The Fall of the German Empire

From Italy to Hungary, the European crisis pits nations against a soft imperium, not just illiberals against liberals.


Comments: 191

  1. I usually hang in there with your columns Ross, but this one was a real slog. I can appreciate you throw around a lot of ism's within your essay and try to build up to your usual zinger at the end about how Liberalism is dying on the vine, but you leave out one major aspect to your thesis, which leaves a gaping hole.

    The Middle East has been on fire ( more so than historically ) and in constant war and upheaval ( caused essentially by the U.S. empire ) for the last two decades or so.

    Immigration from the 3rd world to Europe and beyond has exploded ( as their resources get more and more exploited and because of their own wars ) coupled with mass displacement from the wars in the ME. They simply have nowhere to go.

    The buffer nations at the brunt of that migration has suffered and those that have not had robust economies have fallen to radical right win populism. Those countries further away and with more solid economies have faltered a little bit, but are still hanging in there. ( such like Germany, France and so on. )

    Germany has taken in massive amounts of refugees ( in comparison to other countries ) and their economy is still the driving force of Europe. Aye, their ''empire'' might not be as strong historically, but they are not going to go the way of Italy, Hungary or other countries.

    As long as they keep churning out the cars, they will be fine, however maybe not the continuing stream of refugees.

    Maybe we should stop making empire out of war ?

  2. @FunkyIrishman

    "They simply have nowhere to go"

    Obviously, just to Austria, Germany and Sweden.

  3. Mr. Douthat - more to the point, these days, is the fall of the American Empire under its 45th President. We've all studied or lived through the German Empire last century, and have no desire to relive it today -- notwithstanding Angela Merkel's just stewardship. The EU is struggling. Britain after BREXIT is struggling, the Middle-East is struggling, and our country is in the midst of one of the most horrifying breakdowns of empire in our history. Liberalism is not dead yet, not by a long shot, but Trump is doing his damndest to bring down Pax Americana round the world's ears.

  4. I, for one, hope that Pax Americana is brought down, the sooner the better. My country has swaggered and bullied its way around the globe for generations, starting wars, interfering in elections via the CIA, assassinating other countries' elected leaders, taking the side of slaughtering governments (Nikki Haley's full-throated defense of the murder of scores of Palestinians was somewhat typical; usually the U.S. quietly supports, say, a Pinochet or a Sese Seko or a Duvalier or a Saddam Hussein).

    Convince me of the earth's need for a continued Pax Americana...I am all ears.

  5. @Nan Socolow

    Talk about a non-sequitur. Did you have any interest in responding to Douthat?

    Trump is not destroying America.

    He has awakened it from the imperial Presidency known as the Obama years.

    When you run the country without legislative consent and overthrow decades of social consensus, people will fight back. They found Trump to do that bidding for them.

    And if Liberals continue to spit on White, male Americans (and anyone who "clings to religion" or lives away from the coasts), I hope the revolution continues until the Liberals are restored to a voice and not imperial rulers.

    I am not a racist. I did not vote for Trump. And I am not deplorable.

    Liberals had this coming for a long time.

    I am a happy Moderate.

  6. Pax Americana is dying of old age and inabiity to adapt to a new age. Trump is merely a ghoul at the funeral. The new "German Empire" has flourished under the military umbrella of the US, and that age is coming to an end. Either the western Europeans take over that role on their own, or they would do well to study Russian.

  7. I visited Powell's City of Books last week and should have dragged home a recent account of the mess that was Europe between the wars. Especially Germany and eastern Europe, with ineffectual states and the rising, horrific, Soviet Union. My grandparents were smart to swap Vienna for New York.

    The European Union provides a lot of the advantages of the United States (common standards, ease of travel, considerable ease of moving about for education) without having a national government. I suppose Trump would see Europe as being trapped by bureaucracy with no way of making it go away.

  8. Odd that Douthat has nothing to say about reforming the EU's political structure to make it more democratically accountable to member states and their people. A stronger EU parliament with more decision-making power would go a long way towards easing many of the current strains. It's also odd that he writes as if the EU represents the values of liberalism when he's also plain that it's clearly more authoritarian than democratic. There seems to be some muddled thinking here.

  9. Not sure how much Germany really benefited from the bailouts of Greece and the others. Seemed that was more of a face-saving exercise for the southern European countries, to spare them the indignities of defaulting or leaving the Eurozone. The bailouts have had tremendous costs for German taxpayers that will continue for years.

    Also don't think that 're-vitalizing' Germany's society had much do do with Merkel's decision to open up to refugees. It seemed like more of an impulsive decision, motivated by the desire for 'atonement' that Douthat mentions and a woefully naive reading of the political and practical consequences.

  10. If the German empire is falling, there is none who will rise faster, and grow stronger in that region tomorrow.

    Germans were embracing most of the costs of EU, the Mediterraneans were getting most of the benefits (economic and political). No union can sustain spendthrift, irresponsible, and corrupt Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Greece. Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria have kleptocratic authoritarianism in their sociocultural DNA. How can they be part of EU or any union of democracies?

    But I have trouble with the thesis that the German empire is in decline, or that Merkel did something wrong. They are not, she did not.

    The current predicament is temporary. All it calls for is a rethinking of EU, its boundaries, its scope. I can imagine a new EU, this time without the highly corrupt Eastern European appendages, with Germans fully in charge, and a bigger role for Turkey. If the Brits are assured that there will not be Polish language newspapers in Brighton and Dorset, they might think differently about Brexit.

    I have full faith in the German (soft) empire, its economic strength, and yes, in Merkel. If the Germans don't rise, and manage this - who would? Because I do not want to provoke laughter, I wont say France or Italy.

  11. Ask yourself why did Merkel's party received its worst result since 1948 ? Why is the AFD in the Bundestag as the 3rd biggest party and currently in some polls they are leading the socialists, being the 2nd biggest party ?
    Perhaps because of Merkel's open door policy.

  12. Hahaha Germans would never allow Turkey a bigger role!

  13. Kalidan wants an association of worthy states only, perhaps the northwest of Europe only, since he/she scorns all others. I would guess that if. Germany were to move in this direction, some combination of political instability and meddling outsidhe powers in her back yard would soon make her regret it.


  14. There has hardly been a year when the EU has not been on the brink of some crisis: banking, sovereign debt, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and now refugees. You can always point fingers at individual politicians and assign blame. But it is highly implausible that the EU’s serial failures can always be explained as the product of accident and malice.

    I put it down to two catastrophic errors committed during the 1990s and at the beginning of this millennium. The first was the introduction of the euro; the second, the EU’s enlargement to 28 members from 15 a couple of decades ago.

  15. So tell us again just what it was that the eastern countries who joined the EU most recently thought they would be getting. Could it have been protection from Putin's dream of re-establishing the USSR? Or free travel across the continent without even the need to show a passport? Or the right to emigrate to Ireland to work in bars and hotels for much more money than they had made in Poland--in effect becoming economic refugees themselves--ones that the other countries were required by the EU Charter to accept? Clearly it wasn't refugees of color coming to their lands.

    Did they see any down-side to joining the EU or just the up- sides of trade, travel and freedom from Soviet-style "inclusion"? Somehow it's a stretch to feel particularly sorry for them if the deal they made isn't quite as one-sidedly beneficial as they had hoped.

  16. Just read up the treaty changes of the EU since 2004, particularly the Lisbon treaty.
    Otherwise you comment is pointless. The EU was a different project, it wasn't meant to have Junker there with Selmayr appointed through backdoor deals, etc.
    Nor were we told that we should surrender our sovereignty and take in all the migrants from the 3rd world (FYI birth ratio in Nigeria is 8:1).

  17. In an earlier column, Douthat offers a more detailed comparison between America and Europe, an analysis in which ethnic and cultural diversity also feature prominently. For him, as for the political theorists consulted by the Founding Fathers, geographic size and demographic complexity seriously undermine the prospects of a democratic republic.

    Since the success of an open society requires a fairly high degree of mutual trust among its constituent elements, diversity can complicate the response of defeated coalitions in electoral contests. But in America that holds true primarily if political leaders rally their forces around a common ethnic or cultural heritage, rather than around a commitment to the political ideals that unite the community.

    FDR built his coalition on an appeal to ethnic groups and social classes previously denied effective access to political influence, but he anchored that approach in a firm endorsement of America's democratic ideals. The GOP, with its thinly-veiled embrace of ethnic and religious bias, has adopted a strategy which Douthat's analysis cloaks in a false respectability, as if diversity dictated racial conflict.

    Douthat treats the current challenges facing the US as if they stemmed from the permanent character of the country. But America remains a work in progress, a nation which has frequently confronted obstacles as it attempted to convert its founding ideals into a closer approximation of reality. Thus it will always be.

  18. All the European countries that are part of the European project have been acting out of self-interest from the beginning. I'm not sure that "liberalism" has much to do with it. The initial motives were based on: preventing another World War from happening, protecting themselves from the expansionist Soviet Empire, enjoying the economic benefits of membership in the E.U., and having the general feeling that all boats would get lifted with the rising tide of prosperity. Many of the same countries that joined are now making another self-interested calculation about whether membership has as many or more downsides as non-membership.
    I believe that all will eventually confront the fundamental question, "What will produce a better future for our nation?" - self-interest played out within an over-arching sets of rules and regulations or self-interest played out without membership in a larger framework of governance.
    I think the possibility of some of the smaller European countries getting pushed around by their neighbors is much greater if they opt out of the E.U. It's difficult to imagine a fractured Europe without imagining growing regional conflicts and poisonous alliances taking hold on the continent fairly quickly.

  19. As a born, bred and lapsed old school German, I'd like to dispense with the fancy wordisms and simply state that the third German empire will look very much like the other two.

    Despite Douthat's thesis that the third empire 'has been built slowly and painstakingly across three generations', the beasts of 'racist mysticism' and 'militarism' have not been 'repudiated', but have slumbered in their cave until such time they can be awoken and celebrated again. That time is now.

    The Zeitgeist of Populism plays perfectly into the ethos. One has only to witness the revival of old pagan rituals, like Krampus Nacht to understand how firmly and passionately the ideals of the old German Empires are still embraced - especially by the young.

    What's missing in Douthat's piece is that kind of passion and it's that kind of passion that's missing from any analysis that fails to understand the attraction of populism. That it has taken such a dark turn here as well as there, is a sign of the times in which all of our real fears about very real challenges, have not been honestly addressed by the complacent ruling classes.

    Instead of outrage at the dark passions that bring a man like Trump to the fore, liberalism needs to muster the other kind of passion - one that soars - addresses the great fears of our time and gives us something to work for instead of against. Unless it can do that, those here and those in Germany will go where the fire is even if its burning down the house.

  20. What's wrong in celebrating one's heritage ?
    Deutsch Land means land of the German, instead should we celebrate the Ramadam ? has nothing to do with us.

  21. that last paragraph is a good prescription for the Democratic Party this Fall and 2020...would that they would follow through on it...

  22. Well, Mimi, you must be even more oldfashioned than me -I'm German and 79 years old, and I think you're talking through your hat.

    Krampus is more like Hallowe'en than anything else. Not to worry.

  23. There is no German empire, so there need be no fall. Your "straw dog" empire argument wins over an illusion, but in reality, people organize into groups and that dynamic always changes.
    But our American Empire, now that fall, if it continues, rivals that of Rome, or Greece, or Moscow. They all eventually aligned with the wealth rather than the national spirit, and the wealthy divided and conquered their own country, exactly as Trump and the American oligarchs are doing. Write about our fall, which is real, the encouragement of dangerous divisions that give rise to successful elections but destroy our national unity.
    The EU is a noble try. May they get it right sooner or later.
    Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon

  24. Straw dog?
    You mean strawMAN.
    I've never in my life heard of this fallacy being called a straw dog. Or a straw dog existing anywhere in any context.

