Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (“AKK”) : “Bring together. And lead together”

Published in Cicero Magazine
7th December, 2018
Frankreich ist eine Warnung
Translation by TheEuropeans

France is a warning

With the election of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as its new party chairman, the CDU has settled for continuity. It has, thereby, thrown away its chance to regain the lost confidence of the citizens. France provides an indication of where this path might lead.

So now it’s happened: in the form of AKK, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has settled for business-as-usual [ein Weiter-so]. This is a fair-weather choice taken against a backdrop of glowering skies. It shows that in the Union — and not only in the Union, one has to say — the signs of the times have not yet been clearly discerned. What stands out is that far too many in the political class still believe that current social tensions are only a passing irritation that will disappear of its own accord. A glance across the Rhine should disabuse them of this richly optimistic assessment.

For what is presently happening in France is more than a crisis of state. It is a systemic crisis, and a social crisis. Clearly, large parts of French society have moved so far apart that meaningful and moderate communication between them is scarcely possible.

France’s society is split 

At least two camps face each other. On the one hand stands the liberal, cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, especially in Paris. The members of ministerial bureaucracies, and the boards and top management cadres of banks and corporations, are recruited from this milieu. This decision-making elite is flanked by the bobos, the bourgeois-bohème, who effortlessly combine a ‘lefty’, non-conformist lifestyle with prosperity and success. In Germany, we speak of the New Left Bourgeoisie [vom neulinken Bürgertum].

On the other side are the remnants of the former working class, the petty-bourgeoisie, and the farmers. These are the groups that the much sought-after French geographer, Christophe Guilluy, called in his 2014 essay of the same name, “La France périphérique” [The France of the Margins].

Bourgeoisie meets petty-bourgeoisie 

Although it underpins French society, and gives heart and backbone to it, this France périphérique is geographically and socially on the fringes. It lives in the villages and the small-to-medium-sized towns. It is almost exclusively autochthonous; it is locked into traditional values, ​​and the modes of life and work that go with them.

In recent decades, this France périphérique has found itself progressively more isolated from metropolitan France: not just economically, but also culturally. In the milieu of the elites and bourgeois-bohème, one thinks globally, not locally, and argues aggressively for flexibility, openness and universalism: which is why, in matters of conscience, they instinctively feel closer to the migrants than to the marginalized French themselves — no matter, of course, that this is merely a kitschy conceit, and that they would never think of visiting a banlieue.

Of course, Germany is not France, and our neighbour’s current problems have specifically French causes. But we have bobos in this country too, except that they don’t hang out exclusively in a trendy district of Berlin, but also in Cologne and Hamburg, Stuttgart and Munich, and in various small university towns. And the economic contrast between traditional petty-bourgeoisie and new bourgeoisie is also comparable [with that in France]: even if here, in wealthy Germany, it does not (yet) bear the same edge.

The success of the AfD: an accident of history?

If the election of AKK as new party chairman of the CDU symbolizes one thing, it is the hope of the political class that the French experience will not be repeated in Germany: also that Brexit, the election of Trump, the victory of the League and Five Star Movement [in Italy], the successes of the FPÖ [Austrian far-Right party] and AfD, are all political-industrial accidents that one can safely ignore. Unless, of course, we are deceiving ourselves.

Western societies, including that of Germany, are marked by deep social fissures, which cannot be attributed solely to questions of maintaining standards of living. Much more is it a question of a fundamental and by no means harmless culture-war between the traditional petty-bourgeoisie and the executive elites. The social peace after the Second World War was founded on the fact that, in all essentials, the petty-bourgeoisie and the elite governing class shared the same conservative values. This civil consensus is now shattered. As never before in post-war Europe, the governing elites have now distanced themselves from the social base: in thought, in deed, and in sensibility. Western societies are threatened with disintegration. If you would like to read more on this theme, then Christophe Guilluy’s new book is to be recommended: it bears the programmatic title, No Society : La fin de la classe moyenne occidentale – “No Society : The End of the Western Middle Class”.

Instead of adjusting itself to these scenarios in terms of personnel and political programme, the CDU — “the last unicorn of Europe”, as the new party leader unintentionally said [presumably a malapropism: Ed.] — has with defiance and unworldliness opted for continuity. Probably the party has discarded its last chance to actively reshape a menacing future. France is a warning.