The Age of the Strongman, Chapter 12: Merkel, Macron and Europe’s Struggle Against the Strongmen (2020)
During the twentieth century, no city felt the deadly allure and disastrous consequences of strongman leadership more than Berlin. When Hitler finally committed suicide in his bunker, his capital city lay in ruins around him. For the current German elite, therefore, nationalism in any form remains highly suspect. As Thomas Bagger, a leading German intellectual and the diplomatic adviser to the country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, put it to me: “France and Britain can always fall back on the nation-state. That is much harder for Germany.”
As Bagger saw it, after 1989 Germany had embraced a version of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, with its comforting belief in the triumph of liberal democracy and internationalism. After the fall of the wall, Bagger argued, “We felt that we were on the right side of history for once, and it felt pretty good.” A nationalist strongman such as Vladimir Putin was treated with a degree of condescension. Merkel saw him as a figure from the nineteenth century, struggling to cope with the modern world. Firm in the belief that they understood the direction of history and understood the formula for success in the twenty-first century, Germany’s leaders felt that, in Bagger’s phrase, politics was now little more than the “administration of the inevitable.”
From 2014 to 2017, a series of shocks forced Merkel and the German establishment to abandon this complacency. The conflict in Ukraine and the Putin government’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 signaled the return of Russia as a military threat.
This is fascinating stuff!