  25. Where is it written that the political future of the EU must be prescribed by the tired bureaucracies of Germany and France, both of which are living mainly off US war and post-war beneficence?

    Western Europe (and the US) allowed Eastern Europe to languish for decades behind an Iron Curtain, in the grips of a nonsensical totalitarian state built on evil, and now that the US under Reagan succeeded in wresting the vassal states from Russia, Western Europe suddenly complains that the Eastern states don't toe their dirigiste visions.

    In Europe, there are more real democrats in the East than in the West.

  26. “Allowed?”. As if the Iron Curtain was a western construct?

  27. Western Europe "allowed" Eastern Europe to "languish" behind an Iron Curtain? What alternate reality are you living in. Hungary, 1956. Czechoslovakia 1968. Yeah, Western Europe should have gone to war with the Warsaw Pact to stop Eastern Europe from 'languishing" behind the Iron Curtain. Boy, some people...

  28. I challenge the whole premise of the article, and see NO defense of Poland's and Hungary's abandonment of Western Democracy. The EU should, as a clear message and to re-assert its moral authority, expel both nations for violating that fundamental requirement of membership.

    The message of the EU from the fall of the Iron Curtain was: You can be part of our economic prosperity and growth but you MUST guarantee your nation a Western Democracy and open your doors to your EU neighbors. The Czech Republic and Slovakia peacefully separated and both were admitted to the EU. But instead of such peaceful separation, the former Yugoslavia broke into component states and set off the worst slaughter in Europe since WWII.

    Seems like an obvious choice: Be democratic (small D), peaceful and prosper in the EU, or kill each other and starve.

    But Douthat blames Germany, the archetypal success story of that Marshall Plan, and I just don't get that. Yes, THE richest and most populous state in the EU will have the strongest voice.

    What REALLY needs to happen is a new, federalist European Union convention because the current High Commission system isn't really working. 40 years ago, the polls of the 9 states then were willing to have a transnational executive even if that person wasn't from their own nation. Despite everything, the EU is still a confederation, and maybe it needs to be more of a federation. The border of the EU nations needs to be the "border" for ALL the member states.

  29. Modern populism doesn't represent an overt rejection of the abstract liberal project. Douthat says himself the European Union has been hovering on the brink of dissolution since the Great Recession. Nationalism and identity certainly play a role. However, the entire crisis is inherently economic in nature. Racial and ethnic resentment blur the lines. The lack of refugee and immigrant assimilation is a touch point for tension. A unique nation state wants citizens to uphold a pride in their history and values.

    More simply though, immigrants and refugees are seen as hitching a free ride to security and prosperity. Those in place resent their intrusion on what they see as a multi-generational work of labor. Those watching from the outside ask why someone else suddenly deserves a fast track to prosperity simply because their country of origin is a war torn mess. They are already struggling in place but are deemed unworthy of assistance. The Great Recession austerity measures only reinforce this narrative.

    The would-be Putins are taking advantage of the situation. However, populism's core origins relate to liberalism's failure to provide economic relief in light of disaster. Much the same could be said about populism in the US. If our efforts at recovery weren't so anemic and unequal, most of the class and ethnic resentment coursing through our country today would never exist. Trump, as a would-be Putin, is taking full advantage of the situation and making it worse.

  30. The emperors are not German politicians, but German banks. The semi-disguised project of the eurozone, and of globalization in general, is to replace democratic rule with market rule, or at least to redefine the relationship between the two to the latter's advantage. The eurozone has a bit more integrity than our various trade agreements, in that it recognizes that eliminating borders for capital requires you to eliminate them for citizens--otherwise borders become simply a another tool to force populations to compete with each other for corporate blessings. But both are a kind of official corruption in which economic interests are allowed to write rules limiting democracy. There was never any scenario in which this was not going to produce enormous ethnic/nationalist and economic tensions. Whether the problems & contradictions of the project are humanely solveable or not, they cannot even be addressed unless we are honest about what the goals are and what they require us to give up.

  31. It’s less the banks than it is large German corporations and strong industry associations. Many, many, many jobs to be defended.

  32. When reading here how German banks puppet-master the Euro Empire, one would expect them to be high and mighty. Is the "Deutsche Bank" even in the world-wide Top-10? Not anymore, they burnt too much money with US mortgage-backed security junk certificates.

  33. This is one of the more insightful articles I've read about what's happening on the eastern frontier of the EU. As an American who's been living in Budapest off and on since 1992, I can say without reservation that the average Hungarian is much better off now than was the case ten years ago. That's largely because Orban and Fidesz have wisely spent the billions that the EU has sent to Hungary on projects that benefit the people. There's no question that corruption is rampant behind the scenes, but truthfully post-1989 Budapest has never looked more beautiful than it does today.

    Douthat is exactly correct when he notes that nationalism is the driving force in Poland and Hungary - a notion that's anathema to most Germans today. The Hungarians feel, rightly or wrongly, that they're finally allowed to be themselves, after many centuries, and they don't want to surrender that to another Emperor in Vienna or Berlin.

    When these bad years we're living through are finally behind us and Putin, Trump, and the rest are on the trash heap of history, we in the West need to be much more sensitive to the deep feelings that our friends in Central and Eastern Europe cherish about their nation states.

  34. What will Orban do when Hungary is sanctioned by the EU for anti-EU policies? That's a pretty big financial hit. Hungary is a net taker, not a net giver. And when all those Hungarian workers come home...

  35. The EU is not an empire. Countries all voted to join and are free to leave whenever they want like the UK did. Southern and Eastern European countries remain EU members because the liberal policies of the EU have delivered them significant tangible benefits and they know it.

    The fact is, with the US and China both becoming more illiberal, small countries all around the world are going to be squeezed unless they can band together to reduce their dependence on the US and China. We are penalizing foreign countries and people for doing business with countries we don’t like, and China is penalizing them for saying things China doesn’t like. Without Brussels, smaller European countries are simply going to find themselves being dictated to by Washington and Beijing instead.

  36. It's not by accident that the European Central bank is located in Frankfurt....and the bank drives all the economic policies for the Euro and more often than not to the advantage of Germany. "Free to leave" is a misnomer - free to leave with enormous penalties and numerous threats is more like it.

  37. Beijing has made considerable inroads into Europe as a result of austerity policy - a fire sale of state assets has been very welcoming to the Chinese who have been busy buying up infrastructure.

  38. There is no German empire. Another straw man creation by Douhat.

  39. Starting with references to Bismark and Hitler: in a sense, Godwin's Law was achieved in the first paragraph.

  40. No, Selmayr was appointed as a result of a democratic vote. So are the ECB president and the EC president.

  41. Two factors at play: (1) the battle between some form of centralization, where economic and military strengths are advanced, and localism, where cultural factors predominate, will always sway back and forth, in the EU, in the US, in China, in India. This is a swing back to localism in many areas and will probably swing back, as countries begin once again confront each other and value some form of cooperation. (2) Much of the battle exists between internationalists is all countries, people who predominantly live in cities, travel and are boistered by international cultural and economic influences, and traditional, rural populations, poorer and more involved in their local culture. The growing internationalization of the world will increasingly cause rifts between the two, but the growth of internationalism will not stop. Eventually, the EU will need to form a political organization similar to the US, which, despite the large rifts between the urban and more rural populations, has developed the best balance so far between regional and local political entities.

  42. The EU is yet another failed 20th century institution that is cracking under the pressures of the 21st century.

    If it exists in five years, it will be unrecognizable.

    If it exists in ten years, it will be a miracle.

    It is simply not up to the challenges of the new era, and its very structure is antithetical to the decentralized model of the 21st century that is required to deal with the rapidly changing, VUCA world that we've created.

    It has been remarkably under-reported, due to all the other turmoil in the world these days, but Europe will be one of the biggest threats to global stability in the coming decade, and that's saying something.

    And Germany is entering treacherous waters.

    These are extraordinary times.

  43. Keep dreaming. The EU will be here long after Italy leaves it - and begs to join it again after their voters are jolted back to what it means for Italy to go it alone...and finally having to pay for all its wasteful habits. It reminds me of the Welsh, demanding money from Ireland to pay for Welsh roads and infrastructure. Why? Well, because people use those roads to get to Ireland via ferry. LOL It also reminds me of British counties which sent notices to Whitehall demanding money because they were going to lose millions in EU funds. Get real - Italy needs the EU more than the EU needs Italy.

  44. "Europe will be one of the biggest threats to global stability in the coming decade"

    The way Trump has been conducting his foreign policy it is the United States which is the greatest threat to global stability RIGHT NOW.

    While the EU certainly isn't perfect, I am much more hopeful about the EU than the path the US is on right now.

  45. The EU is failing? Nope. Not my reckoning.

    From most or all of my personal encounters with random citizens who are living and being within EU domains, I think they rank ahead on a number of personal and interpersonal measures. Also in my thinking and experience, the EU citizens I have encountered are way ahead of my equally random personal encounters (and subjective evaluations) with citizens of the US of A.
    I admit that there could be potential bias, skewing or whatever, and I am not ignoring it. Maybe I'm wrong. This ain't science right here. It's my personal experience. But I have traveled a lot. Again, I'm just saying what I have experienced.

    To restate my reaction to your position: The EU is not failing - relative to how and as much as the US is failing. Blunderbussing is not effective anymore.

    To further restate my position: My experience is not as you describe, as the EU citizens I have met are, well, more evolved. Methinks America is devolving.

  46. Please realize that the Germans have universal health care, a first rate transportation infrastructure and a democracy that is more representative than the one we have here. Just sayin'.

  47. "universal health care"

    Yeah, after an income of EUR 65 k I pay taxes close to 50% just from my gross.

    If im going to the doctor I will get an appointment with the specialists months later, as the waiting times are long, everybody who never paid a penny is taken.

    Is this fair ? I would say its not.
    Be careful what you wish for.

  48. Anecdotes! The European health care systems deliver better average care at lower costs than the US. And people live longer in Europe.

  49. At one time - not too long ago, people praised hitler’s regime because the trains ran on time -

  50. it is not the fall of a German Empire or Liberalism that is at stake right now. It is the fall of the human race. And the false assumption that it is due to a rise in Populist leaders. These leaders, including Trump, are no Populist leaders. They are tyrants.
    And Trump the Tyrant is ruining everything this country is supposed to stand for. Keeping our word to our allies. Keeping his word that he would help the lower and middle classes. Keeping his word that there would be better health care.
    That tax Reform would not help people like him.
    Trump and people like him around the world are what is contributing to civilizations downfall. Not Angela Merkel and The so called German Empire

  51. I have lived in Germany for over a decade and I can tell you they are the last ones (politicians and voters) who aspire to or regard their country as some kind of empire.

    I would suggest that if any empire is crumbling before our eyes it's the United States in terms of lost influence and inward looking policies per medium of Trump and his GOP.

    The German grand coalition brings together the two largest parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) once again to govern "for the sake of the country" Neither party is thrilled about it but that's how it happens here - they get on and make it work. Imagine that in the USA?

    As usual the Germans are organized and have their heads down manufacturing and selling to China and other countries where the USA is (sorry to say) busy spending it's energy whining.

  52. Your letter makes the authors point exactly however. Even if imperialism in not the Germans intention, it is the clear result. Its not by chance the Germans are doing so well in the EU system, and its not simply the result of better work habits, investment , schools, policies etc. The US Constitution protects a number of "states rights" which the EU can run roughshod over. Many of these are atavistic, even objectionable, but with the one major exception of slavery, has allowed the USA to progress as a united nation that never countenanced dissolution. Germany is simply going to have to make compromises in its effective authority and influence in the EU to sustain it. Merkels handling of the immigration crisis was beyond obtuse, its was an arrogant blunder.

  53. Germany is muddling through. If you are the third largest economy in the world, you have to take a leadership position and that means being proactive, not just sticking your head in the sand and letting the world around you crumble to pieces.

    This has nothing to do with empire building and everything with responsible leadership. The major German political parties are decadent, the people have become self-righteous and complacent at the same time, which is basically another definition of decadent. The metamorphosis of the AfD, which used to be a party founded by intellectuals with a primary economic focus says it all. It has been hijacked by populists who needed a party structure, but were too incompetent to build one on their own. I has now become the counter reaction against the hapless bumbling of Angela Merkel's "leadership".

    And the middle keeps bumbling along with her until the country will completely crumble to pieces.

  54. @Realworld: My ten years in Germany also back up what you are saying. Germans are the last people who strive to dominate others. They do so simply because they are mostly educated, hard-working, organized, and have a strong belief in solidarity and community. They are great at logical thinking and devising efficient government systems. They are thrifty and don't like debt. They are conscientious and honorable. They believe in the democracy they have built and want peace and prosperity among nations.

    We Americans could learn a lot from them. Instead, people in positions of power like Douthat's are trying to poison Americans against Germany and the EU. To what end? To alienate us entirely from democratic values and democracy? To drive us toward Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi -- the macho strongmen who run authoritarian countries? What would be the advantage for the American people in living under the one-party dictatorship of Trumpublicans?

    We are already losing our freedoms to the Trumpublican way, and the Guardian reports that the right-wing is planning an all-out assault soon on union memberships, forging a plan to target union members and persuade them to stop paying dues and surrender their memberships. Germany has strong unions and a prosperous middle-class. Their standard of living is better than the American standard. Yet, Trumpublicans want us to give up even more of our bargaining power and become lone specks of human dust, helpless against the money of the oligarchs.

  55. Angela Merkle's unilateral decision to let in over two million migrants/refugees into Europe and then demand that other EU countries take them in or face financial penalties - is perhaps the best example of Germany as Empire - combine this with the draconian approach to debt in places like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy (at the behest of German Banks) and it has all the hallmarks of an empire doomed to fail. It's not only this new German Empire that is failing - but in its wake - democracy in Europe as we have come to know it (see elections in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and the Brexit vote).

  56. Ross - where I can’t join your sympathy for the countries with a heritage of being dominated by the empires of the past is this: If they like their nation state so much and object to the trans-nationalism and it’s values of the European project, just don’t join the EU and receive, oh so willingly, financial support. When a French or German or Danish tax payer finances these countries, they accept distribution of means flowing from their local area to some far away country in support of a greater - peace and union enabling - identity. I don’t think it’s asked to much to get something in return - the support of the European Union through integrative government.

  57. @Kreon
    Its funny when an American without the slightest idea how the EU works, tries to opine in a way which fits his/her worldview.

    The cohesion funds what you are citing, actually are mainly financing infrastructure projects: 50% EU funds %)% local gov. Guess where are the company's from which will build the EUR 2 bn bridge in Romania ?

    On the other hand, these eastern countries had to open up their much less competitive markets to western companies. Local shops closed, you have all over Aldi, Billa, Spar and Tesco.
    No, did you wonder where the profit is going to ???

  58. Angel Merkel is Germany's problem, has been since she came into power. She is a weak leader, revered by too many of her citizens who prefer to stick their heads in the sand or run like sheep after their blind and clueless "leader". As long as Wolfgang Schaeuble was around as her finance minister, Angela Merkel had a responsible competent helper to guide her. However, since Fukujima occurred, she has made one disastrous decision after the other. She allowed the refugee crisis to build up and when it finally collapsed under its own weight, she allowed it to wash over Europe. When a leader calls herself 'alternativlos', i.e. saying there was nothing she could do about it, that leader should resign in the same breath.

    Angela Merkel effectively destroyed Europe and she continues to weaken its remnants as long as she hangs around.

  59. This piece along with Mr. Friedman's today, illustrate the complexity of the world we now live in--with a whole host of economic, cultural, and national motives swirling around each continent. In fact, the level of complexity, makes every thoughtful strategy problematic. And then we come to our current administration led by a man whose every problem is solved with a hammer and his band of thoughtless ideologues---what could go wrong.

  60. The world is, indeed, complex which as ACJ points out makes any governing strategy problematic.

    However, in terms of our own leader, if the country or at least the majority of voters does not agree with him or his tactics, they can vote him out in 2020.

    We can go back to having the liberal, world view running our country---and get nothing accomplished.

  61. Ross supports sovereignty, but like many with him, sovereignty really means the hope of advancing his cause by weakening the status quo. Not so much a plan forward as a hope that chaos will provide more opportunity for an agenda not spelled out clearly, and not popular enough to gain support on its own.

    A poor plan.

  62. Can the EU survive without Italy? Yes. Can Italy survive without the EU? Good question. Perhaps there will be more incentive to transform it stultifying bureaucracy and black market sector into something more robust and beneficial. But, knowing Italy, not too likely, meaning that Italy loses its EU friends, but its government keeps bumbling along. The rest of the EU? It will do fine. And if it jettisons Hungary - well, good for sending a message to the rest of the EU - and when all those Hungarians working in Europe return home unhappy - BOOM! Things will change because Hungary needs the EU more than the EU needs Hungary - or Poland, or Romania...

  63. Ross, you didn't need to invent this grandiose dialectic of a third German Empire to state your point: rural communities in the US and Europe are resentful about the rapid economic and cultural changes that are leaving them behind. Substitute rural for local and educated for liberal cosmopolitan and your column makes sense.

    Just want to point out local/nationalist politics has been the basis for ALL the European wars since the 1850's including WW1 and WW2. You can see why the "liberal cosmopolitans" are sounding the alarm bells.

  64. Send me your subsidies but don't try to engineer our nations heritage!! Individuals, families, tribes, states and nations in that order. That is the major distribution lines. What happens when the strong decide, lets establish a common new line and wipe out the main barrier to it, the nation state. How can we do that? We buy them off with aid and subsidy. It was ever thus and continues to be so. Resentment builds as the strings tighten. Just look at California now acting as an independent nation as the Trump machine seeks to apply its policies to their state. Look at individuals. That desire for indentity and freedom of movement is universal. It takes sugar ((that addictive food))or money to buy people off. But eventually, eventually it isn't sufficiently satisfying, so revolt. Resistance. Push back.

    Give me the money, keep the push to eliminate my family, my tribe and my state identity. So say so very many, over and over again.

  65. The EU crisis, like the U.S., stems from neoliberal policies that enrich the large banks of Frankfurt, London, and Paris at the expense of the middle class. There's a racial component—anti-immigrant sentiment; regional—Northern Europe vs. Southern and Eastern; and political—the cosmopolitan liberalism of Merkel and Macron vs. populist nationalism. Just as corporate America maintains its firm grip on the Red States, European banks still run the economies of Italy, Greece, and Poland, if not the politics.

  66. I agree that sovereignty is a strong factor in the recent trends in Europe, but it's not the only one.
    Does anyone think the immigation issues would be so wrenching if the immigrants were French citizens fleeing the high cost of croissants in Paris? The problem is not alone who controls immigation, but the tragic fact that the number of immigrants is huge, and are separated by vastly different language, culture, religion, social mores and education. Add to that the terrorism worries, real or inflated, and the objections are not merely based on political science.

    The other problem comes from the right. You acknowledge yourself that the economic solutions to the Great Recession of fiscal austerity and cuts to the safety net, were inappropriate to many of the southern and eastern countries of Europe. Well, where did those ideas come from? They are the brainchild of the right. The low tax, small government, safety net doubting, theorists of the right percoluated these failed economic policies, which drove many of the weaker economies against the greater Europe. And now, the right is attempting to duck the blame by pointing fingers at imperial central planning. Yes, central planning doesn't work, but having bad ideas that are core to the right made the problems exponentially worse.

  67. An unusually insightful column from Douthat. Calling Germany today an 'Empire' sounds extreme. But is it?
    Germany that imposed austerity on the southern countries - countries it had encouraged to join the (Deutschmark-based) Euro precisely so that they would bring down the cost of the currency and thus boost German exports.
    The financial and social cost to these countries of being unable to devalue currency to get out of the crisis – ironically largely caused by the reckless behaviour of German banks - was ignored. Yet Germany has maintained the fiction up (repeated in some comments) that these countries deserve their problems and that Germany is propping them all up.
    In reality, the exodus from the South meant that Germany was able to fill vacancies in engineering and medicine with Spaniards, Italians and Greeks whose educations had been provided by their taxpayers. In reality, Germany is buying up prime state property, such as Greece’s airports, for peanuts. In reality, Germany follows a tight monetary policy for itself despite huge surpluses, in defiance of the how the euro should function.
    Germany insists on a Germancentric policy that has undermined the EU. But this is the central flaw in the EU: its citizens only vote nationally, not for European-wide leadership. Just as the ‘small’ countries insist on sovereignty, so German politicians feel beholden only to their own voters. They seem to have forgotten that noblesse oblige.

  68. The term empire is totally misplaced. Germany naturally is the dominant political and economic power in Europe. But it forces no other nation to join the EU. The benefits of the EU are mutual. And it’s China (a true emerging empire) that buys up ports and other major infrastructure in Greece.

  69. I wonder if perhaps it might not be best for Germany - and for its Northern European neighbors - that this so-called German empire dissolve. These countries enjoy the world’s highest standard of living, and as Ross states, Berlin’s economic and immigration diktats have understandably caused resentment in other European nations. Who needs the headache? It’s not as though a larger EU wields enormous influence on the world stage (Trump’s recent shenanigans have sadly shown proof of that). And Germany and its more affluent neighbors wield significant economic power already. Again, who needs the headache?

    The tension that Ross writes about is certainly real. My own European relatives change against what they see as arrogance by Europe’s ruling class. I’m generalizing a bit, but the European elite tend to hand down edicts in the name of lofty abstractions (our elites do so too, just a different set of abstractions)....and frankly I don’t see that changing. Perhaps a smaller project is best for all.

  70. Trump is planning to pull the U.S. out of NATO in the next year or two. Europe needs to build up militarily - with German leadership - or it will be swallowed by the Trump-Putin onslaught. Even if Trump does not 'formally' withdraw, be certain that when Putin's troops gobble up the Baltics and Poland (with Trump approval), that Trump will renege on the U.S. NATO role to help defend Europe.

  71. Funny. As I recall, numerous conservative economists recommended exactly the type of austerity measures Mr. Douthat decries Germany for supporting in the fiscal crises in Greece, Spain et al. The same here in the U.S. in the wake of the 2008 debacle that nearly wrecked the banking system. The alternative course of action supported by Keynesian economists with government intervention via deficit spending and increasing the money supply was just as loudly opposed by the GOP here. Their lack of support likely added years of pain to the U.S. recovery. But that is fine because they could then use it to blame the Democrat president for their own obstruction and put Trump in the White House.

    Empires and illiberalism indeed.

  72. Our nation including Mr, Trump should look to Germany as one of the few European countries not only holding together effectively its democracy but also attempting to maintain an ethical and moral posture. How I wish we could have the likes of an Angela Merkel at the helm of our country's ship. (Actually, we almost did.) But alas we have allowed ourselves to sail into The Perfect Storm by a ship of fools residing in DC's People's House.

    To suggest that Germany will "fall" is a weak attempt to distract us from the fact that America itself is sinking and crumbling. Each day, each minute, Mr. Trump and his sycophants chip away at the moral fiber on which this country was founded. Without ethical and honest leadership we, too, will go down in infamy as a fallen empire.

  73. I'm not so sure about how truly sound is Germany's democracy: with AfD getting 1/8th of the legislature, Merkel spending a year trying to form a government, and polls showing SPD and CSD losing ground to CDU and AfD; I'm more confident in Germany's democratic fragility than its strength.
    There is a real chance that Germany will split into two in the next decade, with Bavaria, Pallatine, and Rhineland splitting off from "greater Prussia".

  74. Unfortunately, while Trump makes it possible to see our country's "sinking and crumbling" in glaring lights, social and political deterioration takes several generations. It started well before Trump and will continue on after him because the causes are deeper than any President. He is the symptom, not the illness.

  75. Haberdash

    If anyone in Europe is dreaming of restoring an Empire it's Macron who tries, Jupiter-like, to return La Gloire de la France .

  76. The "triumph" of rationalist, enlightenment values would mean the end of humanity.

    Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker and others have been writing lately of the inexorable trend toward greater happiness resulting from these so-called "enlightenment" values.

    But perhaps TINA ("There is no alternative") is a myth based on these very same rationalist delusions.

    The idea that there is another option beyond pallid liberal universalism (sound and fury signifying nothing - lacking the "fire" that Steven Hawking said was missing in the equations of physics) on the one hand, and Douthat's reactionary conservatism, is almost inconceivable for today's intelligentsia.

    But the times are indeed a-changing. Michael Pollan, a near life-long exponent of aforesaid rationalism, has his views profoundly shaken after a 2 year exploration of psychedelics.

    Barbara Ehrenreich, in yet another hysterical screed against mind-body integration (in her unnaturally named "Natural Causes"), unwittingly undoes her entire life work by ascribing agency not only to cells, but to subatomic particles throughout the universe.

    World class neuroscientist Christof Koch essentially undoes 3 centuries of rationalist catechism in his turn toward panpsychism (along with numerous other neuroscientists finally coming to terms with the incoherent irrationality of the materialist faith).

    Cultures cannot cohere without meaning. Neither liberalism nor retrogressive conservatives provides it.

  77. Germany has ceased to be an empire in 1918. It is also a pretty outdated term to describe modern national or international relations. To describe the EU as a German empire hits me as ludicrous in many ways. But most disturbing is the enumeration: third empire. Why would Ross use that number that undoubtedly readers will associate with the 3rd Reich?

  78. Bravo! A really wonderfully written column, fascinating and insightful. My gut tells me that Mr. Douthat's analysis of the political dynamic in the EU is exactly right.

  79. Of course, Germany has a system superior to the US and is not involved in war games on the Korean Peninsula that threaten world peace. Germany has also not been involved in longterm wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Fascists around the world might be rebelling against liberal democracy, which is something that happens from time to time, the reality is that liberal democracy is best for the world, especially one that is not based on military imperialism.

  80. We might also want to point out that Germany has, for the past 73 years has been living under the security umbrella of NATO without having to pay a significant portion of its GDP for its own defense.

    The engine of the German economy has been subsidized greatly by the American taxpayer and the American soldiers stationed in Germany helping the German economy prosper.

  81. My, Anthony, you would almost certainly be the first to rub our noses in our history of slavery, which officially ended 155 year ago (and you might be right to do so), but you seem to bypass the history of Germany over the last century (the worst part of which ended only 73 years ago) in an effort to announce to your world how good Germany is in comparison to the very bad U.S.A.

  82. I’m sorry, but the statement that Germany was not involved in Afghanistan and Iraq is simply not true. They were “coalition partners” with the US as described by our own military and have contributed both combat and training cadres.

  83. Should any American really be spending time criticizing other countries these days?
    We have become a global joke due to the GOP and their leader.

  84. Germany is a model modern country with a few warts: a rich country, well-educated, well-managed, excellent roads, infrastructure, mass transportation and affordable healthcare....so why not throw it under the bus, Ross, for trying lend a helping hand to migrants ?

    A little global context would be nice.

    Who overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh of liberal Iran in 1953 for oil, Ross, and set in motion a destructively conservative, religious chain of events for that country for the next 65 years ?

    The United States and Britain.

    Who obsequiously coddled medieval Saudi Arabia for decades and championed the supremacy of the American gas guzzler cars and demonized public transit as oil money funded the global spread of destructive Wahhabism that produced the religious fanaticism of Sept 11 2001 ?

    The good ole' USA.

    Who blew up a very secular Iraq by force in 2003 based on forged evidence and created the seeds for ISIS to grow and blow up Syria ?

    The USA and its puppy dog Tony Blair and the Allies.

    Of course, the the Middle East also owns a share of the blame for its own destructive religious ways and for refusing to enter modernity, but the USA has been a handmaiden of reliable oil-based Middle Eastern disaster and instability.

    What the world needs is less destructive American petro-politics, more solar and green energy, less religion and a Manhattan project for global female rights featuring free modern contraception for all.

    Wake up !

  85. Whew! You almost made it an entire post without the obligatory and nonsensical attack on peoples spiritual and religious beliefs. You had me worried. But I knew you would come through in the end.

  86. Canada is no longer a puppy dog but a society that tries to embody the values of the European social charter, the comprehensive welfare state nowhere acknowledged in the entire bloated bloviating of Ross Douthhat.

  87. I echo Concernicus' comment, minus the religion part.

  88. Ross, I always enjoy your columns, and often agree except when you get too Catholic for me. No offense, but I am not religious and sometimes have a problem following someone who is obviously very bright and then goes off into what I consider to be "la la" land . Nevertheless, you are often attacked mercilessly by Times readers, for no good reason,often, and I think that many of these obsessively liberal commenters owe you apologies. All that said, this was one of your very best columns. I am in Vienna, as we speak, and my impression of most Europeans that I have met (many) is that by and large on a personal level they are very tolerant, but nevertheless they have a legitimate view that immigration on an excessive scale is a great problem, culturally, economically, environmentally, and on and on. They are not racist for having this view. There are many in America who also have this view regarding our own country and in my view they are correct. And there are those who have this view who absolutely loathe Donald Trump.

  89. Douthat quotes, approvingly, Branko Milanovic's assertion that "the nation-states that emerged from '89 tended to be ethnically homogeneous." Even granting that a weasel word like "tended to" leaves room for evasive argument, this is obvious nonsense - practically none of these states are ethnically homogeneous. The three Baltic states have sizable Russian minorities, Poland has a German one, Slovakia has Hungarian as well as Sinti-Roma mnorities, the Czech Republic has its Roma-Sinti population as does Hungary, and do we really have to dicuss former Yugoslavia with its patchwork of ethnic groups that does not coincide with national boundaries anywhere? Milanovic's argument needs to be stood on its head: the illiberal, obnoxious nationalism virulent in some of these countries is fuelled not by pride of national identity but by a deep insecurity about that identity, caused not least by the presence of the ethnic minorities whose existence Milanovic ignores.

  90. Sorry, but Douhat is correct. These countries all have a very strong ethnic homogenous core with some minorities who have lived there for centuries, in the mix and mach of empires, and who share pretty much the same values.

  91. Actually there is little or nothing new or insightful in this analysis, unless you don’t read much. Germany is the leading power on the continent in the west, and eu policies have downsides. What’s more interesting is douhatt ‘s clear separation of liberal democracy from conservatism. It used to be that modern conservatism embraced free markets and free governments. But there is an older conservative tradition that embraces autocracy and sees both capitalism and democracy as threats. Much of that ultra montane thinking has remained holed up in the Roman Catholic Church. Ross here casts his hierarchical distain at free markets, liberal democracy and implicitly Protestantism. In doing so of course he amusingly overlooks 1776, 1789, 1848, 1860-65, 1914-18, and 1940-45. The eu is a response to devastating wars that Europeans, even degaulle, hoped not to repeat even at the cost of some restrictions on nation state power. Ross’s evident preference for Franco style self autonomy is delusional.

  92. Good analysis. Two things that could go a long way towards fixing things: 1. Make the Euro a reserve currency for all of Europe and let the nations reissue their domestic currencies that float against the Euro. This would loosen German induced austerity and enable inflation where needed. Crypto currencies could fill this role but with problems; however, further imperial intransigence might push the smaller nations in this direction. 2. Give Syria back to the Syrians. This could induce a new war in the Middle East if Russia opposes but Russia is no match for NATO if all of Europe and the US insist. Syria will not be solved with force of arms, it needs fresh water which will be the key to success. All of the region needs more fresh water than it has and designing a water system with desalinization at its heart would do much to stabilize the area.

  93. The major divide between Europeans, as well as Americans, is economic. It's the divide between those making major profits from corporate takeover of governments and from cheap labour supplied by refugees, and the average working folks squeezed by immigrants as well as Brussels and Berlin.

    Just before he died in 1945, FDR warned about corporate takeover of government. He wanted to remove the industrialists and military brass from government and replace them with folks more closely linked to the majority of Americans. But he died before he could manage it. Corporations, world wide, have been growing increasingly powerful these last 70 years, maximizing profits, building a strong upper middle class as a buffer between the 1% of very wealthy and the common folk.

    Democracy has deteriorated as international corporations run governments as corporations, cutting cost inefficiencies. Sovereignty is weakened as wealth has been concentrated in fewer hands. The middle class struggles to better itself. Workers suffer from stagnant wages. The poor are no longer a priority, dismissed with social welfare programs that provide only a subsistence.

  94. No formal empire, but Eastern European EU members were stuck with unfavorable monetary and immigration policies which served German interests. Their societies were insular under Communism - now expanded interaction with more powerful neighbors to the west threatens their national identity and they turn to nationalist populism. Germany would be wise to learn from the example of the post-WW II Bretton Woods institutions, which sought to eliminate the structural causes of fascism by striking a balance between domestic stability and international exchange.

  95. To Paraphrase: But if the test of America's [Europe’s] unity feels like a test for liberal democracy, it’s a mistake to see it only in those terms. It is also a struggle of Individual States [nations] against the last century of centralizing Government [empire], of the Small/Red States [Continent’s smaller countries] against Large/Blue States [German] mastery and Coastal [Northern European] interests, in which Republicans/Populists [populist parties] are being elected to resist policies the Democrats [center] sought to impose upon the periphery without a Bipartisan vote. Excluding of course, the 2016 popular vote, and the Obama Presidency. Thus, Anti-German Rhetoric aside, the regions on both continents that have prospered most over the last few decades have a choice of whether to engage with those who have been left behind, or not. And those whose conscious efforts have resisted joining the 21st century (Medicaid repeal anyone?) perhaps should also take stock of their own level of blindness to the needs of their populations.

  96. Angela Merkle presides over a rambunctious brood.

    But Germany has weathered the Wall St. caused great recession and pulled them through.

    The social safety net in Europe is more and more the envy of us Americans. Socialism is not such a bad word anymore. Government employees and fair taxation aren't frowned upon if they lead to a better life.

    But Silicon Valley and the tech libertarians are nipping at her heels. She will need all her wiles to keep them in check, and keep Europe and the world on a somewhat even keel.

  97. The word Empire has no place in today’s world. The concept of Empire is primarily based on self proclaimed superiority over other countries, culturally, militarily and economically. This worked when other non Empire countries with their own way of life didn’t care about these Empires. Now with the advent of Globalization and self confidence these other countries are a threat to the traditional empires and they are beginning to fall or disappear. Fast forward 100 years we may not even know how to identify ourselves in one world

  98. I don't think the Federal Government of Germany needs lessons from this confused author about how to manage their European relations. Thank goodness for Germany in the face of such human trash that has arisen in the Governments of Hungary, Poland and Austria. If these countries can't abide by the core democratic values of the EU they should leave.

