Right now we’re experiencing the return of big government. And it’s not hard to see how the huge tasks we face could be mastered without one: We must stand up to terrorism without succumbing to hysteria; we must assimilate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of refugees; and regulate the influx of additional migrants.
And we must recognize that for the first time since 1989, the European Union is no longer surrounded by potential partners and aspirants wanting to join, but rather more and more by states that are either sliding into instability or becoming more authoritarian.
In view of the Americans turning away from Europe and the Middle East, we must defend ourselves in the future to a degree that seemed barely imaginable just recently and goes against Germany’s pacifist grain. Likewise, the decision to engage in Syria is presumably just the beginning.
All that needs government. Civil society can’t manage alone – or not forever, and nor can the market, nor Google and Co., those digital companies that despise big government.
Public safety and order, law and justice, these are classic jobs for the state that no one else can handle. All signs point to our needing more police, more judges, more teachers, and presumably more soldiers and spies in the future. And, in each case, more means a lot more. We aren’t talking about a handful of additional social workers and public prosecutors here and there, but hundreds.
Integration, domestic security, intelligence, meaning information collected by secret services – the government will have to focus on these three major tasks, and will only be able to do so if it has sufficient means.
This is the same government that people called incompetent not too long ago, and said should be scaled back. Now, the government is experiencing a much-needed renaissance.
All this doesn’t mean we need more laws nor more powers for security services. It’s about creating the structures and the institutions that are needed for the government to be able to do its work – such as the call for an integration ministry, by Markus Kerber, the director general and member of the presidential board of the Federation of German Industries (BDI).
It’s also about tough issues and hard decisions.
At some point we won’t be able to avoid the debate in Germany about whether we want to stay dependent on the Americans, British, and French for intelligence gathering. We’ll have to consider whether we, as supplicants, just accept it when they break the rules.
We have to decide whether a central power like Germany shouldn’t take on a greater role in gathering intelligence, which would mean expanding the security services against all the political reflexes we’ve worked to acquire.
Integration, domestic security, intelligence – all of that will cost money. A lot of it. That’s money that’ll be missed elsewhere. We have to get ready to accept that.
A strange thing is that no matter where you stand on the refugee issue, a stronger state will be needed – whether you want the borders open or shut.
Those who want to close the borders, or just greatly limit the influx of refugees, can’t do it without police officers and checkpoints, without expelling and deporting people – when necessary, through force.
But also those who don’t want to turn away the refugees but accept them, need the strong state. In that case, more internal controls will be needed and better protection of refugee housing. Government officials will be needed who work to help integrate hundreds of thousands of refugees from dysfunctional societies, of traumatized, of illiterate and educationally-deprived people into a highly-diversified, liberal culture. Government officials will be needed to prevent friction between the various groups of refugees and also enforce the laws here.
None of that will work without difficulties and there may be ugly side-effects.
Experts are already saying that jihadist terrorism and the massive influx of refugees coming at the same time could fuel the emergence of a right-wing underground, and lead to the creation of right-wing groups and networks.
Some security experts are already warning about a generation of right-wing terrorists along the lines of the NSU.
Only a strong government can address these issues.
Presumably that also means we will have cultivate a new, easygoing response despite more inconveniences like security controls at train stations and government offices and body searches at concerts and department stores.
To put it more pointedly, a little less idyll, a little more Israel.
No one wants that, no one likes that, but hardly anybody will think it to be intolerable as long as there’s a threat. And that can be for a long time to come.
Briefly put, the more unsettled the times, the more important an effective and powerful government is that ensures laws are adhered to and has the means to do it.