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The End of Postwar Germany

Across the West, policymakers are grappling with the implications of a rapidly changing world order and the deep uncertainties accompanying it. As four new books by leading German thinkers show, nowhere is the need for clarity and an honest self-reckoning more acute than in the land of Kant and Bismarck.

BERLIN – Last April, The Economist ran a cover story touting “Cool Germany” as a potential model for the rest of the West. What a difference two generations make. For most Germans who grew up in the post-1945 era, the country’s metamorphosis still comes as a complete surprise.

Germany consistently ranks high in international indexes. US News & World Report, for example, lists it as the world’s fourth most powerful country, ahead of the United Kingdom and France, and behind only the United States, Russia, and China. The University of Southern California’s Soft Power Index puts it at number three, after the UK and France, and ahead of the US. In terms of hard power, Germany falls to tenth place, after Japan and Turkey. But, given its aversion to militarization, Germany is in its comfort zone.

Because Germany could be more powerful if it wanted to be, experts and politicians in other countries increasingly expect it to contribute more to joint defense efforts. While Germany has long given US demands for increased military spending lukewarm receptions at best, it has somewhat enlarged its active presence in conflict zones; yet, on the whole, it has shown little interest in moving up the hard-power ladder. Many in Germany recoil at the thought, arguing that it is better to remain less powerful than to risk one’s newfound likeability.

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