Why Germany Can’t Say Nein to Greece

September 26th, 2011

Monday’s New York Times features my oped explaining why Germany can’t say nein to Greece.  It’s not just cash, it’s cultural.  Goethe, Nietzsche and Thomas Mann can teach us more than Keynes and Krugman.  

On the topic of contemporary culture, listen to the witty music of Victoria Miles as she skewers young men disconnected from life and connected only to their video games (“Virtual James”).  Her song on jocks includes the lyric “your balls don’t impress me.”

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Ashley Moore

September 26, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

Since the New York Times wouldn’t allow me to comment on their site, I thought I might just add these insights to your interpretation of the German spirit.

In The Birth of Tragedy, in which Nietzsche discusses the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of Greek culture, he applies those concepts to the German spirit directly: “Considering this extremely close relationship between music and myth […] the German character should not leave us in any doubt. […] in some inaccessible abyss the German spirit still rests and dreams, undestroyed, in glorious health, profundity, and Dionysian strength, like a knight sunk in slumber; and from this abyss the Dionysian song rises to our ears to let us know that this German knight is still dreaming his primordial Dionysian myth in blissfully serious visions. Let no one believe that the German spirit has forever lost its mythicial home when it can still understand so plainly the voices of the birds that tell of that home” (page 142, the Walter Kaufmann translation).

Nietzsche basically contends that the German character is the best possibility for a revival of the Dionysian spirit in his time. I would say that in many ways that is still true today, especially considering the example you mentioned in the article: Oktoberfest, one of the most decidedly Dionysian of all festivals. There, music — the most Dionysian of the arts — meets alcoholic revelry in a distinctly German way, just as it does at the plethora of smaller German festivals that happen throughout Bavaria year-round. Germans may be serious by day, but as you mention, after sunset, they — including your German librarian — let their hair down in a serious way. (I’ve got proof in the groups of German singers — arms joined with voices to belt out Schlager hits like Griechischer Wein– who pass outside my window most nights of the week.)

It seems redunctionist to say that Germans have a cultural reason to save Greece based on some deficiency in their own culture. Most people I talk to on a daily basis — there are not any politicians among them — still measure prices by the Deutsche Mark, wishing that German politicians hadn’t gone along with the European shared currency dream. They seem to think that politicians were too hopeful and reckless (too Dionysian, perhaps?) in accepting Greece into the Eurozone and would like to turn back time and reverse that decision. Many of them are emotionally opposed to the idea of bailing Greece out, but are logically aware that without help, Greece could bring down the entire region’s shared currency. This seems like a perfectly Greek tragedy in Nietzschean terms.

emma foschini

September 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

I had the same thought – since I cannot comment on the NYTimes, a quick resonse here:
That was one of the stupidest op-ed’s on a countrie’s personality and motivation.
The Germans surely know how to relax without traveling to Greece or other mediterrenean countries. Unlike the US, people here work fewer hours, spend more time with friends and family and party longer at night. And the reference to the song “griechischer Wein’ is a song about a Greek guestworker in Germany, who is homesick to his country – and has nothing to do with Germans longing to go to Greece, to drink their wine there ….
Please do your research and only write about topics that you sort of know something about!

William L T Schirano

September 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

I just wrote a letter to Todd praising the excellent sociological analysis that he has brought to this issue…the only problem however was that his conclusions are totally backwards.

If the German people supported this bailout, then Angela Merkel and a collection of dead-man-walking politicians wouldn’t be in such dire straits these days. The fact is that the rest of Germany is up in arms over these bailouts precisely for the reasons Todd outlined in his piece: they view the Greeks (and the rest of the south) as utterly irresponsible.

Thus, to continue to bail out these countries (as pieces of paper don’t seem to have changed their profligate ways) is viewed with further anger and frustration, which has led to the conundrum that Frau Merkel faces today…continue to “save” the EU by costing the German taxpayer more and more money and be thrown out of office, or let the EU (and the Euro) become irrelevant.

It really is too bad that this article missed that essential reality.

effie

October 1, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink

sad but true!