We have always been aware, most often vaguely but sometimes clearly, that the narrative about the progress of justice in democratic societies must be put in bold parentheses.
Not only because in spite of all their attainments, these societies are still (and increasingly) pervaded by grievous social inequalities, but also because there has arisen concomitantly a form of global apartheid in which a secure and free life in some regions of the world is accompanied by diverse threats, uncertainties and extreme hardship in others, and because one has to do with the other.
This is the great "but" of our life. This "but," this gloomy recognition inherent to western history, has started moving. It has emerged from the back of the head into full awareness, evolved from a moral headache into an insistent political issue.
From now on, the world will be different from the one to which we were accustomed with a numb or bad conscience, because it will inevitably have to deal quite practically with the fundamental global question of justice. The pushed-aside "but" can no longer be interpreted out of existence, and all policies that try to do so are doomed to failure. As are those that respond with the wrong answers.
What is strange, even tragic is that the penetration of the great global issue of justice into our national worlds imposes the most difficulties on precisely those who have taken up the cause of justice with particular fervor. This means the Left.
It hasn't recognized the signs of the times and is stuck in a state of rigid, national shock. The Left is unable to respond to the current global situation with a new discourse which – being simultaneously realistic and offensive-progressive – would finally thrust open the door to a transnational political orientation.
Only this sort of debate, however, can preserve social-democratic and socialist parties (as well as green parties, to the extent that they conceive of sustainability and justice jointly) from chasing after false nationalistic ideologies in response to globalization, and encumbering themselves with false zero-sum games played out between "them" (for example: refugees, Greeks) and "us" (who exactly?).
We are living in politically paradoxical times. Because while everyone (or almost everyone) knows that the fundamental crises which must be politically resolved are global in nature, there is a paucity of appropriate answers. Whether it is the global financial crisis of 2007/08 that became the euro and E.U. crisis, the often obscured crisis of poverty and hunger in vast expanses of the world, the ecological problematic or the so-called refugee crisis, there is always a dramatic divergence between problem analysis and political reaction.
The reflex of closing borders that is currently being offered as an answer to the problem of flight is a particularly striking and brutal example of the typical reaction: Since global relationships are viewed almost as forces of nature that are not susceptible to human activity, thoughts turn to "national solutions" for protecting one's own house. But not only is that reaction inhumane and in contradiction to the spirit and letter of the right to asylum, it is also helpless and ineffectual.
The pattern that becomes apparent here is the paradox of a political renationalization that is necessitated by transnational relationships. This was also evident in the financial crisis, where it was ultimately national budgets that had to bear the brunt of the crisis, particularly the rescuing of banks. And also where the beginnings of supranational policies regarding finances and the economy exist, as in the European Union, the main burden was passed on to those countries that suffered most from the crisis.
In some of them, this led to a strengthening of leftist parties and governments, as in Greece, which also gave thought, however, only to national solutions, because there seemed to be no room for supranational solutions. Conversely, social-democratic parties in northern countries were unable to come to a system-critical, international language of solidarity.
These developments are leading to a split in conservative politics and to a deafening muteness on the Left. Liberal-conservative protagonists embrace the nationalization of problems and the globalization of economic structures, which are accordingly not subject to questioning, because in this way national economies take care of the clean-up work necessitated by a transnational economic system that achieves and distributes its profits according to its own rules.
The other, more nationally oriented conservative political outlook went along with this as long as its own house was not endangered; but in times of the "influx" of destitute refugees from "foreign" cultures, tolerance comes to an end, and there is an insistence on closed borders in order not to excessively strain the "integrative capability" of the population and its social institutions. In the heat of battle, this is sometimes expressed in more explicit racist terms. The current state of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union in Germany offers a case study in the divergence of the two conservative directions, the liberal-global and the national-social.
Where does the Left remain in all this? Shouldn't it be impelled by this problematic situation to come forward with a comprehensive analysis of causes and connections, in order to formulate internationally oriented, structural solutions that could be worked towards by an alliance of social-democratic, socialist and green-emancipatory parties and movements? Indeed, that would have to be the case. But why can almost none of this be found in the political debate? For two reasons – because the Left has lost the language of justice, and because it is caught in the national trap.