Germany’s Anti-Populist Exceptionalism
As Germany prepares for this month’s federal election, the country seems remarkably resistant to the populist challenge that other Western societies have faced. But weak support for extremist parties doesn’t mean that Germans are satisfied.
BERLIN – As Germany prepares for this month’s federal election, the country seems remarkably resistant to the populist challenge that other Western societies have faced. With the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and their far-left competitors Die Linke both hovering at around 10% in the polls, a victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely viewed as the most likely result. But that doesn’t mean that Germans are satisfied.
A Merkel-led government could either be a continuation of the grand coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats or some other political constellation. In either case, it would seem to imply that Germany is less vulnerable to the populist temptation than some of its Western counterparts. This is often attributed to two structural causes.
The first is Germany’s singular historic track record of right- and left-wing totalitarianism. And, indeed, the legacy of Third Reich hyper-chauvinism and “actually existing socialism” in the eastern part of the country has inculcated in most Germans a cautious centrism, rendering extremist parties unsupportable for the majority of voters. In Germany – even more so than in most other countries – the more extreme a political party becomes, the more limited its popular backing.