[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1-95]
Where does racism come from
and how does it work?
When fanatical xenophobes throw blacks off subway trains, beat up Turks, or set fire to the homes of refugees, responsible modern citizens from left to right agree: this is a moral aberration that does not fit the image of our glorious democracy and in no way reflects the attitudes of the “vast majority.” The left warns against the transgression of all valid moral standards and evokes – “never again!” – the experience of Auschwitz, though that conclusion must make the normal sense of justice at least flinch. The right, especially those in positions of authority, declare that racism and the democratic consensus are incompatible, so that the nation and national feelings are defended from any ugly implications. They stress the difference between an understandable “fear of being invaded by foreigners” and a more repugnant “ethnic cleansing” which occurs in far away countries or in the distant past. They insist that the transition to racism and the persecution of those with different nationalities today – considered fundamentally inexplicable since the end of the second world war – eludes any explanation. Anyone who seeks to identify the reasons why normal and decent citizens in some cases call for the persecution of aliens and concentration camps learns that this can’t do justice to the unique immorality of such events. It is suspected that this “rationalism” shows sympathy for barbarism and even makes one ultimately ready to participate in genocide oneself.
Neither camp is justified. Knowing the roots of racism is the prerequisite for fighting it, for “nipping it in the bud!” whenever it turns up, instead of fearing the next step – which is apparently entirely conceivable – and nostalgically considering the normal citizen’s foregoing mindset still harmless. In any case, such an explanation can't be shamed by the rules of democratic morality because it deals precisely with the relation between good morals and perverse versions of the same.
The defenders of the normal rules of the game in public togetherness do not want to accept something that is basically quite simple: resentment towards those who do not belong here, which culminates in sorting people along racial lines, postulates membership in a “we,” a common identity that consists in something more than just being subjected to a particular state, its economic system, etc.
a) Anyone who lives in Germany, France, the USA, or anywhere else, is subjected to the most diverse forms of constraints which put him to the test. If he does not have enough money, he is forced to work for others, which does not exactly make him rich. The money earned is in any case always enough that he has to pay taxes on it. The predictable discontent sends him directly to the polls, where he helps choose who should govern. Sometimes he is ordered to stand at attention as a soldier and even dies a hero’s death, because defending these magnificent living conditions can hardly be left up to the small minority who actually benefits from them. And certainly all these conditions result in similarities as well as differences between the individuals involved, based on their respective interests. But it is equally clear that this affiliation with an economically, legally, and politically determined compulsory collective is created neither by a special feeling of “national identity” nor by the need to exclude others from “our own” community. The national idea already requires that one consider the real duties of a capitalist society – which one carries out because one’s existence depends on it – as moral duties that one carries out responsibly as a contribution to a general community project.
b) The existence of this greater good, to which everyone ranging from government and business all the way down to the “little guys” performs their more or less honorable duties, is certainly only visible from a moralistic angle. Needless to say, measured in terms of what one gets out of them, the real duties would turn out to be negative were they not set in relation to such idealizations – that's why false consciousness is a necessity for participating in this rat race. But the notion of a “national community” or of a “common good” is efficient in yet another ruinous way.
It serves to justify the obvious antagonisms between social interests, the differences between pay and performance which are based on property, and finally the job and income hierarchies, from the perspective of and in the name of the community that needs all this – as honorable contributions to the community’s success. In any individual case, one may think that one has been personally treated unfairly. But it is beyond doubt that the national community has the task of ensuring an order in which everyone belongs in their place. So it is unnecessary to look at the means that the different types of citizens have available to them and which results in a very peculiar form of dependence: it is all recognized as a social order, which any functioning community needs, with rights and duties, and which its government has to ensure; what's more: as any member of the community, regardless of their status and importance, is entitled to.
This sense of justice begins dividing up the world.
a) If the “differences” between rich and poor, employers and workers, landlords and the homeless are accepted in principle, then the “fate” that puts one in one group and the other in a second group, maybe sometimes in the wrong one but basically always in the right place – at least it should be that way – results in the conviction that the nationally organized selection and distribution of people into the pre-given hierarchy, from the “very bottom” up to the “elite,” is not what it actually is, but rather is defined by the claim that everyone is allotted what they deserve. All exceptions prove the rule that in a good community any person in the community should be and ultimately will be what he – “under any circumstances” – is. To reach this view, it is not necessary to have discovered the gene that makes millionaires, cobblers or politicians successful (it is sufficient that there is enormous interest in this crazy idea). The interest in the outcome is the reason that an “explanation” is searched for in the individual’s given abilities – so that capitalism looks in the end like the perfect utilization of the natural diversity of intelligence and other reserves of talent.
This is the first type of racism: the interpretation of social groups as a division of the human race determined by nature.
b) Although the social world is supposed to be something like the natural order of things and people, it is still far from perfect. There is a lack of harmony everywhere in a society that is supposedly harmonious: employers bicker with unions; everyone complains about something; the parties are at odds rather than agreeing – what’s wrong? The good citizen knows the answer before the question is asked: across all ranks and strata, genders and classes, people differ in their attitude, in the sense of duty with which they take their place in the social whole. There are the good ones who serve the community and keep it going and the malicious one who disturb the social peace with their selfishness. The redundant question why they exist is already answered with the fact that they exist: just like the ability to be a carpenter or a math whiz, so character, as the word suggests, should also reside in the blood. Crime comes from criminality; and either one has it or one doesn’t. Unlike other abilities, however, this one is not acceptable: the subspecies of indecent people – this distinction is the second type of racism – must be forced to submit to the existing order or isolated from it.
c) After all, even the bad guys, as a kind of genetic dregs, still belong to “us”: to the community of people who organizes itself basically harmoniously and puts everyone in their proper place. The situation is different with “the others,” as spotted by faithful members of the national commonwealth – whether in the media, when visiting exotic beaches, or among “us,” as the state also grants foreigners a right of residence. These foreigners are foreign – not because their attitude toward the social conditions in their home country is much different than “ours” or because they are doing something wrong or out of the ordinary in this country, but because their passports show their membership to a different people. They have obligations to that community and its values, not to “ours.” There, they get what they are entitled to – and what they are entitled to is something completely different than what “our” community in this country owes its honorable members, even if is ultimately about one and the same thing, namely, money: Even wealth in its most abstract form pales the differences in to whom it belongs when faced with the distinction between “our” money and “their” money. That’s how fundamental the ideal border is between “us” and those who simply don’t belong here – whether they are rich or poor, good or evil.
It is so fundamental that, like the internal differences within the people, one doesn’t have to be reminded of its real reason. If one imagines that the nation is based on a moral community, then one is far away from the objective fact that the only reason for the distinction between natives and foreigners is the limited reach of state power. Admitting that would be tantamount to standing the whole moral commitment to the nation and its social order “on its feet,” that is, rejecting such idiocy. Instead of seeing himself as a member of a compulsory community, the good citizen believes he is in an enviable, privileged position: an honorary member of an association called “the people” which no one ever established in that sense – it is the other way around: it is only the people that give meaning and purpose to the arrangement called the state. Among other things, the project of advantageous dealings with foreign peoples who are just absolutely and ultimately inexplicably “different” in nature – more than a few of whom are permitted to “assimilate” and at the very end, preferably not until the second or third generation, become “one of us.” Because one must first and foremost consider such an individual as primarily an alien; and if one would prefer to look at it the other way around, he is still not the same as a compatriot for that reason – then one would also not have been fair to him and his people’s nature ...
This is racism in its third and most thorough form: whether one belongs to the people or not is the criterion that divides humankind into national species, even before subdividing them into the differently gifted and the differently good. Each person belongs to one of these natures, so to speak, as his main natural endowment. Just like curly hair, or whatever zoologists use to distinguish one Homo from the other.
d) Even people who would not otherwise have any objection to the idea of a national community are sometimes offended by the exclusion and contempt for foreigners – because it disturbs their good image of the community. They advocate “sensible” distinctions and oppose “unjust” discrimination, which means their criticism of racism is in every respect very conditional.
In hindsight, it is considered, for example, a major objection to the persecution of Jews during the Third Reich that the most skilled and conscientious German citizens were expelled and exterminated as aliens. The German intellectual elite – physicists, authors, businessmen, decorated veterans of World War I – were lost solely because of an “arrogant racial superiority.” Extremely reprehensible! What objections would these same critics make if less there had been less than model Germans among the Jews?
