ON Sunday, November 28, 1943, during the Teheran Conference, Joseph Stalin, after dinner, raised a delicate subject. "Let us think for a moment," he said, "what would be the worst that could happen to us." And he himself gave the answer: "Germany's recovery." It was then that Churchill, sitting beside Stalin on the sofa, suggested for the first time that Germany should be divided. The division of Germany was to prevent Germany's recovery. It became Germany's fate.

"Deduct Prussia from Germany and what is left?" Walther Rathenau, later German Foreign Minister, had asked in 1919. "An enlarged Austria, a clerical republic: the Rhine Federation." Well, the conferences of Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam deducted Prussia--and more--from Germany; and what established itself in 1949 as a Federal Republic in Western Germany, choosing the sleepy university town of Bonn as its residence on the left bank of the Rhine, seemed indeed "a clerical republic: the Rhine Federation." A dignified old gentleman who from 1917 to 1933 had been Mayor of the city of Cologne, who was known as a devout son of the Roman Catholic Church and whose name had been linked with separatist efforts to create a Rhineland Republic just after the First World War, was elected head of government of this occupied, defeated and synthetic state. The parliamentary majority by which he was elected was one. A poll conducted at that time found that his name, Konrad Adenauer, was known to not more than 8 percent of the population. That was five years ago.

Dr. Adenauer is just entering his 80th year (his birthday is January 5). In his capacity as Chancellor he has meanwhile presented the Federal Republic with the most stable and popular régime in Germany's democratic history. In his capacity as Foreign Minister of the present torso state he has effected what Stalin at Teheran said was "the worst that could happen." He has brought about Germany's recovery.

In 1953 Winston Churchill called him in the House of Commons the wisest German statesman since Bismarck. Other Western politicians have been even more generous in their appraisals. And his achievement is indeed a human and historic phenomenon. At a biblical age he has led a defeated country in the space of five years to become again almost a Great Power.

Behind so much glory must lurk some dark shadows.


The establishment of the Federal Republic was a move of the Western Powers in the cold war against the Soviet Union. Theoretically, the Federal Republic had two ways by which it might regain membership in the concert of Powers. It was possible either to try to reunite the divided country and thus automatically make it a Great Power sooner or later; or it was possible to try to merge it in Europe as a partner of the Western states and to play a dominant part there side by side with or ahead of France. The two ways were mutually exclusive, for the military, economic and political potential of a united Germany is so large that it is as inacceptable to the Soviet Union as it is to France within a European community.

In 1867 Bismarck stated before the Reichstag of the North German Federation: "There is without doubt something in our national character, gentlemen, which runs contrary to a unification of Germany." Eighty years later Germany's next great chancellor apparently confirmed this statement of the predecessor with whom he has since so often been compared. As Chancellor of West Germany he has given association with the Western World priority in his policy ahead of German reunification. It probably was not an easy choice for the Chancellor and it certainly cannot be explained by personal motives connected with his Rhenish origin and his Roman Catholic faith.[i] As a moderate Machiavellian, he was guided in his decision above all by the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the state and by the imminent threat from the East.

The way leading toward Europe, toward becoming a respected ally of the West, offered security, seemed feasible and promised to be immediately successful. The other way--leading toward reunification--was beset with dark uncertainties, seemed almost impracticable, and for long stretches promised nothing but dangers and risks. To pursue the phantom of national unity and the liberation of the 18,000,000 Germans in the Soviet Zone might have been to risk the freedom of 50,000,000 West Germans and make reconciliation with France impossible. It would probably have limited Marshall aid, which was of vital importance for Germany's economy, and it would have tested the confidence of the Western Powers beyond endurance. Besides, it is by no means certain that the four occupying Powers would have consented to let such an experiment be started. Honorable as the attempt to reunite Germany might have been, then, it would very likely have been both dangerous and hopeless. The Chancellor acted accordingly.

