Thilo Sarrazin on the Limits of Free Speech in Germany
in 2010 high-ranking German economist and Social Democrat government administrator Thilo Sarrazin published what’s probably still the best-selling serious non-fiction book of this decade, Germany Abolishes Itself.
This analysis of German immigration policy has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide despite never being translated into English. By way of contrast, note that The Bell Curve was an immense success at bookstores in the United States in 1994, and it still sold only a little over 25% as many copies in a much larger country.
Sarrazin’s bestseller was a little bit like if new Fed vice-chairman Stanley Fischer were to publish a big book in 2015 explaining that while he’s a lifelong liberal Democrat, his recent years working for Sharon and Netanyahu as head banker of Israel opened his eyes to how self-destructive American immigration policy is and how America should adopt a more restrictive immigration policy like Israel’s.
Sarrazin followed his immigration book up with a second book, this one in his lifelong field of expertise, central banking, pointing out that the Euro wasn’t working out so hot. And last year he published in German a third book that’s pretty timely at the moment:
Google Translate says that means:
The new virtue terror: On the limits of free speech in Germany
Of course, this book hasn’t been translated into English either, but I did find a 2013 article previewing the book based, I believe, on a speech Sarrazin gave in English to the Danish Free Press Society:
8. april 2013 – Artikel af Thilo Sarrazin
First of all, I would like to thank you for giving me this award, which I have gladly accepted. Until 2008, I did not concern myself very much with freedom of speech.
In my career as a civil servant, board member and, later on, politician I had a reputation of being outspoken. But that concerned mostly my professional field and was therefore accepted.
Everything changed with an interview I gave in September 2009 about the socioeconomic problems of Berlin and their roots, and with a book I published in August 2010 under the title Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany abolishes itself).
Its main conclusions are:
– Germany as a nation is doomed by its demography. The low and stable birth rate means that every generation is 35 percent smaller than the one before.
– The brightest people have the fewest children. And for this reason, intellectual capacities and educational achievements in Germany will shrink even faster than the population. This is no danger for a far future; the process is in full swing already.
– The kind of immigration that we have in Germany, mostly from Islamic countries in Africa and the Middle East, does not solve the problems. It aggravates them. Reasons for this are the Islamic cultural background and the poor average educational performance of these groups, which is far below the European average, even in the second and third generation.
Those conclusions are of course controversial – and they were intended to be.
In matters of society there is no such thing as an absolute truth. And I am the first to admit this.
I had expected a controversial discussion. But nothing had prepared me for the public storm that broke loose upon publication.
I was accused of advocating biological determinism and labelled a social Darwinist, a racist, and an enemy of the people and of social justice.
I survived morally and politically because of the enthusiastic support from large parts of the general public. The new media were very helpful in that regard.
In this case, the print media and television had obviously lost their monopoly of interpretation, and it was plain for everybody to see.
Realising this, many politicians started a tactical withdrawal from the debate.
In the course of events, I stepped down as a board member of the Deutsche Bundesbank – but not before I had been formally cleared of all allegations of misconduct.
In the following months, I thought a lot about the controversial reactions to my book. My theory is as follows:
The code of conduct in a society, which is not laid down by law, varies over time. It is to a large degree implicit and not subject to formal – or even openly discussed – rules. But those members who do not observe it run the risk of being excluded from ‘the good society’.
The mechanics of political correctness
Having and expressing the ‘right’ set of opinions about certain scientific, social and political questions is an important part of this code of conduct.
Most people want to observe the prevailing code of conduct but, being busy with jobs and families, they have no informed opinion of their own on most matters.
So they think and believe what the media say they should think and believe. Politicians, on the other hand, form their understanding of public opinion by consuming the media. Most of them sincerely believe that voters think what the media write or say.
Media are made by people, and media people recruit themselves in a process of self- selection, much as lawyers, doctors or engineers do. Polls show that media people mainly listen to other media people.
Endorsed by this self–selection, media people on the whole have a set of opinions that tends to be on the left side of mainstream society. I don’t say this is a bad thing.
But I think that this partly explains the mindset of political correctness.
Most people shy away from saying or even thinking anything that is perceived to be politically incorrect.
So the mechanics of political correctness prevent the expression of dissenting opinions, notwithstanding the formal freedom of speech.
It even stops the generation of incorrect thoughts.