    As for economic hegemony, what we've seen in the ferocious debates between Germany/Netherlands/EU Commission on the one hand and several Southern European countries on the other is simply the probably appropriate (for their conditions) fiscal conservatism of the North in face of the different needs of the South. It's what happens when economies with vastly different structures and problems are cemented together under one umbrella with one set of economic management rules where one size does not fit all. This is as much true of Canada as it is of the USA, except it doesn't play out in public because it is masked within the confines of the nation-state. The Europeans are working out these problems in their own way; it could well end-up in a more decentralized or a smaller EU or some mixture of both, time will tell.

  99. Ross Douthat is on to something here. Vaclav Havel despaired of leaving the Soviet Empire in 1989, only to rush into the arms of the "E.U. empire." He wished that the small nations had the breathing space to be "themselves." To return to the values of the brief time between the World Wars, when new nations forged societies on a human scale. A time when national parliaments ran the political affairs of the people and capitalism was the small business and businessman on the high street.

    It is ironic that Orban references "Christian Democracy" because that is exactly what the CDU in Germany gave its people as an anti-dote to Hitlerism. Christian democracy that mirrored Havel's vision for post-1989 Europe as well. Now Germany's de facto empire has allowed Orban to win power with un=Christian democracy.

  100. Roll over Beethoven....not yet anyway. Germany has ideas to stay in the fast-lane by designing a better Europe avoiding the icebergs approaching in rapid formation. Empires decline and fall which makes them not fit for purpose; avoid.

  101. Ross is a cosmopolitan conservative. He may not be electable but his political outlook would be just about right for a post-Trump president in the view of this humble reader.

  102. Mr.Douthat,
    You mention but the slide right by the role of German banks in the destabilization of the EU by their measures that hurt the general populace of the southern Europe countries while ignoring the transgressions of the moneyed classes who operate in a corrupt manner and don't pay taxes. Somewhat like the system we have come to in this country with the latest tax bill actually raising the lowest tax rate and effectively raising the rates on the middle class by taking away their tax deductions.

    Then there is the push by Putin and Orban to link their power to that of the dominant church in their country, much as the Republican Party in this country (with your blessing) is using the Evangelicals and conservative Catholics to strengthen their hold on power in the US, at the same time pretending to love Israel while the teaching is that come the Final Days all Jews will be converted. Even the Mormon church has established itself in Israel to await the Final Days. So for those who read history in general and the Bible in particular it is left to wonder just which of today's "leaders" is the Anti-Christ with so many contributing to the ever increasing clashes in the Middle East.

    Finally, whereas in the past wars were fought over "lebensraum" or to take the wealth of other countries, today they are being fought over just plain hatred of the "other."

  103. Typical of Ross Douthat's ill-considered opinions. Not one mention of the centuries of German, French, Belgian, Italian, British or Spanish imperialism and violent exploitation of Africa. Now Europe is being overrun by migrants from Africa, and the right (represented by Douthat) is aghast! simply aghast and confounded by their inability to confront the problems that Europe has spent centuries constructing for themselves. Sheesh.

    It's the same attitude that demonizes Iran, yet makes no mention of the United States-led coup against the legitimately democratic government of Iran in 1953. Which reinstalled the Shah into power, which led directly to the Islamic Revolution. Turns out people don't like to be led by ruthless dictators.

    Ross, do you not like history? I don't get it.

  104. It's unfortunate that you label Europe as a 'German Empire'. Thanks for not calling it the 4th Reich.

    The forces people seem to be unhappy with - in Europe and here - are economic and social reality in the 21st Century. True, the bankers still solvent after the collapse were often German, but the truth they spoke was actual truth. German business has figured out how to compete worldwide in the 21st Century, to the point that Germany is the economic engine of Europe. Germany did open itself to refugees, but no matter what, refugees were going to flood Italy, Greece, and Spain. Fortunately they had Germany to go to.

    The 21st Century is requiring people everywhere to adapt. A return to the Middle Ages won't work any better in Hungary that it will in Iran.

    Some of us are currently too dysfunctional to adapt. The correct response is for us to get our acts together. Not to blame the Germans.

  105. Ross, you have obviously not been to Germany or know anything about Germans. If Germany is falling, then the U.S. is a pile of crumbling rubble. Germany builds. The U.S. takes apart. Germans have a deep national pride based on accomplishments. The U.S. has the lame National Anthem at sporting events a lot of military recruitment billboards!
    I'm afraid, Mr. Douthat and a lot of other Americans need to spend more time outside the borders of the United Potempkin States of Disarray. There they will find cultures with long histories, diverse cultures and things like passenger trains, health care and food that actually tastes like food!

  106. It seems like Douthat is projecting our own "states rights" tensions onto the E.U. with a reliable boogeyman, Germany, as his version of the Fed. I disagree with the austerity approach the E.U. imposed on Greece, England, etc., as a response to the Great Recession. But the fact is that Germany and France garnered resentment for being financially in a place for lending to the countries that needed help just as the Fed was our lender of last resort. Lenders are always evil in the eyes of the debtor. So he is right that it is not merely a choice of being for or against liberal values. Xenophobia, homophobia, racism, religious zealotry, nationalism and especially resentment will always exist, and they will be exploited by authoritarians who use them to seize power in times of weakness. The economic disaster and destabilization of the Middle East that were brought upon the world by G.W. Bush, acting as a tool of neo-cons and free market fanatics, are still being felt. Demonizing Berlin, or Washington, won't save us. Neither will authoritarian usurpers.

  107. Mr. Douthat, like so many others, overlooks that the two policies he cites as indicators of German imperialism are essentially contradictory. Merkel’s brief 2015 moment of humanitarian generosity towards refugees from Syria has created a deep backlash in Germany, mostly on the right, and has been disowned by her own party. None of the liberals in Germany who still defend this policy supports Merkel.

    On the other hand, the fiscal austerity imposed on Southern Europe, especially Greece, was a fiscally conservative move that was decried by European liberals for its imperial appearance and its disastrous economic impact.

    All of this is to say that identifying Angela Merkel as a liberal idol is patently ridiculous. By European standards, Angela Merkel is a conservative.

    The second part that calls for some correction is the narrative of half a millennium European national resistance to imperialism. This nationalist narrative is actually part of the problem. It is historically flawed, and politically dangerous, as it has empowered the new nation states to discriminate against their own minorities (exhibit A: Hungary), and even has played a major role in the civil war and genocide in the Balkans. For many minorities, ethnic, political, social, and otherwise in the new nation states of eastern Europe the EU is the political institution they can look to to guarantee their civil rights and their freedom against majoritarian pressure masked as national liberation.

  108. A thoughtful column, but ending on the wrong note. The answer to any of these problems, from Europe's to the United States', is not further centralization of power. It doesn't work well with Germany in Europe, and it doesn't work well with Washington in the U.S. The 'liberal ideal' never seems to grasp that its top-down style of government is inherently undemocratic - pronouncements from Berlin are like pronouncements from the U.S. Supreme Court - pronouncements. (O-great-liberal-ideal-and-power-center, you but speak, and we will listen.) Everybody but the liberal idealists and globalists themselves gets the fundamental fact that their world view is them on the top, us on the bottom. For a variety of reasons (mine are religious), we dissent. And we like populist leaders for two reasons, first, they undermine the hierarchy of the liberal-idealist-economic-masters (what could be better than listening to a hedge fund manager trash Donald Trump), a worthy outcome standing alone, and they offer some possibility that the systemic powers will be returned to the people whose lives are being governed.

  109. All Quiet on the Eastern Front. Prussian territory was once defined as most of northern Germany and northern Poland.
    The Austro-Hungarian Empire held fast for a few years.....along with the wobbly, yet long lasting Ottoman Empire and Russian Empire. Aristocracy has now been re-labled as "Bankers"....who assert their Divine Right to Rule...why? Because they're bankers!(most of whom have family trees the extend back to Kings and Queens). Germany, Russia, Turkey are moving towards trade associations that divide up Eastern Europe along familiar lines....each with a long term plan towards total domination....which ultimately leads to the collapse of all three.

  110. Some interesting perspective on the way right leaning Eastern Europeans see the European Union and their role in it. However Ross shouldn't try to make the case for them that Poland taking 20.000 refugees in means the loss of its national sovereignty. This is ridiculous. They Eastern European right might see it that way and it might be able to deceive enough people into believing that, but perceived irrational fears do not magically become real threats.

  111. I can always tell when things are going bad for conservatives/ GOP/ right wing politics by reading the conservatives columnists at NYT and WaPo....

    When it is bad, they start writing pieces that feature esoteric philosophical debates...usually about the history of Europe or Religion or about the impending fall of liberalism

    During the Obama administration, we were greeted with a constant barrage of criticisms that either focused on Obama's alleged naievity or his weakness in his dealing with our enemies and even our allies. Now nary word about Trump failures.

    Also, there are virtualy no debates about the role of conservatism in creating the environment that destabilized Germany and Europe 75 years ago.

    Nor are we told about how modern-day right wing politics and actions in Europe and the US strangely parallel the events foreshadowing the emergence of fascism in South America and Europe.

    How about a peice discussing why there is a propensity of many Christians, particularly those from the more conservative/fundamental varieties, to support authoritarian personalities in so-called liberal or constitutional democracies?

    Instead, we read piece after piece suggesting (overtly or covertly) that liberal concepts of multicultural inclusivity and individual freedoms to love, worship and live as one wishes in a secular world, somehow leads to the destruction of great European empires..........when it seems that evidence would suggest otherwise

  112. We are seeing the beginning of the end of Western Democracy especially liberalism. The fundamental problem of Western Democratic value is the notion that Homo sapiens are unique and better. Sadly, liberalism is against animal instincts and human nature. Homo sapiens are not different. Some fancy ideas cannot change the tens of thousands of years of evolutionary force. Stupid, it is in our DNA. The concept of democracy was formulated in homogeneous societies. Liberalism as its current form only exists for merely a few decades. Before that, slavery and colonialism run the course. Somehow, western scholars managed to ignore the ironies and hypocracies. The examples are everywhere. CA, as the "leader" of environmental protection, is the most environmental unfriendly place on earth! How could a desert and semi-arid area became an agricultural center? And look at the urban sprawling and traffics. Seriously, if CA is the model for the rest of the world, we are all doomed.
    This self-righteousness makes many people including me sick. Of course farmers, ranchers and normal people become Republicans. And tell me why I am a racist if all I want is to protect America the beautiful? The disappearance of farm land and habitats is caused by urban sprawling, population growth and immigration.
    I totally understand why some European countries want to break away from the doomed liberalism. Germany had problems with Turkish immigrants and it will face a bigger problem with the new immigrants.

  113. I'm not a student of the intricacies of Eastern European politics...but I'll call in a few plays from over here in the American bleachers. In order to proceed through the 21st Century, the Old Guard must be torn down, while the new systems ...planned out consciously or through reaction to the unpredictable....begin to speed up.
    The constant is that German, Russian, and Turkish(moslem) forces are the big players....every other label is simply a narrow , non-democratic "tribal" construct using "culture" to resist change. Sounds a little like all those communist rabble rousers from the early 1900s, huh?
    In the 21st Century, the same observation is still valid....only now, its German Trade Groups, Russian Trade Groups and Turkish Trade Groups that are espousing it.
    If the EU ever changes to something other than an American-style "laboratory for capitalism/democracy"....it will divide along the lines of the Holy Roman Empire.....A French(latin) half and a German half. the German half will lock in trade advantages toward the East and Russia.....Turkey will participate as it always has but with a selfish goal of expanding the Moslem Caliphate which it believe is its Destiny to Rule.

  114. A good article; thanks Ross!

  115. I believe that rather than climate change, immigration -- in particular what Ross refers to as "migration crises without end" -- is going to be the defining issue of the 21st century. Pious liberal politicians like Angela Merkel are avid to flood their countries with non-Western foreigners, because this proves that they are not like Hitler, and what could be more important than that? If Western civilization is to survive, guilt-haunted universalist liberalism must fall.

