Everything needed to characterise the Western war drums has been said in the past nine months. Also, that much that was once very important to Europe has been dropped: not only freedom and justice, but also humanity and international understanding. When an openly racist writer receives the “Peace Prize” of the German Book Trade, alarm bells should ring everywhere. With only a few exceptions, they have not been heard. That can’t be all Europe has to offer.
In the summer of 1947, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa, two US-Americans, travelled for several weeks through the war-torn Soviet Union on behalf of the “New York Herald Tribune”. They wanted to report on the people in the country and record their lives in pictures. The result was a book that was first published in English in 1948 and in German in 2010. The title of the book: “A Russian Journal”.
John Steinbeck and Robert Capa were already world famous in 1947. Capa was a famous photographer. Even today, a street and a house in Leipzig are named after him. Steinbeck was a journalist and writer. In 1940 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his journalistic work, and in 1962 he was to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel “Grapes of Wrath”.
Only the last sentences of the book should be quoted here: “We found, as we had suspected, that the Russian people are people, and, as with other people, that they are very nice. The ones we met had a hatred of war, they wanted the same things all people want-good lives, increased comfort, security, and peace. […] We have no conclusions to draw, except that Russian people are like all other people in the world. Some bad ones there are surely, but by far the greater number are very good.”
Have you been able to read, hear or see anything like this in our official Western media for the past nine months? Instead, the Russians have become barbarians and the country’s political leadership demons threatening the world.
“Revaluation of all values” ...
Many convictions that shaped the generations of many European states in the years after 1945 have been declared obsolete or have been forgotten. How often in the past weeks and months I have had to think of the past 30 years, the plan of US “full-spectrum dominance”, which ultimately also led to the war in Ukraine, and of the old wisdom that the pursuit of power and war do not only mean death and destruction, but also the “revaluation of all values”.
Today I would like to recall not only the “A Russian Journal”, but also two texts from a whole treasure trove of valuable documents that point to another Europe, another Germany.
The first is an essay by Adolf Süsterhenn from the German Rheinischer Merkur of 12 April 1946.1 The title of the essay: “Freedom and Justice”. Adolf Süsterhenn was a German expert in constitutional law and politician and is considered the “spiritual father” of the state constitution for Rhineland-Palatinate. He was a minister in Rhineland-Palatinate, a member of the German Parliamentary Council that formulated the German Grundgesetz, President of the Oberverwaltungsgericht (Higher Administrative Court), Chairman of the Constitutional Court of Rhineland-Palatinate, and member of the German Bundestag. In 1945, he was one of the founders of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) in his adopted home town of Rheingönheim.
… or “freedom and justice”?
According to Süsterhenn, the most accurate way to characterise National Socialist rule in Germany is as a “system of unfreedom and lawlessness”. The lack of freedom and law “was the worst ordeal from a spiritual point of view, worse than physical torment and material damage, for the system of National Socialism, founded on servitude and arbitrariness, touched the core of the human personality, the general human dignity”.
With striking sentences, Süsterhenn defined what freedom and law mean and that law is an indispensable part of freedom.
“Freedom”, he wrote, “is a natural good to which every human being as such is entitled. It consists in the fundamentally unrestricted possibility of man, independent of external coercion, to develop and shape his physical and mental capacities, powers, and abilities independently and on his own responsibility. As a rational being, man cannot indulge in unreasonable licentiousness without thereby endangering his true humanity. In the words of Goethe to Chancellor von Müller, the essence of freedom is ‘to be able to do what is reasonable under all conditions’. Only the free use of reason and the self-decision and self-confirmation accruing from a reasonable cognition of moral norms leads man beyond the spheres of vegetative and animal life subject to natural compulsion [...] and raises him to the status of real man, to a moral personality.” (Translation of all quotes Current Concerns)
And law? “But the ordering of the social coexistence of free individual personalities in the community, as well as the ordering of the relationship between the various human communities, is the task of law. [...] Only law is in a position to guarantee freedom. Where there is no law [...], arbitrariness and violence rule, the so-called law of the strongest triumphs.”
A new totalitarianism threatens
He also warned that if state power should once again by itself presume to define freedom and law, a new totalitarianism was be imminent. This danger existed particularly under the rule of legal positivism, where only what is decided as law is taken as law. In 1932 and 1933, this had led to the National Socialist dictatorship. Thus, at the end of Süsterhenn’s essay, one can read: “Any reorganisation of the situation in Germany in terms of constitutional law must take the events of 1933 as a lesson since the danger of totalitarian movements persists, despite the elimination of National Socialism. No matter how the reorganisation may look in detail, there must never again be such a far-reaching constitutional and actual concentration of power at a central institution […], otherwise freedom and justice will again be endangered in the future. Above all, however, we must overcome the spirit of legal positivism and the resulting idea of state omnipotence which is still haunting the minds of many who otherwise want to be good democrats. The supreme principle of all politics must be the recognition of the principle that the individual and the communities incorporated into the state did not receive their freedoms and rights from the state, but that these freedoms and rights are of pre-state origin and therefore also have pre-state rights rooted in human nature […].
The state, which is not the creator of all law, but is subject to natural law itself, must not interfere with the development of the individual’s personality and may not usurp the natural spheres of activity of the pre-state communities. On the contrary, it has the task of providing protection and assistance to the individual and the communities subordinated to him and of guaranteeing them free opportunities for development. […] The common good, i.e., the realisation of social justice as the purpose of the state, constitutes both the natural-law justification and the natural-law limitation of state power. A state that rapes the freedoms and rights of the individual and of natural community formations such as the family, the profession, the community, or the homeland thereby deprives itself of the natural law basis of its existence, turning into an all-devouring juggernaut […].”
