How To Respond to the Alt-Right11-26-2017
How To Respond to the Alt-Right
Timothy Garton Ash asks how we are to understand and respond to the rise of right-wing nationalist populism in Germany. Garton Ash argues that populism in Germany is not about the economy. Instead, he argues it is based on resentment. “There is also a resentful feeling among East Germans that they have been treated as second-class citizens in united Germany: not given enough attention, not paid due respect. When a street protest in a small town in Saxony was totally ignored by the visiting -Chancellor Merkel, a protester complained, “She doesn’t look at us even with her ass!” One can imagine a Trump voter saying something similar about Hillary Clinton. In explaining the populist vote in many countries, the inequality of attention is at least as important as economic inequality. And then, to add insult to injury, these bloody foreigners—Muslims to boot!—are welcomed in Germany with open arms and “get everything for nothing.” As in other European welfare states, the knowledge that “everything” includes generous welfare provisions only sharpens the resentment.” Garton Ash then suggests that one key to understanding German nationalism is the recently deceased academic turned populist provocateur Rolf Pieter Sieferle. Sieferle’s book Finis Germania is a bestseller in Germany, but it was “disappeared” from the bestseller lists by the liberal press, which did not want to acknowledge its popularity.
“Sieferle’s book was, explained Spiegel deputy editor Susanne Beyer, “right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, and historically revisionist,” and since the news magazine sees itself as a “medium of Enlightenment,” and the best-seller listing might be mistaken for a recommendation, they had removed it. So Finis Germania was consigned to an Orwellian memory hole, made an unbook. It was not a best seller. It had never been a best seller. Weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf—for what may not be, cannot be—as the poet Christian Morgenstern once put it.”For Garton Ash, Sieferle’s book is mix of trashy cultural pessimism and profound reflections on the pain and meaninglessness of modern life. An engagement with Sieferle, Garton Ash argues, shows the promise and the danger in engaging with new nationalist right.
“Sieferle reaches far too often for Nietzsche-like profundity and usually misses the mark, tripping over his own rhetorical shoelaces into a puddle of absurdity. But occasionally, when he pulls together his life’s work on modernity, ecology, and German history, a genuinely thought-provoking formulation emerges. Referring to the “project of the modern,” he writes that “the history of the projects of the eighteenth and nineteenth century is, then, one of a total failure, which became apparent in the twentieth century: morally, from World War to Auschwitz, technologically and economically, in the environmental crisis of the end of the century.” (Not, I think, the remark of an Auschwitz denier or routine anti-Semite.) And again: “The twentieth century can be seen as a period of vast profligacy…profligate with everything: with natural resources, but also with people, with ideas, with cultural reserves.” Finis Germania raises in helpfully sharp form the question of how one should respond to such ideas, in a country where one in eight voters just chose a right-wing populist party, motivated mainly by concerns about culture and identity. Der Spiegel’s extraordinary vaporizing of Sieferle’s book from its best-seller list is an extreme example of an approach characteristic of contemporary Germany. If you go beyond a certain point in expressing what may be seen as right-wing extremist or anti-Semitic views, you are banished from all respectable society, branded with a scarlet, or rather a brown, letter. Nazi insignia, Holocaust denial, and hate speech are banned by law (as Facebook is finding to its cost), but there is also this broader social, cultural, and political enforcement of the taboo. Now many would argue that this has contributed significantly to the civilized, centrist quality of German politics and public debate—and they have a point. I find that many young Germans support this approach wholeheartedly. And would the rest of the world have been happier if Germany did not have this taboo on any hint of a revival of the worst that modern humanity has produced? Yet this whole approach comes with a price, and the electoral success of the AfD shows that the price is going up. Sieferle’s Finis Germania is a late, slight product of a sad, disordered, but undoubtedly fine mind. Simply to say “right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic, historically revisionist—therefore get thee behind me Satan and off the best-seller list you come” is a woefully inadequate response. Indeed, subjecting Sieferle to the taboo treatment actually supports his contention that this really is a taboo—that is, something put beyond the realm of rational debate. For right-wing ideologues, such bans are wonderful free publicity, enabling them to pose as martyrs for free speech. Kubitschek, the publisher, gloated that the row at the Frankfurt book fair was “heathen fun.” For the rank-and-file, it is yet more evidence that the liberal elites have so little time and respect for them that they “won’t look at us even with their asses.” Worse still: they won’t even let ordinary people say what they think. In a poll conducted in spring 2016 for the Freedom Index of the John Stuart Mill Institute in Heidelberg, only 57 percent of respondents said they felt that “one can freely express one’s political opinion in Germany today.” It’s therefore encouraging to see a growing number of German intellectuals advocating John Stuart Mill’s own response. Take on these arguments in free and open debate. Subject them to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny. Separate the wheat from the chaff. For as Mill famously argued, even a false argument can contain a sliver of truth, and the good sword of truth can only be kept sharp if constantly tested in open combat with falsehood. Otherwise the received opinion, even if it is correct, will only be held “in the manner of a prejudice.”-Roger BerkowitzForm more information visit: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/12/07/germany-alt-right-kultur-stupid/
Speaking and Thinking Freely
Ionia Italia considers the efforts of Canadian Universities to censor a young professor who showed their class a video by Jordan Peterson, a humanities Professor opposed to a Canadian law that criminalizes the use of traditional gender pronouns when speaking to trans students. The professor in question used the video to ask the class to develop arguments against Peterson’s position. For Italia, this is precisely how universities should teach students to think and argue with positions they find disagreeable and offensive.
