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Dear readers,

Living without the notion of borders had been self-evident in Europe for hundreds of years. Passports, as we know them today, were introduced in 1920 and meant to be dismissed later. At the time, borders separated cultural, linguistic, religious or geographical spaces but they were never political. In contrast, we perceive national borders as normal in the modern world – just like the fact that some people need a visa to travel to other countries, while others do not. As the last year has shown: Nationalism, accompanied by a desire to recreate and control borders, is still widespread. Nevertheless, states, such as passports, are a construct. We are all tempted to link our cultures to states. However, border regions such as Alsace demonstrate that cultural and national borders are not necessarily congruent.

In conversation with 42, developmental psychologist Ulrich Schmidt-Denter explains that psychological stability correlates positively with social identification and national pride. However, these psychological and social factors become problematic if the construct of the nation is glorified and misused with the objective to isolate nations from each other. This phenomenon also emerges in the context of the New Right, the so-called ‘Identitarian’ movement, as political scientist Gudrun Hentges elaborates on the movement’s ideological background. If nation-states are mere constructs, are there no other models to be developed, determining new ways in which we live together in democracies? Ulrike Guérot, professor of European politics, illustrates alternative visions to the nation-state in the last of ten interviews in this second issue of 42 Magazine.

Since the active exchange of ideas across borders is of particular importance to us, we are happy to see the international team of 42 Magazine constantly growing. With the launch of the second issue, we are also proud to introduce two new features: We are convinced that online journalism has to be paid for: At the same time, we want to keep 42 accessible to everyone. Therefore, we decided to introduce a new payment model: “Pay what you want”. Every reader of 42 only has to pay as much as they want, or can afford. Furthermore, as we wish to offer you a visual treat, from now on, every issue will be published in cooperation with one artist. In this issue, we are honoured to introduce you to photographer Hiro Matsuoka, our first artist to contribute a photographic series to 42.

As the editor in chief, I hope that you will enjoy this second issue of 42, the profound insights into the topic of nationalism and, following up, exciting and controversial debates.

All the best,

Lena Kronenbürger, Editor in Chief


Nationalism in Europe

„We have to overcome the connection between nation and democracy.”

Interview with Prof Dr Ulrike Guérot, professor for European Politics and Democracy at Donau-Universität Krems

Has the nation state had its day? And what happens next? Political scientist Prof. Dr Ulrike Guérot outlines a Europe of the future: with strong regions and a democracy. In this interview it is discussed what our life in 2045 in the European Republic might look like and why we are currently in a historical moment.

Prof Dr Guérot – the elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria in 2017 outline a trend towards nationalistic thinking and acting. Is this a sign of divisions within these countries or is Europe as a whole falling apart?

I think it is indicative of a rift in European society and not within the single countries. We are being told that we are experiencing a renationalisation, but that is not true. There are large parts of society that cannot be renationalised, that are not susceptible to national and populist arguments. These parts of society exist in Ireland, Great Britain, France and Germany – just everywhere. The media looks at the populist threat and then claims, for instance, that Poland has now become renationalised.

So it is not that simple?

No. I was in Warsaw in October 2017. You cannot say that the whole of Poland is being renationalised. There is a lot of resistance in civil society against the new judicial reforms. The PiS government has the ambition to move the country to the right, but at the same time you have to see that half of the population is fighting back.

So there are two camps in Poland. How can this situation be transferred to the whole of Europe?

My argument is that we are not experiencing a renationalisation, but a politicisation of Europe, which is expressed in a right-left-divide. We can measure the swing to the right in different countries, since it is partly organised transnationally. But we can also see the societal countermovement. It is not the first time in history that we are at a point where we can experience a civil society that has started to organise itself transnationally against burgeoning nationalism. For example, I feel more of an attachment to a Polish woman protesting against abortion laws, than to a German who is a member of Pegida. I think a lot of people feel this way.

How should European civil society deal with this politicisation?

