Reluctant Meister: How Germany's past is shaping its
Haus Publishing Ltd £25
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IF YOU missed "Germany: Memories of a Nation" at the British
Museum, or Neil MacGregor's book about it, do not despair. Read
this admirable volume instead. Lord Green writes so vividly that we
scarcely miss the artefacts and illustrations; and the scope of his
work is such that, if he had been a professor of German, it would
still be a notable achievement.
As it is, he is a former banker and government minister, engaged
as a priest in and with the structures of the Church of England.
There is something Goethean, not to say Faustian, about his life
The leading idea (Leitmotiv) is set out in the Preface.
"There is no culture on the planet greater than that of Germany. No
country has contributed more to the history of human ideas and
creativity. No country has been deeper into the abyss. And no
country has seen a more remarkable redemption and renewal."
We are taken through German history, literature, and culture
from the time of Arminius (Hermann) in the first century AD to the
present day in breathtaking sweeps, emphasising the moments not so
much of achievement as of humiliation, which contributed to a sense
of victimhood, especially with regard to "denied national identity"
until the Second Reich in 1870.
Green highlights other factors, such as the development of an
exaggerated sense of duty, obedience, and readiness for sacrifice,
good in itself, but destined to have baleful consequences in the
Third Reich, with its fusion of social Darwinism, racism,
nationalism, and militarism.
The heart of the book, however, is the remarkable achievement of
the Federal Republic since then in creating a stable, prosperous
and admirable democracy, reintegrating the former GDR and
exorcising the ghosts of Germany's past. The Stuttgart Confession
of Guilt by the Protestant Churches in 1945 was a turning point.
"The victim turned aggressor and abuser has found redemption and
atonement . . . and become the reluctant leader in a new era for
By the arts of peace, she has attained everything she failed to
obtain by the arts of war; and her history and geography fit her
more readily than Britain for federal structures, regionalism, and
coalition governments. Secular historiography alone cannot account
for the fall and rising again of Germany; and Green does not shy
away from deploying theological vocabulary and biblical concepts to
probe its cautionary experience of tasting the fruit of the
forbidden tree, the knowledge of good and evil, death and
The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of