In Memoriam: Konrad Adenauer
JULY 01, 1967 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN
Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and reporter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. In addition to writing a number of books, he has lectured widely and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines.
Germany has lost one of her greatest statesmen. Konrad Adenauer faced problems far more difficult than those which confronted Bismarck. As the remains of the 91-year-old Chancellor were consigned to the soil of his native Rhineland, the German Republic mourned the loss of its founding father. He was the individual to whom she mainly owed her rapid return to political and moral esteem and economic prosperity after the fearful ravages of Hitler’s dictatorship and the Second World War. America and Western Europe had reason to lament the loss of a stanch friend and ally. And the world is poorer for the loss of one who cherished and embodied some of the finest values of nineteenth century civilization.
In the personality and career of Konrad Adenauer, a career which began after those of most of his contemporaries were finished, the man and the hour met with singular appropriateness. It is an old German legend that the famous twelfth-century Emperor Frederick Barbarossa is not dead, but sleeping in the heart of a magic mountain, from which, at the time of Germany’s greatest need, he will emerge as his country’s savior and preserver. Although free entirely of the extreme racist nationalism of the Nazi era, Adenauer has made this legend come true. He combined some of the best qualities of the Old Germany — devotion to duty, willingness to work without stint or limit — with a keen and just appreciation of the position, needs, and limitations of the New.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of Adenauer’s achievement one must think of Germany, not as the busy, prosperous land of today, but as the broken, prostrate country of the first postwar years. Large parts of her cities were great masses of rubble. Her currency was worthless. The country was divided into four zones of occupation. Her people were reduced to a near-starvation diet and deprived of hope to improve their condition in the future by harsh restriction on what Germany was supposed to produce in steel and other industrial goods.
When German self-government, with many limitations and restrictions, was restored in 1949, Adenauer took over as the first Chancellor, or Prime Minister. He set himself a few clear and simple goals, all of which, with one exception, he realized with remarkable speed and success. A true conservative, in the best sense of the term, he abhorred communism as he had detested Nazism. (Hitler deposed him as burgomaster of Cologne, and he spent part of the Nazi era in prison or in hiding).
Putting aside any idea of trying to play off the victorious powers against each other, the Chancellor committed himself to wholehearted cooperation with Western Europe and the United States. He recognized that Germany could regain freedom and prosperity only as a part of a larger Europe, with the backing of the United States.
A second foundation stone of Adenauer’s policy was belief in freedom as the key to economic recovery. So he gave his Economics Minister, Ludwig Erhard, a free hand in sweeping away rationing, controls, the whole network of bureaucratic regulations which had grown up under Nazi rule and had been more or less mechanically continued under Allied occupation.
This wager on free economic enterprise was not simple or easy. There were loud outcries of protest from the socialists who furnished the main opposition to Adenauer. Erhard was denounced for permitting imports of luxuries like cigars and foreign fruits and vegetables while many Germans lacked an adequate supply of necessities. American and British economic officials, many being of Keynesian persuasion, were horrified. But the experiment in setting Germany’s course on a free market economy worked so well that it ceased to be called an experiment and was referred to as "the economic miracle." As Erhard had foreseen, with Adenauer’s approval, unrestricted imports paved the way for ever larger exports, regaining and improving Germany’s position in the markets of the world. At the same time the inflow of foreign goods created incentives for harder work and a competitive spur to make the reviving German industries improve their quality of output.
A third basic trait of Adenauer’s policy was the determination, as soon as possible, to honor Germany’s foreign financial obligations and compensate the surviving victims of the Nazi terror against the Jews. Prewar bonds that had been virtually repudiated by Hitler were again honored and punctually redeemed. Large sums were allotted for compensation to individual Jews for their losses and a payment of a lump sum of about $800 million to the state of Israel. These payments were possible because Erhard’s free economy had transformed former deficits in the German balance of international payments into substantial surpluses.
