It is perhaps all too easy to declare that the global political economy exists in a post-fascist world. Not absent of authoritarian regimes or right-wing populism but these elements, often considered a threat to democracy, are reserved to the past; distancing the progressive left that dominates the ordering of our world. It is this tooling of the past that has allowed Hitler’s Nazism and Angela Merkel as the last defender of Western liberal democracy to exist in the same geographical space, separated only by time.
History itself has emerged as an important instrument in constructing a Germany beyond the Third Reich. As Joachim C. Häberlen wrote that narratives of the federal republic were juxtaposed against the extra parliamentary left from 1960 to 1970. It was then that the radical left contributed to the democratization of the Republic and the neo-liberalization of capitalism. In the dramatic historical change of Germany it is interesting to consider how does empire shed its legacy? History and narratives must be constructed to break from the past.
Flashpoints in German history were woven into the historiography that delivered the space for an alternative left to emerge. In 1968 student protests that consumed Germany and the world offered a “refounding of the Republic” as Claus Leggewie stated. Narratives were spun as Häberlen wrote, “ to use Hayden White’s terminology, as a ‘romance,’ a heroic story of overcoming evil for good” (Häberlen, 108). It were these narratives that bifurcated the identity of Germany into the divisive past and the cohesive future. The narratives of bifurcation were woven into the social consciousness of the unified Germany one no longer divided by east and west. Häberlen wrote building on Ulrich Bröckling and Andreas Reckwitz that “individuals in the contemporary, neoliberal world are confronted with cultural scripts that instruct them how to shape their emotional, mental, and bodily selves” (Häberlen, 112). It is was not simply new stories that emerged in a Unified Germany but stories to codify the self, the narrative of the alternative left carved out space in the public sphere for religious and sexual minorities alike. The bifurcating of the past championed an inclusion of identities that would otherwise cease to exist under the Third Reich. It is here that minorities of the post – fascist state have found justice through German historiography.
Mary Fullbrook’s chapter “hearing the voices of victims” speaks directly to the minority groups that were subjected to a hierarchal form of victimhood. She wrote that:
Heated discussions arose over which non-Jewish groups should receive a mention—should the exhibition include Gypsies, homosexuals, and others or focus purely on the “final solution of the Jewish question”? And which other genocides might be mentioned for purposes of comparison? (Fullbrook, 365)
The debate that Fallbrook wrote about were post-1968, in attempt to memorialize the victims of the Third Reich. It is important to consider when such debate could truly emerge as it demonstrates that there is a coming of age that takes place before history can intervene. The historical narratives that shed light on the past and return agency to individuals that were targets in Hitler’s Germany is the restorative justice mechanism of the applied aspects of the historic discipline. It is in this way that history reckons with the post -fascist world.
Fulbrook, M. (2018). Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Häberlen, Joachim C. “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography.” Central European History 52, no. 1 (2019): 107-124.