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 is a deep hatred of the westernization of Germany under the influence of the United States," and so forth. Naturally, this is perfect fodder for those who will always worry about Germany. Never mind that "Greater Germany," seven years after reunification, remains the Federal Republic writ large: placid, sluggishly centrist even in the face of Depression-level unemployment; embodied in all its normality by the heavy, slightly oafish figure of Helmut Kohl, chancellor since 1982; a state that instead of throwing its weight around keeps insisting on more European integration while walking very softly when it comes to carrying the stick of military power in places like Bosnia. In short, Germany is boring. But since so many suspect it, there must be another, the real, Germany hiding behind this implausibly friendly giant -- a country secretly polishing ye olde jackboots, dreaming of lost glory and new power, and ready to claim its No. 1 position loudly and insistently, with an Erich von Stroheim accent, of course.


Enter Heilbrunn. Whom does he trundle out to prove or insinuate the more enticing story? Let us take his favorite in the rogues' gallery of the German neo-right, a certain Herr Rainer Zitelmann. "The German new right," Heilbrunn writes, "does not have a politician like [the rightist Austrian populist] Jîrg Haider. What it has are intellectuals like Rainer Zitelmann of Die Welt, founded by newspaper magnate Axel Springer. Zitelmann is the impresario of the new right."

What Heilbrunn either does not know or fails to tell us is that Mr. Big, which he never was, is strictly yesterday. In 1993, when Heilbrunn apparently conducted, and concluded, much of his research -- you never quite know when the conversations he quotes took place -- Zitelmann might have looked like an "impresario." He was head of Die Welt's weekend culture section, which he purposely and insistently used as a platform for neo-rightist lore -- his own stuff and that of his comrades in the Fatherland-saving business. Too bad for the American reader that Heilbrunn does not bring the story up to date. For, alas, Zitelmann, the master intellectual, proved too much even for the editorial staff of the right-of-center daily. After 50 editors signed a petition against the paper's "slide to the right" under Zitelmann, the "impresario" was dismissed from his editorial position.

In due time, Manfred Geist, the editor in chief who had brought Zitelmann to Die Welt, was also relieved and replaced by a centrist, Thomas Lîffelholz. Heilbrunn's "impresario" of the new right was not fired outright, which is very hard to do under German labor law, but shunted into a staff position; when last heard from, he was apparently selling insurance on the side. So much for the multiplying tentacles of the new right.

Nor does the story end here. Like a metastasizing cancer, Heilbrunn wants us to believe, Zitelmann allegedly used his position in the media business to implant the right authors and their books into Germany's collective consciousness. Before his disastrous move to Die Welt, Zitelmann was an editor at Ullstein Verlag, a sterling name that goes back to the Jewish publishing family of the Weimar Republic. But in another misreading, Heilbrunn calls Ullstein Publishing at the time "mainstream" -- which is correct, if you are willing to call The Washington Times mainstream, too.

What Heilbrunn again either does not know or does not tell, lest it ruin his indictment, is that Ullstein was then co-owned by Herbert Fleissner, a rightist-conservative Sudeten German publisher who, in 1985, had fused his Langen-Muller with Springer's Ullstein in a joint holding called Ullstein-Langen-Muller Verlag. Deliberately testing the waters after reunification in 1990, Fleissner had allowed Zitelmann and his henchmen to publish a series of neo-nationalist, revisionist, and anti-left books -- as Fleissner had in 1981 published the glorification of the Waffen SS by memoir-writing "paleo-rightist" Franz Schonhuber, who would later become mini-fuhrer of the tiny right-wing Republikaner party. Here, in the middle of this budding trahison de clercs, we also find Karlheinz Weissmann, another central figure in Heilbrunn's panopticon of would-be Alfred Rosenbergs and Joseph Goebbelses, "young German historians" producing "a seemingly endless stream of books . . . that make for eyebrow-raising reading."

