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The Journalist Josef Joffe Reflects on Sources of German Pride (2001)

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But whoever readily turns “nation” into “nationalism” and denounces “patriotism” as “national arrogance” is also dishonest. Those are lethal arguments on par with “skinhead-Meyer.” Is it the iron duty of democrats to let the Skins steal every word? That would mean granting them victory ahead of time – leaving it to the scoundrels to define what is politically correct. Instead, democrats must flesh out the concept correctly. If a German wants to be proud of this Federal Republic, he need not go fishing in brown muck – not in resentment against others, not in murmurings about Volk and fatherland.

He can point out that in a soil contaminated with authoritarianism and totalitarianism, a democracy has taken root that is, in some respects, more liberal than its French or British counterparts. The past? Even after 56 years it is not being disposed of; memory and obligation have become the raison d’état. An overmighty state? Power is more vigorously fragmented only in Switzerland. Marginalization of foreigners? The right to citizenship through naturalization has asserted itself alongside the archaic principle of ethnicity – it came late, but it came after all. Germanomania? The answer is provided by a single word: Europe.

If anyone wants to be proud of these accomplishments, let him, because even the wildest dreamers would not have thought the Germans capable of them in 1945. Yet this would be a special kind of pride: one that does not exhaust itself in smugness or arrogance, least of all in arrogance towards “Others.” Such pride would also have the pleasant advantage of freeing the person declaring it from the need to beat his chest like a nervous gorilla. He would not need this self-reassurance and would regard his nation with the equanimity of Americans and Frenchmen. And with an affection that’s more than a vital but bloodless “constitutional patriotism.”

Constitutional patriotism is the interchangeable loyalty to rules that can be demanded by every liberal constitutional state. Affection, however, is the answer to the question: Why am I living under this law, and not another? It is a quiet answer – delivered with the very equanimity that the “zealous class” in this country still lacks. But progress has been made when a former Juso head by the name of Schröder* “is proud of his country,” of “its democratic culture.” We can readily live with that kind of pride – as can our neighbors and friends.

Source: Josef Joffe, “Deutsch und Stolz” [“German and Proud”], Die Zeit, no. 13, March 22, 2001.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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