Maybe they would say the same thing as those from more recent times say about the Turks and other southerners when arguing for their right to stay in the country: they do the dirty work, garbage collection and so on, that no native German wants to touch! There is also no criticism of racism in this rejection of “prejudice,” that people from other nations deserve to be despised for their skills and work ethic. It distinguishes only between an unjust and a just exclusion that they do not want to criticize.
In the end, criticism reduces to the very abstract bit of wisdom that one mostly hears nowadays: “Foreigners are people too” or “We’re all aliens in most places in the world.” This will hardly shake up anyone who recognizes the foreigner in people, especially wherever he does not belong. And, strictly speaking, these sayings also sign on to natural differences which are then not supposed to mean anything because of the flimsiest of all “commonalities.”
Racism: this is the political-moral way of viewing a humanity that has been thoroughly organized by nations and weeded through by states and translating this into their national and moral characters. It is the image of humanity created by the patriotic spirit immanent to any normal citizen’s consciousness; hence, a product of the forced political association which the citizen refuses to see as such. What this view perceives and the details it registers therefore depends on how this moral attitude reveals its polemical qualities and the reasons that the citizen finds for discontent with the nation.
a) Patriotism always takes its cues from the catalog of living conditions that it is unhappy with. It gains its impetus from dissatisfaction – a satisfied materialism rarely turns people into avowed patriots. And it is immediately clear that people insist on devotion to duty and moral integrity because of a special kind of self-entitlement that calls for action: against those who are to blame for disturbing the cooperation between the governing and the governed, the investors and the willing workers, the schools and the parents, etc. They can’t find any other way to explain the lack of success of good citizens and the hardships suffered by good patriots in the midst of a community that is dedicated to the prosperity of its people.
b) The figures that an offended patriotism makes up are also unerringly found. In making a critical assessment of its people, it sees a widespread selfishness that distorts and falsifies the fair selection of people, those who undeservingly get their hands on state benefits without giving back the services that the community needs – and the good members of the people, all the decent citizens, are therefore the dupes. No social status is exempt – parasites are everywhere: in the millionaire districts there are parasitic speculators right next to job-creating investors; among the homeless, there are those who have fallen into hardship through no fault of their own as well as worthless freeloaders who do not want to work.
Such distinctions pale, however, beside the discovery that many members of the national community make again and again: there are some who do not belong here at all. They “take over” everywhere, not because they take up more space than others, but because they do not belong here. From this viewpoint, they are to blame for everything that bothers a disgruntled citizen: they take jobs, women and housing away from the locals; they bring chaos, immorality, and drugs into the country; they get everything that a native-born citizen either knows not to ask for or has to stand in line a long time to get ... Such people do not have to violate any laws – but if they do, that damn well fits the nationalist image of them! – before being accused of having violated the first and foremost civic duty: being a responsible member of the national community. Without a valid membership card, i.e. without the right to be here, they are here simply and solely to disrupt the harmony between those who otherwise form a united people without actually sharing a common interest.
Good thing hyper-aware natives are able to recognize them instantly – by “racial characteristics” in the banal sense of random external features that have nothing to do with the political-moral content of racism – the separation of people into ethnic communities – but can be used to identify those who “do not belong here”; which is why it doesn’t really matter if someone misses the mark once in a while.
c) So at the core of civic racism is the search for those who are morally responsible for the deplorable situation of the model homeland. Of course, the disgruntled patriot can differentiate between domestic and foreign criminals. But when it comes to the healthy community that the citizen imagines his nation as, the more fundamental distinction is quickly found: one type is the scum who belong to “us” like to any nation and are treated the way they deserve; the other type does not meet the fundamental condition of belonging to us – even in its finest specimens. And is it not the case that native troublemakers, at least those who damage national harmony, are on closer inspection also aliens, or at least ultimately a foreign element? How can aliens be anything in this country but a factor for disorder – even if one might not be able to blame them personally?
d) In any case, one must blame the state for allowing foreigners to become a disruptive factor instead of responding to its disgruntled citizens’ need for harmony by conducting a thorough separation and selection process. Anyone who does not want to put up with this scandal faces a choice. Either he has a few drinks and musters the courage to take into his own hands what the state won’t do and palpably demonstrate with other like-minded people who is in charge and where foreigners belong, i.e. not here. However, such an initiative is a violation of the state’s monopoly and, as an illegal act, is not for everyone. The more successful way is to go into politics – because private power will never be as effective as the public power.
e) The transition to practical xenophobia calls into action a criticism that wants to contest its necessity. Of course, as with the uneasiness about racist sorting, this criticism of racist practice is not about its necessity, but what is deemed necessary in the context of the national-moral worldview and can alternatively also be rejected.
