Europe After America
As America grows apart from Europe, where does that leave Germany? An interview with the German AfD politician Maximilian Krah may help answer that question.
Maximilian Krah, 46, is part of the national leadership of the German political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and is a member of the E.U. parliament. During the July 2023 nominating convention of the AfD, he was elected to be the party’s lead candidate for next year’s elections to the E.U. parliament. He is the author of the book Politik von rechts. Ein Manifest (Antaios, 2023).
You open your book Politik von rechts (Politics From the Right) by distinguishing the political Right from other terms that are often used synonymously, such as “conservative” or “libertarian.” What in your eyes is the essence of the Right?
It is the will to live in accordance with the natural order, with both empirical nature and with the metaphysical structure of being that is inherent to nature. This distinguishes 19th century conservatism, at least in its European variant, from liberalism. We believe that from being arises an ought, and we want to live in harmony and identity with that which we are and with creation. That is why the Right is identitarian.
Anglo-American conservatives will be bewildered by this. They often say they are “classical liberals,” which to them means to defeat identity politics and to defend the autonomy of the individual.
First of all, let’s make plain that I seek identity with reality. Leftist identity politics is chimerical. If I were to suddenly say that I’m no longer Maximilian, I’m Melinda now, that would be ridiculous. In other words, for the Left, identity is a code word for something that isn’t there. It’s an attack on reality. The problem with classical liberalism is that it misunderstands the concept of freedom. And it’s a misunderstanding that it shares with the woke. So if I want to be Melinda now, it’s my own free decision. But once we say that Maximilian cannot be Melinda, we draw on a principle that is more fundamental than freedom. We on the Right understand nature normatively, which quite obviously limits our freedom. Once I grant that there are limits to my freedom due to a normatively understood concept of nature, only then do I prevent freedom’s misuse. And only then does freedom become a positive value.
You also write that identity “always also excludes.” Let’s use that statement to segue toward addressing the elephant in the room. By seeking to exclude, for example in its views on immigration, the AfD is viewed by many at home and abroad as the rebirth of National Socialism. Is it?
It’s a giant problem in the Western world today that it cannot bear differences. But we need to learn to like differences. We aren’t all the same. Difference is a gain. Traditionally, Germans have been an innovative, industrious, orderly people. But it’s just as good that elsewhere in the world people have a higher musicality or a higher appreciation for the aesthetic. If we give up on difference, we give up on tremendous wealth. And then we arrive at a horribly mediocre common denominator. But we need the highs and the lows. This appreciation of difference is definitely crucial for right-wing thought, simply because you find difference in nature too.
Regarding the charge that the AfD was the second coming of Nazism: To say “long live difference” means also to accept that others have their own qualities and that we don’t say we’re the best. In other words, the problem emerges when I group people in a hierarchical way by saying: “Our way of life is much better than that of others and that’s why they have to follow our lead.” And so, 20th century European fascism lacked the appreciation of difference. That, I think, is the key distinction and that’s why I don’t think we are National Socialism reincarnated.
Let’s talk about whom to exclude from the European continent. You draw on Carl Schmitt to call for a “Ban on Intervention for Spatially Foreign Powers.” The United States is spatially foreign—so Yankee out?
Geopolitics means that politics is bound geographically. It’s bound to place, locally specific cultural characteristics, to the economy, to natural resources, and so on. In short, it’s crucial to reconnect politics with space and the people that live there. Whereas a politics that doesn’t deal with real spaces and real people, but just with abstract values, is a politics that leads to forever wars. This is what we’re dealing with today. In cultural and ethnic terms, the United States was once a European power. Americans were the descendants of Europeans. By 2045, it will no longer be European.
Which leads to this question: How can a country that is moving away from Europe dominate it at the same time? This question poses itself very concretely in Ukraine. Obviously you see that the United States does not have the well-being of the Ukrainian population on the top of its mind. After all, we are right now sacrificing the Ukrainian youth in this moronic war: a war that could have easily been avoided. Clearly, this war is about America’s ambition to push back against Russia. It is a war for world order. And Washington has effectively taken over Kiev which cannot do anything without American approval. The U.S. finances Ukraine, arms it, makes strategic decisions on its behalf.
Has Berlin also been taken over by Washington? Does Germany operate as a sovereign state, independent of American will?
Berlin is in a different weight class. We are, for one, capable of financing ourselves. But the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines means that the United States has decided that Germany cannot buy its gas from Russia and has simply created a fait accompli. And our government in Berlin knows this and is silent. Is this how a sovereign state acts or a vassal? But I don’t like the concept of sovereignty because it is too binary: sovereign and not sovereign. Whereas I think sovereignty falls along a spectrum. The highest level of sovereignty would mean that you can do as you please without consideration for others. That applies only to the United States, China, and Russia. Thus, if Ukraine would join NATO, Russia would no longer be on this level of sovereignty. Russia is no longer capable of defending itself when there is a foreign power in Kharkov. And so, Russia is fighting in Ukraine for its ability to maintain the highest level of sovereignty.
