What is the French term for thought

Right-wing populism

Jörg Himmelreich

is a political scientist and journalist. He held various positions at international level, including on the Foreign Office's planning staff. He worked as an EU expert on the Georgia conflict in 2008 and lectured as a visiting professor at the University of California in San Diego. He studied history as well as law and political science in Freiburg, Cologne, Bonn and London. Himmelreich publishes regularly on international political topics (Russia, Europe and India), among others in the magazine "Internationale Politik", the NZZ and the Deutschlandradio Kultur.

A return to the nation is taking place worldwide, including in Germany. Jörg Himmelreich deals with the past and present of the word in his contribution. And also examines the ethnic nationalism of the AfD.

The 10.5 meter high and 32 ton heavy figure of Germania is enthroned on March 27, 2013 on the base of the Niederwald monument near Rüdesheim am Rhein (Hesse). The Niederwald monument commemorates the victory over France in 1870/1871 and the resulting re-establishment of the German Empire. The monument, inaugurated on September 16, 1877, was built according to the designs of the sculptor Johannes Schilling and the architect Karl Weißbach. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Worldwide, a new political return to the nation is spreading not only in the autocracies of China and Russia, but also in the states of western free democracies in the European Union (EU) and in the USA. This rediscovery of the nation as the ideal of a social domestic and international order - hereinafter referred to as nationalism - opposes the liberal achievements of open, free democracies and a multilateral, interdependent globalization. The political culture of the Federal Republic, which after the Second World War initially seemed to be purified because of the lessons of German national megalomania in the 20th century, is no longer immune to a renaissance of a new German nationalism, as the right-wing populist influx of AfD and Pegida shows.

In the following, the change in meaning of the term "nation" in German history (I) will be examined briefly in order to analyze against this historical background (II) which understanding of the nation AfD and Pegida are and why they are so successful with it; (III) Finally, their right-wing populist understanding of the term is to be classified and evaluated in the history of the term.

Origins and Changes in the Concept of Nation

The term nation was used for the first time in the course of the efforts to reform the empire and the church in the second half of the 15th century as a fighting term for the imperial class and imperial church opposition to the universal powers of emperor and pope. [1] When Emperor Friedrich III. At the so-called "Turkish Reichstag" in Regensburg in May 1454, the assembled imperial estates requested by his envoy Piccolomini to support the crusade against the Turks, they initially opposed this by asking the emperor to first restore internal order in the empire - "das Reich und Teutsch gezunge ... put in order ..." - before they could support him in his universal duties. The particular German-speaking nation - "Teutsch gezunge" - is distinguished from the universal empire of the emperor and at the same time appeared as the nation that actually supports the empire. [2] According to this opposition, national, domestic-German reform issues have priority over the struggle against the Turks as a universal interest of the emperor. Almost at the same time, the Archbishop of Mainz complained through his Chancellor Mayr in Rome in 1457 about a thousand regulations that had been thought up in the Roman chair in order to pull the money out of the Germans' pockets, and so their "once famous nation" who "passed through." her bravery and her blood - everything for (author's note) - acquired the Roman Empire "and now made a slave and paid tribute. This shows how much Luther's later Reformation represented not only a theological but also a German national rebellion against the Roman universal church rule of the Pope; It was not for nothing that he translated the Bible into German and titled a text entitled "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation" on "Christian Standes Improvement". [3] Conversely, the imperial propaganda soon grasped the political attraction of appeals to the "Teutsche nacion" and justified its personal and material demands on the imperial estates by saying that they thus "contributed to the establishment and rescue of the Tutscher nacion". From a universal Reich perspective, the term "Teutsche nacion" creates a unifying, patriotic identity. The political reference to the "Teutsche nacion" is already at the time of its creation an expression of oppositional particular interests versus transnational universal interests on the one hand, but on the other hand it also integrates individual parts of the empire.

At the same time, the scholarly world of the empire at that time rediscovered the historiographical writing "Germania" by Tacitus, which describes "Germanic peculiarities". It offers a historical bridge of tradition with which an academic German understanding of the nation sees itself as a successor to Germania. This gives the concept of the German nation a cultural appreciation that goes beyond the purely political. [4] The compromise formula of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" of the constitutional literature at the time attempts this particular mixture of individual political issues units to describe a German nation under the umbrella of an overall empire that goes beyond the German nation as the final judicial and judicial instance - a constitutional formula for an empire that only perished in the Napoleonic Wars in 1806.

