Year LVII, 2015, Single Issue, Page 144

 

 

THE PARADOX OF GERMAN POWER

 

 

The global economic and financial crisis that began in the United States in 2007-2008 really began to be felt in Europe as from 2010, where it has been reflected, in particular, in the fragility of the monetary union (which faces a very real risk of disintegrating and thus causing the collapse of the process of European unification) and in increasingly marked economic and social imbalances, reflecting territorial differences, between the strong and the weak member states of the Economic and Monetary Union. Essentially, these correspond, respectively, to a core group that is led by Germany and comprises Benelux, Austria and Finland (as well as France in a more intermediate position) and a peripheral group whose main “members” are Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece. This asymmetry, which is clear from the disparities existing in a number of areas (growth rates, unemployment levels, internal imbalances, poverty belts, levels of productivity and of competitiveness, trade and balance-of-payments imbalances, national debts and the related spreads) is the main reason for the precarious state of the euro. It is, moreover, the key factor underlying the recent strengthening of nationalistic currents opposed to European unification and the related emergence of nationalistic ill-feeling between different European countries. The accusations of selfishness levelled at the economically strong countries, which are held to be profiting from the integration process at the expense of the weak countries, are countered with accusations of parasitism and of slack economic and financial discipline directed at the countries in difficulty. In this context, there are widespread concerns over Germany’s hegemonic role within the EU, which evokes ghosts of the past when the “German question” was, on two occasions, the crucial element of conflict that led to the outbreak of war on a world scale. In relation to these concerns and the debate that has developed around them, mention should be made of the book The Paradox of German Power (London, Hurst Company, 2014) by Hans Kundnani (research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations and associate fellow at the Institute for German Studies at the University of Birmingham). Through a brief but effective reconstruction of Germany’s relationship with Europe from the time of Germany’s national unification through to the current crisis of European unification, the author asks essentially whether, and in what terms, it still makes sense to talk of the “German question”. In my view, an examination of the essential aspects of Kundnani’s treatment of this issue, seeking to bring out its strengths and weaknesses, can contribute to efforts to achieve a proper overview of this question.

As regards the period between national unification and 1945, Kundnani supports the view that Germany played a decisive role in the onset and unfolding of the two World Wars, both of which were, essentially, attempts to impose German hegemony on Europe. Accordingly, there is continuity between them, despite the clear and profound difference between the Wilhelmine regime and the National Socialist regime – the latter being guilty of appalling internal criminal acts and acts of war, typical of a perfect totalitarian system. This quest for hegemony, by Germany, was based on an interweaving of two factors: one structural and the other ideological.

The structural factor was basically the position of “semi-hegemony” that Germany found itself occupying, in Europe, after its unification in 1871: when it became a nation-state, Germany assumed a size and thus a level of power that was excessive, and therefore incompatible with a stable balance of power in Europe, but at the same time insufficient to allow the realisation of a stable and peaceful hegemony. This structural situation naturally prompted the other European powers to form coalitions in order to counterbalance the weight of Germany’s power. In turn, these coalitions inevitably began to be feared in Germany – they were dreaded because of the threat of encirclement – and drove it to take measures to protect itself. But these measures were inevitably peceived as a threat by the other powers and therefore had the effect of accelerating the formation of coalitions. This vicious cycle – in itself a classic example of the security dilemma – was accentuated in the 1890s, when Germany embarked on its Weltpolitik, in other words its no-holds-barred participation in the imperialism race, without any of the qualms that had held Bismarck back. Germany’s aim was to build a large colonial empire, so as to acquire dimensions in line with those of the world’s major powers (Great Britain, Russia and the United States) and thus to obtain the vital space for development that was crucial in order to avoid the decline that represented the destiny of Europe’s nation-states. The Weltpolitik revolved around the construction of a powerful sea fleet that had to be strong enough to overcome Great Britain’s global naval dominance. Since Britain’s security depended essentially on its naval supremacy, the Germans’ decision forced Westminster not only to strengthen the British navy, but also to side with the Franco-Russian alliance; this thus became the Triple Entente as opposed to the Triple Alliance, whose stable pillars, given the relative weakness and uncertain position of Italy, were Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Europe thus saw the emergence of a bipolar balance, at which point it became inevitable that there would be a transition from situations of serious conflict between two powers from opposing blocs (as seen between Austria-Hungary and Russia, for example) to a situation of general conflict. Therefore, as regards the origins of the First World War, Kundnani maintains that the decisive factor lies not so much in miscalculations by, or faults on the part of, the protagonists (particularly Germany), as in the presence of a systematic cause, namely Germany’s semi-hegemonic position and, as an effect of it, Europe’s evolution towards a bipolar order. Precisely in order to move beyond its extremely difficult and unstable semi-hegemonic position, Germany, following the outbreak of the war, pursued a new goal – full hegemony over Europe, in other words, the overcoming of the balance of power that left Germany constantly exposed to the risk of being surrounded and hindered its prospects of becoming a global power.

