Max Kade Lectures at Boston University

Lectures on politics and culture funded by the Max Kade Foundation. The aim of the lectures is to increase understanding of German politics, culture, and society among the American public and to promote new ways of thinking about Germany based on knowledge and not old stereotypes.

The primary aim of our public activities is to promote the exchange of knowledge across national boundaries. Our focus in the Max Kade Lectures is on promoting knowledge of Germany in particular. As the former German Defense Minister Volker Rühe said in his lecture on “Transatlantic Relations in the 21st Century” at the Institute for Human Sciences on April 19, “It is impossible to assess the current state of transatlantic relations without taking into account the enormous structural changes that have occurred since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when Germany ended more than 40 years of political and cultural division.” And in 1995 Austria modified 40 years of neutrality when it became a member of the European Union. Americans are of course aware of the pivotal events of 1989 and 1995, but perhaps not of the changes that have occurred since, nor of the pressing need to forge new legitimacy for its foreign policy to a generation of young Europeans with no historic memory of the important role America played in Germany’s reunification. Moreover, while Helmut Kohl and Bill Clinton enjoyed warm relations, since Schröder’s refusal in 2003 to support American intervention in Iraq, there has been a breakdown in trust between the traditional allies. The task of rebuilding trust will not be an easy one, but it is a matter of vital importance. More Americans claim German ancestry than any other national origin, the two countries are tightly linked economically, and record numbers of Americans are studying at German universities. Nevertheless, misinformation abounds, and German-American relations are plagued by ignorance. In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit” (Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action).

On a political level, relations between Berlin and Washington appear to have improved since Angela Merkel’s state visit to Washington. Nevertheless, as Karten Voigt remarked, “The image of America as haven of state legality where the state protects the personal freedom of individuals has suffered” and public opinion in Germany remains highly critical of US government policy. While US diplomacy regarding Iraq was, in the words of Michael Mertes, “often clumsy and bombastic,” it must be admitted that the one-sided and mostly negative reporting on the United States in the German media undermines legitimate criticism of US policies. Nevertheless, as Mertes put it, “the heart of the matter is the deterioration of German-American relations” and pointing out each others’ mistakes is not going to help repair the damage. In bringing German speakers to our institute, what we offer is not a barrage of criticism of American policies, but rather, another perspective on matters of mutual importance informed by different historical events and a different political situation. The importance of overcoming the ignorance against which Goethe warned is vital. As Ron Asmus stated: “America needs Europe…as a partner to successfully tackle the long-term challenge of transforming the Greater Middle East. Its current weaknesses notwithstanding, Germany is still the center of gravity in Europe.”