Paul Hockenos on German Arrogance

In Foreign Policy:

One year ago, Germany was named the “best country” in the world, according to a poll by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The poll relied on criteria measuring entrepreneurship, power, public education, and quality of life, among others. But for a growing number of Germans, the important thing was that it offered confirmation of their own self-image. Their country slipped to fourth in this year’s poll, behind Switzerland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, but that seems unlikely to do much to dim the self-confidence of a country enjoying a surging economy and growing international cachet.

Whether the field is migration or manufacturing, fiscal policy or renewable energy, Germans increasingly believe that they, and they alone, know best, at least judging from the attitude newly on display everywhere from newspaper columns to parliamentary speeches to barroom chats over beer. In German the phenomenon is summed up in one word: Besserwisserei, a know-it-all attitude, which the Germans themselves admit is somewhat of an engrained cultural trait.

But it’s increasingly clear that one country’s allegedly evidence-based Besserwisserei is another country’s intolerable smugness. Just ask Germany’s European neighbors, and others, including the United States, where resentment of Germans has been percolating for years, under constant threat of bubbling over….

German high-handedness is eliciting angry charges of “moral imperialism” from Hungary, and its central European neighbors, including Slovakia, Poland, and Croatia, largely concur. Meanwhile, during the first round of the French presidential election, candidates from more than one party chastised Merkel for dictating a German eurozone policy. “We order it, you obey, and tout suite,” is how the German publisher Wolfram Weimer critically summed up Germany’s new modus operandi during the bailout negotiations in an article titled “Virtuous Totalitarianism”. U.S. economist Paul Krugman repeatedly blasts Germany for “moralizing” on European fiscal policy, namely Germany’s obsession with budget discipline, which he considers entirely counterproductive. Since Germany’s setting of the onerous terms for the eurozone’s recovery packages, beginning in 2011, surveys in Europe show that many fellow Europeans consider Germans arrogant, insensitive, and egotistical (while, strangely, praising their dependability and influence in Europe)….

Of course, another reason German smugness can get under the skin is the fact that Germany simply isn’t nearly as universally superlative as it might prefer to think. A close corollary of Besserwisserei has always been hypocrisy. So Germany may browbeat other countries about their deficits today, but other Europeans remember that in the 2000s, when the German economy was in the dumps, and again during the financial crisis, Berlin consistently ran budget deficits in excess of eurozone rules — and avoided penalties for it. The deficits were critical for Germany to get its economy going again.

Meanwhile, Germany insists that other countries follow its lead on climate change, shutting down nuclear power stations and switching to clean energy generation. But Germany is Europe’s biggest burner of dirty coal (seventh in the world), and it’s not on track to hit the Paris Agreement’s reduction targets for 2020. Its best-selling export is big, expensive, gas-guzzling luxury automobiles, including diesels. The Dieselgate scandal caught Volkswagen and other German car manufacturers cheating on emissions tests.

And it’s no accident that the scandal was uncovered in the United States, far from the reach of German political and cultural power — nor that Germany’s discussion about the scandal has been just as focused on how the German auto companies in question can be saved rather than about the financial or moral atonement they might owe. “It’s obvious that the EU should take over emissions testing and that the commission should impose huge fines on Germany,” Lever says. “But it won’t, because it’s Germany, that’s why. It shows how much power Germany has now.”

19 thoughts on “Paul Hockenos on German Arrogance

  1. Compared to Germany dominating fiscal policy and destroying southern European countries economies, this is a niggling point, but the utter incompetence on display by the BAMF (migration and fluchtlinge Amt) and German security the past 6 months has been breathtaking. A Tunisian criminal wanders into the country, registers and gets money using several different aliases–and this guy is no genius–works some small time crime, never deported (with alacrity). Takes a truck and murders some people. Leisurely makes his way down to Italy. Is finally killed by a Security Guard with two months training. While millions of Euros are being spent on top-notch talent in Germany’s police force. And expensive gear, and databases, and drones, and God knows what else. And incompetence or pure ennui let’s the guy get away. Had he gotten to the Balkans, he would have been gone forever. Utterly incredible incompetence. And the German soldier allowed to register as a Syrian, get his 590 Euros AND a place to stay. What utter INCOMPETENCE. And you can be sure that there are thousands of stories just like this–and that covering them up will take priority, instead of firing incompetent people or changing the rules. Incredible. I used to think the German public sector was a well-oiled machine. It is clear now that it is little more than a dumping ground for political hacks and flunkies. Pathetic. And I am shocked how little German taxpayers care about these things.