Following its defeat in 1918, Germany, stripped of colonies, vast territories in Europe and major economic outlets, subjected to extensive arms limitations, and obliged to pay hefty reparations under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, found its power considerably diminished. Yet, at that same time, in a situation in which peace continued to depend on the balance of power – partly because of the flimsiness of the attempt to replace power politics with the collective system of security based on the League of Nations, which had no power of coercion –, Germany actually found itself, relatively speaking, in a stronger position than before, given that the other empires were collapsing, France had been drained by its huge war effort, and even Great Britain was severely weakened. In this European framework, characterised by a precarious equilibrium and general economic decline, Weimar’s Germany set out to recover the sovereignty curtailed by the Treaty of Versailles, to obtain formal equality with the other powers, and to recover the territories that had been relinquished to Poland. Even though it was clear that revisionism would lead to an even more acute imbalance in the European system than that which had existed before the war, these aims were shared by the vast majority of political forces in Germany, and they were pursued through efforts (always based on diplomatic and peaceful means) to exploit the divergences between the Western powers and the tension between the latter and the Soviet Union. The situation changed as a result of the crisis of 1929, which had disastrous consequences in Europe and especially in Germany, where it drastically limited the prospects of economic development, already weak following the 1918 defeat. This is the setting in which the Nazi Party came to power and succeeded in building a totalitarian state whose foreign policy was not just to obtain a revision of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, but also to pursue, and by the most brutal means, full hegemony over Europe, in order to definitively overcome Germany’s semi-hegemonic status. The war unleashed by Hitler in pursing this design instead ended with the definitive defeat of Germany and, at the same time, the overcoming of the central role of the European system of states, which was absorbed into a global system dominated by the US and USSR.

Having underlined the importance of Germany’s semi-hegemonic status as a central, structural factor in its policy that led to the two World Wars, Kundnani also draws attention to the ideological factor, namely nationalism, that increased the objective momentum coming from the structural one. German nationalism, like the nationalism of all great powers, tended to pursue as a priority the national interest and, therefore, in a framework of anarchic international relations, to exploit every opportunity to increase its power and expand its economic influence. This tendency, however, was associated with three characteristics that set Germany apart from the Western European powers, and in particular from Great Britain and France.

The first and most significant of these was its rejection of the liberal democracy that, rooted in the Enlightenment, had established itself in Western Europe and North America. After the failure of the 1848 revolution, there became established, in Prussia – and subsequently in the whole of Germany unified on the basis of the Prussian hegemony –, a political system that, formally, had certain hallmarks of democracy, such as universal suffrage, but in which power was concentrated in the hands of the monarchy and the army (dominated by the large landowning class, the Junkers) – essentially an illiberal, authoritarian system. In the wake of the Weimar Republic interlude, which had seen an attempt to create a liberal-democratic system, the authoritarian character of the German nation-state became particularly strong with the coming to power of the National Socialism movement, which built a pervasive and efficient totalitarian system and, on this basis, was able, in the absence of obstacles internally, to embark on the second attempt to achieve German hegemony.

The second peculiar characteristic of German nationalism, after the illiberal authoritarian trend just described (generally referred to as Sonderweg, meaning a different direction compared with that of the West), was the idea that Germany had a mission. The ruling class of the German nation-state developed the firm belief that the German social-political system was not only different from that of the West, but far superior to it, and therefore that strengthening Germany’s power and then pursuing the objective of German hegemony in Europe was also a way of disseminating the fundamental aspects of this system outside Germany. This is an idea that National Socialism exacerbated.

