Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution


Part 3: Arab Spring More Like "European Spring of 1848" than Collapse of Communism

SPIEGEL: The statistics reveal considerable differences. Tunisia can't be compared with Yemen. How is it that the spark of revolution still managed to jump to Yemen?

Todd: There is also an example of that in European history.

SPIEGEL: You mean the revolutions of 1848-49?

Todd: Yes. The Arab Spring resembles the European Spring of 1848 more closely than the fall of 1989, when communism collapsed. The initial spark in France triggered unrest in Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, Italy, Spain and Romania -- a classic chain reaction, despite major regional differences.

SPIEGEL: If the Arab world now enters the modern age, will the universal Western values -- such as freedom, equality, human rights and human dignity -- triumph once and for all?

Todd: I would be cautious in that regard. Democratic movements can take on highly different forms, as we can see with the example of Eastern Europe after 1990. (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin undoubtedly has the support of the majority of the Russian people, but does that make Russia a flawless democracy?

SPIEGEL: Where do you draw the boundary of the West?

Todd: In fact, only Great Britain, France and the United States, in that historic order, constitute the core of the West. But not Germany.

SPIEGEL: Are you serious?

Todd: Oh, it's fun to provoke a representative of "the German news magazine." What I'm saying is that Germany contributed nothing to the liberal democratic movement in Europe.

SPIEGEL: What about the Hambach Festival in 1832, the March Revolution in 1848, the national assembly in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt, the 1918 November Revolution, the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, (former Chancellor Konrad) Adenauer's integration with the West and the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 brought about peacefully by the people?

Todd: Okay, the postwar history is all very well and good, but it had to be put into motion by the Western Allies. Everything that happened earlier failed. Authoritarian government systems consistently prevailed, while democratic conditions had already predominated in England, America and France for a long time. Germany produced the two worst totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. Even the greatest philosophers, like Kant and Hegel, were, unlike David Hume in England or Voltaire in France, not exactly beacons of political liberalism. No, Germany's immense contribution to European cultural history is something completely different.

SPIEGEL: And now you're going to say something nice?

Todd: The Reformation -- and, with it, the strengthening of the individual, supported by his knowledge -- and the spread of reading through the printing press -- that's the German contribution. The fight over the Reformation was waged in a journalistic manner, with pamphlets and flyers. The spread of literacy among the masses was invented in Germany. Prussia, and even the small Catholic states, had a higher literacy rate than France early on. Literacy came to France from the east, that is, from Germany. Germany was a nation of education and a constitutional state long before it became a democracy. But Martin Luther also proved that religious reforms did not by any means require the support of a spirit of liberalism.

SPIEGEL: But Germany's Sonderweg, or "special path," has now come to an end.

Todd: Well, I believe that the Germans still feel a secret and, at the same time, slightly narcissistic fear, as if they sensed that they are not quite part of the West. It seems to me that their preferred form of government is the grand coalition, not the abrupt change of power that occurs in France and the Anglo-Saxon countries. Perhaps Germany would rather be like a large Switzerland or a large Sweden, a consensus democracy in which the ideological camps come to resemble one another and the political extended family in the government takes care of everything.

SPIEGEL: What's wrong with that?

Todd: Nothing. The cultural difference between Germany and France shouldn't be buried under avowals of friendship. France is individualistic and egalitarian, at least far more so than Germany, where the tradition of the unequal, authoritarian tribal family still has an impact today, as in the debate over the right maternal image. Perhaps this also explains why Germany, despite its catastrophic birth rate, has so much trouble with immigration, and yet vastly outpaces France with its technical and industrial capabilities.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean that the German-French friendship is merely an illusion?

Todd: No, but the relationship is certainly shaped by an unspoken rivalry. However, if the European Union recognizes its diversity, even its anthropological differences, instead of trying to force everyone into the same mold with the false incantation of a shared European civilization, then Europe will also be able to treat the pluralism of cultures in the world in a reasonable and enlightened way. I'm not sure that the United States can do that.

SPIEGEL: Monsieur Todd, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Romain Leick; Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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