The polemic against a “foreign invasion” that ruins the experience of a harmonious national community for the locals and thus makes life increasingly difficult can also be reversed. Critical types, especially leftists, promote the ideal image of a “multicultural society” and fight anti-immigrant narrow-mindedness with the idea of enrichment through going out and experiencing foreign customs, cuisines, etc. Unfortunately, the simple reversal of a mistake is still a mistake: anyone who considers the peaceful coexistence of different national characters possible and maybe even particularly rewarding because of their indescribable otherness believes just as firmly in the myth of “national identity” as the philistines whose resentment he wants to dismiss as absurd.
This is the case with the “multicultural” ideal that turns some people into friends rather than foes of foreigners. Individuals may indeed have one or the other agreeable characteristics, but their being foreign – just like being native – is certainly not one of these. Anyone who wants to persuade himself that this is the case only proves that he considers this difference very important. Not for bogus personal reasons, but because no inter-nationalist can bear to imagine that ethnicity, one’s own as well as others, is nothing but an order to be a moral good example.
Both alternative versions of patriotism have in common the underestimation of racism as “prejudice,” which lacks any objective basis and from which the critics want to extricate themselves as an example to others. Being mistaken about the object of their hatred is the last thing that racists can be accused of; when they hunt for people to blame and look for invaders who do not belong to the nation, they don’t let their victims’ individual characteristics confuse them in any way. The error is not that racists make false “generalizations” that could be corrected through an experience of foreign customs or with an expert’s insight into their “meaning.” Racist theories – and not normal types of exclusionary judgment against strangers – presuppose the national declaration of incompatibility and are not the reason for it. Nothing misses the point like when, for example, opponents of racism cite the findings of modern anthropology which deny the existence of biological differences between the human races.
The state does not base its policies strictly on the morally affirmative sayings that its citizens make up about it. Rather, it uses them to legitimize itself so as to ensure an up-to-date molding of a “healthy popular mood.” Someone who complains about nothing but how the politicians live up to his belief that they have no higher task than ensuring the harmony of the nation – with force, if necessary – won’t be denied by any politician. On the contrary! His racism is not only a product of the state-imposed community with its political-moral community spirit, it is also an officially encouraged loyalty to the state. And exactly like the discontent citizen who feels the urge to commit patriotic deeds, a state also takes on a racist practice which upholds racism and exacerbates it – when it suits it.
a) The politicians always lend an open ear to disgruntled citizens when their patriotism causes them to hate only foreigners. They hear, and rightly so, nothing but an echo of their promise to provide more services to their people and show understanding for the racism of their citizens even when they put the breaks on it. Because, strictly speaking, the people’s discontent is guided by the “issues” that dominate national public life and what they are all about in terms of causes and effects; and these in turn are mainly defined by those who have “say-so” anyway. In general, therefore, it can be more or less guaranteed that public spirit mobilizes its racism to the extent that it becomes official opinion – and rarely the reverse.
b) To what extent this is true and how much practical policy results from it – or even how far one gets when accusing the rulers of having forgotten the people and in this way encourages the ruling parties or even creates a new one – is something that is decided by the nation’s success and failure as defined by those appointed to carry out such things. The state’s emergencies, which they identify and guide their people in dealing with, has a dramatic impact on the living conditions of the various layers of the population. This destroys the normal ways of getting by and creates discontent among the people. Precisely for this reason, the citizens are particularly well served in these kinds of situations: particularly in “hard times,” the mood in the country should not be marred by the animosity that arises when aliens are around, and the untroubled relationship between the people and their leaders must not suffer from the provocation that an unresolved “alien problem” represents. The more the national leaders decide to use the morale of their people to resolve the national crisis while demanding material sacrifices, the more clearly they highlight the exclusivity of the national “we” by attacking and deporting aliens, except for those whose services are essential. A state in an emergency situation must be able to rely on its peoples’ unquestioning “solidarity”; so it purges the disruptive elements from the same national community – as if the belief in the incompatibility of national human species was in fact true. When the state power considers it appropriate, it practices racism in the same sense as its citizens do when they are capable of thinking that this particular state power over them is their own “identity” – which is why the state encourages the same theoretical racism.
c) It is an inherent part of any modern state doctrine that the people are a people only because they consist of humans with a specific nature who, in accord with their common nature, have joined together to form an unbreakable community; just as firmly embedded is the conclusion that aims at the practical consequence: a nation is only strong and can live up to the “challenge” of “hard times” when its people stick to this most basic virtue.