The third peculiarity of German nationalism (albeit looked at in less depth) is its use of social imperialism and Bonapartism, in other words its exploitation of imperialism as a means of overcoming and checking internal tensions generated by the authoritarian, and ultimately totalitarian, political-social system.

Kundnani’s view of the profound reasons underlying Germany’s attitude and policies, which we have briefly summarised here, is a step in the right direction towards achieving a real understanding of the German question, overcoming the limits inherent in a mere chronicling of events or in misleading simplifications regarding the faults of the German nation. Indeed, the author refers explicitly to the interpretation of the German question developed by Ludwig Dehio (the concept of semi-hegemony in particular), which is by far the most illuminating and, indeed, remains unsurpassed[1]. However, it has to be pointed out that Kundnani omits two fundamental clarifications proposed by the last great representative of the Rankian school.[2]

First of all, he does not take into consideration the issue of the link between the position of Prussia, and then Germany, in the system of states and the authoritarian character of the Prussian-German political system. Dehio draws on the theory hinging on the distinction between island states and continental states that was developed by Alexander Hamilton in the eighth of the Federalist papers,[3] by the Rankian school[4] and by John Robert Seeley.[5] Island states (key examples being Great Britain and the United States), being in a strategically privileged position in which theyare not under threat from powerful neighbours, have historically been characterised by their comparatively peaceful foreign policies and tendency to evolve internally in the direction of liberal, flexible and decentralised political-constitutional and social systems; continental states (such as Prussia-Germany, Austria and to a lesser extent France), on the other hand, have been characterised by comparatively more aggressive and bellicose foreign policies and, as a corollary, by a tendency towards authoritarian centralism internally. This difference is related ultimately to the decisive influence that foreign policy has on domestic policy. In continental states, the need to defend land borders against the threat of attack by land has traditionally necessitated tendentially more aggressive foreign policy lines (with not infrequent recourse to surprise attacks in order to pre-empt adversaries) and therefore led to the creation of huge armies that can be rapidly deployed. Inevitably, therefore, centralised and authoritarian political structures, able to achieve rapid and complete mobilisation of all available energies, be it for defensive or for offensive purposes, have prevailed within such states in order to ensure the survival of the state itself. All these considerations apply far less to island states, given that their strategic location allows them to rely primarily on the military navy for their defence, and thus avoid the cost, in economic but especially political and social terms, of creating the huge land armies typical of continental states and the related centralised bureaucracies that, in the life of a state, necessitate a strengthening of the dimension of authority at the expense of that of freedom. In the light of these considerations, Prussia-Germany, surrounded by powerful neighbours and obsessed with the real prospect of war on several fronts, would seem to be the continental state par excellence. And it is therefore understandable that in this state, compared with Europe’s other major powers, liberal-democratic trends had comparatively less chance of becoming established.

Naturally, this does not justify in the slightest its totalitarian-authoritarian tendencies and the crimes it perpetrated, both internally and internationally, but it does serve to clarify the objective situation that undoubtedly helped these to prevail over the liberal-democratic trends that were also present in the Prussian-German experience. If one fails to take into account the powerful conditioning arising from Germany’s position in the system of states (and the “supremacy of foreign policy”), one cannot gain an adequate understanding of the German question, and thus risks falling for the lame national character theory, which basically expounds the absurd notion of an inherent wickedness of the German nation.[6]

The other fundamental clarification offered by Dehio, and neglected by Kundnani, is the notion of the historical crisis of Europe’s nation-states as the constant theme running through the period of the two World Wars. It is not an alternative to the theory of semi-hegemony, but rather complements the latter, significantly strengthening its explanatory power. Kundnani, talking about Wilhelmine imperialism, explains that this, in a period in which industrial development was paving the way for global domination by states having continental dimensions, was justified by the need to expand the influence of the German state, and thus economy. However, although this argument is presented essentially as an ideological justification of imperialism, Dehio points out that it was actually a response to the real problem of the historical crisis of the European nation-states, whose size left them structurally obsolete in the late Industrial Revolution period that required states of continental dimensions. This situation presented a drastic choice: either peaceful unification of Europe along federal lines (a concept that, with difficulty, began to emerge in political and cultural debate in the late nineteenth century), or the creation of larger states through imperialistic means. Precisely because none of the ruling classes in Europe were yet showing any inclination towards the first of these choices, the latter prevailed and logically led to the development of European hegemonic designs by Europe’s strongest nation-state, which started from a semi-hegemonic position.

