Is forever a myth

Social context

Heidi Hein-Kircher

To person

Dr. phil., born 1969; Head of the "Science Forum" department at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe - Institute of the Leibniz Association, Gisonenweg 5–7, 35037 Marburg. [email protected]

The cultural scientist Claus Leggewie, in view of what he considers to be an inadequate European identity, soberingly states that the European Union "forgot to tell its citizens a functioning story". [1] This quote points out that politically constituted communities need a unifying bond, above all through collective identity. Such a feeling of "we" and togetherness does not inevitably arise, but only after a need for this through a "functioning story" - which explains why one should feel as a community - has been developed. The culture of remembrance plays an important role here, because such "functioning stories" are conveyed through their respective elements. The latter is understood to be diverse, but also historically and culturally variable concepts and practices that belong to the basic forms of human socialization because they integrate them, create coherence and legitimation. Therefore, especially for modern societies that are neither religiously nor classically legitimized, cultures of remembrance are of immense importance, [2] because through them a large social group perceived as a community of fate can represent and explain itself. [3]

Political myths are an important element of cultures of remembrance because they are called Meaning generators work for a politically constituted community. Every large social group therefore has a certain repertoire of political myths, which is adapted to the respective circumstances in the course of socio-political changes and can be activated depending on the social situation. This also applies to democratically constituted societies, so that the frequently expressed idea that political myths are a characteristic of societies that are not democratically constituted is a mistake. As will be shown below, "German myths" are constitutive for "social cohesion" in Germany.

First of all, it should be noted that the analysis of political myths does not question the individual events or people, but rather analyzes the narrative handling of the treated event or the transfigured person and its development from a historical perspective. She questions this mythically interpreted narration with a view to its functions for a society; But she does not want to question or even denounce personal fates and feelings. Based on this premise, a brief theoretical foundation is followed by considerations on the development and change of "German myths". A comprehensive list and presentation is deliberately omitted here. Rather, an attempt is made to contribute to the understanding of "German identity" on the basis of "German myths" understood as examples.

Even if "myth" is used extensively and with little reflection in today's linguistic usage, a political myth must be clearly defined. In contrast to the religious, which has a transcendental component, "political myth" can be defined as a stereotyped, solidified image of history and at the same time as an emotionally connoted narrative to explain the origins and founding of a large social group. [4] A myth is therefore always a political one when it relates to a political community of whatever structure and defines its development and nature: "Against the background of past experiences, political myths explain current and social problems and derive binding statements and goals from them for the community from and (represent) the older and / or more recent past selectively (...) and idealizing "[5]. Since the past is thus" read mythically "[6], political myths are based on a historical core, but transfigured Events and developments in terms of the intended communicative goals.

In doing so, they refer to the "eternal struggle between good and bad", [7] which leads to a demarcation between what is one's own and what is foreign. The remembered events are greatly simplified, sharpened to the respective message and idealized by masking out inappropriate aspects. In this way, what is difficult to explain can be clearly understood by every member of a community - only in this way can the mythical narration create meaning and provide orientation.

While places of remembrance (lieux de mémoire) above all evoke associations and represent a collection of very different, non-targeted narratives, are political myths "(coined) on the political-social occurrence and (give) this occurrence a specific meaning", [8] from which essentially legitimizing, integrating and Functions that convey coherence on the one hand, but communicative and mobilizing functions on the other hand, can be derived, which are to be contextualized and differentiated in detail. As a result of the meaning and orientation function, political myths experience economic boom in phases of social uncertainty, in upheaval and crisis phases that are accompanied by social integration, identity and legitimation deficits. The myth repertoire can be described as a social "performance exhibition" [9]. As a result, the messages of political myths point to the sensitivities of the powers that be in society, because they not only convey an image of history, but also values ​​and views.

Political myths are changeable because of their semantic structure, so that their narration can be adapted to the respective circumstances. They are based on analogous basic patterns, with the exact content structure depending on the respective context in order to be understood. Because if the target group, i.e. the members of the respective society, is not familiar with the narrative core, the myth cannot develop its communicative and mobilizing power. They must therefore be firmly anchored in the collective memory, [10] in that, for example, monuments, political symbols (such as postage stamps) and paintings visualize them, political celebrations rewrite them in a ritualized manner and use them in different ways and at different intellectual levels, for example through street names, literature, school and history books, as well as being narrative paraphrased by films They can only develop their effect if they are undisputed within the large social group. For this it is important that the myth makers and promoters have the power of interpretation, which in turn can only be exercised by those who have political leadership. Counter-narratives to the "official" narrative were able to establish themselves in their own group (for example in the labor movement), but they have not found an anchoring in the general repertoire of myths - but they clearly show how coherent or divided a society is.