We are experiencing a historic moment in history. Stephan Zweig describes this in a very fitting way: It is the preserve of contemporaneity to understand the great historical movement it is part of. This is because we can only grasp it when the movement is over, and we can look back and maybe say: “Those were the years when the Europeans abolished the nation-state. The mood was a bit uneasy and it scared a lot of people, but in the end, they made it.” To conceptualise this reflection as a historic process is the task of the day. Thus, we must brace ourselves against, to say it in simple terms, a repeat of the film from 100 years ago and thereby become nationalised again.

Why does the desire for nationalisation resurface in history?

There are a lot of sociological and historical theories that attempt to answer this question. The French sociologist Michel Dobry says that when societies come under stress, they go through a regression to the last state of “the normal”. This is exactly what is happening right now: As a society, we suffer stress. Globalisation, modernisation processes, refugees, all of these complex issues are happening too fast and we do not understand them properly. In stressful moments like these, when society is faced with great challenges, it is unable to face them and recoils from conflict. This means that society falls back to the last level of its comfort-zone. And that is why we long for the nice, homely nation-state. Marine Le Pen dreams of the “France profonde” while the “Alternative für Deutschland” dreams of the Federal Republic of Germany before 1989. This so-called regression is a reaction to the inability to respond to the chaos of the crisis by longing for the preceding historical state that seems familiar. An important question is whether we are only falling back to the last level of comfort because of acute societal stress that we can pin down to different causes like, for instance, modernisation, or whether the Euroscepticism of today is anchored in periods before our time. The question is therefore whether there are deep historical streams of “longue durée”, that is societal stratifications and processes, which make the Europe we wish for, the one European democracy, impossible.

Does this mean that some people take refuge in the idea that we are best off in the familiar nation-state?

Indeed, we have the illusion that we were doing really well in the nation-state at some point. This illusion is of course merely nice and homely in hindsight. Every generation has its crisis. That is precisely what makes populism so absurd. Populism fosters the nostalgic idea that at some point in the past, everything was good for everybody, but in fact that has never been the case. Every societal system has its price. It is just not always the same people who pay for the system. That is what we tend to forget when telling the story. In regression, it seems like everything was fancy and nice for everyone in a different system.

“Europe means the overcoming of nation-states. “


In conjunction with Robert Menasse, who received the German Book Prize for his novel “Die Hauptstadt” in 2017, you have written a manifesto for the foundation of a European Republic. This manifesto envisages a federation of regional entities without national ‘in between’ authorities. Hence, the nation-state would have had its day. Many people see you as utopists. How realistic is your idea of the European Republic?

To those people who call Robert Menasse and me utopists, one would have to reply in an analogy that Jean Monnet and Walter Hallstein were also utopists, just like all the others that were thinking about Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. A utopia is always only a utopia until things are just done. During the war, people had a longing for peace, a longing for Europe, and a longing for transnationality. At some point, a Europe was designed that had the overcoming of nation-states as its goal. You have to remember this. Especially nowadays, in a time when we are being told that we are becoming renationalised and that the nation as the only comfort-zone for social safety is indispensable. After all, it must be possible for us to stop figuratively bashing our heads in as nation-states and instead see ourselves as one political unit on this continent. That is why Robert Menasse and I want to convey clearly, from a scientific and artistic standpoint, that Europe means the overcoming of nation-states. In a European Republic, nobody would have to fear losing their identity or becoming a second-class European, because all Europeans would be equal before the law. The regions offer identity, home, decentralised structures and participation, i.e. an identitarian comfort-zone.

It is 2045 and the European Republic has become a reality. What do our lives look like in the European Republic? Are there still countries like Germany and France?

