The Germans Turn Right

The Germans Turn Right, by Christopher Caldwell.

Angela Merkel’s time as “leader of the West,” to use the honorific the New York Times and CNN bestowed on her, lasted about eight months?—?roughly from the swearing-in of Donald J. Trump in January until people began throwing tomatoes at her during a September campaign rally in Heidelberg. “Traitor to the people!” the signs said. “Hau ab!” the attendees shouted, an instruction too obscene to translate. By election day, so loud was the whistling that outdoor rallies were moved indoors. …

There was an extraordinary stability to the West German party system for a half-century after the Nazis. It was based in part on a superstition that there is a readily identifiable “left” and “right” in politics and that, in the wake of the Second World War, parties to the “right” of the Christian Democrats are extremist and taboo. What Merkel did was therefore logical. She transformed her party to make it indistinguishable from its left-wing rivals, the Social Democrats and the Greens. She could compete for their voters, confident no one would challenge her from the right. In 2010 she ended military conscription. In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011, she announced an end to atomic energy. In 2014 she backed a minimum wage. In 2015 she opened the borders to migrants. Last spring she brought gay marriage to a vote and secured its passage, while professing, like Barack Obama until 2012, to disapprove of it. In the 2017 campaign’s one televised debate, which lasted an hour and a half, Social Democrat Martin Schulz could find nothing of importance to disagree with her on. He ran his campaign under the slogan “More Social Justice.” But after 12 years of Merkel, there wasn’t much social justice left unprovided. …

Some Americans will recognize in the uprising against Merkel an element of their boiling fury towards Barack Obama at the end of his presidency. …

The AfD’s distrust of the press is absolute. Today, the party’s activists complain, the press does little more than collude in Merkel’s project of shaming those who disagree with her. …

Trust in all institutions in Germany has plummeted​—​and with it trust in the “European values” that Merkel invoked two summers ago. …

Keeping the AfD marginalized nonetheless remains important to the other parties. ….

Now, Germans have broken the taboo against voting for conservative parties. But one should hesitate before assuming that Germany is traveling back down the road to fascism. The sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn points out that, even if it wished to, Germany would not have the demographic resources for it. At the point in the 20th century when Western countries began wreaking havoc, the United States, Canada, and Europe accounted worldwide for 44 percent of fighting-age men (15-29 years old). Today they account for 11 percent.