Are intellectuals inherently dangerous to the social structure

Right-wing extremism

Armin Pfahl-Traughber

The author

Dr. phil., political scientist and sociologist, professor at the Federal University of Applied Sciences, Brühl.

Definition and manifestations of a right-wing extremist intellectual group

Whether interview, book fair, book publication: The "New Right" made the headlines again and again in the past few years. Who or what is behind it?

11.10.2018, Hessen, Frankfurt / Main: Götz Kubitschek (right) stands at the Loci-Verlag stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

In view of a general "shift to the right" in German society, which was first reflected in the successes in mobilizing Pegida and then in the AfD's entry into all state parliaments and the Bundestag, the phrase "new rights" is becoming more widespread again. Not only journalists use this to refer to the movement mentioned as the party mentioned. Other side effects of the political development mentioned, such as the "Compact" magazine or the "One Percent" initiative are also labeled in this way. This use of the term ignores the research on this, where a special phenomenon is described with "new rights". It can be generally defined as follows: "New Right" stands for a group of intellectuals that is mainly based on the ideas of the Conservative Revolution of the Weimar Republic, rather a network without fixed organizational structures and with a "cultural revolution from the right" represents a fundamental political change wants to push forward.

Analysis criteria for recording the new rights

What exactly is meant by this and what is not? The IOS distinction, i.e. the question of ideology, organization and strategy, is a good idea for a sketch of what is meant. In this way, the formal and content-related contours of the New Right can be identified more clearly. Which authors, institutions and publication organs are meant by this should then be explained separately. There are institutions or journals that can be fully assigned to the "New Rake", but also those where this is only partially the case. In addition, different phenomena are labeled this way again and again in the media. This often happens out of a certain helplessness, as one perceives something "new" from the "right". The criteria mentioned here are intended to clarify the question of what the "New Right" is - and what is not.

Ideology: Appeal to the Conservative Revolution of the Weimar Republic

Regarding the ideology, reference is made to the Conservative Revolution (meaning here the "young conservatives") in the Weimar Republic. It was also a stream of intellectuals. The ambivalent designation meant that one no longer wanted to preserve the existing, but rather to overcome it. This meant the Weimar Republic as a democratic constitutional state. In contrast, supposedly lost values ​​should be revived: elite, leadership, God, nation, nature, order, race and national community. None of this had anything to do with enlightenment, equality, the principle of individuality, liberalism, human rights, parliamentarism, party democracy and pluralism. The alternative should be an authoritarian dictatorship with a real mass base. The best-known defenders of the Conservative Revolution were the speechwriter Edgar Julius Jung, the publicist Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, the constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt and the cultural philosopher Oswald Spengler. Today's New Right appeals to these anti-republican thinkers.

Organization: network of different publicists

There is no fixed organizational structure such as a party or an association for them. One can - to put it more pointedly - become a non-formal member of the New Right and receive a membership card, for example. Rather, it is a network of different publicists: You hear each other, you know each other, you read the texts of others, you meet. There are ideological similarities with regard to the appeal to the Conservative Revolution. At the same time, there are also differences in certain questions: Do you refer to Christianity or do you oppose it? Should there be more market economy or more welfare state? Do you want to pursue fundamental opposition or promote party politics? In view of such differences, a more solid form of organization would be unlikely. So there is more of a loose and personal contact, which is also articulated in the simple joint publication and presentation. For this purpose, anthologies and theoretical bodies such as conferences and seminars can serve as forums.

Strategy: "Cultural Revolution" and "Metapolitics" to change the system

What the New Right has in common is that it advocates a spiritual overcoming of the democratic constitutional state. For this designations such as "fight for the heads", "cultural revolution from the right" or "metapolitics" are chosen. This means the following basic assumption: An intellectual change must precede a political change. First of all, the discourse needs to gain hegemony of one's own positions, only then can they be implemented in politics. Curiously, one likes to refer to the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who called for a spiritual revolution as a prerequisite for a political revolution for the communists. This strategic approach was then adopted by the New Right on a different ideological basis. In this respect, the focus is less on political movements and parties, as the New Right sees itself more as their mastermind. Nevertheless, their representatives also approach such forms of politics depending on the situation.

Differentiation "old rights" - "new rights"

The above statements made it clear that what is new about the New Right is not meant in terms of content or time. Because the ideological points of contact of the Conservative Revolution came from the Weimar Republic and manifestations of the New Right in the intended sense already existed in the 1980s. Therefore, the "new" in Neue Reche was deliberately written in capital and not in small. Although the New Right can be regarded as right-wing extremist, there were or are differences to traditional right-wing extremism. These exist in an ideological and strategic sense: The first aspect is about the appeal to the Conservative Revolution or the young conservatives and not to National Socialism. The focus of the strategic point of view is that the development of a political theory of its own is required and that it must be argued for this in the context of a "struggle for cultural hegemony" in the opinion discourse. In short: The intellectual discourse was discovered as a political field of action.

Basic positions of the current New Right

What are the concrete basic positions of the New Right beyond the ideological, organizational and strategic specifics mentioned? The starting point in terms of content is the appeal to the ideas of the aforementioned Conservative Revolution, whereby its constitutive ideas should be transferred to the current situation. A homogeneous understanding of democracy is set against a pluralistic understanding of democracy. Völkisch nationalism should replace the primacy of human rights as a point of reference. Concepts of elite are proclaimed as opposed to the ideal of equality. The individual understanding of human rights is to be replaced by a collectivist understanding of human rights (human rights not for individuals, but for peoples). In all of this, it is remarkable that the exact contours of the propagated understanding of politics are not drawn more precisely. Also, the intended intellectuals do not outline the alternative they are calling for in more detail as a political system.