Remembering that things can be done differently
“A free people shall resurge”
The second document is a party programme of only a few pages.2 At the end of June 1945, a programme commission of the Christian Democrats in Cologne adopted this draft for a party programme for the German CDU. “A call to rally the German people” is the headline, and the text consists of an analysis of the German catastrophe and 20 brief programme points for the future shaping (constitution) of the country. Only a few sentences shall be quoted here:
“Thus, all too many succumbed to the National Socialist demagogy that promised every German a paradise on earth. Without any moral hold of their own, they fell prey to racial arrogance and a nationalistic intoxication with power. The megalomania of National Socialism was combined with the ambitious imperiousness of militarism and the big capitalist armaments magnates. The end result was war, which plunged everyone into ruin.
What alone can save us in this hour of need is an honest reflection on the Christian and occidental values of life [...]. Therefore, away with dictatorship and tyranny, with master race and militarism! A free people shall arise again, whose basic law is respect for human dignity. A new Germany is to be created, based on law and peace. Our youth should learn again that it is not power but spirit that makes Germany honourable before the world. Truth, honesty and fidelity to the given word shall guide our public life. Lies, dissimulation and hypocrisy, the plague of Hitlerism, should never return. Social justice and social love shall protect a new national community which knows how to combine the God-given freedom of the individual and the demands of the community with the requirements of the common good.”
Point 20 as the last of the “Guiding Principles for the Reconstruction of our Fatherland” reads: “The basis of German foreign policy is respect for foreign nationality and faithful adherence to the treaties. It must become common knowledge of the entire people that the policy of violence and war is not only a sin against one’s own fatherland, but also a crime against humanity. Germany must be a leader in the realisation of the longing of the peoples for eternal peace.”
We were already further ahead once
John Steinbeck and Robert Capa, Adolf Süsterhenn and the “Cologne Guidelines”, all this was 75 years and more ago. The great worries in the Soviet Union and the USA about nuclear war were drowned out soon after 1947 by the drums of the Cold War. Natural law thinking, which actually enjoyed a renaissance in Germany after 1945, was already suppressed again in the 1960s.3
However, if we look at today’s Germany and today’s Europe of the West, we can also say: we were already further ahead once – even if the choice of words from back then would have to be translated to some extent today! The experience with a totalitarian dictatorship and its horrors had made many come to their senses for a while in the post-war years. Our present-day Europe could learn something from these experiences and attitudes – to prevent another catastrophe.
Last but not least, the question arises as to why convictions that have been recognised as correct are suppressed or abandoned. This is also a psychological and social question: With all our good ideas – what is our inner attitude towards power? And what does it take not to get down on one’s knees in front of power or to strive for power oneself? What does it take to actually live what has been recognised as right? •
1 Bucher, Peter (ed.). Nachkriegsdeutschland 1945–1949 (Germany after War). Sources on the Political Thought of Germans in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Freiherr-vom-Stein Memorial Edition, Vol. X, Darmstadt 1990, special edition 2011, pp. 165ff.
2 ibid. p. 27ff.
3 cf. Nestor, Moritz. “Die Renaissance des Naturrechts nach 1945” (The Renaissance of Natural Law after 1945); https://naturrecht.ch/wp-content/uploads/02-Renaissance-des-Naturrechts-nach-1945.pdf; and Künnecke, Arndt. “Die Naturrechtsrenaissance in Deutschland nach 1945 in ihrem Historischen Kontext – mehr als nur eine Rechtsphilosophische Randnotiz?” (The Natural Law Renaissance in Germany after 1945 in its Historical Context – More than a Marginal Note on Legal Philosophy?); https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/7071
km. On November 5, 2022, vaticannews.va/en read: “The diocese of Münster has criticised as ‘incomprehensible’ the hanging of a historic cross in the Peace Hall of the City Hall. […]
The diocese refers to a request by the German Foreign Ministry that the city of Münster had to remove the historic council cross in the peace hall on the occasion of the G-7 meeting. The reason given, according to the city of Münster, was that people with different religious backgrounds were attending the meeting.
The measure ‘unfortunately expresses a reduced understanding of tolerance’, comments the diocese of Münster. ‘The cross stands – even if this was and is not always observed – for tolerance, peaceableness and humanity. The cross stands for overcoming violence and death. The cross therefore stands precisely for the objectives that the foreign ministers are striving for with their meeting in Münster.’
The fact that the foreign ministers had deliberately chosen the Peace Hall in Münster for their deliberations, thus linking up with history, was very welcome, they said. ‘Traditions and associated symbols that are expressions of values, attitudes and religious convictions cannot simply be ‘taken down,’ the diocesan statement continues. ‘Rather, it can be helpful to engage with them and come to terms with them. That is what we would have liked.’ […]
A speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had justified the measure on Friday according to protocol. Explicitly, the spokesman stressed that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had not been involved with the removal of the cross. Baerbock herself has since regretted the decision to remove a cross that was part of the inventory for the meeting of the G-7 foreign ministers in the Peace Hall in Münster. This was exclusively an organisational measure, not a political one, she said at the final press conference in Münster on Friday evening. She herself had only learned about it in the morning. Even if the Historic Peace Hall in the town hall had to be converted into a conference room, the cross would have belonged there. ‘It would have been good if it had not been moved away,’ Baerbock said.”
How credible is Ms Baerbock’s subsequent explanation?
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