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The Twilight of German Conservatism

Why Angela Merkel Presides Over a Movement in Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, August 2014 Markus Schreiber/REUTERS

Much ink has been spilled on the collapse of European social democracy, and Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) provides a perfect case study. Once a proud political heavyweight that raked in upward of 40 percent of the vote, the SPD still governs the country as part of a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, but now polls at a meager 16 percent, the same as the environmentalist Green party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The German left’s fall from behemoth to sideshow has provided fodder for endless commentary: Did it fail to address the ills of globalized capitalism? Are all of its policy solutions obsolete?

Much less talked about, but just as brutal, has been the decline of German conservatism. For a long time, there was little to complain about: Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU),

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