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Depositphotos.com | ruskpp

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The magic word of the conservatives

One of the important but suppressed intellectual questions of our time is: What is conservative today?

Conservative does not come from the Latin verb conservare, which means to preserve. Conservatives do not want to preserve the ashes of yesterday, but rather pass on the flame for a better future. But what does conservative mean in concrete and practical terms in these times of globalisation and digitalisation, climate change and the refugee crisis? How could the idea of a new and modern conservatism look and work in our times of upheaval? And how could the conservative movement, which not only thinks in terms of the past, but also absolutely wants a better future? And who will be the conservative force in this country in the election year 2025 – the CDU/CSU or the Greens? Who is better at preserving? This question arises right now in the face of the CDU programme party conference.

Today’s upheavals are huge and dramatic. The balance between old and new is in danger of being lost. The old realisation that “the future needs a past” is a matter of course for conservatives. But what future? The future is what we prepare today.

On the day you read these lines, we will, as on every day

  • 180 animal and plant species. A year ago, the UN announced that over one million animal and plant species will disappear irretrievably by around 2050
  • Today, we will again emit 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
  • Increase the size of deserts by 80,000 hectares
  • lose 50,000 tonnes of fertile soil
  • And about a quarter of a million more people.

And on the same day, around 20,000 people will starve to death, including 10,000 children. It will be the same tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and next week and next year and so on.

We are the first generation to cheat God and play evolution backwards. And we are perhaps the last generation that can turn back on this path to the demise of our own species. Can we still be saved? What does conservative mean in this situation?

For me, conservatives are people who want to preserve what they can: good air, healthy water, fertile soil. But also love, spirit and conscience. That is why Pope Francis’ progressive encyclical “Laudato Si” is so valuable and precious in our time, perhaps the most valuable and important conservative document of our time. It is about nothing less than the preservation of creation and a fairer world as Jesus foresaw in his Sermon on the Mount. It is about an eco-social market economy beyond the one-sided ideologies of socialism and capitalism. That’s why another modern conservative like the Dalai Lama says in a book we wrote together: “Buddha would be a Green today and I would vote Green if I lived in Europe”. In 2020, we published the book “Protect our environment” together – a conservative document that has since been translated into 25 languages.

The Romantic poet Josef von Eichendorff once wrote:

“Sleeps a song in all things,
that dream on and on,
and the world begins to sing,
you only hit the magic word”.

The magic word for conservatives today could be: preserve what preserves us. In concrete and practical terms, this would mean bringing wind energy, which has been beaten to death, back to life and understanding that solar energy is energy from the very, very top, energy from the boss himself. Free heavenly energy, because the sun and the wind don’t send a bill. And they are also environmentally friendly and infinite. What a conservative market economy programme for the future! What’s more, solar power is now so cheap that this solar power is social power.

What is conservative today, I have found with great enthusiasm and approval in Catholic social teaching and in Protestant social ethics. Conservatives are oriented towards moderation and the centre and are not susceptible to brutal capitalism (Pope Francis: “This economy kills”) or are not enthusiastic about socialist mass murderers like Mao Tse-tung or Ho Chi Min. Just as some lost members of the generation of 1968 once were.

What contribution could or should modern conservatism make to the public debate today? With the exception of Herbert Gruhl in the CDU and Josef Göppel in the CSU, the party-political conservatives have slept through the climate crisis and the protection of the environment and species. Heiner Geißler already recognised: “We should have kept Herbert Gruhl in the CDU”. And Josef Göppel remained an outsider in the CSU until his death. Only the seriousness and clarity of thought of the “Fridays For Future” movement seems to have woken many conservatives up. Or, as in Bavaria, through the tremendous success of the “Save the Bees” referendum. The most successful referendum of all time, which is now being imitated even more successfully in Baden-Württemberg under a green-black state government. Even more successful because the farmers, a still conservative electorate, were included.

Now Bavaria is to be climate-neutral by “2040 plus”, not just by 2045 as the federal government wants, said Minister President Söder. The subsidisation of oil heating systems should “soon be a thing of the past”, he said. The money for this is to be channelled into the faster expansion of renewable energies. “Forests and moors are to be developed into CO2 reservoirs. The consumption of plastic – bags, cutlery, cards – is to be drastically reduced in Bavaria. The state government wants to flank this with an initiative in the Bundesrat. Söder also wants to enshrine climate protection in the constitution, which Bavaria rejected a year ago. – He also wants to make a new attempt to have it included in the Bavarian constitution. Is all this to be taken seriously? The black Saul to the green Paul?

