A Troubled Democracy
When America and its allies conquered this country, they hoped that stability and peace would finally overtake a troubled region. America forced out the old dictatorial regime and installed a democratic government.
Over time, however, the situation turned sour. Today, the people are becoming increasingly discontented with the governmental system they’re saddled with, which is not of their choosing. What to do? America is not wanted. American ways are not wanted. Democracy is not wanted.
Thinking of Iraq?
A Troubled Heart
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, uniting East and West Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany enjoyed a meteoric rise on the international stage. Today, its army and navy are deployed in peacekeeping missions around the globe. The world is crying out for German leadership, and Germany is responding by flexing its muscles once more.
But those muscles connect to an increasingly troubled heart. Though the skies are bright for Germany’s future prospects, a pall of gloom hovers at ground level. Increasingly, as Deutsche Welle put it in a Sept. 17, 2006, report, Germany sees the glass half empty.
In a strange paradox, while the Fatherland grows in success both internationally and within Europe, the attributes of its national character that led it to launch two world wars are beginning to resurface: feelings of superiority over neighbors, a rise in extreme-right sympathies, a fascination with national heritage.
Another trend: Germans are tiring of democracy.
Several recent reports coming out of Germany point to these conclusions. Of particular note is the 2006 “Data Report” released by the German Statistics Office. This report, released every two years, is compiled by a number of research and statistical agencies and is regarded as the most important publication on social reporting in Germany. The study found that in 2005, only 38 percent of the economically depressed eastern Germans thought democracy was good for Germany, down from 49 percent in 2000.
More surprisingly, however, it also revealed that even affluent Germans from the former West are losing faith in the democratic tradition. In 2000, 80 percent of western Germans thought democracy was good for the country. By 2005, that figure had slid to 71 percent.
Meanwhile, a survey released by the German public television station ard at the beginning of last November found that fully half of all Germans are dissatisfied with how the country’s democracy functions. “As recently as September 2005, 60 percent said they were satisfied with democracy in Germany,” reported Spiegel Online. “Now, it’s only 49 percent—a drop of 11 percentage points” (Nov. 3, 2006). This is the lowest result since the station started conducting such surveys almost a decade ago.
With democracy being the object of such disillusionment, which direction are many Germans turning? Concurrent with the growth of disaffection with democracy in Germany, right-wing views are taking root.
Though the German government estimated the nation contained 39,000 neo-Nazis in 2005—perhaps a seemingly small number out of a nation of 82 million—evidence shows that far more Germans sympathize with neo-Nazi ideology. “Far-right views are not just the domain of skinheads and neo-Nazis but are firmly anchored throughout German society,” Spiegel Online reported (Nov. 8, 2006).
Spiegel was referring to a poll conducted in mid-2006 by two professors from the University of Leipzig for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think tank to determine the level of agreement Germans have with the extreme right.
The professors uncovered some unsavory findings. Among the most telling: 14 percent believe Jews cheat in business; 35 percent articulate outright xenophobia; 28 percent believe Germany should regain world status by force; 15 percent believe Germans are naturally superior to other people.
But most alarming “is the longing the Germans have for darker days,” in the words of Ynet News (Nov. 9, 2006). Over a quarter of Germans would like a single popular party representing the whole nation, and 15 percent agreed with the statement, “We should have one leader to rule Germany with a strong hand for the good of everyone.” Moreover, 9 percent support the idea of turning Germany into a dictatorship, and 12 percent believe Hitler would be seen as a great statesman if he hadn’t exterminated Jews.
The report’s conclusion to the finding that far-right views are so prevalent? “Right-wing extremism is not an individual problem but one of society,” it stated. “The fact that it has come to this touches the foundations of democratic society” (emphasis mine).
Indeed, right-wing sentiment is being reflected in German elections.
In the former East Germany, three neo-Nazi parties have been voted into regional parliaments. In the 2004 state elections in Saxony, for example, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (npd) won 9.2 percent of the vote—190,000 votes. Clearly, far more than the government-identified 39,000 neo-Nazis support much of what the extreme-right parties stand for—or at the least, do not see any better alternative.
