This Republic Might Fail
Otherwise, alas, the prognosis of a general decline, the continuation of that creeping demise that we have been experiencing for a long time, will remain the most probable development, comparable with Great Britain’s decline in the 1960s and 1970s.
The sagacious Albert O. Hirschman once told me that societies never change until they experience great disaster. Until that point, they throw all caution to the wind and continue in their entrenched modes of behavior. That applies as much to socioeconomic lethargy as to the persistent, prevalent ecological nonchalance from which people will probably suddenly awaken only after millions have died in a mighty disaster. Only then will they be willing to take drastic action.
In view of our far less dramatic German circumstances, one naturally asks what it would take, at the moment, to intensify the situation to a degree that would force such a radical change. A drastic reduction in social benefits? The abolishment of the Deutschmark? The emergence of a new, radical political movement?
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In light of all this, the thought that the present regime could fail – because it was constructed in a different situation and under exceptional conditions – is perhaps not as far-fetched as it might seem at first. Can we be so sure that our state is weatherproof, that it can handle domestic and foreign crises? Or has the mismanagement persisted for so long that we can hope it will simply continue without ending in catastrophe?
Count Harry Kessler posed this last question to Walther Rathenau in the fall of 1906. Rathenau responded, “You’re mistaken. A bank like Deutsche Bank can be run by totally incompetent directors for five years before anyone on the outside notices anything, but then the decline will gradually begin. In a state like Germany, misgovernment can perhaps continue for twenty years without considerable damage, but then the consequences will suddenly start appearing everywhere.”
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Source: Arnulf Baring, Scheitert Deutschland. Abschied von unseren Wunschwelten © 1997, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, München, in der Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH
(pp. 30-38, 42-43, 88-89, 101-02, 108-09, 115-17)
Translation: Allison Brown and GHDI staff