Political fragmentation – How dangerous is the increasing political radicalisation?
by Greta, Marina and Theresa
Our future – utopia or dystopia? Our politics – fragmented or united? Is our society on the verge of complete radicalisation? To answer these questions, we looked at the current trends in Western Europe.
Let us start by defining our terms. The Cambridge Dictionary defines political radicalisation as “the action or process of making someone become more radical in their political or religious beliefs”. Extremism is an even more negatively tainted term – it is especially used in the context of illegal or violent actions.
As adolescents we are exceptionally interested in our own generation: How do we and our fellow students, who are to shape the future, think, feel and act? Our survey among KFG students furnished these facts:
Firstly, nearly a third of the respondents would not be open to taking part in a serious discussion with a radical. Will our political future be shaped by a general refusal to communicate? Secondly, half of our interviewees agree with our thesis; they have got the feeling that the number of extreme opinions in our generation are rising. Thirdly, the majority of our informants do sometimes feel personally affronted whilst taking part in political discussions. Thus, their political position becomes a part of their personal identity. What kind of influence will this have on our future?
The European Parliamentary election 2019
To substantiate these opinions with factual data we considered the last European Parliamentary elections. In the course of the analysis one can quickly come to the conclusion that the centre right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats have lost their majority while the right-winged Nationalists and Populists gained votes.
The current political developments in Germany
In how far can we say that the european swing to the extremes is mirrored in Germany? First of all, we analyzed the last two elections of the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag). The left-wing party “DIE LINKE” has gained only 0.6 percent from 2013 to 2017, while the “Alternative für Deutschland”, a right-wing nationalist party, has exploded in numbers: from 4.7 percent in 2013 to 12.6 percent four years later. Meanwhile, the centre Socialists and Democrats have both lost votes.
|CDU||Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands||26,8 %||34,1 %|
|SPD||Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands||20,5 %||25,7 %|
|AfD||Alternative für Deutschland||12,6 %||4,7 %|
|FDP||Freie Demokratische Partei||10,7 %||4,8 %|
|DIE LINKE||DIE LINKE||9,2 %||8,6 %|
|GRÜNE||BÜNDNIS 90/GRÜNE||8,9 %||8,4 %|
|CSU||Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern e.V||6,2 %||7,4 %|
On an even smaller scale, let us have a look at the federal state of Thüringen. This “Land” has always known a strong left-wing electorate. Still, in 2004, the the centre-right democratic party “CDU” was leading the polls with 43 percent of the votes in 2004. The left-wing “PDS” was the runner-up with 26.1 percent. Fifteen years later, the electorate seems torn between political extremes. One the one hand, “DIE LINKE”, a political inheritor of the “PDS”, now owns 31 percent of the votes. One the other hand, a newly founded right-wing party, the “AfD”, won 31.4 percent. The erstwhile dominant parties (“CDU” and “SPD”), which traditionally cover the middle-ground of the political spectrum, are bleeding dry.
Thüringen seems like a rather extreme example. However, the same trend, albeit in a more moderate fashion is also visible in the other “Länder”, for example in Bavaria. Here, we can see that the “CDU” has lost approximately one third of their votes between 2003 and 2018, the “SPD” half of their votes. The “AfD” won 10.2 percent. While the traditional People´s Parties lose ground, the political fringe parties gain votes, albeit not as spectacularly as in Thüringen.
Up- and downsides of the political fragmentation
Does the current political radicalisation have an effect on us and our society?
A key concept of the German Constitution is the idea of representative democracy. In contrast to the U.S.A. and Great-Britain, where a majority voting system is applicable, Germany decided on a system of proportional representation. The advantage: National politics are not dominated by two big factions, but by a multitude of smaller parties that form alliances. In this way, almost any voter will find a party tailored to his interests and opinions. He will feel represented and valued. Communication and compromise are key in this political system.
However, this system can only work, if politicians and their parties are open to compromise. If not, the fragmentation of the German Parliament can make political decision-making very complicated, if not entirely impossible. This is obviously very bad for our country.
If the political fragmentation gives rise to extremism, this can endanger our whole society and the individuals within. Discussion is good and so is the voicing of different opinions. However, we need to stay civil and – even more importantly – well informed. Many Germans seem to lack political education. They voice opinions without a real understanding of the topic discussed. If they are corrected or opposed, they feel personally offended. They no longer make a difference between a person and his opinion. Objectivity is lost to the detriment of political discussion and the search for practical solutions to relevant problems. People feel affronted all the time instead of working together in the interest of our nation.
Possible reasons for the current trend of political radicalisation
We found several explanations for this dangerous trend:
1. Digitalisation and Globalisation
The fragmentation or even liquidation of traditional milieus, groups or institutions leaves concerned individuals in unexpected and poorly prepared situations. They have to be capable of flexibility and quick adaptation – both qualities that highly depend on the right personal attitude and appropriate available resources.
If this adaptation is made impossible, however, the aggrieved parties become so-called losers of the modernization: They feel deprived when comparing their new situation with the old one. This is how the wish to return to status quo ante evolves alongside a strong feeling of personal victimization. In most cases, the society and politicians or the political system are blamed. In Germany, many people from Eastern Germany felt this way after the German Reunion. Many of them had difficulties adapting to the new economic and social system and blamed others for their chagrin.
2. Loosing trust in political parties and their protagonists
People today are increasingly losing trust in the traditional political parties and their protagonists. They are considered sleazy and self-interested by a growing part of the populace. As a result, many individuals turn to newly founded populist parties in the (probably unfounded) expectation that these newcomers are more honest.
3. Social Media
A major reason for the losing of trust in the political parties is the increasing presence and influence of social media. Twenty years ago, people got their information from newspapers and the radio. The people who worked for these news outlets were in the main educated professionals. Nowadays, many people get their news from social media. Here, anybody can voice their opinion. Extremists and conspiracy theorists abound and find their following.
4. The need for approval and significance
People want to be recognised and valued. This fundamental human drive may motivate certain insecure individuals to join groups with totalitarian or extremist attitudes, that make them feel important, respected or feared.
What to do in order to prevent political radicalisation
Political radicalisation is a symptom of the above-mentioned problems. In order to tackle it, we need to tackle the underlying issues. We could take measures against poverty or ethnical conflicts, help underprivileged families and disenfranchised adolescents and try to implement extensive political education. These measures will not only help prevent radicalisation, but improve living conditions, wellbeing and societal cohesion in general. Naturally, a complete prevention of radicalisation is extremely difficult.
Conclusion – our opinion
In order to find an answer to the main question of whether our future society will be utopian or dystopian, we have looked at the last elections in Germany. It is noteworthy that especially the radical parties have been able to immensely enlarge their electorates in the last couple of years. This trend has also been confirmed by our survey. Most of our respondents have got the feeling that our modern society is shaped by a growing number of individuals with extreme political views.
Having different opinions is not a bad thing as such. The free exchange of ideas can lead to good outcomes and is a basic element of a functioning democracy. However, we need to always be open-minded and respectful towards each-other in our discussions. Democracy is mostly about compromise: We have to find common ground for as many people as possible to live peacefully in our country. In order to discuss political, economic or social problems in a sensible fashion, people need to be reasonably well informed. Sadly, many citizens do not seem to make the effort.
In a nutshell: Our future will be a dystopia, if we leave the political arena to the radicals. Our generation can still turn this trend around. We need to inform ourselves and get engaged in politics. Communication is key!