  116. FYI: Climate change is the main reason for migration.

  117. So what do expect Germany to do? Regarding immigration, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Let thousands from war-torn countries starve or die, and Germans will be called Nazis. Let them in, and we're accelerating the downfall of Western culture.

    I'm hardly a fan of Mrs Merkel, but her truly humanitarian initial response to the Syrian crisis made me briefly consider voting conservative for the first time in my life. (For the record: I didn't.)

  118. I believe "universalist liberalism", whatever that might mean, isn't the cause of deepening divisions among people, but the endless wars and the endless waves of migrants resulting from endless wars. The consequences are chaos: huge profits for billionaire oligarchs profiting from wars and cheap foreign labor, depressed wages for those left behind, xenophobia, lack of affordable housing, fear of terrorism, loss of community, loss of democracy and sovereignty to international war financiers, etc.

  119. The German bankers driving the Southern European economies into the recession/depressions seems very much like Wall Street bankers almost destroying the American middle class. The only difference is, in America we are held hostage by a dysfunctional political system and the politicians who will do the bankers bidding - doesn’t matter much if they are Republican or Democrat. Almost all US politicians take Wall St money.
    The Southern Europeans (Greece, Italy, Portugal. Spain, etc) have the ability to break free from their German financial masters. Add in the German dictated migration crisis and it’s a toxic mix.....I really don’t know why anyone is surprised some of the countries want out.
    As usual, America fails to foresee these completely predictable crisis because we are too busy spending trillions fighting unnecessary wars around the globe. And, the European migrant crisis is primarily caused by the American led wars and regime change efforts in the Middle East.
    America seems doomed to repeat the all too familiar decline that historically happens to colonial empires - excessive spending on military and wars while the home country collapses under the debt and failure to address critical domestic issues.

  120. The Nazi German invasion and occupation of the Soviet Union left 27.5 million dead. After the killing of 30 million Chinese by the Japanese Empire it was the second deadliest human holocaust of World War II.

    Populism is a euphemism for ethnic sectarian nationalism. When given a choice between fighting the fascist or the Bolshevik threats the West saw the fascists as the graver greater danger.

    The British royal House of Windsor is really the German House of Saxe -Cotburg. There are more German Americans than there are any other kind of Americans by ethnicity and national origin. America is the natural German Empire heir. But Donald Trump is the German American antithesis of Dwight Eisenhower.

    Morover, the purpose of the European Union, the European Zone and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is to keep Germany diplomatically, militarily, politically and socioeconomically peacefully tied to Europe. Vladimir Putin speaks fluent German. Putin was stationed by the KGB in the East German homeland of Angela Merkel. Putin has a different goal.

  121. To fully rebut this ill-considered apologia for authoritarian nationalists not possible in this small space. So, here are just few observations:

    First, if you didn't study history, then perhaps you should stay away from historical analogies. The Holy Roman Empire was the first German empire, Wilhelmine Germany was literally called the Second Empire, and Nazi Germany.... oh, yeah, that was the Third Reich. If anything, the polyglot and ineffectual Holy Roman Empire is the analogue to today's EU.

    Secondly, to say that Merkel's immigration policy "is the major reason that populist parties rule today in Budapest and Warsaw" is ridiculous and also bad history. Both Orban and Kaczyński well predate the immigration crisis. To even begin to think about causality you have to be clear about chronology.

    Finally, to blame the admittedly rough handling of the southern Europeans by German bankers can hardly be adduced as an explanation for the rise of ethno-nationalist authoritarianism in eastern Europe. So in addition to history, Brouthat can add geography to the list of things he apparently failed to learn while at Harvard.

    If Brouthat thinks that Orban's flirtation with fascism and putting innocent immigrants behind wire fences is preferable to Merkel's humanitarian policies, and sees in it the rise of a bogeyman new German Reich, then he reveals a lot about his own dark proclivities, but precious little about the political dynamics of modern Europe .

  122. Germany will be destroyed from within by its own liberal social welfare policies. The famous German culture is being overwhelmed by Germany's political correctness as Muslims continue to flood into the country, taking jobs away from ethnic German citizens, and congregating in insular Islamic communities where their mullahs promote hatred for all things western. I saw this first hand when visiting Germany on business several times in the 90's. Friends there tell me the situation has only worsened since then. And the German government is doing nothing in response.

  123. The EU bureaucracy should stop telling everyone to do stupid things. It probably needs an overhaul before that happens. Unelected bureaucrats who always know what's good for everyone else are the bane of democracy.

  124. If you have a baby, in Germany, health care helps you very much: they visit mom, they pay a percentage of your salary while you stay home for five years, before school, for the next generation of Germany. Your job is held for you while you raise your child. Here, we have Republicans in charge, overturning the lowest teen pregnancy rate, marginalizing birth control, punishing Medicaid recipients if they are not working. I know several personally that go back to work the first week after birth-- ah, the smell of Democracy. For. teen to get birth control, its still $180 for a single visit to planned parenthood. Victory for Republicans

  125. The same can be said of our politics. An arrogant liberal elite telling everyone how it's going to be and ignoring the perspective of anyone who disagrees.

  126. You lost me at the headline: Angela Merkel and Germany are, by all global accounts, leaders of the free world. A position we've not only abdicated, but spit and stomped on.

    Ms. Merkel and Germany are now guiding the world.

  127. Brilliant piece that captures the German hegemony and democratic deficit that are built into EU structures, which no one wants to talk about. Ross is the best op-ed writer on the NY Times page. Bar none.

  128. What is happening in Europe today is similar to what is occurring in the US. A large number of Americans(The Deplorables) are rebelling against the Wall Street -Washington Money and Power Axis.A new form of States
    Rights is beginning to form in Middle America.We are sick and tired of The Deep State control of our Government
    which has turned our Democracy into an OLIGARCHY!

  129. Excellent piece. I hope Marc Santora and his editor find time to read it.

  130. We expected decency after WWII and we hand them Donald Trump who threatens to slap sanctions against them with 60 billion dollars in trade limbo after he pulls out of the only international deal on climate.
    Donald Trump is breaking every decent deal with abandon. You call it the fall of Germany, I call it a swindle against them by everyone in Washington who allows Trump his way.

  131. Final paragraph is an elegant rhetorical flourish but makes no sense. It’s incorrect to view this as a struggle between liberalism and authoritarianism, and being incorrect may result in the demise of liberalism, i.e. the view becoming correct?

  132. "It is also a struggle of nations against empire, of the Continent’s smaller countries against German mastery and Northern European interests, in which populist parties are being elected to resist policies the center sought to impose upon the periphery without a vote..." Huh? Policies of the Center? Really? You might want to go back and rewrite that one...more like policies of the Left.

  133. Ross you frame your own argument as beginning with the great recession and then go on to blame liberalism for German and European decline without establishing, first ,that the great recession came about due to an unfettered and unethical stock market that threw worthless paper at a unsuspecting world market. I believe the real culprit here might be unregulated Capitalism. Without that recession, all might still be well on the European continent.

  134. Thank you for pointing this out. Paul Krugman has been warning of this era thing in this same paper. It would be interesting if Douthat responded to his constant warning to the "deficit hawks" of Germany and the EU.

  135. Rick--A financial crisis, recession, perpetrated by right wing greedsters, like Donald tRump, Steve Mnuchin, and Sean Hannity, who cheerfully profited from other people's misfortune.

  136. Indeed, the culprit is world-wide capitalism and particularly the world-wide capitalism that makes endless wars and endless refugees the most profitable business on the planet.

  137. Rarely read such nonsense. This column was a classic case of seeing the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and failing to see the plank in front of your head. It is not that the German "empire" is failing, it is that the American electorate let the world down by electing the most incompetent, self-aggrandizing sociopath they could find into office.

  138. So what you are saying Mr. Douthat, is, do not ignore the power of human selfishness.

  139. Not Germany, but America:

    "Old man in the Brothel: You see, Italy is a very poor, weak country and that is what makes us so strong, strong enough to survive this war and still be in existence, long after your country has been destroyed.

    Capt. Nately: What are you talking about? America is not going to be destroyed.

    Old man in the Brothel: Never?

    Capt. Nately: Well...

    Old man in the Brothel: Rome was destroyed. Greece was destroyed. Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?

    Capt. Nately: Well, forever is a long time.

    Old man in the Brothel: Very long."

    - Catch 22

  140. The parallels with the US are striking. There is growing resentment against the Supreme Court, staffed and influenced by big money interests who choose the judges, ruling against local prerogative—think affirmative action or banningbthe right to regulate guns to gay marriage to corporate dominance of elections to gerrymandering to disenfranchise local voters, on and in. The increasingly dominant federal ifficials, while elected, still increasingly intervene in lical affairs and are resented for ut. The push back against distant unelected officials changing local laws is as severe here as in Italy.

    Trump, the ultimate elitist, understands the game well and has manipulated frustrated local voters to gain ultimate power. He truly sees himself as the sole savior abd thus is emoiwerd to do whatever he wants, ignoring all input. The Emperor wears clothes, the federal government is naked

  141. Very well put, as usual. Nothing is as simple as it seems.

  142. You might want to re-consider the unfortunate term 'Third Empire' in this context.
    Following your reasoning the Weimar Republic would have been the Second Empire. Hitler coined his reign 'Das Dritte Reich'( The Third Empire) which would make the current political system a fourth. It's not an empire though but a democratic republic. The EU is an assembly of more/less democratic countries. Not an empire either and not understood as such by the citizens of Europe. The union consists mainly of financial and trade agreements and cultural exchange.
    What's going to happen next is anyone's guess. It depends a lot on the actions of the USA or lack thereof to promote the great benefits for a person that can choose to live in a place were the rule of law governs equally along the legislative and executive branches.

  143. The difference is that the Weimar Republic was so riven with internal conflicts and restricted by the Versailles Treaty that it was in no position to act as a controlling influence in Europe. The current regime in Berlin certainly has the dominant economic position the continent. Of course, if France can manage to suppress its more disruptive socialist inclinations, it might be able to eventually regain parity with Germany again.

  144. Pretty sure Hitler was not referring to the Weimar Republic as the second empire either, when he called his the third one. Hitler despised everything about the Weimar Republic and would have never in a thousand years (pun intended) accepted it as an empire. I am pretty sure the lineage he saw for his Germany to be the third empire was 1) Holy Roman Empire of the german Nation 12th century - 1806, 2)The german Empire 1871 - 1918 and 3) His vision of the thousand year Reich.

  145. The standard classification would be:
    1st empire = The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (800-1806, though often known as being neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, or even very solidly German).
    2nd empire = Bismarck's "Kaiserreich"
    3rd empire = Hitler's blitzkrieg and holocaust empire

    Weimar was an economically and politically failed Republic, however by no solidly defensible stretch an empire.

    But if we want to remain steadfastly ignorant of European History 101, or even of what an empire, broadly defined, actually consists of, then it still makes little sense to ignore the most erratic, inept, dysfunctional and accident-prone in modern memory: The Trump Empire.

  146. Mr. Douthat‘s black and white portrait of the European status quo depicts Germany as an aging, ailing one-man band, too blind to read the notes in front of him. Without a doubt Europe, like the rest of the western hemisphere, is experiencing the growing pains of democracy‘s evolution. Populism has hit home in Germany, as in all of Europe, and the vulnerability of some voters to the cheap slogans of far-right politicians is downright scary, if not disheartening.

    The European Union is still a work in progress, as is any and every good democracy. Thomas Jefferson himself said of democracy that it should be written anew by every generation if it should hope to survive. It‘s all about whether or not the idea of democracy is still valid for postindustrial Europe. I cannot imagine living in a Germany which is not the part of a greater, functioning Europe and I think most people here in Germany feel the same.

