March 01, 2011

Guttenberg Jokes No Longer About Steve!

What happens when an aristocrat, whose aristocracy has become practically meaningless, sees the need to acquire a professional qualification, but doesn’t see the real merit in earning one? Just ask Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, who was until today Germany’s Defence Minister.

Mr. (for he is no longer Dr.) von and zu Guttenberg had his past catch up with him in the last couple of weeks, as it was revealed that he had largely plagiarised his Ph.D thesis. Plagiarism is the cardinal sin of academic life, akin to incest or cannibalism in the social world, and it generally sinks the plagiarist into an irredeemably dishonourable position. Mr. Guttenberg copied, stole, and used public funds to have others do his work for him. All this, one presumes, because of Germany’s social reality that places the intellectual elite in a position of greater esteem than its old monied and plutocratic class. It was useful and desirable for this man of very old blue blood to gain this most modern title, which not too long ago might have been considered vulgar. The only trouble was that Mr. Guttenberg seems to have been incapable of actually achieving such a distinction, so in the best tradition of politicians, he found a way to get what he wanted despite the obvious barriers.

Politicians cheat and lie: it’s what they are for and we should not be surprised that they do it. The good ones simply don’t get caught. There is such a thing, however, even among the political movers and shakers, as honour among thieves. I come from a culture where a man caught red-handed must hold up his hands and say ‘it’s a fair cop’, and take the consequences. It is the natural result of getting caught. Once the game is up, the game is up. No one would want to heap dishonour upon dishonour. Yet Mr. Guttenberg chose to fall on his sword and resign only after he had been practically pushed onto his blade by the collective outcry of the German academic community. 

At first he and his Chancellor, who has never swerved in her public support of the guilty party, maintained a line of argument that disassociated the academic dishonour from the public role he held. Such pedantic demarcations do not wash, for public life is about character, and Mr. Guttenberg was found to be lacking in that department. Uncovered as a fraud, dishonoured, and soundly mocked for the pretentiousness of  his conspicuous blue-bloodedness, of course his position as a Minister was immediately untenable. He should have resigned at the earliest opportunity: it is the only way back from political scandal. Having failed to do this, he proved himself thoroughly unmanly into the bargain, and his career now lies in tatters. Mrs. Merkel has been embarrassed by association and looks a little less manly herself.


But the lie was only this big...

There should be a lesson learned here. Politicians insult the intelligence of the voters all the time. They would do well to remember that it is better not to insult the intelligence of those voters who have actually made careers out of being intelligent. No other group is so motivated by the smell of blood in the water.

11 comments:

  1. Doctor, you remind me of Bill Clinton-

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  2. I'm sure that can't be good, coming from you.

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  3. Oh, I see what you're saying. For a minute there I thought you meant that I remind you of Bill Clinton.

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  4. I agree with you entirely and this is clearly a case of fraud that is inexcusable. But I do find it interesting that Germans tend to use the term "doctor" very freely in casual conversation. For example, I am an architect and Europeans who know very well that I am neither a Phd or MD often address me as Doctor.

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  5. Welcome, Devoted Classicist. You must portray great gravitas for Germans to be assuming you own that title. I still find the title carries a lot of weight among society. Even those who have completed Ph.Ds aren't entitled to it until their theses are published, but instead have to fly under the banner of Dr. Designatus. And then of course one must do another Ph.D in order to become Professor Doctor. And they will be quite strict about having all the titles. Many people I know will go by "Mr. Prof. Dr. So-and-so". In Italy matters are otherwise entirely. Every Tom, Dick or Harry with a mere BA goes around being "Dottore this" and "Dottore that".
    VB

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  6. Martin Thomas P.March 3, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    I am German. And I'm still laughing. This piece is absolutely splendid. You made my day, you really did.

    Greetings from Hamburg

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  7. Greetings to you too Martin. I'm happy to have made you happy.
    VB

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  8. What I find most interesting is that most Germans seems to enjoy being lied to, because three forths of the German population still supports this man. There are even large Facebook groups like "Wir wollen Guttenberg zurück" / "We want Guttenberg back" about that matter, which I, as a German quite interested in politics, but very offended by the way most politicans trifle with their power, find quite disturbing.

    Thanks anyway for the great article!

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  9. One joke going around in Germany before zu Guttenberg finally fell on his sword:

    New Worker in the Defence Ministry: Where can I find the copier?

    Older Worker in the Defence Ministry: The copier? Oh, he's in Afghanistan inspecting the troops ...

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  10. @ dr. borstel:
    what I find most interesting is that most us-americans seems to enjoy being lied to, because they voted two times for men named bu(ll)sh(it)
    (what the world would be without joking...)
    but you get the point...

    light & peace

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  11. @devoted classicist - are you by any chance confusing Germans with Austrians?? It is the same language, after all, but the Austrians are the ones who love titles, not the Germans...

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