Jacob Heilbrunn. Foreign Affairs. Volume 75, Issue 6. November/December 1996.
Liberating Nationalism from History
When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, a number of observers predicted that a reunited Germany would begin experimenting with its newfound power and revert to the bellicose habits of the past. The Bonn political elite, however, has been remarkably resistant to change. While Chancellor Helmut Kohl has flirted with attempts to “normalize” Germany’s Nazi past and create a self-confident nation, and the Bavarian Christian Social Union has bucked the pro-Europe course, he and his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have not deviated from their efforts to submerge a unified Germany in a federal Europe that boasts a common currency. Nor have any of the other major political parties, from Kohl’s coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Even the antinomian Greens embrace the idea of a centralized Europe as a means of diluting German economic and military power. In his new book, The Wrong Path of Nationalism, Heiner Geissler, former general secretary of the CDU, expresses the conventional wisdom: “Germany has achieved its great successes in economic, social, and foreign policy not as a classical nation-state, but rather as a democratic, cosmopolitan, and European-oriented country.” Konrad Adenauer’s famous campaign slogan, “No Experiments!” remains the unofficial motto of postwar Germany.
Since 1989, however, this doctrine has begun to be challenged by the elite that first created, in the nineteenth century, the idea of a unified German nation: German intellectuals. A change is taking place in Germany, not at the political but at the intellectual level. Whether or not it turns into a political movement or is taken up by one of the established political parties, the change will have a serious impact on Germany’s redefinition of its identity and interests in the new Europe. Fought largely over the lessons of the past, today’s and coming battles about national pride could well shape Germany’s future. In modern Germany politics does not make history; history makes politics.
A profound move to the right has been taking place among Germany’s best-known novelists, such as Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Martin Walser. Bonn University political scientist Hans-Peter Schwarz, the biographer of Adenauer, has recently written a book entitled The Central Power of Europe, calling for a recognition of German power. But no heretics have attacked the dogmas of the old Federal Republic of Germany more passionately than the nationalist intellectuals who lead what has become known as the Neue Rechte, or new right. The German new right consists not of skinheads in jackboots but journalists, novelists, professors, and young lawyers and business executives. Its champions include former Chancellor Willy Brandt’s widow, Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt, the filmmaker Hans Jurgen Syberberg, the playwright Botho Strauss, the historian Ernst Nolte, CDU parliamentarian Heinrich Lummer, and sympathizers such as the self-described “German-Jewish patriot” and historian Michael Wolffsohn. Paradoxically, the new right is made up of nationalists from both ends of the political spectrum. Nationalists on the left hope to remake the SPD; nationalists on the right, the Free Democratic Party. Everyone from former Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to Heiner Geissler has denounced the movement, and dozens of alarmist books with such titles as Is the Republic Capsizing? have appeared in the past two years.
Underlying new right positions is a deep hatred of the westernization of Germany under the influence of the United States over the last five decades. The advent of an American-style multicultural society is perceived to pose a great threat to Germanness. Hatred of the United States is what binds the right nationalists and defectors from the left who make up the movement. But above all, whether the topic is World War II or current immigration, the new right seeks to rehabilitate German nationalism by seizing on communist and leftist excesses to elide Germany’s own misdeeds.
1968 and All That
The New Right calls itself the generation of 1989, and its main foe is the leftist generation of 1968. The ’89ers do not seek to become a mass movement. They hope to emulate the tactics of the ’68 generation, which “marched through the institutions,” as the ’60s phrase had it, to win influence in newspapers and magazines like Die Zeit and Der Spiegel, in think tanks, and in the SPD. Such figures as Rainer Zitelmann, an editor at the conservative newspaper Die Welt, accuse the ’68 generation led by left-wingers including the philosopher Jurgen Habermas, the novelist Gunter Grass, and the historian HansUlrich Wehler of having infiltrated the media and universities where they wield a “fascism cudgel,” enforcing a moralistic and “politically correct” version of history that emphasizes the uniqueness of Nazi crimes so as to suppress German national pride. The stranglehold this self-accusatory history has on Germans, they say, makes it almost heretical to attack the Maastricht Treaty on European Union or the influx of immigrants. In a kind of rhetorical jujitsu, they depict themselves as revolutionaries seeking to overthrow a “totalitarian” society ruthlessly run by an ossified ’68 generation.