Taking care of this idea of the people doesn’t have to go so far as artistic and scientific memorials to the state-building ants called Aryans. Nevertheless, “awareness of history,” with its peculiar theory that the free citizen is permanently kept on a leash by the necessities, rules, or prohibitions of the past, is part of the permanent stock of political thought. This awareness can be maintained without any knowledge, but not entirely without commemorations, history museums, etc. – institutions that explain (away) the sequence of exploitation and war in the past as if it were the biography of a decent folk community that has spanned generations and is still alive and kicking. National ideology refers everything the state power currently does to this fictitious national-individual as its inalienable and exceptional historic right: the more militant the project, the more it is treated as a historic mission.
And this gives even more specific traits to the aliens’ otherness – complementary to the image of one’s own good people. The alien is often unfortunate enough to stand in the way of a new era for the nation; either because they are here and not where they belong or because their state makes disruptive claims on “history.” Then one knows for sure which mediocre human species needs to be purged so that the good people can once again be completely itself. And when it is aimed against foreign countries, a state always has all sorts of tangible strategic reasons for its hostility toward other states, but strategic thinking, in all its abstractness, already provides everything that the enemy image then makes of it: a “fateful struggle” between freedom and socialist subhumans, between Western culture and Islamic terrorism, between European morality and Balkan-Slavic ethnic hatred ...
d) To give just one example as to how effortlessly politicians talk about the people’s sentiments while invoking them, mentoring the same, and inciting the radicalization which they interpret it as, Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance and former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: 1. He knows about the natural human propensity to segregate according to “national identity”: “people need an identity which is always related to a community that needs to be defined (!). They have a need to belong to one or another (!). This stands in contrast to the universalist starting point.” 2. He appreciates the people’s sense of a common bond because it is an indispensable basis for his politics: “The rational commitment to common constitutional values is inadequate as a bond for the community. Since many decisions are based more on emotions than intellect, we need an emotional bond: that is just knowledge (!!) on the basis of the community’s unity – one can then choose to call it a fatherland or a nation or a common history.” 3. In this respect, he can feel the strain this “feeling” experiences when confronted with people who belong to other “communities”: “One must not stir up many people’s fear that we are being flooded by foreigners, but this fear can’t be denied if we want to counteract it.” 4. That’s why he wants to avoid a “discussion of exclusion” by leading it himself: “If I let people be overstrained, I have to be aware that people can’t take it ... so in the end I will have achieved the opposite of what I wanted.”
Of course, all this has nothing to do with the racial delusions of the Nazis. Or does it?
a) If one decides to be a politician and contends for leadership of the state, then one isn’t applying for just any job. Statesmen love their people – in their own special way: they want to make the people into something greater. Of course, this includes the belief that the people have what it takes. That’s why national leaders like to say they “believe” in ... America, for example, or Germany; but Serbia, China, Israel or Palestine can also be the cause this type of person believes in. Certainly, the belief must already be very strong if the people are in a bad way: impoverished, divided, humiliated, bullied by external powers – and the very opposite of the leader’s grand designs.
