Science and Education: Scheiß auf Guttenberg

An attack on our Hero's False Feathers is an Attack on the People!

An attack on our Hero's False Feathers is an Attack on the People!

German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was caught plagiarizing material for his doctoral thesis. Germany’s main tabloid, the Bild-Zeitung, defends  the minister – in the words of its chief columnist, Franz-Josef Wagner, earlier this month:

I have no idea about a doctoral thesis. I failed in my school-leaving exams and I have never seen a university from inside. From outside, I can only say: don’t destroy a good man. Fuck that doctoral title (Scheiß auf den Doktor).

“From outside” was, of course, the biggest joke within those paragraphs. The Bild-Zeitung is inside German politics, and it doesn’t do German politics much good.

The German public loved the defense minister, and still does. That had become clear to me right on the first early morning of the scandal, when the sales lady at the bakery where I stop by regularly told me that it was “just a big fuss”. (I hadn’t commented, just studied the Bild-Zeitung’s headline, while waiting for my coffee.) When, a few early mornings later, she made pejorative remarks about Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, I had my revenge: “What’s the difference between Guttenberg and Berlusconi?”, I asked. She gasped, and looked at me as if I had just dropped my pants in front of her eyes.

“The difference is obvious”, she protested. “Can’t see that,” I replied. “They are both slick, and they both cheat.”

It was a cheap revenge, I know. But sweet revenge, too, on a shameless contempt for education, and on the efforts education requires. I left the bakery lost in thought, with a coffee to go, and with a big smile on my face.

What Ulrich Schmid of the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) wrote yesterday   looks reasonable to me. The love of the German public for the defense minister

has hardly anything to do with his political performance. Sure, Guttenberg has his merits. The reform of the Bundeswehr (German military forces) earned him accolades even from political opponents, he tackles tasks, and his analyses are in high demand. But he has little else to his name. Westerwelle achieved nothing less than Guttenberg. But Westerwelle is Guttenberg’s antipode: someone who, whatever he does, will always get bad report cards. It’s the same mentality manifesting here: the overzealous classification into good and evil, and a lack of composure. One is loved as irrationally, as the other is hated.

Just as with Thilo Sarrazin during that affair, the public sticks with Guttenberg as it suspects that the “elites” want to get rid of their champion. But the free ride for Guttenberg, the way he can renounce any moral, is extreme, believes Schmid, even if Guttenberg himself is still a democratic politician.

I wouldn’t go as far as Schmid, who believes that the Guttenberg case shows how politically seducible the German people still are. I’m also suspecting that he is more angry at people for hating Guido Westerwelle, than for loving Guttenberg.

But the way public judgment is currently giving way to public resentment does hurt democracy.

I don’t really care if Guttenberg resigns as defense minister, or if he stays. It’s for the people to draw their conclusions. That’s what the ballot paper was made for. If corrupted government is what they want, so be it. That’s democracy, too. But as far as I’m concerned,

Scheiß auf Guttenberg. I wouldn’t vote for his party (or his party’s sister party) anyway.

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