Yet his policy is marred by one blemish. It is likely--indeed most likely--that a policy of reunification in peace and freedom would not have succeeded. But the possibility was never tested. Foreseeing certain failure, no one has even troubled to inquire from the Kremlin what would be the eventual price for the release of the Soviet Zone. All that became known in the ping-pong of notes between East and West was the unacceptable maximum claim of the Soviets. That is why the Federal Republic in its reunification policy lacks the alibi which it probably could have had quite easily. And since history is resentful, it will one day ask where this alibi is.

Thus the European course adopted by the Chancellor of half-Germany in 1949 meant at the moment the way of least resistance and maximum advantages--as well as contributing toward maintaining the division of the Reich. But in the long run even Konrad Adenauer no doubt dreamt of a Reich--a Reich, though, as remote from that of Bismarck or of Hitler as the planet Sirius is from our earth. The faces of the élite of German nationalism do not look down from the walls of the Chancellor's office in the Schaumburg Palace in Bonn. Maria Theresa and her father, the last male Hapsburg Emperor, Charles VI, decorate the room where the cabinet meets. With two other Catholic statesmen, De Gasperi and Robert Schuman--who, unlike him, once served in the armies of German-speaking monarchs--Adenauer set out to realize the Carolingian vision of a Christian empire reaching from the Pyrenees to the Elbe. The steps toward overcoming nationalism, toward the political unification of Europe and thus toward the rebirth of the Reich of Charles V were to be the Coal and Steel Plan in the economic field and E.D.C. in the military field. If this grandiose concept had succeeded it might even have justified in German history the abandonment of German reunification. But it failed. Nationalism, lightly pronounced dead, proved stronger. The bitter words used by Chancellor Adenauer during the London Conference about the "terrible month of August" showed how hard this mishap had hit him.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, having had to abandon temporarily its maximum hope of swallowing all Germany, seems not too unhappy about this development, despite the fact of West German rearmament. Article 3 of the Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance signed by France and the Soviet Union during the Second World War decrees: "The high contracting parties undertake also, after the termination of the present war with Germany, to take jointly all necessary measures for the elimination of any new threat coming from Germany, and to obstruct such actions as would make possible any new attempt at aggression on her part." That is precisely what has been achieved now. For the moment, Paris controls West German rearmament while Moscow guarantees the division of Germany. The real unification of Europe and the reunification of Germany are thus postponed to equally distant futures.


At first glance all this does not as yet seem any reason for being depressed. Rome was not built in a day. Why should the building of Europe move faster, or the reunification of Germany?

Germany has risen in world affairs from being an almost colonial object to being an almost sovereign subject. Our protection against the Eastern moloch is as substantial as any border province of the free world could desire. We are undeservedly well off economically. Much, very much has been achieved. People talk about the "German miracle." The fact remains that the development of democracy in Germany has not kept up with the snowballing success of German foreign policy, with the economic boom and now with the impending rearmament. Here is the flaw. Today almost invisible, tomorrow it may become the pole around which everything turns.

The trouble with Germany is that she has never had a real revolution. Lenin is supposed to have said once that a German revolutionary assigned to seize a railroad station would first of all buy himself a platform ticket. The reappraisal of German values has always been carried out by official ordinance. In 1933 it was Hitler who seized power legally and who determined what from then on would be the proper thing for every German to do. In 1945 it was the Allies. Always the capacities of the authority-conscious Germans were hopelessly overtaxed. Since 1933, for instance, they have alternately been urged to regard the Communists as bad (1933), good (1939), bad (1941), good (1945), bad (1948). And the wheel of history spins faster and faster. Without firm points of orientation, lacking unimpeachable values and symbols, they are given less and less time to grow into some new genuine order. Political events leave their psychological development miles behind. Still numbed by the crash ending of one war they see themselves at the beginning of another. In a flash they have risen from being a despised, starving, demilitarized nation to one that is more or less respected, pampered and remilitarized. What was white the day before yesterday became black the day after and is again white today. The result is political neuroses.

The first typical neurotic reaction was escape, and the symptom of this is a lack of new blood not only in politics but in all public life, from the political parties, parliament, the civil service and the courts to journalism and the trade unions. German private industry has none of these troubles. It is flooded with the young talent graduating from German colleges and universities.

