28 JUNE 1963, Page 8

End of an Era

From SARAH GAINHAM CHANCELLOR KONRAD ADENAUER will retire in a month or so, and when the Bundestag reassembles after its summer recess, it will be to appoint Professor Ludwig Erhard, the present Minister of Economics to his office. That this retirement, the outcome of a long and ferocious internal battle, will go off smoothly, is still not certain, for the chairmanship of the Christian Democrat Party is still in the old man's hands and may remain there as a weapon. That prob- lem still awaits the 'party congress. But the re- tirement is a certainty, and it is inevitable that the moment should be one of stocktaking.

When Adenauer first began to dominate Western Germany because of his close acquaintance with the American High Commis- sioner, not least through a relationship by marriage, the Federal Republic did not exist. Its constitution 'for the time being' was being discussed and drafted. The time being is now seen to be a very long time, and perhaps many generations. At that moment, neither this fact nor much of anything else was clear. In the middle of 1948 just over fifty million Germans lived in the three western zones of occupation, something like eight million of them being penniless and homeless refugees from eastern provinces (the total rose to about twelve million by August, 1961) who by themselves represented an almost insurmountable social, political and hygienic problem. Fifty per cent of all dwellings were wrecked beyond habitation, which does not mean they were not occupied; 90 per cent of the labour force of 1936 was producing 40 per cent of the 1936 output. Capital equipment was being dismantled as war booty to the tune of millions of dollars. Rations were under 1,500 calories a day. Hunger was the only law fora people morally destroyed by the madness of Nazism, the total collapse of defeat, the dis- appearance of all administration and the im- position of foreign occupation, which by its own corruption added to the almost total corruption of the occupied area. Money was meaningless and goods and food could be bought only for occupation cigarettes, coffee and alcohol; or for barter; or for favours.

In 1963, as Adenauer ends his fifteen years' domination of German politics, the country is the second largest exporter in the world and has increased the prosperity of its citizens at a speed that even the expansion of the United States did not match in its day. Politically Federal Germany is stable, and is the object of wooing overtures by most of the States of the world, including in secret some Communist ones, either for gifts of money or for political support or both.

Socially the country has changed so greatly that the gap between generations is as great as anywhere hi the world; as deep as that in coun- tries that have jumped from colonial rule to• independence in one generation. This will be a problem of the future.

There is a widespread belief that all this was Adenauer's personal achievement. Among Com- munists it is represented as capitalist and mili- tarist oppression of the workers under the Chancellor's dictatorship; among those of other beliefs it is viewed, often with bitter envy, as Adenauer's personal miracle.

In fact, Adenauer had little to do, directly, with its achievement, or with what is equally considered his achievement in the West German democracy. The constitution of 1949 was written under his chairmanship but under the watchful eyes of the Allied Control Commission, and there is no doubt that the Basic Law, to give it its German name, would have failed to put the individual in the centre of the social order for the first time in German history, had it been drafted unaided by Germans to whom the con- cept was totally foreign. German law and custom were always based on the concept of the State as centre,. protector and administrator of the citizens, who were subjects. This law, except for the repeal of many Nazi laws, remains today the basis of German society; only last year the ten years of work on a new legal code and new police and legal administration was published but it is still far from being enacted. The striking permissiveness of German life in practice is curiously contrary to the theory of German law and exists in healthy and apparently workable tacit argument with it.

The first act that put the human being into the central position he occupies in this society was the economic reform of 1948, beginning with the currency reform, and this was worked out by the Allied Control Commission and the German Economic Council of Trizone--in fact by the Americans and Professor Erhard, for the British and the French were, for different reasons, wedded to controls and planning for Germany.. The plan itself, Erhard's lifework, had the sim- plicity of genius, though the details were com- plex enough. Its essence was to make the consumer the dominating factor of economic society, to produce goods for his choice, and to control raw materials and the formation of capital investment only as far and for as bang as was absolutely essential for the reforms to begin working, and that •by fiscal means. This, and not the constitution, which in the chaotic state of Germany after the war would inevitably have remained a dead letter, was the beginning of a libertarian society. There is no doubt that not only did Adenauer himself have nothing to do with this revolutionary act, but from his many statements on the subject since then it is clear that he did not understand what it meant. Had he understood, his whole nature must have made him suspicious of what was planned, though he might still, with inner reservations, have fur- thered the reforms because they were American- backed and were the unspoken condition of American aid.

