During the acrimonious decades of the Cold War, countries could be divided into three groups: those aligned with the United States; those aligned with the Soviet Union; and those aligned to neither, the so-called “non-aligned” states. Countries in the first group often chose to refer to themselves collectively as forming “the free world,” and, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, for a brief, heady moment it seemed as if the entire world might be on its way to becoming free. Or, in any event, that Russia and China might be about to join the club of nations with democratically legitimate…
I’ve just returned from my annual vacation on my beloved island of Foehr; and as in earlier years Brother Reinsch has invited my random thoughts on what’s up with Krautland. Some bad stuff happened while I was there but frankly, it’s been a relief to spend a few weeks in a functioning, tolerably well-governed country. On the eve of the federal elections on September 24, the Germans are calm, confident, and contented. And basically, I think, they’re right.
The doctrine of humanity’s original, common ownership of the earth was a staple of natural rights philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These philosophers greatly influenced the natural rights philosophy of America’s founding generation, a philosophy which the founders articulated, among other places, in the Declaration of Independence. I’ve mused this last week on the arguments of one of these natural rights theorists, Hugo Grotius. Grotius devotes a great deal of attention to how (in his view) the original state of humanity’s common ownership of the earth continues to influence just claims even after the rise of nations and private property.
Of special interest given current events are Grotius’s arguments on the implications of the original condition for immigration and refugees. Earlier I considered Grotius’s argument that a nation must allow immigrants to claim “waste or barren land” in a country as a matter of right. But barren, unused land was not the only condition under which Grotius would require a nation to admit immigrants as a matter of (natural) right. Perhaps even closer to current events is Grotius’s discussion of “necessity” as a condition conferring a right to immigrate into other countries.
Last week, Germany’s chief prosecutor—Generalbundesanwalt Harald Lange—got himself fired. It’s a big enough deal to occupy the front pages and, in coming months and years, armies of administrative lawyers and scholars. The precise facts and circumstances are a bit murky, and the story is still unfolding. Enough is known, though, to invite some rule-of-law thoughts and a few cautious transatlantic comparisons and contrasts.
Technical prowess notwithstanding, US communications intelligence is dumb congenitally. In a previous column I explained that NSA’s use of sensitive antennas to capt the electronic spectrum, of supercomputers to record “the take,” and of sophisticated algorithms to search it suffer from the same deadly lack of quality control (counterintelligence) that afflicts human collection; moreover that elementary countermeasures reduce even the possibility of capting useful information. The latest revelations that the NSA has been listening to such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private conversations as well as to Cardinals at papal conclaves highlight a more fundamental flaw, namely US government officials’ misunderstanding of intelligence, of the very reason for spying.
Germany goes to the polls this coming week. The German media are desperately trying to convey Spannung (meaning tension and urgency), and party apparatchiks here and there fret about the emoluments of their offices. However, the German voters are united with the rest of humankind in not giving a rip. Frau Merkel will continue to run Germany with this or that coalition. Her principal (Social-Democratic) opponent did well against her in a TV debate but hasn’t been able to think of any socialist demand that Mrs. Merkel’s nominally conservative government hasn’t already fulfilled or credibly promised to fulfill. The differences are about the reimbursement rates for dental care and about Bavaria’s plan to impose highway fees on foreigners—which, to Bavarians, means anyone outside barfing distance of a Munich beer tent. (And, no: none of this is a joke.)
I’m the first to celebrate boredom and civic disengagement—indicia of the rule of law, if not exactly its purposes. But then, this is Germany. If you’ve paid attention to the past millennium or so, you have to worry about what’s smoldering under the surface. Germany is a very large force among democratic nations, and the single largest force in the EU. Her place in the world ought to take front and center in an election—no? No.