The Maastricht treaty, indeed the whole idea of the E.U., is based on the principle that 'People are people.' Also known as the Late Twentieth Century Delusion. As we have seen, the Think-Tankers who cook up international policy are in utter thrall to it. No reason, say they, why a semiconductor industry such as flourishes in Japan couldn't do the same in Angola. No reason at all. All that's missing are the right incentives, the right institutions, the right...
...Shhh. Don't say 'people.' Crimethink.
It has become obvious that the Eurozone will survive in present form only if the Germans keep paying the debts of the Greeks. Talk of new 'institutions' and 'treaties and 'incentives' is silly. The incentives and treaties and institutions have been in place for ten years; they have not yet been able to turn Greeks into Germans. Nor will they.
Why not? What makes a German a German, and a Greek a Greek? Couldn't we switch out the populations of these two countries and just assume that Greek-Germany and German-Greece would continue to function as they always have?
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Though it has become terribly unfashionable, there is little as satisfying as reading old-time authors' stout observations of other peoples, untouched by today's feminized hive-mind and its cries to not hurt anyone's feelings. It was once taken for granted that a German was not a Greek. Would today's Eurozone decision-makers come back to this distant wisdom, they might yet come up with some policy worth the name.
So-- a 2012 currency zone containing both a Germany and a Greece will not function, and we need writers from before the Wars to give us a hint as to why:
Albert Gehring, music enthusiast and writer, in 1908 fancied putting to paper the 'Distinguishing Traits of the Graeco-Latins and Teutons':
Though resembling one another in many respects when compared with non-Aryan peoples, these races exhibit striking differences of character and institutions when contrasted inter se. The Greeks and Latins are talkative, vivacious, and quick in their actions, the English and Germans taciturn and deliberative. The latter are passionate lovers of nature, the former evince but little enthusiasm for the glories of Pan.
Indeed, it was once acceptable to notice difference, and sweeping generalizations were understood to be just that-- a broad brush, hiding many exceptions.
Gehring was full of musings, and his goal was ambitious:
Romanticism, classicism, religiousness, gaiety, depth of thought, are complex qualities, which, like the concrete phenomena of material nature, must be reduced to simpler factors. Is it not possible to discover a few elementary distinctions, on which many or most of the picturesque differences between Græco-Latin and Germanic life may be found to rest? [...] So it is conceivable that the vast differences in national activities and institutions are the result of insignificant divergences of mental structure.
He was convinced the Teutonic mind was truly different:
Just as the Teuton has a greater wealth of material presented to him in his dramas, cathedrals, and musical compositions, so his mind is normally, in everyday life, filled with a larger and more involved number of objects. Since, however, it is possible for only one, or at most very few things, to stand forth with precision in the foreground of attention, it follows that we must be conscious of all others in a vague, indefinite way. These others form a "penumbra" or "fringe" around the foremost objects of attention. The statement, therefore, that the Germanic mind grasps more objects than the Græco-Latin, might better be put, that it has a richer "fringe."
Plausible? Perhaps, perhaps not.
The Germanic mind, then, is characterised by a more prominent "fringe" than the Græco-Latin. It delights in the unresolved, mysterious residues of experience, in the buzzing backgrounds, the contrapuntal play of side-theme and pedal point. The Græco-Latin mind, on the contrary, loves clearness and precision. The world which it reflects is plotted off in neat conceptual charts. It progresses along a straight line, in a single dimension; the Teuton's advance, on the other hand, is broad and bi-dimensional, -- harmonic and contrapuntal rather than melodic.
Only a theory. His evidence?:
There is a deliberation and hesitation about the actions of Germanic people which contrasts sharply with the vivaciousness of their southern cousins. The peasant from the north may stare at you vacantly before he answers your question. Thought translates itself into motor results but slowly; often, indeed, there are no results at all. Hamlet, with his indecision and vacillation, is a type of this species of mind. The fiery Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, represents a class that is common among Latin races -- lively, quick-tempered, ebullient individuals.
