An article by: Francesco Sidoti

The Chancellor personified the political perspective. Wandel durch Handel, “Change through trade: peaceful trade itself has a conciliatory function.”

Legend has it that while being a student in East Germany, Angela Merkel was asked to become a Stasi informant. She refused, stating, “I wouldn’t be a reliable intelligence officer, Ich quatsch zu viel, I talk too much.” However, she showed caution in her words, especially since she was no longer chancellor and had practically gone “from riches to rags.” To protect herself, she remained silent for a long time and only broke the silence in June 2022 at a conference at the Berlin Ensemble. She was immediately subjected to harsh ridicule from the Ukrainians (the same presidential adviser distinguished himself who later declared that the reputation of the Holy See was “destroyed”) and severely reproached by her compatriots (her former right-hand man Wolfgang Schäuble stood out). Now Angela Merkel is writing her memoirs, testing the waters by giving several interviews and weighing who is knocking on her door, reminding her that she should be careful in conversations, for example, in recalling hairdresser bills.

Merkel often demonstrated independence that many were unhappy with: she did not want to interfere in the conflicts in Libya and Syria; she was against Russia’s exclusion from the G8; she was musing aloud about a one-sided friendship when she discovered that she was being systematically eavesdropped and spied on.

Details aside, the chancellor personified the political perspective, Wandel durch Handel that was not an invention for buying cheap gas but a translation into German of a glorious (although minor) trend in Western culture: change through trade, meaning the idea that peaceful trade as such is the highest value because it allows both parties to earn money, and these peaceful relations of exchange already perform a conciliatory, moderating, civilizing, rationalizing role. Peace appears as a universal economic principle, valid always and for everyone, in complete symmetry between the domestic and international markets. “The Western model is for people to be well off,” said Angela Merkel, “and for everyone to benefit.”

Along the Rhine, Europeans fought each other and then met again, trying to build a new history of Europe

Despite its apparent simplicity, this perspective has a family tree that goes back to the noblest heraldry of culture. The origins are lost in Aristotle, in Ara pacis Augustea, in Thomistics, in Montesquieu’s commerce, in Adam Smith, and finally in Manchester liberalism, which unifies and reorders the threads of centuries-old discourse. Richard Cobden personally represented liberalism in the strict sense of the word, including the rise of the minimal state, that is, a state that primarily ensures the guarantees of orderly conduct of trade without interfering with the vicissitudes of others. This anti-colonialist, anti-militarist, anti-imperialist tendency culminates in the development of Rhine capitalism, i.e., the capitalism that takes its name from the river, which, paradoxically, was the basis of the industrial revolution and the basis of Europe: the slaughterhouse of European fratricidal wars was located along Rhine’s 1232 kilometers, to Rotterdam. Along the Rhine, Europeans killed each other more than anywhere else, and then they ended up on the Rhine as they tried to build a new history of Europe.

The European dream of world prosperity, separate and distinct from the American dream, developed along the Rhine and began with the founding of the new Europe after World War II. Understanding the economic and demiurgic value of peace is not just a European dream because Mandela and Gandhi believed in it; many Americans also believed in this ideal of mutual respect and non-interference, such as the Quincy Institute that was born out of a renewal of the “live and let live” principle.

Angela Merkel defended herself from the very beginning, raising a far from trivial question: “A foreign policy choice is not something that can be said to be wrong just because it turned out to be a bad one.” Diplomacy is not bad just because it doesn’t happen, the Financial Times translated, capturing the point for those interested in the dividends of peace rather than the hell of war: history is written by the victors, but the truly reflective rational criterion is not success to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. Besides, who knows, whatever was right yesterday and seems wrong today may again become right tomorrow – in new forms that need to be built.


Francesco Sidoti