With Zitelmann's active connivance, Weissmann was indeed invited to write a book on the Nazi period for the distinguished PropylÑen German History series (PropylÑen, please note, had also been acquired by Fleissner in the Ullstein deal). The main thrust of the book is, as Heilbrunn correctly points out, that "in neither its intentions nor its actions did Nazi Germany differ from its enemies." Moreover, Weissmann declared that it was high time to "demystify Nazism" and to reach a "normalization" of historical understanding -- a German code word for finally burying the Nazi past. Naturally, this raised a storm of indignation in the press and among historians, but that was not the main moral of the tale.

The real point, again, one that Heilbrunn ignores lest it ruin his case, was the German reaction to the "re-reeducation" shenanigans of Zitelmann, Weissmann, et al. If this was a cancer, the German body politic soon unleashed powerful antibodies. In this case, the soi-disant right-wing Axel Springer Verlag, undoubtedly irked by the nasty publicity, took back both Ullstein and PropylÑen from Fleissner, effective January 1, 1996, dissolving the joint holding. A few months later, the Weissmann volume, which, according to Heilbrunn, had become a "sacred text" to the author's "new right followers," was expelled from PropylÑen's backlist.


So much for the attempt of the Zitelmanns to take over Germany. Nor does any of the other evidence Heilbrunn marshals buttress his indictment -- although the Zitelmann episode is his most grievous misreading of reality. He thinks that a new periodical, Die junge Freiheit (Young freedom), is the latter-day yuppie equivalent of Das Reich, the journal of the SS intelligentsia. According to Heilbrunn, the magazine has "strong financial backing from German industrialists." This will probably be news to its publishers and editors since Die junge Freiheit, in spite of its hip packaging of the neo-rightist message, is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is a bad bet to make it through 1997.

Let us move from these dreary details to the general point. It will take a lot more to budge present-day Germany from its sluggish centrist position than the Zitelmanns and Young Freedom fighters. Just look at the reception that greeted Harvard scholar Daniel Goldhagen in Germany last year. For 700 pages in the German translation of his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners, Goldhagen told the Germans, in so many words, that the Holocaust could only have happened in Germany because they were the way they were -- infected, alone among nations, by the bacillus of "eliminationist anti-Semitism," which turned annihilationist when the time was right. If Heilbrunn were even half right, 80 million Germans should have risen in violent protest against the impudent American Jew who would once more stick them with the notorious "German national character" thesis. Actually, much of the historical profession and many pundits tried to kill Hitler's Willing Executioners as early as April -- months before the translation would arrive on the German market in August. The critics branded it as "unoriginal," "sensationalist," "old hat" -- in short, "don't read."

But when Goldhagen showed up in Germany in September, his book promotion tour turned into a "triumphal procession," as the weekly Die Zeit called it. People came to blows over tickets to the panel discussions in which Goldhagen participated; the last one, in Munich, had to be moved from a medium-sized theater to the 2,500-seat hall where the Philharmonic performs. By Christmas, 165,000 copies had been sold -- more than in the United States, a market over three times as large.


Let's restate the basic point. Apart from not doing his homework, Heilbrunn is so utterly wrong on Germany because the old -- and admittedly very compelling -- theories on Germany no longer work. Germany, that enigmatic and brooding Bismarckian construction that belonged to neither East nor West, that tottering powerhouse that went off on a pathological course at the beginning of the twentieth century, that Germany is no more. Germany is now of and in the West, with a political system more liberal than France's and more decentralized than Britain's. It is ultra-stable and yet more capable of reform than France, Spain, or Italy. It is normal, and it is boring. And thank God for that.

To convict on Heilbrunn's indictment, a very different set of exhibits would have to be brought into court. First, where in Germany is a significant right-wing party -- like Haider's Free Democrats or Le Pen's National Front? It does not exist. The cynically misnamed Republikaners have been languishing for years around the two percent mark -- despite relentlessly rising unemployment.

Second, who is trying to make hay of Germany's alleged oppression by sinister forces that would exploit the country's Nazi past? Every once in a while, some politician pops up from this or that part of the legitimate party spectrum and tries to raise a flag against Brussels or the Euro. The message from the voters, over and over again, is this: Neo-nationalism does not pay, no matter how skeptical we are about the monetary union or the European Union's banana regulations.

