May 19, 2005


Anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, anti-capitalism (Wolfgang Munchau, The Spectator)

When I returned to Germany in the 1990s, what surprised me most was not the poor performance of the economy — this I expected. I was most shocked by the extraordinary loss of self-confidence among the political and business elites, combined with a poisonous cocktail of the three big As: anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism. [...]

Franz Müntefering, the chairman of Mr Schröder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), has managed to combine the three big As in a single campaign for the forthcoming state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest state. He compared foreign financial investors to ‘locusts’ — the kind of language that the Nazis used to describe Jews. This was no slip of the tongue. He repeated it. Even worse, he drew up a list, the ‘locust list’, of financiers of mostly Jewish–American origin, whom he accused of making exorbitant profits by asset-stripping German companies. Publishing lists of Jewish names was a hallmark of Nazism.

Mr Müntefering is no Nazi, simply a ruthless political operator with no scruples, a bad education and no sense of German history. He is a highly effective political fixer with an unfailing instinct for what his party thinks and wants. Until not long ago I would have assumed that such a blunt political campaign with anti-Semitic undertones would eventually backfire. Even people who share some of his anti-free-market sentiments would surely recoil at this kind of language. But the opposite is happening. After his first ‘locusts’ remark, an opinion poll suggested that two thirds of Germans agree with him in principle. The latest polls put his support at 80 per cent. The SPD has even managed to close the gap in the opinion polls, after trailing the opposition by some 10 per cent. This strategy appears to work. [...]

A former Christian Democrat minister once predicted that Germans would lose interest in democracy if their economy malfunctioned and if wages and living standards were falling. This is an exaggeration, and probably quite untrue. But it is true that Germans differ from the British in reacting to a period of economic decline. While in the 1970s and early 1980s the British largely blamed themselves for their poor economic performance, the Germans tend to blame the free-market system, and especially the bits they understand least — most of all the dreaded Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

It is also characteristic that Germans are still using the word ‘capitalism’, as Karl Marx did, rather than ‘free market’ or the ‘market economy’. Among intellectuals the market economy was never fully accepted.

For myriad reasons it was in Britain that people first realized that Judeo-Christian principles had to be applied not just to religion (protestantism, with a small "p") but to economics (capitalism) and politics (representative government) as well. It's understandable that the historic rivals of Britain and Christianity should have resisted this End of History, but by this late date such resistance is just self-destructive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 19, 2005 1:17 PM

Over there, Over there, send the word, send the word, over there...

Posted by: b at May 19, 2005 1:56 PM

[T]he extraordinary loss of self-confidence among the political and business elites...

That's not surprising, because the business and political elites know how powerful is the storm that they're heading into, and how unprepared their society is to weather it.
Every tiny thing they do to try to help prepare for it faces fierce opposition, yet they know how very tiny those steps are compared with what will have to be done in the decades ahead.

They're just depressed, and with good reason.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 19, 2005 2:02 PM

Socieites can be divided in many illuminating ways. One of them is this: When it becomes apparent that something's wrong, is the society's gut-level, instinctive reaction "What can we do to fix this?" or "Whom can we blame?"

Which it is in large part determines that society's fate.

Posted by: Tom at May 19, 2005 2:14 PM

Let's say you're right, and I think you are, in part.

What does that say about Judeo-Christianity as an organizing principle. It existed in many places for a long, long time before the British started modernizing.

How come? What is the fatal flaw that led Judeo-Christianity down the path of tyranny 98% of the time?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 19, 2005 2:48 PM

As opposed to which philosophy, Harry? If your raw material is people, you're only going to get so far from tyranny.

Mr Mntefering is no Nazi, simply a ruthless political operator with no scruples, a bad education and no sense of German history. That's what we call a fine distinction.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 19, 2005 3:31 PM

I'm curious what Judeo-Christian principles "had to be applied" to create capitalism and representative government.

Posted by: Steve at May 19, 2005 3:35 PM

Not as opposed to any philosophy, David.

When I make fun of Christian sexual dogma, for example, I don't zero in on the Shakers, an outlier.

It's all very well to claim that modernism arose out of Judeo-Christianity -- true enough, but it was partly in opposition to it, and there are reasons that happened first in Britain.

But in the context of world Christianity, in time and space, Britain is an outlier -- Shakers of politics and economy, if you like.

On Orrin's terms, not mine, what needs explaining is not Christianity's success in Britain but its massive failure everywhere and everywhen else.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 19, 2005 3:53 PM


Where? Christianity is never associated with tyranny.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2005 4:02 PM

Mr. Eagar--

You're neglecting the Dutch, among other things, by somehow claiming that modernism appeared only and first in Britain. If Christianity's track record is so bad, leading to tyranny everywhere, is the track record of other philosophies so good? After all, Europe (or "Christendom" as it was called) ended up doing a reasonably good job. And certainly the Edo Shogunate thought that Christianity opposed their feudal system (士農工商) in which people couldn't change the class into which they were born and banned it for that reason. (A fact which my Japanese textbooks written by the Japanese agree on.)

Official atheism doesn't have a very good track record, though.

Posted by: John Thacker at May 19, 2005 4:04 PM


It says that Britain was first. The first twelve hundred years of Christianity were devoted to its spread through Europe and the creation of a Christendom. There followed the internal struggles over what form of government, economics, etc. best vindicated Christian principles. Britain got the closest in the late 18th century.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2005 4:14 PM

Steve - These principles:
Do not murder.
Do not steal.
Do not bear false witness.

But most important was the fact that these principles applied to all persons equally, including the highest government officials: thus Deuteronomy 17: 14-20:
When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you ... and then say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me" ... Only he must not multiply horses for himself ... And he shall not multiply wives for himself ... nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold.

When he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests, and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them; that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left.

The history of English and American liberty is the history of constraining high government officials to follow the same Judeo-Christian laws and morality that the humblest citizen must. The history of continental Europe is the abandonment of Biblical equality and the granting to government officials of the privilege to steal, lie, and even murder.

Posted by: pj at May 19, 2005 4:39 PM

And the notion that the murder of a slave was just as much a crime as the murder of a king, because both were made in His image is the most radical notion in human history.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2005 4:45 PM

Let us not forget that it is not exactly "Christendom" which defines right society, but righteousness (right action) itself. The Melchizedek societies of history have surprised official Christendom on more than one occasion. This is only fitting, as it is the Almighty himself who draws the boundaries of righteousness, though he has charged Christendom with telling the story of the God/Man- its chief role.

Posted by: Judd at May 19, 2005 7:10 PM

If you're going to give Christianity a 1,200-year pass before it starts showing any signs of being superior, I demand the same for secularism. By the longest conceivable stretch, it hasn't had even 300 years yet.

I was amused by pj's list of principles.

I wrote a column analyzing who much of the Ten Commandments is in our laws, and that's what I came up with, too.

Of course, these ideas are hardly exclusive to Christianity or Judaism.

And Orrin is wrong about the most radical idea. The most radical idea was that man is free (of religion, if he wants to be). The second most radical notion was that no one should be a slave. Christianity never got there. That's a secular idea.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 19, 2005 9:20 PM

the most radical idea is that man is free (of religion, if he wants to be.)

The rock you keep stumbling on, Harry. You're no more free from religion than oj is, or Peter, or David, or I, unless you're the one freak in all of history who genuinely isn't afraid both of living and of dying. What that religion consists of, is up to you more so than in the past; but you do have one, or else you'd be posting from a padded cell and not your office.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 19, 2005 10:31 PM


You've had it. 300 years in and secularism is already a dead letter.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2005 10:43 PM


But Man is free to not choose God as Harry says. Hard to see that as radical though since it's been true since Creation and defines human nature.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2005 11:05 PM

Free to not choose god and not be killed for it here.

We take our chances in the hereafter. What if god turns out to be a practical joker? What if the whole Bible thing is a magnified version of Tom Sawyer and the painted fence?

You cannot be sure, can you?

On the other hand, if I get killed for not believing in god (or believing in the wrong one), there's no question about it.

John quite rightly cited the Dutch. They were as important as the English in creating freedom. Not because of religious tolerance or any other religious virtue, but because they saw political and economic advantage in providing havens from (some) Christian tyrannies.

It was cynical of them, but we owe them a lot anyway.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 20, 2005 2:03 PM


Free everywhere. No one has ever been forced to believe in God. You are forced here to act as if you believed in Him.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 2:26 PM

That's a distinction without a difference.

Since there is no god to be believed in, being forced to adhere to the rituals is the same as being forced to believe in god.

It matters less to the degree that the compulsion is milder. Since Christian (and not only Christian) compulsion frequently rises to the level of death, that's as far as you can go in this life.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 20, 2005 4:50 PM

Yes, you're forced to behave as if there were a God, but it doesn't seem to have done you much harm.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 4:59 PM

I lucked into a secular society. Any other time or place, some fanatic would have killed me.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 22, 2005 4:42 PM

You lucked into a society so thoroughly Christianized that so long as you conform outwardly no one really cares what you think. As you often boast your morality is entirely heterodox.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2005 4:55 PM