Angela Merkel was assured of a place in the history books when she became Germany’s first female chancellor on Nov. 22, 2005. Today her tenure is ending. She’s leaving office at age 67 to praise from abroad and enduring popularity at home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take office Wednesday.
Over the last 16 years, she raised Germany’s profile and influence, worked to hold a fractious European Union together, managed a string of crises and was a role model for women. In fact, German politics used to be a testosterone-fuelled Männerclub - a club of men. Trained as a physicist, with a PhD in quantum chemistry, Merkel was a fact-based, policy-oriented politician.
Having grown up in East Germany, Merkel once said “The global financial crisis and migrant influx made clear how much we depend on cooperation beyond national borders, and how indispensable international institutions and multilateral instruments are to be able to cope with the big challenges of our time.”
That stance was a strong counterpoint to former U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom she had a difficult relationship. At their first meeting in the White House in 2017, she quietly asked Trump “do you want to have a handshake?” There was no response from the president, who stonewalled his German counterpart in what is considered one of the most awkward moments in the Oval in the modern era.
Merkel later dismissed being labeled the “leader of the free world” by her European counterparts, explaining that “leadership is never up to any one person or country.” Born in Hamburg in 1954, Merkel inherited a Germany devastated by the austerity following WWII. The republic revived its reputation on Merkel’s watch; opening its doors to 1 million refugees from Syria and elsewhere, governing in large coalitions, and demonstrating that occupying the center is a recipe for success.
When Angela was just three months old, her father received a pastorate at the church in Brandenburg, East Germany. The family moved to Templin and Merkel grew up 56 miles north of East Berlin. In the countryside, she’d read Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Hesse and wrote in her memoir, “From behind the Iron Curtain, I could see the more perfect world.”
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State is the name of the oldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells lies too: and this lie crawls out of its mouth: “I, the State, am the people.” Friedrich Nietzsche
My dears, my dears,
What if by State we meant 'State of Being?' Hermann might agree that if we considered a State of Being the ultimate State, lies would be quite impossible to tell.
All three of you say it so eloquently; a State of Being lies within us, within each person, for each of us to discover for ourselves. But is that too difficult? Too tenuous or undefined? Do we really need religious states, political states and other social and cultural prescriptions in order to survive? Or is this the way we relinquish responsibility for ourselves, to ourselves and others?
What would we do without the dramatic tension of Us versus Them; without our identifiers that tell us that we’re righteous, virtuous and wealthy? Does aggrandizing our state of existence yield prosperity, or does challenging that state of existence create virtue? If so, my dear men, for whom and wherewith?
What happens if and when we recognize that what we’ve created is inferior to what we can achieve? In creating this monster, this teller of lies, can we decide to destroy it? “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster,” said Nietzsche. “For when you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Can we ultimately hold a political State accountable? Is Schopenhauer’s “patriotism the passion of fools?” Or should we be holding our personal State of Being ultimately responsible? Perhaps it’s more than we’re willing to search for? More still than we’re able to achieve.
Are we intelligent enough to decipher your words, Friedrich? Strong enough to decant Arthur’s meaning? Could we ever awaken the intellect and follow Hermann to Enlightenment? The wisdom of Hesse, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are as old as time itself, but for some too young to understand. Angela Gala