Although inextricably bound with a discredited unilinear theory of progress, the Sonderweg reading of German history still thrives as the teleological context for what remains of Left ideology in Germany. Today one of its main functions is to relegitimate an increasingly obsolete Left-Right political paradigm to help occlude new unsettling political realities and New Class domination. A fundamental assumption of this approach is a “natural” trajectory of national development, which leads to the demonization of all German history, culture and politics as culminating, because of the late unification of the German nation, in the compensatory xenophobic nationalism of the Nazis. From this widely shared viewpoint, any hint of a re-emergence of German nationalism in the post-WWII period has been feared as the prelude to a Nazi revival. Not surprisingly, not only have academic careers in German Studies been facilitated by engaging in German-bashing, but nationalism as such has been the object of particularly confused and neurotic readings. This canonized interpretation of German history, however, tends to stifle all critical thinking and prevents an understanding of qualitatively new post-Cold War political realities. Thus much needed efforts to rethink the status of reunited Germany within both Europe and the world are automatically open to the charge of nationalism and neo-Nazism.
Although nationalism may be growing in some countries, it remains to be shown that such is also the case in Germany, or whether it is merely ideological speculation on the part of unimaginative intellectuals who cannot see the future other than as a mechanical extension of the past. As a result, they end up interpreting the realities of the Federal Republic as those of the Weimar Republic. Following German reunification, there have been numerous warnings concerning an alleged resurgence of nationalist sentiments in Germany. Eva Geulen’s analysis of German nationalism is part of this pattern. Predicated on an uncritically assumed abstract individuality as the only meaningful social unit and on the enthymeme of a scientistic view of a universally valid culture which automatically demeans all particularistic alternatives to pathological epiphenomena, Geulen sees all attempts to vindicate these particularistic alternatives as new and improved versions of the old nationalisms In so doing, she conflates concepts of nation, ethnicity, nationalism and identity in a night in which all cows are black, except for her politically correct white calf which, not unexpectedly, vindicates all the self-righteous shibboleths of a conformist Left academia: feminism, environmentalism, uncritical all-inclusiveness, political pseudo-specificity, etc.
The Sonderweg reading of German history, i.e., the notion that German development has been separate and different from that of other countries, is a notion favored formerly by the Right in Germany. Curiously, it is now being recycled by the Left in various attempts to relegitimate the Left-Right paradigm. In this leftist version, whether or not Germany missed its chance to be a nation, what distinguishes it from all other nations now is the Holocaust. For example, every possible political position within or concerning Germany must be considered in view of Auschwitz, be it the participation of German soldiers in the Gulf War or in the command of the United Nations. Another example is the recent incident in Lubeck, in which responsibility for a fire set in a house of asylum seekers was immediately attributed to xenophobic elements. The local population, heavily supported by local and national politicians, immediately demon-stinted against neo-Nazis in connection with the incident, even though instigation for the fire has not been clearly established. As usual, the protests against this incident were as scarcely reported as those of the incident were exaggerated. Moreover, such protests have evoked a new debate on the mythology of German guilt and on one specific group of Germans call Gutmenschen, meaning all those who like to take “political and moralistic bubble baths” by engaging in candlelight vigils against xenophobia, the Gulf War, etc.#
Right-wing radicalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism occur practically anywhere in the world. But because of the Nazi past, such incidents in Germany attract considerably more attention than elsewhere. No other places where there have been incidents of the kind have attained such an international notoriety as Rostock, Molln, Solingen and Lubeck. On the other hand, vigorous German responses to xenophobia with e.g., candle-light vigils, rallies, concerts, etc. have been largely underreported or ignored altogether. In point of fact, no other country involved in the Nazi project has dealt so thoroughly with its history of genocide as the former West Germany, through such programs as “projects on history” and “workshops on history.” Books condemning right-wing extremism sell well and indicate the presence of a concerned reading public.
The Question of the nation
The resurfacing of concern with the nation is a result of German reunification, its position within Europe as either an American-style federal state of a strong nation-state, and its geopolitical location. The resulting discussion, limited as it may have been, has provoked a reexamination of Germany’s alliance to the West and its relation to the post-communist East. Yet, from the majority of German Left-liberal perspectives, any reconsideration of a post-unification German nation is unacceptable because of the Holocaust and the prescribed need to adopt a categorical moral stance. All arguments concerning the concept of nation (with language seen as the unifying factor) are viewed as belonging to the dust-bin of history. Anyone who questions this self-righteous logic is open to the charge of “fascism” or “neo-Nazism.” Nevertheless, the post-Cold War German question is too important to be ignored. It is a matter of concern not only to Germans but to Europeans and the world at large, at a time when the sovereign state appears destined to be replaced or at least superseded by new political forms. At any rate, Germans have a right to consider their future without the burden of collective guilt for the sins of fathers or grandfathers.
This state of affairs is complicated by the obsolescence of the old Left-Right dichotomy, which is particularly evident in a recent anthology: The Self-conscious Nation. Not surprisingly, The Self-conscious Nation has been characterized by the media as dangerously right-wing. The focus is primarily on Botho Strau Beta and his now infamous essay, “Swelling Song of the Satyr.” When this essay was first published in Der Spiegel (February 13, 1993), most commentators saw it as the beginning of a right-wing shift in unified Germany. The condemnation of Strau Beta’ ideas as paradigmatically “neo-fascist,” even before they could be critically evaluated, is indicative of the stifling intellectual climate. Typical of Left-liberal prejudices is the title of one feature article: “Is Botho Strau Beta a Fascist?” The author links Strau Beta’ account to Heidegger’s discussion of the Fuhrer principle and to Oswald Spengler’s projection of the decline of the West. He goes so far as to suggest that Strau Beta belongs to the so-called Conservative Revolution of the 1920s, and traces his ideas to people such as Ernst Junger and Carl Schmitt. Most critics engage in this kind of ideological intimidation when dealing with the German past — especially the Weimar period. According to Tilman Spengler, the danger of Strau Beta’ essay lies not in its arguments (which make no sense to him) but in the power of its rhetoric, which provides a perspective for “a generation still lacking its own voice or models.” Another writer points out that Strau Beta’ essay is not his first “anti-enlightenment manifesto,” and asks: “What does he have to do with old Nazis and new fascists?” The answer is the same: Strau Beta just recycles ideas articulated by members of the Conservative Revolution in the 1920s and 1930s.
Not all critics follow this line. Rainer Zitelmann, among others, argues that those who prefigured the “march through the institutions” in the 1960s are now in power as teachers, professor, social workers, the media, etc., and see everyone who questions German asylum laws or other icons of the traditional Left as prototypically fascist. Refusing to recognize that the Nazi era is long gone, they carry on the kind of struggle their parents failed to fight. As a result, everyone in Germany has to demonstrate they are not infected with a seemingly free-floating and highly contagious virus — neo-fascism. Zitelmann also identifies a turn to the Left in the media following unification, with the incorporation of journalists from the former East Germany into influential media positions.  Thus he calls for the development of a counter-culture. 
Although the contributors to The Self-conscious Nation fail to rethink the German nation, not all of their analyses are obsolete. Their main focus is not, as Geulen claims, the Third World, but multiculturalism and asylum laws. Even if one were to agree that immigration has always meant economic growth, mass immigration remains a problem. Contrary to traditional Left doctrine, what binds communities is not political culture but their particular traditions and forms of life, which have survived decades of oppression under National Socialism, Stalinism, “real existing socialism,” etc. The point is not that traditional nation-states are “ill equipped to respond adequately to challenges such as a globalized economy,” as Geulen claims, but that the global economy has destroyed traditional economic structures developed within local communities.
The New Right
Geulen’s portrayal of the New Right and of the contributors to The Self-conscious Nation conjures up visions of the Holocaust. She fails to show the extent to which they differ from the traditional Right. She is even more uncritical when it comes to .lunge Freiheit, which began in 1986 as a weekly newsletter of the Freiheitliche Volkspartei (FRVP), a splinter faction of the Republikaner. After this group dissolved, Gotz Meidinger, a conservative businessman who had founded Unitas Germanica (an association to support the reunification of Germany) took over the newsletter. From 1988 to 1993, Junge Freiheit appeared monthly and in January 1994 it became a weekly with a circulation of 30,000 to 35,000.