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  2. Don’t forget the French. A friend of mine went on a guided tour through a French cave with a French gzide where, early human remains had been found. My friend was surprised to learn that humanity has basically “de-volved from the French”…

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  3. One could get the impression that Germany acts in Europe just like the US in the world. Everybody is complaining but they take the German money as well as protection from the US military. Furthermore Dieselgate is a hoax and plain media hype. No other manufacturer of diesel engines, may it be Toyota, Fiat or Peugeot or even Cummins is better in fulfilling impossible guidelines.

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  4. The poll relied on criteria measuring entrepreneurship, power, public education, and quality of life, among others. But for a growing number of Germans, the important thing was that it offered confirmation of their own self-image.

    These two sentences are full of logical (and semantic) errors:
    – The “but” at the beginning of the second sentence is out of place and makes no sense. The fact that a poll conducted by the Wharton School relied on the criteria listed and the fact that for some Germans it was important that it offered confirmation of their self-image are not connected at all, so the conjunction “but” makes no sense
    – “own self-image” – pleonasm
    – “for a growing number of Germans, the important thing WAS”. You use the past simple when you refer to events, states or actions that have been completed at some point in the past. If the number of self-pleased Germans is still growing the state (it WAS important) cannot have been completed.

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  5. In a headline from Deutsche Welle–a proud sponsor of fake news: “The Bundeswehr’s image problem – is it overrun with right-wing extremists?” I don’t worry about the Bundeswehr–is the BAMF overrun with incompetents. Handing out cash and a room to a German citizen who barely even had to make up a story. How many thousand more frauds have these BAMF idiots allowed into Germany. We will never know–as right-wing in the Bundsewehr will be the dust cloud to cover up BAMFs idiocy.

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  6. Bit brazen to call people “idiots” who’re doing difficult jobs and who probably can speak more languages than you’ve ever heard of, don’t you think? If you want a typical example of German arrogance, people just need to read your comments.

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  7. Sorry to insult the hard-working BAMF people. But, how would YOU characterize the work? It is clear that the BAMF was totally unprepared for Merkel’s million muslim men (how could it be?), and this is just another example of the total mess that is German’s febrile “open borders” policy. I can four languages well and I am pretty sure I could have spotted a German citizen trying to pass himself off as a Syrian, who spoke halting French, as a fraud. My point is that if this rather obvious fraud was easily done–how many thousands more has this BAMF allowed into German? No answer needed. You can see these welfare fraud cases wandering your streets every day. I am not German, by the way, and pointing out obvious incompetence is a good thing. Governments CAN use it to make their services better–most, like Sweden and Germany don’t.

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  8. But could have asked a few simple questions in German. I think they did have an arabic speaker there…and this guy couldn’t speak a word of it. I ask you…how good are BAMF procedures? And, again, how many hundreds of thousands of Albanians, Moroccans, Macedonians, Pakistanis, etc. etc. are wandering around Germany calling themselves Syrian due to BAMF’s incompetence. Your tax dollars know the answer.

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  9. Obviously, that Sandro persona is utterly ignorant (in this case, about things like management processes), combined with a lack of inhibition of aggressive impulses. Unfortunately, this combination of characteristics, which used to be an annoying but bearable by-product of early adolescence, has made its way into online discussions everywhere. Adulthood is postponed until early 60is or so?

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  10. BAMF is like any government bureaucracy, with widely varying levels of competence.

    I hesitate to blame them, though, since they were completely overwhelmed by the massive influx. An agency that’s staffed to handle 30-40,000 cases a year suddenly was swamped with 20 times that amount. SNAFUS were baked in. Although this was a particularly absurd one.

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  11. When one talks about arrogance among a nationality, he/she must be careful enough not to come off as arrogant him/herself, and this blog is no exception. Just saying.

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