Post-Merkel Germany: where left is right and right is left
Lefty-liberal militarism and right-wing pacifism? The war in Ukraine has turned our normative belief system upside-down
“Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland”: Death is a champion from Germany. So goes a famous line taken from the poem Todesfuge (Deathfugue) by Paul Celan (1920-1970), a Romanian-born Jewish Holocaust survivor and one of the most influential German-language poets of the post-World War II era.
Published in Germany in 1948, the poem addresses the horrors of the Nazi extermination campaign in a way that is so hauntingly beautiful that, at the time of its publication, it succeeded in insulting the white fragility of German intellectuals like Frankfurt School of thought co-founder, Theodor W. Adorno, who said that “to write a poem after Ausschwitz is barbaric.”
Seven decades later, the narcissistic, power-hungry nation that plunged the world into death in destruction not once, but twice, and whose racial superiority complex tried to wipe off the face of the earth the Herero and Nama peoples in Southern Africa and the Jews of Europe, is once again doing its reputation as Champion of Death justice.
This time around, not by genocide, but by once again engaging in the same kind of toxic megalomania and militarism we are so used to from “zee Germans”: by inundating Ukraine with weapons of destruction in its ongoing war with Russia, a radical departure from relative non-interventionism (relative, because Germany has long held the dubious honor of being among the Top 5 global arms exporters) which Germans have the audacity to frame as a moral duty.
As a result of the war, the German army, the Bundeswehr, has been given an unprecedented financial booster jab of 100 billion Euros, paid for by the German taxpayer, while 200+ people are dying daily from COVID-19. In order to illustrate this absurdity, Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, likened the ongoing body count to a passenger plane crashing every day. Yet despite record-high infection rates, face-mask mandates and social distancing rules have been dropped in a reckless Freedom-Day manner.
Let the irony sink in for a second: it is legally possible to supply Ukrainian Neo-Nazi regiments like the Azov Battalion with killing machinery, but not to uphold life-saving face-mask mandates in one’s own country. Such are the twisted priorities of the Social Democrat/Green party/neoliberal FDP coalition government that has followed Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure, who are shamelessly putting military-industrial profit over public health.
The renaissance of German militarism, brought to you by the Green party
The most striking thing about Germany’s new old megalomania and militarism is not the phenomenon per se, but who is advocating and implementing it: not primarily the conservative Christian Democrats (Merkel’s CDU) and its Bavarian sister party CSU with their traditional ties to the country’s military-industrial complex, but the governing SPD (under the iconic chancellor Willy Brandt a champion of rapprochement and dialogue with the Soviet bloc) and its junior coalition partner, the Greens whose political origins date back to a myriad of progressive social movements in the 1970s, from peace to women’s liberation, student activism to environmentalism.
Under chancellor Olaf Scholz, Germany has already emerged as the second-biggest supplier of armaments to Ukraine after the US, but for the war-hungry Greens, a silver medal is not enough: foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is going for gold and has been pushing for the sale of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, meaning tanks, artillery, warships, and fighter jets.
Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg, Baerbock’s pro-war comments were not only out of step with her boss’s position (Scholz has, at the time of writing, been hesitant to extend Germany’s logistical commitment beyond defensive weaponry, but the perfidious way in which she framed her appeal can only be described as smiley-face fascism: “Now is not the time for excuses, now is the time for creativity and pragmatism,” she said.
Juxtaposing warfare and “creativity”: that is a new low even for the Greens who have acquired a reputation for cringeworthy Faustian bargains and ideological reinventions, ever since their icon Joschka Fischer, a left-wing militant during his student days and German foreign minister from 1998 to 2005, sold out his party’s pacifist soul when he beat the war drums for NATO’s illegal bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the first time since World War II that German soldiers actively participated in combat.
In post-Merkel Germany, it is once again the pseudo-left Green party that is spearheading the country’s military renaissance. Germany’s only truly left-wing party, DIE LINKE, has unfortunately been relegated to a life of political irrelevance in recent years, securing a mere 39 seats in the current 736-seat Bundestag, the German parliament.
“Scholz is delaying a final decision on whether to send German tanks to Ukraine, despite pressure from his coalition partners the Greens, led by Baerbock and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck,” said an article in Politico from April 14, which says it all: In post-Merkel Germany, centrists are the voice of moderation, erring on the side of caution, while their junior coalition partner, once a proponent of peace, is proactively committing itself to war-mongering in the name of “pragmatism.”
