Germans don’t need to vote green to get green

Germany's Green Party is redundant, thanks to Angela Merkel's eco-conservatism.

Matthias Heitmann

Topics World

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The most boring and content-free election campaign ever will come to an end on Sunday when Germans vote for the new Bundestag. There is little doubt that the leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Angela Merkel, will be elected to run Germany for the next four years, with either the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) or the Social Democrats (SPD) as the CDU’s junior coalition partner; both have already played that role in the past.

One of the few remaining interesting questions is over the apparent end of the green hype, two-and-a-half years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, which led the German government to reject nuclear power. However, the sudden decline in popular support for the Green Party only indicates that green ideas are so mainstream now that a political party to represent them is increasingly redundant.

How times change. For months, nearly everyone wondered how the German greens were able to sustain their high levels of support given the fact that preserving the climate and shutting down nuclear-power plants are no longer merely the wet dreams of youthful green activists, but policies dictated from the Federal chancellery. But suddenly, that miraculous green support seems to have crumbled, with opinion polls suggesting that only 10 per cent of voters will back the party, down from more than 25 per cent in the aftermath of Fukushima.

Part of the problem is that the greens haven’t run a particularly smart election campaign. For example, the party has pushed for tax increases and made ‘friendly suggestions’ like not eating meat once a week to save the cows and the climate. Such suggestions didn’t exactly inspire public enthusiasm. Nor did revelations about the morally questionable views on paedophilia voiced by high-ranking green politicians back in the early Eighties. These developments not only mobilised liberal and anti-environmentalist activists to campaign on Facebook against green authoritarianism and hypocrisy, they also prompted newspaper journalists to publish articles about the green party’s sudden agony.

There’s a touch of schadenfreude about watching the halt of the greens’ apparently unstoppable march. There is certainly no substantial criticism of green policies. If there were any serious criticisms of green politics, they would have focused on the conservative government of Angela Merkel, which in recent years has appeared to be greener than any other party in the country. But instead of attacking the Christian Democrats for abandoning their traditional electorate, conservative commentators plunged into extremely superficial ‘anti-68′ rhetoric, trying to distance themselves morally and in terms of lifestyle from the Green Party. In truth, on the basis of their political programmes, the greens would seem to be the natural partner to Merkel’s eco-conservatism.

As a long-term critic of green politics, I might be expected to be delighted at the current spate of green-bashing. It’s certainly a good thing that articles in widely read publications are presenting green politics as not just backward-looking, but as illiberal, paternalistic and authoritarian, too.

But the greens’ woes are somewhat academic today. The greens have no monopoly on authoritarian eco-politics. And while CDU politicians put much effort into artificially dreaming up an ideological gap between themselves and green bureaucrats, they are only too prepared to take on board green ideas. They have been doing that for years – and very successfully managed to modernise the conservative party in the process. The real and only historical mission the Green Party ever had was to reconcile people morally with an economic and political system that could deliver neither intellectual nor material progress. And the party was incredibly successful in fulfilling this mission: scepticism towards technology, fear of growth and opposition to progress are deeply rooted in the German conscience, paving the way to rebrand economic and political stagnation as ‘sustainability’ and ‘responsibility for future generations’.

Despite the attacks on the Green Party now, the most powerful and the most dangerous German greens have never been members of the Green Party and they have never voted for them either.

The public excitement about the declining support for the Greens, leaving them with only nine or 10 per cent support in the opinion polls, indicates how strongly the public misunderstands the core content of green thinking – even more than 30 years after the foundation of the party Die Grünen in 1980. Right from the start, the centrepieces of green ideology were mistrust of the human capacity for reason and freedom alongside scepticism towards man-made technology and science and an assault on the enlightening principle of modernity to develop and cultivate the world in the interests of humanity. Combined with irrational fears of a looming apocalypse, the green consensus provided an ideal base of operation for both uprooted radical left-wing anti-capitalists and right-wing anti-modernists. Their failing worldviews collapsed into an even grimmer one, which was then to become the green consensus: equating nature with culture, putting animal interests over human interests and promoting the uncontrollable power of ‘the planet’ to undermine the human ambition to improve life on earth.

Whenever in the past 30 years catastrophes or natural disasters could somehow be used to irrationally promote radical ecological changes or a green reversal of social progress, public recognition of and support for the Green Party rose. However, these tendencies got smaller in the early twenty-first century. In 2011, it needed an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident in Japan to rejuvenate and revitalise the German Green Party, which at that time was more or less dying. And as green thinking was already deeply rooted into German politics of all colours, this revitalising green shock had stronger consequences than in the past: the Japanese tsunami not only put an end to the German nuclear industry (apparently the most modern, the most efficient and the safest in the world), it also took the Green Party to unexpected electoral success with more than 25 per cent of popular support. This political tsunami even washed Winfried Kretschmann, a former Maoist turned green, into power and made him the first ever green prime minister in Baden-Württemberg, the heartland of the German car industry.

The moral floods of 2011 have slowly receded and so has the ‘natural’ growth of green support. However, the new realities are not anti-green. Instead, Germany 2013 is so green that more and more Germans might wonder if there is any point to the Green Party anymore. The liberal-conservative cheering about the declining support for the greens is naive and unworldly. It would be much more useful to try to provide a broad and stable political platform for all the spontaneously voiced annoyance and anger with the current politics of paternalism and fear.

The strongest case against paternalism and authoritarianism of all political colours would be a radically humanist, pro-freedom and pro-enlightenment argument. Unfortunately, Germans won’t have that choice on Sunday.

Matthias Heitmann is an independent publicist and public speaker. Visit his website here. This article was originally published on the website of the German monthly Cicero.

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Topics World


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