“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Germany at the Crossroads

Simon Winder: Germans only wanted peace and love – now everybody blames them

The euro was an act of self-denial. They cashed in the mark for the greater good

Even five years ago, the idea that the relationship between Germany and Greece could become a source of woe would seem laughable. You could pick any other two European countries (Poland and Portugal; France and Denmark) with no more nor less grounds for tension. But there is now a terrible pall over Europe, with political leaders needing to take decisions for which there is little historic precedent, and in the doubly unattractive context of each option being a bad one. Whether the decision proves to be bad but with a good final outcome, or bad but with a catastrophic outcome, there is no question that the first policy round will be deeply hated.

This unlikely conjunction of Berlin and Athens makes us scramble for a historical context – and what there is, alas, is very discouraging. The German state has made a cult of prudence, hard work, provincialism and rectitude which is utterly admirable in itself, but sometimes unbearably annoying to outsiders. Indeed, almost everything about Germany is simultaneously mystifying and annoying to outsiders.

This is particularly the case with the British, who have been tricked for years into accepting ever greater insecurity, stagnant wages, and an ever more chaotic, flimsy and semi-privatised state under the impression that it is a bold vision of the future. Meanwhile just a short hop away over the North Sea there is a country with a much larger GDP where public services are excellent, the trains are clean and fast, yet shops close at weekends and the idea of 24/7 working seems outlandish and rather sad. But it would be very rare for a German actively to volunteer incredulity at how Britain does things. This would be considered bad form in any but the most drunken context.

It is as though the lessons of the 1940s have been learned so thoroughly that anything at all which might smack of bossiness or preaching would have everyone running for the hills thinking the Nazis are back. This neutered quietism is, of course, very attractive up to a point, but it is dangerously at odds with the way the euro has evolved.

The currency was viewed by Germans and other European visionaries as the full stop that would end the nightmarish historical experience of the 20th century. It stemmed from an anti-nationalism which has sadly proved just as mystical and pathetic as nationalism itself. The German vision was of the great euro project being hauled forward by the peoples of Europe, shoulder to shoulder. But the hauling turns out to have been somewhat voluntary – with some countries seemingly unaware that there was any hauling to be done. And no political authority was ever created that would force equal responsibility. Instead of being supported by a spread of talent, the euro steadily distorted and undermined the less big and strong economies, with everyone throwing aside their own hauling ropes and allowing themselves just to be pulled along by the Germans.

This has resulted in small, almost resourceless Spanish municipalities borrowing as though they were located in a precision-engineering hub of Baden-Württemberg: which, in financial terms of course, they are. Only economic growth could hide this – but this was growth akin to a runner on a running machine who, the moment the machine suddenly shuts down, is impaled on the digital display panel.

Greece is in the most terrible position, because the distortion has been the most extreme. Clearly the Greek political class has been crazily improvident and corrupt, but it is very hard to imagine how in any democratic system it would have been possible to resist what was on offer. It has been part of the evasive feebleness of the arguments around the euro to imply that this is something to do with "Mediterranean" fecklessness. The Germans are rightly identified as savers not spenders; they tend towards a type of licensed extravagance. They will allow themselves the expensive car or the foreign holiday but allied firmly to financial frugality.

Surely, though, a point must come when so many European countries are being blamed for being Mañanaland scroungers that there must be a suspicion of something more systemic at work – weren't places like Spain viewed until recently as dynamic, modern, shaking off the past and so on?

Greek localism is, oddly, of a related, if different kind to Germany's. Greece has been battered, threatened, traumatised and occupied. A very significant part of that was, of course, carried out by Germany in the 1940s. It is not really surprising that this uncomfortable fact has bobbed up and become a standard point made by Athens demonstrators. But it is profoundly shocking because the whole idea of the euro was to banish such history.

The tragedy for the Germans is that they viewed the euro as their great, healing gift to the rest of Europe, an act of self-denial in which they cashed in their totemic Deutschmark for the continent's greater good. That this, combined with the dilemma that throwing more money at the crisis (without a parallel jump to political union) is unthinkable for the Germans, has resulted in such gusts of anti-German hatred in Greece that it is a nightmarish parody of what was meant to happen. The nature of Greek indebtedness and the euro's structure meant decisions which lie at the heart of sovereignty fell exclusively in the hands of Frankfurt and Berlin. Quite by accident, and without an ounce of intent or malice by Berlin, Greece has (like Ireland) become a German colony – and it is not a colony which has a future.

