Tolerating Intolerance: A New Political Discourse in Germany

For the past two decades, Tony Blair and many other Third Way politicians talked of compromise as the running gambit of their platform. To concede was a byword for tolerance and respect, and the arguments are not altogether lacking. For nations composed of such diverse arrays of communities and people, it is crucial not to assume others hold the views they do merely in self-interest, that they are held in good faith and should therefore be accommodated. For a time, this worldview dominated. But the cracks of Third Way social democracy have never seemed so evident a they do now, in the face of the far-right Alternative für Deustchland (AfD becoming the first overtly German nationalist party to take seats in the Bundestag for sixty years; let alone becoming the third largest in only three years of existence. For parties like the AfD there is nothing to be conceded. You cannot compromis with a body that is purely defined by an intolerance of the Other; one that is not founded on principal but by the extent to which they find the actions of others unacceptable. One of its new members in the Bundestag, Beatrix von Storch, wants guns used on the German borders and denies climate change is real. Another, Jens Maier, believes mixed race is “erasing national identity”, while Wilhelm von Gottberg sees the Holocaust as merely “an efficient instrument” to criminalize Germans and Germany. These attitudes are not simply wrong, or held in good faith. They are unacceptable.
In the face of such intolerance, suddenly concession comes to look less like a want of agreeable solutions and more a denial that any problems or discontent even exist. Part of this is because the social democratic, Third Way notion of compromise was never really about consensus at all, but an obfuscation that there was anything needed to be compromised on to begin with. Policies of an ideological bent were replaced by ‘values’ left abstract and open to interpretation; to argue against neoliberalism as an economic model was like trying to argue against simple common sense. Even now, the real issues that require decisive action—climate change, rising inequality—are hidden and left unresolved behind rows upon rows of nodding heads, handshakes and eloquently penned agreements. The German federal election has proven intolerance is not exclusive to poverty or lack of education. Now we must prove that tolerance is not simply keeping quiet in fear of provoking a reaction; it is a principle to be defended. In the words of Karl Popper: “we should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
          David McAllister