The material misery which reigned in Germany after the collapse encouraged this tendency to escape into another sector of the national life. Who had time to bother about the abstract values for which millions of people had died twice in one generation when one's own naked life was at stake? Personal livelihood and family existence moved into the foreground. In the beginning it was the dry corn bread issued on ration cards, later it was the motor-bike that could be paid for in installments. When German trade unions try today to organize strikes their greatest difficulty is the fear of their members that they may get behind in their payments for their iceboxes and radios. Here, also, is the key to the lack of success of all extremist political organizations. The German people, who never in their entire history have climbed the barricades, have no radical parties today that might call their followers out into the streets. At first glance this seems to reflect simply wise political moderation and disgust for political adventures. On closer study, however, it turns out to be due to something less pleasant--political indifference. Political inertia and weariness, the longing for material security, were accompanied by what Max Scheler once described as the German "cheerless passion for work." The postwar reconstruction of Germany could begin almost undisturbed by political strife. The "economic miracle" was born. In German eyes it is so far the greatest attraction offered by democracy.

The conflict between East and West which began after the war saved the citizens of West Germany from having to make the hard decision between freedom and social security. Where the sweet bread of the satellite was offered, freedom reigned; where the slaveholder lashed his knout, people were starving. The importance of West Germany's deliberate decision against Bolshevism should not be minimized. But it was made easy. The heroism manifested in the Soviet Zone during the uprising of June 17, 1953, was not required. The choice was between the good rich uncle from America and Stalin the Terrible, whose armies had expelled 11,000,000 Germans from their homes, raped German women, kept German soldiers in slavery and who had nothing to offer but poverty and the lash. It was the choice between life and suicide, between heaven and hell. And it remains the only political decision which the West German people have so far taken.

Apart from this anti-Communist conviction, which still holds, there is no public opinion in Germany. Anyone who doubts this should try just once to get some sort of an answer to two of the central questions influencing Germany's political fate. Do a majority of people in the Federal Republic prefer a life of plenty in Europe to a meager life in a united Germany? Would a majority of the German youth rather have a national army, a European army or no army at all? The inquiring reporter will not be able to secure a valid answer to these questions. The elections of September 6, 1953, which gave the governing Christian Democratic Union an absolute majority in parliament, did not represent a decision in favor of Europe any more than the decision against rearmament made by the trade union congress in Frankfurt in 1954 represented the vote of German labor against an army. One was an election of "full stomachs" and gave a personal message to the great Chancellor that he should "go on the way he had done." The other was an arranged vote among delegates of a sterile Socialist opposition without a leader and without a program.

Over this people who have pushed politics back into the subconscious because they could not cope with it, and who have made social progress their chief concern, there is now established a ruling political class that has something of the aura of an Early Victorian restoration. It is composed of politicians and parties that had already failed in 1933 but that nevertheless were blithely granted a political monopoly of the German political scene by the Allied Powers in 1945. Granting that some of its individual members may have real attractions, this class is ill-suited to rouse the latent political interests of the German people in favor of democracy. Probably popular participation in politics is not much more pronounced in West Germany than it is in most other democracies. But there the bastion of democracy has to be held under normal conditions, whereas in Germany it still remains to be conquered against enemies both within and without, and this is a task requiring much more exertion.

West Germany today possesses no values for which the people would be prepared to sacrifice themselves, no symbols that inspire their reverence. For 12 years the Germans had a surplus of false ideals; today they have too few genuine ones. No state consciousness has formed. In its place there is the German "economic miracle" and a great old man. That is all.

Such are the foundations of the German state which by its stability and moderation has gained the confidence of the free world and become its partner. How long will they last?


In Dr. Adenauer the citizens of West Germany found a Chancellor whose personality has overshadowed that of all other politicians. The provisional constitution of the Federal Republic helped him grow to these towering proportions. In order to avoid the fatal mistakes of the weak Weimar institutions, the basic law gives the Federal Chancellor an exceptionally strong position. He cannot be overthrown by simply failing to obtain a vote of confidence in the House, but only if the majority agrees on a rival candidate to supplant him. Article 65 of the Constitution reads: "The Federal Chancellor determines the principles of policy and is responsible for them." No law in this world is followed more closely to the letter than this one.