The Straight and Narrow
The Social Democratic leader in the first years after the end of the war, Kurt Schumacher, sneered at Adenauer as "the Chancellor of the Allies." But Adenauer, a most patriotic German, was anything but a foreign puppet. He reckoned, and correctly, that a reputation for straightforward dealing was one of his best assets for bargaining for the gradual but steady lifting of economic prohibitions and restrictions that had been created for Germany after the end of the war and cessation of the vindictive policy of dismantling German industry. One by one the restrictions came off; the dismantling ceased; and by 1955, equality and sovereignty for the German Federal Republic were accomplished facts.
Of course, the German upward climb to economic well-being was not exclusively the work of Konrad Adenauer. The intensive work of the whole German people was a big factor. Yet, it may be doubted whether any other statesman could have guided the first steps of the young Republic with such a sure and unerring eye for what was possible, and when.
Even the faults and limitations which Adenauer’s opponents denounced were helpful in his role of restoring the regime of parliamentary democracy that had been abolished by Hitler. One of the Chancellor’s closest collaborators once said to me in Bonn: "Adenauer is the same man we knew before the Nazi period, when he was burgomaster of Cologne, very hardworking, looking out for detail, intolerant of opposition, very sure he is right."
A Firm Hand
Adenauer knew every trick in the political book and was not averse to cutting corners to achieve his ends. His methods of administration were brusque, not to say dictatorial. But the German people instinctively wanted and psychologically needed the sense of a firm hand at the helm of the ship of state. A reversion to the multiparty wrangling and bargaining of the Weimar period would have been disastrous. Adenauer’s conduct of affairs was vindicated by three successive election pluralities and majorities, in 1949, 1953, and 1957, each more impressive than its predecessor.
He was probably at the height of his popular prestige in 1957, when his party, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), won a clear majority over all other parties. There was a slight setback in 1961, when he obtained a plurality, not a majority. This has been attributed to the shock caused by the unopposed erection of the Berlin Wall.
An even more enduring testimonial to Adenauer’s political leadership was the change of front which his repeated victories imposed on his opponents, the Social Democrats. They had begun by attacking Erhard’s free market economy and by resisting bitterly the build-up of German armed forces within NATO. But their actions of the past decade on both these issues amount to an admission that Adenauer had been right. In their Bad Godesberg program, adopted after the Adenauer electoral sweep in 1957, they accepted the free market economy and practically tossed their founding father, Karl Marx, out of the window. And, convinced by repeated rebuffs in Moscow that the Soviet government was absolutely averse to German reunion in freedom, they endorsed German rearming within the framework of a Western alliance.
So, even after Adenauer, at the age of 87, retired from his post as Chancellor, which he had held for 14 years, his main policies prevailed on a basis of general popular acceptance. Still another political success may be chalked up for him. Before the First World War and during the Weimar Republic, German political parties had been organized along class, religious, and regional lines. Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Union was created on a broader basis, including Catholics and Protestants, industrialists, workers and farmers. It was a party that tried to attract all groups in the population. So long as the Social Democrats tried to keep on with their traditional appeal to the industrial workers, more or less ignoring other groups, they went from defeat to defeat. So, in self-preservation, they recast themselves in the image, not of a class party following Marxist lines, but as a "people’s party," offering mildly left-of-center alternatives to the equally mild right-of-center policies of the CDU.
Unification of Germany: An Unfinished Task
One goal Adenauer failed to achieve: the reunion, in freedom, of his country. But this goal was not within the reach of any German statesman. Given the determination of the Soviet Government to maintain its puppet regime in its zone of military occupation, free elections and free institutions for all Germany could have been obtained only by war or threat of war — a risk which Germany’s Western allies were unwilling to take. Even the Social Democrats, who clung for a long time to the hope that German reunion might be bought at the price of political and economic concessions, were finally brought reluctantly to realize that the only kind of United Germany which would be satisfactory to the Kremlin was a communist Germany.
If Adenauer could not achieve reunification, he did the next best thing. He created in the German Federal Republic a society so strong, stable, and prosperous that it served as a magnet to the oppressed Germans in the East, attracting every year hundreds of thousands of refugees, until the barbarous wall of separation was erected in 1961. There will be no doubt as to which of the sundered parts of Germany will take the lead if some unforeseen shake-up in world politics would make reunification a practical possibility.