Things never work out the way you think they will. I have tried to reflect on the possibilities through in my book. I have outlined a relatively American political model, in which we have 50 to 55 regions, for example, Flanders, Bavaria or Catalonia, which seem rather obvious. These regions would have about eight to 15 million inhabitants and we federalise, à la Montesquieu, small units into one big unit: the European Republic. There would be two senators each per region. Furthermore, as European citizens, we would be equal before the law. Thus, we would make good what Stephan Zweig has always said: Europe means no distinction according to nationality.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

It means, for example, that we would have one European employment insurance. If you moved from Paris to Barcelona to work there, that would be insignificant for the portability of your social rights. We would have one European passport, European citizenship, and we would elect the European president directly. In this model we would probably live like the Americans do today: Not everybody who wakes up in California in the morning constantly thinks about how everybody is doing in Alaska. The problem with models like these is that they necessarily draw on what we already know. Apart from that, I am sure that democracy will change significantly under the conditions of the internet. This will happen in ways that we cannot even imagine today. Just like you could not imagine flying aeroplanes in 1850, and nowadays it is completely normal. We do not know what leap of innovation we will make in the future and what kinds of repercussions this leap of innovation will have on the way we organise our societal body politic.

Which language do we speak in the European Republic?

All languages will be spoken. We will have to decide on a lingua franca, be it English, Esperanto or Latin. We will probably benefit from GoogleTranslate and work with language recognition systems. It also helps to recall that there are 29 languages and 17 written languages in India and that the Indians, with their much smaller GDP, still have a democracy, one voice, and one vote. Language should not be the problem.

“Europe means unity in diversity.”


How can cultural diversity be preserved in the European Republic?

Europe means unity in diversity. That has always been our mantra. The problem in the European discourse is of course that the opponents think that European identity means having to give up your national identity. Nobody wants to disappear in some mishmash. But that is not what it is about. It is about differentiating between normative unity and cultural diversity. We can have normative unity, that is equality before the law, and be culturally different all the same. We are also normatively united in the Federal Republic of today: From Rügen to Freiburg, people elect the Bundestag under the same conditions, get the same unemployment benefits and pay the same taxes, but they are culturally diverse. For example, the people in the Black Forest have that hat with the red bobbles and in Bavaria they have Haxe.

The French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have some ideas about Europe that are quite similar to yours.

With Macron, politics has finally found a real sounding board for new thinking in view of Europe. What Macron says is what we should have done at least five years ago. These ideas have been around for years. Considering the original European ideas of the 1940s and the basic notion that as citizens, we are equal before the law and want decentralised structures, you can see that Macron is neither heretic nor new. But now we should really put these ideas into action! In the interview with Der Spiegel in October 2017, Macron says that we need some new political heroism, and he is right. De Gaulle was a hero, just like Adenauer and Kennedy. Because of all this political correctness and “politics means consensus-mishmash”, we have forgotten that those whom we ex-post judge to be heroes, like Churchill or Willy Brandt, the grand figures, that they were bold enough to do something great in a given situation.

Have you been waiting for someone like Macron to enter politics for the European Republic to become a reality?

Ideas need time until they are ripe and developed, and then the time must come in which the idea can go through the door of history. And indeed, I believe that the idea of a European Republic is ripe. From Victor Hugo over other actors of the 1940s to today. The idea of a European Republic is like a diamond that has been polished In the end, and that is what most people overlook, thinking as such is a process just like sculpting or cutting diamonds. You cut something until it is crystal clear. From time to time, the sculptor has to take a step back and approach the stone again to cut something out of it, too. The thought process is nothing else but, at some point, carving out an idea or a word. And I think we have shaped the idea of the European Republic as much as a diamond. The idea is now visible and clear, and it can go through the door of history. Macron is definitely someone who has opened the door of history, especially with his speeches in Athens on 7th September and in the Sorbonne on 26th September 2017. Now, we can only hope that he will hold it open long enough for others to walk through it Macron’s actions and the time between now, the new German government and the European elections in 2019, which will basically be held at the same time as Brexit, present the historic second in which something will happen. In the best case, the diamond of the European Republic will go through the door. Otherwise, something else will happen. But something will happen because the time is ripe for it. Everybody who is able to think feels it. Also because the notion of “there is no alternative” is no law of history.

What will happen to our rights when we are no longer citizens of a nation-state?

