The Monitor's View

Euro heroes in Germany?

German lawmakers vote Thursday on a further rescue of Greece in this euro crisis. They should take the long view on history's lesson of sacrificing for the greater good.

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In the eyes of many observers, the future of the world economy depends on whether German lawmakers vote Thursday to expand the eurozone’s bailout fund for faltering countries.

Well, yes, to avoid another global recession, the “wealthy” Germans probably should further rescue the “profligate” Greeks from their debt crisis. But the vote is far more momentous than financial redemption. And Germany is well poised to understand that.

Europe’s sad legacy of violence (not just from early-20th-century Germany) has been greatly reduced over the centuries as leaders have slowly realized that cooperation – in trade and the sharing of ideas and technology – actually can grow the pot of prosperity.

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Scarcity is not a given. Or as Steven Pinker, author of the new book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” describes it, Europe found a way out of its feudal past:

“Zero-sum plunder gave way to positive-sum trade. People increasingly controlled their impulses and sought to cooperate with their neighbors.”

The German leader, Angela Merkel, says that if the decade-long experiment in a single-currency market fails, the idea of united Europe fails with it. Even before the crisis, she told a reporter that “with the European Union, we Europeans have realized a dream for ourselves. We live in peace and freedom.”

And she added, both the EU and globalization requires that nations give up some power and purely national solutions.

This awakening to finding one’s own good in helping others has been tested during the 18-month-long euro crisis. The vote in Berlin on whether to increase the rescue fund by about half will be a measure of how much Europe has learned from past successes at greater unity – or whether it will slip back into tribal-like national conflicts.

Worldwide, the idea is still alive and well that each nation must battle for a slice of a never-expanding economic pie. That mercantile mentality – my loss is your gain – was rejected when 13 American Colonies joined as one nation, and now as Europe decides how much to become a “United States of Europe.”

The task of further unifying the continent, however, must be built on more than promises of expanded wealth and containment of brutish nationalism. Those brass rings rest simply on a lesser morality, one of mutual back-scratching.

No, the act of sacrifice that Germans appear to be making toward the Greeks represents a bigger idea: inspiring others to also lift up those in need someday, in the spirit of “passing it on.” Americans did it for postwar Germans. Now it’s Germany’s turn.

Sacrifice isn’t easy in tough economic times. The Greeks are rioting; the Germans are resentful. But history points toward progress in mankind’s ability to manage sacrifice to achieve higher ideals.

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