The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ratcheting toward Extremism

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is again seeking to ban the National Democratic Party (which apparently has a platform combining xenophobia with economic populism), after its members walked out of a session of Saxony's state parliament rather than endure a moment of silence to honor Holocaust victims.

[This is almost hilarious:

Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Schily have already tried to ban the NPD once, arguing that it incited hate crimes against foreigners and Jews.
In 2003, however, Germany's highest court refused to hear the case because the government cited inflammatory statements and writings by party members who were later unmasked as paid informers for state authorities.

In other words, the government inflamed extremism in an attempt to maneuver an opposition party into committing offenses for which it could be banned.]

Now suppose, for the sake of argument, that this ban succeeds. What would the result be? The members of the NPD will not be less radical, less xenophobic or more respectful of the past. They will naturally seek to group together again, and the logical site for nucleation will be the next-most-extreme xenophobic party. This party's existing strength will then combine with that of the former NPD, and its policies and rhetoric will change to more resemble those of the NPD. This is "divide and conquer" in reverse.

As the suppression of offensive speech is applied to larger and larger parties, they will become more extreme and more monolithic. When will they be too large to attack? Belgium has just cut state funding to Vlaams Belang, which is supported by "20 to 30 percent" of Flemish Belgium, but not banned it; but it is at least plausible that Vlaams Belang's steadily growing strength is due to state-enforced accretion of the sort we have just discussed.

There has been a lot of talk, in the days since Mr. Bush's inaugural speech, about the consequences of following democracy wherever it may lead in the Islamic world. But there is only one nation where democracy has already led to the greatest ruin the world has ever seen; and there is no inherent guarantee that it cannot happen again.