In the long run, human rights and civil rights will have to merge. Nowadays we still separate them from one another. If you are a citizen of a certain state, you have civil rights, for instance in the form of social security. Human rights can only be drawn from the Geneva Convention on Refugees. The theoretical question is: Are there civil rights without states? Philosophers have dealt with this question, for example, Etienne Balibar in his book “Egaliberté” from 2012. But we still have not discovered the trick of how to implement the demand to become “global citizens”, or “Weltbürger” as Kant called it. Being a global citizen would mean that everybody has civil rights, without having to belong to a certain state. That is the great theoretical construction site of the 21st Century, and it has become even more massive with the refugee question. For me, the goal for Europeans would be to start thinking about this process and to carry it from Europe out into the world.

If it were not for the great number of people working against it…

That is the risk for the younger generation, that is today’s teenagers and young adults, and one of my great concerns. The question is which part of the youth has the economic driver, that is political and economic functional elites, behind it. You rightly say that the others – the nationalists and populists – are also active. Those that lead the völkisch, racist and renationalisation debates, those people do exist. Nationalism does not fall from the sky, nationalism is made: People talk about it, texts are printed, and libraries are funded to oil the machinery of nationalism once again.

Does that sometimes lead you to question the implementation of the European Republic?

I am divided: On the one hand, I stand for the idea of the Republic, but on the other hand, I am a scientist and an analyst and I could cite numerous processes and systemic factors why the idea is difficult to implement. For one thing, the populists do not sleep. Political equality has a price. The Republic will cost money, for instance, to finance a European social security system. Who will pay for this? The industry does not necessarily have an interest in a peaceful, social and democratic Europe if that means higher taxes or the introduction of a European tax on financial transactions. To put it differently: The economic steering elites are quite happy living in a common market and a currency union without European democracy. You could argue that peace has no economic driver, but war does. That is why it is more plausible for those who have the discursive prerogative in terms of money and power to promote nationalism in their own self-interest, rather than to create a social and democratic Europe. To advocate for the common good has lost all economic interest.

Would you interpret the fact that a lot of people nowadays endorse nationalism as a step back in society?

We always think history is linear, but that is not true. History does not always get better and better. History is basically closure and opening – like a heart muscle. At this point, we are definitely in a period of closure after long years of opening. And when people like me were born in 1964 and lived the first 20 or 30 years of their life in a phase of opening, then they will notice the closure phase in a massive way. Now I am thinking: “Oh, suddenly we’re debating abortion again, I thought that was over and done with.” But apparently, and unfortunately, it is not.

Do you think the younger generation has grown up in a phase of closure and that this is the problem? Or could this generation have the energy to change things for exactly this reason?

That is why the younger generation is particularly important. Depending on when the teenagers and young adults of today were born, they have not really experienced much of the opening phase. They were born into the closure phase and that has an impact on their consciousness. If they have no memory of how things used to be, then they will take for granted what they were born into.

Does this mean that we must draw comparisons and critically question the set structures of today?

Yes, it is so important to discern and label systemic processes. In Hungary, for instance, there is no freedom of press anymore, at least not in the sense we know. Orban has been in power since 2008, which means that by now, there is a generation that does not know anything else but the state-controlled press. That you can think and want Europe does not feature in Orban’s discourse anymore, because it is only about Hungary. That is what you call economic dry-out: A discourse is literally dried out, in the sense that certain stories and events are not printed or read anymore. And that is a risk for the younger generation, since with every year that we witness this populism- and nationalism-crisis, this worldview gains ground. With every year there are more people who grow up into this and think it is normal.

In your opinion, what can the younger generation learn from the older generation?

In his book “Die Hauptstadt“, Robert Menasse discusses the term culture. After all, culture is not primarily, for instance, sitting in Paris and eating baguette. Primarily, culture is the ability to transfer learning processes to the next generation. And it does not really matter whether children learn how to bake brown bread or baguette. What is important is that the children are taught how to bake bread. The question for contemporaneity today is whether we, as the heirs of the Enlightenment, are able to transfer the first sentence of the Human Rights Declaration, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” to a generation that has not known war. No nationalism and “no more war” was the founding paradigm of Europe. But now the last contemporary witnesses who experienced Auschwitz are dying. And without contemporary witnesses, can we still transfer the cultural technique, this cultural learning experience of “nationalism is bad and leads to war” as a lesson to the next generation?