Ultimately, the struggle between the ’68ers and ’89ers might be dubbed one between the antifascists and the anti-antifascists. Both define the past in terms of the present. Antifascists see the Bonn republic as a vibrant liberal democracy that broke with the Sonderweg, or antiWestern German special path that ended in Nazism. The antifascist ’68ers have created what is known in Germany as a Betroffenheitskultur a culture of contrition in which every conceivable political issue is viewed through the prism of the Nazi past.
Anti-antifascists will have none of this. In their version of history, the real historical detour was the creation of a westernized Bonn republic that substituted self-flagellation for an assertion of German national interests and honor. Anti-antifascists do not deny the reality of the Holocaust; instead, they seek to depict Nazism in a milder light by portraying Hitler as a social modernizer and harping on the crimes of Stalin. The anti-antifascists argue that the self-effacing Bonn republic that based its identity on antifascism must be replaced by a selfconfident Berlin republic that returns to nationalist doctrines respectable before the Nazi regime took power. A “normal” Germany freed of the albatross of the Nazi past will be able to assert its interests like any other nation. With the collapse of the self-proclaimed East German antifascist utopia, the way has been cleared for a return to German nationalism.
The sources of the postwar German right actually lie on the left. The westernized Federal Republic was shaped by two forces: Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the 1968 generation of student revolutionaries. Adenauer’s great accomplishment was breaking with the radical conservatism espoused by such Weimar intellectuals as the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt and the writer Ernst Junger to found a new political tradition called West German conservatism. It was the SPD, led by Kurt Schumacher, a survivor of 12 years in Nazi concentration camps, that espoused continuity-with the German past. The SPD rejected Adenauer’s efforts to anchor Germany in NATO and the European Community in the hope of creating a neutral and unified nation. Schumacher, who memorably described Adenauer as “Chancellor of the Allies,” saw Adenauer’s policies as betraying German interests-a theme that the new right has revived in returning to the Weimar-era tactic of jockeying between East and West that Adenauer jettisoned.
If Adenauer grounded Germany in the West politically, the successor generation in the SPD led by Willy Brandt completed Germany’s cultural westernization. Brandt supported the efforts of the ’68 student revolutionaries to break with the stern, patriarchal style of the Adenauer years. The ’68 generation confronted the crimes of the Nazi past that their parents had suppressed and produced an overdue cultural revolution. Jurgen Habermas, among others, imported American and European exile social thought into Germany to legitimize a break with the established German order. But part of the ’68 movement degenerated into the terrorism of the Baader-Meinhof Red Army Faction, and others went on from anti-Nazism to pacifism and antiAmericanism, on the one hand, and to denouncing “consumer terror” on the other. They claimed that the Federal Republic was not a real democracy but, in some ways, a continuation of the Nazi regime. The ’68ers consolidated their ideological revolt in the universities, schools, churches, trade unions, and the media. Schoolchildren who refused to attend peace demonstrations were given lower marks, and in 1977 one in five professors reported being attacked in some form-personal violence, classroom disruption-by the radical left. Berlin, which was exempt from the military draft, became a hotbed of leftwing anarchists who took over entire sections of the city. Instead of facing down the new left, Brandt and his eminence grise Egon Bahr adopted it, compounding the mischief. They presided over an SPD and an Ostpolitik that abandoned the idea of reunification and blurred the moral boundaries between democracy and communism.
In the mid-1970s such figures as the philosopher Hermann Libbe and the historian Michael StUrmer led a neoconservative backlash. In dismissing the idea of a single Germany and embracing permissiveness, argued Sturmer, a gifted historian and later a speechwriter for Chancellor Kohl, the ’68ers had left Germany without a sense of pride in its past. When in 1986 the historian Ernst Nolte followed up Sturmer’s writings with an essay in the mainstream Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung entitled “The Past that Will Not Pass Away,” the Historikerstreit, or historians’ dispute, was born. Centered on the uniqueness of the Holocaust, the Historikerstreit adumbrated the themes that have preoccupied Germany since 1989. In the essay, Nolte depicted Lenin’s Red Terror as a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust and the Holocaust itself as a defensive response to “Asiatic terror.”