Geulen cites a book (Das Plagiat) about Junge Freiheit that classifies it as a far “right-wing publication” like Criticon and Mut. Although she acknowledges that the book is “analytically weak,” she noticed that most of Junge Freiheit’s positions are not all that different from those of the Left. For example, when reporting on the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, Junge Freiheit emphasized the sufferings of the German people. This is precisely what Ulrike Meinhof did in the leftist journal Konkret when evaluating the bombing of Dresden. A similar debate occurred after the release of Helke Sander’s film, “BeFreier und Befreite,” which focuses on the rape of German women by allied soldiers.
In the absence of critical public discussion, to be on the Right today in Germany means to exercise one’s critical consciousness. This is what Strau Beta had in mind when he wrote his disputed essay. The nation, alliance with the West, anti-fascism, the Conservative Revolution, Europe (i.e., Germany understood as a nation-state and not as a federal unit within Europe), and the Right-Left dichotomy are all major issues for the New Right. The argument is that since 1989 Germany has been faced with an identity crisis and that the question of Germany as a nation is at the center of the debate. This position, however, finds support within all political parties. They argue that within such a context Junge Freiheit has an important function in creating a counterculture to the otherwise unchallenged hegemony of the Left establishment.
Unlike widely publicized images of the German New Right, its adherents have a variety of different party affiliations or none at all. According to The Self-conscious Nation, the chosen name is “democratic Right.” The New Right sees itself neither in the tradition of National Socialism nor of fascism. At any rate, a detailed analysis of the New Right in Germany is still lacking. The militant Left has successfully stifled every attempt in this direction. Even the moderate Left subscribes to the often criticized authoritarian attempt to control free speech. This new anti-intellectualism is part of the intellectual climate of a reunited Germany. A free exchange of ideas is no longer possible. The destruction of family life in Germany under National Socialism and under “real existing socialism” in former East Germany has deeply affected the multifaceted cultures within Germany and is in dire need of analysis. The traditional Left, however, does not seem interested. It is primarily concerned with power. Because of this obsession, the Greens have lost their credibility and independence within German politics. Critical German newspapers have similarly become voices for the Left-liberal establishment. The Left has succeeded in gaining access to publications such as Die Zeit and even Der Spiegel. Yet it is now a mere ghost of its former self and has failed to critically reevaluate and reconfigure its old bankrupt ideology. While the democratic Right is painstakingly aware of the problem of its ideological heritage, the Left has become blinded by its newly acquired power and remains intellectually anachronistic.
Nationalism or Regionalism?
According to Erich Kuby, because of their Nazi past Germans have lost their right to a German nation. Far from being a debilitating predicament, this may place Germany in a position of advantage in a situation where the nation-state is disintegrating everywhere and new political forms need to be developed. This process may be facilitated in Germany by the fact that, contrary to “politically correct” warnings from an increasingly complacent Left, most Germans do not identify with the German nation but rather with their regions. Contrary to the cherished belief that of all nations Germany in particular continues to have a strong nationalist current, today most Germans identify first and foremost with their region. Moreover, a strong segment within Germany (that could never identify with Germany as a nation) is reasserting the obsolescence of the national construct.
Maybe what is happening is what Geulen calls the “dynamic transformation and displacement of nationalism.” Contrary to Geulen’s account, however, attention has to be drawn to a largely neglected but rather strong populist current running through Germany’s cultural and political fabric: anti-national sentiment. This core sentiment can even be seen as inherent in standard Sonderweg readings of German history. Thus one could claim that the “belated” German nation has (as some of its citizens have discovered) an advantage over older nations which have never had to reflect on their artificial character, as had Germany between 1945 and 1991. Attempts to dismantle traditional regional ties (which the intelligentsia has always viewed as anti-modern) have hitherto failed.
