Fritz Breithaupt: Germany needs Goethe′s Faust | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.09.2017

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Fritz Breithaupt: Germany needs Goethe's Faust

Germany is in the midst of a "beautiful moment." Voters seem to want more of the same under Angela Merkel. But, as literature professor Fritz Breithaupt warns, prosperity now doesn't guarantee prosperity in the future.

There's a famous quote from Goethe's tragic play, "Faust," that seems quite fitting for Germany's election campaign this year: "Beautiful moment, do not pass away!" The person expected to make sure the country's "beautiful moment" lives on is Angela Merkel. The chancellor's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has come up with its own election slogan: "For a Germany in which we live well and happily." In other words, things should remain as they have never been.

The lack of political vision in Germany's election campaign is reflected in the party election slogans about daycare centers and standard of living assurances. To many individual families, these are real issues. But politics must look beyond the immediate and address the great challenges of the century.

A global revolution

The transition to a digital world does not only consist of technological advances, like self-driving cars, but actually, the abolition of work, which will one day become a privilege. From health care, agriculture, manufacturing, and the military to research and education, intelligent machines will replace humans. Hooray! This is not only a reason to celebrate, but also allows us the time to celebrate.

But the hangover always follows the party. Work and success give people a purpose in life. Without work, lives will be ruined. Who will prepare us for that?

The revolution will not lead to equality. Only affluent classes will benefit from digital capitalism. We are far from global justice.

Germany's success paradox

At the moment, Germany's economy is profiting from a paradox phenomenon. The country was asleep at the wheel while global change took place, and that is precisely why it is now benefiting. Germany has held on to many essential virtues from the pre-digital era that others have discarded yet still need.

These include traditional German strengths like engineering, craftsmanship, logistics, brainwork, planning and training. Other countries have shifted to digital learning and dynamic, flexible careers. In the digital age, Germany only leads in pornography consumption and legislation.

Wage dumping in the digital economy

Fortunately for Germany, artificial intelligence has lagged behind almost all expectations. How lucky! As if by accident, Germany's economy seems to be at a high point, and the country now desires to linger in the moment.

In their election campaigns, Germany's political parties waste little thought on the future. Instead of societal change, people should prepare themselves for more competition. Each individual will have to serve as an exception to the revolution. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) says that fair schools give everyone a chance. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) says that universities must become more competitive. Even the Green Party's proposal on universal basic income does not indicate whether or not the welfare state will come to an end after government coalition negotiations, leaving individuals to rely on themselves.

A random summary would be: Individuals must all see themselves as the Chosen One, like Harry Potter, who performs more and more incredible feats to find purposeful work. Let us linger in Germany's "beautiful moment" for a while longer. Failures will then also become personalized.

What comes next?

The main questions remain unanswered: How will we, as Germans, live in the future? As people of leisure with employees of robots? As dreamers or those who seek a purpose in life? As defenders of our prosperity or members of a global society?

Goethe's Faust had no option. If you put the quote about the "beautiful moment" back in its context, this is what Goethe wrote: "If ever I to the moment shall say: Beautiful moment, do not pass away! Then you may forge your chains to bind me."

Now, 200 years after Faust, people still are only capable of seeing the beauty of the existing moment. Nobody dares to imagine a world beyond Angela Merkel. In other words, things will really remain as they have never been.