Since Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, moderation and the centre have been the essential characteristics of the conservative. But where are they when we destroy our livelihoods? If only the “conservatives” were conservative! Especially today! Conservatives like to say that they love their children. This is pure hypocrisy if they are simultaneously burning their children’s future.

Today, we burn coal, gas, petrol and oil in one day, which nature has accumulated in a million days. And with it the future of our children and grandchildren. Can this criminal behaviour still be called conservative?

Conservative behaviour

  • the rule of law, peace (“Thou shalt not kill”), human rights, democracy and truth (“Thou shalt not lie”),
  • justice, environmental protection and climate protection,
  • care for the socially disadvantaged, the disabled and refugees like Angela Merkel,
  • are in favour of jobs for all,
  • shape a Europe of peace without arms exports to crisis regions,
  • reduce – as Helmut Kohl once put it – the militarisation of our society (Kohl: “Creating peace with fewer and fewer weapons”) and want a nuclear-free Europe,
  • are committed – like Angela Merkel, unfortunately only after Fukushima – to phasing out nuclear power. Because they know that every nuclear power plant has a residual risk and can “finish us off” every day.
  • Instead, they are working on the solar energy transition, an ecological transport and building transition and organic farming.
  • They don’t need enemy stereotypes because they know that all people are brothers and sisters or – religiously speaking – children of God.
  • They have a world view based on the idea of one humanity, on one earth under one sun.
  • Conservatives are characterised by a view of humanity based on tolerance, freedom and international understanding, which has given rise to the “European Union” over the last 70 years. Never before has one country waged war against another within the EU. What a role model for today’s world.
  • Conservatives know that ecology is the more modern and intelligent economy because it takes into account the consequential costs.

True conservatives are value conservatives and not structural conservatives, for whom institutions and their structures are more important than values. This essential distinction comes from the value-conservative Christian and social democrat Erhard Eppler.

Of course, conservatism must not degenerate into political folklore such as the obsessive hanging of crosses in Bavarian offices or the sheer cultivation of customs.

Conservative also means critically questioning the new and not canonising artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, digitalisation and algorithms. Only then will conservare become intelligent transformare. Before we all rely on artificial intelligence, we should not forget to hone our natural intelligence a little more. It does not speak in favour of today’s homo sapiens that we were able to develop nuclear weapons, but are hardly capable of abolishing them.

Albert Einstein is reported to have once said: “We moderns use at best ten per cent of our inherent intelligence”. If we today manage to use perhaps eleven per cent of our intelligence, many of our current problems will have been solved. For example, all the technologies required for the 100 per cent energy transition have already been developed. We can achieve it by 2030/2035.

Franz Josef Strauß was a conservative veteran of the old Federal Republic. He said: “Conservative means being at the forefront of progress”. That may sound simple and like an election campaign. But when it comes to “preserving creation”, this Straussian imperative applies in full. It is a great achievement of the CDU/CSU after 1945 to have overcome the old Prussian conservatism and opened up to a new, liberal, European, democratic and tolerant conservatism. Shaping this new conservatism is as important as preserving it. This is the only reason why Konrad Adenauer and Charles De Gaulle achieved Franco-German friendship and thus the basis for a peaceful Europe, which must now also seek a more constructive relationship with Russia.

Conservative values have learnt from history that nationalism has always led to war. Today, they favour peaceful cooperation, trade and change, cooperation instead of confrontation. Nationalism is not conservative, but reactionary, like the “nationalist thinking” of the AfD or the marginalisation of “the others” or the policies of Donald Trump.

The modern pragmatic conservative is a child of change. He or she combines humanity and order. In love, the “ordo amoris” applies, as Tomas von Aquin formulated it, but also in society, at work and in politics. This “ordo” applies regardless of gender, religion, age or skin colour. This is the only way to make democracy a home. And “law and order” take on a new, deeper meaning.

My doctoral supervisor Dolf Sternberger called this new conservatism “constitutional patriotism”. For him, “peace was the reason, the meaning and purpose of politics”. In other words, love for one’s own country, for Europe and for all people. The “others” are then no longer enemies, but fellow human beings, fellow citizens, fellow competitors. The protection of marriage and family has always been a fundamental conservative value. Their essence is trust and reliability, which of course also applies to homosexual couples.

Conservatives are those who also pay attention to their dreams and listen to their conscience when making important decisions. Conservatives are experienced in transformation and therefore enjoy working towards a better future.


Franz Alt 2024 | Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator 

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