Third, where is the soil on which such parties and politicos might flourish? That is the most important usual suspect who cannot be rounded up. The pied pipers' tunes of the 1920s and 1930s simply do not resonate in modern Germany because the underlying reality, the humiliation of 1919, is missing. How can anybody say "Brussels" and mean "Versailles" when European integration is the very framework of Germany's legitimacy and influence? How could anybody invoke "discrimination," as after 1919, when the world outside does not try to hold down German military power but positively begs Bonn to contribute forces for duty in Somalia, Bosnia, Zaire . . . How could anybody even begin to preach national reassertion in a world where 30 percent of Germany's GDP goes into exports and two-thirds of those go to the European Union?

The politics of resentment and nationalism does not work in a society that has come away with a powerful double lesson from the catastrophe of 1914-1945 and the benign 50 years that followed. When Germany went it alone, it reaped ever worse disaster; when Germany voluntarily accepted the ties of community and integration, it flourished beyond belief.


To his credit, Heilbrunn does not completely evade this rather basic insight. At the end of his piece, he writes: "To think of the new right as a new mass party, however, is a mistake. The new right is no cause for panic." But why does he spend the preceding 18 pages stoking panic with such insubstantial kindling? Why does he try to build an indictment on the basis of evidence that is so woefully out of date? If he had published this article as a piece of reportage in The New Republic in, say, 1993, it would still have been off the mark, but not as wildly errant as it was in late 1996.

An essay like Heilbrunn's should set off alarm bells in any editorial office. The story tries to reverse established wisdom on the basis of arbitrary, shoddy, indeed bizarre evidence (Who is Mr. Zitelmann?) that cannot quite be nailed down in time and space. Nor does the story discuss, let alone try to disprove, contrary evidence; instead it ignores the mountain in favor of the ugly little molehill. Yes, Germany could turn neo-nationalist and revisionist, but then Bill Clinton could take a vow of chastity, and Newt Gingrich could demand a 30 percent increase in welfare spending. In each case, the supporting evidence should, at a minimum, be equal to the enormity of the claim.


By Mark Lilla

By focusing his attention on books like Die selbstbewubetate Nation, newspapers like Junge Freiheit, editors like Rainer Zitelmann, and writers like Botho Strauss, Heilbrunn has performed a real service for his English-speaking readers. But perhaps in an attempt to inflate the new right's influence, he has misled his readers -- and perhaps himself -- by associating the movement's leaders with a number of other thinkers and writers who not only have nothing to do with the new right but actually represent an alternative to it.

Heilbrunn correctly links nationalist mystagogues like the dramatist Strauss to film director Hans Jurgen Syberberg and historian Ernst Nolte. But what conceivable connection can there be between these figures and writers like Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Martin Walser, let alone philosopher Hermann Lubbe, journalist Frank Schirrmacher, and -- most absurd of all -- the late social democratic politician Kurt Schumacher?

The first group represents a very old and deeply anti-Western element of German culture that was revived by the '68 left and is now being manipulated by the right. But the second group is highly critical of this old German mysticism, in whatever contemporary form it might take. Its members have made their peace (some later than others) with the idea of the German nation, not out of romantic inspiration but out of the sober realization that national feelings are a fact of political life, however unpleasant, and must be recognized if they are to be kept in check. None are anti-American.

Simply put, these two groups represent different historical, political, and -- this being Germany -- moral phenomena. To insist on distinguishing them is not to split hairs; it is absolutely essential to understanding the real political stakes in Germany's current intellectual debates.

Mark Lilla is an Associate Professor Of Politics at New York University.


By Michael Mertes

Heilbrunn's task was hardly simple. Describing the new right is like grabbing a wet bar of soap -- and a shrinking one at that. Never large to begin with, the movement's inner circle seems to have collapsed since its zenith in 1995. Although I agree with many of Heilbrunn's claims about the new right, he is wrong to state -- or even insinuate -- that Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt, Michael Wolffsohn, and Frank Schirrmacher are among its ranks.