    Finally, I‘d like to ask Mr. Douthat what he thinks Angela Merkel should have done differently than open the borders to the refugees back in 2016. Let more people drown in the waters off of Italy? Or perhaps leave the entire burden of taking in the refugees to Italy where most of them landed? Merkel‘s determination to „do the right thing“ was not the sign of German-centered bossiness, rather a hopeful sign of humanity in politics so dearly missing nowadays.

  147. not only do the gullible swallow the slogans but they are more likely to be fodder for the war that often comes when tyrants take over.

  148. At least Europe doesn't have the compulsion to enact faith-based legislation that dogs the US.

  149. Douthat ignores the fact that there wouldn't be nearly as many refugees as there are today if the Bush administration hadn't talked much of "the West" into invading Iraq and supporting the anti-Assad forces in Syria (and there are NO good guys in the Syrian conflict--just ordinary people caught in the middle).

    "The West" needs to learn some humility and understand that it neither knows how to nor has the ability to fix the world.

  150. "The West" is still trying to figure out how to implement fairness and humility without being overwhelmed by greedy people from within and without. We seem to be going backwards, but it is a work in progress.

    Invading Iraq was one of the worst mistakes "the West" made in a long time. But right or wrong, Europe and American cannot allow themselves to be overwhelmed by people with a different point of view or they will cease to be "western".

  151. In an area as culturally diverse as Europe there are bound to be tensions. Those tensions shape the nature of the political landscape--and always have. The history of Europe is a history of migrations; nothing new here. Each migration brings its own flavor to the cultural soup, making it more zesty. The right wing always harks back to a yesterday that never existed and convinces those who think they were part of that purer time that it's time to revert. We're in that mode right now, here in the US and in Europe--this too shall pass.

  152. Apparently technological civilization destroys itself when tribes acquire nuclear weapons.

  153. Globalism is and has always been voluntary. To the extent there was a critical mass of globalist leaders, it could prevail. In truth, globalism has not been able to withstand the harsh test of reality. Obama's initiatives barely survived one election. One by one, globalist leaders are being replaced by citizens who hold a different view. Globalism has a place in organizations like the UN, where ideologies are debated. It was never a model for actually governing.

  154. There is much to recommend the analysis by Mr. Douthat of the competing economic and cultural forces in the EU, nevertheless the analysis is itself locked into old and well-worn views of Europe that only offer a limited perspective of what is happening.

    Specifically, the technological revolution that has quietly overtaken much of this traditional society is playing a significant role in its transformation. For instance, the rail strike in Paris would have, in the past, resulted in massive disruption but that has not been the case. Through the use of smartphones and the Internet, riders have been able to be kept up to the minute as to the status of trains and therefore been able to reschedule their activities to minimize disruption. As a consequence, the strike is basically petering out.

    The idea of a Third German Empire bestriding Europe may appeal to traditional columnists, but the reality is that power is more focused in individuals armed with their smartphones than any German banker ever dreamed possible.

  155. This discussion tracks the problems of all large countries. In Iraq, the Kurds, the Shi'a and the Sunnis all struggle for domination, and to avoid being dominated by the others. In America, states' rights versus the federal government is a constant source of electoral and judicial conflict. In Indonesia, the people of Aceh, and the Balinese bristle at the power of Java.

    In all these cases, there are three apparent choices; political accommodation and compromise, separation, or warfare. Most choose the political accommodation to avoid separation or warfare.

    Often, the larger organizations fall under the sway of one of their constituent factions, which uses its power to exploit the others. If the others can't correct or mitigate this, separation or warfare enter the mix.

    What do the Greeks have to offer the Germans, in exchange for superior German manufactured goods? Not enough to avoid going into debt. Until the EU can invent a way to balance economic power, the Germans will dominate and the Greeks (and others) will bristle. Maybe, just maybe, the current round of populism will cause Germany and Brussels to mitigate their behavior and strengthen the union. Or maybe not.

  156. And isn’t the EU experiencing a form of the 240 year-old struggle in the US between Federalism and “states’ rights”? Aren’t the regions of red states demanding freedom from the social and cultural demands of the blue state “coastal elites”? And now that the Federal shoe (or boot, depending on your level of adherence to rights-wing radio tropes) is on the other foot, aren’t blue states demanding sovereignty to not bow to Federal policies, say on immigration for example? And aren’t we continuing to read—endlessly, dispiritingly—the pointless debate about whether the drivers of this Trump-Putin-Orban et al retreat from the “end of history” is driven by economic factors, disrespect from the university-Hollywood crowd, or racism? In the US, unlike in Europe, we could defuse the tensions surrounding this civil “Cold War” if cynics, opportunists, political aristocrats and fellow-travelers, mostly in the Republican Party but some Democrats as well, were replaced by people who actually gave a damn about the future of this country, rather than their own futures exercising increasing political power or as lobbyists and talking heads on the Internet/cable TV blather-a-thon.

  157. Mr Douthat feels instinctively that he will not endorse contemporary German politics and its influence on Europe, though he implies it is stable and self-sustaining. Nor will he endorse an emerging European alternative, Orban's, at least not until it is obviously self-sustaining.

    I suggest Mr. Douthat's real interest in Europe is ex-Catholicity, hence his demurral on modern Germany.

    Yet, while Mr. Douthat accordingly looks to Europe's east or south, he ought not ignore trans-Atlanticism's origins with the religious dissenters of northern Europe and England, thence America. It is the internal social logic of this group whose contemporary secular expressions is so often Mr. Douthat's foil, and whose dominance is lately in question, for example, in Hungary. That one of liberal democracy's origins may have been decidedly anti-Catholic should not discourage his interest.

  158. The Germans don't want a United States of Europe because they would be required to fund the poorer parts of the EU, in the same way, that taxes from Massachusetts help fund Mississippi. During Greece’s financial crises, Germany’s main aim was its own economic self-interest and protecting its banks. Greece's GDP fell by 30%. The Germans like exporting and the EU’s internal markets are very helpful. If Germany returned to the DM its goods would be 20% more expensive, the weaker European economies keep the euro undervalued. The Germans play lip service to the dreams of the technocrats in Brussels but they like the economic benefits of the status quo.

    The Eastern Europeans were looking for a home after the fall of communism. The EU also gave them money. Orban is very popular and most Hungarians agree with his policies. Hungary has a population of 10 million and they have fought for centuries to preserve their independence and culture against the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union. The EU insists that the nation-state is no longer important. That is not going down well in countries that were ruled from Moscow. They don’t want to be ruled by Brussels. The EU has strange ideas about democracy and the views of nation-states are secondary. Membership of the euro has wrecked the Italian economy. According to Tim Geithner the EU replaced Berlusconi as Italy’s leader in 2009. The next Italian government is expected to be euroskeptic.

    The EU can’t survive in its current form.

  159. We here in the American Empire should be careful about predicting the demise of other empires.

    After all, the American Empire was built upon an American form of "Lebensraum" - "living room" - through the "Manifest Destiny" that involved genocidal wars and broken treaties against the Native Peoples who lived here. The American Empire was built on the backs and blood of slaves, and then on the tactics of the Jim Crow era (which served as a model for German race law as described in Hitler's American Model by James Whitman.)

  160. This malady has afflicted the entirety of the western coalition. We ALL fall down, unless we smarten up and get involved in our government, and vote for those who want to make our country the epitome of the melting pot philosophy, with equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal consideration for all.

  161. If you insist on breaking down modern German history into "empires" (which is silly, by the way), then your counting is off. Hitler's 12-year run (7, you say?) was the Third Reich, not the second. And there is no fourth. Quite the contrary, as the Germans say: "erstes Reich, zweites Reich, drittes Reich ... Drittes reicht!"

  162. Evidentally Harvard University let Mr. Douthat down, as it has so many other students. When one studies history at any decent institution, the three German empires are described as: the Holy Roman Empire (begun by Charlemagne and abolished by Napoleon), then the German Empire founded by Bismarck (1871-1918), and then Hitler's Third Reich (1933-1945...12 years, not 7). For the purposes of this article's narrative, Mr. Douthat should have referenced a fourth empire.

  163. It would be difficult to call a Federal Republic an Empire...

    Then again, Trump may disagree. He may already have his crown forged as I am writing this.

  164. It is extremely disgusting of Mr. Douthat to call the current Germany the "third German empire". Empire is the English word for Reich, and everyone knows that the Nazi Regime called itself the Third Reich, and the Thousand Year Reich.

    As a matter of fact, I suggest Mr. Douthat look into what is happening on these shores, namely that under this president the executive branch is acting more and more like a fascist regime, while their Republican sycophants in Congress are too afraid to speak up.

  165. This is a real eye-opener, especially about the history of the domination of Eastern Europe by other empires. One small point: Douthat omits from his account the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted about a thousand years and was also multiethnic and based in Germany. That is why Hitler's regime comes out in the count as the Third Reich.

  166. It's interesting that the description of the non-Liberal portion of the European Union reminds me of the former Confederate States. They want to be free to live their own "Culture" while they suck up benefits from the Union. They want to continue their history of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities while enjoying the right to benefit from open borders and free trade for themselves.

  167. Not a great start to an article with a historical blunder. Ever heard mention of the Third Reich? That would be Hitlers "empire".

    The first German Empire is the holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806. The second Bismarck's creation. The third Hitlers. Making the so called current empire the fourth.

  168. Given that the USA has committed crimes against humanity since its attack on the Vietnamese, and more recently is the primary source of "shock and awe" (ie blitzkrieg) global terrorism, Douthat should read a little Hannah Arendt and revise this sentence, in light of the well-documented neo-nazi movement that is an important part of the GOP base: ** The second German empire was forged in a swift march of annexations and blitzkriegs; it lasted seven terrible years, from the Anschluss to the bunker, and died with Hitler and his cult.** The open air execution of Palestinians by Israeli "allies" while the Trump administration celebrated, reveals that the spirit of Hitler is alive and well, thanks to Douthat's political party. Party on dude!

  169. Douthat's "analysis" is either simply uninformed or an attempt at propaganda via distraction (which is faux-Emperor Trump's stock-in-trade).

    Germany, like most countries that have been infected and destroyed by Empires --- "the disease of Republics" --- have learned Hannah Arendt's lesson well, "Empire abroad entails tyranny at home", which Germans, Japanese, and Russians learned 'the hard way'.

    What Douthat seems, IMHO, to be doing is to focus on the subordinate 'issue' of only the chimera of a European Empire, HQed in Germany, in order to distract from the reality of this first Empire in all of world history which is an; 'effectively-disguised', 'truly-global', 'dual-party' Vichy, and 'capitalist-fueled' Empire, only nominally HQed in, and merely 'posing' as, our former country.

    Yes, Ross, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much" of the rumor of a third German Empire, to disguise the reality of the better camouflaged one behind the curtain --- whose OSS/CIA "learned on Hitler's dime" that a mere single party Vichy regime is ineffective in fooling Frenchmen, whereas a far more sophisticated dual-party Vichy-political facade of faux-democracy implemented as a "Double Government and National Security State" under the guise of a 'rougher-talking' neocon 'R' Vichy Party and its cohort 'smooth-lying' neoliberal-con 'D' Vichy Party could come close enough to fooling all the people all the time.

  170. As so often Ross Douthat writes about something he knows nothing about. The capsule history at the beginning of the piece is wrong. The third empire, that is, the third reich, was Hitler's regime. Beyond that the article is nothing but Douthat searching for reasons to challenge liberalism. His problem is he is a conservative voice--a minority--among mostly liberal voices emanating from a mostly liberal Newspaper which puts him in the awkward position of always seeking to rationalize his anti liberal Catholic views. What he say about Europe and Germany at this time may indeed be true, but he writes from no knowledge of his own and little understanding, passing gleaned information along as if it came from his own expertise. Sad.

