Rich Lowry is beginning to remind me of Dickens’s Mr. Dick in David Copperfield. Dick couldn’t stay on a topic very long without blurting out “And they beheaded Charles I.” To his credit, the feeble-minded Dick could at least provide factual information. The Puritans did indeed execute their monarch by cutting off his head exactly 362 years ago.
Unlike Dick, Lowry is not even informative when he expresses his fixation, which is that the Germans long before Hitler were already planning to conquer the world in the name of “antiliberal” values. One encounters this view in Lowry’s columns with predictable regularity, and the latest appearance of it can be found in his commentary today about the Chinese danger. Although the Chinese, he assures us, are still “far from a global power,” their economic development may be a political danger to the democracies. China “considers American-style liberalism a threat to its government and perhaps its national existence.” I couldn’t imagine why the Chinese would consider whatever the U.S. calls itself, or whatever Lowry chooses to call it, “a threat to its national existence.” Right now China is making lots of money off of us and holding multiple IOUs over our heads.
But according to Lowry, China may become an even greater threat, by imitating long dead Germans. China’s sense of being threatened “makes it an ambitious bristling power with the disruptive potential of nineteenth-century Germany.” I suspect that the Germans have in the minicon mind a permanent identification with evil; and even if they didn’t, minicons might pretend that they did, in order to accommodate their neocon paymasters, who are angry at the Germans because of Nazi atrocities. But Lowry’s attempt to look for a pleasing Teutonic parallel for China’s economic expansion is not particularly instructive. Nineteenth-century Germany was certainly not the most aggressive power in Europe; nor did it have the most “antiliberal” government on the continent.
In terms of economic and intellectual freedom, low taxes, and decentralized government, Germany did not seem to European observers at the time to be the monster that Lowry and his neocon patrons want us to see. Even for the Anglophile, later World War I interventionist Woodrow Wilson, late nineteenth century Germany was a model of modern government that served its citizens well. Its working class enjoyed the highest standard of living in Europe and its population was the most literate in the world. Unlike China and politically correct European countries, Germans were free to argue and present a remarkably wide range of opinions on what today are regarded as painfully delicate subjects. Moreover, during World War I, Berlin newsstands continued to sell British and French newspapers.
Although the Germans, who began industrializing about seventy years after the British, came a long way in the nineteenth century, they continued to lag behind Britain in steel production and most heavy industry as late as 1900. Their economic advantage was achieved in chemical and technical products, which were the highest in quality of any such goods manufactured anywhere; and the Germans attained this distinction by being the first country to set up research centers paid for by major industries. These industries also provided abundant scholarships to young students, many of whom were Jewish, to continue their technical studies in return for going to work afterwards for their sponsors. Unlike the Chinese, the Germans produced their own technical breakthroughs without stealing from other countries.
Although German unification came in the wake of a war fought with France, it was France that declared war on Prussia and the French ruler Napoleon III was explicit about wanting to conquer the Rhineland before war was declared. Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the Germans, who were divided until 1871, were far less aggressive than most other European peoples. And even after unification, the German Chancellor Bismarck cooperated with the British to contain Russian expansion in the Balkans at the expense of the tottering Ottoman Empire. Bismarck also tried to establish stable relations between the German Empire and other continental powers. Although it was hard to reconcile France after its humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck made clear to other European statesmen that “Germany is a satiated power.”
Unlike the British, French, Italians and the last German Emperor, the empire that Bismarck led in the international arena avoided fights over colonies. Until the early twentieth century Germany was the least inclined of the European powers to get into disputes over territory in Asia and Africa. In fact the German chancellor observed when discussing the temptation of empire that “not all of Africa is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” Would that our journalists sounded like the prudent Bismarck instead of minicon journalists!