Saturday, December 10, 2016

Merkel's ugly old right-liberalism

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has announced that she is standing again for election, despite the unpopularity of her open borders policy. Merkel is the leader of the CDU, a party similar to the Liberal Party here in Australia. It is a "centre-right" party, meaning it is a party of right-liberals.

At Gates of Vienna, there is a video of Angela Merkel being interviewed about her strategy. She is asked by the reporter whether she is going to change course politically and move rightwards to neutralise the opposition there, or seek refuge in the social democratic left. Merkel answers:
No. I am seeking a solution where the CDU has always firmly stood. That is the social market economy, the liberal-democratic state of laws.

So her first response to the great issues facing Germany is that the solution lies with the market. The market rules. The second response is that the laws of the liberal state will be upheld.

These answers might seem strange but they aren't surprising for a right-liberal. All liberals believe that what matters is the individual pursuing their own self-defined aims and identities. Left-liberals focus on the idea that the state can intervene in society to ensure that predetermined qualities are made not to matter so that everyone is equally free to pursue self-defined aims. Right-liberals focus more on Economic Man, on the ideal of individuals being self-made in the market. That's why our own PM, Malcolm Turnbull, said in his acceptance speech that:
This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.

That is what seemed important to a right-liberal politician.

The problem, of course, is that this type of politics turns a nation of people with a real, historic connection to one another into a collection of atomised individuals inhabiting the same market place. Angela Merkel goes on to say in the interview:
There will be no returning to the times before digitization, before globalization. But we must give people the impression — not just the impression, but solve issues — so that they have stability...City and countryside, the elderly and young people, those who have recently arrived and those who have been living longer with us, questions of freedom of religion, of security, internal security...It is about answering these questions.

Look at what she has done. With a turn of phrase she has obliterated the existence of the German people. The Germans have been reduced to the status of "those who have been living longer with us". The facts of history, kinship, religion and culture are swept aside.

She is being intellectually honest in putting things this way, because it fits in with the political assumptions of right-liberals. She would be lying if she claimed to see people as being embodied within a distinct tradition and identity; in her view, there are no such people, only individuals inhabiting the liberal state and fulfilling themselves as actors within the market.

It makes for grim reading, I know. But a couple of things to help you stay positive. First, right-wing liberalism does seem to be changing, though it's difficult to say yet to what extent. As liberalism itself veers into ever more suicidal territory, there does seem to be something of a rethink happening on the liberal right. Stay posted for updates on this.

Second, the AfD (a patriotic German party) is still doing well in the polls and might make further inroads in Germany's next election. In a recent survey in the German state of Saxony, the AfD had the support of 25% of the population and was the most popular party amongst those aged 35 to 49 (31% support).

We have to keep doing what we can to push back and to break the liberal monopoly on politics.


  1. Merkel is not what you call a "right-liberal." The "social market economy" in German parlance means a market economy with extensive government intervention (well beyond a safety net and prudent regulation) to produce the right "social" results. She is not a Reaganite or a Thatcherite. She is much more like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (both of whom have lionized her) than she is like, say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio in the US Republican Party. In other words, Merkel is just a leftist progressive, plain and simple, regardless of the history of the party she leads.

    1. That's a reasonable point. I'm not sure whether my original stance holds, though. It's unusual for a left liberal to instinctively say that the political solution to an important issue is via the market and the law. That's the common reflex of right-liberals. However, it's possible that Merkel is trying to signal to the party that she will maintain stability and the status quo in terms of what the party has traditionally stood for. Merkel, it seems, hasn't laid out a clear political philosophy (unlike, say, Thatcher), so I can't be sure. But thank you for the constructive criticism - I'll take it on board.

  2. Not to belabor the point, but Merkel said "social market economy," not "the free market." Those are very different concepts.