Entering the Forbidden Zone, in Anglo-American Ideological Armor

I’ve paid a bit of attention to the rise of the German New Right, as they’re called: Indentitarians, the Antaios publishing house, Götz Kubitschek, etc. I don’t have a strong opinion on them, I just think they’re interesting. The standard image of the Germany far right among foreigners is skinheads and uneducated neo-Nazis brimming with unfocused resentment against modernity.

The new New Right (there’s been plenty of incarnations of them since World War II) avoids racial abuse, punk music, and language associated with National Socialism. They claim to be despise the Nazis as much as the next person, and to represent a much older, but still-viable type of throne and altar Gemeinschaft statt Gesellschaft conservatism, which distrusts capitalism as much as it does the hard left. Here’s a description of the Götz Kubitschek from a very good article by James Angelos in the New York Times:

The manor serves as the headquarters for the magazine and publishing house that Kubitschek runs with his wife, the writer Ellen Kositza, and also for a rightist think tank, the plainly named Institute for State Policy, and a small organic farm where he raises rabbits and goats. Kubitschek calls himself a conservative, battling to preserve Germany’s “ethno-cultural identity,” which he says is threatened by immigration and the alienating effects of modernity. He identifies as part of the German “New Right,” which seeks to dissociate itself from the “old right,” which in Germany means Nazis. German political scientists, by contrast, classify the brand of thinking Kubitschek ascribes to as either an ideological “hinge” between conservatism and right-wing extremism, or as simply extremist — not vastly different, in other words, from the old right. Kubitschek, however, presents his views with a disarming, Teutonic idealism that recalls a Germany that long preceded the rise of Hitler. The German magazine Der Spiegel once referred to him as a “dark knight.”

When you read the article, you get a very different picture of Kubitschek than that usually put forward in the German press; not uncritical or fawning, but also not motivated solely by a desire to “unmask” Kubitschek’s real agenda, which must be under there somewhere.

I think this is because Anglo-Americans have a different way of understanding the sorts of things Kubitschek and his like-minded companions say, lots of which sounds like standard European traditionalist ethnic particularism, which English and American readers tend to find quaint and intriguing. Angelos listens to some folk singing at Schnellroda:

He and a friend picked up guitars, and they began to sing old German folk songs, some of them with beautiful, baroque melodies. The first was a martial homage to Georg von Frundsberg, a German mercenary who fought for the Holy Roman Empire and was famed for his brilliant infantry maneuvers. Von Frundsberg hailed from a town not far from where Kubitschek grew up, and in 1525 he helped Emperor Charles V secure the imperial throne with a decisive victory at Pavia, in what is today Italy. Everyone at the table sang along.

“Georg von Frundsberg, lead us, tra la la la la la,” the men sang, their voices deep. I sank back into my chair and listened.

This sort of stuff seems as harmless as morris-dancing. If the Welsh want to re-activate their language and customs, why shouldn’t the Germans?

Another “right-wing” trope which fails to ring urgent alarm bells among Anglo-Americans is the strict rejection of national symbols by urban liberal elites. On the one hand, obviously Germany committed horrific crimes in the 20th century, and nobody believes those crimes should be denied or downplayed. But on the other hand, many Americans and Brits say, there’s no need to ban harmless displays of national pride, like waving the German flag during the World Cup. Ordinary folks like to feel a sense of national pride, as absurd as it may seem to intellectuals.

Here’s a take from English history professor Timothy Garton Ash on Rolf-Peter Sieferle’s book Finis Germania, which was denounced as a right-wing screed and even removed from Spiegel magazine’s best-seller list:

Then there are the sections about contemporary Germany’s attitude toward its Nazi past, which account for most of the controversy. Here Sieferle takes to an extreme his argument in Epochenwechsel that Germany has frozen its Nazi past, and Auschwitz, into a kind of absolute negative myth, marked by ritualized, increasingly empty expressions of Betroffenheit (only weakly translatable as a sense of intense personal dismay), and thereby separated from everything else in contemporary German life. “National Socialism, more precisely Auschwitz, has become the last myth of a thoroughly rationalized world,” he writes, in one of many deliberately provocative formulations. “A myth is a truth that is beyond discussion.” This puts the Jews beyond criticism, and turns the German, or at least the “eternal Nazi,” into “the secularized devil of an enlightened present.” (AfD ideologues more crudely call this the Schuldkult, the guilt cult.)

