By Christian Scheinpflug This post has been published elsewhere in a slightly different version on August 7, 2017. Last Sunday the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) entered the German parliament. The AfD originates in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s aim to push the encrusted conservatives in her Christian Democrat Union (influential in Chile via its Konrad Adenauer Foundation) toward the centre. This left many disgruntled cadres looking for a new home, which they eventually found during the Euro crisis. Berlin’s ruling coalition poured public money into failing banks, but routed it through Greece for political reasons. Conservative and liberal budget hawks in the AfD tolerated closet fascists to reinforce their revolt. They exploited and manufactured a breakdown of taboos regarding foreigners and Germany’s past. The yellow press cheered on, peddling ugly stereotypes and normalising racist vocabulary. The ur-AfD’s technocratic leadership, however, failed to sustain momentum, and the party faltered by late 2014. But when months later the refugee crisis broke, provoked by inept political leadership serving an ignorant electorate, the party re-emerged. Yet, this time culture trumped economics, which allowed the nationalists incubated in the AfD’s neoliberal womb more leverage. They also thrive on elites’ failure to update the post-World War II pacifist discourse. In the capitalist West and the communist East, education and propaganda suppressed fascist impulses. Essentially, the Soviet-German gerontocracy created the rationale for its power by positing communism as the superior system. So since the Nazis wanted to destroy communism, fascist thoughts in the GDR equalled an attack on the state. In the West, the population had to reckon with the horrors of the Nazi machine more directly. This led to the consensus that to prevent another Auschwitz citizens had to grasp the extent and origins of Nazi violence. Thus emerged ‘Erinnerungskultur’ (culture of remembrance). This kind of culture involves intellectual and emotional confrontation with the unspeakable atrocities the German ‘Volk’ inflicted on fellow humans. The post-war generation, further scarred by brutal anti-’68 crackdowns, then erected pacifism and moderation as barriers against such crimes happening again. But elites took Erinnerungskultur for granted. They ignored that today’s generation wouldn’t accept guilt for past crimes but still needed to understand the relevance of this past. Such elite failure partly stems from a refusal to address the fusion of German culture and capitalism. The German concentration/extermination camp also allows a gruesome glimpse into the abyss of German culture. Camps were built to kill victims with the least effort for the killer, while also enabling the processing of the victims’ remains the Nazis found valuable, like gold teeth. Engineering and logistics skills, knowledge about chemicals, among others, all cultivated from long before the industrial revolution, flowed into building death factories and the connected extermination industry. Such skills, however, had also turned Germany into an industrial powerhouse before the war, and an indispensable cog in the global manufacturing economy after. The resulting prosperity contributed to keep radicalism at bay as it provided the resources for Erinnerungskultur-based universal education. This order enveloped the German spirit and funnelled it toward pacifist ends, but the changing order is setting the spirit free, and economically sophisticated nationalism may rise again. The US foreign-policy establishment believes it’s time to allow Germany more responsibility. Josef Joffe, transatlanticist and well-connected publisher of the German weekly Die Zeit, urged in Foreign Affairs Magazine that Germany should ‘get rid of its civil religion of Pacifism.’ A key figure in the AfD, Björn Höcke, who mimics Joseph Goebbels in manner and jargon, echoed Joffe. Little Goebbels demanded ‘nothing less than a 180-degree turn in remembrance policy.’ Both express the common thinking in their respective circles, not fringe opinions. The German media plays a questionable role in these developments. Firmly rooted in the liberal/conservative spectra, it tolerates eloquent war-mongering by an avowed Atlanticist, but thrashes a brownshirt saying the same but more brutishly. Consensus politics in the Reichstag, however, should still get the military upgrade approved. And if the AfD together with the European far-right further consolidates a return to atomised national security policy could follow. This would trigger an arms race, with the potential to foment German expansion yet again. Liberal interventionists seem blind to these dynamics because they perceive war as a variable in international relations while nationalists perceive it as tool to satisfy their minority complex. But both prefer a militarised Germany — which Russia would either see as a threat or potent ally, especially if the far-right keeps rising. Liberal interventionists and nationalists may not dance around the same fires, but play with it all the same. Christian is a columnist at Chile Today. He’s also director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and co-editor of E-IR’s book on International Relations Theory. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrScheinpflug
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).