Sunday, August 12, 2012

German Austerity’s Lutheran Core

by Steven Ozment

New York Times

August 11, 2012

If there’s one nationality the rest of the world thinks it readily and totally understands, it is the Germans. Combine their deep involvement with Nazism and anti-Semitism and, voilà! — 2,000 years of gripping, complex history vanishes.

Since the beginning of the euro crisis, this reductionism, which can be found inside Germany as much as outside it, has come in the form of sifting through the fatal legacy of the Weimar era, the years of promising democracy that began in the defeat and humiliation of World War I and ended with the Nazi takeover in 1933.

On the one hand, we’re told, the 1920s legacy of destabilizing inflation explains Germany’s staunch aversion to expansionary monetary and fiscal policies today; on the other hand, the Nazi taint on the interwar years seems to prove for some that, even in 2012, the intentions of democratic Germany can’t be trusted when it comes to Europe’s well-being.

But rather than scour tarnished Weimar, we should read much deeper into Germany’s incomparably rich history, and in particular the indelible mark left by Martin Luther and the “mighty fortress” he built with his strain of Protestantism. Even today Germany, though religiously diverse and politically secular, defines itself and its mission through the writings and actions of the 16th century reformer, who left a succinct definition of Lutheran society in his treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he summarized in two sentences: “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all.”


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