Nationally syndicated talk show host Dennis Prager had Robert Curry on his program Thursday to talk about his recent American Greatness essay, “What’s the Matter with Germany?”
Dennis Prager: Hi, everyone. I’m Dennis Prager. I’m gonna intimidate my guest right now by telling him he wrote one of the most important articles I have ever read. I said that yesterday. I devoted about, I don’t know, I devoted about 10 minutes to it. I would like to devote hours to it. That’s right. Very few guests get trumpet fanfare.
Robert Curry: Thank you.
Prager: No, you have … Let me tell you something. Before I even mention your name and your article, let me just tell you and my listeners something about me ’cause we have the time right now and I just wanna be personal here. I at a very early age wanted to understand life. This has always been … it’s just built in to me. I take no credit for it, but that’s what I wanted. And I started buying books in high school, and people would say, “Well, you’re spending all your money on books.” And I’d say, “Well, yeah, because if I get one great idea from a book, just one great idea, isn’t it worth $10?” And so I’ve always yearned: Give me one great idea. You gave me, for free in an article, a great idea.
So let me introduce, ladies and gentlemen, this is Robert Curry, he’s a member of the board of directors of the Claremont Institute. And he’s author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea, which needless to say I’ve already purchased as a result of your article. Now the article, my friends, is really something. It’s a wonderful website, by the way. How new is American Greatness? Do you know anything about it?
Curry: Oh, I do know. I should be able to tell you exactly. It came into existence just, gosh, I think a year ago, something like that. It’s brand new.
Prager: Well, they publish magnificent pieces.
Curry: The editors there are just wonderful people.
Prager: Yes, they are. I increasingly go there to read these unbelievably thoughtful pieces. And then I came across yours: “What’s the Matter with Germany?” I have been talking about this to my listeners for years. What is the matter with Germany? Culminating in Angela Merkel’s bringing in a million people, most of whom share almost no values or no values with Europeans, and she has caused massive devastation on the continent. And then you write this piece, “What’s the Matter with Germany?” So you come up with an answer that it’s the sort of thing I thought, “Why didn’t I realize it?” But it doesn’t matter. Now I know it. You bounced it off the notion of the subtitle of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s great book. So go ahead, tell everybody.
Curry: Yes. Well, the amazing thing that happened in the 20th century was that Germany went to war with America, France, and England–twice. Tried to impose its will on those nations militarily. And those nations … Ms. Himmelfarb’s great book points out that those are the enlightenment nations. That they share this idea, they were founded … Modern France and modern England and America were founded in what’s called the Enlightenment. And don’t worry about the word, listeners, please. It’s the era in which those countries had revolutions.
England started it in 1688 with their glorious revolution. And the result of that was they got rid of the king who claimed to rule by divine right, and they got a bill of rights. The individual British subject had rights. Well, the Americans were next. We didn’t like this idea of: Thank you, we’ll get our rights from the king. Our idea was that we had those rights already. That they were unalienable. That was the American idea in our bid for liberty. The French also focused on the idea of rights. Rights of Man is their great document.
So that period of time was all about rights. Well, what happened after that period was a period in German thinking in which the German thinkers rejected that idea of rights. I mean, a lot of … But let’s take some big ones. Hegel rejected individual rights.
Prager: All right. Hold on there. Hold on there.
Prager: This is so … Folks, we’re gonna make it … I think he’s making it 100 percent clear, but it’s gonna even be clearer. We’re gonna review it. This is to understand the world today. This is, to me, exciting and also worrying. Back in a moment with Robert Curry. I’m Dennis Prager.
Hello, everyone. Dennis Prager here. Is Robert Curry’s piece up at dennisprager.com? It’s from American Greatness. Terrific, relatively new website. And Robert Curry is on the board of directors of The Claremont Institute. He’s written the book, “Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea.” He wrote a piece … What is it? What’s Wrong with Germany, was that the name? Yeah, What’s the Matter with Germany? And it’s a brief … It’s a size of a column. You should all read it. I read it now three times. Not because it’s dense, it’s completely clear, but because I want to memorize the ideas.
There was … everybody knows about the Enlightenment. And there was the French. There was the American. And there was the English. And there was a German enlightenment, but it was minimal. What happened in Germany was a different strain of thought arose, called Romanticism. Of which I am well aware. And it was totally eye-opening to realize that. So do you remember the point you were at? And can you continue?
Curry: Thank you. I think I do. Yeah, so the period of the American founding was a period called the Enlightenment. It was a period politically it was all about rights: human rights, natural rights, unalienable rights, the rights of man.
So the Germans rejected that from the get-go. And in the 19th century, they had some powerful thinkers who they really loathed those ideas, and they went after them hard. So Hegel, he was pretty important, very influential. He rejected individual rights and exalted the state. Marx rejected private property and the free market. And Nietzsche exalted the will to power. So they were all writing in opposition to the bid for liberty that America and France and England had made. And they rejected the idea of rights. They were going after that in a big way.
Prager: There’s another thing that I don’t think is mentioned in your piece, but which I’d like to bounce off you.
Prager: It’s another “R” word: reason.
Prager: A fundamental … They didn’t always follow it because people are imperfect, but a fundamental point of the Enlightenment was to … It’s called the Age of Reason.
Prager: But the Romanticism, which prospered in Germany, rejects reason.
