26 FEBRUARY 1972, Page 11

Joseph Lee on Adenaur's Germany

lerence Prittie' calls Adenauer " the one gereate AdGerman statesman of the twentieth A-iturY." But just how great was rTenauer') What did his greatness consist titie" Study in Fortitude,' Prittie's sub an rTh suggests an answer primarily n tAeci."'s of character. Personal fortitude h.,ellatter displayed throughout his life, ,'"nether in nursing his first wife on her rath-its death-throes, or stoical bed, cradling a baby son in his arms l y uuring ektInci,u,"eg the constant threat of the Nazi he,-el' en the door. But political fortitude re; conspicuously lacked. The most Du.hel!ling single incident in Adenauer's life was his rejection of the 19'ancel1orship of the Weimar Republic in fla2t• Adenauer, aged fifty, had won a 84Prial reputation as Mayor of Cologne. When he failed to secure the sweeping 48k.`rs he sought, he refused the offer, lioQtIng Why should he leave his highly paid rielai position "in order to use myself per; "1 Berlin within a relatively short cloi;kr),d." Adenauer may have been right in sysVrig his ability to operate the Weimar forfii,111..; But who showed the greater Plae.,7-1e, Gustav Stresemann, who, a bY ill-health, and operating from AdeVich Weaker party position than anea,tler, negotiated with such tenacity troll to raise his country from the the the Ruhr occupation in 1923 to 19204‘111111Ph of the Hague Conference in shirip°dr Xonrad Adenauer, who so selfishly resPonsibility? Stresemann sub efforC" imperious temperament in an corlstii. to work within the Weimar the atilletrni°n: Adenauer would not make PL event it didn't matter politically, Weirn--(enauer could hardly have saved as twat fr°111 Hitler. He had as little clue slt4t4r,-'°Pe else how to handle either the viewr the Nazis. He even shared the gove,:suat Hitler should be invited into the .`111.1ent in order to be tamed by office. thuniscfnsistently exaggerated the Corn: threat, and underrated the Nazi 441111r: 4PProved conservative fashion. His reass' to rise above the ruck must compel 144 en8fsillent of the real stature of the 't 1)°,. Weitnar, generally dismissed as ot t 11,,2; PYgmies. Adenauer, at least, did heln`werrate them. He could not dominate Which at the time, and the alacrity with returli -e hunted Heinrich Bruening, on his retake. t° Germany in 1954, suggests he td A respect Ade., ilealthy ct for men who are £4,z074er Terence Prittie (Tom Stacey rarely ranked remotely in the same category as himself. If Stresemann must be considered Adenauer's superior as a statesman, Hitler at his peak surpassed him in tactical skill, and Walter Ulbricht's achievement in securing leverage for East Germany within the Communist system was at least as remarkable as Adenauer's in winning a voice for the Federal Republic in Western circles. In this respect, Prittie exaggerates Adenauer's achievement by exaggerating the problems confronting him after 1945, which were incomparably simpler than those that plagued Weimar. The army, the judiciary and the bureaucracy, the evil genii of Weimar, were either destroyed or discredited. The Nazis had exterminated the extreme non-Nazi conservative leadership after July 20, before being eliminated in turn by the Allies. Most of the traditional reservoirs of grass roots support for both the extreme right and the extreme left, heavily concentrated in the East, were under Russian control. The Jewish problem had been brutally solved. The collapse of Weimar itself meant that relatively little was expected of German democracy. Moderate success could be magnified into triumph. What might not the men of Weimar have made of such a legacy? Contrary to Prittie's belief that "it took a man of Adenauer's balanced and incisive intellect to realise that the post-I945 Germany was fertile ground for a completely new political start" several of his potential rivals realised this equally clearly. What distinguished Adenauer from other contenders for leadership was not his unique appreciation of the situation, but the adroitness with which he outmanoeuvred them in the pursuit of power. His determination to secure his own ascendancy persisted until his reluctant retirement in 1963. He packed his Cabinet with political nonentities in preference to abler but potentially dangerous candidates. If, as he once claimed, he was "seventy per cent of the Cabinet" this was entirely by his own choice. However sensible it was to avoid the mistakes of Weimar by greatly strengthening the power of the Chancellor, and by restricting proportional representation to make it more difficult for small splinter groups to secure parliamentary seats, Adenauer based the constitution of the Federal Republic on his own personal requirements rather than on any more fundamental constitutional concepts. He showed himself perfectly willing in 1959 to drive a coach-and-four through his own constitution if this would enlarge the powers of the Presidency to which his party, then unaware of his intention to bend the constitution, was urging him to aspire. His indifference to his own party's feelings on the question of a .successor, his constant sniping at Ludwig Erhard after his own retirement, and his chagrin that the Christian Democrats should have done better under Erhard in the 1965 election, than under himself in 1961, suggests that he had little concept of the role of parties except as the handmaidens of autocratic personalities. Adenauer's constitutional concepts hardened rather than matured in his final forty years, and he never quite grasped how in genuine democracies the office could become greater than the man.