Accompanying the slowness of the Teutons, we meet with a certain tenacity and persistency of effort. The people of this race are patient, plodding, persevering. Hence the great material results they have achieved.
The Germanic races manifest a tendency toward brooding and melancholy. The English are known as hypochondriacs; no nation bemoans so many suicides as the Germans.
And what of religious temperament?
We have already remarked that the Græco-Latins are inclined to be worldly, while the Teutons exhibit a religious bias. The Greeks were children of the moment. They believed in an after-life, to be sure, but the belief made little impression on their conduct. The occurrences of the day, their mundane fortunes, exhausted their thoughts and left but little room for hopes or fears regarding an unseen existence. The Latin races resemble the Greeks when contrasted with the nations from the north. It was among the latter that the great religious struggles of the Reformation originated. Wycliffe, Luther, and Zwingli were Teutons. Mysticism also finds its home in the north, the Latins inclining toward rationalism.
A pronounced ethical and religious tone characterises Germanic literature: Milton, Schiller, and Wordsworth bear witness, and in Puritan New England it forms the keynote, stamping the writings of Emerson, Whittier, Lowell, Hawthorne, and most of their numerous followers.
He even comments on their style of homes:
Germanic taciturnity and love of nature may account in part for the isolated dwellings in the north, for the country-life of the English nobility, and the lonely habits of German scholars;
Tacitus' 'Germania' (1st century AD) comes to mind:
It is well known that the nations of Germany have not cities, and that they do not even tolerate closely contiguous dwellings. They live scattered and apart, just as a spring, a meadow, or a wood has attracted them. Their village they do not arrange in our fashion, with the buildings connected and joined together, but every person surrounds his dwelling with an open space, either as a precaution against the disasters of fire, or because they do not know how to build.
[...] the opposite tendencies among the Græco-Latins would serve to explain their abhorrence of solitude, their early building of cities, the social habits of their philosophers, and, as mentioned, their congregation in gymnasiums and salons.
He goes much further:
The celerity of action in the south throws light on the frequency of assassination in Latin countries; it enables us to understand the enthusiastic support received by victorious generals and the speedy disgrace awaiting defeated ones; it explains many episodes in the revolution of 1789, and furnishes the reason for the general instability of governments among the Romance races.
Gehring remarks upon essential differences, a vital exercise, but what of the character traits which count for policy-makers today? Amusing as may be the thoughts of ethnographers of yore, now we demand figures. Statistics. Empiricism. So another way to ask the question, What is a German? is to look at self-reported values surveys. Geert Hofstede was a 20th-century pioneer in such studies, but we far prefer his successors, the GLOBE study team under Robert J. House at the Wharton School (data wave taken in the 1990s). A sampling [Germanics in bright blue, Anglos in purple, Nordics in dark blue, Mediterraneans in red, East Asians in light green]:
Future time orientation, as measured by the GLOBE study and the Wang et al. study:
The difference between In-group Collectivism levels and Societal Collectivism levels, according to GLOBE:
The levels of Uncertainty Avoidance (strong preference for rules and order) and Performance Orientation (strong drive to succeed), again from the GLOBE study:
Those who prefer the empirical to the anecdotal can of course find much more:
GDP per capita,
Perceived corruption levels,
Human development index,
World Values Survey,
Traditional family systems,
and a host of other indicators that may or may not help us understand why a German is not a Greek. In this blog's opinion, the key character traits preventing these two peoples from functioning in the same monetary union would be their levels of future-time orientation, commonweal-orientation, and work-esteeming, which the careful eye will be able to pick apart from the indicators given thus far.
But what interest for policy makers?
To embark on a currency union with a medley of sovereign states is no small thing. If all members behave rather as we do, it can work. But one doesn't let featherweights play against heavyweights for a reason. Among the other destruction it has wrought, the Late Twentieth Century Delusion's mantra 'People are people' is now on the verge of throwing Europe into its worst crisis in sixty years.
A European by any other name... can be a Greek. Or a German. But he cannot be both.
Previously: More Able and Less Able,