The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Kurt Schumacher, who died in 1951, once during a dramatic night session of Parliament called Adenauer the "Chancellor of the Allies." This, like many of Schumacher's other attacks, went way beyond the mark. It is true that the Western Allies could not wish for a better Chancellor than he; but the same, I think, is true for Germany also. Of course I can speak only for myself; but I believe I belong to a trend of thought which is slowly increasing in my generation and which is pronouncedly skeptical and pronouncedly pro-Western.

Machiavelli once said that of two victors the one which knows how to draw the vanquished onto his side will be the more powerful. Konrad Adenauer was quick to realize the advantages which this fact gives the vanquished. Chancellor Bülow once spoke about "the bear and the whale" (Russia and England) who could never get along together. Chancellor Adenauer knew how to make use of this antagonism even in his rôle as chief of the defeated nation without yielding to the temptation to indulge in a "swing policy." For that the free world has paid him high honor.

Success is the safest guarantee for further success, but beyond that Adenauer had qualities that the German people love--authority, hardness, Old Testament dignity and simplicity. His vocabulary is small but it gives the impression of statesmanlike restraint, far from any demagoguery. He has the capacity for formulating simple ideas clearly. His reputation in Germany grew in the measure that he gained confidence abroad. Soon he controlled the Lower House of Parliament with the same virtuosity that he had once shown in managing his city assembly while Mayor of Cologne. After the First World War he pushed through a park project and the construction of a suspension bridge against the opposition of the city councillors. After the Second World War in his capacity as Federal Chancellor he offered German divisions to the Allied High Commission in a memorandum of August 29, 1950, and informed the Lower House of this document, almost as if by chance, on February 8, 1952. Adenauer had only changed over to a higher level of operations; his knowledge of the tricks of the trade remained the same.

In 1950 General Lucius D. Clay wrote about him as follows in his book, "Decision in Germany:" "His extensive knowledge of government and of parliamentary procedure combine with ability and intelligence to make an effective leader. His shrewdness enables him to create conditions favorable to his party. . . . When he rises above party politics he has the intelligence and character to act as a statesman. He exhibited this quality of statesmanship at critical periods in the life of the Council." Knowledge of these qualities is now the common property of the Western World.

After the Nazis removed him in 1933 from his position as Mayor of Cologne, and after he had twice been arrested in the Third Reich even though he had not taken any active part in the resistance, Adenauer was put back as head of the Rhine metropolis in 1945 by the Americans. A few months later the English showed him the door for what they termed "inefficiency." He thereupon became party leader of the Christian Democratic Union. Without any preparation he appeared on the stage of world politics after he was past the biblical age limit. Though he is a Roman Catholic he is not a clerical. When the West German legislature was debating a certain paragraph of a bill and several deputies voiced concern as to whether or not the Church would give or refuse its consent, Adenauer ended the debate with these words: "The Church can say neither yes nor no in this matter. At the most it can say Amen." Konrad Adenauer has no backstage supporters. He does not live on his party; his party lives on him. He is the West German Chancellor and nothing else.

In one respect the oft-quoted parallel between the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic and the first Chancellor of the Wilhelminian Reich cannot, unfortunately, be ignored. There is no successor. After Bismarck's death there was nobody to be found who could keep on spinning the intricate diplomatic net that had been extended in all directions; after Adenauer it will be difficult to keep on extending the one-way street of German foreign policy which points in a straight line toward the free world. The only consolation is that there are, on the other hand, no dangerous successors in sight, such as Schleicher and Papen were after Stresemann and Bruening. But it is true that this type of politician often flourishes in Germany.

Here is the point at which the overwhelming figure of the Chancellor meets the political indifference shown so far by most of the population--and which creates the German problem of the near future.


