Resistance Is Not Futile

Some have expressed a general pessimism in response to my reporting on the German farmers’ protest and my posts on rising support for Alternative für Deutschland. They think the protest is too little and much too late, that the establishment have easily marginalised the demonstrators, and that merely voting for an opposition party like Alternative für Deutschland will not change anything. For these people, anything short of a revolution is unsatisfactory.

I find this all-or-nothing approach counter-productive; it is an analogue of the political complacency that has been such a huge problem in Germany, and it has the same practical consequences. At the same time, it’s important to keep one’s expectations realistic. Many people on our side of things place far too much hope in protests and other acts of dissent, and are inevitably disappointed when these fail to achieve drastic change. This, I think, is where political pessimism comes from in the first place. I also don’t think voting AfD into office has the potential to solve anything in itself. Popular anti-government protests and political support for opposition parties, however, are important first steps. Neglecting them is like refusing to travel, because after the first few kilometres of your journey, you will still have yet to get to where you want to go. The Hidden Cost of Mon... Bunney, Seb Buy New $9.99 (as of 08:32 UTC - Details)

I also admit that the odds are stacked against any particular political action or opposition party. It is always very safe to predict that these will fail, because at any given moment, the chances that things will continue as they are tend to be greater than the chances that they will change utterly. We must always remember, however, that nothing lasts forever. All regimes, political systems and ideologies sooner or later find their way into the historical dustbin. The highly improbable is guaranteed to happen at some point; we just can’t predict that point with any confidence.

It is instructive to study what the German political establishment itself regards as threatening and how it reacts to dissent. The government and all major parties are very concerned about the rising popularity of AfD. This is hardly what we’d expect if voting for the AfD were useless. They are also deeply worried about the farmers’ protest, which is why they have exerted such effort to stage their own thinly disguised counter-demonstrations. This shows both that the regime do not think protesting in general is pointless, and also that they don’t think the farmers pose no threat to them.

Why are they afraid of these things?

Let’s take protests first. Above all, these are an important mechanism for revealing preference falsification. In hard and soft authoritarian systems, a lot of people lie about their true political preferences to avoid legal problems, social ostracisation and other consequences for wrongthink. This creates the appearance of political consensus where there is none. Well-attended protests show people that they’re not alone in their criticism of German politics. This is why protests often gather momentum and see their messages broaden over time, and why an unpopular establishment – like that which currently governs Germany – are eager to smear protesters as weird radicals and to marginalise them as quickly as possible. Our politicians, together with their collaborators in the press, every day expend incredible effort to portray themselves as reasonable enlightened moderates who govern on behalf of a pacific and allegedly “silent” majority.

Facts the Historians L... John S. Tilley Best Price: $5.00 Buy New $4.87 (as of 07:05 UTC - Details) Protests also represent an implicit opportunity for rivals to power. Everyone currently in charge is surrounded by a lot of people who would like to have their jobs. This includes not only politicians in opposition parties, but also – much more significantly – rivals within the governing parties themselves. It is very dangerous for Olaf Scholz, should people inside his party start to get the idea that they could appease the protesters or even harness their energy better than Scholz can. This is how you end up being de-chancellored. Now, were a rival within the SPD to replace Scholz in the course of a palace coup, nothing would change politically, but here we care only about the threat itself, which represents a powerful motivation to appease angry people on the streets and convince them to go home. This is one reason that the government immediately walked back significant parts of their proposed tax hikes in early January. They did so in direct response to the farmers’ discontent, which is relatively unusual and reveals how seriously the farmers challenged them. Generally regimes will do everything to avoid appeasing the protesters directly. They’ll resort to other means of marginalisation and then give ground afterwards, lest they allow the protesters a clear victory and encourage more such actions in the future. This makes protesting a generally thankless tactic, but that is far from saying it has no prospects.

As for opposition parties: I’ve written before that the establishment will do everything possible to blunt the electoral consequences of rising support for the AfD, and they may well succeed in the shorter term. This does not, however, mean that there is no point in voting for them. To begin with, elections are not yet entirely meaningless; our political system has taken a dramatic turn towards open oligarchy since the middle of the twentieth century, but democratic structures remain in place. These have merely been subverted by informal collaboration within the elite. Politicians enact egregiously stupid laws and policies, the judiciary refuse to act even when these are clearly illegal or unconstitutional, and the press pretend that everybody wants what they’re doing. Should an opposition party come to power, however, this informal collaborative system breaks down, and the old political structures that have been neutered by friendly agreements become a potential weapon. This is why the American establishment reacted with such fury to Trump’s election, and it is why establishment German parties are prepared to move heaven and earth to keep the AfD out of power.

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