The cautionary tale of Germany's growing far-right - Macleans.ca
 

The cautionary tale of Germany’s growing far-right

Adnan R. Khan on why it’s not fascism or even racism that’s driving the surprising success of the German far right. Canada should take notice.


 
AfD (Alternative for Germany) chairwoman Frauke Petry, right, Far-right leader and candidate for next spring presidential elections Marine le Pen from France, center, and Dutch populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders stand together after their speechesat a meeting of European Nationalists in Koblenz, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (Michael Probst/AP/CP)

AfD (Alternative for Germany) chairwoman Frauke Petry, right, far-right leader and candidate for next spring presidential elections Marine le Pen from France, center, and Dutch populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders stand together after their speeches at a meeting of European Nationalists in Koblenz, Germany, Jan. 21, 2017. (Michael Probst/AP/CP)

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party that has staked its reputation on protecting Germany for Germans, exceeded expectations in parliamentary elections on Sunday  by winning 12.6 per cent of the popular vote and securing 94 seats in the German parliament. The result sent a shiver through moderates, not only in Germany but around the world.  For a nation bedeviled by the memory of the vilest form of fascism the world has ever seen to succumb again to what appears to be a fascist urge cannot bode well for the future of western democracy.

But here’s the uncomfortable truth: Germany did not fall victim to a new iteration of fascism, nor is overt racism the underlying factor that has helped the AfD’s rise from obscurity to the third largest party in Europe’s largest democracy. Like the U.S., where the rise of Donald Trump has confused and bewildered pundits of every political stripe, and Canada where right wing populists like Kellie Leitch have found receptive audiences, conservatism around the world is in a state of crisis.

Liberal values have dominated the social and political discourse for decades and rapid changes in western societies, from free trade to social progress in gender identity and evolving concepts of the family unit have left traditionalists without a political voice.

Parties like the AfD and leaders like Trump have filled the void, promising a return to a more familiar past where men are men, women are women, and nations are defined by their histories, real or imagined.

RELATED: The far right takes root in Europe

In Germany, for instance, studies suggest neo-Nazis remain a fringe group who, on their own, could never muster the kind of support needed to enter German politics. Instead, the AfD focused its election campaign on immigration and refugees and the perceived threat they pose to traditional German lifestyles. The regions where it did well—primarily in the former East Germany, where it garnered nearly one-quarter of the popular vote—are home to some of Germany’s most nativist populations.

The exception that proves the rule was Bavaria, arguably the heartland of German conservatism. But here, voters had an alternative to the AfD, the Christian Social Union, a more ardently right wing sister party to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, which only runs candidates in Bavaria.

According to Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at New York University who specializes in the psychology of morality, it’s far too easy to substitute the fear over loss of identity with racism, or worse still, fascism. Protecting ones inherited identity, a feature common to conservatives, is not the same as racism, he argues, but rather an innate feature of the conservative “moral mind.”

In a fascinating Ted Talk, Haidt identifies five “foundations of morality” which guide human behaviour: harm, fairness, in-group, authority and purity. His research has shown that liberals and conservatives around the world share the first two—an aversion to causing harm and a desire for fairness, with liberals scoring only slightly higher than conservatives. But the last three are much more strongly felt by conservatives. The political right, Haidt argues, places high moral value on deference to authority, loyalty and self-control.

Those features translate in the real world to a deep-seated aversion to change and the torrid pace of liberalization of western society over the past couple of decades. In Germany, the rise of the AfD correlates with a feeling among Germany’s conservatives that their identities are under attack by liberal mainstream politics. Merkel’s decision to open the doors to refugees in 2015, without public consultation, played into the hands of the far right. Other policies, including a recent law legalizing same sex marriage, have strengthened the AfD’s position as the sole voice for Germany’s traditionalists.

But there is hope for a return to consensus politics. One of the consistent features of the far-right is its lack of internal cohesion. Unity of purpose is not something the far right can boast, in large part because it is not a movement in the traditional sense. The so-called alt-right is a mash up of disgruntled white men, old school racists, cultural puritans and religious ideologues loosely brought together by their shared suspicion of globalization and liberal values.

For the AfD, that has proven a difficult challenge. Bitter in-fighting has left the party deeply fractured. Even after its electoral success, it suffered a serious blow when one of its more moderate leaders, Frauke Petry, announced she would sit as an independent in parliament. Shortly after, others followed suit.

The moderate/radical divide also exists among Trump supporters, with the former amenable to change if their concerns are met. Those concerns, according to Haidt, are based in a fundamental aversion to chaos, which conservatives believe rampant liberalism promotes.

The fast pace of social change in the 21st century and the radical narratives employed by some on the left to promote ever more change has led to a conservative backlash and the only way to return to constructive engagement, Haidt adds, is to understand the “moral matrix” which guides conservative thinking.