The German drive for hegemony which manifested itself through the two World Wars can be seen as the continuation of a series of hegemonic attempts that, throughout modern history, have been mounted by Europe’s strongest continental states when these reached the height of their power – first Spain, then France and finally Germany. The new element in Germany’s case was the fact that its hegemonic attempt was an imperialistic response (through the “sword of Satan” as Einaudi put it) to the historical crisis of the European nation-states, whose decline coincided with the weakening of the nation-state model and with the opening of a new phase of history, characterised by the drive for peaceful unification of Europe (through the “sword of God”)[7]. The fact that Kundnani does not adequately grasp this important aspect of the German question in the period from Germany’s national unification to its collapse in 1945 detracts from the explanatory power of his analysis and prevents him from reaching a satisfactory understanding of the problem of European unification. At this point, we come to his interpretation of the evolution of Germany after 1945, whose essential aspects I will now outline.

This evolution can be divided into two phases that, according to the author, present significant differences: the first coinciding with the period from 1945 to the reunification of Germany in 1990, and the second with the period from reunification to Europe’s financial and economic crisis of 2010-2014. The main thread running through the first phase was the overcoming, in West Germany, of two of the characteristics of German nationalism discussed earlier.

First of all, with the historical decline of German power – the decline in power was a phenomenon that spared none of the European nation-states, not even those that had formally emerged victorious from the Second World War –, which was accompanied by the emergence of a stable hegemony of the United States over Western Europe, Germany’s expansionary approach came to an end and, with it, its tendency to use military power as a decisive instrument for guaranteeing security and economic development. These ends were instead pursued through the country’s inclusion as a stable part of the US-led Atlantic community and its involvement in the process of European integration, which were now regarded as the irreplaceable foundations for achieving national reunification. The use of West German military forces – these were re-formed after the failure of the EDC project, even though Germany’s rearmament was subject to strict restrictions and, importantly, set firmly within the framework of NATO – was allowed, under the German Constitution, only in Europe and only for the defence of the Atlantic community (restrictions that would be overcome in the late 1990s). Basically, the model that West Germany tended to pursue was that of a “civil power”, an expression that indicates not only commercial as opposed to military power, but also a state whose foreign policy is aimed primarily at overcoming policies based on power (security based essentially on national military might), i.e. at realising a multilateral monopoly on the use of force similar to the monopoly on the use of force existing within the domestic setting, or put another way, peace in the Kantian sense[8].

The other fundamental aspect of German nationalism that was dramatically overcome in the experience of the Bonn Republic, through its inclusion in the Atlantic community and participation in the process of European integration, was Sonderweg, meaning opposition to Western liberal-democratic values. Here, we refer to what Heinrich August Winkler called the long road West, which ended with the reunification of Germany[9]. West Germany became, as also shown by its federal structure and social market economy system, one of the world’s most advanced liberal-democratic states. Alongside the Westernisation of Germany(Westbindung), as the background to its Europeanisation (the choice to work towards a “European Germany” as opposed to a “German Europe”), there emerged, in Germany, increasingly systematic, firm and widespread condemnation of its authoritarian and, even more, its totalitarian past, together with acknowledgement of its terrible crimes. West Germany, driven by a strong sense of historical guilt, is the country that has done more than any other to face up to its past. Indeed, it progressively founded its identity on absolute condemnation of the crimes committed by nationalism, especially in its final, totalitarian phase. There in fact exists a term that is used to refer to a German sense of identity based on horror over Auschwitz (Auschwitz Identität).

Whereas the German question seemed to be superseded in the experience of the Bonn Republic (the end of which, upon German national reunification, has even been considered, in line with Winkler, the German equivalent of Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history”), in the period following the events of 1989-1990, which resulted in a geopolitical change as dramatic as that of 1871, the situation changed significantly. The nature of Germany’s more recent evolution, i.e. in the new international framework – we are referring to its evolution in the period between German reunification and 2014 –, indeed led to a progressive return of the German question, particularly in the years of Europe’s economic and financial crisis which began in 2010.