“We must find a way
to create transgenerational peace.”


To get back to the European Republic one last time: Which steps do we still have to take so that the idea of the European Republic can become a reality?

What we are trying to do with the European Republic is to create a political system without borders. The real-political space has long ago lost its borders: Aeroplanes, internet, roaming. The only thing that still has a static border is the nation-state. Abolishing the nation-state, that sounds like getting a hammer and start knocking away at France. Men always ask me: But what about football? My answer is: The nation is many things. It is tradition, history, identity. But at the moment it is also the basis for democracy. And when I say I want to overcome the nation-state, that does not mean that we abolish Germany as an idea or as history. We just have to overcome the connection between nation and democracy and create a post-national democracy. The nation has become too small a bed for democracy. The market and the currency are already organised on a European level. But it is possible to widen the bed for democracy beyond the nation-states. To organise democracy on a European level, that is my proposition. We must find a way to create transgenerational peace. We will make Europe democratic, social and decentralised so no one has to wrap up in a national flag to feel better about themselves.

Interview: Lena Kronenbürger

Translation: Charlotte Bander


Prof. Dr Ulrike Guérot
Danube University Krems



National Identity and Psychology

“Opening up towards strangers requires a stable identity.”

Interview with Prof. Dr Schmidt-Denter, University of Cologne

Examining the topic of nationalism from a psychological perspective is greatly facilitated by focusing on another aspect first: The construct of national identity. Developmental psychologist Ulrich Schmidt-Denter explains the connection between national identity and isolation; which other functions identity has to fulfill and why the German national identity is distinct from other European identities.

Prof Schmidt-Denter – where does the desire to be part of a nation originate from?

Humans are social beings: Belonging to a group ensures our survival. We are programmed to depend on social connections. Identification with a group is indispensable for social coherence and is the prerequisite for solidarity and helpfulness. Nations of the Western hemisphere occupy a special role due to their comparatively high levels of democracy and applied welfare. Both of these factors are grounded in an overall feeling of solidarity within the population.

How do you explain the dissociation of some nations from other countries?

Where there is an “inside” there also exists an “outside”. Experiencing the “other” occupies a broad spectrum. It reaches from fear and threats to curiosity and fascination and extends all the way to close exchanges and symbiosis. The history of humankind is despite all wars and ferocity mainly a history of cooperation. It depends on recognising the conditions under which international exchange is advantageous and to use these terms to a political benefit.

In our everyday lives, we often use terms like national identity, patriotism and nationalism without really differentiating between them. How would you define these concepts from a psychological perspective?

National identity can be seen as a facet of social identity. The development of an “identity” is something distinguishably human, which means that everybody is looking for the answer to the question: “Who am I?”, so their individual identity. Every human being is also wondering about their social identity by asking: “Who are we?”, “What group do I belong to and which ones do I avoid?”. This mentality of belonging can derive from anything like a friend clique to a certain profession or from the patriotic feeling of being part of a nation. Viewing it from this perspective, the term is understood in a very neutral manner, it only describes the self-conscious awareness of being affiliated with a group. There is more judgement reserved for the concepts of “patriotism” and “nationalism”. Patriotism describes a positive connection to a nation. Within psychology, nationalism is used when the appraisal of one’s own nation transcends the normal realm and includes the depreciation of other nations.

In the past, your focus of study was mainly on the national identity of German citizens. What were the conclusions of your research?

My research, which was conducted between 1999 and 2015 at Cologne University, started with a broadly planned culture comparison study concentrating on individual and social identities of ten European countries: Germany and all its bordering nations. We wanted to know to what extent globalisation and Europeanisation have lead to a convergence, or if there are still distinguishable characteristics perceptible. In regard to Germany, the “coherence-hypothesis” was largely confirmed, which means Germans compare pretty much to the average European. There are only a few, but distinctive differences to neighbouring countries. The determined characteristics seem to affect Germany’s unusually large dimension of critical self-reflexion, as well as the insecure attitude towards one’s own nation.

