Germany's regression under Schroeder


The news today is that Gerhard Schroeder is in political trouble in Germany.  He may finally be on his way to defeat ——— a well—deserved one, because Schroeder is unquestionably the worst German Chancellor in fifty years. Not just because he is a vain, pompous, touchy, and foolish. Not just because he repeatedly lied to his people about Germany's economy. And not only because he has failed to pull his country out of its welfare quagmire.

No, Schroeder is the worst political leader in half a century because he is a demagogue, who single—handedly reinvented the national scapegoating dynamic that has led Europe from one disaster to the next for the last two centuries. Both France and Germany consistently used nationalistic scapegoating ever since Napoleon. Bismarck whipped up hatred for France in order to unify Germany in the Second Reich (Charlemagne created the First). But the French were no better. It was Georges Clemenceau who insisted in breaking Germany economically after World War I, a "revanchiste" (revenge—seeking) policy that led straight to Hitler and World War II. Nothing is more destructive in European history than the politics of scapegoating.

The fact that Schroeder has consistently played up  anti—American rage rather than anti—French or anti—Semitic feelings is not as important as the simple fact that he has reopened Pandora's Box. Anti—Americanism has kept Schroeder in power for his entire term of office, and future generations of politicians have now learned that blaming sinister foreigners is again acceptable and extremely successful.

For fifty years after the World War II, Germany was led by governments that scrupulously avoided the blood—stained politics of scapegoating. The memory of Nazi criminality kept them largely honest, and  Germany's division focused them on the threat from the Soviet empire. There was a sincere effort to make up somehow for the depredations of the Nazis. While the fall of the Berlin Wall was a great victory for freedom, freedom also brought temptations. Gerhardt Schroeder may therefore be remembered as the Chancellor who broke a post—war taboo on political self—restraint. In the future the same tactics may be used to glorify, not the German Reich but the European Union, as some French politicians have already done. But it is just the old, sleazy politics in a new bottle.

For Europe to become the vision of hope it claims to be, it must somehow learn to be much more responsible, much more democratic, and much more honest. Gerhardt Schroeder has been none of those. Almost anyone else may be an improvement.

James Lewis    5 24 05

Hat tip: GR