The Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) came into existence in 1949, includes about 82 million inhabitants, and has featured two main political movements. First, the socialists, represented by their Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei, SPD), trace their origins to the original socialist congresses, sometimes attended by Karl Marx himself, and subscribe to his materialist conception of history. Second, however, is German Christian Democracy, represented by the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU). The Christian Democrats have been in power for 46 of the 68 years of the Republic, and in partnership with Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) articulate a vastly different ideology.
The Christian Democratic Union’s name succinctly expresses its mission: to unite all German Christians within a democratic state. After World War II, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, the venerated former Lord Mayor of Cologne—the Cathedral of which houses the relics of the Three Kings—came to the conclusion that German Catholics and Protestants had betrayed their Christian roots by worshipping state power and authority, a modern idolatry that had induced the Nazi disaster. With Germany in ruins, and with international Communism stronger than ever, the only solution, in the sober reflection of this devout Catholic, was to create a political party explicitly dedicated to Christian moral teaching. He writes in his Memoirs (1966: 39-40), “National Socialism was simply the last logical development…of that worship of power and that scorn for the individual which naturally arise from a materialist ideology. The preponderance, the omnipotence of the state, the precedence attributed to it before the dignity and liberty of the individual, violate Christian natural law.”
Adenauer, despite his advanced age, founded the party during the postwar years in addition to overseeing the composition of the German Basic Law and serving as the first German Chancellor (1949-1963); and in these capacities he crafted a popular Christian ideology that blended anti-Communism, pro-Americanism, anti-authoritarianism, and what Germans call the social market economy (soziale Markwirtschaft), in which Christian rites and sacraments are removed from market competition. In the larger context of similar movements in France and Italy, along with the liberalizing reforms of the second Vatican Council (1962-65), German Christian Democracy became both the green pastures and mighty fortress for German Christians, articulating their theological worldview and defending their rights to baptize, communicate, worship, and teach. As reads the party’s millennial manifesto (2007: 279), “The Basic Law is based on principles that are rooted in Christian beliefs. They have had a fundamental impact on our country and our society. It is not only the duty of the Church but also the major responsibility of the state and the citizens to preserve it in our consciousness and to maintain and enforce it.”
Over the last few years, however, the harmony of this sacramental politics has been violently disturbed, for Christian Democratic Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel (2005-) has taken decisions and overseen policies which many regard as inhumane, dangerous, and even disastrous. A major response has been the emergence of Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), a protest party formed in 2013 and currently led by Dr. Frauke Petry, a chemist and businesswoman from Saxony. Its strongest support lies in the former Communist eastern regions, which are the most economically depressed and culturally desolate within the Republic; and its original intent was to oppose German participation in Euro-area bailouts to Greece, a policy deeply resented by many Germans.
The AfD’s Program for Germany (Programm für Deutschland, 2016) condemns the European Union as a whole as a “non-democratic project the policies of which are decided by unaccountable bureaucracies,” (2.1) and demands an “end to the euro experiment,” which if the Bundestag refuses should trigger a nation-wide referendum (2.4). Culture also figures prominently within the manifesto of this protest party. In the context of hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants entering Germany over the past two years, the AfD declares, “Islam does not belong in Germany” (7.6.1), and castigates Islamic law, minarets, and parallel societies (Parallelgesellschaften) as symptoms of a totalitarian religion incompatible with the German constitution and German culture.
Could Alternative for Germany’s economic nationalism and hostility to Islam dethrone the Christian Democratic Union as the political home of German Christians? No. Not yet anyway. Christian Democracy is the Federal Republic’s main political force, with immense reserves of strength, leadership, and loyalty, as well as a record of achievement as great as any political party in Europe.
But the warning must be heeded, and long before Germans report to the polls in late September. Dr. Petry convened a multilateral conference in Koblenz on January 21 attended by Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France, and other right-wing delegates from across Europe, who with great enthusiasm denounced globalist elites, undemocratic Eurocrats, and open immigration policies. Populist protests have triumphed through both Brexit and Trump, and to the same “liberal, multicultural elite” who sincerely believed and repeatedly avowed that such things could never come to pass, one must again issue a stern warning: Achtung.
Mark R. Royce, Ph.D., teaches political science at George Mason University and NVCC Annandale and is author of the forthcoming Political Theology of European Integration: Comparing the Influence of Religious Histories on European Policies, which probes the religious ideas behind EU politics. He has written for The European Legacy, International & Comparative Law Quarterly, and the Journal of Church & State.
Photo Credit: Alternative for Germany (AfD) demonstration against Angela Merkel’s asylum policy in Freilassing on October 17, 2015. Signs read “Our Land – Our Rules!”, “Merkel Must Go!”, and “Secure Borders, Secure Homes!” Photo by Metropolico, via Flickr.