Those who form the new right's inner circle are strongly opposed to Helmut Kohl's pro-Western foreign policy. In his 14 years in office, Kohl has made it clear that he stands for the irrevocable integration of the Federal Republic into the European-Atlantic community of nations. His firm commitment to European Monetary Union (EMU) is but the most recent example of his decidedly antinationalistic approach.

The problem facing the true core of the new right is that they lack everything required for political success: attractive personalities, a minimum of team spirit, a coherent party program, an effective party organization, and -- last but certainly not least -- voters. As far as I know, Manfred Brunner is the only true member of the new right ever to run for parliamentary office, and he failed miserably; running for the European Parliament as the leader of a party that fought, on nationalist grounds, against the imminent "abolition of the deutsche mark by the Euro," Brunner received only 1.1 percent of the vote -- hardly impressive.

Heilbrunn points to such facts with unmistakable clarity. Whatever his survey's shortcomings, it should not be interpreted as an argument that the second German Republic -- as so often alleged in past years and decades -- is preparing for the coming of the Fourth Reich. Such ugliness often lies not in the truth, but in the eye of the beholder, and I find no such ugliness in Heilbrunn.

Michael Mertes is Director-General for Political Analysis and Cultural Affairs at the Federal Chancellery in Bonn.


By Michael Wolffsohn

I have always thought that Foreign Affairs deals with fact rather than fiction. I may have been wrong. The way Jacob Heilbrunn described my own political positions and convictions had nothing to do with fact. It was pure fiction.

Heilbrunn calls me a "sympathizer" of people whom he describes as having "a deep hatred of the westernization of Germany under the influence of the United States." Those who have read my books or articles or know of my German-Jewish-Israeli biography are well aware of my bridge-building activities between Germany and the United States. My bi-weekly columns in Bild Zeitung, Germany's largest daily newspaper, stand as proof of this German-American-Jewish involvement.

Dr. Michael Wolffsohn is a Professor at the Historisches Institut at University der Bundeswahr Munchen in Munich.


By Michael Sturmer

Heilbrunn's article is based on sloppy research and comes to flimsy conclusions revealing little or no understanding of who's who in today's Germany. Instead of wondering why there is no significant German right, he concocts a conspiracy theory. And as he cannot prove his point through marginal figures, he adds some respectable names. I was not amused to find myself, along with Wolfgang SchÑuble, Hermann Lubbe, Michael Wolffsohn et al. accused and condemned as sympathizers of people whom Heilbrunn describes as being driven by "a deep hatred of the westernization of Germany under the influence of the United States."

I take exception to such nonsense inspired at best by hearsay, at worst by an attempt at moral assassination. I was interested to learn, for example, that Ernst Nolte, already well established when I was still a doctoral candidate, should have needed my tutoring and "followed up" my writing. I should also like to know precisely when and where, in the "mid-1970s," I fired broadsides against '68ers, permissiveness, and loss of pride in German history.

The reality was very different: Herman Lubbe and a few others, myself included, tried to save some sense and knowledge of history against the wilder proposals for school curricula pronounced, at the time, under the flag of anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism.

While Germany is struggling with unification and globalization, and promotes NATO expansion, EMU, and European integration, Heilbrunn is searching for sinister forces working behind the scenes to set the country adrift.

Michael Sturmer is a Professor at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Ebenhausen, Germany.


By Norman Birnbaum

It is difficult to understand why Heilbrunn attaches so much importance to the supposed antecedents of today's new right. Moving away from younger enthusiasms has characterized many generations since 1641, 1792, and 1917. Today's younger Germans are exceedingly unlikely candidates for steadfastness. Perhaps more could be learned by asking about the political choices of their parents -- and grandparents.

In any event, the peculiar combination of historical vacuity, narcissistic chauvinism, and provincial ressentiment they voice may not be quite as new as Heilbrunn supposes. The editorials on the right side of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's front pages have, for the past four decades or so, frequently expressed the same sentiments, if in rather less strident tones. Finally, Heilbrunn is a younger scholar and his trips to Germany have clearly been commendably ascetic. Had he spent much time in the front cabins of airliners talking with German business executives, he would have derived a rather more nuanced perspective of the originality of the views propounded by Germany's self-proclaimed new thinkers.