The idea of Europe as this enormous, borderless playground of economic opportunity is now held up to the Greeks as a sort of mockery: they are hideously trapped in a sovereign space which has no sovereignty. But the Germans too find themselves in a hideous trap. They never even meant to engage with Greece – it was a minor aspect of an I-want-to-teach-the-world-to-sing fantasy about saying goodbye to the old Europe of bullying and division. The coming days and weeks will require Germans to do something they cannot do: take charge and quickly build a proper political structure to underpin the euro's economic structure.

This would convert Greece from a German colony to a German county, but even writing this makes it clear it will never happen. The only logic therefore has Greece rejoining its non-euro neighbours. But the impact is incalculable – and we have no historical precedent to even provide some illusion of cheerfulness.

Simon Winder is the author of Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern


  1. Germany is a Hyper-Exporter. As such, they have benefitted immensely from the Euro.

  2. The Euros wanted a United States of Europe to rival the "United States of America." They didn't stop to consider that the progressive states of the U.S.A., (New York, Mass, Conn, California, et al) transferred (gave) Billions of Dollars to the backward states (Mississippi, Al, Ark, etc) on a daily basis.

  3. The lefties that crafted the Euro-zone, underated the entrenched nationalism; the Germans fearing their own.

  4. I have to reference the "And it's Getting Better" thread @BC (still up), specifically the debate between Marie Claude and blert over the Euro currency and whether it is issued by the ECB or in the name of each individual country (see comments 39-41 ++). (Talk about pay grades.)

    Also in the "new documents reveal" category (from Marie): LINK which is reasonably short and sweet, but provides some missing if not timely context as the post-mortem fixes get thrown around.

    1. I haven't been reading BC, but I used to love the way Marie Claude would mangle our language.

      Maybe she's gotten better.

      Buddy Larsen was always taking her to task over this and that.


  5. The days of German goose-stepping are over. Britain, France, Russia, all nuclear armed. Only thing left for jerry to do is go to the beach, and enjoy life for once.

    Obama's advice, on Drudge,to Euroland, is to forget 'austerity'.

    We'd all like to be able to do that.

    I know my daughter would.


  6. I'm gonna just say this once.

    Creative Cause


  7. By Ian Johnston,

    Some 63 percent of Americans would be in favor of taking military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, according to a new survey.

    The Pew Research Center asked 26,210 people in 21 different countries to give their views on Iran’s alleged plans to get nuclear weapons, finding widespread opposition to the idea in the West and also in some countries in the Mideast.

    More than nine in 10 people in the United States, U.K., France and Germany were against Iran getting nuclear weapons. Two percent of Americans said they were in favor.

    Not just the mythical 'neocons', whoever they are.

    2% are cool with a nuclear armed Iran, including Deuce.

    Excluding WiO.


  8. Apparently the "euro" is an artificial currency that in reality consists of a "basket" of pooled currencies from member states.

  9. .

    In a few (3) short sentences you have provided us with or implied so many logical fallacies it would take me all morning to explain them to you.

    You are hopeless.


    1. .

      This was obviously meant in reference to Bob's post on Iran.


    2. Three simple declaratives - I must be really good, to stir you up so.

      You are hopeless.

      Go put some money on Creative Cause.

      Fits, as you are a creative man.

      I'm outta here to the Preakness at the Casino.

      Have a great day!


    3. It's OK. My level of understanding of the euro is too low to permit the advanced luxury of a logical fallacy. The whole thing does suggest to me however that the "basket of currency" alternative to the dollar as the reserve currency might want to be rethunk.

    4. .

      Merely an observation, Bobbo.

      Three simple declaratives? Don't sell yourself short.

      Stirred up? I've been busy this morning and haven't had my first coffee. It's a little hard to stir me to anything before then.

      Enjoy the Preakness.


  10. For those having a bad hair day, the Mother of all Creative Causes (now that's a proper horse name):

    Exclusive Infographic: The Life and Times of Liz Lemon's Hair (LINK)

  11. Chateau Sucker (LINK)

    What do Bill Koch (brother of Charles and David), selvage jeans, an ethnic Chinese from Indonesia named Rudy Kurniawan, and wine fraud have in common?

