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A Tribute to Ludwig Erhard (December 1, 1966)

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Was Ludwig Erhard brought down by schemers within his own party, as he angrily believes? Who would have expected that from a man who only a few years ago thought so highly of himself: “I am a politician out of passion. And not in the primitive sense of political ambition; instead, I am a politician out of the conviction that I have been given the talent to change the destiny of a people for the better.” This man, who profoundly believed he had been chosen to lead, is ultimately responsible for his own downfall.

Ludwig Erhard is a liberal with many traits, good traits from the nineteenth century. He is a man of good intentions whose frequent use of the word “sincere” is not accidental. He believes in humanity, considers human beings to be good and sensible by nature. He believes in the persuasive power of arguments, in reason, and in the innate sense of community of all people. Federal Chancellor Erhard appealed to all of this more than once. Must a man with these convictions fail in politics on account of human nature? This question was posed here three years ago. By now, everyone knows the answer.

No one should be surprised in retrospect that Ludwig Erhard did not master the harsh tactics of political maneuvering, the balancing of powers, and the preservation of one’s own power. Everyone who knew Erhard as minister of economics, who observed the duel between Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard from 1959 to 1963 close up, knew Erhard’s weaknesses. At the time, one could sense his tendency to speak when silence would have been golden and to remain silent when a frank word was necessary. One could also detect that he was a hesitant man, not only on account of his temperament, but also because of his political philosophy. That made it possible for him to endure four years of merciless battery from Konrad Adenauer, who had always doubted his political competence. But the same qualities that had allowed the survival of Erhard the candidate for chancellor caused the downfall of Erhard the chancellor. It is now being said that, through Erhard, we learned that not only can politics ruin character but character can also impair politics.

Symbol of Prosperity

The man who once said that in the end he was not elected by a party, [the man] who wanted to be a people’s chancellor, found himself abandoned by both people and party, in the solitude of Schaumburg Palace, when the economic climate cooled down. He wanted to forge a new style of political decency and was indignant at the angry heckling he experienced during assemblies in the Ruhr Valley. He never guessed that earlier cheering from the population was directed less at the person of Ludwig Erhard than at the symbol of prosperity. He never suspected that the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction* elected him federal chancellor not because it believed in his political competence, but because it saw him as a vote-getter. Cracks appeared in the general prosperity level, and the votes in North Rhine-Westphalia declined. The symbol that had lost its power was sidelined – that is the fate and tragedy of Ludwig Erhard.

* Within the Bundestag, the parties are organized in parliamentary factions [Fraktionen]. The faction of a particular party comprises the members of parliament belonging to that party; this organizational principle assures party discipline in voting and the size of the caucus determines representation in parliamentary committees. – eds.

Source of original German text: Georg Schröder, “Das Ende einer Kanzlerschaft” [“The End of a Chancellorship”], Die Welt, December 1, 1966.

Translation: Allison Brown

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