Invoking Luther

Tom Healy14/08/2012

Tom Healy: Writing in today's Irish Times Steven Ozment claims that German Lutheranism explains and justifies the stance of the current German administration. 'According to polls', writes Steven Ozment, Germans 'hold tight to their belief, born of staunch Lutheran teachings, that human life cannot thrive in deadbeat towns and profligate lands'. I am not convinced and while not an expert in Lutheranism I am not convinced, either, that Brother Martin of Erfurt would see justification for what is sometimes inappropriately referred to as the 'German view' on Europe and the 'German approach' to European integration and co-responsibility.

Nat O'Connor has already posted about a statement by Peter Bofinger, Juergen Habermas and Julian Nida-Ruemelin. In truth there is no one German view or solution anymore than there is an Irish one. If the current European crisis has exposed deep inter-country tensions and rivalries it has also shown up the underlying social tensions within countries and across the entire continent. There are many incidents of 'profligate lands' and 'deadbeat towns' (One hopes that this is not a reference to NAMA land only!).

The diagnosis of the European political-economic crisis and the appropriates solutions depends to some extent on how one sees the problem. If you see it as the cartoon image of the irresponsible Irish or Greeks living off the hard-working Germans then the solution is one involving pain and redemption for the indolent and misbehaving. We all know where that mind-set and thinking in the 1840s led the official response to the famine in Ireland (the age of self-reliance, market freedom and work ethic etc).

If, alternatively, you see the problem as one of systemic failure in the private sector aided by systemic failure in public regulation and governance then the problem shifts from one of national or sectoral blame-shifting to one of how we overcome the neo-liberal world order. If you want to put it in biblical terms - the wages of neo-liberalism is death - death of social cohesion, death of social justice and in the end death of civilisation. Yes, individuals are responsible - but systems and structures are also part of the problem I suggest.

The problem and challenge is now to create a stronger European dynamic and solidarity while retaining the principle of subsidiarity so beloved by the early pioneers of the European project. We must avoid lazy stereotyping of national groups (the profligate peripherals versus the disciplined core etc) as well as enlisting the backing of this or that figure from the rich and diverse cultural tapestry of Europe. Scandinavian Lutheranism could arguably have some connection to the civic values and practices of our Nordic neighbours at least in terms of cultural history and economic conditions.

I will conclude with a quote from one of the greatest thinkers and heroes of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer - a German and Lutheran who was martyred in 1945: '“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Posted in: EuropeEurope

Tagged with: GermanyEuro crisis

Dr Tom Healy     @TomHealyNERI

Tom Healy

Dr Tom Healy is Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI). He has previously worked in the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the National Economic and Social Forum and the Department of Education and Skills.

He holds a PhD (economics and sociology) from UCD. His research interests have included the impact of education and social capital on well-being.


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