Monday, May 09, 2005

Economist/blogger Brad de Long has stirred up something of a controversy by lambasting an essay by German author Gunther Grass published on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversity of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Most commentators have understandably balked at de Long's characterization of Grass as "crypto-Nazi scum" (which de Long appears to have retracted). But the heated partisanship of the conflict (Grass is a lifelong leftist; de Long is of the center-left) has obscured some of the, shall we say, oddities of Grass' essay.

To begin with, consider this passage:
In the cold war that quickly followed, German states that had existed since 1949 consistently fell to one or other power bloc, whereupon the governments of both national entities sought to present themselves as model pupils of their respective dominating powers. Forty years later, during the glasnost period, it was in fact the Soviet Union that broke up the Democratic Republic, which had by that point become a burden. The Federal Republic's almost unconditional subservience to the United States was broken for the first time when the Social Democratic-Green ruling coalition decided to make use of the freedom given to us in sovereign terms 60 years ago, by refusing to allow German soldiers to participate in the Iraq war.
It's true that lots of European intellectuals like to think of themselves as rebels against American hegemony. Still, Grass is writing on the occasion of the anniversary of the fall of the Nazi regime. Is that really the right time to bemoan the subsequent sixty years as a period of German subservience to foreign powers? What alternative fate, exactly, did Grass consider appropriate for Germany in 1945?

There follows the following passage:
Fifteen years after signing the treaty on unification, we can no longer conceal that despite the financial achievements, German unity has essentially been a failure. Petty calculation prevented the government of the time from submitting to the citizens of both states a new constitution relevant to the endeavors of Germany as a whole. It is therefore hardly surprising that people in the former East Germany should regard themselves as second-class Germans.
Again, although one can scarcely fault Grass for worrying about geographic inequalities in modern Germany, is the anniversary of the fall of the Nazis really the right moment to present such problems as a failure of "German unity"?

Grass continues:
Now, I believe that our freely elected members of Parliament are no longer free to decide. The customary party pressures are not particularly present in Germany; it is, rather, the ring of lobbyists with their multifarious interests that constricts and influences the Federal Parliament and its democratically elected members, placing them under pressure and forcing them into disharmony, even when framing and deciding the content of laws. Consequently, Parliament is no longer sovereign in its decisions. It is steered by the banks and multinational corporations - which are not subject to any democratic control.
Once again, it's common on the left to worry about corporate influence on the democratic process. But to use the anniversary of the end of German Nazism to echo old claims that the democratically elected German government is nothing but a collection of puppets of "banks and multinational corporations"? (At least Grass doesn't attribute any particular religion to the international capitalists who have supposedly hijacked German democracy. But still....)

No, not every German nationalist socialist is a National Socialist. And Grass hasn't yet made the jump from the German far left to the de facto German far right (although he wouldn't be the first German artist to do so). But one might have expected a writer like Grass, who has made a career out of exploring the echoes of Nazism in postwar German culture, to be a bit more careful about keeping them out of his own pronouncements.

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