessity! In this chaos they seized all the call to arms that went out from the general staff and, reluctantly, they staggered to wherever the orders send them. Suddenly it seemed to them as if they themselves had uttered the call. It eased their soul. They had found a sought after escape route. They no longer were the whipped dogs who against their will were being sacrificed to face the hail of bullets. No, they were heroes, the defenders of justice.
Whatever might have prevented them as individuals from shedding the blood of brothers or to act against the sacred prohibition of murder disappeared in a rapture of having regained a feeling about themselves an a newly found sense of irresponsibility that accompanies every mass movement. With this inner liberation from a feeling of the deepest humiliation and degradation, in this convulsive effort to find themselves, they timidly escaped seeing themselves as poor victims of powerlusting strangers and preferred to dream of having freely chosen to do heroic deeds.”4 […] He has swallowed the God of the general staff who now speaks out of him.
It wasn’t out of sympathy or out of bellicosity that he turned into such a man. Rather, when he was bending on the ground, enslaved, sullied, and in his heart’s distress had lost every direction, when he saw himself in the deepest disgrace deprived of all freedom and human rights, he reached for the slogan of the overpowering oppressor in order to gain only some hold and acted as if he had issued the slogan to war. Now he at least had a hold and was free of shame and the feeling of wretchedness.”

No blame put on the people, but criticism of the victorious powers

Adler must not be misunderstood. His analysis does not include any accusation. On the contrary, he clearly writes: “No! He who has dwelt in its midst will absolve this people from any blame for the war.” And also with regard to the policy of the victorious powers in the aftermath of the war, his words are clear: “Now, when the people are to  become mature, when only a tremendous stream of  growing sense of community can bring salvation, when the reawakened human dignity cries out for punishment of the real guilty persons in order to regain the trust of mankind, the government of the Entente threatens us with new bondage, continues torturing the people which has just been tortured.”

Preventive action is still possible

100 years ago Alfred Adler gave his answer to the question why even the first steps towards turning away from the rule of law and towards the power state can trigger a fatal downward spiral, ever further away from a dignified life, from equal freedom for all, from the rule of law and democracy … and finally from peace.
But also that there is a protective factor: “[...] the unifying bond of mutual trust, a strong, trained sense of community (Gemeinschaftsgefühl).”
Alfred Adler investigated the inner life of the people of his time, a time of extreme mental and physical burden. Germany has not yet reached this point. But fundamental steps towards the decline into a pure power state have been taken in recent years. The prevailing principles in this process were lie, breach of law and violence. And for the very reason that we are not yet living in times like the First World War Alfred Adler‘s remarks are particularly worth considering. Preventive action is still possible.    •

1    Adler, Alfred. Die andere Seite. Eine massenpsychologische Studie über die Schuld des Volkes; in: Bruder-Bezzel, Almuth (Ed.). Alfred Adler. Gesellschaft und Kultur, Vol 7 der Alfred Adler Studienausgabe, 2009, p. 120–135
2    The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler: Journal articles 1914–1920, chapter XXI, p. 149
3    ibid. p. 150
4    ibid. p. 155

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