The prevailing themes of political correctness are deeply ingrained in the (to some degree unconscious) mindset of the political class and the media. Reflecting on the reaction to my book, I identified 13 themes which constitute the main body of political correctness in Germany. My book violated every single one of them.
A list of political correctness in Germany
Here is the list of political correctness in Germany. I think the list describes the truth but it takes some irony or humour to understand it fully. The problem lies not in any single item on this list but in their combination and rigid application to political thinking:
1. Inequality is bad, equality is good.
2. Secondary virtues like industriousness, precision and punctuality are of no particular value. Competition is morally questionable (except in sports) because it promotes inequality.
3. The rich should feel guilty. Exception: Rich people who have earned their money as athletes or pop stars.
4. Different conditions of life have nothing to do with people’s choices but with the circumstances they are in.
5. All cultures are of equal rank and value. Especially the values and ways of life of the Christian occident and Western industrialised nations should not enjoy any preference. Those who think differently are provincial and xenophobic.
6. Islam is a religion of peace. Those who see any problems with immigration from Islamic countries are guilty of Islamophobia. This is nearly as bad as antisemitism.
7. Western industrialised nations carry the main responsibility for poverty and backwardness in other parts of the world.
8. Men and women have no natural differences, except for the physical signs of their sex.
9. Human abilities depend mainly on training and educations; inherited differences play hardly any role.
10. There are no differences between peoples and races, except for their physical appearance.
11. The nation state is an outdated model. National identities and peculiarities have no particular value. The national element as such is rather bad; it is at any rate not worth preserving. The future belongs to the world society.
12. All people in the world do not only have equal rights. They are in fact equal. They should at least all be eligible for the benefits of the German welfare state.
13. Children are an entirely private affair. Immigration takes care of the labour market and of any other demographic problems.
The core of the problem
So far the list. In this condensed form it sounds like a joke.
But it’s not a joke. These are the hidden axioms of the prevailing political mindset in Germany (and probably elsewhere) as I see them. Every item on the list has a high emotional value for those who believe in it.
The core of the problem is: Partly moral und partly ideological attitudes are taken at face value and mixed up with reality.
It is a permanent task, I am afraid, to sort that out.
It makes me faintly optimistic though that, after all the turmoil, I am still morally alive and not, as a person and an author, ignominiously buried and forgotten. That had certainly been the intention of the vast majority of the political and the media class. But, for once, the general public publicly disagreed.
This, in itself, is a matter of satisfaction not only for me but for many people in Germany.
The second book
Quite interesting was the experience with my second book “Europa braucht den Euro nicht”, which was published in May 2012.
In this case, nobody could deny that I am an expert on the matters I wrote about. So they doubted – again – my motives and tried to discover right--wing or populist elements in the book.
This proved impossible. The historical reasoning was sound. The economic reasoning that I applied was mainstream and adhered to strict logic.
My warnings and misgivings were proven true time and again by the actual events. So they tried to “todsch” the book (that word is derived from the German “totschweigen”). I often found my arguments in print while the source was not mentioned. But even this was only partly successful.
The book sold 200.000 copies and took in 2012 the ninth place on the bestseller list for nonfiction.
When I speak of “they”, I don´t mean the media as a whole, but about seventy percent of them. The problem is not, that “they” disagree.
I love disagreement, It is the salt of every enlightening discussion. And I would be totally bored, if I had not to struggle with disagreement and opposing views.
But “they” avoid the exchange of arguments.
They don´t even read or listen carefully, if at all. They try to get to you on a personal level – by doubting your motives, by mocking your habits, your looks, your attitude to life. The ultimate aim is defamation.
They try to instil the fear of isolation in all those who might support you and speak out for you and your cause.
And one has to admit, it works – at least partly: Most people hate to expose themselves in controversial matters, even the honest und good hearted ones.
So, those “who go with the flow”, get easily the upper hand and dominate the climate of public opinion.
This is nothing new. It has always been this way.
It is part of human nature to try not to fallout with the moods, the habits and the opinions of those social groups – formal or informal – of which they feel they are part.
But it is important that those who disagree, are given space – in a literal and a moral sense – to develop and present their views free of sanctions of any kind.
Each and every progress in social affairs, in science, in culture, even in fashion – stars with the disagreement of aminority.
So, let us encourage the expression of all kinds of disagreements – with two exceptions: The right (1) to express your views and(2) to be the master of your course in life should never be challenged.
Not, at least , in a free society.