The Messiah Complex
Today’s Germany, restless as it is, yet with a newfound confidence in its nationality, seeks for the hero to lead it. For a moment it seemed Germany had found that hero in the form of Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Now it seems, at least to the careless surface observers of German politics, that his shining star is tarnished, that their hero has fallen on what appear to be provable charges of plagiarism of his doctoral thesis.
Yet the intriguing thing is that despite the continuing spin of Germany’s lame-duck liberals, and the press that promotes their cause, Guttenberg is as popular as ever.
On Saturday, Deutsche Welle reported:
Thousands of people took to the streets in several German towns and cities to show their support for former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned over a plagiarism scandal on Tuesday.
Around 2,000 demonstrators lined the streets of the northern Bavarian town of Guttenberg, the hometown of former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, showing their support for the politician …. Guttenberg’s father, the conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg, was among the supporters and described the criticism directed at his son as “a manhunt,” adding that “the desire of his political opponents to hunt him down shows a scary lack of empathy in this country.” He also lashed out at the media, calling their coverage a “schlachtfest,” a German word for a celebration that features freshly slaughtered pigs.
DW reported that the youth wing of the Christian Democrats—noting that over 570,000 had registered as supporting the Facebook “We Want Guttenberg Back” campaign—had expected much larger turnouts. However, these failed to materialize in most cities, with Guttenberg supporters even being outnumbered by opponents in the libertine capital, Berlin.
The lack of public presence appears to smack of a lack of organization within the campaign rather than any reduction in Guttenberg’s popularity. Meanwhile, the number registered as backing Guttenberg’s return continues to climb on the Facebook site.
Amid all of the brouhaha surrounding Guttenberg’s resignation, one observer did place his finger on the real source of Guttenberg’s popularity. Surprisingly, the piece was published in the very newspaper that broke the story of Guttenberg’s alleged plagiarizing in his doctoral thesis—southern Germany’s liberal newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
In Friday’s edition that paper ran a story by Heribert Prantl under the headline, “The Longing for the Messiah.” In that piece, Prantl highlighted two profound components of the German national character: the incompatibility with democracy and the longing for a messianic leader. “[A]ny real political power needs a spell. The magic of democracy is the magic of dry bread. The bread is nutritious, but it lacks the richness of real texture and full flavor. The magic of democracy is so meager that the public are willing to back an illusion, always yearning for it to become more apparent and real. But after his appearance on the scene, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has for two years satisfied a desire for that” (March 4; translation ours).
That is a remarkable admission, but as any true student of the German national character will admit, it is a very true observation.
But Prantl really gets to the crux of this unique national characteristic of the German people when he states, “Whenever we write about ‘Gutt’ [Guttenberg] there is always talk of his charisma, and that it is this in democracy in general which is greatly missed. But this charisma is especially found wherever Guttenberg is …. The word charisma is related to the search for some sparkle and shine for democracy. It is a defining word. In ‘charisma’ the ‘chrism’ speaks of the holy anointing oil of the king.”
He then refers to political scientist Philip Manow, who points out in his book analyzing democracy, In the King’s Shadow, that “it was from the nobility that the people desired a monarchy, and elected a ruler, the king—the anointed and sacred personification of his people and country.”
As Prantl observes, for two years the German public had their charismatic personality in the spotlight. They rejoiced in their seeming fairy-tale “prince ” and “princess,” the Baron Guttenberg and his glamorous wife, Stephanie. They warmed to their noble family connections, threading back through the glory days of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. They enthused over the Frankish connection of the Guttenberg dynasty with that of Charlemagne, or “Karl the Great,” as the Germans prefer to call him.
The question now is what will fill the void now that this two-year flirtation with the reminder of Germany’s nobler days seems to be over?
The signs are that the German public do not want to give up their dream of a messianic leader rising to lead them to their former imperial glory. Guttenberg lit a flame that will not go out. The young baron has lit the spark of national desire for a heroic, charismatic leader, one who can take Germany’s newfound national strength and confidence onto the center of the world stage, on to what German elites see is their nation’s rightful place as a recognized global power.
Search as you may for that leader in Germany today and an objective assessment has to yield but one conclusion. Only one person possesses the full package of all that it takes to fill such a role: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire.