Rise of ‘Values’ in German Politics

Kevin Aylward posts, in its entirety, a subscriber only Economist piece on the revival of “values” in German politics.

It’s values, Dummkopf! Weary of number-crunching wonks, Germans want to talk values instead (Economist $)

AS EVERY lover of Bach or Beethoven knows, a Leitmotiv is a dominant theme in a piece of music. What, then, is Leitkultur, the new buzzword in German debates? Roughly, it means the guiding or dominant culture, or set of values, in a society. A growing number of Germans think their country needs one.

The very fact that people are discussing values more, including patriotism, is a big and recent change. For most of the past two years, politicians and pundits were talking technicalities; they sparred over arcane proposals to fix the economy. Since mid-November, however, there has been a palpable shift away from this dull techno-talk. Pragmatic approaches are being played down in favour of ethical ones.


Some symptoms of this shift are rather superficial. For example, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has been showing more of his human side. In a recent talk show, he spoke of what it meant to him to have adopted a child from Russia. He has denounced his critics as unpatriotic, a new line of attack. His government is also working on a huge media campaign in the run-up to the 2006 soccer World Cup, which Germany will host. The object, aside from boosting Mr Schröder’s election chances that year, is to improve the country’s image abroad as well as the mood at home. Germans are being told to believe in themselves and the things they stand for, rather than fretting over fiscal drag and social-security payments.

As has been frequently noted at OTB and elsewhere, “values” means a lot of different things to different people. The degree to which “values” in the sense meant by Gary Baeur and other evangelical leaders contributed to George W. Bush’s re-election victory is debatable, although certainly less than those leaders want us to believe. We should be even more careful of stretching the values label when analyzing European politics. Germany and its Western European countries are far less religious than even the bluest of the blue states. To the extent that “values” are on the rise, we can rest assured that they’re not the same values.

The article seems to miss an obvious point: After their second straight loss in a World War, the Germans began to be ashamed of patriotism, nationalism, and the like. This was especially true because of Aryanism and the Holocaust. The underlying values never went away–witness the controversy over the Turkish Gastarbeiter that has been brewing for decades and the prominence of the right wing Republicans in the early 1990s–but the German version of political correctness kept them largely out of the realm of legitimate public policy discourse. Apparently, that’s finally starting to go away and Germans, like most peoples, are starting to openly talk about pride in their culture and homeland.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.