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Right-wing Extremism in Germany

"The neoliberal hegemony that endangers democracy and the `social symmetry' of welfare state capitalism provides fertile ground for right-wing extremism and neofascism. The apparent hegemony of the capitalist economy over politics or transnational corporations over the individual nation state destroys the belief of young persons in the organization of society." Translated from the German
"Tightening One's Belt"

Right-wing Extremism as a Consequence

By Christoph Butterwegge

[This article originally published in: Forum Wissenschaft 3/July 13, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  link to www.linksnet.de.]

Insights about the connections between economic globalization and right-wing mobilization are presuppositions for counter-strategies. The author offers an explanatory model.

Right-wing extremism is not a disintegration phenomenon or youth problem. Its organized core is not a protest movement supporting socially disadvantaged Germans (1). Rather right-wing extremism excludes persons with handicaps, the homeless, homosexuals and other "marginal groups" like political refugees and seeks to withhold state benefits from them or discipline them through coercive measures. What is involved is not a negation but the realization of effective norms driven to their extreme (judgment of a person according to economic usability, efficiency, output or adaptability) and social functional mechanisms like competition. (2)

In the following an explanatory model will be presented that identifies this competitive principle as a driving force of the capitalist economic system, reveals it as constitutive for certain burdens of the past of the political culture and makes globalization or neoliberal modernization responsible for (positional-) nationalism, racism and right-wing violence, not only for the welfare state. (3) Modernized right-wing extremism relies on an ideological "embrace of economic liberalism and nationalism" that can be instrumentalized through exaggeration for populist appeals. "Constructions of the national are then used as ideological packaging to transfer social frustration into authoritarian orientations." (4)

Causes of Right-wing Violence

Alongside economic power- and rule conditions, a new form appears that marks the political (non-) culture of every country, its extreme right, its ideology and organizational structure and also the way it is countered by democratic powers. Burdens of the past of the political culture in Germany were and are partly a marked friend-enemy thinking, fixation on the state (budgetism) and authority (subject mentality), political conformism, exaggerated harmony mania, authoritarianism, anti-pluralism, anti-intellectualism, irrationalism, a tendency to (legal) formalism, Prussian love of authority and a weakness of men for military discipline. (5) These burdens peaked in an especially aggressive nationalism because Germany as a "belated nation" (Helmuth Plessner) is marked by an unsimultaneity between industrialization and democratization, seeking a "place in the sun" - world power status - with force of arms if necessary. The NS regime did not pervert nationalism or misuse it for war crimes and genocide but drove it to the extreme. Although Germany's unconditional surrender and occupation by the victorious powers meant that national socialism was defeated and that nationalism was robbed of its legitimation, national socialism remained arrested in the "collective memory" of Germans - like anti-semitism -because Germany's own role was neither critically reflected nor really overcome...

When Helmut Kohl visited the soldiers' cemetery with many graves of Waffen SS members on May 8, 1985 together with US president Reagan, the NS culprits were rehabilitated through a symbolic act. In this "obscene ritual", Micha Brumlik saw a clear signal of the "legal shifting of the middle class camp" by the CDU/CSU (centrist German party of Helmut Kohl in power for 18 years). "In 1985, forty years after the end of the Second World War, Germany's liberation from national socialism, the conservative party introduced the ideological swing to the right." (6) In 1985/87, the attempt was made in the so-called historians' conflict to cancel the liberalization of the political culture mostly associated with the students' movement in 1968 through relativization of the holocaust and rehabilitation of the NS perpetrators. (7) The political coordinate system of Germany slowly shifted to the right. Later debates about the book Hilter's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen and Martin Walser's Frankfurt peace price address in October 1998 were indirectly related. (8) Two recent situations clearly show that cultural racism and German nationalism are still influential currents within the political public. The demand of the CDU/CSU leader in the Bundestag, Friedrich Merz, for adaptation of migrants to the "German culture" and the "national pride" debate... are examples.

Re-nationalization of the Political Culture

German unification re-accentuated nationalism. The "national" was again equated with "the social".

Although there wasn't a "national intoxication" after the unification of East Germany and West Germany, a partial re-nationalization of politics and political culture occurred. (9) In parts of the general public, the Bundestag decision for Berlin was interpreted as a distancing from the "Bonn republic", a definitive renunciation from the western orientation and a long overdue "reflection on the nation". Since two partial states hostile to one another no longer existed, Germany appeared again as a collective political subject that could act "self-confidently" and demand more efficiency and capacity for suffering from its citizens. (10)

Political-cultural developments decide how an economic crisis or social situation of upheaval, the DDR "turn" and German unification, are collectively worked out. As far as excluding-aggressive moments dominate, the social battles over distribution are stylized into defensive battles of natives against the "foreign" and intercultural conflicts.

The asylum debate that intensified in 1991/93 damaged both the constitution and the democratic culture of Germany. (11) The reform of the citizenship law still based on the ethnic theory of evolution of "German blood" did not occur until the change of government in the fall of 1998 and was only realized half-heartedly. Despite all the assimilation to the western political culture that succeeded in Germany... , the red-green coalition only half-heartedly defended its original goal of reform and refused mobilization for the basic German citizenship law.

Gudrun Hentges explains the explosiveness and resonance of the "leading culture" discussion that broke out in October 2000. "A decade after the dissolution of the socialist state system and the reunification of the two German states, the question of the `self-confident nation' was raised again in foreigner- and asylum policy, not only in the so-called security- and defense policy." (12) Germany actually is at a possible turning point of its development... Whether united Germany strives again for a world power role and prepares itself for that economically, technologically and militarily may depend on the dominant discourses whose course can be influenced.

The themes of the right are becoming themes of the middle. Examples for an ethnicizing and culturalization of social, political and economic processes show that this process runs across the established political and public structure. (13) The position that being German requires national pride as in times of the imperial empire or the NS regime dominates far beyond the ultra-right spectrum.

Positional nationalism

A direct way led from the leading culture discussion to the national pride debate and from the asylum discussion to the positional debate. The middle of the 90s represented a new variety of nationalism. (14) If the fear was first emphasized that foreigners would take away "jobs from Germans", the impression was now aroused that German capital would migrate to foreign countries (Bild on October 6, 1999: "Germany as a high tax country: Will Daimler move to the US"?). I describe as positional nationalism the widespread consciousness of facing a world of enemies on the international markets and having to document the structural superiority of one's "own" economic position through "German inventiveness", greater diligence and more readiness for sacrifice. This also has consequences for the social climate. Unfavorable residence conditions result for non-Germans in Germany. "In a situation where "all the people " are urged "to tighten their belts", scarce resources cannot be used by "foreigners", whether work migrants, asylum candidates or refugees. "Being German" under the conditions of the modern welfare state means defending one's own prosperity and delegitimating and resisting the claims of other groups." (15) Ideological points of contact to right-wing extremism are manifest here...

A modernized neoliberal market-radical nationalism dominates the ultra-right scene, no longer a mythical nationalism. (16) The economy and the social have become the central political fields of the extreme right-wing and sources of conflict for the democratic culture. The narrower the distribution margins of a society, the more the temptation increases to exclude so-called marginal groups from certain resources. Ethnicization is a mechanism of exclusion that constructs minorities, labels them negatively (as "social parasites") and thereby solidifies one's own privileges. (17) In the foreground, "cultural identity" is involved in ethnicization. Behind that are usually conflicts of interest in relation to scarce social resources. Firstly, a stigmatization of "others" occurs. Far-reaching political and economic goals involve constructing a national or "popular community". A "culturalization" of politics that is reduced to safeguarding collective identities corresponds to the ethnicization of social relations. A "national competition state" that no longer wishes to be a conventional welfare state with comprehensive responsibility for social security and justice (18) intensifies social inequality through its market-radical economic policy and thereby offers a sounding board for social processes of exclusion and ethnicization. The more competition moves into the center stage of international and interpersonal relations, the easier it is to politically charge ethnic or cultural difference. A trend to "hedonist-consumerist social Darwinism" is spreading. "After the global triumph of the market economy, the principle that the stronger prevails and the weak fall by the wayside has gained plausibility. Current right-wing extremism and right-wing populism rest on brutalization, ethnicization and aestheticizing of everyday competitive principles." (19)

Omnipresence of the Market

Social Darwinism is rooted in the experiential world of a youth marked by the capitalist achievement-principle, the all-pervasive market mechanism and the competition of everyone against everyone else. (20) Rivalry acts as a main driving force of a stratified society increasingly divided in poor and rich. "The everyday social Darwinian philosophy that coheres with that rivalry produces an inconspicuous brutality kept from direct violence and appearing as a `practical necessity' of the economy." (21) Where the permanent redistribution from the bottom to the top is legitimated by referring to globalization processes - as absolutely necessary to assure "one's economic position", a social climate arises that rests on delimitation and exclusion. In a time of intensified competition, offering an ideological justification for contempt of basic ethical values and greater social inequality (in the sense of unequal worth) is a main reason for the growing attractiveness of extremist right-wing orientations. (22)

The mass media (subject to the exploitation or commercialization mechanisms of private profit maximization does its part to divide the population in "good natives" and "evil foreigners". Journalists do not always do justice to their responsibility for serious reporting. (23)

Right-wing extremism in the course of globalization

Core ideologies, organizational forms, political strategies and right-wing extremism in the context of globalization

Alongside the popular nationalism in the population groups who fear a "turbo capitalism" (Edward N. Luttwak), a positional nationalism is supported firstly by the classes that seek to profit from neoliberal modernization, force "reorganization" of the welfare state according to market laws and intensify the social exclusion of the less efficient.

Right-wing extremism, racism and violence are by no means merely "backwoods" reactions of directly affected or disadvantaged groups to neoliberal processes of modernization and social marginalization. "Threats to development - including social disintegration and extremist right-wing powers - do not start from the "majority" of the population. The problem lies in the political power of the old and new elites." (24)

Globalization leads to various divisions. Social polarization within and between societies (25), dualization of the process of transnational migrations of experts or elites and misery migration (26), crisis or collapse of cities dependent on marginalization and spatial segregation (27) are negative consequences to which right-wing extremism gives a demagogic answer.

Jorg Haider and his FPO which won the social déclassé and advocates of a modernization course as well as socially disadvantaged and deeply alarmed middle class persons over a long time are prototypical for right-wing populism in Western Europe (28)... Even if no right-wing populist party can establish itself in the long run, tectonic shifts occur between the center and the periphery. "The extreme right is no longer on the margin of the political spectrum but in its center." (29)

Wilhelm Heimeyer defends the thesis "that an authoritarian capitalism engenders varied losses of control and also contributes to erosions of democracy so that new authoritarian temptations like brutal right-wing populism are promoted through state policies of control and repression." (30) In another regard, the neoliberal hegemony that endangers democracy as well as the "social symmetry" of welfare state capitalism provides the fertile ground for right-wing extremism and neofascism. The apparent hegemony of the capitalist economy over politics or transnational corporations over the individual nation state destroys the belief of young persons in the organization of society, drives them into resignation and thus prevents democratic engagement which in the course of "globalization" is more necessary than ever. (31)

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