Thugs in combat boots they’re certainly not. The people Volker Weiss writes about are more of the nerdy variety, he told me over the phone a while back. They know their Greek and Latin, but that doesn’t necessarily make them harmless. It’s their words and their ideas we should be wary of.
Weiss is a historian of Germany’s New Right – a subject he has been working on for some fifteen years or more. However, what once used to be the niche interest of a select few scholars has suddenly become a hot topic as right-wing populists are making their voices heard across Europe and the US.
In his new book “Die Autoritäre Revolte“ (“The Authoritarian Revolt“), Weiss outlines a set of New Right ideas that can be found among the representatives of a variety of contemporary political groups and movements, including the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany) party.
Proponents of this rightist thought draw on the conservatism of 1920s’ Germany, while rejecting the “Third Reich” and some of the old-style nationalist ideas. Yet, Weiss cautions that the critical distance with which some contemporary New Right authors and politicians claim to approach National Socialism is not always entirely convincing.
One of the key thinkers of the New Right movement was the Swiss-born publicist Armin Mohler (1920-2003), who coined the term “Conservative Revolution” to promote an alternative history of the political right that sought to avoid National Socialism. He rejected a historiography that focused on the twelve years between 1933 and 1945 and gave Germany exclusive responsibility for the outbreak of World War II. Mohler’s revisionist approach also played down the severity of German war crimes, including the Holocaust.
Mohler’s influence, Weiss argues, is still visible today in a number of authors and publications on the political right and can be found among the representatives of the AfD as well as the Identitarian movement and the nationalist Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) movement.
Thus, Weiss considers the foundation of the AfD as an attempt to establish a conservative party to the right of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). While the AfD originally started as a Eurosceptic party that had many academics among its founding members, however, it soon discovered systematic provocation as a key concept and quickly turned into a populist party which managed to gather significant support during the ongoing refugee crisis by fuelling xenophobia and making fun of do-gooders.
Representatives of the AfD as well as of the Identitarian movement and Pegida stress the central importance of “the people” and “the nation”, the strengthening of German identity against the influence of “the other”, and the defence of German culture and the German territory against radical Islam and other influences perceived as hostile. It is ironic therefore, Weiss points out, that political Islam and the New Right share many values regarding the centrality of the traditional family, the role of women, and the importance of hierarchies.
Weiss also highlights the connections between Germany’s New Right and similar movements in other European countries, such as Austria, France and Italy, as well as the US, where the election of Donald Trump as president hailed a new nationalist era.
All in all, Weiss offers a sophisticated analysis of Germany’s New Right in its many manifestations. He shows how some of its representatives successfully manage to distance themselves from National Socialism, while at the same time interacting with wider networks in which these boundaries are frequently transgressed. This means that, on the one hand, the New Right has a respectable face, while on the other, this respectable face might lead us to ignore the murkier side of the movement.
Yet, Weiss is also critical of Germany’s Left, whose weakness has allowed the Right to rise up. Thus, he argues that representatives of the Left are too often the victims of their own political correctness, failing to stand up to radical Islam and its subjection of women. Because they are afraid to appear intolerant, Leftists in Germany have failed to call for a cultural integration of immigrants or swept attacks on women under the carpet, as happened after numerous women in Cologne became the victims of assaults on New Years’ Eve 2015.
Weiss’s book follows the rise and establishment of Germany’s New Right in recent years. It offers an analysis of a political movement, but it also contains a warning that we should not be fooled by what we see. The New Right might be more dangerous than it appears on the surface. And the Left is currently short of answers.