“We can never control what people think: only what they are permitted to say and write. If they aren’t allowed to speak freely, we will never be able to convince them of anything because we will not know what ideas their minds are harboring. All we will know is the mendacious version they feel safe offering us. This is especially true of students, many of whom already feel timid about voicing their opinions in class. Stimulating a lively classroom debate is an art. Lecturing is easy: we know and love our subjects and have much to say about them. It’s getting the students to talk passionately about them that is hard. One absolutely crucial factor in this is creating a “safe space” in which students feel free to say anything they want about the topic under discussion. If they say things that are irrelevant, you can guide them back onto the subject at hand, sure. And if they hurl personal insults at each other, you can rebuke them. But, in my experience, that is very rare. It’s far easier to intimidate students and make them clam up than to encourage them to talk. University trains us to question others and ourselves. There’s no better material on which to exercise this than the popular ideas students are likely to encounter online and in the outside world. If you really want to debunk Peterson, for example, let him make his strongest case. Don’t tell students how they are supposed to think or feel about him: they won’t obey. People are often less malleable than you might think. People are perverse. Trump’s election should have taught us that. Almost every major media outlet supported Hillary. But the voters didn’t allow the media to decide for them.”Form more information visit: https://areomagazine.com/2017/11/24/the-case-of-lindsay-shepherd-and-what-it-teaches-us-about-how-learning-occurs/
Oh To Be A Monster
Claire Dererer argues that all writers are selfish. Their selfishness makes them monstrous. Men have typically taken the liberty of being monstrously selfish, but as women take that liberty, how will that change our judgment of the relation between biography and art. Dererer offers a meditation on the feminine desire to cultivate the monstrosity of the artist.
“The critic Walter Benjamin said: “At the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.” My own work could hardly be called major, but I do wonder: at the base of every minor work of art, is there a, you know, smaller pile of barbarism? A lump of barbarism? A skosh? There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say. I have to wonder: maybe I’m not monstrous enough. I’m aware of my own failings as a writer—indeed I know the list to a fare-thee-well, and worse are the failures that I know I’m failing to know— but a little part of me has to ask: if I were more selfish, would my work be better? Should I aspire to greater selfishness? Every writer-mother I know has asked herself this question. I mean, none of them says it out loud. But I can hear them thinking it; it’s almost deafening. Does one identity fatally interrupt the other? Is your work making you a less-good mom? That’s the question you ask yourself all the time. But also: Is your motherhood making you a less good writer? That question is a little more uncomfortable. Jenny Offill gets at this idea in a passage from her novel Dept of Speculation—a passage much shared among the female writers and artists of my acquaintance: “My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his umbrella. Véra licked his stamps for him.” I mean, I hate licking stamps. An art monster, I thought when I read this. Yes, I’d like to be one of those. My friends felt the same way. Victoria, an artist, went around chanting “art monster” for a few days. The female writers I know yearn to be more monstrous. They say it in off-hand, ha-ha-ha ways: “I wish I had a wife.” What does that mean, really? It means you wish to abandon the tasks of nurturing in order to perform the selfish sacraments of being an artist. What if I’m not monster enough? In a way, I’d been asking this question privately, for years, of a couple male writer friends I believe to be actually great. I write them both charming emails, but really I am always trying to find out: how selfish are you? Or to put it another way: how selfish do I need to be, to become as great as you? Plenty selfish, I learned as I observed these men from afar. Lock-the-door-against-your-kid-while-you’re-working selfish. Work-every-day-including-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas selfish. Go-on-book-tour-for-weeks-at-a-time selfish. Sleep-with-other-women-at-conferences selfish. Whatever-it-takes selfish.”Form more information visit: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/20/art-monstrous-men/