Geulen claims that Germany, as a “famously ‘belated’ nation-state . . . nevertheless had an ideology of nationalism firmly in place long before 1871 .” Did the people actually identify as Germans, or was this a particularistic ideological construct? While this question needs to be discussed in terms of “whose interests were served by a nationalist ideology,” a populist analysis might also look into the pockets of nationalist resistance that have been labeled “anti-modern.” From 1871 to the present, there has been within Germany a strong current emphasizing regional differences and attempting to hold on to particular languages, customs and cultures. The traditional Left has been aware of this. In the 1920s, Ernst Bloch wrote about the Communist Party agitator who spoke in languages of times long past in order to communicate his message. The Nazis were also aware of these tightly-knit regional identifies and wove them into National Socialist propaganda. To consider this regionalist dimension part of ethnic history, as Geulen does, is inadequate.
Geulen buys into the assumption that it is necessary for Germany to be a nation-state, since this is what is required by the globalization of the market economy. The problem is not globalization but regional economics. A strong populist undercurrent has surfaced in things such as local and regional resistance in Gorleben, where both long-time residents and recent arrivals have opposed the deployment of atomic waste in the salt stock; and in regional TV stations celebrating regionality. During the 1970s, the New Left tried to tap into this populist regionalism by emphasizing the various dialects within the Liedermacher (songwriters’) movement. Recently, regional (but artificially constructed) TV programs celebrating regional locations have reinforced this phenomenon. Nevertheless, Germany as a nation, in all its artificiality, is invariably singled out as personified evil par excellence.
Today two forces structure German debates — the Left-liberal dominance in the media that continues to conjure up memories of Weimar and the Third Reich; and the various groups that rally against multiculturalism and criticize the masochistic relation to what is called Germany. The German Left is caught in a bind: it has to deal with both the Nazi and the Stalinist past. Since Germany never had a monolithic culture, attempts to construct one never really succeeded and were always opposed by multifaceted cultures in any given community. Strong currents in this highly diverse entity called Germany continue to contradict the modernist authoritarian identity known as “the nation.” Is it not time to re-examine German history independently of recycled notions of nation and nationalism, and focus instead on regions and regionalism?
This question leads back to the core of Geulen’s argument, i.e., that “The new German nationalism demonstrates nationalism’s ability to adapt itself to different contexts, mimic the strategy of its opponents and outlive its older definitions and theories.” In other words, nationalism remains a viable concept if redefined to correspond to whatever is happening in Germany today. By the same token, Geulen argues that “the abdication of universals” can be understood as a new form of universalism: “claiming and defending particularity has become a quasi-universal value.” To be sure, this is “not universalism as we know it.” But then neither is nationalism, as Geulen understands it. In her view, not only does particularism and the right to difference become universalism but regionalism and populism become nationalism. Black cows once again fade into the night, and the politically correct (but otherwise obsolete) contraposition of all-inclusive universalism vs. xenophobic nationalism is relegitimated, along with New Class intellectuals allegedly still struggling on the side of the angels against the phantasm of nationalist darkness.
While the international media focuses primarily on the portrayal of right-wing extremism, the following appendices paint a quite different picture. According to Zitelmann: “The most important actual goal is the defense and reinforcement of intellectual freedom in Germany. . . . Where there is fear, there can be no freedom. The fear of being mistakenly ‘outed’ by leftist campaigns as an alleged ‘right-wing radical’ leads to pussyfooting, moral cowardice and conformity. The fear of naked terror, with which the Atonomen’s ‘antifa’ threatens the basic laws of freedom of the press, speech, and association should not be underestimated.” It remains to be seen whether the fear expressed by Zitelmann is warranted. For now, a neurotic atmosphere prevails in reunited Germany. Debates concerning Germany’s position within Europe should be carried out in a political climate free of rhetorical attacks, physical threats and journalistic distractions. It should be a political climate in which no crushing blow (Keule) is answered with another, where Faschismuskeule and Vergangenheitskeule are not used to silence others, and discussion can take place unimpeded.
[Telos; Fall 95 Issue 105, p21, 11p]