Germany vs. the 'Populist Wave'

Reflections in Munich.

When I was walking around Munich this weekend, it occurred to me that one reason why Germans have such a long-lasting international reputation for being brainy and scholarly and stuff is that all those hours they spend standing at street corners waiting for lights to change give them plenty of time to think. Ever since the first time I set foot in this country, several decades ago now, I’ve been stunned by the willingness of these people – in every city, and of whatever age or social station – to crowd together on curbs, with no moving vehicle in sight for half a mile in either direction, unwilling to hurry across even the narrowest of thoroughfares until a green signal gives them permission to move. My first encounter with this cultural practice was especially striking because I was from America, where individual freedom is taken seriously and where it is hard to quash the impulse to violate trivial regulations if they seem to impinge unnecessarily on one’s freedom of movement and are contrary to one’s personal judgment and/or to simple common sense.

Consider, moreover, that I come from New York, where, as they say, traffic lights are only suggestions. 

This whole German standing-at-lights business is, of course, all about obedience – about a fondness, in fact a deep-seated, inborn, and well-nigh ineradicable need, for exceedingly strict order, even in the most meaningless matters, enforced by very strong authority. That, plus an unshakable readiness to obey that authority beyond the point of rationality, in defiance of one’s own reasoning powers, and without ever giving an instant’s thought to the possible illegitimacy, imprudence, or immorality of that authority. It’s this rage for order that explains the insane level of overregulation practiced by the EU – which is, when you come right down to it, a German operation. The other day somebody said that one of the regulations the EU is currently working on is a rule setting the proper lengths for candle wicks. Only a bureaucracy run by Germans could come up with such things. 

Americans love freedom. But to Germans – at least Germans with a traditional German temperament –freedom looks terrifyingly like chaos.

That’s what I was reflecting on as I waited at one Munich street light after another on this first weekend after the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day – and the first weekend, too, after the announcement of the winners of the latest European Parliament elections. If not for the German fetish for authority, Americans of my parents’ generation wouldn’t have been put through so many (shall we say) inconveniences during the first half of the 1940s, and D-Day would never have had to happen, and those Normandy beaches would still have French names.

Yes, Germans today like to tell themselves, and us, that they’ve totally changed as a people, but don’t be too quick to believe it: for only Germans – after the tsunami of fake refugees and other Muslim immigrants that has dramatically transfigured their country in recent decades, leading to such atrocities as the wave of mass rapes on New Year’s Eve three years ago in Cologne and elsewhere – could have gone to the polls week before last and put Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic coalition on top yet again, with 28.9% of the vote. That’s Angela Merkel, the chief architect – the veritable Albert Speer – of her country’s current disaster; Angela Merkel, who, in a commencement address last month, utterly ignoring the reality of what open borders have done to her own country and the fact that America’s insufficiently guarded southern border has played into the schemes of drug cartels and child smugglers, told Harvard graduates that they should “tear down walls of ignorance,” a manifest dig at President Trump, Brexit, and anyone who dares to resist EU hegemony; Angela Merkel, the woman under whom Germany, as James Kirchick wrote in April in the Washington Post, is “NATO’s biggest freeloader.”

To be sure, the relatively new Alternative for Germany Party, which opposes mass Muslim immigration, scored 11% of the vote, or fourth place, in Germany’s elections for MEP, which isn’t bad at all (the Social Democrats came in third); but given what the country is going through, it’s hard not to be struck by the German electorate’s readiness to give the Merkel gang yet another shot – all the while also buying, in huge numbers, the establishment’s assertion that the biggest threat to the German way of life is climate change. For, yes, the party that came in second in Germany was the Greens, who picked up more than one out of every five votes, even as so-called “populist” (i.e. anti-EU, pro-freedom) parties were scoring huge victories elsewhere in Europe. Now, let’s be clear here: Germany has been utterly transformed since I first visited it when Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president and Helmut Schmidt was the German chancellor, but the culprit isn’t greenhouse gases.  

Apropos of that transformation: when I checked into my hotel on Friday, the desk clerk used a minor error in my reservation as an excuse to explode in aggressive anger at me, growling and barking accusations and making ridiculous threats. He was not a native German; my guess, based on his accent and appearance (in particular his scraggly gray beard), is that he was a Turk. Although, in decades of extensive travel, I had never experienced such a greeting at a hostelry, I have had my share of unpleasant encounters in Europe with unnecessarily belligerent Muslims; and as the number of Muslims on this continent has risen steadily, and their tendency to feel empowered has grown, these encounters have increased in frequency and degree of vitriol. I share this trifling anecdote only because, over the years, I have come to view such episodes, however trivial they may appear to be in the scheme of things, as providing a foretaste of what life will be like under the caliphate.

For while individual Muslims can be extremely friendly and hospitable, Islam, as such, when you get right down to it, is an ideology of contempt, contumely, and conquest. From birth, its adherents are taught that it is inappropriate for them to live for very long as passive subjects in infidel lands, and that it is only natural for them to do everything they can – exert pressure, claim victimhood, demand censorship, blow things up – to wrest power, over time, from the infidel. Owing to this imperative, there is a bullying quality that is intrinsic to Islam, an attribute that, when experienced in Germany, of all places, cannot but bring to mind the fierce, brutal truculence at heart of Nazism itself – the very attribute, of course, that drove a certain ambitious Austrian, in this selfsame city, on the night of November 8, 1923, to try to initiate the overthrow the Weimar Republic at a beer hall called Bürgerbräuenkeller; the very attribute, too, that led more and more Germans, over the course of the 1920s and early 30s, to find Herr Hitler (whom most foreigners at the time regarded as comical and cartoonish) nothing less than mesmerizing.

Anyway, strolling around Munich and espying some of the burg’s newest denizens, I’ve been reminded that while the Führer was famously consistent in his passionate Jew-hatred, he actually found Islam appealing – and many Muslims felt the same way about Nazism, which is why hundreds of thousands of them traveled long distances to serve in the Wehrmacht and SS. Part of the mutual attraction between Nazis and Muslims, naturally, had to do with their shared loathing for Jews; but another part was that each side appreciated the bellicose qualities of the other. While Hitler considered Christianity “effeminate,” he glorified Islam “as a strong and aggressive warrior religion.” Both Nazism and Islam, moreover, revere order. Both cherish discipline. Both see individual liberty as anarchy. This is why so many Westerners convert to Islam: freedom, as the planners of the Iraq War never understood, isn’t for everybody. Some people prefer being part of a pack. They enjoy following orders. Marching in lockstep gives them a feeling of security, of belonging, of collective identity and meaning. This is also why the EU has so many fans.

For the past half century or so, Germans have acted as if the lesson of the Holocaust is to pay endless penance to each and every minority group – and the worse those groups are, the more virtuous you prove yourself to be for bowing down to them. No, the real lesson – which, judging by Merkel’s calamitous immigration and integration policies and the overwhelmingly docile public reaction thereto, they have entirely failed to recognize – is to keep your eyes open for totalitarian impulses and to refuse to let them take root in your soil. Unfortunately, the Germans’ own native affection for power, the reflexive enthusiasm with which they respond to tyrants, has blinded them to the fact that Islam is not remotely akin to the Judaism that their not-so-distant forebears tried to extinguish (and toward which they now feel a rather abstract guilt that, curiously, translates into concern not for present-day Jews but for the Muslims who harass those Jews with impunity) but is, rather, in all too many ways, akin to the ideology preached by the author of the Final Solution.