For obvious reasons, books on the AfD are thin on the ground. It took me an unduly long time to review this one, not because there was anything wrong with the book but rather because something was wrong with my timekeeping and project mismanagement. Hopefully, the review should appear in one of the next issues of German Politics, but for the time being, I’m posting the author’s version here. And yes, most people who would be interested in the book would also be able to read the review in German. Odd. I know.
Alexander Häusler (Ed.): Die Alternative für Deutschland. Programmatik, Entwicklung und politische Verortung. Wiesbaden (VS), 2016, 251 pages, 29.99 Euros.
A party in transition
As an object of study, Germany’s new(-ish) Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is a moving target. Since its inception in early 2013, the party has gone from strength to strength and won parliamentary representation in the majority of the federal states and in the European Parliament. In all likelihood, the AfD will also enter the Bundestag, which would make it the first newcomer since 1990.
At the same time, the party underwent a remarkable transformation. While the AfD attracted a motley collection of right-wingers from the beginning, its public image was initially shaped by middle-aged conservative men, who had been, or could have been, former members of the Christian Democrats or the FDP. In 2013, the party’s very short manifesto was almost exclusively concerned with the reform of the EU and the Euro system and carefully avoided populist language. To the casual observer, the AfD may have looked like a breakaway from the CDU.
Two years down the line, the AfD’s most visible figure, Bernd Lucke, and many of his allies in the leadership had left the party. At the height of the Euro crisis, the AfD all but ditched Euroscepticism (still not a very salient issue in Germany) and began instead to focus on the familiar themes of immigration, asylum, and Islam. In the process, the AfD has arguably become Germany’s first modern and nationally successful Radical Right-Wing Populist Party.
The AfD in 2015
By necessity, any book on the AfD can only hope to provide a snapshot of the party’s rapidly unfolding development. One such snapshot, that nonetheless offers some deep insights, is the volume edited by Alexander Häusler. The 14 chapters (complemented by a short introduction and a concise summary) began their lives as papers for a conference that the FORENA research centre organised in February 2015. They have been updated for the book publication, but their style and content clearly reflects the dynamic nature of their object.
Häusler has organised the contributions along the lines of six broad themes: the AfD’s ideological position within the larger party system, the party’s prospective foreign policies, their positions on gender and family issues, their relationship with Pegida and Islamophobia more generally, their position vis-a-vis Germany’s New Right (“Neue Rechte”), and finally, the organisational realities on the ground (a somewhat odd section as there is only a single contribution: a case study on Brandenburg in early 2015). Accordingly, the chapters vary considerably in terms of their scope, methods, and outlook. For instance, in his analysis of the AfD’s position within and potential effect on the German party system, Frank Decker relies on the standard tool kit of comparative party (system) studies and looks at the AfD’s history, party ideology, membership, affiliations, and voters. Similarly, Marcel Lewandowsky applies (qualitative) content analysis to a set of party documents (mostly manifestos) to compare the AfD’s stance on EU politics and International Relations more generally to those of the CSU, NPD, and the “Freie Wähler”. Felix Korsch, on the other hand, presents a detailed quantitative analysis of publicly accessible sources to uncover the degree of overlap between (prominent) members of Pegida, of the AfD, and of other parties and organisation. He complements his findings by pointing out how some of the claims and demands voiced by Pegida resemble those made by the AfD, while other authors offer very detailed insights into the microcosm of right-wing movements and organisations in Germany.
The AfD’s gender agenda
Perhaps the most interesting section is the one on gender and family issues. Christian fundamentalism is a niche issue in Germany. Politically, it has been mostly confined to micro parties such as the Partei Bibeltreuer Christen (PBC). But Andreas Kemper and Ulli Jentsch demonstrate in their respective chapters that there is again overlap between Germany’s small pro-life movement and other ’anti-emancipatory’ actors on the one hand and elite actors within the AfD on the other. As a corollary, Jasmin Siri’s qualitative analysis of party documents reveals the outlines of a highly traditional, if not anti-feminist agenda.
Reflecting its origins in a conference, and, more importantly, the rapid transformation of the AfD itself, the book can not hope to provide a single, coherent and definitive statement on the young party. But this is not a shortcoming: The authors and the editor present a useful, multi-faceted snapshot of a party in transition that can serve as a starting point for a whole host of future avenues for research.