The Germans are always late, wrote Thomas Mann, and the results of Germany's elections this past September surely count as evidence. Most of what used to be called Western Europe during the Cold War has turned its back on the left-wing, high-tax crypto-utopianism that has long stifled its economic development and warped its political culture. But by re-electing Gerhard Schröder's "red-green" coalition, German voters have precluded a long overdue modernization of their economy and society. They may also have saddled themselves with the reigning political elite for another eight years-such is suggested by the pattern of postwar German politics-and the inability of this elite to generate positive change risks leaving the door open for all sorts of demons and derelict ideas to fill a widening vacuum.
What was truly odd about the election campaign was that the leaders of an economy and a society that are widely acknowledged to be stuck in a rut were barely able to discuss any of the serious issues afflicting the country. (The loser, the Christian Democratic Union's standard-bearer, Edmund Stoiber, tried to raise the problems of a rigid labor market and educational decline-just two of at least two dozen such issues-but he did not do so well at it.) This suggests that all of the superficial explanations we have heard to explain the results are not really adequate to the task.