Jacob Heilbrunn's account of the rising New Right in Germany reminds you of those prefab tales that America's European detractors like to serve up to the choir back home after a quick sweep through the country ("Germany's New Right," November/ December 1996). Grab a few income statistics purporting to show that the rich are getting richer while the poor, what else, are getting poorer; visit a public school in the Bronx and conclude that nobody can read but everybody packs a piece; turn a pile of garbage into a towering symbol of urban decay; use a panhandler on 42nd and 8th as Exhibit A for America's mounting homeless crisis; finally, add some quotes from a leftish U.S. columnist inveighing against bigotry and injustice, and what do you get? A cheap indictment of the United States that "proves" what readers in your target audience have always "known": the United States is barbaric. Pandering to prejudices, such a piece will cast as much light on America's central realities as a trip to the garbage dump will teach people about a country's museums, colleges, literature, and economic system.
The events and names Heilbrunn uses are part of a tale that just might have had a sliver of reportorial credibility three years ago. But to a reader who knows a bit about Germany, these 19 pages about Rainer Zitelmann, Botho Strauss, or the Historikerstreit now seem like 9,000 words on the 1993 Kentucky Derby. If you are an aficionado, you may still remember a few of the losing horses, but reading about them today as if they were the grandsons of Secretariat leaves you scratching your head.
What does Heilbrunn want us to believe about post-reunification Germany? "A change is taking place in Germany, not at the political but at the intellectual level . . . A profound move to the right has been taking place among Germany's best-known novelists . . . The German new right consists not of skinheads in jackboots but journalists, novelists, professors, and young lawyers . . . Underlying new right positions
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