Behind the Veil of Respectability

A thought came into my head earlier. It took me back to my student days, studying the German ‘constitution’ (quotes explained below) in Potsdam in 1992, when the burning issue at the time was how to elaborate on the asylum clause in the document.

A few days ago, the German Bundesverfassungsgericht, or Federal Constitutional Court blocked a ban on the NPD—the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or National Democratic Party of Germany, which is a far-right party, and has existed since the early 1960s.

It has sailed close to being banned in the past (I can recall that it faced such a threat during my student days, and it came close to a ban again in the early 2000s), but just managed to keep on the right side of constitutional law. There is no doubt though, that it is a party which attracts the more extreme elements of the German far right. It has never managed to cross the 5% hurdle required to gain representation in the German Bundestag, or Federal Assembly, but has managed to gain seats in state parliaments.

The German Grundgesetz, or Basic Law, is the German ‘constitution’. It was not officially called a constitution when it was draughted, post World War 2, because that term was reserved for the then hoped-for constitution of a future reunified Germany.

Since this goal of reunification was achieved (and far more quickly than anyone expected), the term Grundgesetz is still used to refer to the document which sets the legal framework of the Federal Republic of Germany, evidently because reunification was effectively (with few exceptions) a takeover of the German Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic of Germany and the merger of the newly-created six states of the former GDR into the Federal Republic rather than a mutual union of two nation states; a state of affairs which caused (and continues to cause) much consternation for years on the part of those Ossis, or GDR citizens, who believed that not every aspect of the GDR was bad, and that an opportunity to incorporate positive aspects of GDR society into the newly-unified Germany were squandered.

The first nineteen articles of the Basic Law relate to core human rights and cannot be revoked. They are the ‘eternal clauses’ and were written, post World War 2, very much with recent German history in mind. They can be expanded upon or clarified, but they are, to all intents and purposes, permanent and irrevocable.

Article 4, Paragraph 1 states:

“Die Freiheit des Glaubens, des Gewissens und die Freiheit des religiösen und weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses sind unverletzlich.”

“Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable.”

So, at the start of the Basic Law, freedom of religion is set out as a core right.

In Article 21 of the Basic Law, Germany has a controversial article which some believe borders on the curtailment of freedom of conscience, but was designed to prevent the rise of a successor to that funny mustachioed Austrian bloke.

Article 21, Paragraph 2 states:

“Parteien, die nach ihren Zielen oder nach dem Verhalten ihrer Anhänger darauf ausgehen, die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung zu beeinträchtigen oder zu beseitigen oder den Bestand der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zu gefährden, sind verfassungswidrig. Über die Frage der Verfassungswidrigkeit entscheidet das Bundesverfassungsgericht.”

“Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.”

The article was used a couple of times in the 1950s as the legal framework for the German Constitutional Court to ban the extreme right SRP, the Sozialistische Reichspartei (the Socialist Reich/Empire Party) and the extreme left KPD, the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (the Communist Party of Germany).

Some are appalled that political parties can be banned, but I have some sympathy with the notion that a constitution should not allow for the existence of parties or organisations which seek to undermine its fundamental principles.

But this is where things get interesting…

Whilst political parties can be banned for being anti-constitutional, there is no such provision in the Basic Law which would cover religions, so presumably adherents to a religion which didn’t believe in the fundamental principles espoused by the German Basic Law would be free to preach the downfall of the German Republic and the repeal of its laws in a way that would see secular promoters of such ideals prosecuted. Not only that, but followers of an anti-constitutional religious doctrine would be protected by their inviolable right to freedom of religion or philosophical creed, as set out under Article 4, which, if you recall, is a right which cannot be revoked.

This presents a couple of interesting potential scenarios.

On the one hand, there is clearly nothing to stop religious adherents preaching the downfall of the German state in line with their own holy books and scriptures, in a way which a political party could not do in its own core principles without finding itself banned.

On the other hand, it does make me wonder why any determined extremist party doesn’t simply hide under the veil of a religion.

There are adherents to certain religions who have equally backward and anti-constitutional beliefs to extreme political parties. In fact, many religious adherents often go even beyond revoking the German Basic Law, rejecting the notion of any man-made law and demanding the imposition of religious law.