Sieferle writes with a kind of wild determination to say exactly what he thinks, however publicly unacceptable (and remember, we don’t definitely know that he intended this for publication). He argues that Vergangenheitsbewältigung—the familiar West German term for “overcoming” a difficult past—has become a kind of state religion, in which the Germans are forever the negative chosen people and the Jews the positive chosen people. “The first commandment reads: thou shalt have no other holocaust besides me.” And again: “Adam Hitler is not transcended by any Jesus; and such a Jesus”—one involuntarily wonders: Does he mean himself?—“would surely be rapidly crucified. The guilt remains total, is compensated by no divine mercy.” This is hysterical stuff….

Finis Germania raises in helpfully sharp form the question of how one should respond to such ideas, in a country where one in eight voters just chose a right-wing populist party, motivated mainly by concerns about culture and identity.

Der Spiegel’s extraordinary vaporizing of Sieferle’s book from its best-seller list is an extreme example of an approach characteristic of contemporary Germany. If you go beyond a certain point in expressing what may be seen as right-wing extremist or anti-Semitic views, you are banished from all respectable society, branded with a scarlet, or rather a brown, letter. Nazi insignia, Holocaust denial, and hate speech are banned by law (as Facebook is finding to its cost), but there is also this broader social, cultural, and political enforcement of the taboo.

Now many would argue that this has contributed significantly to the civilized, centrist quality of German politics and public debate—and they have a point. I find that many young Germans support this approach wholeheartedly. And would the rest of the world have been happier if Germany did not have this taboo on any hint of a revival of the worst that modern humanity has produced?

Yet this whole approach comes with a price, and the electoral success of the AfD shows that the price is going up. Sieferle’s Finis Germania is a late, slight product of a sad, disordered, but undoubtedly fine mind. Simply to say “right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, historically revisionist—therefore get thee behind me Satan and off the best-seller list you come” is a woefully inadequate response. … In a poll conducted in spring 2016 for the Freedom Index of the John Stuart Mill Institute in Heidelberg, only 57 percent of respondents said they felt that “one can freely express one’s political opinion in Germany today.”2

It’s therefore encouraging to see a growing number of German intellectuals advocating John Stuart Mill’s own response. Take on these arguments in free and open debate. Subject them to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny. Separate the wheat from the chaff. For as Mill famously argued, even a false argument can contain a sliver of truth, and the good sword of truth can only be kept sharp if constantly tested in open combat with falsehood. Otherwise the received opinion, even if it is correct, will only be held “in the manner of a prejudice.”

Left-liberal Germans read Finis Germania and parsed it for coded language, dog-whistles which showed that Sieferle was really trying to deny the Holocaust, or German responsibility for it. Ash read the same book, with at least the same level of understanding of German history, and saw it as an erratic, unconvincing, occasionally “hysterical”, but occasionally interesting analysis.

I’ve decided to have a look at some of the new right stuff myself, without any media filters. Are they closet Sturmbannführer, or merely conservatives? Are the dog-whistles real, or merely projection? Can they write? Are they worth paying attention to?

To start out, I’ve decided to go straight to the source: a new collection of essays from some of the most prominent spokespersons of the New Right. To get it, I had to order it directly from the famous/infamous Antaois Verlag. The book is called Nationalmasochismus (g) which presumably needs no translation, and is, amazingly enough, not available on German Amazon. Once I’ve had a chance to read it, I’ll give you my two cents here.

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