At that time Nolte spoke for a small minority in maintaining that the Holocaust was simply one among a number of horrific historical events. His violation of the taboo in Germany on depreciating the uniqueness of the Final Solution outraged liberal West German sensitivities particularly because he had been on the left in 1963 when his seminal book, Three Faces of Fascism, was published. Today Ernst Nolte is nothing less than the spiritus rector of the new right.
The passions seething beneath the patina of Nolte’s scholarship became manifest when he explained to me, in the beautifully refined German of an older generation, that the nation’s identity crisis revealed itself in the way Germany was whipping itself into a lather over the firebombings of shelters for Third World refugees seeking asylum. “When someone throws burning material into a house, they don’t necessarily want to kill a human being, but could have completely other intentions,” he maintained. They might simply be expressing social frustration, just as left-wing anarchists had expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the 196os. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he concluded, “And to characterize it as attempted murder-our justice system has done that-seems highly questionable to me.” To Nolte and the new right, the danger is that Germany will be swallowed up in a larger Europe filled with alien races. The United States has inflicted the notion of a multicultural society on Germany-one that is designed to “root out the classes and groups in Germany to whom the responsibility for the First World War and the victory of National Socialism are ascribed.”
The War of Memories
Few topics bring into relief the tactics of the new right as clearly as the traumatic one of foreign immigration. The rash of neo-Nazi attacks on refugee shelters in the early i99os delivered a black eye to the Federal Republic’s efforts to present a new Germany to the outside world. Although the American media exaggerated the extent of the violence, the response of the Bonn government was tardy and flaccid. In January 1996 the torching of a shelter in Lubeck ripped open the German psyche once again. The fire, which killed ten and injured dozens more, took place on the same day that Israeli President Ezer Weizman addressed the Bundestag as part of the new Holocaust Remembrance Day, which German President Roman Herzog had inaugurated to demonstrate that Germany would continue to mark the liberation of Auschwitz even though its 5oth anniversary had passed. The country went into a state of collective shock. Mass demonstrations took place, the mayor of Lubeck called for “civil disobedience,” and Herzog announced that his patience was “finally coming to an end.” Then came a fresh surprise: police suspicions shifted from the neo-Nazis to a disgruntled resident of the shelter.
There the matter would have rested in the old Federal Republic. But this time the German right went on the offensive. Konrad Adam, a journalist sympathetic to the new right, editorialized in the Frankfurter Allgemeine that Germans’ rush to condemn themselves as Nazis epitomized the hold of the “guilt mythology.” Figures such as former President Richard von Weizsacker, the paper said, were members of a “moralizing caste” and “emissaries of a culture of contrition.” CDU parliamentarian and former West Berlin Interior Minister Heinrich Lummer wrote in the nationalist weekly Junge Freiheit (Young freedom) that it was time to start asking, “How often are Germans the victims of foreign assailants?”
In January the Charlottenburg town hall in Berlin afforded me a ringside seat for what one Die Zeit editor called “the war of memories.” Meeting there, led by the young historian Rainer Zitelmann, was a faction of the FDP seeking to transform the liberal party into a right-nationalist one, as Jorg Haider did with the Austrian Freedom Party in the mid-1980s. Under the charismatic 46-year-old chairman, who has described immigrants as “social parasites” and concentration camps as “punishment camps,” the Freedom Party increased its electoral support from about io percent in 1986 to 22 percent in 1995. The immediate occasion for the Berlin meeting was the publication of a collection of new right essays entitled For Freedom. Echoing Haider, the speakers rose to denounce European monetary union, a multicultural society, and a German obsession with the Nazi past. The most unbuttoned speaker was Klaus Rainer Rohl. Formerly a communist married to a Red Army Faction leader, Rohl now exemplifies the move to the right among many German intellectuals. He fired up the audience of several hundred young Berliners with the news that the “danger comes from the left. We’ve had enough of this stigmatizing, of this media dictatorship, of this political correctness.” After pausing foppishly to finger the pocket watch in the vest of his designer suit, he bellowed, “It is President Herzog who should be apologizing to the inhabitants of Lubeck since everyone presumed that they were Nazis.”