But if Adenauer were merely a superb practitioner of power politics, he could hardly have earned such widespread respect. He directed his power to securing three long-term objectives, the reconciliation of Protestant and Catholic within Germany, the reconciliation of France and Germany in Europe and the destruction of German Socialism. He urged after 1918 the formation of a Christian as distinct from a Catholic or a Protestant party, but sectarian divisions ran too deep until the more favourable situation created by Nazi persecution. By 1945 there was widespread agreement amongst both Catholics and Protestants that neither should think of going it alone again. Adenauer's dedication to Franco-German reconciliation never wavered after 1918. Even at the height of French provocation in the Rhineland he maintained the longterm objective, while displaying much ingenuity in frustrating French short-term aspirations. However refreshing it may be to find an Englishman rebuking the French for their "penchant for lecturing the Germans" Terence Prittie's Francophobia prevents him from doing full justice to Adenauer's attitude towards de Gaulle. British amour-propre has surely recovered sufficiently from the blow of de Gaulle's veto to allow a more detached reaction to Franco-German relations than that of the jilted suitor. Prittie and Sir Christopher Steele, who argues in a valuable foreword that Adenauer "only settled into petrified hostility to us when he had lost his touch and was blindly trailing de Gaulle," unfortunately share the amiable AngloSaxon assumption that anyone who prefers the French to themselves must be going gaga. Adenauer never lost his touch — his masterly handling of the leadership crisis after the Christian Democrat electoral losses in 1961 revealed all his familiar flair.

The truth was that Adenauer, apart from his enduring commitment to FrancoGerman reconciliation, and his justified distrust of the sincerity of British commitment to Europe, saw clearly that de Gaulle belonged to the distinguished tradition of the Emperior with no clothes. Adenaeur, the supreme realist, diagnosed de Gaulle's quite incurable megalomania. As a result, he mouthed de Gaulle's nonsense rhymes in the realisation that time was on Germany's side. For all of de Gaulle's posturings about power, France can never match German power if Germany chooses to flex her muscles. It is true that Adenauer increasingly despised the British for clinging to illusions of grandeur, which the Germans, under his own resolute leadership, had overcome, but while probably equally despising de Gaulle's illusions, he salvaged a remarkable amount for Germany from them, distracting the General by harmless gestures from attempting any serious deal with Russia or trying to break up the Common Market.

The third consuming passion of Adenauer's life, the destruction of Social Democracy, finds curiously little mention in Prittie's analysis. Indeed, the structure of Prittie's work raises fundamental questions concerning the proper approach towards an Adenauer biography. Adenauer himself boasted, with ample justification, of his ignorance of economics. His prime interest lay in diplomacy, in the simpler task of manipulating people than managing economies. Yet the German voter, except for a vociferous but unrepresentative minority, has never displayed much interest in foreign policy. Like his British counterpart, he relies resolutely at the polls on the promptings of his pocket. Public opinion has proved much more sensitive, both in Weimar and Bonn, to economic than to diplomatic crises. A majority of Germans did support Adenauer's diplomatic initiatives, but without much enthusiasm. In so far as there was any architect of Christian Democrat electoral triumph in 1953 and 1957, it was Erhard, not Adenauer. Prittie never wrestles with the implications of this in assessing Adenauer's indispensability. Like most men who gloat over their ignorance of economics, Adenauer meant he was an extreme capitalist, tempered, in his case, by private charity, the missing link between Christianity and capitalism. Three of his four conditions for becoming a candidate for the Chancellorship in 1921 involved sweeping capitalistic economic initiatives, including an extension of the working day. In 1926 he had the monumental cheek to argue that it was necessary " to educate the many millions of Social Democratic supporters everywhere in the country towards loyalty to the state and to make them responsible citizens " when they were displaying much more responsibility towards Weimar than Adenauer himself. As late as 1932 his projected "middle of the road front" was intended to act as a counterweight not only to the Nazis and Communists but also to the Social Democrats, the only real middle of the road party in the country. After 1945 he excluded social reformers from power in his own party on the grounds that their plans were premature — but then, for Adenauer, social reform was permanently premature unless politically necessary. He could afford a relatively indulgent campaign style against the poorly led Social Democrats in the 1950s, but the mask slipped with the boorish references to the more formidable Willy Brandt in the 1961 campaign.

Adenauer's articulate anti-Prussianism has diverted Prittie's attention from his much more fundamental anti-Socialism, even to the extent of suggesting that he found Kurt Schumacher, his main Socialist rival, particularly inimical " as a Prussian." Flow did Adenauer's alleged anti-Prussianism reveal itself? Not in personal appearance. He shaved the upturned points of his beard Gnly when the Kaiser abdicated; he ordered his sons to follow the Prussian skinhead hair style.

These were not insignificant gestures from a man with such a fastidious sense of personal proprieties that his most galling recollection of the famous interview in which Brigadier Barraclough dismissed him for inefficiency as Mayor of Cologne, was that he had not been offered a chair. He dampened the movement for Rhineland separation after 1920 once the threat of social revolution in Berlin receded. It was Berlin socialism, not Prussian authoritarianism, he detected. He remained an authoritarian at all levels — in the family, in the Cabinet, in the country. But his was the authoritarianism of pre-Bismarckian Prussia. It was through Adenauer that the old Prussian tradition took incongruous revenge on the Kaiser. For the real significance of Adenauer lay in the fact that, in the old Prussian tradition, he was a conservative, not a nationalist.

This, then, is not "the definitive " biography' of the blurb's inflated claim, which Sir Christopher Steele neatly deflates by pointing out that the sources situation precludes any such ambition. It is particularly disturbing to see a blurb from Tom Stacey, so zealous a champion of the monetary moral order, indulging in such pretentious claims. Blurbs apart, and Its too restricted terms of reference and occasional misplaced emphases this is much the best available biography of Adenauer available.