The well-documented rise of the AfD is only half the story. The other half is an almost symmetrical rise this year of the Greens, who have positioned themselves as the clearest alternative to the AfD. In Bavaria on Sunday, they might become the second-largest group in parliament.
This Greening of Germany reflects several trends in Western democracies. The old left-right dichotomy, which ultimately dates to the Industrial Revolution, is losing relevance in today’s information economy. A new spectrum has emerged, between proponents of „open“ and „closed“ societies. „Open“ here means pro-immigrant, pro-trade, pro-pluralism; „closed“ means anti-migrant, nationalist, authoritarian.
The AfD stands for closed. And the Greens, although their origins in the counterculture of the 1970s were on the post-Marxist left (still audible in pundits like Jürgen Trittin), now stand for open. This is also the result of a disastrous omission by the Free Democrats, who should have claimed this role as their birthright. Instead, the FDP has allowed itself to be maneuvered into the rhetorical corner of „neoliberalism“.
The Greens have also occupied the most liberal spot on another axis, that between patriarchal authoritarianism and egalitarian libertarianism. With women playing a greater role in their party than in any other, they are surfing the #MeToo wave. And, by dint of their branding, the Greens have dibs on the biggest problem of our time: climate change.
The Greens also have a sociological advantage. Their supporters tend to be educated and affluent, whereas other lefties are more often blue-collar metal bashers or coal miners. At school and at home, the Greens have spent their lives near their alleged ideological foes. There are dinner tables where dad votes CDU, bro votes FDP and sis votes Green. Lots of fighting, but also some cuddling (a.k.a. coalition-building).
So here is what the Greens must do. They should sever all mental links to their old partners, the Social Democrats. Like its European sister parties, the SPD is forever stuck in the past, preaching „a gospel of envy … and the equal sharing of misery,“ as Winston Churchill put it. It has no answers for the digital age or the environment, and should be allowed to atrophy in peace.
It would also help if the Greens lightened up a bit. In the past, they tended to be hyper-Germans: preachy, do-goody, humorless – the sort who wear sandals but harangue you for recycling a white bottle in the brown-glass bin. In their new and mature phase, they must live and let live, without invoking the nanny state at every turn. In short, the Greens should proudly become what the Free Democrats could have been: classical liberals.