So, without wishing to give any ideas to extremist parties, what would happen if a new Führer arose and dressed his political ambitions up as religious beliefs? The Nazis were halfway there as it was, founded on the back of the Thule Society, and with a mixed bag of occultism, astrology, and Nordic mythology playing a big part in the highest ranks of the Nazi party.

In other words, what if an extremist party were simply to assume the trappings of a religion?

Sure, such a party wouldn’t be recognised as an official religion, which seems to rely on numbers of adherents and offers tax breaks and special status under German law, but could well potentially enjoy the officially-recognised status of a ‘sect’.

How would the German Constitutional Court address such a problem? What is it that gives otherwise abhorrent ideologies the veneer of respectability if they invoke the supernatural?

Answers on a prayer card to the Bundesverfassungsgericht, c/o Frau Kanzlerin Angela Merkel.


Russell Brand’s Populism – Up the Revolution!

A friend of mine just shared this video on Facebook.

I’m with Paxman. If the guy can’t be arsed to vote, he’s on a hiding to nothing. I have little time for whingeing no-voters. He should at least spoil his ballot paper.

I actually thought that Brand was a bit better informed, but as eloquent and passionate as he is, if he were better informed, he’d know that revolutions have a tendency to snowball out of control… and not one single revolution has ended up achieving what its architects wanted it to achieve.

Like Paxman, I may sympathise and I do agree strongly with some of his points, but he is ignoring history, human nature, and people’s general apathy (including his own) in what he says.

Furthermore, he doesn’t come up with a single, practical solution – just a call for another ‘socialist, egalitarian utopia’.

There has never been a socialist utopia, despite many varied attempts. If you over-tax those who work hard and want to be rewarded, i.e. make money for their efforts (and I’m not talking the super rich here), such people leave, and the only way you stop them is by closing borders, building walls, and shooting anyone who tries to leave.

Even in France, the wealthy are leaving in droves now and heading to London after the introduction of massive tax rises. Surely, from the French government’s perspective, it’s better to get some tax from these people rather than none.

Interestingly, in the UK in 2010/2011:

– The richest 50% of taxpayers by total income accounted for a 76.5% share of total income and 88.7% of tax liabilities.
– The richest 1% of taxpayers by total income accounted for a 11.5% share of total income and 25.0% of tax liabilities.

Figures according to

So, the ‘1%’, as the ‘Occupy’ movement dubbed them, make up a quarter of our tax revenue. That would suggest that you don’t have to lose many of these people to have quite a large impact in tax revenue.

Regardless of how popular Brand’s rhetoric may be (it’s always good to be part of a howling mob) and regardless of how successful rich individuals are at avoiding tax, they are still paying a large share of it.

That’s not to say we don’t have a problem with certain top earners and tax avoidance. The sensible way to tackle that is indeed to close the loopholes which allow for legal avoidance of taxes, but in an equitable way.

It’s true that people who threaten to leave the country are often just sounding off, but historically, if there is a sense of inequity, people have left. There were many musicians who left the UK in the 1970s due to moral repugnance at the massively high tax rates, and in those circumstances, the tax man gets nothing from these people.

Based on Brand’s comments, he’d probably find a fair bit of common ground with the Green party. If that’s his thing, let him convince others of his mindset. If he can’t do that, he can act the sore loser and kick and scream by all means. Advocating revolution, however, is not going to win most people over – at least not those of us with a reasonable grasp of history.

We do have serious issues of inequity and he’s absolutely right in his environmental concerns, but as much as people like Brand would castigate others for lazy stereotypes of poor people, he doesn’t appear to see the hypocrisy in trotting out his own lazy stereotypes about wealthy people.

This is neither an endorsement of current government policy, nor advocacy of the exploitation of the poor on my part (I am hardly what could be termed wealthy in UK terms, although in global and historic terms, I most certainly am).

I personally advocate massive political and institutional reform of this country in a very radical way, which would see true power in the hands of the people and see either the dissolution of the party political system and/or a Swiss-style perpetual coalition with ultimate power in the hands of the voters. That may be radical, but it’s not revolutionary.

However, Brand’s revolutionary rhetoric here, as populist and rabble-rousing as it may be, is vacuous, ill-conceived, and meaningless.

I suspect I’ll be first against the wall now when his revolution comes.