To have met Adenauer as I have and seen him dominating debate in the Bundestag, not by flowery oratory, but by cool, precise, logical argument, gives an unmistakable impression of an uncommonly powerful personality. One would have to go back to Bismarck to find his equal; and Adenauer’s mission of the restoration of a wrecked Germany was more difficult and delicate than Bismarck’s welding the other German states into union around a powerful Prussia.
Adenauer lived for a quarter of a century in the nineteenth century and both his grave courtliness of manner and some traits of his personality reflect its influence. His tastes in music and art were classical. The slogan with which he won one election, "No Experiments," held good for the cultural as well as the political and economic fields. Yet, there was an element of daring experiment in staking Germany’s future on applying economic principles which are contemptuously dismissed in some "advanced" circles as "the conventional wisdom." Certainly, few experiments have been attended by such resounding success.
It is not surprising that the old Chancellor was not highly esteemed by German intellectuals; the lack of comprehension and sympathy was certainly mutual. But Adenauer’s guiding moral and political principles, although few and simple and unsophisticated, served him well, especially in the brilliant climactic phase of his career. He knew very well, for instance, the value of honor and the pledged word; and he knew the difference between right and wrong.
This is why he went forward from one success to another, when a more superficially brilliant man, with more complex impulses, might have faltered and failed. The fact that Adenauer’s goals were few and clearly shaped in his mind helps to explain his amazing physical vitality and resilience at an age when active life, for most men, has ceased. Adenauer’s ability to outwork and outlast much younger subordinates was legendary. When protocol required, he could stand in hot sun or pouring rain, erect, unbending, showing no signs of fatigue. A German junior diplomat told me of an experience with Adenauer when he was visiting Paris. The young diplomat had been given the task of seeing the old statesman to his hotel room after a day of grueling and exacting receptions.
When the diplomat escorted Adenauer to the elevator the latter turned and, with a note of concern in his voice, said:
"Please don’t trouble to come to my room. You look tired; go home and try to get some sleep."
Konrad Adenauer was a great German and a great European, a man uniquely qualified for the leadership of his country in the arduous years of recovery from the shambles to which Hitler and his crazy philosophy had reduced the country. He was not a cosmopolitan figure; he was not fluent in any language but German. But his judgments in international affairs were ripe and sound; there was no more devoted a champion of the ideal of a united Europe, backed by the United States.
On the new Germany that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and rubble left by Hitler, he placed the stamp of his powerful personality in many ways. The gathering of distinguished foreign statesmen at his funeral was a tribute both to the man and to the state which he helped so much to build. The principal thoroughfare of Bonn, the Koblenzerstrasse, so often traversed by the Chancellor on his way to his headquarters in the Schaumburg Palace, has been appropriately renamed Konrad Adenauer-allée and his memory will doubtless be honored in other German cities. But Adenauer’s best monument would be panoramic views of Germany as she was when he took office, in contrast to what she was when he retired fourteen years later.
Martin Van Buren
All communities are apt to look to government for too much. Even in our own country, where its powers and duties are so strictly limited, we are prone to do so, especially at periods of sudden embarrassment and distress.
But this ought not to be. The framers of our excellent Constitution and the people who approved it with calm and sagacious deliberation acted at the time on a sounder principle. They wisely judged that the less government interferes with private pursuits the better for the general prosperity. It is not its legitimate object to make men rich or to repair by direct grants of money or legislation in favor of particular pursuits losses not incurred in the public service. This would be substantially to use the property of some for the benefit of others. But its real duty—that duty the performance of which makes a good government the most precious of human blessings—is to enact and enforce a system of general laws commensurate with, but not exceeding, the objects of its establishment, and to leave every citizen and every interest to reap under its benign protection the rewards of virtue, industry, and prudence.
From a Special Message to Congress, Sept. 4, 1837