Hitler believed in the German nation’s right and ability to be a world power – “or not at all!” was his radical alternative; and in this belief, he despaired over a reality in which Germany – in his patriotic view of things, which was shared by most of his competitors – was being kept down after World War I by the victorious powers, exploited by international finance capital, and unable to find the strength to defend itself because the country was undermined from below by the communist-led class struggle and attacked from above by intellectuals who believed in higher values than the “natural” people’s community. More precisely: Hitler was close to giving up on his people – had he not discovered the solution which he proclaimed so unmistakably clearly in his famous bestseller that the currently popular theory that Nazi anti-Semitism is “incomprehensible” almost arouses the suspicion that the primary sources have not been studied. According to all the rules of civic racism, he searched for those to blame for the miserable domestic situation in Germany and he found a suitable cast for this role – after all, he already had a clue as to what he was looking for and couldn’t be mistaken: exploitation of the Germans by finance capitalists as well as domestic subversion by intellectuals and Bolsheviks – this was nothing but the work of the Jews. Of course, bankers and communist class warriors pursue somewhat opposing goals – and literati still quite different ones too. But from the perspective of national solidarity, it doesn’t make any difference if one doesn’t have a criticism of either banking or wage labor, but is angry with all parties about the same thing: the imagined damage they cause Germany. Hitler was not going to let himself be misled by the many non-Jews among the human parasites and pests, nor by the many useful, even patriotic Jews – no differently than a German Interior Minister today is going to let non-foreign criminals or law-abiding refugees deter him from fighting crime by deporting foreigners who abuse the right to asylum. In principle, Hitler saw the people’s enemies as alien to the people and, vice versa, saw aliens as enemies of the state. It gave the good Germans on their way to Gröfaz [note: German soldiers’ derogatory acronym for Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten, a title initially publicized by Nazi propaganda to refer to Adolf Hitler during the early war years; literally, the “Greatest Field Commander of all Time”] renewed faith in their people: the people were good and capable by nature; one must only eliminate the harmful influence of the non-German elements.
So far, not essentially that different from the racism of perfectly normal citizens.
b) Strategic assessment of the internal enemy – Hitler was well aware that Germany could only become a world power through war, and it was the most important part of his redemption message to his people – presented the peculiar image of a people without a state who had settled indistinguishably in their “host nation” and were mainly busy “sucking it dry” and “decomposing” it. For Hitler, this conclusion about the character of the Jewish race complemented his belief in the German people from its inception and, besides, he could prove it by means of historical authority which showed that for 2000 years this people has had a hard time everywhere they went as nothing but “newcomers.” So it was also clear that a national cleansing program was necessary, one in which nobody was any more entitled to ask what individual wrongdoings had been committed against the German national community than – to once again make a parallel to the present – the purge of “economic refugees” from the new German nation entitles one to ask what damage these people have caused the Deutschmark.
The process then escalated in the well-known manner. In order to get the national community ready for the upcoming “people’s struggle,” it was necessary to first fight against the subversive intrigue of the domestic enemy, that is, the class struggle and intellectualism. Communists and other dissidents were persecuted and the imagined “filth” among the people, the “Judentum,” were identified, isolated and segregated as a breeding ground of anti-German activities, and subjected to bans on employment and marriage to “Aryan” Germans. The new people’s war was started before the attack on Poland with the terrorizing and deportation of the eternal “5th column” in the country – which was only logical for a state preparing to clobber the neighbor countries in its way and not only to conquer “room” in the east, but also to clear it for German “living.” Such a state therefore also needs a hardened morale among its masses in order to get them to cause and go along with millions of victims for Germany's greatness. Equally logical was the decision to use the height and turning point of the world war for a radical settlement once and for all with the internal enemy on the “home front” which had been greatly expanded through conquest: the bureaucratically organized genocide was the domestic component of a “war of liberation” against all those who stood in the way of the good German people’s march to world domination which was, of course, its destiny. In addition to many other mountains of corpses, this program also created Auschwitz. With all its national megalomania, this was quite transparent and all too clear to patriots!
c) The racism cultivated by the state in its talk about the Germans’ natural rights and the evil of their enemies was practiced so consistently that it was also theoretically radicalized by being elaborated into a mandatory worldview for the nation. In a matter of months, or a few years at most, entire cultural and scientific departments agreed that the national community was far more primal and intrinsic to its members than any social background – though even that is already genetically rooted! The absolutely pre-social and pre-state character of the national peoples must therefore be found among the human species’ natural properties and indeed on the level of “race.” Of course, the same applied to the predestination of the Jews to disrupt the legitimate triumphal march of the good Germans who, of course, always – thanks to their “Aryan” nature, as it was now called – want to line up as brutal henchmen for their leader’s heroic adventures. Human skulls were professionally measured not before this discovery and as a justification for it, but in the end as an amusement for the overzealous. Because this racism had nothing to do with human-zoology; but rather with the popular and common error of bourgeois thinking: to “explain” attainments in the world of states and the results of capitalist competition with the “talents” of the people involved. An entire intellectual elite was accustomed to this completely normal racism and participated in its latest achievements – and anyone who did not join in was quickly labeled “unreasonable”! It took the state’s ideological metaphor about “national heritage” literally and came up with or consented to a quasi-biological genetics as an ideological master key for carrying on the traditions that all states practice.