    The nifty thing about old-wine cons is it is almost impossible to prove anything. Go back a few decades, especially before World War II, and no one really knows exactly what was done: How many bottles of a particular wine were produced, in what formats, in what packaging. The older and rarer the wine, the fewer people who’ve tasted it. Natural bottle variation is common. Skilled tasters can disagree about flavor, and even if a wine tastes odd, diagnostics are a minefield. Even high-tech radioisotope dating has uselessly huge margins of error for bottles that predate the nuclear age. Given this epistemic swamp, winemakers rarely step up and declare a bottle fake. It’s acceptable for an auction house to be reticent about a bottle’s origins, and when the trade speaks at all, it’s in euphemism: A bottle’s “inconsistent.”

    Which is why what happened on April 25, 2008, was unprecedented. Ten minutes into the Acker auction of Rob Rosania’s Champagne-focused cellar at Cru, a long-haired man entered the room and took a seat near the back. It was Laurent Ponsot, maker of a coveted Burgundy featured in 22 lots in the auction. Domaine Ponsot only started making its Clos St. Denis in the eighties, but the catalogue included Kurniawan-consigned vintages from 1959 and 1945. Barzelay had alerted Ponsot, and told Kapon he needed to pull the lots; Ponsot decided to attend the auction to make sure they were withdrawn.

    The Angry Men were rowdy that night. Their notes on wines they drank during the bidding, as novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney later reported, included “tighter than a 14-year-old virgin” and “stinky like the crack of a 90-year-old nun.” Standing up, Rosania noisily sabered open a $10,000 Jeroboam of 1945 Bollinger. “Shut the fuck up and let’s finish this,” said Kapon, in equally high spirits. When he announced the withdrawal of the Ponsot lots—“at the request of the domain and with the consent of the consignor”—people in the room started booing, like they wanted to bid on the wines anyway. “It’s Burgundy,” Kurniawan told a reporter afterward. “Sometimes shit happens.”

    The glibness couldn’t mask the fact that this evidence was especially damning. Even if you rationalized away some of the bottles, there was no refuting the fakeness of many of the lots.

    Another egregious assault on Capitalism by the International Socialists.


  12. FM 3-39.40 is an Army operations guide dated February 2010 with headings that include "Capture, Detention, and Initial Screening," "Detainee Flow," "Theater Internment Facility," "Strategic Internment Facility," "Detainee Rehabilitation Programs," and much, much more.


    For domestic extremists and radicals in search of evidence to support their forgone conclusion that the government is on the verge of declaring a police state, the field manual is a rhetorical gold mine -- even if it didn't specifically discuss how to apply these techniques to American citizens on U.S. soil.

    Unfortunately, FM 3-39.40 discusses exactly that. Here are a few choice excerpts:


    Jesus Christ

  13. Radicalization is driven in large part by victimization narratives, whether it's a fear of Big Brother watching, big banks looting, big government seizing one's guns, or a big, global war on Islam. A document like FM 3-39.40 is read as confirming the worst fears of an unusually wide spectrum of political dissenters, radicals, and would-be violent extremists from the right, left, and "other." Gasoline, meet match.

    Creative Causes of the World Unite!

  14. Super PACs aren't just reshaping the presidential race, they are also transforming congressional campaigns. And in those races, conservative interest groups are outspending their liberal rivals by a four-to-one margin, reports the Washington Post. So far, conservative groups have plowed $20 million into House and Senate races, and with spending more than double what it was at this point in 2008, observers say money will be more vital than ever in determining who controls the Congress next year.

    Democrats are feeling "growing panic," says the Post, but increasingly, moderate Republicans are as well. Tea Party favorite Deb Fischer won the Republican nomination to be the Nebraska Senate candidate last week, thanks in part to a last-minute $250,000 media buy by a super PAC. And Dick Lugar lost the GOP Senate primary in Indiana after the conservative Club for Growth spent $2 million on his right-wing competitor. "We’re just getting started,” says a Club for Growth spokesman. “That’s our whole goal is to have an impact, to improve the gene pool in Congress.”

  15. MSM so far doing a medium job of teasing apart the Tea Party influence from the (bi-partisan) anti-incumbent mood of the country. One side or the other is in for a surprise.

  16. I'm not really sure what "b" stands for but I'm pretty sure it doesn't stand for bob, bobbo, boobie, asshole, fuckface or any other name he has acquired over the years. If I'm wrong and he is that sane right now I want to know what fucking pills he is taking cause I want some.

  17. Stands for bastard.

    Bobbo hit the tri-fecta!

