A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
On the surface it seems inconsistent that the same country, Germany, that submitted Greece to such harsh punishment is opening its arms so generously to Syrian refugees, agreeing to take as many as 800,000, or one percent of its own population.
But it makes perfect sense once you accept that a deeply Protestant—perhaps Lutheran—streak still runs through Germany and its politics and foreign policy. It’s the peculiar Protestantism of the capitalist class that Max Weber defined in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. To the capitalist following the Protestant ethic, the Greeks and their government committed the ultimate of all sins—they did not meet their obligations. Imagine debt as an original sin, and you quickly understand the German attitude towards nonpayment of debt.
But as good citizens of the world—the secular version of being good Christians—the Germans are leading the way in doing what’s right to ameliorate the fates of those displaced by the tragic Syrian civil war. They don’t look at the Syrian and other refugees as profligates the way they characterized Greece for not paying its debts, letting itself become a nation of tax scofflaws, not exercising discipline and not following the rules. No, the Syrians are innocent victims who require not just our empathy but our help. When you add it up, it’s a kind of “tough love” approach to foreign affairs.
Let’s keep in mind, however, that even as it takes on the massively expensive job of integrating 800,000 refugees into its economy and society, Germany is acting in its own self-interest, following the ethical capitalist creed to do well by doing good. Like the rest of Western Europe and the United States net of its immigrants, Germany is experiencing negative population growth. The influx of 800,000 new workers and consumers will be a shot in the arm to the German economy.
Would that the rest of Europe and the United States followed the German model and opened its doors to more immigration from refugees and others. The West faces a population bust and must either get an influx of younger workers from elsewhere or learn how to operate a stagnant, no-growth economy. Instead of shifting into permanent decline, doesn’t it make sense to feed new workers into the economy, and in the process, address the problems of less stable, poorer nations?
People fear that immigrants take their jobs, even though statistics show otherwise. People fear that immigrants suppress the wages of the native born, and statistics disprove this myth, too. But most of all, people in France, German, the United States, Great Britain and everywhere else fear the “the stranger,” the other who may corrupt or dilute the culture.
There can be no doubt that a large influx of one culture into another will change the larger culture. That’s why gefilte fish, matzah, pizza, taco shells and soy sauce are on the shelves of every American supermarket. But without enough people talking the language and following the cultural norms that define a culture, the culture will shrivel up. Fewer Germans having kids mean fewer Germans in the future, which certainly manifests a decline in the culture. On the other hand, does it matter much what is the color of the German citizen if he or she speaks German and studies Goethe and Schiller in school?
The old racist Germany of Nazi days thought it did matter. The new Germany—minus the usual small percentage of virulent racists—knows better.
Copyright 2015 Marc Jampole