The German Diktat: Boaventura de Sousa Santos

This is a translation of a piece published today in Público, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

The German Diktat
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Wolfgang Schäuble

The meeting held on the 9th of April between the US Treasury Secretary and the German superminister Wolfgang Schäuble proved that neoliberal fundamentalism today rules more in Europe than in the United States. When Jacob Lew made a recommendation for Europe to halt its emphasis on austerity and promote economic growth, the German minister responded drily that “in Europe no-one sees a contradiction between fiscal consolidation and growth” and that “we must abandon this debate, according to which one has to choose between austerity and growth”.

To demonstrate that alternatives do exist to the German Diktat of national-austerianism, and that these alternatives are politically viable, is the greatest challenge that European societies must confront, including Portuguese society.

The challenge is common, but its realisation varies from country to country. European history shows, in a very tragic way, that this is no easy task. German reasoning carries a weight of divine predestination that the philosopher Fichte defined well in 1807, when he placed what is German against what is foreign in the following way: the German is to the foreign what spirit is to matter, what good is to evil.

In keeping with this, any compromise is a sign of weakness and inferiority.

The law itself must yield to force so that it is not weakened.

When, at the beginning of the first World War, nearly a century ago, Germany invaded and destroyed Belgium under the false pretext of defending France, it violated every international treaty, given the neutrality of this small country (German aggressions historically tend to seek out the weakest countries as their target). Without demurring, the German Chancellor declared in parliament that “we must seek to make repairs for the illegality we practise once the military objective has been achieved. When one lives under threat and there is a struggle for a supreme good, each governs as he must.”

This arrogance does not exclude a certain magnanimity, as long as the victims behave themselves. The note sent by the German chancellery to Belgium on the 2nd of August 1914 – a document that will go down in history as a monument to international lies and felony -contained conditions 3 and 4, which read thus: “3. If Belgium adopts a friendly attitude, Germany commits, in co-operation with the Belgian authorities, to buy all necessaries in cash for her troops, and to pay an idemnity for any damage that may have been caused by German troops. 4. Should Belgium act in a hostile manner towards the German troops and if she should impede their march, Germany will, to her regret, be obliged to consider Belgium as an enemy”. That is, as we might say these days, if the Belgians were good pupil and allowed themselves to become the instruments of German interests, their sacrifice, though unjust, would receive a hypothetical compensation. Should the contrary occur, they would suffer without mercy. As we know, Belgium, inspired by King Albert, decided not to be a good pupil and paid a high price for it in destruction and slaughter. An aggression so vile that it became known as the “rape of Belgium”.

Given this superiority über alles, humiliating the arrogance of Germany has always brought with it great material and human destruction, both among the peoples who were victims of this arrogance and among the German people itself. Of course history never repeats itself and Germany is now a country without military power and governed by a vibrant democracy. But three disturbing facts obliges other European countries to bear history in mind. First of all, it is worrying to see that German economic power has become a source of European orthodoxy that benefits Germany unilaterally, despite what they want people to believe. In 1914 too, the imperial government sought to convince the Belgians that the German invasion of their country was being done for their own good, “an imperious duty of conservation”, and that “the German government would very much regret that Belgium might consider (the invasion) as an act of hostily”, as is written in the aforementioned infamous declaration.

Secondly, there are worrying manifestations of racial prejudice with regard to Latin countries among German public opinion. We need to remember the German racist anthropologist Ludwig Woltmann (1871-1907) who, unhappy with the genius of certain Latins (Dante, Da Vinci, Galileo, etc.) decided to Germanise them. It is said, for example, that he wrote to Benedetto Croce to ask him if the great Giambattista Vico was tall and blue-eyed. When met with a response in the negative, he was unperturbed and replied: “Be that as it may, Vico obviously descends from Wieck, who is German”. All this seems ridiculous nowadays, but it one is reminded of it when bearing in mind the third worrying factor above all. A survey carried out a little more than a year ago among German secondary school students (between 14 and 16 years of age) revealed that a third did not know who Hitler was and 40 per cent were convinced that human rights have always been respected by German governments since 1933.

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