    But missed by betting Creative Cause to place, and he only showed. Heck of an exciting race. Daughter came out ahead too. Stopped at a Native American garage sale on the way home. I got an Obama carry bag for $1 with his beautiful face on one side, and daughter got a really neat hammock for $1

    We took the injuns for a ride this day.


    1. Rufus I've urges you to bet I'll Have Another two races running. What does that horse have to do, win the Triple Crown, before you will sit up and take notice?

      Bodemeister and I'll Have Another were way, way the class of the field.

      From the track....


  18. I think you're right, Max.

    Everyone is scared to death.

  19. Lo, the monomyth in one short chapter, Matthew 4 -

    1Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
    2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
    3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
    4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
    5Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
    6And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
    7Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
    8Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
    9And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
    10Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
    11Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
    12Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee;
    13And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
    14That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
    15The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
    16The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
    17From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
    18And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
    19And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
    20And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
    21And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
    22And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
    23And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
    24And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
    25And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.



  20. 1Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness --Our Hero, which could be any one of us, responds to the call to adventure coming from his inner self.

    to be tempted of the devil.....And....the tempter came to him Our Hero is often met on his journey away from the common light of day to a magical supernatural realm (which is inside oneself) by helpers, or hinders. Here we have a hinderer in Judeo/Christian clothing. The helpers or hinderers are in our Hero's own being, not 'out there', and they signify his readiness, or not, to continue on the journey.

    10Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thence, Satan Our Hero is victorious! He has over come the hindrences in his own self.

    11Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. Angels came and ministered unto him - he has obtained the Boon! The Boon is an expansion of consciousness. We are more than we thought we were! O Joy!

    .... he departed into Galilee Our Hero, now big with Boon, returns to his people, to share the Boon.

    16The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. Our Hero shares, he shares! (Sometimes in myth, the Hero says, in effect, fuck it, they won't believe me anyway - and goes Hindu like to sit crossed legged in the forest watching the monkeys play, until his body drops off in time like a leaf yellowing to its fall in autumn)

    17From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
    18And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

    Our Hero spends the rest of his all too short life trying to show others what he has learned, and is crucified for thanks.

    19And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And some are willing to listen.

    That is the myth in Judeo/Christian dressing. The movement from common day, to another realm, an expansion of consciousness, and a return to share. The tones rung on the simple structure of the monomyth are kalideoscopic, and sometimes humorous. Sometimes our Hero sleeps through the whole thing, and returns, like Rip van Winkle, with nothing to show for it but his whiskers.


    I am going over this in my mind, as I am writing a letter to my new doctor of the diamond left nostril, Miss Santa Cruz, who had never heard of such a thing, complete with a gift of a couple books.


    1. I asked, may I? And she said, yes!


  21. .

    If you are planning to start a life of crime, travel to Norway first.

    When Halden opened, it attracted attention globally for its design and its relative splendour. Set in a forest, the prison blocks are a model of minimalist chic. Høidal lifts down from his office wall a framed award for best interior design, a prize given in recognition of the stylishness of the white laminated tables, tangerine leather sofas and elegant, skinny chairs dotted all over the place. At times, the environment feels more Scandinavian boutique hotel than class A prison.

    The hotel comparison comes up frequently. Høidal is just back from visiting a British prison and had to stay a night in a hotel off Oxford Street. Happily for the hotel, he can't remember the name, but he noticed his room was certainly smaller and probably less nice than the cells in Halden. Every Halden cell has a flatscreen television, its own toilet (which, unlike standard UK prison cells, also has a door) and a shower, which comes with large, soft, white towels. Prisoners have their own fridges, cupboards and desks in bright new pine, white magnetic pinboards and huge, unbarred windows overlooking mossy forest scenery...

    Halden, the Most Humane Prison in the World


    1. Yet their crime rate pales in comparison to the US!

  22. Norway found a gob (technical term) of oil a couple of decades ago. They promptly raised prices (taxes) on gasoline/diesel, and started putting the royalties into a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

    They avoided the Eurodollar debacle, and quietly built the highest standard of living of, I guess, any major country. They had to import some muzzies to have, virtually, any crime at all.

    All tolled, a pretty good job. (of course, having a fairly large, resource rich country in comparison to a relatively small population, and striking a Big oil field will make you smarter (sometimes) than the average bear.

  23. By the way, an extremely insightful comment by Max, fully deserving of a Headline/Post.