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16 Years of Merkelism: A Retrospective by David Engels

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16 Years of Merkelism: A Retrospective

Very soon (next week), and yet many years too late, Angela Merkel’s reign will finally come to an end: 16 interminable years that have profoundly affected Germany, and from which we will all soon reap the dire fruits—everywhere in Europe. To analyse this pivotal period in the history of modern Germany properly, one must either fill entire volumes of documentation or summarise it in a few lines.

What is obvious is the increasing leftism of Angela Merkel’s CDU: initially firmly rooted in Christian values and the social market economy, the CDU has systematically replaced conservative values with leftist activism and has abandoned the middle class in favour of a clientelism aimed at some influential social target groups on the one hand and a few large lobbies on the other. 

Let us list, in no particular order and without any concern for completeness, a few points that spontaneously come to mind when looking back over the last 16 years: the immigration of one to two million ‘refugees’ into Germany, a murderous wave of terrorism, the crushing of the Greek economy during the euro crisis, censorship laws limiting freedom of expression on social networks, the direct interference in the outcome of elections in Thuringia, the disorganised exit from nuclear and coal power, the criminalisation of any criticism of COVID measures, the politicisation of the German Constitutional Court, the destruction of the Dublin Mechanism on the reception of asylum seekers, severe energy shortages, the political instrumentalisation of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, an increasing dependence on the Russian energy market, the legalisation of same-sex marriage and adoption, the trivialisation of euthanasia, the total incapacitation of the German defence forces, the explosion of crime, the deprivation of the unvaccinated of their constitutional rights, the social polarisation of the German population, the refusal to pay NATO contributions, soaring prices, a dangerously ageing infrastructure, increasing crimes against conservative intellectuals and politicians, the endangerment of the car industry, a rise of (Muslim) anti-Semitism, the trivialisation of the crimes of communist East Germany, the manipulation of the free media through a systematic subsidy policy, the interference in the internal affairs of European neighbours, the introduction of a legal system that brackets fundamental rights in order to better combat ‘global warming,’ higher taxes, worsening relations with the UK, Poland, and Hungary, and many others.

To be sure, many of these points are not entirely Angela Merkel’s responsibility, for their development would have been unthinkable without the same leftist radicalisation of public opinion that we see throughout the Western world and, of course, without the consent of her own party to cling to power even at the cost of a total abandonment of what defined Christian democracy three generations ago. Nevertheless, one should also not underestimate the central importance of contemporary Germany in this phenomenon: built almost exclusively on that curious mix of historical guilt for the crimes of the Third Reich and the moral arrogance arising from her conviction that she has ‘learned from her mistakes,’ Germany was the predestined breeding ground for a left-wing ideology that blended communist messianism, Western masochism, economic naivety and, above all, the self-satisfaction of being on the ‘right side of history.’ 

Thus Merkel, herself socialised under the East German communist dictatorship, is both a product of the history of her time and a catalyst for a whole series of trends that are increasingly harmful to our old civilisation. Whether it is the devaluation of human life through abortion, euthanasia, and transhumanism; the relativisation of the natural family through the absurdities of gender theory and LGBTQ ideology; the destruction of the middle class through an anti-capitalist activism too cowardly to take on the big corporations; the ousting of democracy by the influence of international institutions, politicised courts of law, clientelism and bureaucracy; the deliberate de-industrialisation of Europe through the transfer of capital and knowledge to Asia and the rantings of global warming theorists; the legal instrumentalisation of ‘human rights’ by a European elite intent on imposing its ideological choices on the entire continent; the systematic demonisation and persecution of conservatism in the name of the ‘anti-fascist’ struggle; the precipitous demographic decline of indigenous Europeans; the increasingly threatening growth of parallel societies of immigrant origin refusing cultural integration and increasingly imposing their own customs; the appalling decline of schools and universities through the politicisation of school education and the ‘democratisation’ of universities, which have been ideologically controlled by a purely economic logic—all these developments, Merkel has not caused them, but she has clearly confirmed and accelerated. And by using Germany’s political and economic weight, she has done everything to impose them throughout the European Union, alienating many important partners all over Europe and the world.

How then to explain the fascination that many people (especially abroad) have with Angela Merkel—and the undeniable fact that her system of power has been consistently confirmed in elections that one must still consider free? (Though we should not forget the increase in complaints over electoral irregularities and the fact that in Berlin, most recently, some districts saw a 150% voter turnout!)

First, Merkel has been able to take advantage of her two major personal assets: that of being a woman and that of knowing how to hide any form of individual personality behind a screen of boring solidity, which has earned her the support of feminists and ensured her reputation for competence. Then, by achieving, thanks to the votes of a Christian democrat party, a political programme belonging much more to the left and the green than to conservatism, she was able to carry out what has been called the “asymmetrical demobilisation” of (left-wing) voters, many of whom, happy with the measures of the (pseudo-conservative) government, no longer saw any interest in participating actively in the elections. Moreover, let us not forget that Merkel was able to present herself very early on as a bulwark against ‘populism,’ by setting herself up as the antithesis of Donald Trump, which won her a lot of sympathy on the international scene and among the politically correct German electorate. 

And finally, we must stress that Merkel’s ultimately self-destructive policy has enabled Germany to benefit in the short term from the consequences of the euro crisis: given the instability of the markets and the economic decline of the European periphery, exsanguinated by a German-imposed austerity policy, many investors rushed to the German markets renowned for their “solidity” and flooded them with money while accepting very low interest rates, which may have given a boost to Germany’s consumption and production in the midst of a generalized economic crisis. In the German interest, this money could—and should—have been used to create a solid financial reserve, renew the ageing infrastructure and, above all, improve the poor state of the German education system. None of this was done. In order to maintain its popularity and buy the support of its power base—e.g., the media, immigrants, left-wing NGOs, the bureaucracy, environmental initiatives, the Brussels elite—the Merkel system immediately turned all this money into various politicised subsidies. Thus, today, in the face of what promises to be one of the worst economic crises of the century, there is nothing left.

Now, after 16 years, Merkel is leaving the leaking German ship and thus not only a country on the brink of a major economic crisis, but also a CDU suffering from a total loss of confidence, a political, media, and academic system dominated almost exclusively by environmentalist and socialist movements, and a society polarised more than ever and marked by censorship, denunciation, and ostracism. After Merkel’s decision not to seek another term as chancellor and her curious refusal to get involved in the election campaign, the asymmetric demobilisation stopped working: in the September 2021 elections, the CDU suffered one of its worst electoral defeats, and the next government will be dominated by the socialists and ecologists—the logical consequence of 16 years of ideological betrayal of Christian democracy in favour of the left. 

Having managed the country with the sole aim of keeping her ‘clientelist’ system in power for as long as possible, Angela Merkel is disappearing from the political scene just as the first cracks are showing. Exsanguinated for 16 years, Germany is teetering on the brink of destabilising a continent for which it is the main economic and political engine. Ironically, the current generation will most likely not remember the Merkel era as the real reason for the looming crisis that will engulf it, but rather as the ‘good old days’ before the last facades of the post-war social, economic, and political paradigm crumbled for good.

David Engels is chair of Roman History at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and senior analyst at the Instytut Zachodni in Poznań. His 2013 book, Le déclin (Paris: L’artilleur) compared the crisis of the European Union to the decline of the Roman Republic. He has also edited the collection, Renovatio Europae (Berlin: MSC Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2019), a manifesto for a conservative reform of the European Union. His most recent book is Que faire? Vivre avec le déclin de l’Europe. He is a Contributing Editor to The European Conservative.

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