Since 1982, the year E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was released and the Falkland War occurred, Germany has had only three chancellors. The United States has had five presidents in that time; Britain six prime ministers; and Italy 15 prime ministers.
Even more remarkable: Since the end of World War ii, more than 70 years ago, Germany has had only nine chancellors. That’s an average of eight years per chancellorship. America, in that time, has had 12 presidents, six years per presidency; Britain 15 prime ministers, five years per tenure; and Italy 45 prime ministers, averaging 1.5 years each.
Behind these facts is a fundamental truth: Postwar Germany, perhaps more than any other modern nation, is accustomed to political stability and order.
So what happens if this stable, dependable political system breaks down?
History provides some insight. The Weimar Republic (the democratic state of Germany between 1919 and 1933) was plagued by instability and disorder; it was, in general, deeply unpopular. Extremist parties thrived, while the Weimar government was constantly under threat of collapse (there were 10 national elections in 14 years). By 1933, the Weimar system was so enfeebled and there was so much systemic instability that the regime didn’t stand a chance against Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. Seven years after he exploited the political and social crises to take control of Germany, Hitler and the Nazi Party set the world on fire.
Germany’s postwar political system was built, among other purposes, to prevent another Weimar scenario. And for seven decades this system has successfully (though not perfectly) created political stability, order and consistency; it has marginalized extremist parties and ideologies, and secured the confidence of the German people. Germany’s postwar system has been so successful that few today would consider Germany at risk of Weimar-type conditions. But past success doesn’t guarantee future success, and right now, multiple crises are converging to put enormous pressure on Germany’s political system.
It’s still early, but a major political emergency could be imminent.
First, consider the crises Germany currently faces. Most obvious is the migrant issue and the rapid integration of more than 1 million immigrants, most of whom are Muslim. This comes with significant sacrifice and cost, economically, socially and culturally. Radical Islam has taken root inside Germany and is inflicting violence and suffering. Socially, tension and outright conflict between Germans and foreigners are mounting. The popularity of radical ideologies and political views is rapidly growing. Germany’s economic outlook is uncertain and precarious. Deutsche Bank, the nation’s largest financial institution, is approaching meltdown, and its struggles signify a larger financial crisis. Outside Germany, a belligerent Russia is pushing and prodding in Eastern Europe. To the north, west and south, ailing European countries are counting on Germany for leadership—and money.
Meanwhile, as all these serious issues converge, Germany is entering a major political crisis. The German government, and especially Chancellor Angela Merkel, cannot solve Germany’s woes and as a result is rapidly losing the confidence of the German public. But that’s not the worst of it: Germany right now doesn’t have an obvious replacement for Merkel.
Since 2005, mutti—or “mother”—Merkel has been a textbook example of Teutonic consistency and steadiness. But today there are clear signs of weakness and vulnerability. The problem isn’t that Merkel lacks solutions or leadership; the problem is that rapidly growing numbers of Germans flat out disagree with Merkel’s solutions and are becoming disenfranchised and angry about her persistence in pushing them. The chancellor, her counterparts and the mainstream German media are increasingly out of touch with the average German.
On September 4, in state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Merkel’s own constituency, the Christian Democratic Union (cdu), came in third behind the Social Democrats (spd) and the far-right Alternative for Germany (
“In Berlin at least, the German political system has shattered,” observed George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures following the Berlin election. “If the Berlin results are replicated on a national level, Germany is going to become ungovernable. … [T]his result, taken at face value, indicates that the European foundation, Germany, is moving toward a major political crisis that will resonate” (September 20; emphasis added throughout).
September’s election results validated summer polls that revealed a significant decline in Merkel’s popularity nationwide. One August poll showed that 50 percent of Germans are against Merkel serving a fourth term. Another showed support for Merkel had dropped by 12 points to its lowest level in five years. The same poll also revealed that two thirds of voters opposed Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis.
Some of the most intense criticism is coming from Merkel’s friends and allies in Bavaria, the heart and soul of German conservatism. Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (csu) has been a stalwart ally of the cdu for decades and is the primary reason for the long-standing dominance of conservative coalition governments. These days csu officials, including party leader Horst Seehofer, are extremely critical of Merkel. Many csu politicians declared that they will not endorse her reelection in 2017. Seehofer blamed the poor showing in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania election squarely on Merkel and warned that unless the situation changes soon, Germany’s conservative parties will be in big trouble. “The situation for the conservatives is extremely threatening,” Seehofer told Süddeutsche Zeitung September 5. The problem, he said, is that voters are sick and tired of “Berlin politics.”
Two days after the election, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, in an address in the Bundestag, warned that Germany was entering uncertain and dangerous times. There “is an increasingly loud call among us for a strongman,” he warned, and conditions are ripe for the emergence of a “demagogue.”
“In my view,” cautioned Friedman, “there is a growing sense in Germany that the German system is failing” (op cit).
So what comes next?
Merkel or Bust
Right now, there is no obvious answer. And there’s no alternative. It’s Angela Merkel or bust. It’s really quite remarkable: Despite public opinion’s obvious souring on Merkel, there is no significant national conversation about who might replace her. Before September’s elections, it was hard to even find commentators addressing the subject of post-Merkel Germany. Merkel has no obvious successor. Nobody on either the left or right is actively campaigning on a national scale to replace Merkel and lead Germany. Germany doesn’t have a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton; it doesn’t have a Nigel Farage or a Marine Le Pen.
This massive leadership void is significant.
