In This Review

Richard Von Weizsäcker: Im Gespräch Mit Gunter Hoffmann Und Werner A. Perger
Richard Von Weizsäcker: Im Gespräch Mit Gunter Hoffmann Und Werner A. Perger
By Gunter Hoffmann and Werner A. Perger
Eichborn, 1992, 184 pp.

In June 1992 Richard von Weizsäcker published an interview in book form, and the book commanded instant, controversial attention. More than any of his predecessors in the presidential office, he has used that supraparty position to address fundamental issues, such as the ever-present unease about the German past, and he does so with clarity and admirable forthrightness. He has what few statesmen nowadays have: moral authority, and in his book-with its intelligent interlocutors-he turns from the past to the present and the future. His greatest worry concerns the vitality of liberal democracy in the enlarged Federal Republic, particularly in light of the power of German political parties in politics and public life generally-their power and the paucity of their imagination, the failure of their leadership. He is remarkably candid in his criticism of parties that only seek electoral gain and calls for a more active citizenry and regrets the immobility of Germany's political life, "the Utopia of the status quo." German commentators have seized on formulations that clearly hit the inadequacies of the present government, but these are incidental and inevitable. Weizsäcker's criticisms go far deeper. It took courage and, I suppose, the deepest concern to disturb the political complacency of his country and to do so with thoughts that in the German context and in some parts recall conservative criticisms of the Weimar period. But Weizsäcker's aim to strengthen, to vitalize liberal democracy is beyond question.

He also gives a critical assessment of the actual process of German unification, a process whose material costs the Bonn government has never fully acknowledged. He is attuned to the psychological difficulties of unification; his comments on past Ostpolitik are important. He defines German foreign interests, preserving its Western orientation, promoting European integration, while insisting on Germany's historic role in eastern Europe. Defending the substance of German foreign policy after unification, he emphasizes that style and tone have their own importance.

A major book or admonition addressed to Germans and hence to be read by all those concerned with Germany. Some of Weizsäcker's thoughts about liberal democracy have a disturbing relevance for the other, older democracies as well, ours included.