ShareThis Page
George Will

George Will: German opposition party a Rorschach test

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, 8:03 p.m.
Frank Magnitz, member of the Alternative for Germany parliamentary group Bundestag in Berlin, left, stands with Bjoern Hoecke, head of AfD, in the German state Thuringia during an AfD rally in May 2016.
Frank Magnitz, member of the Alternative for Germany parliamentary group Bundestag in Berlin, left, stands with Bjoern Hoecke, head of AfD, in the German state Thuringia during an AfD rally in May 2016.

BERLIN

Armin-Paulus Hampel, a former journalist and commentator who now is a member of the Bundestag, is ebullient, affable, opinionated, voluble and excellent company at lunch. But, because his party is Alternative for Germany, one wonders whether he is representative of it, and whether he is as congenial politically as he is socially.

AfD is a Rorschach test for observers of German politics, who see in it either a recurrence of ominous national tendencies or a healthy response of the political market to unaddressed anxieties. It was founded in 2013, two years before Chancellor Angela Merkel impulsively decided to welcome almost a million asylum seekers, most from the Middle East. The nation was abruptly challenged to become a melting pot at a moment when there was increasing interest in recapturing a sense of Germanness.

Politics usually is grounded in grievances, and Hampel nurses AfD’s originating complaint, which was that Germany’s role under the EU’s common currency has been to bail out slothful, spendthrift Greeks and other southern Europeans. In this, AfD resembles America’s tea party movement, which was a spontaneous combustion in response to TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program), the bailout of banks and of people with improvident mortgages.

AfD is strongest where resentments are deepest — in what was, until 1990, East Germany. There, change has come fast and hard, and incomes are still significantly below those in the rest of Germany, which was spared immersion in socialism. AfD has populism’s hostility to the disruptions and homogenization that accompany globalization. Hence AfD partakes of populism’s failure to will the means for the ends it wills: Globalization is not optional for any developed nation , least of all Germany, which on a per capita basis exports roughly four times more than the United States and 10 times more than China .

Edmund Burke, founding father of modern conservatism, said: “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” He meant that national patriotism sprouts from local soil, from the rich loam of civil society’s communitarian institutions such as families, churches, labor unions, clubs, service organizations, etc. But, as the European Union moves, more implacably than democratically, toward ever-deepening “harmonization” of national political practices and economic policies, populist movements recoil by embracing Europe’s nations themselves as the little platoons, the molecular subdivisions that focus affections.

When an AfD election party concluded with participants singing the national anthem, many scolds considered this transgressive. It is, however, dangerous for a nation to detect danger in expressions of national pride, or in the search for a national identity beyond economic success. Suppress expressions of national pride and you risk reaping a curdled version of pride.

A premise of postwar German politics has been that there should be no party to the right of the Christian Democratic Union. There is now, and AfD is the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. Hampel considers AfD the “natural successor” to the CDU, which has governed Germany for 50 of the last 70 years. His measured judgment is that Germany can have an AfD chancellor in 2023. Then the party will be just 10 years old. However, America’s Republican Party was just 6 years old when it won the presidency. But in 1860 the American nation was coming apart in an irrepressible conflict, which stable, temperate Germany will not be unraveling four years from now.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me