  171. "died with Hitler and his cult"

    Hitler did not have a cult. He tapped into something deep in vast numbers of Germans of his time, based on fear and resentment and loss.

    The distinction is important because that deep drive is still there, and among Hitler's victims as much as in the new German empire.

    Ukraine was a victim of Hitler. It is now torn apart, with battalions proclaiming themselves "Nazis" because to them it means anti-Russian.

    Hungary was a victim of Hitler. It is now led by Orban, who is exploiting fears and hatreds, aimed at the moment at Muslim refugees.

    Poland was a victim. It is now following Hungary, with a right wing leadership attacking its courts and other nascent institutions.

    France was a victim. It has held off LePen, but she did come in second, and her father came far too close before her.

    Mussolini has followers in Northern Italy, a whole party where Germany had established him after the German occupation of Italy as the Salo Republic.

    Of all the victims of Hitler, those who suffered worst spent this week shooting down unarmed women and children along a fence.

    It wasn't just a cult, and it wasn't even unique to Hitler.

    Now about this new German empire -- ask the Greeks what that feels like. Ask the quarter of the population that was driven out of the Baltic States by the German led economic austerity demanded of them.

    The worst of the past is not at all safely in the past.

  172. We should learn from Angela Merkel about compassion for refugees. There is not a lot going on in Washington that I would call "humane "...

  173. We lesson we should learn from Angela Merkel is the fact that she is doing Putin’s work quite well. The “refugee” ploy went a long way to give us Brexit; probably got DT elected and now a band of anti-EU political parties are growing in strength - and continued Islamist inspired violence ensures they will only grow stronger. Europe is tearing itself apart and Putin is waiting.

  174. One does not have to be a sophisticated academician or policy expert to recognize that what Angela Merkel did vis-a-vis refugees was just plain stupid, even as she was doing it. Brussels still has not caught up with the migrant situation in Europe, leaving countries to establish their own remedies such as they are.

  175. The immigration policies of the left (in Europe and the US) are going to lead to a further erosion of their political power.

    Liberals have decided that foreigners are more important than citizens. They have abandoned every other policy in favor of immigration.

    It is madness. They are tearing their nations apart to benefit illegal immigrants and economic migrants- most of whom are not liberal and oppose the basic values of the countries they are attempting to emigrate to.

    For the first time in my life I am going to vote Republican.

  176. You sound as if you have always been a Republican.

  177. @Michele K,

    Everything you assume is wrong. Every single word in your statement. I have voted many, many times. I have always voted Democratic- at every level, local, state and Federal. No more.

    I am opposed to illegal and economic migration. I support almost every other Democratic position.

    I care about the environment and see the ever endless numbers of people as an existential threat to me and my family. I am opposed to importing cheap labor thereby hurting working class citizens in my country. I am opposed to taking advantage of poor people- domestically or internationally. I want to pay more for goods and services- especially if it means my citizen neighbors get better jobs and happier lives. I am opposed to the artificially low prices that come from exploiting people.

    Folks like you are ensuring that the many millions of people like me will vote Republican. The sad thing is you aren't even an American.

    I want the Democratic Party to start caring about working citizens, the environment, equal rights, the rule of law, and economic policies that help ALL citizens.

  178. Nonsense! Name ONE liberal who claims that foreigners are more important than citizens. Go ahead. Who is it?

    And when you can't find this person, then please tell us how your nation (or any other one) is being torn apart by foreigners? (who are all of these "illiberal people" from Latin America and the far East that are so threatening to you)

    What are you going to tell us? About that gang and California that murders people, while hundreds of native- born American citizens murder EACH OTHER every year?

    Go ahead, vote for Republicans. But don't expect it to change anything--except for inequality of course, which will get worse when they deregulate the banks and create huge deficits (again).

  179. Very interesting attempt to describe what is happening in Germany by applying an American set on political standards to it, Mr. Douthat, but the matter is far more intricate than just blaming liberals, because being 'liberal' in Gemany means something much different than it does over here. And I tell you this as a German-American.
    Another major difference that you overlook is that unlike the U.S., Germany is not restricted to a two-party government, nor is it held hostage by an outdated Electoral College, which is basically how you ended up with Donald Trump.
    And to be fair, Germany isn't the only country that ever had a Bismarck or a Hitler, and its wealth comes from more than just military might.
    Germans work hard and expect others to do the same.
    That Greece and Italy fell into fiscal ruin has more to do with years of over-bloated bureaucratic governments and embedded corruption than anything else and austere measures had to be taken. But then, that also resembles what Republicans are trying to pull off here.
    As for the events of 1989, it was more than just a 'victory of liberal principles over totalitarian or authoritarian alternatives', it was a matter of life and death. I lived in a city divided by a Wall that people lost their lives trying to escape to, which is something most Americans didn't have to endure and why they take so many of their freedoms so lightly.
    As for the rising populism in Europe, it can't all be pinned on liberalism.
    Try again.

  180. Is migration about the periphery coming into the center or about the consequences of EU nations meddling beyond their borders?

  181. Germany is skillfully using the soft power instruments at its disposal (including, for example, its control of the EU purse strings) to maintain and extend its European hegemony

    a good example is the current campaign of the EU against Poland and Hungary which is ostensibly because of their failure to live up to EU standards... Germany is careful to get EU politicians of other nationalities such as the Dutch Frans Timmermans to front this campaign, but it is driven behind the scenes by German interests, and beside bringing Poland and Hungary to heel, it is designed to pay these countries back for refusing to go along with Empress Angela Merkel's failed open doors asylum and immigration policy

  182. It's disappointing how many commentators here are completely ignoring what Ross is saying so they can say something negative, accurate, and unrelated about Trump or Republicans.

    Ross' point - that opposition to the EU is rooted in its imperialism and lack of democracy, and that these tendencies reflect poorly on its liberalism and openness - is an important one that liberals here in America ignore at their own peril.

  183. The European imperialism you claim exist in your fantasy alone. 28 democracies form the EU. Authoritarian states don’t even have to apply. The European Parliament resides in Bruxelles. The final decisions rest with the 28 democratically elected leaders. Of course Europe has a large bureaucracy to govern its 500 Million plus citizens. But in its core every decision is made by democratic institutions or delegated. People demonize bureaucracies being a foreign and self serving bodies within democracies. As a matter of fact, democracies can’t exist without a functioning bureaucracy. Europe is no exception.

  184. The European Union, composed of overpowering behemoths and smaller less conspicuous nations, remains a work in progress, trying to spread freedom to belong, according to the needs of any given country...and to the ability of each to contribute as equitably as possible for the well-being of the rest. Justice, essential to guarantee peace in European society, may be in the eyes of the beholder, as shown by the illiberal constraints imposed in Hungary and Poland by it's un-representative abusers of their power, as a lack of solidarity shows. You cannot take just what's good for you without simultaneously contributing in some way...to guarantee a healthy discussion of necessary changes...instead of unilateral constraints blocking any chance to face reality as is; and go from there. Having said that, Germany, if wise, would do well in exercise constraint when having the upper hand; bullying is always counterproductive. A careful balance of powers has some science in it but a lot of art as well. And good will. And always a touch of prudence (doing what's right, however onerous). One thing is clear, Europeans must steer clear from acting 'a la Trump', a death knell; a toll bell muffled by our tone-deaf ignoring of an institutionalized violence in search of 'cretins' willing to accept his constant lies, and insults, as the dogma truth (Ugh!). Did I mention it requires a delicate balance, while realizing that there is strength in numbers? Is there the Will to save our souls?

  185. This article is utter nonsense for a variety of reasons:

    1. There is no empire here, but rather a loose federation of independent nation states who joined of their own free will and are free to to leave at any time albeit at considerable expense if they so desire.
    2. Whereas an empire has means of coercion to insure the obedience and complicity of its member states, the EU does not.
    3. As we are seeing with Brexit, the advantages of the EU far outweigh the disadvantages and the British are beginning to regret their hasty and ill-informed decision. The real supporters of the EU are the younger generation. That should say something about the European experiment.
    4. In time of increasing nationalism, self-aggrandizement and immorality there is more need than ever for a guarantor for human rights and democracy in light of the US slide into Trumpism .
    5. As to Merkl's handling of the refugee situation: Honestly, what other decision could she have made with a million hungry, homeless people standing at your border and is it too much to ask the other countries to take their share of the burden.

    To top it all the country most of all responsible for this misery is the USA which has made and continues to make a shambles of the Middle East.

    In closing, the American people should be happy there are still a few decent countries is this world who have not forsaken their ideals and are still willing to bear more than their share of the world's mistakes and misdeeds.

  186. It is utter nonsense to contend that one can leave the European Union without Brussels first trying to make the process as painful and inflexible as possible, as it is currently doing--threatening peace in Ireland in order to preserve its sacred theology of "open borders." If the solution is to be "mehr Europa" as defined in Berlin, then this liberal cosmopolitan project should fall.

  187. 1. As the British are finding to their cost, this is no loose federation - multiple treaties over several generations have devised ways in which to bind nation states into the EU, in such a way that disentangling from the EU is a horrendously complex task. I would say no EU state is "independent" - that is a myth. EU law is supreme.

    2. This is risible. William, do you even believe this? What about the treatment of Greece? And Portugal? And Spain? I would say that the treatment of the Greeks in the midst of the Grexit crisis was indeed tantamount to coercion, and I'm pretty sure most Greeks would agree.

    3. Fundamentally I believe this has to do with the dominance of Germany within Europe. Decisions of substance within the EU have no chance of being made without the explicit blessing of Germany.

    4. I don't take issue with this, and indeed the EU have a good track record in this regard.

    5. As for Frau Merkel's astonishing decision to make up EU immigration policy on the hoof by allowing 1m+ "refugees" into the EU via Germany without feeling the need to discuss this with her EU "partners" first - Ross Douthat is absolutely right to identify this as a characteristic of the thinking of an emperor. If the elected head of any other EU state had made this decision, and expected the rest of the EU to comply with the consequences, do you honestly feel that they would have got away with it?

  188. Hear, hear!

  189. Douthat is correct that Germany, with the largest population and strongest economy in the EU, dominates the EU. But he overlooks the historical fact that the EU and its predecessors were designed in the post-WWII era to integrate Germany with its European neighbors and to prevent Germany from ever again seeking a military hegemony over its neighbors. In that, the EU has been an important success. Douthat also overlooks the fact that the EU constrains Germany from exercising the economic power Germany would otherwise have if all of Germany's relations with its European neighbors were bilateral. That said, Douthat is correct that Germany must be mindful of how it exercises its power within the EU. It is ultimately in Germany's interest for the EU to succeed and for that it is important for European countries to be liberal democracies. Thus, Germany should support EU policies that allow liberal democratic governments to show their people that they are better off, ecomically and otherwise, than under nationalistic, authoritarian regimes.

  190. Ross raises some very interesting points about geography and the thwarted destinies of many small nations that found themselves prisoners of hegemonic empires. In that regard, modern Germany, despite that it has transformed itself into a beacon of enlightenment, has work to do. But the new liberal-conservative divide contains an older, more virulent strain of exceptionalism; to wit, Ross's oft-mentioned "cosmopolitanism" versus provincialism. Here we must discuss the visceral enmities between progressive urban societies and their opposites in the hinterlands; and of course, politicians who tell their adherents that they were victims, and that there is no need to address crimes against their own minorities because there were no crimes. Hungary and Poland are evidence. Add Ukraine.

    In Stalin's time and place, "cosmopolitan" was code for "Jewish." Little has changed.