As this closer examination of its emergence in the second half of the 15th century shows, the concept of the nation contains essential, formative features from the start that have not lost their relevance to this day: particular opposition to universal, today: global interests in order; Governmental appeals to a German national integration function to safeguard trans- or supranational interests - "Europe is in Germany's interest" - and the assertion of its own national linguistic ("Teutsch gezunge") and cultural dignity. [5]

With the deepening of the religious dichotomy and the politicization of confessional conflicts in the phase from the Reformation to the Thirty Years War, the concept of the nation loses its integrative power. [6] Denominational differences are more important than national affiliations. "Cuius regio, cuius religio" (whose government, whose religion) is the regulatory principle of the peace treaties of Augsburg in 1555 and, after the Thirty Years' War, of Münster and Osnabrück in 1648. In the world of states created according to this principle of order, state affiliation is determined by the religion of the ruler, not by national characteristics.

It was not until the second half of the 18th century that the concept of the nation was revived among the rising, learned and educated bourgeois strata - certainly also as an emancipation from the still corporate nobility - in culture through "national theater" and "national education". German national theaters are built in Hamburg (1767), Mannheim (1777), Berlin (1786) and Weimar (1791). In 1792 Wilhelm von Humboldt pleaded for an education by the nation, which he understood as a community of free citizens opposed to the state. This demand already reflects the revolutionary upheaval emanating from the revolution in France. Herder founded the idea of ​​a cultural nation in Germany, which is connected by similar attitudes, spirit and soul and of course the same language. Such a cultural nation does not need any external union to form a state: "States ... can be overwhelmed, but the nation lasts." [7]

The political realization of the nation in a nation state began with the American Revolution through the declaration of independence from the British motherland in 1776 and through the French Revolution in 1789. In Washington the "Founding Fathers", a small class of American intellectuals, the "Founding Fathers" protested from the thoughts of the European enlightenment of inalienable, universal, basic civil rights for every single citizen inspired, against the London colonial power and monarchy, which did not care a bit about the concerns of scattered English settlements in the New World. The various American founding states were united by the idea of ​​breaking away from the British colonial empire and understanding them as a new American democratic and republican nation. In the Paris Revolution, the Third Estate overthrew the king by demanding "Liberté, E’galité, Fraternité" for all citizens of a French nation. In both revolutions, as, of course, with Herder, the nation was an artificial, abstract construction of academically educated intellectuals. [8] Because, in fact, large parts of the population, especially in Germany, identify with completely different loyalties, such as family, linguistic dialect and local and regional, social and cultural environment. The political recourse to an intellectually imagined nation served a growing bourgeois self-confidence to dissolve monarchical loyalty obligations of the people to the emperor and king. It was supposed to legitimize political power anew, just nationally. Since the "nation" was an artificial, intellectual construction for the legitimation of rule, like a "substitute religion" [9], the conceptual content of nation and that which is national also adapts flexibly to the respective domestic and foreign policy needs. [10 ] As a "substitute religion", such an exaggerated concept of the nation sometimes justifies a messianic delusions of happiness to impose values ​​of one's own understanding of the nation on others; this is peculiar to the US understanding of nations [11], but also in phases to the German one. [12] For the superiority of a nation over other groups in a state and to claim territorial claims in foreign policy, "national" traditions are constructed far back in time, as recently with the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

In Germany, the idea of ​​the nation, inspired by the French Revolution, led to a political current, nationalism, which, alongside liberalism, had a decisive influence on German and European history in the 19th century. [13] The state that emerged from the Westphalian treaties of 1648 with a clearly defined territory on which political rule over the population resides there by protecting them externally against foreign powers and internally responsible for peace and security is no longer solely monarchically legitimized , but now also nationally. The exaggeration of the idea of ​​the nation in Europe and its ideological abuse by fascism and national socialism lead to the two world wars and their catastrophes in the 20th century. The right of peoples to self-determination previously proclaimed by US President Wilson in his 14-point program determined the Versailles Peace Treaty a few months after the end of the First World War in 1919. This right to self-determination also contributes to the fact that the decline of three empires - the Habsburg multi-ethnic state, the Ottoman Empire and the Tsarist Empire - gives rise to a large number of secession conflicts after the war, because many populations demand their own sovereign statehood on the basis of a nationally understood right to self-determination. In the decolonization of Asia and Africa after the Second World War, former British and French colonies founded their own states, whose political rule was legitimized nationally.

