Reluctant Meister – How Shaping Germany’s Past Is Shaping Its European Future
By Stephen Green
Haus Publishing – £25.00
To come to this altogether well considered, overtly thought provoking, excellent book, is to (almost) come to terms with a powerful and highly influential nation that has traversed every darkness, and arrived at the fine end of raw redemption.
I say almost (in brackets), as modern day Germany is still awash with inadvertent, yet pertinent reminders of its miasma of troubled history. A history it has openly avowed to come to terms with, especially since the 1960s, much more so than many other nations who would surely benefit from a similar persuasion – such as Russia and Japan (and in relation to Ireland, Great Britain).
Said persuasion is addressed on numerous occasions throughout Reluctant Meister – How Germany’s Past Is Shaping Its European Future, a particularly strong example being in the ninth chapter (‘Confronting the Ghosts of Germany Past’) wherein the author, Stephen Green, writes: ”And then there is the galloping rhythm of that phrase which appears again and again in post-war German literary references (not to mention if graffiti in public places): Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland (death is a master from Germany).
Some might argue that to a certain degree, such didactic thinking was always going to be, and will, perhaps for the foreseeable future at least, remain inevitable. Especially given the turbulent trajectory of a certain Lutherian hypothesis, wherein blind faith and blind obedience, was always going to somehow conclude by way of crass anti-Semitism and the nation’s harrowing quest for Lebensraum in the East.
Once again, the chill of such arrogance and redundancy is powerfully addressed throughout these eleven chapters, but no-where more so than in ‘The Pact With The Devil,’ wherein the author brazenly tackles the subject of evil by way of theological and philosophical analysis: ”Evil, even today, we do not use the word lightly. Indeed, it is striking that the word has not lost its power, even in a secularised, demystified age. To call an act or a person evil is to use strong, unsettling language. It is an absolute judgement, so we should pause on it […]. Using Bonhoeffer’s terms, the result is the opposite of love. Where love gives, this takes. Where love shows compassion, this shows callous indifference or worse. Where love forgives, this seeks revenge […]. If goodness is generated by love, then evil is generated by this self-centredness which is the absence of love. Yet self-centredness is part of all of us. So we all know – in ourselves – about evil, though much of the time we may be only partially honest in facing this truth about ourselves. Which is why the judgement about the Third Reich is unsettling. Self-centredness was the very essence of the Third Reich: its self-understanding entailed an entirely explicit rejection of the value of others. This utter rejection of respect, of love, was what was at the root of its evil. If we are unsettled by this, it is in part because we recognise that the Third Reich was at one end of a spectrum at some point which we all find ourselves on somewhere. In judging it to be evil, we judge ourselves.”
A philosophical explanation of the Third Reich’s madness? A Darwinian analysis of the human potential for evil behaviour?
Either way, what Stephen Green has written herein, accounts for it being a very important book. As mentioned at the outset, it is so overtly thought provoking, it will undoubtedly entice many a reader to stop and think for hours. And then perhaps more hours; which, in and of itself, can only be good thing.
This is why Reluctant Meister is one of the best, most analytical, honest accounts of Germany and its history I’ve read in a long time.