The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, made a unprecedented intervention final week. Talking on the seventy fifth anniversary of the Herrenchiemsee Conference, which led to the primary draft of the trendy German structure, he delivered a stark warning that the ‘enemies’ of democracy might quickly be able to erode Germans’ freedoms and to ‘brutalise’ society. On the identical time, he provided an answer to those risks. Germans, he mentioned, have ‘it in our arms to place those that despise democracy again of their place’.
The German president is predicted to behave above get together politics, and so he was cautious to not title these ‘enemies’ outright, or to specify what actions may very well be taken to defend German democracy. However, it was abundantly clear that Steinmeier had the right-wing populist AfD (Different for Germany) in his sights. And the instruments he alluded to, as set out within the German structure, embody banning the get together outright. That is exactly how his feedback have been interpreted and written up within the German and world media.
As stunning as it could sound, Steinmeier wouldn’t be alone in supporting a ban on the AfD. An editorial in German information journal Der Spiegel final week known as for the ‘enemies of the structure’ to be banned, claiming that ‘it’s time to defend democracy with sharper weapons’. The German Institute for Human Rights, a significant state-funded think-tank, claimed final month that the AfD is sufficiently hostile to the German structure to be legally disbanded. Nancy Faeser, inside minister within the ruling Social Democrat (SPD) authorities, can also be identified to help a ban.
These calls have solely been getting louder because the AfD has grown in help over the previous yr. Though the AfD misplaced floor within the 2021 federal elections, the populists at the moment are polling forward of the governing SPD. And whereas the AfD is polling second nationally, behind the centre-right CDU, it’s at present topping the polls in 4 out of Germany’s 5 japanese states, three of that are holding elections subsequent yr. Current wins in native elections in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt have solely added to the elites’ nervousness a couple of populist takeover of Germany.
It’s as if the German elites can not hear themselves. They’re primarily arguing that the one technique to save German democracy is to tear it down, by banning a celebration that’s supported by a fifth of the inhabitants.
The argument for banning the AfD attracts on the postwar German custom of ‘defensive democracy’, which is the premise of the trendy structure. It’s based mostly on the mistaken perception that the rise of the Nazis ‘exploited’ the democratic system to rise to energy. To forestall this from occurring once more, so the argument goes, as we speak’s authorities have to be on their guard, able to ban and constrain nascent fascist actions earlier than they’ll take energy and destroy democracy from inside.
For sure, defensive democracy is a deeply anti-democratic thought. It assumes it’s the job of elites to find out which events it’s acceptable for the general public to vote for. It additionally misreads each historical past and the scenario as we speak. As Bruno Waterfield explains: ‘It assumes that common passions, unleashed by nationwide electorates, result in the rise of totalitarianism or aggressive state nationalism until they’re topic to some form of… political restraint.’ Mockingly, this concept really buys into myths propagated by the fascists – comparable to that the Nazis spoke for almost all. In fact, Adolf Hitler was not chosen by the demos. His recognition was really on the wane earlier than he grew to become German chancellor in 1933. Slightly than driving a tide of common help, he was invited into authorities by conservative elites, who have been determined to cling on to energy.
The German elites additionally misunderstand the AfD. Definitely, there are figures inside the AfD who espouse deeply obnoxious right-wing views. The get together’s opposition to immigration can stray into outright xenophobia and racism. It’s not unusual to listen to AfD spokespeople distinguish between ‘actual Germans’ and ‘passport Germans’ – that’s, German residents who aren’t ethnically German. Outstanding AfD politicians have spoken at rallies organised by the far-right, anti-Islam Pegida motion. And the more and more influential Björn Höcke, who leads the get together in Thuringia, has been accused of downplaying the Holocaust.
However the AfD isn’t a fascist get together, and the latest surge in help for it’s down nearly totally to the rising unpopularity of the present coalition authorities. The federal government’s insurance policies on immigration and vitality are extensively disliked. And its dedication to the inexperienced agenda has been economically crippling. For all the AfD’s many faults, it’s at present the one main get together that’s kicking up any form of fuss about these issues. Banning the get together would imply banning the federal government’s most vital critics.
These calls for to ban the AfD are the logical end result of elite efforts to demonise the get together and its supporters, and to maintain it out of energy by typically underhand means. AfD voters are smeared by the political class and within the media as racists, fascists and dupes of Russian disinformation – and due to this fact unworthy of a voice. Every of the mainstream events has lengthy maintained a strict cordon sanitaire across the AfD, refusing to work with it in authorities. Which means that even when the AfD have been to come back first in regional or federal elections, it will be shut out of energy. Voters’ needs would primarily be voided.
The institution has additionally leant closely on the safety state to maintain the AfD in test. The get together has been beneath surveillance by the key service – the Bundesverfassungsschutz (the Federal Workplace for the Safety of the Structure, or BfV) – since 2021. AfD subgroups, together with its youth wing, have already been banned because of this. Final month, the pinnacle of the BfV urged voters to consider carefully earlier than voting for the AfD, citing the menace it supposedly poses to democracy. It was an explicitly political intervention.
Mockingly, removed from desirous to tear down democracy, AfD voters are typically involved in regards to the lack of democratic illustration in Germany. Certainly, in response to latest polls, some 77 per cent of German voters really feel they don’t have any energy over what the federal government does. It’s this democratic deficit that’s driving voters in the direction of the AfD.
That is one motive why the elites’ anti-democratic machinations have solely elevated help for the AfD. They affirm that the established events would relatively silence populist voters than have interaction with their considerations.
All of this remembers Bertolt Brecht’s 1953 satirical poem, ‘The Answer’ (Die Lösung). With ‘the folks’ having misplaced the arrogance of the federal government, Brecht poses the query: ‘Would it not not be simpler… for the federal government to dissolve the folks and elect one other?’
The elites say they’re defending democracy. However their goal is to place troublesome voters again of their field. Make no mistake, the actual menace to German democracy comes not from the populist proper, however from an more and more authoritarian institution.