The territorial state and its territorially limited rulership of the state system of the Westphalian Treaties of 1648, with its now national legitimacy, become the determining political order model of political societies worldwide. This national legitimation is still valid today, despite all the supranational transfers of sovereignty that modify it, such as in the European Union, and despite all global, state and non-state mutual dependencies. [14]

In West German post-war history, the concept of the nation is largely de-legitimized in public political discourse after its ideological abuse by National Socialism. As a divided nation, a national German reunification was formally anchored as a goal in the preamble of the German Basic Law of 1949. In fact, however, the clear priority of integrating the West German state into the West over German reunification determined West German post-war policy from the Adenauer government until the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989 - a policy that at least at the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany was adopted by Kurt Schuhmacher, the opposition leader of the SPD, was seen as the task of the reunification of the German nation. [15] In the Bonn Republic a "negative nationalism" [16] dominated the intellectual discourse, according to which the German nation in the 19th and 20th centuries went through a "special German path" [17] which reached an extreme in the so-called Third Reich, - so Martin Walser 1988. [18] In the ideological competition between the two German states for the true legal succession of the German Reich, the GDR found it easier to fall back on national traditions of German history, including the reformer Martin Luther and the peasant wars, in order to legitimize the socialist rule of the SED also historically.

It is an irony of history that the peaceful revolution of November 9, 1989 and with it the reunification of the divided German nation with the demand for the ostracized fourth line of the GDR hymn from Becher - "Germany, united fatherland" - from large parts of the GDR -Population, and less from the majority of the intellectuals of the GDR.

The völkisch nationalism of the AfD

In the preamble of its basic program of May 1, 2016, the AfD acknowledges "wanting to preserve the historical-cultural identity of our nation and a sovereign Germany as the nation-state of the German people". [19] The historical-cultural identity of a nation arises from the canon of values ​​that a population connects with the identity of their nation. This varies in the subjective perception of each individual and is subject to the change of time. In a modification of Nietzsche's question: "What is German?" be straight to always be on their search. [20] The concept of a "sovereign Germany as a nation-state of the German people" as used in the AfD's basic program returns to the understanding of a German nation-state of the early 19th century and ignores the multiple restrictions on sovereignty of every nation-state of the 21st century through international treaties, through membership in international ones Organizations and around the EU and through mutual economic, trade and financial dependencies. In this respect, the AfD's confession is nothing more than a long-gone copy from a poetry album of the 19th century. As the basic program cited above relates its concept of the nation state to the "German people", this term receives a folkish connotation from the pan-German movement at the end 19th century - "Germany for the Germans" [21]. How close this völkisch definition of the AfD's concept of nation comes close to National Socialist racism is made clear by the sentence of the deputy AfD federal chairman, Alexander Gauland, that he understands the people who do not want the football player Boateng as a neighbor. Later he distanced himself by pointing out that he did not want to offend Boateng, whose "successful integration and Christian creed" he was aware of. [22] Boateng was born in Berlin as the son of a German mother and grew up with German as his mother tongue, but as the son of a Ghanaian father, he was not as "pure German blood" as the "thoroughbred" Gauland, and therefore "dirty" the other "thoroughbred" neighborhood of Boateng in Munich-Bogenhausen - this is the only way to understand the subtext of Gauland's statement sublimated in the well-known AfD perfidy.

With such a national concept of nation, the AfD and other right-wing extremist political groups exclude many Germans as not belonging to the nation. There are parallels here to National Socialist ideas. Unconstitutionality would, however, be difficult to determine through the legal process, [23] because this ethnic concept of nation is never explicitly explained, but rather, formally and superficially, does not completely exclude other possibilities of interpretation.Top representatives of the AfD have now developed a professional sophistication, with the corresponding media excitement through unspoken but unmistakable allegations, to establish an in itself unconstitutional national concept of nation in public political discourse.

Renaissance of a "German Nation" as a cultural nation

Even if many AfD sympathizers do not perceive the national component of the party's concept of nation, a renaissance of the concept of a "German nation" can be seen far beyond their circle [24] - despite all the further difficulties in determining what is now "German" is. In a present that can hardly be understood by many people in its globality and complexity and with at the same time dwindling or changing ecclesiastical [25] and family identities [26], it offers above all - but not only - the voters and sympathizers of the AfD a return to one traditional concept of nation of the 19th century a final anchor of identity. The AfD has great support from workers and the unemployed, but also from the bourgeois camp, it mainly includes men, especially younger and middle-aged - at least in the three state elections in Baden Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt on March 13, 2016 In the state elections in Mecklenburg - Western Pomerania on September 2, 2016 (AfD: 20.8%), older men outnumbered AfD voters [27]. In the Berlin House of Representatives elections, the AfD also wins in the well-off bourgeois districts of Berlin. [28] Despite all the social, economic, regional and age-related differences, the AfD is particularly attractive to protest voters who are dissatisfied with the way democracy works and who are disappointed with the established parties. [29] Not only a fear of relegation had contributed to the strengthening of the AfD, but also the loss of national identity. [30] A "New Right" [31] is based on the traditional concept of nation of the 19th century, whose political ideas on the right of the CDU and CSU relate the right-wing extremist ideologies of a "conservative revolution" of the Weimar Republic to the present. With Sarrazin's book "Germany abolishes itself" in 2010, a representative of the establishment with its crude justifications for the genetic superiority of Europeans over Turkish and Arab Muslims found right-wing conservative niche groups for the first time in the broad public German political discourse [32]. The book, which was sold for several months as a bestseller and had a circulation that is unusual for a non-fiction book, appealed to different, insecure groups in society who were affected by angry protest against changing topics (democracy, parties, press, euro, refugee policy) and a subjectively perceived loss of national identity united [33].

Two historical patterns in particular revive the concept of a nation. As in the late Middle Ages against the universal interests of the emperor and pope, the concept of a nation is used today as a fighting term against any supranational and now global, supposed foreign determination, whether against the euro crisis or against the EU refugee policy or against democratic deficits in the EU. "Powerlessness through globalization" is the watchword. [34] Second, the "nation as a substitute religion" is once again conveying a substitute identity in a modern age in which church and family identities continue to dwindle for some people. The worldwide renaissance of the concept of the nation in the USA, China, India, Russia and Europe shows how globalized the world, nationalism and its causes are, although it may initially come as a surprise that the Federal Republic is no longer of this, despite German history free is. From the growing public discussion of the concept of nations and the electoral successes of the AfD [35] it can be seen that some German citizens seem to need a national identity in addition to a European identity and that of a global citizen, which is not just about enthusiasm for the German one Soccer team contented.

The concept of "constitutional patriotism" [36] offered for this need for national identity was only an intellectual escape from the categories of national political thinking towards a "post-national society. [37] For the former Federal Constitutional Court judge and important constitutional law teacher Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde was that Constitutional patriotism was nothing more than a “pale seminar thought.” [38] At the same time, this professors' discourse [39] was a symptom of how far a detached intellectual discourse in the Federal Republic before and after reunification diverged from the political opinion of the electorate This discrepancy is similar to the one previously described in the GDR. The peak of this gap between intellectuals and citizens was the statement by the Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass in his poetics lecture in February 1990 that Auschwitz prohibits reunification [40] - for a former Members d the Waffen-SS made a remarkable statement. The extent to which the denial and suppression [41] of such a need for national identity in the academic and media discourse of the Bonn Republic of the 1970s and 1980s is also responsible for the renaissance of the German concept of nation cannot be further discussed here.


In the face of such a challenge to the concept of a nation by right-wing populists, how could the nation be understood in a new and different way today? Only when it is possible to expand the political concept of nation again in the sense of a Herderian cultural nation - and at the same time to fight every slightest bond to a völkisch nationalism with all means - can the so narrow, completely subjective worldview that of the current renaissance of the German "Nation concept" is based, the objective reality can be approximated. Because this is shaped by an unprecedented global and supranational interdependence and the resulting necessary restrictions on state sovereignty, which every citizen uses and values ​​as a matter of course today, among other things through global communication, travel and shopping. Only when the German concept of nation as a political battle concept is given up and once again understood as a cultural nation, expanded in terms of cultural history, can one recognize which European, integrative understanding of the world the concept of the German cultural nation was originally based on. Because then the German cultural nation will again, according to Thomas Mann, "a Germany as a self-confidently serving member of a self-consciously united Europe." [42] The diversity of the numerous European cultural nations is what defines the wealth and global appeal of a politically united Europe. A unity of every nation is thus surmounted by a unity of Europe. The German geographical location in the middle of Europe and the centuries-long, small-state fragmentation of the "belated nation" [44] predestine a German cultural nation for the integration of the European continent. [45] Current political tendencies to possibly readjust the balance between German and European identity, between nation-state and European supranationality, do not detract from their close, mutual dependence.