“Germans take the last place in terms of national pride.”

This is apparent when it comes to the ways national pride and patriotism are approached. The general German opinion states that it can be problematic to be proud of your heritage. In other countries, for example, France or the United States of America, patriotism is being celebrated. Where do these differences originate from?

The above-mentioned insecurity can especially be witnessed within the only barely developed national pride. There are many globally implemented comparative studies, which all came to the overall same conclusion following the research we have conducted within Europe: Germans take the last place in terms of national pride. When observing living conditions within some of the other listed countries, it seems very unlikely that there is nothing the Germans can be proud of. The restraint can be explained through the concept and the term of patriotism becoming a taboo. Among the interviewed this created an environment of self-consciousness and fear to talk about their home in any patriotic way.

What would be a more sustainable approach in your opinion?

There is a highly controversial discussion happening in Germany regarding this question. Some other researchers are of the opinion that it solely depends on the individual’s identity. Individuals with a strong individual personality do not even require a collective identity, whereas it is needed as a “crutch” for weak individuals who are haunted by feelings of inferiority. Only the identification with a glorified nation can give them the necessary support. Empirically, this attitude was supported by the behaviour of clinically studied, extremist youth.

If applied coherently to all of the population, the so-called “compensation-hypothesis” becomes deficient in appreciating the positive effects identification with a group has on the individual. These positively impacted areas include a positive self-image as well as stable mental health. As individuals, we shape ourselves through the groups we affiliate ourselves with. It then also becomes important to us how our bond is assessed. This is why we are interested in our groups being seen in a positive light. The coherence model was able to be proven through every large study that applied it: Individuals and social identities complement each other and form an entity. Individual life satisfaction and mental stability correlate with social identification and national pride. The satisfying feeling of belonging to something is the base for a healthy and successful construction of the self. The international “World Value Study” proved this in the beginning of the 1980s and its conclusion has been reaffirmed by more recent research results.

The scientific results would also imply that the German population is on average less satisfied and mentally more unstable than other Europeans.

The results of the “Glücksforschung” (study of happiness) are pointing into that direction. International studies, referring to the “Life-Satisfaction-Scale” have been conducted regularly for decades. The relatively low, subjectively felt happiness merits of the Germans are in no proportion to the objectively pleasant living conditions. However, the Europe Cup in 2006, titled as “Sommermärchen” (summer-fairytale) has caused a change in behaviour. For once, Germans were treating their national symbols ingenuously. This led Germany to rise from 36th to the 16th happiest nation.

Why is the national identity so important in this case? Does the inclusion within a family, a sports club or something similar, not achieve a similar effect?

All significant groups, which provide a common identity, have this effect. In an ideal scenario, these groups would not have to compensate for one another but instead, complement and build on top of each other. This leads to an important emotional state for stable mental health, the so-called “Kohärenzgefühl (feeling of coherence). Within empirical research, this means that the correlations are generally positive. For example, secure ties within a family would complement the positive feeling deriving from national identification.

Why is the feeling of national identity so different for Germany in comparison to other nations?

We obviously have asked ourselves the same question. Historians like to refer to earlier epochs and point out how it had always been a normal practice to self-reflect and fight over national identity issues. Back then, the overall aim was to overcome the system of feudal sectionalism and to define a nation state. Today, those interviewed within our research, said that other issues are encumbering. They named German history as a reason for their restraint, which is referring to the 12-year regime of the Nazis and the holocaust. Subsequently, we had to broaden our research approach to include the so-called “Holocaust Education”.

The doctoral candidate Silviana Stubig analyses students from the ninth grade to investigate how history classes affect the development of their identities. What effects did the classes have on the teenagers?

It turned out that learning about the “Third Reich” in comparison to other eras was perceived as overwhelming and stifling. Especially since the topic was being taught in other subjects like German, religion, the social sciences and on days of remembrance. Besides the intended distribution of knowledge, reactions like emotional strain, feelings of guilt and shame, as well as insecurity towards the own sense of national identity occurred. These unsettling “side effects” should, in my opinion, be discussed in more detail within the corresponding education and history didactic. This becomes especially important for teenagers with migration backgrounds who need more opportunities to form positive identities towards their new homes. A deterring self-display puts a strain on the process of the psychological integration and could lead to a retreat to the native identity.

