Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, January 29, 2018

Word of the Month: Der Richtungsstreit

Word of the Month: Index

Richtungsstreit illustration
We are hearing that within the Democratic Party right now, there is a raging battle between its 'centrist' or 'moderate' wing and its 'liberal' or 'left' wing, recently energized by Bernie Sanders' campaign. At issue is how to respond to the loss the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, suffered in the presidential election of 2016. (I believe, by the way, that these labels are wrong, at least from a European perspective, but that's not the topic of this post.)

The Germans—surprise, surprise!—have a word for this type of debate: Richtungsstreit. The term combines the word for direction, Richtung, with Streit, the word for a controversy in which both sides are fully engaged. It usually involves strong language and may even occasionally end in fisticuffs (but nothing stronger).*

A Richtungsstreit, then, is an intense debate about the direction an organization, especially a political party, should take. One reason why the Germans have a special word for this may be that every political party of any standing in the country gets involved in a Richtungsstreit on a regular basis when it's confronted with a new challenge to which it has no ready-made response: If its base is broad enough, it will be almost impossible to "bring everybody under one hat" right away, to use a German idiom.

A very good example are the Greens (die Grünen), a party that grew out of the student movement of the 60s. To its ever-lasting credit, it succeeded in making environmental protection and climate change mainstream issues supported across the political spectrum in Germany. But the party is also engaged in what seems to be a permanent Richtungsstreit between 'Fundis' (short for 'fundamentalists') and 'Realos'.

The Fundis value ideological purity over everything else and would rather not join a coalition government if that would involve compromising some cherished principle. The Realos, on the other hand, want to participate in government in order to be able to influence the direction of the country and are willing to compromise, to a degree (they may also have doubts about the validity of some of the more extreme positions the Fundis have been taking, like their refusal to sanction any involvement of German troops abroad, no matter what the objectives are).
*Note that the s between the components Richtung and Streit is a Fugen-s (joining s), which we have encountered already in other Words of the Month: Its function is to make the pronunciation easier.