The Federal Republic at Sixty: Popular Myths, Actual Accomplishments and Competing Interpretations

in German Politics and Society
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Perhaps two generations after the modest beginning, the FRG's successes and failures have become amenable to a more balanced evaluation. From the vantage point of the "Berlin Republic," the key question has shifted from whether the second German democracy would survive at all, to the reasons for its relatively positive course and to the extent of its lingering problems. This chapter first delves into the emergence of popular myths that characterized the Federal Republic's difficult search for identity. Secondly, it takes a look at some of the West's actual accomplishments in problem-solving, because such a comparison helps explain the eventual collapse of the East. Finally, it scrutinizes several of the competing explanations so as to reveal their political agendas and discuss their analytical limitations. Instead of presenting a simple success story, this reflection therefore strives for a critical appreciation. The paper concludes that at sixty, the FRG has entered a comfortable middle age, leaving be hind some of its earlier drama, but exuding a sense of competent normalcy. The mythical challenges of postwar reconstruction and recovery of international respectability have receded, followed instead by everyday concerns that are much less exhilarating. There are still plenty of problems, ranging from an aging population to a lack of full-day childcare, but they are shared by other advanced industrial societies. Moreover, after a century of first arrogant and then dejected difference, the German Sonderweg has finally come to an end. As a result of the meltdown of the Anglo-American version of unrestrained capitalism, the German model of a socially responsive market economy has even regained some of its prior luster. Hence, the postwar record of cautious incrementalism inspires some confidence that the Germans will also manage to meet the unforeseen political and economic challenges of the future.