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Globalism, Neoliberalism and Rightwing Extremism

Social Darwinism did not fall from the sky but is rooted in the experiential world marked by the capitalist achievement-principle, the omnipresence of themarket mechanism and the competition of everyone against everyonwe else.. Current rightwing extremism and rightwing populism rest on a brutalization, ethnization and aesthetization of competitive everyday principles. This article is translated from the German.
Globalism, Neoliberalism and Rightwing Extremism

By Christoph Butterwegge

[This article originally published in: Utopie Kreativ 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.linksnet.de/artikel/525.htm. Christoph Butterwegge, b. 1951, is a professor of political science at the University of Koln.]

Modern rightwing extremism has modernized. Its inhuman nature has not changed. The question presses about the characteristics of present ultra-right currents.

Modern rightwing extremism is not the same as at the time of national socialism or Hitler fascism. Rather rightwing extremism has modernized though its deeply inhuman nature, its general thrust against social democracy and hostility to progress, has not changed. The question presses about the characteristics of present ultra-right currents, parties and organizations. While connections between economic globalization and extreme rightwing mobilization are seldom reflected in the media and technical discussion, this causal relation is emphasized here. A few terminological clarifications and general theoretical reflections are necessary before thematicizing specific consequences of the globalization or neoliberal modernization process favoring the extreme right.

Theoretical foundations

When the "foreign" (immigrant) workers recruited since 1955 according to agreements of Germany with several Southern European and later with two North African states met resentment during the economic crisis of the sixties, a new term gained acceptance in Germany, "hostility to foreigners", a word creation that defined the phenomenon as an individual problem, not a social problem. The social-historical connections between Hitler fascism and contemporary rightwing extremism remain faded out since the Jews were Germans and not foreigners. "Hostility to foreigners" was not connected with that fanatic anti-Semitism that first made Auschwitz possible but seemed completely new. The term characterizes the skepticism, caution or antipathy toward individual citizens of another nationality.

The first part of the phrase is trivializing while the second part is misleading. "Hostility to foreigners" concerns neither all nor only foreigners. Swiss bankers, Scandinavians and white Americans do not suffer. Conversely, it is useless for blacks to be German from birth... Racist hatred is trivialized or minimized when it is called "hostility to foreigners".

"Hostility to foreigners" seems dubious since the impression instinctively arises that personal dislike or defensiveness toward "others" is innate and nature. One suppresses or ignores that certain persons are first "made" into foreigners through a labeling- and stigmatization process described as "ethnization". 1 In the closely related term "xenophobia", a causal connection is produced between fear and hostility to foreigners. Something natural and biologically given is meant, not something socially leaned and changeable. 2 Certain groups were long intensely subject to exclusion processes. 3

Unlike the above terms, "racism" describes a social relationship of power and authority (institutional or structural racism), a world-view that seeks to justify pseudo-scientifically differences in rank between human groups (intellectual racism) as well as prejudices, clichés and stereotypes or the resulting discrimination of ethnic minorities (individual or everyday racism). While racism emphasizes biological or cultural difference and thus elimination, exclusion or liquidation of "others", ethnocentrism stresses one's own superiority and assumes that other peoples or groups must assimilate.4

Racism involves an attitude and thinking determining the conduct of millions of persons and also the practice of state institutions that ascribes different abilities, skills or personality traits to large groups (for example "whites" and "blacks" or "Christians" and "Muslims") formed according to corporeal or cultural characteristics. The unequal distribution of rights and material resources is explained. The existence of one's own privileges or claims is legitimated while the legal force of universal human rights is denied. Therefore whoever identifies somatic distinctions for groups of people (for example skin- and hair color, physiognomy, complexion) is not a racist even when he describes them as "races" although such a subdivision of humanity is scientifically untenable. In addition, this term was discredited by the NS genocide in Germany and is hardly suited for practical discussion. Racism begins where phanotypical features or cultural characteristics of a certain large group are joined with "inner values" denying group members the possibility of developing their own personality. The fundamental norm of the German constitution "The dignity of the person is inviolable" (Art. 1, Paragraph 1) is violated.

Since the rightwing acts of violence of Hoyerswerde, Hunxe, Rostock-Lichtenhagen, Molln and Solingen, a certain affirmation of the racism term has occurred in Germany that is common internationally as a technical term but was regarded in Germany for decades as polemically exaggerated. The enormous advantage of this term is that it identifies social-structural connections and historical continuities since the Middle Ages (colonialism) without ignoring modifications and differentiations (biologically or culturally established varieties of racism). 5 Alongside nationalism, biologism and social Darwinism, racism is a core ideology of rightwing extremism that is fixed in the consciousness of many Europeans and assumes institutional forms (of discrimination by authorities and offices). 6

Economic Fundamentalism, Neoliberal Competitive Mania and Prosperity Chauvinism as Causes of Rightwing Violence

Understanding rightwing extremism as disintegration phenomenon or a youth problem would be wrong. Its organized core is not a protest movement that champions socially disadvantaged Germans. 7 Rather rightwing extremism excludes people with handicaps, homeless, homosexuals and other "marginal groups" and asylum candidates by denying state benefits and/or disciplining through coercive measures. Norms are realized (judgment of a person according to his/her economic usability, output or adaptability) - driven to the last consequence - along with social functional mechanisms like competition. 8

A model of explanation is offered here that makes competition responsible for (positional-) nationalism, racism and rightwing violence as a driving force of the capitalist economic system, for certain burdens of the past of the political culture and for the globalization or neoliberal modernization of nearly all areas of society, not only of the welfare state. 9

Ulrich Beck distinguishes between globality (as a goal and partial reality of overcoming nation-state limitations or restrictions), globalization (as a process in which nation states gradually lose sovereignty and importance) and globalism (as an ideology of neoliberalism, economic fundamentalism or market radicalism). "Globalism assumes that a complex structure like Germany - the state, society, culture and foreign policy - can be handled like a business. This involves an economic imperialism where businesses demand framing conditions under which they can optimize their goals." 10

In the much invoked "age of globalization", neoliberalism appears as a comprehensive and logical system, as a political civil religion or world-view with which the development of states and societies can be explained and influenced in a market-, achievement- and competitive-oriented direction. That neoliberalism could gain a dominant position in public and technical discourse is owed more to its skillful networking and systematic support by so-called think tanks and lobby work promoted by foundations than to the persuasiveness of its theory and its main representatives, for example the Nobel Prize winners for economics, Friedrich A. Hayek and Milton Friedman. 11

Modernized rightwing extremism relies on an ideological "bond of economic liberalism and nationalism" that can be instrumentalized for populist appeals. "Constructions of the national are used as an ideological binding agent to transport social frustration in authoritarian, authoritarian state orientations." 12 Since neoliberal forces seek to rehabilitate the elite- and achievement-thinking of earlier epochs in different social areas today, the legal development partially supports their goals - even if they do not assume - in the way of a conspiracy theory - that interest convergence was intended by the active persons.

Besides the economic conditions of power and rule that take a new form in the course of globalization, the political (un-) culture of every country marks its extreme right and its ideology, organizational structure and leaders and also the way that democratic forces encounter them. 13 Intellectual lines of tradition, mentalities and attitudes of citizens toward state institutions and structures, the subjective dimension of the political, are included under "political culture". Burdens of the past of the political culture in Germany were and are always included: a pronounced friend-enemy thinking, fixation on the state and authority (subservient mentality), political conformism and exaggerated harmony mania, authoritarianism and anti-pluralism, anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, a tendency to (legal) formalism, the Prussian sense of orderliness and a weakness of men for military discipline. 14 These burdens culminated in a nationalism that was very aggressive from the 1871 founding of the empire to the 1945 defeat since Germany as a "belated nation" (Helmut Plessner) marked by the unsimultaneity between industrialization and democratization sought to gain a "place in the sun" or world power status by force of arms if necessary.

The so-called Third Reich was based more on identification with nationalism in the monarchical authoritarian state and in the Weimar republic than on sympathies of the population with National Socialism. "Every domestic order seemed acceptable as long as it claimed to realize national goals. The supposed strengthening of German unity and world authority was a criterion of political culture justifying authoritarian regimes internally and expansionist and imperialist policy externally." 15 The NS regime did not pervert nationalism - as often argued - or misuse it for war crimes and genocide 16 but only pushed it to the extreme. Although Germany's unconditional capitulation and occupation by the victorious allied powers meant that nationalism failed and that nationalism was robbed of its foundation of legitimation. Nationalism without its legitimation - like anti-Semitism - remained arrested in the "collective memory" of Germans because they neither worked out nor really mastered their own NS past...

When Helmut Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan visited the soldiers' cemetery with many graves of members of Waffen SS in Bitburg on May 8, 1985, the NS culprits were rehabilitated by a symbolic act. Micha Brumlick saw in this "obscene ritual" a clear signal of the "rightwing shift of the middle class camp" by the CDU/CSU (centrist political party in Germany)... Cultural racism and German nationalism, influential currents with the political public, were clearly present in the "national pride" debate.

German Nationalism, Demonized Ethnicity and Rightwing Violence after the 1989/90 Reunification

German unification reinvigorated nationalism... "The national" was again stylized as "the social"...

The intensified 1991/92 asylum debate damaged basic rights, the constitution and the democratic culture of Germany. 25 Regarding the asylum hysteria, Gunter Grass spoke of the "decline of political culture in united Germany" and of a "rightwing pull", a "nationwide shift of the political middle".26 Although envisioned as an asylum compromise, the reform of the citizenship law that relied on the ethnic theory of evolution of "German blood" was only realized half-heartedly. A central category still seems to be the nation of republican citizens despite all assimilation to the western political culture that occurred in Germany. 27

At present, the themes of the right are becoming the themes of the middle. Examples for an ethnicizing and culturalization of social, political and economic processes show that this process runs crossway through the established political and public structure 32... Far beyond the ultra-right spectrum, the view dominated that being German or German existence requires national pride as in the times of the empire or the NS regime.

Immigration and the Economic Position: Globalization - Neoliberalism - Positional Nationalism

A direct way led from the "leading culture" to the "national pride" discussion as from the asylum discussion to the positional debate. This made possible a new variety of nationalism. 33 First the fear that foreigners would take away "the jobs of Germans" was intensified. Now the fear arose that German capital would emigrate abroad (Bild cover on October 6, 1999: "High tax Germany: Will Daimler Move to the US?).

I call "positional nationalism" the widespread consciousness of facing a "world of enemies" on international markets and having to demonstrate the structural superiority of one's "own" economic position through "German inventiveness", greater diligence and greater readiness for sacrifice. Competitiveness is advanced as the pivot that is not without disastrous consequences for the social climate or political culture. "The emphasis on economic benefits ignores simple interpersonal obligations and excludes all who are actually or supposedly only burdens." 34 Unfavorable residence conditions resulted automatically for non-Germans in Germany. "Work migrants, asylum seekers and refugees cannot be helped by the scarce funds in a situation where all the people are urged to `tighten their belts'. `Being German' means defending one's own prosperity and de-legitimating and resisting the claims of other groups." 35

Ideological points of contact to rightwing extremism are clear here. A modernized nationalism that is neoliberal and market radical rules the ultra-right scene. 36 A center of conflict for democratic culture exists here since the economy and the social have become the central political fields of the extreme right. 37 The tighter the distribution possibilities of a society, the greater the temptation to exclude so-called marginal groups from certain resources. Ethnization is an exclusion mechanism that constructs minorities, labels them negatively (as "social parasites") and thus cements one's own privileges. Superficially "cultural identity" is stressed. Behind cultural identity are mostly powerful conflicts over interests, scarce or reduced social funds.

At the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, ethnicity gained importance in countries of the southern hemisphere, eastern-central European transformation states and most western European societies. In Germany, the fear of a "foreign control" by "refugees" and work migrants followed the fear of an "infiltration" by communists. Every ethnicizing process process has two sides. First a stigmatizing of "the other" occurs. Far-reaching political and economic goals are involved with constituting a national or "popular community". A "culturalization" of politics reduced to safeguarding collective identities and no longer referring to material interests corresponds to the ethnization of social relations.

A "national competition state" (Joachim Hirsch) that no longer wanted to be a traditional welfare state with comprehensive responsibility for social security and justice intensifies social inequality and provides the sounding board for social processes of exclusion and ethnization through its market radical economic policy. The more competition moves into the center of inter-state and interpersonal relations, the more easily can the ethnic or cultural difference be politically charged. Jutta Menschik-Bendele and Klaus Ottomeyer diagnose an intensifying trend to "hedonist-consumerist social Darwinism". "After the global victory of the market economy, that principle allowing the strong to prevail and the weak to fall by the wayside gained plausibility. Current rightwing extremism and rightwing populism rest on a brutalization, ethnization and aesthetization of competitive everyday principles." 38

Social Darwinism did not fall from the sky but is rooted in the experiential world marked by the capitalist achievement-principle, the omnipresence of the market mechanism and the competition of everyone against everyone else. 39 Rivalry acts as the main driving force of a dismembered society increasingly divided in poor and rich. "The social Darwinian everyday philosophy cohering with that dismemberment produces an inconspicuous brutality that is different from direct force and appears as a practical necessity of the economy." 40 Where permanent redistribution from below to the top is legitimated with reference to globalization processes as useful or even unconditional necessary for "our economic position", a social climate arises that supports efforts at (ethnic) separation and exclusion. According to Franz Josef Krafeld, an ideological justification for contempt of basic ethical values and greater social inequality is a main reason for the growing attraction of extremist rightwing orientations in a time of intensified competition. 41

When famous scholars speak of a "battle of cultures" or even a "war of civilizations" 42, youths not surprisingly use violence against migrants whom they regard as rivals for scarce jobs, apprenticeships, apartments and sexual partners. The mass media (subject to the commercialization or exploitation mechanisms of private profit maximization) go out of their way to divide the population into "good natives" and "evil foreigners". Journalists do not always do justice tot heir responsibility for serious reporting. 43

After several decades of massive resistance in the political public, a consensus has formed in Germany that there is no alternative to immigration reality and that one must reconcile oneself. Since the recruiting freeze in 1973, greater chances for a broad acceptance of immigration never existed as today although the interests of the economy in import and in the utilization of labor power are primary. Personal advantage is still the leitmotif in discussions about green cards for foreign IT-experts. 44

Differentiation and Dualization of Rightwing Extremism in the Sign of Globalization

When "globalized rightwing extremism" is underscored, one usually means its worldwide organizational network and/or its Internet presence. 45 However the questions about the consequences of the globalization process for the development of the politics, programmatic and mass basis of rightwing extremism are more important. The core ideologies, organizational forms, political strategies and social electoral potential of rightwing extremism are differentiated in the scope of globalization. Beside the ethnic (defensive-) nationalism in population sectors that fear a "turbo-capitalism" (Edward N. Luttwak), a positional nationalism is supported by sectors profiting from a neoliberal modernization that seek to "reconstruct" the welfare state according to market laws and intensify the social exclusion of the less efficient.

Rightwing extremism, racism and violence are by no means merely "backwoods" reactions of affected or disadvantaged groups to globalization-, neoliberal modernization- and social marginalization processes. Rather rightwing extremism, racism and violence also cause erosion tendencies threatening the "higher floors" or the social middle. "Dangers of development - including social disintegration and rightwing extremist potential - do not start from the `mass' of the population. The problem lies in the political power of the old and new elites." 46

Globalization as neoliberal modernization leads to various divisions: social polarization within and between societies 47, dualization in the process of transnational migrations of experts or elites on one side and poverty migration on the other side 48 and crisis and decline of the cities conditioned by marginalization and segregation 49 are negative consequences to which rightwing extremism gives a demagogic answer that is not really convincing.

Neoliberal modernization also causes a restructuring, a political-organizational and intellectual-ideological differentiation and dualization of rightwing extremism divided into a traditionalist and a modernist wing. Social structurally, the globalization- or modernization losers are drawn primarily to the former; the globalization or modernization winners are drawn to the latter. The traditionalist-orthodox rightwing extremism oriented very strongly in the fascism of the inter-war period and the even older anti-Semitism dominates in eastern central Europe while the modernized, economistic, market radical rightwing extremism triumphs in western Europe over the "blood-and-soil" variant.

Differences in development of rightwing extremism in East- and West Germany can be explained with this interpretation model. While positional nationalism and prosperity chauvinism rule the ideological terrain in the old Germany, a more conventional German nationalism rises from the ashes on social and political modernization residues in the new Germany. "A trend to the `ethnic' is observable in the everyday political culture and political thought of East Germany that isn't as clear in West Germany on account of its greater political and ethnic heterogeneity." 50

Outside of Germany, mixed forms exist as rightwing populist parties that successfully address the social climber and socially disadvantaged. Frank Decker speaks of "economic populism" when criticism of an overtaxed welfare state endangering the economic position is at the heart of the election campaign propaganda of a rightwing party. This can be contrasted with a "political" (or "institutional") and a "cultural" variant of the same phenomenon within western democracies. 51 A political interrelationship exists between neoliberalism and the so-called New Right 52 that acted in an extreme market radical way everywhere before making programmatic concessions to broader sectors (worker milieu, socially disadvantaged) for tactical electoral reasons. "Where new radical rightwing parties limit their liberal economic rhetoric, the consequences of their ascent are grist to the mills of neoliberal welfare state criticism."53

Over a long time Jorg Haider and his FPO won the socially disadvantaged and the deeply shaken middle class along with social climbers and advocates of a modernization course. 54... "The extreme right is no longer at the edge of the political spectrum but in its middle." 55

Wilhelm Heitmeyer defends the thesis "that an authoritarian capitalism produces diverse losses of control and contributes to erosions of democracy so that new authoritarian temptations are promoted by the state policy of control and repression and brutal rightwing populism." 56 In another regard, the neoliberal hegemony provides the breeding ground for rightwing extremism and neo-fascism. This hegemony endangers democracy and the "social symmetry" of capitalism organized in a welfare state way. The apparent superiority of the capitalist economy over against politics or transnational corporations against the individual nation state destroys the belie3f of young persons in the possibilities of society, drives them into resignation and thus prevents democratic engagement that is more necessary than ever in the context of "globalization". 57

Gotz Eisenberg refers the cases of an apolitical, arbitrary violence mounting up not only in the US of mostly male youths whom he calls "children of coldness" to the predominance of the economic, the glorification of the market and the consequences of neoliberal modernization. "The deregulation of the state, economy and society brings about the deregulation of psychic structures as an unintended secondary effect causing unsuspected `collateral damage' that can take the form of running amok. Modifying a famous dictum of Max Horkheimer, one could say: Whoever does not speak of neoliberalism and deregulation or the `terror of the economy' (Viviane Forrester) should also be silent about running amok!" 58

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