Curry: Right. And those German thinkers, they opened the door and they kicked in the door of reason and opened Western thought to anti-reason and irrationality and anti-rationality. And that’s what these thinkers were all about. So they rejected …
So for example, the American founders said it’s a self-evident truth that we have unalienable rights. They were relying on reason and common sense, and that’s why that’s in my title of my book, to establish those ideas. Well, if you don’t like this idea of liberty and it’s based on reason, well, we gotta get rid of reason too.
Prager: Amazing. Amazing.
Curry: So that’s what the Romantic [crosstalk 00:08:50] was about.
Prager: And so now tie that into the current chancellor of Germany.
Curry: Okay. Can I take a step first?
Prager: Of course.
Curry: I know you’re aware of Friedrich Hayek. Nobel Prize-
Prager: Yeah. Well, he’s Austrian.
Curry: Yes. And for your listeners, he’s a Nobel Prize winning economist, and one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Someone I greatly admire and who knows what he’s talking about. So I’d like to read a brief thing that he wrote about the situation in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.
Prager: Go ahead.
Curry: Thank you. “So at that point, for more than 70 years the German professors of political science, history, law, geography, and philosophy taught their students a hatred of capitalism and preached the war of liberation against the capitalistic West. At the turn of the 20th century, the immense majority of Germans were already radical supporters of socialism and aggressive nationalism. They were then already firmly committed to the principles of Nazism. What was lacking and what was added later was only a new term to signify their doctrine.”
Prager: When did he write this?
Curry: Dang. ’60s, I think. But he was talking about the turn-
Prager: I have told my listeners on probably 25 occasions that the roots of the decline of the university were all the people who went over to Germany at the end of the 19th century to get PhDs, ’cause American universities did not award PhDs in general-
Curry: I agree with you profoundly.
Prager: Wow, wow.
Curry: And they came back and remodeled the American universities on the German model.
Prager: That’s correct. Yes. Right. Interestingly, you don’t talk about this, which is fine, but interestingly, and I think it’s the great uniqueness of America, was it combined reason, rights, and God.
Curry: Yes. You’ll like my book.
Prager: I am sure I will like your book. I wish your book came in every form. I got the Kindle. I wish it also came in Audible.
Curry: Yes, I do too.
Prager: Who’s your publisher? We’ll send them a hate letter.
Prager: Oh, Encounter’s a good publisher. What’s with that?
Curry: Yeah. They’re the best. I admire Roger Kimball so much. He’s such a great man. He’s a blessing to the country, like you.
Prager: Well, that’s very … You’re a blessing too. This is so big. Let’s go back and get to Angela Merkel.
Prager: Go ahead.
Curry: So here’s kind of the conclusion, I think. Let me go back a step and then get to the conclusion. So I think Americans don’t understand what Germany’s doing and what Angela Merkel is doing and what the Germans are doing in going along with it. And they’re prepared to re-elect her overwhelmingly, apparently. Most Americans, people like you and me anyway, don’t understand what they’re doing. But the problem for the people is that we don’t really understand Germany. If we understood … Are we running out of time?
Prager: Yes. So hold on ’cause this is obviously one of the punchlines. So what is Angela Merkel doing? Folks, if you have been hearing this, you really are getting an insight into the world. Not only into Germany, but into the rest of the West. In fact, it’s even a question: Is Germany in the West in some ways? It’s a fascinating and disturbing question. We’ll be back in a moment with Robert Curry. I’m Dennis Prager.
By the way, apropos of what I was talking to you about earlier, the Canadians. You can’t go on a bus alone and so on until you’re 16 in Ontario, whatever it is. Or stay at home alone. And the freedom we had as children. Kevin in San Diego says his grandfather at the age of 10 hitchhiked from Detroit to Chicago for the World’s Fair. Stay on, I’m gonna try to take you at another hour.
But I want to get back, ’cause we don’t have much time, to my wonderful guest, Robert Curry. Board of directors at the Claremont Institute. Author of “Common Sense Nation.” He’s explaining Germany. So, okay, let’s get the punchline. We don’t have a lot of time. Angela Merkel.
Curry: Well, if you understand that Germany has been opposed to the modern European, American Enlightenment idea of liberty from the very get-go, why would we expect them to sacrifice and fight to protect that Europe? They’ve tried to knock it down again and again. [crosstalk 00:13:45] And somebody else is gonna do the job for them.
Prager: And so bringing in a million people from Syria and environs is an example, is that the point?
Curry: Yeah. I mean they’ve got-
Prager: In other words they don’t-
Curry: … dangerous young Muslims swarming across the borders in the place of young people in German uniforms swarming across the border. If you see imposing their will on a Europe that they reject as the common factor, then it’s in a way not puzzling.
Prager: I assume that a lot of this is not fully conscious.
Curry: I think that’s right. I think that they have difficulty understanding us just like we have difficulty understanding them.
Prager: No, no, I would go further. They may have difficulty understanding themselves.
Curry: There you go. I like that. I’m gonna write that down.
Prager: That’s what I do. What else are you supposed to do with a good idea?
Curry: Thank for the good idea.
Prager: Let it go into the ionosphere?
Curry: Grab it while you can.
Prager: Well, I can’t thank you enough for your insights. And this is not the only time we’re gonna meet.
Curry: Well, I look forward to … We’ve spoken before, and every time I get a chance to talk with you it stands out in my day. Thank you.
Prager: That’s very kind of you. The article that Robert Curry wrote is up at dennisprager.com. Wow, folks, things don’t come from nowhere. The trick in life is to figure out where they do come from. Right, reason, and God. It’s another American trinity. I have to remember that. That’s really what we’re founded on.