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New Left Review I/118, November-December 1979

Hans-Magnus Enzensberger

An Address on German Democracy to the Citizens of New York

You are surprised, ladies and gentlemen, at much of what you have heard from West Germany of late; and because you would like to know how things stand with regard to liberty and social control, to the democratic rule of law, and police repression in that part of the world, have invited me here. I am grateful to you for the interest you take in the conditions in which we find ourselves, for the more concerned you are about them the better. The Federal Republic is dependent on America. After all we are a protectorate of the United States even if it is not considered good taste to discuss this subject publicly. A single critical word spoken here in New York has, for that reason, more weight than a collection of twenty thousand signatures in Lower Saxony or West Berlin. Getting out of a plane in Hamburg or Munich you will observe that German society, thirty-five years after the end of the Nazi tyranny, makes a thoroughly civilized impression. In general you need not be afraid that you will be shouted at. In the tax offices rnd in the banks you will meet long-haired, casually dressed young people just like in New York or anywhere else. No one stands to attention. A certain courtesy is displayed. The officers of the armed forces do not look as if they were called Erich von Stroheim. In the government offices you will be met with affability—unless you happen to be a Turk or a Communist—and sometimes even then. German democracy, you will perhaps say, is a success—and you will find yourselves confirmed in that opinion when you read our constitution. For it is a very splendid constitution and it is by no means a dead letter; on the contrary, on all sides people struggle—one can only say madly—to fulfil it. Newspapers and politicians’ speeches are full of it; the word ‘constitution’ is one of the commonest German words. You may know that our language inclines to compounds and so our constitution forms part of the most varied verbal combinations. In our country people constantly speak about protection of the constitution, loyalty to the constitution, complaints under the constitution, enemies of the constitution, consonance with the constitution, incompatibility with the constitution.

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Hans Magnus Enzensberger, ‘An Address on German Democracy to the Citizens of New York’, NLR I/118: £3

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