Maybe Germans ARE scary

13 Aug

Don’t be fooled by all the guilt and Green-ness and the earnest, smart-looking glasses and the Birkenstocks.

Because the flip side of all that morality and righteousness is this kind of moralism and self-righteousness: “German Austerity’s Lutheran Core,” an expression of pure German arrogance that I can’t believe could be written in 2012 or by a professor at Harvard or published in a publication like The New York Times.

I just have a few questions for Herr Ozment.

Does he know that Frau Merkel was not just “a born-and-baptized daughter of an East German Lutheran pastor,” but also the daughter of a father who probably had a quite sweet and cozy little perk-filled relationship with the Communist Party of East Germany?  How does he reconcile Frau Merkel’s moral steadfastness with that kind of association with an institution that caused decades of untold and tragic suffering for millions of already suffering Germans who had just been through hell and back?  Or how does he think that Frau Merkel herself reconciles the two in her scrupulous Lutheran conscience?

Does he know of an obscure book called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by a certain Max Weber?  Does he know that soon after the ideal Lutheran German town created its common chest, it decided it should charge interest on the loans it gave to the poor from the chest, and that, instead of blowing it on one big juerga like Spanish aristocrats, or on great art, like Italian bankers did before them, leaving so much to posterity, they decided they should reinvest it to make more money?  And not for the town — but for the keeper’s of the chest?  (And speaking of art, how does he feel, btw, about Luther’s Taliban destroying so much of Europe’s artistic heritage?)

Does Herr Ozment really believe the grotesque lie that German austerity plans are putting the money back in the town chest and not giving it to the predatory chest-keepers?

And what was Luther’s answer to those poor, struck by life’s unforeseen misfortunes, who weren’t able to pay the loan back into the chest?  Was his answer the rhetorical question of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: “Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?”  Because that certainly seems to be Frau Merkel’s and Germany’s answer to the unprecedented suffering they’re causing across much of Europe.  It’s one thing to try and help another help himself.  It’s another to try and squeeze blood from a stone.

Did Luther, or you, Herr Ozment, know that charity — caritas — means unconditional love and giving, and not the attempt to materially blackmail another man into your idea of moral rectitude?

But let’s go back to Germany itself and take a look at Ozment’s bloated claims for Lutheranism as the center of German culture.  Where does the vast Germanic South, with its deep Catholic traditions, fall in Herr Ozment’s vision?  Bavaria?  Austria?  Is it possible that traditional Catholicism’s emphasis on beauty and sensory experience can explain why so much of what inspires us in German culture comes from those lands — the music, the poetry, the architecture, the literature, the philosophy…from Dresden, from Munich, from Salzburg, from Vienna.  Just what Vienna has given us is enough to produce a whole man, in his moral and aesthetic entirety, who sees and tries to grapple with the complexity of the human condition and is not burdened in that search by trite judgmentalism.  (And perhaps much of that isn’t even German at all but Jewish.)

What have Berlin or Lubeck given us?  Prussian militarism and herring merchants counting their pfennigs.

In the end, whether Catholic or Protestant, it wasn’t the supposed wildness of German Romanticism that brought us Nazism, but a smug moralism’s sense of grievance, a little child’s “why should I?” when he’s asked to share.  (If you know Gerda in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon you know exactly what I mean.)  And that’s precisely the worldview Ozment espouses and Angela Merkel is imposing on an entire continent.

And beneath that ultimately is the great hypocrisy that lies beneath the whole phenomenon of the Protestant Reformation and — let’s just say it — Protestantism.  It wasn’t a new form of religion; it was the beginning of the end of religion.  That Weber guy would have explained to Herr Ozment that the Reformation was really the beginning of “disenchantment,” which is the end of seeing the world in a sacred way — and, thus, the first step to atheism — and the birth of a new way of seeing economic and material life and humanity.  Much of Protestantism, therefore, had to fall back onto moralism — a very different thing from morality — to fill the emptiness at its core and so that this new economic order could function the way it was supposed to.  And that’s why mainstream, white Protestantism was the last form of Christianity to be born and the first to die.

Some money quotes:

“And it is true that Lutheranism is hardly the only social force alive in Germany today. Yet it is of a piece with the country’s two millenniums of history, filled as it is with redemptive self-sacrifice and bootstrapping. In the fourth century A.D., German warriors controlled virtually every senior military post in the Roman army [not in the Eastern Empire they didn’t, Herr Ozment]. Later, Germans turned the wilds of northern Central Europe into a bountiful breadbasket — and, most recently, an industrial machine.”

Oh.  Well, what a bummer that the Allies didn’t let German warriors control every senior military post in twentieth-century Europe too.  And that they didn’t let them turn all of Eastern Europe “into a bountiful breadbasket — and, most recently, an industrial machine.” without pesky Slavs and Jews getting in the way.

And then this:

“With the steady advance of Islam into Europe over the last two decades and in the face of unrelenting economic pressure from their neighbors, it is no surprise that Germans of all backgrounds have now again quietly found “a mighty fortress” for themselves in their own Judeo-Christian heritage.”

…which I’m not even going to touch.


When I first read Mann’s Doktor Faustus (perhaps my favorite writer; yes, I know, he was from Lubeck and he wrote a great book about it but he hated it and left and never went back again), I got to the point where the biographer/narrator is living through the Allied bombing of Munich late in the war, and he writes:

“Meanwhile the destruction of our venerable cities from the air continues, a sin that would cry up to the heavens, were the heavens not already deafened by the magnitude of our own crimes.”

…and I was shocked, had to put the book down.  I thought only the noblest, most honestly soul-searching people could have produced a sentence with that sense of moral clarity about themselves.  And I cried.  Because even though I had never felt even the slightest animosity towards Germans, I felt flooded with an overwhelming feeling of forgiveness.  And I thought that if even one German had produced that thought, had felt that in his soul, then no one in the rest of the world had any right to continue collectively villainizing them.  And now I’m not so sure.  And that’s troubling.

And maybe that was Mann’s Protestant conscience speaking, but it would be an act of obscenity for anyone to suggest that Merkel and Germany today are inspired by the same moral source.

You’ll excuse me now.  I just clicked on “Cosi Fan Tutte” on my ITunes and need to lie down and pick up some Rilke or Heine or something…immerse myself in what “German” has always meant to me.  Herr Ozment has turned my stomach.



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