Alexander Gauland

Paul Hockenos, Foreign Policy, n.d.

Alexander Gauland isn’t just the éminence grise of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party — he’s also its most important intellectual insurgent. In 2017, the 76-year-old notched up two completely unforeseen successes. In the spring, he sidelined numerous moderate rivals within the AfD and refashioned the party as a vehicle for culture war against proponents of multiculturalism. Then, in September’s national election, he led the party to a stunning third-place finish with 12.6 percent of the vote, which upended Germany’s political landscape — and if he has his way, he’ll transform the country’s postwar identity, too.

The AfD’s triumph at the ballot box would be impossible to imagine without the lawyer and former newspaper publisher. With his gentlemen’s club combination of tweed jackets and leather Oxfords, Gauland lent the nationalist, populist party an image of moderation and intellectual heft it had otherwise lacked. (In contrast, his victories over inner-party rivals happened through hardball infighting, culminating in his successful mobilizing of the party base in rejecting a relatively moderate platform at a party conference in April.) Until he bailed in 2013 to co-found the AfD, Gauland had been a loyal member for 40 years of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). That gives him the political credibility, in the eyes of conservative Germans, to indict Angela Merkel’s leadership. He wasn’t the one who had left the party, he protests, but rather the party left him.

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Germany is a great nation, he proclaimed on the campaign trail this year, but its greatness has been obscured since the end of World War II. That’s when its bad conscience, and its international allies, forced it to compromise its political and cultural sovereignty. A properly proud German nation, Gauland claimed during the election campaign this summer, shouldn’t have to subordinate itself to the European Union or dilute its national culture by inviting mass immigration.

Precisely in an era of globalization, Gauland argues, Germany needs to have recourse to its authentic heritage. That includes Germany’s tradition of militarism tracing back at least to Prussia’s 19th-century “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck. Gauland doesn’t claim that Germany’s military should have designs on former German territory in Europe. But he does think Germany’s commitment to its transatlantic alliance is a mistake borne of guilt. Germany, he says, deserves a military focused on protecting and controlling its own borders rather than on behalf of other powers such as the United States. If NATO has any future at all, he claims, then it must include Russia, his superpower ally of choice.

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Christianity is another part of German national culture that Gauland believes the AfD must defend. He says the AfD is open to accommodating “real refugees” but not economic migrants. At rallies, though, he uses rhetoric reminiscent of neo-Nazi organizations, whose denizens are in the audience applauding. He rants against Merkel’s “policies of human overflooding” and “the attempt to exterminate Germans.” Islam simply has no place in Germany, Gauland underscores, and never has.

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