There was a lot of discussion in Germany about whether patriotism was a value that benefits or harms people. Against the background of our history, this is understandable and also correct. But we should be able to agree on one thing: constitutional patriotism.
Because we can be thankful for our Basic Law and, yes, we can be proud of our Basic Law. Above all, it more than meets the great challenges of our time.
The Basic Law was promulgated on May 23, 73 years ago, and it came into force one day later. It was the most comprehensive rejection of the Nazi reign of terror. Because at its peak stand the dignity and freedom of the individual human being. It is not a collective to which a man belongs – be it race or class – that determines his worth.
Every single person is a value in itself. The arrangement of free institutions that founds our constitution led the free part of Germany back to the circle of liberal democracies after the Second World War – and later our entire people, who were able to reunite peacefully through the courage and strength of the people in East Germany.
At the same time, the suspicion was raised again and again that our constitution perhaps breathed an excess of idealism. Some even thought that the liberal democracy of the Basic Law was perhaps not up to the pressure of major crises. That a shot more autocracy could be necessary to overcome major crises and challenges. A little “enlightened authoritarianism”, so the idea, certainly couldn’t hurt. But nothing has turned out to be so wrong.
There is no lack of crises and challenges for the order of the Basic Law today. One could say: Never since the immediate post-war period have we been faced with so many challenges at the same time. Because for the first time in decades, to use an image from the Book of Revelation, all four horsemen of the apocalypse, who stand for the primal fears of mankind, are galloping across our European continent.
We’ve struggled with the Fourth Horseman for more than two years and we still have to be vigilant. It represents sickness and disease. Corona has had politics and everyday life under control for a long time. And no one can say for sure that it won’t do it again.
Some thought that authoritarian states like China had an advantage in fighting pandemics. But far more potent vaccines thrived in the sunshine of freedom than in the autocracies of Russia or China.
While the order of the Basic Law, which is characterized by proportionality and the protection of fundamental rights, made possible solutions that made falling numbers and relative normality compatible, China is becoming increasingly chaotic. They are the result of excessive “Zero Covid” policies and tough lockdowns.
The third rider on the black horse carries a pair of scales. It stands for price increases, inflation, scarcity, poverty and hunger. Even before Putin’s war against Ukraine, which violated international law, we had to think about how we could protect our prosperity.
The conditions on the energy markets are now leading to massive price increases and a loss of prosperity. The global shortage of wheat and other foods means rising prices for us. She makes us poorer. In the worst case, it can lead to famine and thousands of deaths in parts of the African continent.
All of this is forcing us to readjust globalization, to reduce dependencies and to reposition our country. While “degrowth”, i.e. turning away from the political goal of economic growth, was a chic idea for some, in view of the new shortages it seems absurd and outdated.
The basic rights of freedom of occupation and the property guarantee of the Basic Law constitute a basic market economy order in connection with regulations of the European primary law. She is able not only to manage lack, but to overcome them through growth. We have to work on that.
The second rider sits on a red horse. It stands for bloodshed, for war, violence and death – exactly what has been taking place for three months right on the external border of the European Union on the soil of Ukraine.
Germany is experiencing a turning point in terms of security policy. The Basic Law is also prepared for them. In its preamble, our constitution expressly states that politics should “serve peace in the world”. It is committed to the European Union and to systems of “mutual collective security” (Article 24(2)) such as NATO.
In this respect, it is only logical that Germany should increase its alliance and defense capabilities. In this way we can credibly support our partners and send the unmistakable signal that an attack on the European Union, NATO and Ukraine can never be worthwhile. Because where common values such as peace, freedom and international law as a basis for understanding with possible aggressors break away, the only thing that remains for the time being is the threatening backdrop of a “tit for tat”.
And there is the first rider on the white horse. It represents oppression and persecution by tyrants. The tyranny of the Kremlin and the global renaissance of authoritarianism show that the fear of the rider on the white horse is not mere imagination.
In essence, the warning issued by US President Harry S. Truman in 1947 is valid again: the warning he issued with regard to Stalinist Russia, against a system in which a minority – be it party bigwigs or oligarchs – is the majority oppressed, the institutions do not moderate the powerful but assist them in the oppression of the majority, in which there is no respect for the dignity and freedom of the individual and which does not peacefully trade with its neighbors but invades, humiliates and torments them . The Basic Law is also a rejection of this kind of totalitarianism.
The dignity and freedom of the individual human being is not a task that will someday be done forever. They cannot be checked off. There is no end to history, and therefore there is no end to the question of what freedom and dignity mean for the individual human being in the current present.
If we ask today which relationship between freedom and security is appropriate in the digital world, which family law could correspond better to social reality, whether there are minorities that our legal system may not yet treat with the appropriate respect, then we are fulfilling precisely this eternal question mandate of our constitution.
Some might think that with the gallop of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, these questions are no longer so important. It must be said to them: The pride of a tyrant, which triggers a war and, as a result, worldwide poverty and worldwide hunger, is not aimed solely at conquering a piece of land.
It is directed against Ukraine’s will to establish an order that belongs in the same constitutional family as the Basic Law: a liberal democracy. Common to this constitutional family is the question of the dignity and freedom of the individual human being. Should we stop working on this assignment in view of the war in Ukraine, then Putin would already have won a piece. That must not be. Happy birthday, dear constitution!