The main aspect to note is that in recent decades there has emerged the, once again, a situation of German semi-hegemony, even though this differs, in various ways, from the semi-hegemony of Germany in the period before 1945; in other words, it is not geopolitical – the European governments have definitively lost their role as great powers –, but rather geoeconomic. Basically, in today’s integrated Europe, Germany has become too large economically to remain on par with its partners, on whom it therefore tends to impose its views on the governance of the European economy and the best way to tackle the crisis. Yet, at the same time, it is too small to act as a complete hegemonic power, with all the costs that this would entail. In other words, a profound imbalance has been created between Germany and its partners, yet Germany refuses to take on the task of boosting their economies, an objective that could be accomplished through the introduction of measures to reduce trade surpluses, allow a moderate increase in inflation, and allow Germany to act as consumer of last resort, as well as measures to create a system of solidarity including forms of debt pooling and the launch of a Marshall Plan in favour of Europe’s indebted economies. On the contrary, this approach is systematically rejected and all that is offered in its place is monotonous insistence on austerity, an approach that, instead, makes it harder for the peripheral countries to return to growth, exacerbates the gap that separates them from Germany, and can only deepen the crisis. The most general and worrying effect of German policy in the context of European integration is the presence of a growing instability across Europe. This is manifested both in a re-emergence of nationalism and in the formation, once again, of coalitions seeking to reduce Germany’s predominance. Obviously, we are no longer talking about diplomatic and military coalitions implying the prospect of conflicts – these are now inconceivable given that the European nation-states have definitively ceased to be autonomous powers –, but we are nevertheless seeing a growing instability that represents a serious threat to European integration.

According to Kundnani’s depiction of the situation, the emergence of a German semi-hegemony within the framework of European integration, which has disturbing implications, goes hand in hand with the resurgence of nationalistic tendencies in Germany. While Germany’s historically established choice of liberal democracy is certainly not in question and there is no suggestion of geopolitical aspirations on Germany’s part, there are, nevertheless, certain rather worrying developments to be noted. To begin with, some key political figures (we may cite, in particular, Egon Bahr, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder) and intellectuals are insisting on a return to normality, by which they mean that Germany should feel free to pursue its own national interests and sovereignty without allowing itself to be conditioned, in this endeavour, by the uncomfortable shadow of Auschwitz. Also significant is the fact that German economic and social policy is repeatedly presented as by far the most valid model (Modell Deutschland), which should thus be imitated by the other European partners – a model that Germany, taking advantage of its dominant economic position, is effectively seeking to impose. Basically, what we are seeing is a revival, albeit in new and certainly less coercive forms, of the idea (already seen in the period that ended in 1945) of a German mission. There have also been signs of cracks in Germany’s relations with the rest of the West, which are worth examining here. These include, in particular: its lack of support for the 2003 occupation of (and subsequent regime change in) Iraq; its failure to participate in the intervention in Libya in 2011; and its stance towards Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, which in some ways recalls its policy of swinging between East and West, which was a characteristic of the interwar years and subsequently resurfaced in some aspects of the Ostpolitik pioneered by Egon Bahr. Its harsh criticism of Anglo-Saxon neoliberal theories and practices and, in this framework, of economic growth driven by unbridled debt may also be considered a weakening of the Westbindung.

Having examined the essential aspects of Kundnani’s view of Germany’s evolution between 1945 and the present day, I feel that it contains a number of very interesting points and observations, but it is also necessary to note its limits, which make the author’s effort to clarify the re-emergence of the German question since Germany’s reunification rather unsatisfactory.

First of all there emerges a fault in his treatment of a perceived loosening of Germany’s bond with the West. The clearly unacceptable aspect of his argument is the fact that he mingles a concept of Westernisation understood as constant adherence to liberal-democratic values – values rooted in the Enlightenment (of which Kant was one of the most lucid figures) and whose first practical applications were seen in Western countries (particularly Anglo-Saxon countries and France) – with the idea that a bond with the West equates with systematic alignment with US policies. The United States, supported by its global hegemonic position, has undoubtedly played a hugely valuable role on the world stage, especially in the fight against totalitarianism and in the peace process, the democratisation and integration of Europe, and to some extent the phenomenon of decolonisation. But it must also be said that since the end of the Cold War it has also made choices that were far from constructive; these include, in particular, the international adventurism of the administration of Bush junior and also its policy towards post-Soviet Russia – choices related to a desire to build a world order based more on US hegemony than on a pluripolar system of cooperation. German resistance to these choices stemmed from common sense, not from a distancing from the West. And the same can be said of its criticism of neoliberalism, which can only weaken the liberal-democratic system, unlike the social market economy model which is an indispensable factor in its consolidation.

