Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

Understanding Europe's Refugee Crisis: A Dialectical Approach

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

Understanding Europe's Refugee Crisis: A Dialectical Approach

Article excerpt


The case of the German politician Konrad Adenauer will serve to segue into the main arguments of this paper. These arguments can be summarized as follows: 1) contradiction is inherent in politics and 2) we do have a framework a va ila ble to us t hat ca n help us explain these c ont ra dict ions . I will to illustrate this framework using the example of a study on immigration policy and debate in Canada and Germany, as well as Germany's response to the current arrival of refugees.

Adenauer was the first Cha ncellor of West Germany after WWII. He served in this role bet ween 1949 and 1963. His nickname was der Alte, or "the old man," conferred in a respectful way because he was 73 when he a ssumed offic e. Pr ior to the rise of the Na zi r egime, he wa s Ma yor of Cologne from 1917 to 1933.

As German Chancellor, Adenauer wrestled with numerous contradictions. Let me pr esent t hr ee exa mples: first, Nazi Ger ma ny ha d ca used a n unimaginable a mount of suffering in the world, and Adenauer's task was to rehabilitate Germany as a peaceful nation in the international community. At the same time - and here is the contradiction - Adenauer convinced his fellow W est-Ger ma ns to r ear m, join NATO, and take clea r sides in the ideological rivalry between East and West.

A second example: Adenauer made the first steps towards a lasting friendship with arch-enemy France, laying the foundation for European integration. However, with these efforts towards European integration, Adenauer stepped outside the binary, East-against-West geopolitical imagination that had the United States and Russia as the bipolar centre.

Thir d, after the atrocit ies of the Holocaust, Adena uer advocat ed for paying reparations to Israel and Holocaust survivors, and he advanced the reconciliation with Israel. At the same time, however, he denounced the Allies' de-Nazification program and began to rehabilitate former Nazi sympathizers, so that they could regain access to German public and civic life.

To the casual bystander, these policies seem to lack consistency. The more careful observer, however, can see how Adenauer's political work was driven by various material circumstances and competing political interests. The problem is that we tend to interpret politics by forcing it into a linear framework that implies that political arguments and action should be consistent.

To address this problem, I will present a dialectical framework that is better suited to deal with the contradictions inherent in politics. The ongoing refugee "crisis" in Europe - Germany in particular - serves as a case study that is highly relevant in a contemporary geopolitical context. This research is important for two r easons: first, it illustrates how contradiction is an integr a l part of political progress. Second, it sheds light on the recent political reaction to the arrival of large number of refugees in Germany.


To introduce the dialectical framework, I summon another "old man" from Ger man history: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel is a key figure in establishing a philosophical tradition according to which contradiction is at the core of human progress. This tradition is known as dialectics.

My inter est in Hegelia n dialect ics was trigger ed when I lived in the Ger ma n city of Stuttgart during a sabbatical a few years ago. Stuttgart is Hegel's city of birth. Figure 1 shows the house where Hegel was born, which has been converted into a museum, called the Hegel Haus.

As I pursued my studi es of G er man immi gr ation polic y a nd deba te, it occurred to me that Hegel's framework can provide vital insights into understanding the politics of migration. Using Hegel was especially appealing to me because in Canada - and North America more generally - people rarely use the term dialectics, especially when they discuss migration policy. This seemed to me like a gap that Hegel could fill. …

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