Identitarian versus pluralistic understanding of democracy

The aforementioned opposition between the identitarian and pluralistic understanding of democracy should be discussed again separately: the intellectuals in question do profess democracy, but reinterpret what they mean in their own way. In doing so, they assume an ethnic, but especially political, homogeneity of the people. There should be a unity of rulers and those to be ruled, which ultimately excludes opposition as well as pluralism. One likes to refer to the constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt, who expressed his views in this regard with remarkable clarity: "Democracy requires ... first of all, homogeneity and, secondly - if necessary - the elimination or destruction of the heterogeneous ..." (Carl Schmitt, Die Geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heute Parliamentarism [1923/1926], Berlin 1991, p. 14). A dictatorship, understood in this way, would then be more democratic than parliamentarism, provided that it was based on mass acceptance, however definable.

Excursus: Ethnopluralism as a feature of the New Right

The "ethnopluralism" of the New Right is repeatedly mentioned as a special feature. However, this has long ceased to be a unique selling point of this intellectual trend, as the views meant can now be found in many areas of right-wing extremism. It is about the following: A devaluation of other cultures and peoples is officially rejected, because all cultures and peoples have the same value. Their relatives, however, would best be able to maintain their identity in their respective home countries, which in their supposedly own interest would make a corresponding return necessary. As a consequence, this view amounts to a "foreigners out" policy or would result in the formation of apartheid structures in the respective societies. In addition, not only the actors of the New Right, but also other protagonists of ethnopluralism cannot name any precise characteristics for classifying individuals in certain cultures.

Attitude to National Socialism and Neo-Nazism

Even if one can definitely identify ideological similarities, there is a distant attitude towards National Socialism and Neo-Nazism. There were already corresponding differences during the Conservative Revolution. However, these related more to habitus and strategy: the elitist intellectuals of the time wanted little to do with the intellectually simple SA street fighters. In Hitler, too, they saw less of a figure of light and more of a mass mobilizer. Ideologically, however, there were similarities, whereby the Conservative Revolution was more related to the state and the National Socialists more to the "race". The situation is similar in the present, where the Neue Reche wants to have little to do with the neo-Nazis, if only because of the difference in level and social behavior. In their reference to historical National Socialism, one sees a wrong orientation, in addition, less political sympathy points can be collected in the general public.

Extremism-theoretical assessment of the new right

In view of the appeal to the Conservative Revolution, which stands for "anti-democratic thinking in the Weimar Republic" (Kurt Sontheimer), the New Right with this orientation can be regarded as right-wing extremist. Against this, there is neither that she renounces violence, nor that she distances herself from National Socialism. Extremism means the rejection of the foundations of modern democracy and an open society, which becomes clear in the references to the aforementioned current in the history of ideas. A request to use force is just as unnecessary as a commitment to National Socialism. Contrary to widespread misinterpretations, both are only special manifestations of extremism; there can also be a purely intellectual de-legitimation of the foundations of the democratic constitutional state. This orientation is peculiar to the New Right and it is precisely in this that the potential danger for democracy and human rights, pluralism and the rule of law can be seen.

Representatives: What the New Right is

What is the New Right in terms of organizations and people? The "Institute for State Policy" is regarded as a kind of "think tank" of this intellectual movement, although it is a private, not a university institution. Since the name suggests the opposite, this clarification is necessary: ​​You are only dealing with a "manor" in Schnellroda. There is no more broadly developed organizational structure. Nevertheless, there is the related "Antaios-Verlag", the "Sezession" as a theory magazine, but also training and lecture events. The best-known actors such as Götz Kubitschek as the leading figure or Thor von Waldstein as the regular author and speaker can be assigned to the New Right. However, this does not apply to every author or lecturer, as one wants to have a broader impact on the majority society with one's ideas about conservatism. The journalist Karlheinz Weißmann also belongs to the New Right, despite his break with the "Institute for State Policy".

Excursus: Conflict in the New Right regarding party politics

To illustrate this, the conflict in the New Right regarding party politics must be addressed. The "Institute for State Policy" was founded jointly by Kubitschek and Weißmann in 2000 and they also headed the "Sezession" as a magazine. Then there was a break in 2014, which had political motives as well as personal reasons. These were related to the assessment of the AfD's electoral successes: while the “Junge Freiheit” and Weißmann promised themselves a longer-term political change from the party, the “Institute for State Policy” and Kubitschek saw the danger of adapting to the rejected system. Accordingly, the former distanced themselves from the Höcke wing of the party, while the latter oriented themselves in precisely this direction. Overall, however, there are fewer democratic theoretical or ideological differences, but more strategic and tactical differences, otherwise there would have been no such good cooperation before.

Misperceptions: What the New Rake Isn't

According to the above definition, certain organizations, people and publications do not belong to the New Right, even if they are repeatedly located in the media as follows: The Identitarian Movement refers to the ideas of the Conservative Revolution, but has an action-oriented approach and could at best are considered "New Rights on the Street". In newspapers like "Junge Freiheit" or magazines like "Cato" you can find authors and positions of the New Right. However, since there are also other views and representatives from the "right" political camp, they cannot be assigned across the board to the New Right. The same applies to well-known individual book authors such as Thilo Sarrazin, who does not refer to the ideas of the Conservative Revolution. It is the same with the AfD as a party and with Pegida as a movement, where the New Right can only be found on the fringes.


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