Having said that, Kundnani’s main shortcoming is his failure to properly set the German question (as this has emerged since Germany’s reunification) in the context of the process of European integration. He is basically right to underline that the relationship between Germany and the rest of Europe is characterised by Germany’s semi-hegemonic position – a position that, resulting in a serious imbalance between it and its partners, means that it tends to impose its own vision on how to overcome the economic crisis and therefore its own economic policy direction. But unless it is tied in with the issue of the incompleteness of European integration, this argument is not sufficiently explanatory.

The point is that European integration – understood as the response to the historical crisis of Europe’s nation-states that, in phase in which they were great powers, was the root cause of Germany’s hegemonic imperialism – constituted the framework that ultimately proved decisive in overcoming the German question that arose in the period 1871-1945. There is no doubt the sharp decline in the power of the nation-states and the subsequent American hegemony that eradicated power relations between the European states, paving the way for their lasting and peaceful cooperation, were hugely important factors too. But European integration, whose initiation was favoured by the Marshall Plan that made the provision of vital aid subject to the overcoming of entrenched national positions, was the really crucial factor as it constituted a means of remedying the problem of the economic insignificance of the nation-states. In short, it allowed the European states to continue their economic development, and thus make up some ground on the United States, through the peaceful construction of a continent-wide economic system rather than through an imperialistic quest to obtain vital space. The advent of economic (and therefore social) progress, no longer impeded by national protectionism, together with the overcoming of the logic of power politics – war between European states had become practically impossible – was the decisive factor in the general democratic progress in Europe, which, in Germany’s case, corresponded to its Westernisation, i.e. its overcoming of entrenched authoritarian tendencies.

On the other hand, the process of European integration, given that it has not yet culminated in full federalisation, is still incomplete and this is the root cause of the imbalance between the strong countries and the weak ones and, in particular, between Germany and its partners. Indeed, this imbalance is a result of the failure to make the transition from an essentially negative form of economic integration (namely the elimination of obstacles to the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, of which the monetary union is an essential aspect as it eliminates the protectionism related to exchange rate fluctuations) to positive economic integration (that is, strong policies favouring economic, social and territorial cohesion, capable of addressing the imbalances inevitably created when the market is inadequately governed). It was inevitable that pushing ahead with the economic integration of countries having marked growth, productivity and efficiency differentials, yet without introducing any structural solidarity – in Europe, with the so-called structural funds, this concept is now present in a barely embryonic form –, would produce, albeit in a framework of overall growth of the European economy, the serious imbalances that we are so familiar with and that are the source of the fragility of the euro and the spread of nationalist tendencies. If this is clear, it should also be clear that positive economic integration, and therefore organic solidarity between strong and weak countries, demands a supranational institutional system that is efficient (this implies the elimination, without trace, of national rights of veto) and democratically legitimised (the supranational institutions must be based on the consensus of the European citizens gathered simultaneously in the strong and the weak countries)[10].

All this points to a federal choice in the full sense, which is, therefore, the condition that will make it possible to save European integration and, at the same time, the framework in which the issue, fraught with dangers, of the relationship between Germany and its European partners is superseded. After all, the emergence of a real prospect of harmonious development for all the European countries would inevitably lay to rest the concerns over Germany’s economically dominant position. Moreover, upon the transition from a prevalently confederal system (that of the current EU) to a federal one the political problems linked to demographic size would be relativised (it is not Germany’s fault that it has the largest population of all the EU countries), since decisions would, without exception, be taken by a majority, albeit with the application of the weighting systems typical of federal voting mechanisms. It should also be pointed out that creating a fully federal Europe, which would obviously have a common foreign, security and defence policy, would also mean introducing, in addition to economic and social solidarity, organic solidarity between the EU member states on issues of security. This would put an end to opportunistic behaviours whereby some countries are more consumers than producers of security; this is a widespread phenomenon within the EU and also concerns Germany.

