Fear and Anxiety within the Collective Memory of the Far Right

By Ali Yasin

When discussing the role of collective memory within populist movements there is a tendency to over-emphasize its nostalgic forms, namely the desire to return to a glorified and imagined past. This neglects the fact that similar nostalgic narratives are frequently adopted by anti-populist liberals, as well as the importance of fear and anxiety to the collective memory of the far-right. Several of this week’s articles examined the impact of this more angst inducing form of collective memory on the European far-right following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through his analysis of primarily source documents, Christopher Molnar effectively demonstrated how the language of crisis, disorientation, and collapse prevalent within German historical narratives of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, were used by the far-right to characterize fears of “over-foreignization” and immigration following German reunification. Terms such as “annihilation” and “liquidation”, taken directly from the nomenclature of the holocaust, were used by both East and West Germans to characterize the peril uncontrolled immigration contained for the interchangeable German nation and people. Allusions to the both the historical collapse Weimar Republic, and the more recent case of Yugoslavia, were presented as empirical examples of societal and political collapse which Germany risked through its asylum and social policies. In both instances, deeply ingrained cultural memories of crisis and upheaval are reappropriated by populist to integrate contemporary political conflicts into their collective and often polemic historical narratives.

Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231

 Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

One Reply to “Fear and Anxiety within the Collective Memory of the Far Right”

  1. I think it is really great that you bring up this concept of liberal use of the past. It’s easy to ignore the fact that liberal ideologies do look backwards, as most often we see the use of the present tense “this is not our country” spiel whenever some alt-right or neo-fascist event occurs.

    I would say that liberals use the same myth-making concepts that populists do, ignoring parts of history that don’t suit the narrative and getting enough people on board to form a collective memory. “This is not our country,” but it always has been for certain parts of the population. As well, Molnar’s letter-writers may not have thought of themselves as populists or the alt-right, but simply concerned, liberal citizens.

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