The elections to the German “Bundestag” and the mainstream of the subsequent public debates are reflecting a development reaching far beyond the question why CDU/CSU and SPD [the parties forming the current coalition government] have lost so many votes and the “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) has won nearly 13 per cent of the votes. The way the German parties are dealing with each other is not only motivated by power politics and far from a theatrical performance but also symptom of a split society. If this split is not cured, the German society and politics will not be able to solve the problems ahead.
The problem is not that there are various political parties and that new ones are founded frequently. This is part of democracy. The fact that the parties are canvassing for votes with various programs is also not to be criticised, on the contrary. Questionable, however, is the style in which the various parties are dealing with each other which is also shaping the style of discussions among citizens.
A drastic example is the other parties’ accusation that the AfD was right-wing radical or even extremist. This is more than a propaganda stereotype in the struggle for political power. This kind of reproach is poisoning the political climate, preventing any honest dialogue – not just with the party members but also with the voters of this party which meanwhile are the second largest group of voters in eastern Germany, in Saxony even the largest. Or does anyone mean to tell these voters that, while they were no right-wing extremists, they had been unable to realize that the party they had voted for was?
But in Germany the course is not set for dialogue and the politicians’ phrases about national responsibility which now can be heard from representatives of various parties, mainly those of the Greens and the FDP “Liberals” who are now striving for government power, is hardly credible after all these years of self-centredness and disintegration.
The lack of ability and readiness for dialogue has deeper reasons: Excessive individualism, post-modern de-constructivism, arbitrariness in lifestyle and a return to a social Darwinist thinking and acting in society, economy and politics have weakened the cohesion and solidarity among the people. All this is not a law of nature but has been brought about on purpose! Where everyone can no longer speak to everyone, when there is no longer any interest in others and their positions, no honest listening, no responsiveness, there is danger ahead.
This year, Switzerland is celebrating the 600th birthday of Niklaus von Flüe. One of his now famous words of advice for the Confederates striving for peace was to listen to each other and to be responsive. Obviously this did not come easy for some, even 600 years ago.
And it will be difficult without a common ground.
Ernst Fraenkel, a political scientist who had returned to Germany from emigration after World War II, was the founder of the “theory of pluralism” which was formative for Western post-war Germany. This theory states that there were various interests and interest groups, demanding that political decisions should be concerned about negotiating antagonising interests and finding the largest possible common ground. But Fraenkel assumed, and this is rarely mentioned today, that the ability to search for a common ground needs to be based on a basic ethical consensus, an ethical framework. For him natural law was this framework.
How far away are we from this? And why are we so far away? Not only between nations but also among our own citizens.
The public at large knows little about it, but they still exist: people and groups looking for possibilities to formulate an ethic – an ethic that most serious responsible persons can agree on – even globally. “Are there objective moral values which can unite human beings and bring them peace and happiness? What are they? How are they discerned? How can they be put into action in the lives of persons and communities?” These are the initial questions in the 50-page final report of the International Theological Commission at the Vatican. It has titled this report “In Search of a Universal Ethic” and presented it in 2009.
The statements of both the Russian and the US-American presidents could be seen as less profound but possibly pointing in a similar direction: they both attempt to form some kind of a “nation in unity”. Both countries know what a split society means. The US are more and more suffering from this and it would do the Americans good if it was more than political propaganda this time. Since his first term in office, the Russian President has been trying to resolve the “class warfare” of the 1990s. Both presidents are facing hostilities for their ideas.
Legal provisions are important in international relations and within nations but they alone will not be able to solve the current problems. This is also demonstrated by the fact that, while both international and national law is being broken, the corrective instances do not take action or, more specifically, cannot take action.
The lack of preparedness and willingness to dialogue is reflected not only in relations within the citizenry but also in international relations. A quick look at global politics is sufficient. A few weeks ago a Swiss representative at the OSCE has reported that there was no dialogue between East and West within this Organisation which originally was meant to secure peace and understanding. There is only a confrontation of standpoints – without any approach. This report is symptomatic for a world that is losing its common ground.
It is unlikely that those who have been forwarding antagonisms and polarisation, also disregarding law would suddenly pause and think. They still hope that they will benefit from their method. But the victims of this development, the majority of citizens, can stop participating. This would be a lesson from the “Bundestag” elections – and from global events. Now we turn towards a dialogue of equal persons – national and also international. We stop our participation whenever dialogue is being refused or prevented. Another kind of civil disobedience.
PS: The current harsh conflict in Spain demonstrates the dangers imminent if no consensual solutions are being sought for complex issues with a long history and the parties turn to polarisation instead. It is an illusion to think that such developments are unthinkable in Germany. The combination of a complex real issues (which also exist in Germany), the inability or also the lack of willingness to reach a solution acceptable for all among the responsible persons and not least playing with fire can bring about conflicts within states and between citizens that can hardly be settled peacefully. •
* www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20090520_legge-naturale_ge.html; cf. also Current Concerns No 14/15 from 1 July 2017 (www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/numbers/2017/no-14151-july-2017/in-search-of-a-universal-ethic.html)
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