In fact, Germany’s extreme right enjoys the outright support of nearly a million voters. In the 2005 federal elections, the npd and German People’s Union (dvu) ran under the npd ballot name and managed to sway 1.6 percent of the national vote.
How many Germans, given the right circumstances, might support a radical leader? This is not without precedent in Germany. All it took to get the German people to embrace Hitler was extreme economic duress, hatred for the Jews, and a terrorist act in the form of the fire bombing of the Reichstag.
Today, conditions in Germany are again becoming ripe for the emergence of a strong leader. Germany is being rankled by a vocal and belligerent Muslim community, with many Germans feeling that a “clash of civilizations” is already occurring between Christians and Muslims. Germans are dissatisfied with the democratic system in Berlin and its failure to adequately address this problem in their midst. And as author Luigi Barzini wrote in The Europeans, “It is when they [Germans] are disconcerted and fretful that they can be most dangerous.”
Why has Germany not been able to eradicate extremism within German politics? After more than 60 years of democracy, why has the rotten heart within Germany not been cured?
It would be a grave error to assume that Germany has a long tradition with democracy. As Michael Demiashkevich wrote in The National Mind: English, French, German, “Believing in the existence of two German souls … we are convinced one of these is ‘totalitarianism.’”
History shows that Germany, at heart, is not democratic. Three times in the last 150 years, a totalitarian government has ruled the country. Germany, Europe, the world and history bear the mark of each episode.
Before that was the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. Prior to its rise as a single national power within Europe in 1871, Germany once ruled over large parts of Europe under the name Holy Roman Empire. Germany can lay claim to such emperors as Charlemagne, Otto the Great and the Habsburgs. Certainly democracy didn’t feature through the 1,000-year history of Germany’s First Reich.
After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the Allied powers introduced a republican constitution that transformed the German Empire into what is now referred to as the Weimar Republic. This was Germany’s first democratic constitution. Stripped of their heritage, many Germans saw the constitution as a shabby import of the West, representing a flawed system that by no means replaced the glorious German Reich. Despite the suppression of extreme right- and left-wing parties by the moderate postwar government, domestic problems such as economic depression and mass unemployment bolstered the popularity of extremist parties. Speaking of Germany’s short try at democracy between the First and Second World Wars, Hans Kohn wrote, “Most Germans regarded the Republic only as an interim state; in fact many refused to call it a state—a word which to Germans conveys pride, power and majesty. Instead they contemptuously called the republic a mere system, a system of Western corruption” (The Mind of Germany).
Within a mere decade and a half, Germans had reverted to form, and Hitler, who had promised a Third Reich, was the nation’s führer. In 1933, he was appointed chancellor, and commerce, industry and foreign trade became closely managed by the government.
The West defeated Germany in World War ii and again imposed democracy. The democratic tradition we see in Germany today is thin veneer that was pasted onto the country—a system of government the German mind has ill adapted to.
The German National Cycle
With this in mind, we can identify within German history a national cycle. Starting with what we see today, there is the phase when Germans become restless and fretful. They become unhappy with the current order. They perceive instability, disorder or threats to the nation, and yearn for stability and order. Usually this period is short, such as was the case with the Weimar Republic.
Of that flirtation with democracy, Demiashkevich wrote, “[A]crimonious discussions and dissensions among the multiple political parties of the 14-year parliamentary period of German political history, 1919-1933, had fatigued and frightened the average German, bewildered by artifices of political finessing, party bargaining and party intrigues. The nation was seized by a longing for the rule of one man, a moral—not an intellectual—superman …” (op. cit.).
Today we see the same wrangling and disputing among political parties leading to disillusionment with democracy. However, to this point, memories of the atrocities of World War ii have mitigated the desire to change to another form of government. Simply put, Germans have been wary of themselves. Even Germany’s first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, said the West was “taking a calculated risk” in rebuilding the nation after World War ii.
But with what is seen as political ineptness in Berlin in the face of a fast-rising danger from Islamist extremists, Germans are clearly beginning to get past this mental hang-up.
In the next phase of the national cycle, once social angst has taken firm hold, as it is in the process of doing today, Germans begin to look for a savior. When the modern nation of Germany was founded in 1871, that savior was Bismarck. Six decades later, Hitler fulfilled the role.