Left is right and right is left
“That a Ukrainian NATO-membership constitutes a red line, the crossing of which would not be tolerated by Russia, as it has done with regards to previous rounds of NATO’s eastward expansion, has been clear for two decades. Since then, countless opportunities have been missed to negotiate a status of secured neutrality for Ukraine, one that would have accommodated the security interests of all and enabled Ukraine to go from the bone of contention to a bridge between East and West. Instead, the hardliners, imprisoned in an utterly anachronistic Cold War logic, have rigidly clung to the prospect of NATO-membership for Ukraine and in the course have, [quite] arrogantly, revoked Russia’s Great Power status. That is the historic failure of the West.”
If I had come across this quote (I have translated it from the original German) without knowing who had said it, I would have thought that these were words spoken by a member of the Green party or the anti-war DIE LINKE. But no, this rational and intelligent critique of Western imperialism came from MP Alice Weidel, co-leader of the anti-Islam AfD party, who has been anything other than rational and intelligent in her hate-speech rhetoric against all and sundry that is progressive, be it gender equality or immigration.
This is also post-Merkel Germany turned topsy-turvy by the war in Ukraine: the right-wing filling the void left by the liberal-left when the latter deserted their traditional ideological position of de-escalation and Détente and migrated to the post of chief war propagandist. How is it that the burden of peace-making has been outsourced to the bigots of the right and war-mongering and weapons- manufacturing have become the existential philosophy and political staple of the supposedly progressive and pacifist liberal-left?
This fascinating role-reversal of the right being the voice of reason and advocating for peace, while the liberal-left acts irrationally and opts for war, is occurring in other EU countries, too: Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who hates everyone from Muslims to Jews, gays to “gipsies” (a derogatory term for the Romani people), and who was recently reelected yet again in a landslide victory, has vowed to keep Hungary out of the war, while France’s right-wing presidential contender, Marine Le Pen, advocates a rapprochement between Nato and Russia once the war is over and has pledged that, if elected, France would again leave NATO’s military command, as it had done in 1966.
Then you have countries like Sweden and Finnland, both governed by Social Democrats, who are in the process of reversing their traditional stances of neutrality and non-interventionism by actively working towards joining NATO. Olof Palme, Sweden’s anti-colonial former prime minister, who together with former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the aforementioned Willy Brandt constituted the trinity behind what is known as the golden decade of European social democracy, is turning in his grave at his country’s reactionary volt-face.
Merkel’s post-democratic chickens have come home to roost
With regards to Germany, one question remains: how is it possible that the country’s new old megalomaniacal and militaristic aspirations are met with shoulder-shrugging nonchalance by the German public?
The answer lies in the paradox of Merkel’s maternal style of government (her nickname is “Mutti”, the German word for Mommy) which projected an air of reassurance and of getting things done, without actually doing squat, and which in the course of 16 years managed to heavily sedate Germans, fostering a culture of political apathy among the electorate which is reminiscent of what British political scientist Colin Crouch has coined as “post-democracy.”
“A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell,” Crouch writes in his 2000 book Coping with Post-Democracy, adding that in such a society, “[t]he energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite.” In Germany, that “small circle” has been personified like no other by Angela Merkel.
Merkel’s signature style of taking care of things without actually taking care of them, but the public believing she actually did take care of them, has been a stroke of pure genius, guaranteeing her reelection upon reelection by a populace increasingly unburdened by the pesky responsibility of political participation. Voting Merkel meant outsourcing personal responsibility to a trusted public figure without having to feel bad about it. Because if there is one thing mainstream Germans - no matter their political affiliation - can agree on, it is that Angela Merkel is a decent and amiable human being.
That post-democracy comes with systemic discontents, that when the left and right are continuously coopted by the center and socioeconomic problems are left to fester under the surface it gives rise to the extreme right, as evidenced by the genesis of the AfD party (which in the course of a decade has managed to go from its humble origins of upstart Eurosceptic party belittled by establishment politicians to Germany’s second-largest opposition party in the current Bundestag, on a persistently mono-thematic ticket of Islamophobia and xenophobia, mind you), is something the lethargic German electorate has yet to understand.
According to a recent poll by German state broadcaster ARD, 55 % of Germans support the supply of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, while only 37 % are against it. The analysis of the score went on to say that “supporters of the Greens, SPD, FDP and CDU/CSU are predominantly for the delivery of arms, voters of the AfD are against it.” Notice how it says “Greens” first.
Post-Merkel Germany in times of war: where up is down and down is up, and where lefty-liberal fascism is giving the traditional fascism from the right a run for its money.