In yesterday’s Bavarian state election, the conservative CSU regained an absolute majority. My earlier post on the national election this coming Sunday neglected to mention the event because, in accord with the vast majority of Bavarians, I don’t think they’re really part of Germany. Still, the Bavaria outcome does bear on the national outcome: In Berlin, the CSU is in a coalition with the rest-of- or truly-German CDU, and CSU boss Horst “The Sun King” Seehofer will now make a yet-more royal pest of himself. His proposal for a foreigners-only highway toll will be a flashpoint. On the one hand, it…
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.
In countries such as Germany (see recent post), climate change regulation proceeds by idiotic, popular and partisan consensus. Stateside, there’s less enthusiasm for post-carbon fantasies. Thus, climate regulation must be and has been put on autopilot. Two recent D.C. Circuit decisions (described below) illustrate the point. They also illustrate the need to think a bit harder about the administrative state. Today, the decisions; tomorrow, the lessons.
I’m going to ventilate, yet again and at the risk of further endangering the planet, over climate change—more precisely, the toll that the obsession has taken on our political institutions. Since everything is connected to everything else, I take the liberty of starting far afield—in Germany, and with a map:
Germany is going to the polls in September but even by German standards, the election season is boring beyond belief. The governing CDU/CSU, my buddy Michael Zoeller has observed, never fights election campaigns; it survives them. That is child’s play this time around, given the astounding popularity of the party’s standard-bearer, Chancellor Angela Merkel. The vast majority of Germans think that things are going tolerably well, especially compared to the rest of the world. The opposition Social Democrats can’t get traction on any issue, especially not on the one issue that matters: Europe. (“Let’s be nicer to Greece” is not a winning slogan.) The Greens have hitched their wagon to the SPD and so will go the same way: down. The Free Democrats (the CDU’s current coalition partner) have gone through a series of self-inflicted crises, and they have a demand-side problem: all the folks who might vote for a more liberal order emigrated long ago. If the party fails to clear the five-percent hurdle in the upcoming election, the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition will be replaced with another “grand” CDU/CSU/SPD coalition, with no net effect on Germany’s internal policies or its posture in the EU. Go back to sleep.
A bright spot in the dreary landscape is a book by a heretofore unknown author (Timur Vermes) that has topped the bestseller lists for several weeks: Er Ist Wieder Da (“He Is Back”). “Er” is Adolf Hitler, who (far from having committed suicide) wakes up one fine day in 2011 in a Berlin Hinterhof. From that absurd premise follows an all-too-plausible, hysterically funny satire, told by the protagonist. In short order, Herr Hitler is discovered by tv producers, who put his act on a trashy talk show. (The director insists on one condition: “We agree that the topic ‘Jews’ isn’t funny.” “You are entirely right,” I seconded her, almost relieved.) Hitler gains a huge following on Facebook (and in turn becomes a big social media fan), and elite media from Die Zeit to the Frankfurter Allgemeine come to praise what they view as a devastating, subversive attack on Germany’s stifling political culture. Eventually, the Führer gets his own talk show, broadcast from the Wolfsschanze.
When human rights meet multiculturalism, difficulties are certain to arise, and conflicts ensue, that would not have surprised Michael Oakeshott. If all political questions are to be answered by means of mere syllogisms in which abstract principles are the major premise, absurdities and worse will result. Such, at any rate, was his belief. In Germany a controversy has arisen over the practice of circumcision. A Muslim doctor in Cologne was brought before a court because a child aged 4 whom he had circumcised in his office bled heavily and had to be taken to hospital by his mother. The doctors at…
For good or ill, I’m back from my extended family vacation. To my modest credit, ‘twas poor moi who suggested Tom Christina as an ersatz blogger. To Tom’s far more considerable credit, he submitted posts of great seriousness and thoughtfulness—thanks so much! Ill-prepared to compete on that margin, I mark my return with a brief Teutonic travelogue.
A medical doctor was recently acquitted of an assault charge by a German court for having circumcised a four-year old boy at the behest of his two Muslim parents.
For those who still have the patience—or the sick curiosity—to follow Europe’s parody on democracy and the rule of law, it’s been a fascinating few days.
Forget Greece and Portugal: fiscal consolidation in Spain and Italy isn’t going particularly well, either. In both countries, the lack of progress has a great deal to do with fiscal federalism’s pathology—i.e., the tendency of junior government to rack up debt and to gamble on a federal bailout. (I’ve droned on about that unfortunate tendency in a series of earlier posts.) In Spain, the regions (which account for the lion’s share of the Country’s excess debt) seem to be winning the game of chicken: the already-bankrupt government in Madrid is sending money their way, in return for empty promises. My buddy Alberto Mingardi’s terrific piece on the Italian situation appears here.
The EU is hardly an innocent bystander. For decades, it has been buttering up regions financially as well as politically, on the theory that what’s bad for nation-states is good for the EU and to the point where it’s hard to explain why Spain or Belgium still exist. They are the functional equivalents of insolvent pension funds with a colorful flag and a Chairman who answers to “His Majesty.”