Once the meeting ended tumultuously, with the audience hooting down a representative of the mainstream Berlin FDP, we trooped into the beer hall adjoining the meeting room. I sat next to Alexander von Stahl, former attorney general of Germany. After Stahl ordered a round of beers, I asked him about the popular German reaction to Libeck. “This people is sick! This people is sick!” he erupted. The reaction to Lubeck is incomprehensible, he said, for anyone who is not a German. At the end of the table a young man was explaining how he had taken over FDP meetings in the Spandau and Tempelhof sections of Berlin. “Those boys in Tempelhof are great,” a middleaged woman told me excitedly. “The Germans lie to themselves about their nationhood. These boys are ready to shed their blood for the fatherland.” As the evening wound down, I found myself talking to Ansgar Graw, 34, a historian and official at Radio Free Berlin, who ordered a round of schnapps. “In four minutes an Austrian has his birthday at midnight,” he said. Glasses clinked to toast Jorg Haider.
The Past Is Our Country
The german new right does not have a politician like Jorg Haider. What it has are intellectuals like Rainer Zitelmann of Die Welt, founded by newspaper magnate Axel Springer. Zitelmann is the impresario of the new right. Like Nolte, he has twice had his car firebombed by left-wing anarchists. His notoriety is such that when I attended a Bonn conference on the economy, he had merely to rise to ask a question to set some five hundred attendees whispering furiously. A Maoist in high school, he aims to use the tactics of generational conflict and cultural war on behalf of the right. Zitelmann is an indefatigable publicist who has written a score of books on German history and politics. His Ph.D. dissertation transformed the Fuhrer into a social revolutionary deeply influenced by the American New Deal. Zitelmann’s goal is to normalize German nationalism by first normalizing the Nazi past.
When I met him outside the Ullstein Building-Springer built it so that it would tower over the Berlin Wall during the Cold War-Zitelmann brandished an article from Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild Zeitung. “Here’s an article on the average German,” he said. He began reciting the statistics on weight, height, and hobbies, declaring triumphantly after each, “That’s me!” At lunch, Zitelmann painted a dire portrait of Germany. Daily politics, he explained, should no longer be determined by the memory of National Socialism. What is popularly known as a Schlussstrich, a line under the past, did not need to be drawn. Rather, “a line has to be drawn against this permanent self-flagellation and self-hatred, which produces neo-Nazis in the end. We must become normal.” According to Zitelmann, the ’68 generation has prevented this from occurring: “The ideology of the ’68ers has settled like fine dust . . . into every nook and cranny of society.” Zitelmann was previously an editor at the mainstream Ullstein publishing house, where he presided over the publication of a seemingly endless stream of books by young German historians that make for eyebrow-raising reading.
The most vivid example so far of how the new right would palliate the Nazi past is The Way Into the Abyss. Because it was published in as part of the distinguished Propylaen German history series, it created a furor. For weeks the pages of German newspapers were filled with analyses and denunciations of the book. Its author, Karlheinz Weissmann, a high school teacher in Gottingen, had previously written a book called Recall Into History that attacked both the Soviet Union and the United States for dismembering Germany after World War II. The Way Into the Abyss builds on that “insight.”
The theme of the book is that in neither its intentions nor its actions did Nazi Germany differ from its enemies. In his introduction, Weissmann explains that a moralistic ’68 generation has refused to allow historians to depict the Nazi era as it was actually experienced by the German people. After the demise of communism and with the reunification of Germany, the moment has arrived for a demystification of Nazism and a “normalization of historical understanding.” While Weissmann never shrinks from depicting the horrors of the concentration camps, he devotes as much space to discussing sports in the Third Reich as he does to the murder of Jews. The constant emphasis is on how everyday life in Germany remained unaltered under the Nazis: the population outside the camps supposedly had full access to foreign newspapers, went dancing, and listened to the radio. Hitler’s rise to power was the result of “completely comprehensible political decisions.” The entire Nazi era is described in coldly neutral terms, the conclusion being that since some seven million Germans died in World War II, “no people had done so much penance for the deeds that it carried out, or that were carried out in its name.”
When I spoke with Weissmann, he went still further. Sherman in Atlanta and the British in South Africa, he said, had engaged in wartime massacres. The Germans were no exception. Anyway, it was not so much ordinary Germans who were at fault during World War II as the Allies. Their failure to aid the German resistance during the July 20, 1944, plot against Hitler, he explained, “completely discredits them.” The “Habermas faction” had propagated a version of history that shamed Germans into thinking that they now must accept foreigners and hand out welfare benefits. But economic pressures, coupled with a more objective history, were changing things. No longer would Germans be tyrannized into putting up with an American version of a multicultural society. They would return to their traditional values. “It’s all going much more quickly than people realize,” he crowed.
For Weissmann’s new right followers, his book has become a sacred text. Criticism of it is dismissed as a new instance of political correctness. One young historian defended the book to me as we ate dinner in a steak house; waving his knife in the air, he complained, “The German left always accuses us of counting numbers. But they count how many pages Weissmann writes about the Holocaust. If German historians could determine that we killed eight rather than six million Jews, they would jump for joy.”
Germany and the West
The new right is shot through with self-pity. The ambition of Weissmann, Zitelmann, and others is to construct a lachrymose history in which Germans are victims of the United States as much as of the Soviet Union. This became obvious in the first programmatic statement of the new right, Ties to the West. A volume of essays edited by Zitelmann, Weissmann, and Michael Grossheim, its appearance in 1993 created something of a sensation in Germany. In the introduction, the editors coyly stated that they were posing questions, not advocating that Germany abandon NATO and the European Union. They even interspersed a few Atlanticist contributors, but it was crystal clear that the new right was less anti-Eastern than anti-Western.
The editors boasted that only a “younger generation” freed of the burdens of the past that bedeviled both conservative Atlanticists and liberal ’68ers could objectively assess the drawbacks as well as the benefits of Germany’s Western alliance. They envisioned a Germany that would return to old-fashioned geopolitics to maneuver, as it had in the past, between East and West. In a play on Joseph Goebbels’ famous 1943 speech in the Berlin Sportpalast calling for “total war,” the editors bemoaned the “utopia of a Totalwestintegration,” or integration with the West that has assumed a totalitarian character. Reunification, according to the book, provides a second chance. Jochen Thies, a former assistant to Helmut Schmidt, observed that “in terms of power politics the Federal Republic finds itself … in a cloaked, half-hegemonic position like the Bismarckian Reich of 871 or the Weimar Republic in 1922 after the conclusion of the Rapallo pact [which established relations with the Soviet Union].” Yet in his view, the Bonn political elite remains an emasculated one that cannot summon up the courage to exploit new possibilities. Instead, traumatized by the crimes of the Nazi past, it is bent on handing over sovereignty to the European Union.
At the core of the book is the notion that despite Auschwitz, Germany must recognize that it is once again a great power in the middle of Europe. “One precondition is coming to terms with history, whose dark sides cannot be forgotten, but which also cannot determine daily politics,” writes Ansgar Graw. There is nothing particularly objectionable about this statement, but it is part of a pattern of equivocation that employs what might be called the “but” technique. Auschwitz was a terrible event, but …
The barely suppressed anger that underlay the book spilled over in spectacular fashion in an advertisement signed by several hundred prominent Germans in an April 1995 issue of Frankfurter Allgemeine. Appearing on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the ad, drafted by Zitelmann, Weissmann, and Heimo Schwilk, stated that the liberal German media’s “one-sided” focus on the German surrender as an act of liberation from the Nazi dictatorship obscured the fact that May 8, 1945, was the “beginning of the expulsion, terror, and new oppression in the East and the division of our nation.” Insidiously employing the traditional language of German approaches to the history of Nazism, it concluded that “a conception of history that is silent, represses or relativizes these truths cannot serve as the foundation of the selfunderstanding of a self-confident nation, something we Germans must become within the family of European peoples if we are to prevent similar catastrophes from occurring in the future.” Among those attacking the advertisement were Rita Sussmuth, the CDU president of the Bundestag, and Ignatz Bubis, the leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s principal Jewish cultural and religious organization. In response, Zitelmann, Weissmann, and Schwilk ran a second advertisement in the Frankfurter Allgemeine denouncing the “opinion terror of political correctness.” The advertisements caused such a furor because they shifted the emphasis from German culpability for World War II to what Germany suffered at the hands of the Red Army, ending up with the Germans as the real victims of the war.
The ambiguous character of the new right, its skillful maneuvering in what is called in Germany the “gray zone” between conservatism and the radical right, exasperates the German liberal media. Members of the new right claim that they are simply adding a long-suppressed voice to the political spectrum, and that they are only saying Germany needs to rethink its relationship to Europe and the United States. No new right outlet strives harder to project a democratic image than the newspaper Young Freedom.
As its spiffy offices attest, Young Freedom has strong financial backing from German industrialists. It is attractively designed and publishes a variety of authors writing on everything from foreign policy to rock music. To buttress its democratic credentials, it tries particularly hard to give space to authors on the nationalist left. Its editorials praise Ignatz Bubis’ denunciations of anarchists. (“They want to co-opt me,” Bubis told me.) The paper, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, is a prime target of leftist anarchists, who have firebombed its printing plant in Weimar. Kiosks in Berlin that carry it have received similar treatment. Thus the new right can depict the left, with a grain of truth, as the real repository of authoritarian German tendencies.
With his close-cropped brown hair, jeans, and windbreaker, the 29-year-old editor in chief, Dieter Stein, could pass for an American college student. But Stein, who founded Young Freedom while a high school student in Freiburg, has followed in the footsteps of his father, a revisionist military historian. He and his publication have close ties to Jorg Haider and the Austrian Freedom Party; one of Haider’s lieutenants sits on the board of the paper. For Stein, as for most other members of the new right, it is German subservience to the United States that provokes ire. The West Germans, he told me, are dishonest. They wish to appear harmless to foreigners. They have a despicable bearing. They lie about their own nationality. East Germans, by contrast, did not suffer from these hang-ups. Whereas the Soviets “chopped off Nazi heads in Leipzig and then stopped,” Stein explained, the Americans put the entire nation under “suspicion.” West Germans were deprived of their Germanness. “Every West German had to fill out a questionnaire on their activities during World War II,” sputtered Stein. “Everyone had to lie.”
The Self-Confident Nation
A persistent theme of the new right is that Germany must become not only normal, but self-confident. New right history holds that the pliant political class installed by the Western allies after 1945 was replaced by an even more “degenerate” and self-loathing one in 1968. The ’68ers have created a politically correct version of history that they enforce through the media with totalitarian efficiency. The idea is that the Bonn republic is as illegitimate as the Weimar Republic or the German Democratic Republic.
The ’68ers who have defected to the new right and former East Germans disillusioned with the Federal Republic enunciate these themes most vociferously. One such defector is Botho Strauss, a poet and Germany’s leading playwright, winner of the Georg Buchner Prize, the nation’s most prestigious literary award. In 1993 Strauss sent shock waves through intellectual and political circles with an essay in Der Spiegel entitled “The Swelling Song of the Billy Goat”the goat being the symbol of the new right in France and Germany. The “Strauss controversy,” as it became known, succeeded the Historikerstreit. Strauss defended the neo-Nazis as the inevitable product of a deformed ’68 generation and attacked the “sinister aeries of the Enlightenment.” The Germans, Strauss lamented, had become a deracinated people. They had exchanged a sense of nationhood for rampant consumerism. The neo-Nazis understand that it is necessary to protect German ethnicity, but “that a people wishes to assert its legal customs against another and is prepared to sacrifice blood we no longer understand, and, in our liberal-libertarian self-delusion, view as false and damnable.” Strauss concluded by asking whence the next Fuhrer.
Strauss’ defection sent the ’68ers into a frenzy. For more than a year German papers and magazines were filled with discussions of Strauss and his polemic. “Botho Strauss is a dangerous madman…. One had hoped that this kind of farrago had been washed away by the bloodbath of 1945,” former SPD General Secretary Peter Glotz wrote. Strauss allowed his essay to be used as the lead in a new right manifesto, The Self-Confident Nation. Like Ties to the West, it consisted of essays by intellectuals and journalists and provided further evidence of the extent to which the new right is made up of former leftists. One contributor, the editor Ulrich Schacht, was born in a women’s prison in the German Democratic Republic and later extricated from the east by Willy Brandt. A noted poet, Schacht first joined the SPD, then grew disgusted with its close relations with the regime in East Berlin. Other contributors to the volume include Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt and Wolfgang Templin, a leader of the pro-democracy citizens movement in the GDR.
Like Strauss, these writers view the westernized Bonn republic and the liberal media with contempt. For them Bonn was a deviation from the true course of German history, an excrescence to be replaced by a self-confident Berlin republic. “The time has disappeared, the time from which sorrow, shame, and timorousness arose, wrote Seebacher-Brandt. “It does not exist, and it never has existed-the `Bonn republic.”‘ Klaus Rainer Rohl portrays the Bonn political class as quislings who sold out to the United States. Rohl maintains that Jewish emigrants such as the philosopher Theodor Adorno carried out these reeducation efforts. The message is clear.
Underlying this contempt for the Bonn republic is fury at the failure of Willy Brandt’s 1968 Enkel, or grandchildren, in the SPD to embrace reunification in i989. In her book The Left and Unity, for instance, Seebacher-Brandt excoriated the antipathy toward the German nation among the ’68ers: reunification revealed that the “soul of the people” and its “dreams, instincts, and moods” run far “deeper than a superficial left-wing rationality” can comprehend. Tilman Fichter, chief educator at the SPD party school in Bonn, echoes Seebacher-Brandt. In his book The SPD and the Nation, Fichter attacks his own ’68 generation for suppressing the theme of “national identity” and clinging to the Bonn republic. He calls for a “modern social-democratic understanding of the fatherland.” Among former East Germans, the hatred of the westernized Federal Republic is even more pronounced: Frank Castorf, a leading theater director in East Germany, revealed his sympathies for “fascist ideas” in an interview with Junge Welt.
While we waited for the subway at the cavernous Friedrichstrasse station, I asked Jens Falk, a former East German and an editor at Young Freedom, about life in the GDR. “Some things were better,” he replied. “Things were regulated.” The strapping six-footer pointed at an iron catwalk and laughed. “I probably would be up there patrolling the border. Today no one cares about anybody.” He paused. “If I beat you to a pulp here,” he said, “no one would lift a finger. There was a feeling of solidarity in the GDR, just as there was in the Third Reich.” I looked curious. Was there such a feeling of solidarity? Jens snorted. “Of course, just look at the Wehrmacht, at what kind of men we had there.”
Will Ideas Have Consequences?
The extent to which these anti-Western ressentiments gussied up in the language of the new right have penetrated the mainstream is the concern of Heiner Geissler and other Atlanticists in the CDU. Geissler remains a CDU parliamentarian and in The Wrong Path of Nationalism warns against a recrudescence of new right doctrines. The 36-year-old Friedbert Pfluger, who studied at Harvard and served as an assistant to former President Weizsacker, is a member of the Bundestag and a CDU spokesman for disarmament. In 1994 Pfluger wrote a book warning against the inroads the new right was making into traditional conservatism. He called it Germany Is Drifting.
Pfluger believes that his warnings helped take some of the wind out of the sails of the new right. When I met him in the spacious, airy new quarters of the Bundestag in Bonn, which seemed to epitomize the liberal spirit of postwar Germany, it was hard to imagine that Germany could drift anywhere. But Pfluger noted that a change has taken place in the political landscape. “In the 1970s,” he explained, “he who was for the West and NATO was on the right. Today in the Frankfurter Allgemeine there are people who say, `Let’s not make an ideology out of the West.”‘
The Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany’s most distinguished newspaper, plays a key role for the new right. The paper is as ambiguous in its approach to the new right as the movement is about its own intentions. Writers such as Zitelmann and Weissmann sometimes write for it. One of the paper’s editorial writers, Eckard Fuhr, contends, “The almost libidinous attachment to the guilty history of Germany … directs itself negatively against anyone who views `ties to the West’ as a simple and sensible fact, not as the basis for a new therapeutic national cult. There is no reason to carry `the West’ around like a monstrosity.”
Perhaps the most important figure at the paper is Frank Schirrmacher, the editor of its feuilleton section. The 40-year-old Schirrmacher is the cultural doyen of Germany. A thoughtful intellectual whose politics are those of Chancellor Kohl, Schirrmacher is no friend of Zitelmann and Co., but, as he put it, “if they write something we like, we’ll print it.” But as our talk stretched into three hours, it took on an increasingly metaphysical cast, and it became clear that a yearning for an unbroken German tradition is scarcely confined to the fringes of the new right. Schirrmacher too seemed to represent a new, younger generation in Germany, impatient with the verities of the Cold War.
Germany, Schirrmacher told me, exists “in a situation where it is actually the hegemonic power of Europe. The whole political scene does nothing else but say that we aren’t. Even though we are.” Schirrmacher had a point. The refusal of the Bonn political class to face up to Germany’s new position was creating an opening for the new right. The strategy of the new right, he pointed out, was to usurp traditions, and it was first off the mark in “thematizing” the question of a united Germany’s position in Europe. Schirrmacher’s hope, as he expressed it, is that Germans will return to the texts of such Weimar oracles as Carl Schmitt and Ernst Junger and “confront” them. Germans need to think in terms of power again as they did in the past, he argued. Schmitt’s work on geopolitics, Land and Sea, was the “greatest literature.” “There was the age-old dream of a fusion between the Roman-Spanish world and the Slavic-German world,” he said, “and I could imagine that a new cultural flowering might emerge.”
This is the sort of language that troubles Ignatz Bubis and other opponents of the new right. Bubis’ affability, tolerance, and directness have made him one of the most popular figures in Germany. His refusal to exaggerate the extent of neo-Nazism and his defense of Jews who have chosen to remain in Germany have earned him laurels across the political spectrum. A few weeks before our interview, Bubis was shouted down as, of all things, a Nazi by left-wing anarchists at the University of Hamburg when he admonished students not to assume that neo-Nazis had firebombed the shelter in Lubeck. Yet he fears the right more than the left. To Bubis, the new right is a growing menace that must be confronted. “I see it as a real danger, a very real danger,” he said. Bubis stressed the “elegant manner in which they proceed. They do it on an intellectual level.” In his view, the danger is a relativization of the Nazi past and a trend toward populism in the major parties. In both the CDu and FDP, he noted, there are “elements that would be happy to make a coalition with new right figures.”
Nevertheless, the criticisms of Bubis, Pfluger, and others mean that an unsavory whiff still clings to the new right. The political future of the movement is murky. For all his ingenuity when it comes to garnering publicity, Zitelmann will not be able to take over the FDP at the federal level. The attempt of Manfred Brunner, the former leader of the Bavarian FDP, to create a new citizens party opposed to European monetary union flopped. The SPD’s attempt to campaign on antiEurope themes in state elections in Baden-Wurttemberg was no more successful. The CDU, for now, remains fixed on the pro-Europe politics of Chancellor Kohl. Officials at the federal chancellery say that what is most disturbing are the “diffuse anti-Western sentiments in the East.” To think of the new right as a new mass party, however, is a mistake. The new right is no cause for panic. It can be seen as a natural development in Germany after 1989. Perhaps the Germans need to rouse rather than suppress the demon of nationalism in order to exorcise it. Nor does the new right’s contention that a moralistic leftwing media dominates the German cultural landscape miss the mark. There is an excessive preoccupation with the Holocaust in Germany, which the left, a little unwittingly, exploits for present political purposes. Some Germans experience a kind of cathartic bliss in denouncing themselves and their nationality.
But the new right represents the other extreme. It too exploits the Holocaust-although in a more pernicious fashion-by scanting its importance. Its most likely accomplishment will be to push the boundaries of what is considered permissible in German political discourse. The rapidity with which new right themes are being taken up by members of the CDU’S youth movement, for example, is a source of concern to party officials of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the CDU’s leadership organization. The FDP is already moving toward a more austere economic program, and the issue of foreigners’ rights looms large. Kohl’s likely successor, Wolfgang Schauble, indulges in new right rhetoric, asserting that Germans gain their identity “not from commitment to an idea, but from belonging to a particular nation, a Volk” He has written about returning to the “emotional, connective power of the nation.”
“What do these revisionists really want, these shrewd, sturdy young lads that one sees everywhere,” asks the journalist Harald Martenstein in the February 11 Der Tagesspiegel, based in Berlin. For the moment, they seem to want a rethinking. Robert von Rimscha, a young editor and coauthor of a new book, `Political Correctness’ in Germany, gave me an answer. “In the next 20 to 30 years,” he cheerfully proclaimed, “there will be a flood of revisionist books. I am sure of it.”
In February 1996 Der Spiegel ran a cover story on the war on the eastern front written by its publisher, Rudolf Augstein. One of the revisionist books Augstein reviewed was Stalin’s War of Annihilation. Written by Joachim Hoffmann, a former director of the military history research division of the Bundeswehr, the book claimed that Stalin, not Hitler, was responsible for World War II. A few weeks earlier Young Freedom had gone into ecstasies over the book. The Der Spiegel cover showed Hitler squaring off against Stalin. The article’s title asked, “Aggressor Hitler, Aggressor Stalin?” Spiegel was hardly endorsing the book, but a new soft revisionism has begun putting question marks after what were once certainties.