The break-through to sound economics was accompanied by two other mass influences which changed German society. The first was the open- ing up of the country to foreign influences, almost wholly bad in the first years and then increasingly healthy and vitalising as the economic food of corruption disappeared. This influence, which continues and increases, is difficult to assess; though it has been very great, only history will be able to measure it. The other factor that undermined an authoritarianism intended to be benevolently restrictive was a phenomenon almost as strange as the economic recovery. No part of society had been so completely destroyed by Nazism, except for the armed forces and politics-, as the press. Yet as soon as ink and paper were available a whole class of journalists appeared who grasped the idea of freedom as a droikning man clutches a lifebelt and who defended it against at least three attempts to enact restricting laws against it. This is the more extraordinary since the Bundestag has not shown a comparable enlightened concern for its own or anyone else's freedom. The German press is conscious, perhaps sometimes priggishly, of its own freedom and of its responsibility; in general .its standards, except in the matter of speed, are much higher than those accepted in Britain and France—which is not to say there are not excep- tions. It seems that men sometimes do learn from their mistakes.

The area of public life dominated by the Chancellor personally, that is, parliamentary life, is the least modern or libertarian part of modern Germany. His one-man rule in the Cabinet reflected itself in the Bundestag, where until very recently the opposition was only a mirror-image of the Chancellor and where the delegates on the whole cared more for their privileges and the sweets of office than for their responsibilities. The Chancellor's appointments were made either to eliminate internal party opposition to himself, or on the basis of competence alone, without concern for morals, past or present. The reason for this, apart from love of power, was the need for continuity, and this was a sound reason in the early years. But 'there have been a number of appointments in Federal Germany which might have been better filled by less competent and more appetising figures. If the Chancellor had not made it clear that he would protect his nominees, no matter what came out about them, many provincial and civil service jobs would have been lost to ex-SS, Gestapo and Nazi Party big shots who provide a continuous stream of old scandals.

All the three factors which have changed Ger- many would have been resisted by the Chancellor if resistance had been within his power; and in the area of freedom that is within his power, the press, he has tried with a consistent obstinacy, equalled only by its lack of success, to restrict that freedom.

What, then, has the old Chancellor really done for his country? Two things that probably nobody else available could have done. He held the ring between the ferocious counter-interests that struggled for riches and influence in the emerg- ing new society. It is too little known that Nazism was based on the bribery of adherents as much as the intimidation of opponents; the standards of public and private life at the end of the war were so low that business probity, simple truth- telling and clean administration were almost un- known. Some of the men who have made modern Germany had been in inward exile during that twelve years, notably Adenauer himself and Pro- fessor Erhard; but to have sacked •all who had been active then would have produced a worse chaos than was already there. The control of that madhouse was a task that only a political genius with a deep. knowledge of human nature and the ability to hold strong men in check like a dompteur could achieve. The Chancellor prides himself on being an arrogant, cunning, cynical patrician; a pious Catholic with no Christian trait except faith; a patriot with a pro- found contempt for his countrymen; a party poli- tician with an iron will, no nerves and an un- shakable belief in his own rightness. He was just the man Germany needed, and he believes that Germany still needs him—he may prove yet to be right and it may be his country's loss that he is now in the eighty-eighth year of his age; for this is the only reason he is retirirg. It is not, of course, the only reason others want his retirement.

Because he demonstrated at once and with complete success that he could control Germany, Adenauer gained and held the confidence of the only friends Germany had in the world—the Americans with their splendid magnanimity and their comprehension, late but complete when it came, that Europe would fall into Communism if they—and they alone—did not act. To under- estimate the service. Adenauer did Germany and Europe in securing and retaining the confidence of the Americans is easy now that Germany is rich and powerful.

The achievement that the Chancellor himself most values is the reconciliation with France; the next few years will show if that is a lasting achievement or whether it would not have been wiser for Germany to aim for a group friendship rather than a concentration on one country of Europe.

When he goes, the Federal Republic will move into a new stage of liberty, that of Cabinet responsibility. He does not believe in it, and it is his most bitter argument against his successor that Erhard will not be able to control the government single-handed, thus proving that he does not understand what is happening now any more than he understood the original steps towards liberty in 1948 and 1949. But without his almost impersonal authority, based on his belief that he is called by a higher power to rule, Germany would not have got this far.

Modern.Germany is probably not a democracy, whatever that debased word may mean; but neither is Italy or France or Austria. But liberty of action, speech and conscience are growing in Germany against steady opposition, up to the standards of those other oddly governed coun- tries. and in some ways beyond them. Adenauer did not mean to make a libertarian society, but he is the supreme example of serendipity in our time. Looking for authority, stability and Catholic morals, he found liberty. .