The Germans now have to find a path to that understanding. Merkel has stated she is unwilling to do so, saying the AfD will have no role in German politics going forward. Canada should avoid such a divisive trap. Not all supporters of the AfD, or even the so-called alt-right, represent the kind of extremism that some populist leaders have used to gain power. Legitimate social conservatives will always form a part of our societies and should be given a voice. By marginalizing them, we push them into the arms of radicals. And we ignore them at our peril.

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The cautionary tale of Germany’s growing far-right

  1. Mr. Khan has made some good points in this article . However, his basic tenet is wrong (that tenet being that people who voted for the ADf in Germany did so out of a “fear of change”. ) What Mr. Khan and politicians the world over need to understand is that the teachings of Islam are NOT compatible with “Western, Liberal culture”. The citizens of Western, “liberal’ countries have fought long and hard for the gains which they have made in terms of human rights and human freedoms. Those who voted for the ADf did so because they do not want to have people in their society who believe (1) that homosexuals should be put to death ; (2) that an adulterous woman should be stoned to death ; (3) that women should not be allowed to speak their own minds or pursue their own careers ; (4) that all Jews should be killed ; and (5) that all “Infidels” should be killed. (“Infidels” being anyone who does not swear loyalty-to-the-death to Allah.) The people of Germany, and many other European countries, are beginning to understand that Islamists do not WANT to “integrate”, or become good citizens of the countries which have taken them in. Rather, these Islamists see themselves as the first wave in a world-wide “jihadi” movement — a movement which, the Immams tell us, will not be satisfied until Islam is the ruling ideology. In Canada, the first step towards this is already being taken, with the “full force of government” being called upon to keep citizens from speaking their minds (referencing here, of course, Iqra Khalids’ “Motion 103” — the “Islamophobia motion. Many, many — of all stripes, all colors, and all religious beliefs see this Motion 103 as a stepping stone to stopping any criticism of Islam — even where that criticism is well-earned, and definitely called for. No, Mr. Khan, you need to stop speaking in such a paternalistic tone to the citizens of Canada. We recognize “taquiya” when we see it and when we hear it. Our school children WILL continue to eat pork in our public schools (which children in German public schools canno longer do, under the banner of “accomodation” . ) Canadians WILL continue to walk their dogs in public spaces — despite the fact that Islamists consider dogs “unclean”. Canadians WILL continue to speak out, loudly and clearly, against an ideology that tries to stifle their voices. And, this current government’s changes to the Citizen Act will be redacted. Canadians do NOT want people who have been convicted in a court of law to retain their citizenship papers. And Canadians will NOT have a Canadian passport be a “drop in” pass for those planning to terrorize innocent people around the globe (as the “long term residency not required” provisions in Bill C16 allow for.) Justin Trudeau may have converted to Islam, but Canadians are not buying his talk of our country becoming the first “post-national” country. They are not buying that Canada belongs “more to immigrants ” than to generational Canadians, because WE KNOW how hard we have fought for our country, how much of our income has gone to pay the taxes asked for by our government to provide our Social Safety nets, and we are PROUD to be Canadian. We are not old, tired, afraid-of-change white men. We are young, We are female. We are hard-working, and we will fight the Islamization of Canada to our last breath.

  2. Terrific article LINDSAY3. I hope you are correct when you say that Canadians will not accept this transition.
    Unfortunately I’m beginning to wonder, especially under this current government.

    • Thank You, BUTCHNS. Trudeau’s allegiance to George Soros and the concept of “the New World Order” is very real. The hearings by Parliament’s Heritage Committee on Motion 103 are being held behind closed doors in Ottawa as we speak. We MUST speak out about this “Islamophobia” motion before it is too late. An excellent website is http://www.canadiancitizens.org , which is the website for a group called Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms.

  3. I read your artile with great interest and found it inspired in many ways. I feel the need to comment on your take of Merkel’s response as being unwilling. She actually said that she is interested in understanding and listening to the AfD voters and wants to win them back. National-socialism has no place. There is a big distinction.
    Katrin schubert

    • You are absolutely right, Katrin. Ms. Merkel has said that she wants to “bring back ” the people who voted for the ADf. But, at the same time -to the best of my knowledge, continuing to impose “punishments” on those countries in the EU who are refusing the take “their fair share” of the immigrants. I believe that Angela Merkel is a good person, and, personally, I think that “German guilt” has led her to take such a determined stance regarding opening all of the borders. But, if she does not bring this situation under control very, very soon — and if the Islamic extremists continue to terrorize the streets of Europe, the blame can fairly be placed on her head. In one article which I read, the author talked about charging government leaders who brought this on with “reckless endangerment”. A government should, First and Foremost, take care of its own citizens first. Here in Canada, many of us believe that what Justin Trudeau has embarked upon is treason — to openly bring in people whom he KNOWS are not desirous of contributing to our society, but rather to causing havoc and harm.
      “Thank You” for your interest in my comment. :)