Hitler masterfully played on the sentiments and longings of the German people. With the economy in shambles and the country shamed by being forced to pay reparations to the Allies for starting World War i, Germans longed for a savior. Kohn explained, “Hitler’s claim to represent the true interest of the German people could find credence because he appealed to sentiments deeply rooted in the educated classes and the people …. He knew that the best way to lead Germans … [was to] lead a crusade to realize Germany’s age-old longings and her sense of historical mission” (op. cit.).
After the war, when Hitler was destroyed, Germans embraced another leader: Adenauer. His popularity reflected a public desperate for a strong man to bring order to social chaos.
Today, as discontentment with Berlin bubbles, the German people are losing confidence in their politicians to solve the nation’s problems. A recent poll reported by Deutsche Welle on December 15 showed that just 22 percent believe their government is being run in an effective and goal-oriented manner. The spreading disaffection with democracy shows a Germany opening up to the idea of a strong man. We can expect a cunning politician to emerge who will portray himself as the voice of the people.
There are certain characteristics the German people typically look for in their leaders. Germans have been drawn to a strong leader like Bismarck or Hitler who dominates the domestic scene and commands international attention, a man who can demonstrate German prestige and power. Historically, once a strong man rises on the scene, Germany has a habit of investing him with absolute power.
Also, Germans have looked to a man who has a European vision. While Bismarck sought to protect a newly unified Germany, he certainly possessed a pan-European vision, as did Hitler. Germany has always been at the heart of Europe. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of the nation-state, Germany was the protector of the “Christian” (Catholic) faith and the dominant power in Europe. Some of the greatest rulers in European history have been Germans: Otto the Great, Charlemagne and Frederick ii.
Another quality Germans appear to want in their leader is cunning. Bismarck was a master of balancing Europe. By cunning, Hitler gained large tracts of Europe without firing a gun. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “It’s not for nothing that the Germans [die Deutsche] are called the ‘tiusche’ people, the ‘Tausche’ (deceptive) people ….”
Today, that kind of German leader is yet to rise—but one may be poised. When he arrives on the scene, the next phase of the national cycle will begin.
Once Germans install a strong man, they become fiercely loyal to that man and his vision.
In World War ii, the world witnessed ordinary Germans commit unspeakable crimes against their neighbors and Jews. However, when Adenauer took the reigns of control after the war, Germans rallied to his vision for the country. In what many called a miracle, West Germany rose from the ashes of war to become a great democratic power within a decade. It is this apparent contradiction within the German soul—being willing to shift its loyalties from one man to the next, from one vision to the next, from good to evil—that perplexes and frightens Europe. What Germany is today is not what Germany will be tomorrow. Germany is a chameleon.
Once it has a strong man at the helm, Germany enters a stage of stability, ambition and fearlessness. A sense of national destiny sets in. During this stage, it is most dangerous and cunning. In history, this stage can be compared to the Hitler years of 1933-1939, when acts of German belligerency escalated.
The next stage, then, is marked by war preparations and war itself, as Germany pursues its imperial ambitions. The last stage of this cycle is defeat at the hands of its enemies, after which, at some point, the cycle begins again.
Even within the democratic straitjacket forced upon it after World War ii, Germany has quietly, gradually implemented an imperialist policy within Europe, maneuvering its way to the top of what is today the European Union. At its heart, it has an expansionist mindset, which means Germany must dominate.
That is why, as Barzini wrote, “It is … once again essential for everybody, the French, the British, the Italians, the other Europeans, as well as the Americans and the Soviets, to keep an eye across the Rhine and the Alps and the Elbe in order to figure out, as our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, the ancient Romans, and remote ancestors had to do, who the Germans are, who they think they are, what they are doing, and where they will go next …” (op. cit.).
Should we be surprised at Germany’s growing disaffection with democracy? This trend aligns perfectly with its history and national cycle.
We can know where Germany is going next. Facing mounting international instability and growing dissatisfaction at home, Germany is ready for another strong man to step forward and harness the power of the German soul, which is increasingly eager to dump democracy and return to its Holy Roman roots.