Norman Birnbaum is University Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.


Josef Joffe is frantically defending something I never attacked. Nowhere in my article did I say that German democracy was in peril or that figures such as Rainer Zitelmann would "take over Germany." On the contrary, in my first paragraph I emphasized that despite numerous warnings after the fall of the Berlin Wall that a reunified Germany would begin to flex its muscles, the "Bonn political elite . . . has been remarkably resistant to change." Far from issuing an "indictment" of Germany, as Joffe puts it, I attempted to place the followers of the new right in their proper context by calling them "heretics." And far from wanting readers to "believe" anything about post-reunification Germany, I stressed the ambiguous character of the new right and attempted to offer a dispassionate account of the impassioned intellectual debates over national identity and pride.

Joffe will have none of this. To expose my story as hopelessly outdated and based on inept research, he singles out my depictions of Zitelmann and Karlheinz Weissmann. Joffe would have us believe that Zitelmann is a cowed figure. But when I spent the month of January 1996 researching my article, Zitelmann continued to write for Die Welt, attracted attention in newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Zeit, and remained a guru for members of the new right. I find it difficult to share Joffe's description of the Ullstein publishing house as ever having been beyond the "mainstream"; the firm has always published hundreds of books on a variety of topics. Joffe also maintains that the deletion of Weissmann's book, The Way Into the Abyss, from the PropylÑen list has put paid to his revisionist pretensions. But Weissmann's efforts were recently defended by Germany's leading political scientist, Arnulf Baring of the Free University Berlin, who has himself moved from the left to neoconservatism, in an essay in the right-wing weekly Welt Am Sonntag.

I would argue that the public profile of the new right remains higher than Joffe is willing to acknowledge. Indeed, though Joffe claims the new right was finished in 1993, the movement had its most spectacular success with a publication of an appeal in April 1995 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung denouncing the liberal German media for its "one-sided" focus on German surrender on May 8, 1945, as an act of liberation.

Finally, Joffe invokes the popular reception in Germany of Daniel Goldhagen's egregious book to argue that if I were "even half right," the German people should have risen en masse in protest against it. Once more, Joffe grossly exaggerates the depth of nationalist sentiment that I attributed to most Germans. If Goldhagen's tour of Germany showed anything, it was that German youths were all too ready to place themselves retroactively on the "good" side of history by embracing an American Jewish author's blanket condemnation of their forefathers and by transforming him into a media star.

As Michael Wolffsohn's letter indicates, the last thing most German neoconservatives want is to be linked in any way with the new right. But what is one supposed to think when this self-described "German-Jewish patriot," writing in the July 17, 1994, Hamburger Abendblatt, announces that "no smelly old-right stench wafts around Karlheinz Weissmann, Brigitte Seebacher-Brandt . . . Botho Strauss and others. . . . They are not resigned and defensive. They are unbelievably and unusually offensive, rebellious conservatives. . . . The spirit today is on the right: right-democratic."

I am, however, sorry to see that Michael Sturmer, who has been criticized by new right figures for his staunch Atlanticism, took umbrage at my reference to his calls for a robust German national identity. To take just one example, in an essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on April 25, 1986, entitled "History in a history-less land," Sturmer observed that "loss of orientation and the search for identity are brothers. But anyone who believes that this has no effect on politics and the future ignores the fact that in a land without history whoever supplies memory, shapes concepts, and interprets the past will win the future."

Sturmer was right. A battle has begun to take place on the intellectual level over German national identity. To describe this battle is not tantamount to blotting the escutcheon of the Federal Republic. What is Joffe so frightened of? German democracy is strong enough to survive the new right.

Jacob Heilbrunn is an Associate Editor at The New Republic.

Josef Joffe is Editorial Page Editor and a columnist at Suddeutsche Zeitung and an associate at Harvard's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies.

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