Jacob Heilbrunn

A New German Doctrine: Marching to the Left

 Germany is moving to the left. State elections in the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg resulted in a stinging defeat for the ruling coalition of the Christian Democrats, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Free Democrats, led by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. As in America, state elections tend to go against the ruling parties--a kind of protest.

But this one was unusual because it came in the heartland of Christian Democratic support. And because the Free Democrats barely made the minimum 5 percent clause for entry into the state parliament. Merkel will remain chancellor, but she has been severely wounded. Her manuevering room has become more circumscribed, which, given her innate caution, suggests that she will accomplish very little other than to cling to her post. Having disposed of most potential rivals in the CDU, she faces no real danger of a coup. But the result will be to weaken her party gravely once she is forced to depart--a day that is coming closer and closer.

The real victor of this election, however, wasn't the Social Democratic Party. It was the Green party. The Greens now look like an early version of the American Tea Party, in the sense that they loathed the establishment (though they have since become part of it). They were a protest party that emerged in the 1970s out of the leftovers of the 1960s. They were rooted in environmental protests--against nuclear energy and pollution. Those issues have never lost their vigor in Germany. On the contrary, the major parties tried to coopt those issues. The Christian Democrats went green, so to speak. The Social Democrats have constructed a ruling coalition with the Greens in the past, but are threatened by their success as well.

The Greens cut substantially into the electoral base of the Free Democrats, a classically liberal party that defends free enterprise and individual freedoms. The Greens embody postmodern values. It makes you feel good to vote Green--virtuous, honorable. In the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster, Germans, already highly skeptical of atomic energy, gravitated toward the Greens. Add the bombing of Libya and you have a pacifist upsurge in Germany. Both Merkel and Westerwelle kept Germany out of the conflict.

But it wasn't enough to keep them from suffering a big loss at home. Germany is becoming a very different country. Its economy is doing well, but voters are disgruntled. They're tired of bailing out the rest of the euro-zone. Without Germany, the Euro is doomed. At a minimum, it will likely stumble along rather than thrive as conservative politicians fiercely resist any further bailouts. The country, if anything, is following a more realist prescription. It's turning inward. The Greens, it could be argued, are the most German of the political parties, even as they reject nationalism.

They have discovered a new German doctrine, a new kind of triumphalism. Germany wants to be environmentally superior to its neighbors. The old Prussian virtues and the furor Teutonicus are not being directed to the conquest of Germany's neighbors, but conquering bad habits.

Image by Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck