She hovers. He haunts. Angela Merkel has secured a remarkable fourth term as German Chancellor. Adolf Hitler has secured a remarkable return to German political discourse.
I do not draw a precise parallel between the present far-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the past far-right party, the Nazi party. But in this weekend’s German elections, the overtly nationalist, populist, xenophobic AfD, which until recently was marginal, achieved a significant victory. It secured 13 percent of the vote, guaranteeing it representation in parliament and a political platform to be reckoned with.
No sense exaggerating the importance of this. Voters in other European countries have made the same right turn, as have voters in the US. Still, this is the first time a far-right party has been represented in the German parliament in more than 60 years. Given Germany’s not-so-very- distant history this is an outcome of consequence.
Angela Merkel is assured her place in history. She has been and remains a remarkably effective leader in Germany, and in Europe more generally. Moreover, her even temper and stable temperament are badly needed counterweights not only given Germany’s past, but given the problematic present, in which follower’s attraction to half-cocked strongman leaders remains very much in evidence.
It is not too much to say that moderate Merkel represents the better angels of our nature, whereas the AfD pulls in extremists attracted by apparently simple solutions to complex problems. In the wake of the results of the election, one AfD leader told the party faithful that he was “absolutely euphoric.” Claimed another, “We did it…. We will change Germany!”
Again, no sense exaggerating the importance of this. But given where liberal democracy is in the first quarter of the 21st century, and given where Germany was in the second quarter of the 20th, attention must be paid.