Germany's Dream of Domination to Come True?
(See also: How to Make Sense of the European Union Disaster)
There's a saying: "Dreams deferred aren't necessarily dreams denied." Or something like that. Neither the Kaiser nor the Führer could have imagined, though, that the path to dominance in Europe has nothing to do with war. It may have everything to do with the failure -- financial and economic -- of Germany's neighbors. This is a failure that invites -- not resists -- German hegemony.
Europe's gathering failure results from a toxic cocktail drunk throughout much of Europe: welfare statism; bureaucratization; crony capitalism; and the inefficiencies, excesses, and corruption that inevitably spring from the former three.
Germans may not need to ride triumphant throughout Europe on the backs of Panzers (or their modern equivalents). If Europe's ruling classes have their way, Germany will use its checkbook and credit to bail out its failing neighbors -- or attempt to. Germany may not have the financial or economic muscle to really do so, but let's put that aside for a moment. Among European nations, Germany is the strongest of the lot, hence the reason why elites have turned anxious eyes to the Germans (Americans are beginning to run a close second).
Read this astonishing comment by Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski from a Washington Post article:
I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.
Washington Post liberal writer Ezra Klein elaborates:
Sikorski went on to say that the break-up of the Euro zone now poses a larger threat to Poland than tanks, terrorism or missiles. A recent UBS report sheds some light on why: They estimated that the financial crises and bank runs and uncertainty around leaving the Euro zone would cost small, weak countries like Greece 50 percent of their GDP in the first year and 15 percent in the years thereafter. And big, rich countries like Germany wouldn't fare all that much better: UBS thought they'd take a hit of 20-25 percent of their GDP in year one, and 10-12.5 percent in the years after that.
Europe's economic situation is dire. But a lot of other European elites, who would otherwise be leery of Germany asserting its power, are in step with -- if not out in front of -- the Polish minister. Who would have thought that elites from across Europe, whose peoples hold an historic distrust of German might, are now practically on their knees begging Chancellor Angela Merkel for deliverance?
Granted, Germany isn't seething with brown shirts these days. Totalitarian impulses were finally beaten out of the Germans in World War II. There's no messianic figure emerging in Germany to lead the German people to some glorious supremacy. Still, there are reasons why sensible Europeans -- those not desperate to save modern statist Europe and their positions in it -- should pause before making Germany the savior.
Let's get back to the earlier point about Germany's ability to save Europe. As was reported last week, the German economy is beginning to show vulnerabilities. German bond sales -- at least, initially -- were disappointing. Yet relative to the rest of Europe, the German economy is strong. Merkel and the German people -- heretofore reluctant to bailout their neighbors -- may be pressured into trying doing so.
But very little in life is without strings. There's strong resistance among the German people to attempts to rescue nations whose peoples are viewed as undisciplined and profligate. If Merkel and other German political leaders buckle to pressure from European elites, then expect them to exact stiff concessions. Merkel would need to go to the German people showing tangible returns for Germany playing Atlas. To do otherwise would be political suicide.
And what might those concessions be? A preeminent leadership role in the EU (or whatever could succeed the EU)? Preferences for German exports? Greater say and control by Germany of the financial, economic, and social policies in distressed nations? Among other considerations, the locus of power in Europe will shift to Berlin, whatever the French pomposity may be.
There is, of course, the very real prospect that Europe will fail despite German -- and American -- intervention. Yet Germany will still be owed for its efforts. Germans will have a reasonable sense of entitlement for their trouble. If Germany can't be remunerated by failed neighbors, Germans will still expect their leaders to seek repayments in other ways satisfactory to them -- or they'll find leaders who will do so.
Consider, too, that a Europe of failed nations is very likely to see widespread social unrest and political upheaval. The reality that Europeans' cradle-to-grave welfare states can no longer deliver on their promises will send tsunamis of rage across the continent. Everyone knows from history what a dangerous place Europe is when disordered and roiled.
Germans have an innate and evident sense of order. Germans are disciplined and have a taste for hierarchy. Europe convulsed is likely to make Germans greatly uncomfortable. Already having been invited by their neighbors to shoulder a larger responsibility for Europe's welfare, the Germans will have entrée to assert their will throughout Europe (excepting Russia and its sphere of influence) -- that is, if they decide it's favorable to their interests.
No one can say that Germany elevated to a first-among-equals status in Europe is the opening of a Pandora's Box, but it may be. It most certainly would set Europe on the road toward German hegemony -- hegemony that throughout the decades, millions upon millions Europeans (and other peoples) stoutly resisted, fought, and died to prevent.
A German-dominated Europe might seem a welcome development to elites who, with each passing day, are increasingly desperate for solutions. These elites may persuade themselves that the Germans could lead Europe deftly and benignly. Perhaps, but deftness has never been a trait of blunt Germans, and German benignity is thanks to drubbings in two bloody world wars. Since World War II, Germans have earnestly reformed their nation. But the preponderance of history and the German character still raise suspicions.
Better than Germany or any other nation coming to Europe's rescue would be the peoples of Europe throwing off statist yokes to make revolutions -- peaceful democratic revolutions -- in favor of smaller government, free markets, and individual liberty. The path toward liberty wouldn't be trouble-free; dislocations, challenges, hardships, and pain are bound to occur. But better to suffer such adversities on the road to greater liberty than to suffer them on the road to serfdom (you pick the type and degree).
From Bismarck through the mid-twentieth century, Germans hankered for European supremacy. Bismarck and his successors couldn't have guessed that a militarized Germany wouldn't be required to achieve domination. Germany's rise to European dominance could come thanks to the failures of narrow, petty, feckless, and desperate elites handing Germans the keys to the castle. Should that come to pass, what a strange and ironic twist of fate it would be.