I must get this one off my mind. It is about us Germans. My observation as a half-German, half-English, is that many Germans posses a certain mixture of characteristics that can be conflicting and, I feel, at times dangerous. I believe it is the force of history, of a century-long socialisation that has worked its way into both the rules of this particular society and into the genetic makeup of its people.
It is strange. On the one hand, Germany is seen as and in many cases is the country of poets and thinkers, of technicians and inventors, of exactness and accountability. Of course, these characteristics are spread unevenly across the country, and the people in the middle and South are generally seen as a bit more enterprising and cultured, perhaps because their ancestors were more influenced by Roman settlement all those millenniums ago.
Nevertheless, a relaxed lifestyle or the appreciation of self-humouring lightness are traits not usually associated with most Germans. Instead, there seems to be a certain essence of character pervading here more than in other European people. It can perhaps best be described as a canalised fear and envy of those unreachable and more powerful, which expresses itself in subliminal negative emotions against those who can be reached, in a fear of always getting a little too little of the cake, of somehow being left out and thus not wanting others to have more than oneself.
Of course, this is a great drive for striving to be at the top, for having the biggest car or whatever maximum symbol you can achieve, and thus it undoubtedly furthers economic success. But it is a polarising trait that can be misused, and it has been frequently. Tell the already discontent post-first-world-war little man on the street that above all the blame lies on bankers of a certain religion, and you can find a veritable drive for fascism. Tell the little man that it is the academics who are rising above them, and you have a good basis for a police state. All this happened.
The thing is, as these traits are not bound to a certain political direction, you will find them in people of left and right convictions alike. Reducing, while trying to keep to the point, the characteristics in the left seem more connected with a kind of naïve idealism and a socialist approach, whereas in the right they appear more associated with self-interest and an individualist approach. In Germany, at least, this has led to an interesting constellation.
In many cases in which a general discussion among people of all political wings would help to preserve civil peace but at the same time would hinder the personal gain of a few, the politically right have understood to instrumentalise the politically left for their own good.
The ingredients are simple: Take your personal gain agenda, mix it with an emotionalised social sounding theme and feed it to a left-wing idealist of about average intelligence, who is in addition primed with the deep engrained feeling of guilt that only Germans know. Then sit back or get on with your life. The funny thing is, the left, who more than anything dislike the right, can’t seem to gather what is happening.
And so it goes from there: Talk about the control of immigration in Germany, and you are labelled a semi-fascist. Talk about the reasons for the enlargement of the European Union, and the same happens. Talk about the introduction of the Euro, the treaty of Lisbon, in fact about anything where a few people profit financially in a big way and many only in an idealist way, and you can only lose in Germany.
Troubling events scarred the history of this country. Once upon a time, peasants started to rise against aristocracy. With the support of such good-intending reformers as Martin Luther, they were brutally suppressed and killed off in the tens of thousands. The peasants never rose again, ever.
You could think that today hope would at least lie with the German middle classes. But conformed by media and fearing for the loss of a dwindling status-quo, the middle class seems more than ever defined by materialism, and less than ever by culture. That is dangerous, because it removes the basis for a society grounded on moral values.
I do not think Germans are better or worse people than others. The Romans conquered and killed, the English ransacked during their colonialism, the United States with their neo-imperialism are today wrecking the lives of many in the middle East, and Muslim terrorists are slaughtering without regard for anything much. What I believe, though, is that too many Germans possess a combination of resentment and persistence that can, and I fear will again, be harvested by those clever, manipulating and ruthless enough to do so.
We will see what the future will bring. History usually is a good indicator.