American Academy : Against Complacency

American Academy celebrates 2014 its 20th anniversary. Since the founding by Richard C. Holbrooke it has built a dynamic foundation of academic, cultural and intellectual dialogue.

Gary Smith
The fellows and visitors of the 2013-2014 academic year.
The fellows and visitors of the 2013-2014 academic year.Foto: Annette Hornischer

This new academic year has special significance for the American Academy in Berlin, as it does for Germans and Americans alike. 2014 is the twentieth anniversary of the Academy's founding, by Richard C. Holbrooke and a small group of Germans and Americans committed to maintaining strong intellectual ties through the indeterminacies of the post-Cold War world. But 2014 also marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the onset of Europe's civilizational self-immolation during World War I, and the 25 years since the West's triumph over Communism following the fall of the Berlin Wall. This confluence causes us to reflect both on what we have achieved and what we are facing.

There were so many certitudes after 1989, whether "the end of history" or the triumph of the West and market capitalism. History, famously written by the victors, however, is not always true history. Today, globalization, technological change, and the maturing of a new generation mean that things we thought were stable are now changing beyond recognition. Given the efflorescence of new global challenges, the context of US-European relations is also changing, in some ways dramatically. Thus, as we complete our twentieth year, the Academy is proud to say that we have built a dynamic foundation of academic, cultural, and intellectual dialogue that spans not just across Germany and America, but also across conventional professional divisions, the kind of reach necessary to generate new thinking and new ideas indeed, new traditions.

Today, Germany finds itself required to think over its approach to the world in the space it inhabits. The country's success has led it to become recognized as one of the world's most admired. But with success comes responsibility. This was the point of President Obama's appeal in his Berlin speech on June 19 that "complacency is not the character of great nations." He underscored how deeply the United States wishes to work with Germany in articulating a shared understanding of responsibility, which is, after all, a central tenet of democratic political theory.

This year's class of fellows and guests is especially attuned to the traditions and the opportunities for managing change in relations across the Atlantic. The time generously granted their investigations in Berlin also makes it possible for them to develop real and lasting relationships with their German counterparts. It is precisely these relationships that generate deeper cultural understanding and initiate the kinds of active and dynamic intellectual exchange that will help us all to address key challenges of the present century.

The author is Executive Director of the American Academy in Berlin

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