New Right in Germany: Myth and Reality

Right wing march in Germany. (FAZ, 2016)

The political goals of the (German) New Right can largely be summarized by two central concepts: the intellectualization of right-wing extremism through the formulation of an intellectual metapolitics, and the pursuit of a (right-wing) cultural hegemony. Here, metapolitics denotes efforts to take intellectual control of public debates, shaping them on a theoretical meta-level by coining particular ideas, terms and meanings. The metapolitical focus of the New Right highlights the intellectual weaknesses manifested in the large parts of the far-right scene that reject theory and cultural engagement, and counters this by emphasizing the need to intellectually substantiate political ideas in order to legitimize them. This intellectualization is built upon the idea of a metapolitics that strives towards a conservative cultural revolution.

In analyzing New Right politics in Germany, there is a cardinal error that must be avoided: mistaking appearance for reality. After all, part of the German New Right strategy involves never admitting to its own marginalities, even where these can be substantiated, while generally marketing its own activities to the public as only being successful. In this sense, institutional projects like the Institut für Staatspolitik (which has absolutely no connection to any university, was founded in May 2000, and is the main think tank of Germanys New Right) and the Bibliothek des Konservatismus (since 2000 the first library of the New Right, based in the heart of Berlin), as well as media projects from Sezession (the leading magazine of the German New Right) to Blaue Narzisse (in fact originally founded in 2004 as a school newspaper in the east German city of Chemnitz, which tries to promote the popularization of New Right ideas), could also be interpreted as self-reflecting vanity projects whose primary purpose is to support the narcissistic belief of New Right protagonists (in most cases having intellectual biographies marked by failure) that they possess omnipotent intellectual greatness after all.

Beyond this sober realism, however, it can also be said that the New Right in today’s Germany once again possesses institutional structures disseminating ideas that can either directly initiate social movements, such as the Identitarians, or else significantly influence them, as in the case of Pegida. This is not because these movements are themselves intellectually oriented, let alone metapolitically so. Indeed, Pegida is anything but intellectual in its open racism, and the Identitarians have been conducting actions that are in fact more or less openly neo-Nazi in character, albeit with modified and modernized marketing strategies (using Web 2.0, initiating flashmob actions, trying to create a hipster image of right-wing extremism with t-shirts, buttons etc.). In any case, both movements have been intensively engaged with operating in the public sphere, thereby creating a disproportionately large media presence for New Right concerns, which in itself corresponds to its actual strategy of deploying a conservative cultural metapolitics. The fact that the AfD is now represented—at least for the time being—as a party in all of Germany’s state parliaments and the German Bundestag at all, where it can stand for the central demands of the New Right, should be considered as ambiguous in regards to New Right successes.

While its interests in the struggle for cultural hegemony are further consolidated with the help of the AfD, the party itself can certainly not be seen as an expression of intellectual metapolitics. Its agenda is too incoherent (analyzing, for example, the party program, one will find that there are hundreds of ideas, which are intellectual not coherent because of their location in the history of ideas, but how they’re put together as well) and its personnel structure is too open to neo Nazi actors, even more so since its schism in July 2015. Therefore, it must be acknowledged that the New Right in Germany, after a phase of decline and temporary insignificance, has restructured itself in terms of organization and agitation while reorganizing itself in various operational fields of activity (public impact, ideological and strategic discussions, agitation and publicity, propaganda and self-marketing), in regards to both internally interconnecting factors and externally mobilizing ones. With the AfD, as well as movements like Pegida, a public channel has been created that can open perspectives for a quantitative expansion of efforts to encourage the acceptance of New Right positions.

However, these organizations in no way fulfill New Right aspirations to intellectuality, let alone cultural metapolitics, so that it will be interesting to see whether the short-term successes of New Right strategies will falter on precisely this contradiction, when the camouflaging strategy—according to which personal sympathies for National Socialism need to be hidden from public view— finally collapses. After all, it is no accident that Pegida founder, Lutz Bachmann, was publicly toppled by a photo in which he had styled himself to look like Hitler (with toothbrush moustache and side parting), further adding the caption “He’s back!”—thereby revealing his true motives behind the Pegida façade, with its initial veneer of public respectability. This shows that behind the mask (which also borrows from New Right strategies in terms of camouflaging one’s own terminology), aspects of National Socialism often peek through (especially in the field of speaking about the German past, for example AfD-leaders like Björn Höcke called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “memorial of shame,” or Alexander Gauland declared, “we have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers from two world wars,” including the Nazi-Wehrmacht) —mostly in an openly affirmative way, but almost always as a kind of historical foil for one’s own political fantasies, without necessarily entailing an ability to see one’s own nationalist identitarian goals in the context of Auschwitz and other atrocities of the Holocaust.

Professor Samuel Salzborn is a Senior Career Fellow at CARR and is a Visiting Professor for Research on Antisemitism at the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at the Technical University Berlin, Germany. His profile can be found here:

© Samuel Salzborn. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).