A Spectre Haunting Europe

Angela Merkel and the Challenges of Far-Right Populism

in German Politics and Society
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  • 1 Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis, USA
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Abstract

Germany's 2017 elections marked the first time since 1949 that a far-right party with neo-Nazi adherents crossed the 5 percent threshold, entering the Bundestag. Securing nearly 13 percent of the vote, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) impeded Chancellor Angela Merkel's ability to pull together a sustainable national coalition for nearly six months. Violating long-standing partisan taboos, the AfD “victory” is a weak reflection of national-populist forces that have gained control of other European governments over the last decade. This paper addresses the ostensible causes of resurgent ethno-nationalism across eu states, especially the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 and Merkel's principled stance on refugees and asylum seekers as of 2015. The primary causes fueling this negative resurgence are systemic in nature, reflecting the deconstruction of welfare states, shifts in political discourse, and opportunistic, albeit misguided responses to demographic change. It highlights a curious gender-twist underlying AfD support, particularly in the East, stressing eight factors that have led disproportionate numbers of middle-aged men to gravitate to such movements. It offers an exploratory treatment of the “psychology of aging” and recent neuro-scientific findings involving right-wing biases towards authoritarianism, social aggression and racism.

Contributor Notes

Joyce Marie Mushaben is a Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Comparative Politics and Gender Studies (Emerita) at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, an Affiliated Faculty member in the bmw Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University, and participates in the eu feminist think tank, Gender5Plus.