Even as the world quite rightly calls out the violent, bloody coup attempted in the USA by nativist extremists last week, conservatism with a small ‘c’ or moderate centre-right politics too is being mauled.
But if US President Donald J.Trump encapsulates the worst and most unacceptable form of the centre-right Republican Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany represents the best of how a mainstream centre-right party, in her case the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), can reinvent itself for the modern world.
As she prepares to step down after four terms in office later this year ~ her party meets this month to choose a successor who is expected to lead the CDU into the national election due in September ~ Ms Merkel, arguably Europe’s most influential leader since Charles de Gaulle, has proven to be an ambassador for a robust common-sense approach towards policy-making.
While retaining a commitment to the nation-state, she’s exhibited a profound and sophisticated understanding of the need to value plurality while being uncompromising on individual liberty, promoting a free market economy with a safety net for the marginalised, and strengthening democratic institutions.
In the process, she has provided a stable Germany at the heart of the European Union which can be proud of its civilisational ethos sans supremacism, celebrate diversity without fetishizing it, and has underlined the value of modest individualism in the face of communitarian discourses. Ms Merkel’s hits and misses ~ from her controversial if deeply humanistic open-door policy towards refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria to her sensible handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, her rock steady leadership of the EU which saw Germany use its economic heft to get behind a debt financed rescue package for Europe’s troubled economies, and preventing a no-deal Brexit ~ will continue to be a matter of debate as her record is parsed over the coming years.
Her boots, however, are likely to be too large to be filled by the next Chancellor whether she or he is from the CDU, the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP), or even the Green Party which is likely to have a say in government formation.
But the abiding legacy Ms Merkel leaves behind, given the rise of often violent, nativist off-shoots of traditional centre-right parties the world over as the storming of the Capitol brought home, is that her political sense and nondoctrinaire sensibility has ensured the far-right Alternative for Germany’s strategy of co-opting elements of the CDU to gain popular support is likely to fail.
That is no mean feat as extremists seek to pierce the “armour of democracy”. As for the narrative of the hard left in cahoots with effete liberals and illiberal religious radicals which seeks to paint anyone who disagrees with them as unthinking bigots cut from the same cloth as those who rioted in Washington DC, they would do well to remember it was Ms Merkel who publicly refused to shake Mr Trump’s hand while all manner of others were