In view of the economic turbulence, the Germans are facing a test: will they still defend democracy if it suddenly no longer guarantees prosperity?

First solemn and measured, the German song “Unity and Law and Freedom”, then, solemnly cheerful, the European anthem with the spark of the gods “To Joy”: Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven united in German-European intimacy. This is how Deutschlandradio bids farewell to the day. What could move the German heart and German pride more?

German democratic culture has arrived: in Europe – in the West, as Europe’s most important historical thinker Heinrich August Winkler states with relief in his work “The Long Way to the West”. The harmony of the radiophonic midnight melodies symbolizes with restrained solemnity: Germany is Europe – and vice versa. So “everything’s fine” – to put it with a currently popular conversational phrase?

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So far, the following has been true: in the beginning there was the economic miracle that made the first generation of the Federal Republic happy; then the economic miracle that provoked the 1968 generation into rebellion; then the economic miracle that fueled their long march into institutions; finally the economic miracle that gave the children of the children of the children of all the economic miracles the narcissistic idea that they were “the last generation”, glued to the freeway ramps to stop the climate-destroying traffic. From the post-war period to the children’s war. Is the economic miracle country that too Democracy Wonderland?

The basis was provided by the Basic Law – the clever and consistent correction of the Weimar Constitution plus the inspiration for freedom from the Western Allied godparents France, Great Britain and the USA. Patriotism as constitutional patriotism. Nobody has to fear Germany anymore. Not even the Germans. The change from the perpetrator nation to the model nation: the democracy miracle identical to the economic miracle, this success, which was taken for granted, interpreted democracy as an economic success. And strengthened the conviction: Democracy brings economic success.

But what now? Economic success is collapsing dramatically: energy sources are drying up, food prices are exploding, supply chains are falling apart, sales markets are in crisis, summer heat heralds climate collapse — plus the detonations of the Ukraine war from morning to night. Haydn and Beethoven are only available at midnight. Through the hot days, however, the Ballermann hit “Layla” sings about a madam: Vulgarity in vulgar times with vulgar problems – do the Germans have to winter with cold asses? For the first time since the war? That might not even be the worst, it would don’t question the post-war principle and rob democracy of its identity with the economic miracle!

Society in the Federal Republic has no practice with such a course of time. If democracy suddenly no longer achieves what it was supposed to – prosperity for all, social security forever, future prospects for the young – what remains of democracy? Who else loves her in such unfortunate circumstances? The great majority? A majority? just a minority anymore? That is what the learning process that is beginning to do is about: recognizing that democracy is not obligated to perform. It guarantees the freedom of the individual and society. It forms the structure in which liberal politics can flourish and shape. It is, as Winston Churchill stated, “the workshop” of the open society. If suitable furniture is made in this workshop, that is the work of the craftsmen. If unsuitable furniture is made there, the workshop cannot help it. Democracy does not have to perform — but the Democrats.

Admittedly, that sounds banal. But the Weimar democracy failed not least because of the misunderstanding that it was not doing enough economically. This misunderstanding comes up again when one hears and reads about the German “business model”, by which one basically means the ongoing economic miracle. Aren’t there “business models” without democracy, for example the globally successful China, where Volkswagen competes with both production and sales feels great, KP dictatorship or not? Singapore would also be an example of economic performance through authoritarian conditions, as a Zurich professor recommends: There, “government performance is measured using performance indicators and checked and evaluated at regular intervals”.

How seductive are such highly topical narratives for insecure citizens? Olaf Scholz is leading a very, very unusual coalition in times that are very, very difficult to get used to: three parties with accentuated differences, inexperienced in joint government business – somehow Swiss, four parties govern in the Confederation together, but since 1959, as a learning example for the German one So political culture can only be used to a limited extent.

The Federal Republic, this exemplary generous EU nation, lacks deeper-rooted democratic virtues as a value in itself, as a space of freedom without any obligation to any legitimation. The Swiss proclaimed their republic on September 12, 1848, led by Freisinnigen, that is, Liberals, that is, Radicals — all in the pure spirit of free expression of sovereign citizens, followed by a pragmatic history of democratic reason and direct democracy. All very admirable. Unfortunately not imitable.

The traffic light coalition is at the beginning of a very unique Swiss path: if it convinces with the development of an executive multi-party culture, a culture of transparent debate among partners with contrary programs, then it will take the decisive step towards secure western German democracy — a democracy , which endures political failure because it is more than economic success. Democracy is a learning system — or it isn’t. We learn, everyone knows, primarily from mistakes.

What not everyone knows is that democratic culture means that citoyennes and citoyens do not blame the system for mistakes, that they even allow their elected rulers to make mistakes without falling into collective screaming fits. The groping, stumbling, debating, contradicting and incessantly self-correcting traffic light: an opportunity for Germany. Former French President Francois Mitterrand said: “You have to give time.” Giving Germany time in modern times.