Germany has never been on this level, not even before World War I. It was always bound up with its neighbors and needed to consider their interests. That was a good thing. It was a mistake to want more. It cost us the 20th century. I like to say “sovereign is the one who has alternatives.” I need to be able to have choices in the most crucial matters, such as energy and technology. Germany wanted to order 5G technology from Huawei, and the United States forbade that. Much of German gas once came from Russia. The United States forbade that. Now we are one-sidedly dependent on energy imports from America. This knocks us down quite a bit on the sovereignty spectrum.
What about the European Union? Do you advocate a “Dexit”?
I do not. Precisely because the world will be multipolar in the future, Europe needs to be an autonomous pole. All states, except the U.S., China, and Russia, can only achieve security through systems of collective security. If there were no European federation, no E.U., no replacement organization, then each European nation would have to seek a security agreement with the United States. A country like the Czech Republic can’t defend itself; nor can Hungary. The experience of the Cold War has taught us that Russia is unattractive.
But I just said America was growing apart from Europe. And we can see in the example of Ukraine that such a security agreement can be pretty sobering. I, for one, would not like to end like Ukraine. Charles de Gaulle advocated for a “Europe of the fatherlands,” whereas right now we have a bureaucratic unitary entity. So, drawing on de Gaulle, I’d say that internally we need as much freedom and sovereignty as possible and externally as many commonalities as necessary. Right now Europe acts chaotically toward the outside and internally it is incredibly centralized. I’d like to invert that.
How should Europe position itself toward the emerging BRICS coalition?
First of all, let’s push back against a widespread misconception on the right, that right now the U.S. is hegemonic and that the only alternative is Chinese hegemony. Even Brzezinski wrote that that’s nonsense. China and BRICS are an anti-hegemonic coalition. So I’d say it’s this way: We either have a Pax Americana, which I believe is necessarily woke and bellicose, or we have no sole global hegemony but regional hegemons instead who rule according to their own local preferences. And I’m not even saying that this latter model is better than the former. It’s just inevitable.
In 1913, the West was 30% of the world's population; today it is 16%. And we’re aging fast. There are no demographic and economic foundations to believe that the West will govern the world uniformly according to its own universalistic ethos as a Kantian world state. The thing that remains is military power. In short, the multipolar order is inevitable. This means in turn that the E.U. will need to become its own pole and foster relations with others like the United States but also Russia, China, India, and so on. And these need to be mutual relations. We can’t order these states around and tell them how they should live.
I wanted to shift to the domestic policy views of the AfD: The party was founded by liberal economists and some prominent members belong to the free-market Friedrich von Hayek Society. But other party leaders seek to present it as pro-worker. Alexander Gauland said the AfD should “not fall below Bismarck’s social reforms.” You’re often associated with his wing of the party, but in your book you bemoan “the sinister power of the unions” and say the welfare state was throttling growth. Sounds like libertarianism to me.
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The German welfare state has failed. It is oversized and its benefits act like a magnet for migrants. We can’t solve social problems with even greater redistribution, which would accelerate immigration even more and thus cause further problems. But privatizing social welfare would cause problems too. The Right has lost elections wherever it ignored the social question. Our novel contribution is that we need to connect the social question to immigration. In other words, we need a model of social solidarity that prevents most of the benefits from going to immigrants. In the AfD we call this “solidarity patriotism” (solidarischer Patriotismus). Current upheavals—such as immigration, A.I., the demographic crisis—lead decent individuals who belong to our people to experience hardships. And they have a claim to solidarity.
Are you concerned about competition from the popular left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht, who is also critical of open borders but is attractive to working-class voters? She will found a new political party, and according to some polls, could attract many current AfD voters. She said she will not collaborate with the AfD, though.
That’s precisely why Wagenknecht poses no threat to the AfD’s success. Wagenknecht and we say that status quo mainstream policies are running this country into the ground. And so we ask Wagenknecht: Are you ready to form a coalition with us? She says no. So everyone should get that she is nothing but a plant of the Social Democrats. We need to communicate that Wagenknecht cannot solve the immigration problem because she is a leftist. Just 50 percent of welfare recipients are German citizens. The German welfare state already ethnicizes the social question, only that it does that in favor of immigrants. And so, a vote for Wagenknecht would be a lost vote. Our voters know that. I believe that ultimately she will fail.