The national socialists’ “racial theories” can’t be accused of a biologism that went haywire; even less of having gone on to “incomprehensible” deeds at Auschwitz and other places. The nation’s duty-conscious and patriotic intellectual elite only took the message contained in the gospel of “national identity” to its logical conclusion – parallel and compatible with the honorable community’s political will to ensure the Germans of their ancestral right to victory.
d) The political parties in Germany are worried that too many foreigners could overburden their citizens’ love of country and civic esprit de corp. So one must ask whether the many public ceremonies in memory of Auschwitz are not a clear example of overburdening. Who then, given these kinds of shameful national acts, wants to be identified with his homeland? Who would like a national identity which can count a veritable genocide among its inalienable traditions? Even more: who wants to be included in the national collective named “the people” when it is clear what this collectivism has done?
German politicians are not racked with such worries. Rightly so. Their commemorations do not pillory the German people nor the stupidity and dangerousness of a patriotic community spirit. On the contrary: they are acts of faith in the – once again – good German people. Because they have integrated Auschwitz into this tradition: as the monstrous exception to the rule; as a stain that won’t go away on an otherwise entirely clean record; as a black-out for German politics, and hence basically neither German nor political. It is nothing but a strained attempt to deny any similarity between the former and the current patriotism. It declares today’s mainstream racism and its slightly more hawkish variant from the 30s and 40s to be extreme opposites. It does not even need a lot of words, and it certainly doesn’t need a theory which is in some way “falsifiable.” In order to turn the extermination of the Jews into an incident that almost excludes itself from the indomitably good German character, it is sufficient to solemnly stage national consternation at designated events.
What if the event itself was dealt with, even a little bit, instead avowing its alleged “incomprehensibility”? Right: then something would result other than the “message to us today,” which is what it is always about when traditions are cared for, and this is what the negatively cared for tradition of Auschwitz commemorations are also about: that Germany today is better and that Auschwitz is a “call” – to what exactly? To precisely what this nation is doing and planning today anyway; the leading ladies and gentlemen give assurances that this doing and planning is out of respect for the victims of those times. Auschwitz, as “the continuing admonition of the dead to the living,” is subsumed to its national traditions and always useful as a justification for current German policies: a sure guarantee of the ethical qualities of the new German state, its leaders, and those who let themselves be led.
In reality, nothing results from Auschwitz. Nothing that Germany is doing today is done because of the Nazi extermination of the Jews or because of horror over it – neither the freest market economy that has ever existed on German soil or the cleansing of undesirable aliens from this soil, neither participation or non-participation in the war in the Balkans. The official commemorations of Auschwitz are not even a result of Auschwitz. They are a result of the nation’s current need to take credit for distancing the German state from the genocide of the Nazi state.
This “Auschwitz denial” is not justified when used as a critical mirror to reproach the nation. The use of “coming to terms with the past” as a standard for today’s Germany and its inhabitants measures nothing but the hypocrisy of the state’s actions in memory of Auschwitz. It sees national demoralization or “reassuring signs,” depending on how much the expert appraiser takes this hypocrisy at face value. Cases of “budding Nazism” that have to be “nipped” by “the duty to remember” always depend on the front that the authors of these slogans want to open – Christian Democrats, for example, quickly go from the “Auschwitz concentration camp” to the abstraction of “violence” and thus primarily mean everyone they perceive as left-wing. The way Auschwitz is invoked now is just a hypocritical way to defend positions that have nothing to do with Auschwitz.
So leftists would be better off sticking to Max Horkheimer’s maxim: he who does not want to talk about capitalism should remain silent about fascism! He also now and then must talk about capitalism’s civic morality and how it is officially supervised. But instead the whole nation talks excitedly about how the extermination of the Jews is presented in “Schindler’s List” so that a single word of criticism about the reasons for this extermination are no longer heard. “After Auschwitz” – the citizen’s everyday racism has never before denied its own consequences so easily.