The Party is over - Germans to the front?
It’s about time to finish this little blog, its name has passed its time. I will surely start a new project and if you’re interested, just leave your email below or write to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will notify you.
These lines should have been written much earlier but history doesn’t stop because of a World Cup in Germany. So I was (once again) distracted by the events in the Middle East and engaged in some activities against the emanations of German ideology on another front (for a glance, see here).
In fact, it is impossible to separate the symbolic articulations of the new German pride shown in the World Cup from the concrete politics perpetrated by Germany – for example concerning the actual war between Israel and the lebanese Hezbollah. You can see a first evidence on the right picture of an anti-Israel-rally in Berlin these days: on the black red and gold poster in the middle it says “show your flag – not only in football”. “Flagge zeigen” in German means something like “stand to your values”. So our anti-imperialist demonstrators hope for a stronger German imperialism – “not only in football” - as a vital support for their anti-Zionist and anti-American cause. But let’s get back to the World Cup first.
The nationalist delirium and its public resonance during the World Cup were not inspired by the far right in Germany. The feeling of regained national innocence dominated the liberal middle classes – and they and their media were the ones who mainly promoted and justified the “new” German nationalism. I will cite three examples here:
A holistic approach
Peter Reichel is professor for politology at the University of Hamburg. He is an expert in the research of the history of Nazi-Germany – especially in the aesthetic politics of the Nazi cultural industry in the service of fascist propaganda. Here is what Reichel wrote about the relaxed Germans and their national anthem:
“The Deutschlandlied is a German place of memory like few others. Even in its limitation to the first stanza [“Deutschland über alles” – in Nazi-Germany only this first stanza was sung] - which obscured the initial meaning – there is still something preserved of the utopia of freedom and unity of this romantic popular song.”I have pointed out before that the Führer was the first one to protest against the misconception of “Deutschland über alles” as an imperialist phrase by foreign critics.
But Reichel is no Nazi. He just wants to say that Germans have to see national history in the “continuity of breaks and contradictions” and acknowledge that it is “in parts bloodstained, in others admirable […] and amazing” and that “we” have to “deal with it as a whole”.
Note the difference to the negative approach of right-wingers, based only on repression: The conservative government of the region of Hesse has forbidden to spread an antinationalist pamphlet of the teachers union at schools – one of the arguments of this pamphlet which angered the government was that you can't separate the first stanza of the national anthem from the third, the “democratic” stanza.
Reichel, on the contrary, has a kind of Yin and Yang vision of Germanys past and present – it’s all one, but that doesn’t make the actual Germany suspect but it requires to see the good sides also in its past and to stop “demonizing” freedom phrases like “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”.
The night of the living dead
If that did sound strange to you, than what do you think about the following sentences, written to describe German feelings during the world cup?:
“We know, in twelve years already hardly anyone will be able to tell how he felt as a participator of the war under other participators of the war, when the victory of the German national team in Bern [World Cup 1954] went over the European airwaves. […]
Our strongest feelings let us feel for a short period that we are the coming dead. That’s why it is […] especially touching to live them in a community of people who are feeling similar. Singing together, we enjoy ourselves as the coming dead.”
Again, this is no skull-and-bones-poetry but party-fun written by a German poet born in the fifties for the left-liberal newspaper “Frankfurter Rundschau”.
Our honor calls itself loyalty
That Germans think their nationalism is only a football-party doesn’t mean that they find it wouldn’t be a serious matter or subjected to such profane things as business:
“What I find beautiful at the Germany flags is the fact that they are not brand signs. I would find it a thousand times more disturbing and actually shameful, if the people in the football stadiums began to wave Nike or Adidas flags. Germany is not anything that one can buy. To be German is nothing that one selects for image reasons. Therefore I think, if I see the flag waving people that they have, at best, a spark of idealism glowing in them, something like loyalty, like devotion, like stability. All of these are virtues, capitalism hasn’t much to do with, but which however belong to a pleasing life.”
This quote from the “Tagesspiegel” leads to the “social” component that German nationalism has always had. A radical critique of Political Economy has never been very popular in Germany – at the same time Germans have always misunderstood their resentments against “selfishness” and "materialism" on a national and international level as a critique of capitalism (as if self-interest wouldn’t be the necessary basis of every true solidarity). An observer noted from his exile:
“National narrow-mindedness is everywhere repellent. In Germany it is positively odious, since, together with the illusion that the Germans are superior to nationality and to all real interests, it is held in the face of those nations which openly confess their national limitations and their dependence upon real interests.”
Israel and the “patriotism-trap”
German troops at the Israeli border – this would have been unthinkable some years ago. But looking only some more years back, no one would have believed that the German army could be allowed to bomb Serbia for a third time in the 20th Century. Yet, it could happen and while other nations had their own interests in this worst case coalition, Germany was fighting “the grimace of its own history” as the former German war minister Rudolf Scharping – a Social Democrat - put it, i.e. fighting its own Nazi past reincarnated in Milosevic and defending the values of the Anti-Hitler-Coalition against Belgrade. It is this capacity of pathic projection which differentiates Germany still from other nations. “A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself.” (Adorno)
“The peace movement is silent to the attacks on Lebanon. Is the Israeli left caught in the patriotism trap?”
That was the headline of an article on the website of channel 1 of German TV. If German patriotism exhibits the feeling “that the Germans are superior to nationality and to all real interests” than it has its logic that German patriots see “patriotism traps” virtually everywhere except in Germany; especially if the members of the denounced nations defend real – that is for a German “selfish” – interests, for example the interest not to be killed by islamist eliminatory antisemites, which chains Israeli leftists to the war against Hezbollah lead by their government.
German ideologues like to see themselves as “honest middlemen” (“Ehrliche Makler”, another German term hard to translate) mediating without any “selfish” interests between two conflicting sides. But this honest neutrality always arises preferably when there is nothing to mediate - as between the wish to wipe Israel off the map and the Israeli attempts to let this not happen.
It may sound strange but the German fantasy is to protect Israel against itself and this is the basis for the ambivalence of the German claim to be part of a future “peace corps” in southern Lebanon. Conservatives generally fear the risks – that Germany and the European Union could lose their pro-arab and pro-islamist reputation if they were seen as a mere protection force for Israel. The ones who are most eager to break one of the last barriers to German “normality” by intervening in the Middle East are once again coming from the liberal specter: The weekly magazine “stern” published a title “Israel – what makes this country so aggressive”. One week later, Hans-Ulrich Joerges, a die-hard neoliberal and German nationalist pleads for German troops in the Middle East under the slogan “Our protection for Israel” and is dreaming about a German-European superpower.
Israel is not Yugoslavia – at least as long as the United States consider the Jewish state as an important ally. But if a so-called peace-corps lead by France and Germany would show reluctant to hamper Hezbollah from further attacks on Israel by force and Israel would strike back – then “protection” for Israel could quickly turn into open hostility against Israel.
And this could give a better reputation for final fantasies like the one of the former undersecretary of the German foreign office Helmut Schaefer, who said: (a legitimate) “pressure would be to do to Israel the same that is done to other states. [...] What was right for Serbia, must be good for other states. We can't divide human rights.” The threat couldn't be formulated more clearly.
As Horkheimer wrote somewhere: The realization of a state of affairs which can be deducted from a concept gives the idealist a sense of satisfaction while it suggests a feeling of indignation to the materialist, who wishes to be proved wrong by a reality which is not following its fate.