In Defense of Angela Merkel

03/30/2015 07:46 am ET | Updated May 30, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

The advantage of the notorious cover of Der Spiegel that showed Angela Merkel in front of the Acropolis surrounded by Nazi officers is that it finally poses, in a way that cannot be dodged, the question of Germanophobia in Europe.

This has dragged on for quite some time.

There were the demonstrations in Cyprus in March 2013, with the banners bearing caricatures of the German chancellor done up as Adolf Hitler.

In Valencia at around the same time, on the occasion of the annual Fallas, there was Merkel as an evil headmistress delivering to the head of the Spanish government and his ministers "The 10 Commandments of Angela the Exterminator" and ending up being burned in effigy in the flames of the bonfires of St. Joseph.

Two months later, in Portugal, there were similar parades featuring similar caricatures of the same Hitlerized Merkel borne by howling demonstrators in mourning clothes decrying the German leader's "policy of massacring the poor."

There was Greece, naturally, where the phenomenon reached its apogee during the near-riots of October 2012, in which the world was treated to the spectacle of Nazi and German flags flown together and then burned together before the Acropolis in scenes that imitated the Der Spiegel cover.

There was Italy, where the national right-wing daily, Il Giornale, had no scruples about devoting its headline for August 3, 2012, to the emergence of the "Fourth Reich."

There are the countries of northern Europe, where conspiracy websites claim to find in Germany's eagerness to support Poroshenko against Putin a reenactment of Hitler's subjugation of Ukraine.

Not to mention France, where, from the extreme right (Mrs Le Pen chiding the chancellor for the "suffering" that she is imposing on the peoples of Europe) to the extreme left (Mr Melenchon thundering against Mrs Merkel's "austerity" policy and inviting her to "shut up"), the game seems to be to see who can who can top the other in populist denunciations of the new and detestable "German empire."

The problem with this Germanophobia is not simply that it is stupid.

It is not that it is yet another symptom of the decomposition, under our eyes, of the noble European project.

No, the problem is, contrary to what the sorcerer's apprentices who stoke it would have us believe, that it is a sign not of the opposition of those apprentices but rather of their allegiance and even their contribution to the true fascism that lies on the horizon.

Why?

Several reasons.

For a start, to say that Merkel is Hitler banalizes Hitler.

To equate, beyond any legitimate quarrel that Germany's social, economic, and diplomatic policies may inspire one of the most scrupulous and exemplary democracies on the continent with the regime that in Europe remains the symbol of the destruction, not only of democracy, but of civilization, is to exonerate that regime, to reassure and encourage those nostalgic for it, and to allow them, whether intentionally or not, to jump again into the public debate.

What is more (and this is key), those keenest to discredit Mrs Merkel just happen to be the same people who do not hesitate to waltz with Viennese neo-Nazis or to form an alliance, in Athens, with the leaders of a genuinely extremist party. All of the clamor raised around a Germany that has supposedly "reunited with its demons" has the effect of masking the voice of those fascistic if not frankly neo-Nazi parties that, from Greece's Golden Dawn to Hungary's Jobbik, from Slovakia's SNS to Belgium's Vlaams Belang and Bulgaria's Ataka, are in fact in the process of establishing themselves in Europe.

I add that Mrs Merkel is a woman and that the hate for women, the disdain in which they, right alongside the Jews, were regarded by the racist theoreticians of the 1920s and 1930s, has been an essential dimension of every expression of fascism.

I add that the slogans slung about in Valencia in October 2012, the way the demonstrators were urged to chant at the chancellor's effigy "You will love money above all else" and "You will honor the banks and the Bank," had the unmistakably foul odor of the old mantras about "the golden calf" and the "cosmopolitan plutocracy."

People have finally come to understand that anti-Americanism, born on the extreme right and fed, in Germany, for example, by Heideggerianism, is a fixture of fascism.

It is now time for us to understand that the same is true for a Germanophobia that, in France, appeared with the French anti-Semitic novelist and activist Maurice Barrès who saw in Kantianism the vehicle the "Jewification" of European minds; that triumphed with Charles Maurras of the Action Française and its protracted war with "Jewish and Germanic abstractions"; and that culminated with the red-brown cells that, even today, on sites that I prefer not to mention, offer "grub" and a "hideout" for persons willing to "bump off" the "bosses" on the chancellor's "payroll."

The history of ideas has its logic, its reason and folly, its unconscious and its trajectory. It is both futile and dangerous to deny any of them.

And that is why, today, it seems to me critically important, in the face of a dark force that is rising, swelling, and unfurling, to defend Angela Merkel.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy