Ulrich Wank, ed. The Resurgence of Right Wing Radicalism in Germany: New Forms of an Old Phenomenon? Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1996. ix + 112 pp. (paper), ISBN 978-0-391-03959-9; (cloth), ISBN 978-0-391-03958-2.
Reviewed by Raffael M. Scheck (Colby College)
Published on H-German (March, 1997)
This short book is a translation of a lecture series initiated by Ernst Reinhard Piper in 1993 in reaction to anti-foreigner violence in Germany. It introduces the historical background of today's radical right and offers some insights on the present situation.
In the first contribution, Julius Schoeps traces the transformation of the antithesis Jew-Christian into the antithesis Jew-German and the concomitant radicalization in the hatred of Jews. He shows that the older Christian anti-Semitism continued as part of a synthesis with Nazism. After offering a good summary of the question, Schoeps seems (understandingly) helpless in considering ways to undercut anti-Semitism in the future. In the introduction to his talk on the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, Peter Longerich offers some thought-provoking suggestions regarding the impact of German reunification on research of the Third Reich. His description of the SA's revenge on Socialist opponents in the Koepenicker Blutwoche in the summer of 1933 highlights a massacre that received ritualized and ostentatious treatment in East Germany while being largely ignored in the West. The rest of the talk, however, follows familiar paths.
Ernst Piper offers a straightforward survey of the beginnings of the Nazi movement with some informative vignettes from the Nazis' connections to publishers in Munich, while Otto Schily's memoirs of the student movement of the 1960s hardly fit into the selection. There is some instructive speculation about the motives of the student movement and its potential, but the alleged "German susceptibility to anti-democratic and totalitarian ideas" (p. ix)--which the editor announces as the main topic of Schily's talk--receives only marginal attention.
Thomas Schmid finally concentrates on contemporary right-wing radicalism and makes substantiated distinctions between the old and the new right. He explores contemporary German right-wing radicalism in the context of the anxiety produced by the expected end of postwar prosperity and the confusing joining of Europe's divided parts since 1989. Schmid nevertheless rejects social factors as an explanation: "Boredom and satiety play a bigger role here than real problems" (p. 83). Schmid sees German right-wing radicalism as part of a European phenomenon with some new themes and modes of action, but he also points out German peculiarities, particularly the direct path from right-wing opinion to violent action. This violence without program, action for action's sake, reminds one of the Conservative Revolution in the Weimar Republic, although the new right-wing radicalism is much less elitist and intellectual than was the Conservative Revolution.
The final piece by Bassam Tibi, who defines himself as a "German foreigner" committed to Western political tradition, offers some careful distinctions in a debate that is usually stronger at blurring than defining the lines between present dangers and past disasters. Tibi points out that fear of strangers is not automatically right-wing radicalism; he stresses provincialism as a typical German response to foreigners but denies that it is in itself xenophobic. (I would have added that Germany holds no monopoly on provincialism.) Tibi argues that the German authorities, unlike the French, have reacted in cumbersome ways to the immigration issue (he seems to idealize the French response, however), but he denies that there is a right to immigration and expresses understanding for the limited capacity of industrial nations to integrate foreigners. Immigration should be allowed only insofar as the labor market can absorb the immigrants; unintegrated and unemployed Muslims, however, are "a potential danger for democracy" (p. 97). While rejecting xenophilia as a medicine against xenophobia, Tibi calls for better integration of those foreigners in Germany who want to participate in its democratic culture, but rejects tolerance of ghetto-Islam and its fundamentalism: "Permitting undemocratic traditions and customs from premodern cultures to exist in a democratic society would mean not only undermining democracy but also misunderstanding tolerance" (p. 99). This will raise objections, but Tibi and Schmid offer the most thought-provoking chapters of the collection.
The lecture format makes the contributions easy to read and recommends the book for undergraduate courses. Scholars will find it less helpful. The historical essays, in particular, offer few new insights. The book presents a useful introduction to the topic, but perhaps all speakers should have been asked to address the same question. I miss a dialogue between historians and political scientists about interpreting recent right-wing violence in historical perspective.
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Raffael M. Scheck. Review of Wank, Ulrich, ed., The Resurgence of Right Wing Radicalism in Germany: New Forms of an Old Phenomenon?.
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