If one day there is a gap where now the Chancellor guarantees stability, and if in addition there is a setback in economic prosperity, then all the political passions, sentiments and neuroses which are now asleep under the cover of political and economic security may easily break forth. Nobody knows what decisions the citizens of West Germany might then make, nobody knows which way the pendulum might then swing. Would it be in the direction of political lethargy or toward a political adventure? Toward the European community or toward German nationalism? West or East? The Chancellor is fully aware of this danger. With moving intensity he implored his partners in the recent conference at London to make use of the limited time that was still at his disposal: "The danger of German nationalism is much greater than people think."

Nationalism would not be a rebirth of Nazism. It almost certainly would differ from Nazism as much as Napoleon III's idea of the state differed from Napoleon I's. So far it is not clearly recognizable in the Federal Republic. It has neither leaders nor an organization nor a program. But we cannot ignore the signals which betray its existence under cover of the official European policy of the Federal Republic. Often it even seeks to use this cover deliberately. As General Guderian, Hitler's chief of staff, wrote in his introduction to the book, "Waffen SS in Action," "Let us not forget that the European idea was for the first time realized in this troop." And some of the former high army officers who worked on the plans of E.D.C. or favored it may have thought to bring about a German hegemony in Europe by this means. To win tactical successes even the Chancellor has at times had to make concessions to the nationalistic subconscience. He admitted three former members of the SA and SS to his second cabinet, received Nazi generals who had been released and sent a telegram of congratulations to former Foreign Minister von Neurath when he was prematurely discharged from prison after sentence by a military court. The failure of E.D.C. has no doubt given new strength to the nationalistic forces. More and more frequently curricula vitae of democratic politicians omit any reference to the "resistance deeds" they once boasted of in favor of the military decorations which formerly they kept secret. The formation of a German national army may finally decide the inevitable conflict between sleeping nationalism and feeble democracy. Ten years after the defeat of German militarism a German army represents a threat to democracy in our domestic political life which can hardly be overestimated. German militarists from Yorck to Seeckt have again and again turned their eyes toward the East for strategical and traditional reasons.

How German nationalism might operate may be determined by Moscow. Even if someday the setbacks to the European policy or the absence of the Chancellor or a possible decline of the economic boom were none of them sufficient to create confusion in West Germany, Moscow will nevertheless try to tear down the dams behind which the national resentments of the German people have been held in check during recent years. Since Stalin is dead and Malenkov picks flowers for Miss Edith Summerskill, since Red trade again is tempting and since the first veil of forgetfulness is being drawn over the horrible invasion of the barbarians in 1945, Russia in West German eyes moves more and more into the rôle of a neighbor--a threatening neighbor, but one with which a bearable relationship must be developed some way, some time. With the trump card of the Soviet Zone in its hand the Soviet Union can heavily influence this relationship. How is sovereign West Germany, without Konrad Adenauer but with 11,000,000 refugees from the East and with a national army, going to react a few years hence if the Kremlin offers it reunification, perhaps the lifting of the Oder-Neisse line or even a new partition of Poland? The Germans have been called the "politically most untalented people" of the Continent. What a temptation for them that one would be!

From the very beginning the Chancellor has seen one chance of rendering such fateful situations harmless or even of making them impossible. He wanted to conquer nationalism once for all while it was down and apparently dead. He wanted to integrate West Germany so firmly into the European Community that it would no longer be able to leave it to follow risky national illusions. As a result, reunification would have been extremely difficult for a long time, and if it could have happened at all it would have been in only one way--adding the Soviet Zone to the European Community, by then a firmly established structure. This policy has failed. It was not the Chancellor's fault.

In this situation there is only one German alternative: to wrest the initiative in the reunification policy from the hands of the Soviets. The Chancellor seems to have recognized this second historical task that now falls to him. So far he has realized more of the hopes for Germany than could fairly have been staked on him when he came into office. The hardest test, however, lies before him and those who will have to take over his legacy. The fight for the unity of the nation must not be left to the nationalists. Germany's division is Germany's fate. Whoever removes the division determines Germany's future. This the Western Powers should never forget.

[i] The population of the Federal Republic is composed today of about equal parts of Protestants and Roman Catholics. In any united Germany the Protestants would have a clear majority.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now