How Dangerous Is the Alternative for Germany (AfD)?

Ziko van Dijk via Creative Commons

How much of Austria is hidden in Germany? After the narrow defeat of right-wing populist presidential candidates, the question of whether Germany could face similar threats is being debated. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is still far behind in approval ratings as is the FPÖ in Austria but its ideology is no less reactionary than that of the Freedom Party and thus, unfortunately, similarly seductive.

With its basic program, the AfD is dreaming back to the Germany of 1955: far enough away from our modern democracy and our open society. For this, the new basic program constructs a reactionary image of Germany as a large, but isolated, country in central Europe, with an enormous army but without alliances. A woman’s place is once again in the kitchen. German is spoken, read and sung. ARD and ZDF highlight the joys of marriage and family at the heart of their programming – even better, public broadcasters are abolished altogether. New-fangled ideas such as conservation or “gender issues” are not covered. The country that the AfD aspires to is clearly not the liberal Germany of today.

This is already clear from the language used. A new sentimentality has found its way into political discourse, not to stir up enthusiasm for politics, but to underscore a negative mood and a destructive attitude towards dissenters. The AfD thus skillfully builds links to anti-modern traditionalism. Social inequality is only exploited but not answered politically and there is silence when it comes to the construction of lawlessness in the state of law where everywhere only victims are acknowledged. The new right define their political position accordingly as the assertion of nationalistic and ethnic unity. This kind of orientation is supposed to achieve a retro sense of community in which the importance of each individual and his or her rights no longer have a role to play.

AfD: Other Cultures Do Not Fit the “German Race”

This “Germany” is built on a recognizable German core culture. Global openness and internationalisation are vilified as a creeping erosion of European culture. “Foreigners” are denied any possibility of integration. The concept of integration is generally questioned: other religions, cultures and languages do not fit to “German-ness” and the “German race”.

From this point of view, the nation is superimposed on the state; in-exactly defined, but widely recognized as an ideal condition for the restoration of the people and the nation. Here, it is not nationality but descent which determines the “People”. Anyone who does not belong, has no rights. With the AfD there is no protection through fundamental rights, without which pure majority decisions lead to dictatorship. Respect for national sovereignty is a logical continuation and realization of national identity. An affinity to autocratic systems is evident.

The open manifestation of an anti-modern tradition in the construction of the AfD identity means it sees itself as following the constitutional tradition of the years 1848, 1871 and 1919 – not, however, in respect of their basic laws. Parliamentary democracy is seen as weak with delegates acting out of self- interest. The openness of our culture is seen as a confusion imposed by the western powers after the second world war.

According to the AFD, Only “Proper Germans” Ahould Have All Civil Rights

For the AfD, Islam does not belong in Germany. In addition to a few specific issues such as banning minarets and the burqa, the AfD vilifies the basic law that guarantees freedom of worship. The AfD states in their program that religious freedom of worship cannot be guaranteed without limitations – this is their legal position. The Christian idea of tolerance is itself entirely negated, never mind the fact that it is generally impossible to live as a moslem within the framework of such a basic law.

Nationalist ideology is driven by social policy. The core of social policy can be summarised by the contention that women of German origin must have more children. Natural differences between the genders, traditional values and gender roles in the family, the classic understanding of the role of men and women are more than just dug out of the mothballs of the 1950s.

The passages which clearly target our constitutional moderate policy are particularly sensitive. The required “security policy clearance” can only be understood as an attack on the rule of law. In the best tradition of Carl Schmitt, a special criminal law is called for – for persons identified as enemies and to the detriment of their civil rights. According to the AfD, civil rights such as self-determination, privacy and right of assembly should only apply to “proper Germans”. This is, of course, incompatible with our constitution: all people are equal before the law.

For the Party, There Is No Alternative to Fear

The AfD program offers more than simply a screen on which to project unhappiness, worries and fears. Like in a cabinet of mirrors, these concerns are further exaggerated and enlarged. For the AfD, there is no alternative to fear. The fear that fuels itself. How the democratic parties deal with this frontal attack on our democracy remains controversial. This must be the case as democracy knows no final truths: “conflict is freedom” as Ralf Dahrendorf says.

Right-wing populism has been raised by the program to combat this freedom. What others refer to as ‘the fact of pluralism’, appears as the biggest threat ever from an AfD perspective. Together with assertion that there are indeed final truths is a claim to exclusivity which is totally alien to our democracy. This fundamentally different conception of politics is not new. Right-wing populism will always be anti-liberty, anti-enlightenment and against open societies.

Thus right-wing populists need to be clearly and comprehensively fought against. The incompatibility of the AfD message with our values must be clearly made. Whoever does not take this on board paves the way for these views to reach the heart of our society. In the end, Austria shows how fast right-wing populism can become a problem.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger