Where is the conservative in the CDU and CSU?

CDU and CSU are working on new party programs. Being up to date and conservative at the same time is not a contradiction in terms. You just have to want it.

The conservative Trinity is as German as waste separation and the Purity Law. “A conservative,” says Harald Schmidt, the great mocker, “has the Bible, Goethe and a savings account.”

Being conservative has become unsavory in politics

Christian values, a humanistic education and a certain financial solidity: Anyone who calls themselves conservative can put their hook behind it. In the political battle of opinions, however, the conservative has degenerated into something unsavory. At best, it sounds like sedate traditionalism, an antiquated image of women and an exaggerated sense of security. In the worst case, you end up with the conservatives of the Weimar Republic, the German nationalists and anti-democrats.

True conservatives or “just” commoners? CSU leader Markus Söder and CDU leader Friedrich Merz.

Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, dpa

Seen in this light, it is no coincidence that the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst, says that conservatives are never the core of the brand CDU been. In the 21st century, who wants to sound like someone from yesterday?

Modern conservatism does not preserve the status quo at all costs

Nevertheless, the CDU and CSU answer the question of what it means to be conservative today while working on their party programs. A modern conservatism does not preserve the status quo at any price, as its protagonists are often accused of, but tries to improve the status quo, cautiously but consistently. “There could be no greater error,” emphasized his spiritual father Edward Burke before the British House of Commons in 1845, “than assuming that a Conservative government means an immovable government.”

conservative politics does not change radically, but with a sense of proportion – but it also changes. Unlike in the past, it now accepts that a large industrial nation like Germany needs a certain level of immigration, but it does not open the floodgates to everyone and everyone. She accepts new realities of life and family models, but she does not derive any identity politics from them, in which gender stars, women’s quotas or toilets for trans people are evidence of progressiveness. And it accepts climate protection as a major social goal, but without wanting to enforce it with ever new bans. It is not ordoliberal, but it is firmly rooted in the social market economy.

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Conservative politics makes change manageable

At first glance, that sounds like a non-binding both-and. In fact, however, there is also an opportunity in this balancing image of politics, which pays more attention to the individual, because it does not present people with a fait accompli, but makes change manageable. Franz Josef Strauss said that being conservative “means being at the forefront of progress.” Today, on the other hand, even staunch conservatives like CDU leader Friedrich Merz prefer to emphasize the other two roots of their party alongside the conservative, namely Christian social doctrine and liberalism. Or they paraphrase “conservative” with “bourgeois”, which, however, does not mean the same thing. Finally, in the conservative camp is the FDP, which is anything but a conservative party.

“To be conservative is to be at the forefront of progress.” Franz Josef Strauss, former CSU leader and Bavarian Prime Minister

Photo: Istvan Bajzat, dpa

Under Angela Merkel, the CDU gradually became social-democratic, and the CSU also vacated some traditional positions from the end of conscription to the minimum wage. Both parties followed the zeitgeist at different speeds instead of helping to shape it. The “conservative revolution” that Alexander Dobrindt proclaimed in 2018 is therefore still a long way off. If she comes at all.

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