America, Britain and France all have obvious candidates vying to replace the incumbent party or leader, or to represent the dissatisfied and angry segments of the population nationally. These countries have popular individuals who are publicly discussing the problems, recognizing the public’s frustrations, and proposing their own ideas and solutions. Dissatisfied Americans, British and French are represented by a national figure and movement. They have someone who shares their concerns, someone who at least appears to hear them. Worried Americans, British and French have someone to rally behind. To Americans concerned about immigration, Donald Trump is superman. And to Americans concerned about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is superman. To Britons concerned about immigration or membership in the European Union, Nigel Farage is superman.
Germany doesn’t have a superman.
There are, of course, politicians in Germany who would put their hand up to do Merkel’s job. But no one is actively, enthusiastically going after it; and the German public isn’t excited about any particular candidate. So far, no one has developed a national campaign. No one is going on television or writing articles or producing commercials to reach out to the German people and show them that he understands their concerns, that he agrees with their anxieties, and that he has tangible solutions to Germany’s crises. No one has captured the imagination of the people. Germany lacks a leader with the personality, the leadership, the style, the policies and the solutions to get the public excited and hopeful.
So, the desire for a superman intensifies.
This is a potentially dangerous scenario. Politics abhors a vacuum. The greater the number and intensity of the crises, the stronger the desire for someone with real solutions. This is exactly the scenario that facilitated the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Compared to his Weimar counterparts, Hitler was energetic, passionate and urgent. He came with what seemed to be practical, rational solutions, and he appeared to genuinely care about Germany. And by 1933, the public’s frustration and anxiety was so intense—and its hunger for better leadership so acute—that many Germans ignored Hitler’s sociopathic traits and, instead, embraced him as a superman who would soothe their anxieties and restore stability and order.
The Merkel administration today isn’t the Weimar regime. (The Merkel regime, at least between 2005 and 2014, was the antithesis of Weimar Germany.) But what if the Islamist terrorist attacks continue? What if migrants continue raping and attacking Germans? What if the tension and violence intensifies? What if migrants continue pouring in? What if the economy slumps? What if the far right continues to rise? It’s not unreasonable to expect all these trends to continue. What will Merkel’s fate be then?
Many people hope it will all be OK and the right candidate will emerge at the right time to capture the hearts of the German people and seamlessly replace Merkel. Others hope Merkel will change her views and side with the German public. The more realistic scenario is that the crises will continue to converge, Merkel’s popularity will continue to drop, and the hunger of the German people for an individual with real solutions will continue to grow.
Germany is headed for a major political crisis. The German people generally tend to be imperturbable and pragmatic, and they have a high tolerance for discomfort and sacrifice. But they dislike instability and uncertainty, and they have a low tolerance for disorder. Unless something changes soon to reverse the worsening of the nation’s many crises, Germany could descend into political and social disarray.
From Crisis, Leadership
As we watch the situation in Germany we need to keep an eye out for potential Merkel replacements. For an individual with the right personality and leadership, Germany right now is an opportunity. There are countless historic examples of authoritative leaders emerging during periods of intense crisis. The French Revolution produced Napoleon Bonaparte. Muslim invasions into Europe in the eighth century produced strong Carolingian leaders, including Charlemagne. The crises created by a weak Weimar regime gave Hitler an opening to exploit.
It’s human nature: People seek strong leadership during crisis. And Germany, and the world, right now is entering a time of crisis. Even now there are millions of disenfranchised, angry Germans craving a leader whom they can really get excited about. Will we soon see a leader exploit this crisis to take control of Germany, and perhaps even Europe?
Bible prophecy says this is what is going to happen. Isaiah 10:5 and Habakkuk 1:6, for example, prophesy about the end-time reemergence of the Holy Roman Empire. This European superpower will be led by Germany. Daniel 7 and 8 provide further insight into this seventh and final resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, these chapters describe specifically the appearance of an end-time antitype of Antiochus Epiphanes—the cunning, calloused Greek dictator who inflicted terrible destruction on the Jews and Jerusalem in the second century b.c.
Notice how the Bible describes this end-time Antiochus: “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise …. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many …” (Daniel 8:23-25).
This man is discussed again in Daniel 11:21: “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.” Notice how this man is characterized. He has a “fierce countenance,” meaning he’s mighty and powerful. He has an “understanding [of] dark sentences.” As Clarke’s Commentary says, he’s “very learned and skillful in all things relating to government and its intrigues”— he’s a skilled politician.
Notice, he inherits the throne of Europe “peaceably,” obtaining his kingdom by “flatteries.” He’s crafty and sly, with an engaging, vibrant, attractive personality. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says “the nation shall not, by a public act, confer the kingdom on him, but he shall obtain it by artifice, ‘flattering.’” In other words, the people, and perhaps European leaders, likely invite this man into power.
What might cause the public to invite this man to take control? There must be a political crisis, and the people must believe that only this man can solve their problems!
Chancellor Merkel’s star is fading. And it would diminish even quicker if the German people were presented with an individual like the one described in Daniel 7 and 8. If they were presented with a leader who was energetic, eloquent and personable; a leader who wasn’t shy about confronting the issues; a leader who wasn’t afraid to talk tough, nor to make tough decisions and take tough actions; a leader whose personality and politics appeared suitably modern, moderate and sophisticated, but who could also think and speak and act pragmatically, with force, vigor and power; a leader who felt fresh and new, but at the same time was experienced in German politics, tradition and customs; perhaps a leader with an impressive royal legacy, who would stir the patriotic sentiments of the German people—this kind of leader could capture the imagination of the German people. He would be a leader capable of filling the role of German superman.
Perhaps someone like Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.