A few weeks ago, I noted an essay by Estonian president Toomas Ilves hinting that religion may have something to do with Europe’s inability to agree on a solution to its fiscal crisis. Thrifty, rule-abiding Northern Protestants, Ilves suggested, do not like the idea of sending money to profligate Southern Catholics who think the rules about not spending what you don’t have don’t apply to them. Here’s another essay, by Harvard historian Steven Ozment, arguing that the roots of Northern unwillingness to bankroll the South lie in the Protestant Reformation. Germany’s refusal to agree to eurobonds, Ozment writes, reflects the Lutheranism that, notwithstanding “the forces of multiculturalism and secularism,” still informs German culture:
How little has changed in 500 years. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, a born-and-baptized daughter of an East German Lutheran pastor, clearly believes the age-old moral virtues and remedies are the best medicine for the euro crisis. She has no desire to press a secular ideology, let alone an institutional religious faith, on her country, but her politics draws unmistakably from an austere and self-sacrificing, yet charitable and fair, Protestantism.
If Ms. Merkel refuses to support so-called euro bonds, it is not because it would be like giving free money to the undeserving poor but because it would not help the redeemed poor take responsibility for their own houses and grow strong for both themselves and their needy neighbors. He who receives, recovers and profits from society in a time of need has a moral responsibility to pay society back by acting in turn as a strong citizen who can help fill the common chests and sacrifice for his now needy neighbors, who had once helped him. Such is the sacrificial Lutheran society.
In other words, Germans don’t trust that Italian, Spanish, and Greek borrowers would feel obliged to pay off loans German taxpayers had guaranteed. This distrust may be based on nothing more than economics; but it’s interesting to consider the religious explanations that Ozment suggests.