Going through the Biess reading this week and reading about the protests of the Shah of Persia’s visit to West Germany, reminded me of how younger generations are generally active in their beliefs more often than passive. When the younger generation wants to be heard it will be heard at all costs. What really struck me when reading about these protests was the police response to them. While the protests were generally pretty unruly, “they threw smoke bombs, tomatoes, and balloons filled with paint at the Shah” (Biess, 196) none of these actions would warrant the response to them that would come. “One student reported that he tried to talk to a policeman but was quickly thrown to the ground and kicked in the head. When he protested, another policeman reportedly told him, “I will beat you to death if you say one more word.”” (Biess, 196) This response was one you might expect from an authoritarian government like Hitler’s, not an emerging liberal democracy like West-Germany. Just as concerningly I noticed a particular quote from police officers participating in the response, “Six policemen attacked another student, Hans-Rüdiger Minow, and dragged him across the street by his hair. Policemen reportedly called him “Jewish” and “Communist pig.”5 When the demonstrators tried to escape, police resorted to the plan of “fox hunting”—that is, the pursuit of fleeing demonstrators. In this context, police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras fired a shot that killed Benno Ohnesorg, a student of German literature.” (Biess, 196) Outside of the completely unwarranted murder committed here which is bad enough in itself, I would like to note the derogatory use of “Jewish” to one of the protestors coming from a German Police officer in the 1960’s. You would think anti-Semitic sentiments would have all but been eradicated in Germany this many years after the war, but it is clear that this was in fact not the case. In essence, the police were trying to eliminate the student movement like the Nazi’s did with the Jewish people of Europe. Last weeks discussions on German Reconciliation still strongly resonate here.
Frank Biess, “Revolutionary Angst” German Angst: Fear and Democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020), 195-196.
By: Jim Dagg
The chapter from “German Angst” deals primarily with “New Left” student activism around 1968. It takes as a given that this period of protest was important in the maturation of West German democracy. I find this a satisfying change from last week’s “Not Narrating” piece which discounted the meaning of these times as being about experiment and sensation. A key point made here was that fear drove both the New Left (that they would miss their moment) and the opposing “liberal conservatives” who feared the revolution, and who thus attempted to create general fear of the Left. Fear was all around.
The three pieces on post-war far-right thinkers were all quite absorbing and surprisingly non-contradicting. They showed a concurrence that the far right must wait out the current period of hated liberal democracy (an interregnum), before they can expect their thinking to become dominant. Benoist promoted the “Gramscian” idea that their winning strategy is to aim to gain cultural hegemony. Once done, the way would be clear to “long-term durable power”. This is what we see in the US close-up, manipulated through social media and television.
The New Right is desperate to avoid being tarred with the Nazi brush, or even the fascist one. The Griffin article tries to make the “fascist” label stick – providing a pretty cool core definition for it – however I’m not sure that’s a worthy goal. The origin of the policies is not the point: the aim of them is.
Evola had a common theme: that the meanings of race, gender and class are “cultural and spiritual rather than biological”. This is very convenient for avoiding the racist label, for example. Benoist leverages this in advocating for “cultural” racism – that France should be for the French and Algeria for the Algerians”.
Reading the three articles on the New Right put me into an alternate universe, where progress was regress, up was down. Multiculturalism is bad, the French Revolution, the Enlightenment and the Renaissance were steps backward. Liberal states are totalitarian because they “impose administrative equality”. It’s disorienting and you can see how it can be seductive.
The Biess article provides an interesting start to the others as it covers the New Left but also hints at what appears to be a pipeline between New Left and New Right. Some things to note in the Biess article: the New Left was generally anti-Western as we see their opposition to the United States and Israel, they were utopian and wanted emotion to play a stronger role in society, and they accepted Marx’s Historical Materialism. These three points are how I understand the defection of some of the New Left’s members to the New Right.
Jumping to the Tobin and Griffin articles, some similar traits in the New Right are pointed out. Griffin says that the Nouvell Droite was anti-Western because it viewed Western liberalism and post-Westphalian nationalism as degenerate. Theirs and Julius Evola’s solutions to these problems were certainly utopian, and Evola mourns the death of tradition in terms of secularism overcoming emotion and feeling. Additionally, Tobin notes that Evola was anti-liberal because he viewed it as the step before socialism, which in turn was the step before communism. The ‘inevitable’ transformation of liberal capitalism into socialism and then into communism is very similar to what Marx described as Historical Materialism. Finally, as the Bar-On article says, the Nouvelle Droite used ‘right wing Gramscianism,’ which can be understood as a perversion of Gramscianism, but one that was able to win some support in the left because of its communist roots. With this view, it appears that New Left and New Right identified the same societal issues but came to different conclusions, allowing for crossover and defections between the two. This makes what we read in the Biess article possible.