If it all comes down to a question of creating a European federation, the real difficulty lies in the national governments’ intrinsic resistance to the idea of transferring sovereignty to a supranational level, despite the fact that they are obliged, by the historical condition of powerlessness in which the nation-states find themselves, to pursue a policy of European integration. In this context, it has to be noted that Germany, among the major European states, is the one most open to an unambiguously federal choice. It certainly tends to resist a system of organic solidarity to be implemented within an intergovernmental setting, i.e. outside the framework of a true federal system founded on democratic decisions taken by majority vote. And this is understandable because in the intergovernmental system the national leaders, whose unanimous agreement is necessary in order to create a European economic policy providing for solidarity of the strongest with the weakest, are accountable to the national and not the European electorate (think of what would happen were economic policies at national level to be decided by a council of presidents of regions deciding unanimously!). Although Germany’s political leaders are, in fact, opposed to a “transfer union”, at the same time they hold the view that any transfer of resources should be be linked to the transfer of competences, meaning the creation of a federal system. If anything, the real issue needing to be resolved is that of the recalcitrant stance of France, Germany’s most important European partner, in the face of the need for a clear federal choice. Indeed, France, despite insisting on solidarity on the economic and social level, and also on that of security, is still dominated by a sort of antifederalist sovereignism. This problem might be seen as the “French question”.

In conclusion, Kundnani, by taking as his key of interpretation the question of Germany’s semi-hegemony (a condition that re-emerged following its national reunification), opens up a line of reasoning on the German question that is far superior to that associated with notions such as “the return of the fourth Reich” or the idea that “the Germans will never change”, whose subtext, never explicitly stated, is the fabricated notion of the German nation’s demonic soul. However, his systematic analysis, which draws on Dehio, is incomplete because he fails to consider Dehio’s fundamental teachings on the way in which a state’s position within the system of states impacts on its internal evolution, on the historical crisis of the European nation-states, and on European integration which, to the extent that is brought to fulfillment, constitutes the framework for overcoming power relations and therefore imbalances of power. For this reason, in Kundnani’s analysis, the German question is not clarified satisfactorily and ultimately not seen to have a solution, with the result that his book is pervaded with a sense of resigned pessimism over both Germany and the future of Europe.

Sergio Pistone



[1] The key works by Dehio to which Kundnani refers are: The precarious balance (1948), New York, Knopf, 1982; Germany and World Politics in the Twentieth Century (1955), London, Chatto-Windus, 1959. He also takes into account an excellent work by an author who can be considered a pupil of Dehio: David P. Calleo, The German Problem Reconsidered. Germany and the World Order 1971 to The Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978.

[2] The reader is referred to Sergio Pistone, Ludwig Dehio, Naples, Guida, 1977.

[3] Cf. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, The Federalist, New York, McLean, 1788.

[4] The reader is referred to: Sergio Pistone, F. Meinecke e la crisi dello Stato nazionale tedesco, Turin, Giappichelli, 1969, Sergio Pistone (editor), Politica di potenza e imperialismo. L’analisi dell’imperialismo alla luce della dottrina della ragion di Stato, Milan, Franco Angeli, 1973.

[5] Cf. John Robert Seeley, The Expansion of England (1883), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010. See also Luigi V. Majocchi, John Robert Seeley, The Federalist, 31, n. 2 (1989), pp.159-188.

[6] Here it is worth recalling a consideration by Alan I.P. Taylor in The Origins of the Second World War, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1961. He remarked that if a phenomenon of nature had resulted in the formation of a vast sea between the Germans and French, the German character would not have been predominantly militaristic, and that if (and this is a more readily conceivable hypothesis) the Germans had been able to exterminate their neighbours the Slavs, rather as the Anglo-Saxons in North America exterminated the Indians, the Germans would, just like the Americans, subsequently have become promoters of fraternal love and international reconciliation.

[7] Cf. Luigi Einaudi, La guerra e l’unità europea, edited by Giovanni Vigo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1986. For general remarks on the theory of historical crisis of nation-states developed by the federalist school (with which Dehio converges), see Mario Albertini, Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993.

[8] The author refers in particular to Hans Maull, Germany and Japan. The New Civilian Powers, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990-1991.

[9] The key work referred to is that of Heinrich August Winkler, Germany: The Long Road West, 2 volumes, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

[10] Cf. Sergio Pistone, The Debate in Germany on Democracy and European Unification: a comparison of the positions of Habermas and Streeck, The Federalist, 55, (2013).

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