In the mainstream media, the policies of the German prime minister, Angela Merkel, are often portrayed as a form of atonement for Germany’s past sins of imperialism and genocide. Letting in a million refugees is supposedly the absolute negation of the Holocaust, and pressing for further European cooperation is seen as the opposite of Germany’s old attempts to violently bring the rest of Europe under its control. And for these very reasons, progressive politicians and intellectuals around the world are now looking up to Merkel as the defender of pluralistic Western values.
At first sight, this praise for Merkel doesn’t seem so far-fetched, even for conservatives who fundamentally oppose her policies. After all, she is acting out of genuine goodwill and charity towards the downtrodden of the Middle East, isn’t she? And we may disagree about the feasibility and consequences of further European integration, but given Europe’s bloody past it seems perfectly understandable that Germany’s prime minister is calling for more harmony among European nations.
Nonetheless, it is important to point out that the popular image both of Angela Merkel and of modern Germany is deeply flawed. Because far from representing a negation -- or a misguided attempt at negation -- of past German policies and attitudes, the modern German mentality is in many ways a mutation or an update of the same mentality that has guided Germany since the eighteenth century, and especially since the unification of the country in 1870.
Let us begin with the more obvious parallel: German support for further European integration. Despite all the German talk about subordinating narrow national interests to the European project, careful observers must have noticed the coincidence that the Germans always see themselves as the leaders of this disinterested project, and that the measures deemed to be necessary for further European cooperation always seem to be German-made.
Are the Germans really such idealistic supporters of the European project? It is more probable that in reality they see the European Union as an ideal instrument to control the rest of Europe. Indeed, in 1997 the British author John Laughland wrote a book about this subject, The Tainted Source: the Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea, which is still worth reading for anyone who wants understand what kind of organization the EU actually is. According to Laughland, the Germans are such big supporters of the European ideal because they know that all important decisions in a confederation of states can ultimately only be taken by or with the approval of the most important state -- in this case, Germany.
Thus, on closer scrutiny, there is a strong continuity between the foreign policy of Wilhelm II, Hitler, and Merkel. And this continuity can easily be explained by looking at Germany’s position within Europe. On the one hand, Germany is the strongest and largest country in Europe, but on the other hand it is not strong or large enough to dominate the rest of Europe automatically. In consequence, ever since German unification in 1870, the country has been presented with the choice either to subordinate its wishes to those of the rest of Europe -- which has always appeared rather humiliating -- or to attempt the conquest of Europe, in order to ensure that Germany’s wishes would always prevail. Unsurprisingly, the Germans have consistently chosen the second course, and both World Wars were attempts to permanently bring the rest of Europe under German control.
The most prominent foreign policy decisions of Merkel can also be interpreted as attempts to expand German dominance in Europe. For instance, during the refugee crisis Germany tried to force Eastern European countries to take in refugees, not only because Merkel wanted to ease the burden upon her own country, but also because it was an ideal way to find out to what extent Germany could impose its will upon the new and independent-minded Eastern European members of the EU. Another example of the new German attempt to dictate policies to the rest of Europe is the Greek banking crisis. Whatever the considerable economic blunders successive Greek governments have committed over the years, it is undeniable that the ultimate goal behind Germany’s harsh demands towards the Greeks was the extension of German economic influence over other EU members.
However, the most frightening thing is that the parallels between Merkel’s mentality and that of her authoritarian predecessors go deeper than mere geopolitics. Because the philosophical premises underlying modern German policies are also at least partly similar to those that motivated Germany in both World Wars.
First of all, Merkel’s ideas about both immigration and European integration have a decidedly utopian character, an echo of the old obsession with the construction of a New World Order, which motivated both Hitler and the German leaders in the First World War. Merkel dreams of a society where immigrants and natives will together build some kind of ideal new world, opposed to the selfishness and materialism that has characterized Western societies until now. Also, Merkel’s attitude has a strong emotionalist undertone, which has been a characteristic of German philosophy since Immanuel Kant. Germans often derided the cold rationalism of the French and the money-grubbing of the Americans and British, as opposed to their own emphasis on the inner workings of the soul, love of the fatherland, and so on. Now, the Germans are reprimanding the governments of other countries, especially America, because they do not seem to share the German optimism about mass immigration, and only seem to care about hard facts.
Another parallel with the old German ideology is the collectivist strain in Merkel’s multicultural project. The German government seems to assume that the rights of German citizens must always be subordinated to those of Third World immigrants, which ultimately simply means that individual rights are subordinated to whatever the state wants. Besides emotionalism, collectivism has also been a prominent characteristic of the German ideology since the eighteenth century, once again in opposition to the “atomic” individualism of classical liberalism that prevailed in the United States, England, and France. When Germans talked about freedom, they did not mean individual freedom in the conventional sense, but rather the good fortune of citizens to live in a country that is efficiently governed by an all-powerful state. This is also what Merkel, and presumably her American and European supporters, mean when they are talking about freedom.
To conclude: far from being the defender of Western values like individual liberty and individual rights, the modern Germany is acting in a very German way indeed. After an adjustment period of some decades following the Second World War, during which the country had to atone for its past misdeeds and keep quiet, Germany is once again trying to impose its rule and a new form of its vicious ideology on Europe and the West. It is of crucial importance that we all recognize Merkel’s policies for what they are, and take decisive action to stop her.