The outcomes of your research have been published in “Die Nation, die sich nicht mag” in 2012. The political culture in Europe has changed noticeably since then. The nationalist trends have clearly increased in many countries. Is there a way to pinpoint the causes of this change?

Even at the beginning of our research, we assumed that we will encounter two reciprocal processes: the need for opening up and demarcate other cultures. Both aspirations are permanently a part of human motivation and behaviour and have to be constantly balanced. If the need for dissociation grows, then the feeling of being threatened and losing control is its foundation. The recent immigration crisis can be understood as an example of such a development. Erik H. Erikson, who is the pioneer of psychological identity research, fundamentally believed that opening up towards strangers requires a stable identity.

How has the feeling of national identity changed for the German population and for our European neighbours since your research was published in 2012?

The psychological and sociological research has been differentiating between varying political milieus within society for the longest time. These can, for instance, be categorised into the dimensions of “Nationalism vs. Internationalism”. In Germany, the internationalist milieu which wants to get rid of nation-states is much more pronounced than in some of our neighbouring countries – especially towards Eastern-Europe but not excluding some western nations. From the present data, I cannot fully gather if there was a significant quantitative shift between the milieus. However, it can be determined that polarisation has gained momentum and that there has been an intensified fight on opinion leadership. This process has recently increased due to the immigration crisis.

During the recent Bundestag election, the right-wing populist party AfD gathered 12.6% of the overall votes, which makes it the third strongest force within that branch of the government. Does this not point to an overall movement of the right within the population?

The question is: What do you generally understand as an indicator of a movement to the right? Party preferences are imaginable but it would be more sensible to use measurement tools which are not prone to the latest political and societal developments. Instead, using something that can capture more stable political convictions would be rational. Moreover, the least amount of surveyed AfD voters would actually admit to vote for this particular party due to its political program. Most individuals state that their vote should be understood as a protest against the established parties. This does not necessarily indicate a deep change in their personality but an acute reaction to an altered situation which is, in this case, the immigration crisis. Since the end of World War II, there have been several uprisings of parties, aiming to position themselves to the political right of the CDU. None of them were impactful nor did they have long-lasting success.

“We should resist the temptation to predict history or even attempt to allege a regularity to its course.”

In times of globalisation and the EU, global interconnectedness increases further and further and the significance of borders decreases more and more. Has the concept of a national identity not become obsolete already?

We should resist the temptation to predict history or even attempt to allege a regularity to its course. This is how Marxism or respectively, real Socialism has failed. In our study, we have found people with pro-European attitudes in every participating country, but there was no one ready to give up their national identity. Predominantly, this even applies to Germany. The only exception is a notion opposing the feeling of national pride. The proponents of this idea hope to lose their own identity, seen as a burden, by taking on a European one. This motif does not show itself in any of the other participating nations. The other EU-members are not going to help us to solve our identity issues by abandoning their national identities. Jürgen Habermas, when accepting the Staatspreis NRW, had to admit that his predictions in regard to a “post-national constellation” had not come true. According to his ideas, Germans were the sole pioneers of a global development trying to exceed the national stage. It became apparent that nobody is going to go down this path with us.

Interviewer: Eliana Berger

Translation: Laura Emily Schulze


Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schmidt-Denter
University of Cologne


The History of Nationalism

“Although not all nations are old, nationhood is.”

Interview with Prof. Dr. Azar Gat, Tel Aviv University

Maj. Prof. Dr. Azar Gat, chair of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, takes us on a journey to discover the history of nations all around the world. He argues that the roots of nations and nationalism go way beyond modernism as they developed from ancient origins, from ethnicities and a sense of belonging, in the very beginning of history.

Prof. Dr. Gat – The social anthropologist Ernest Gellner defines nationalism as “the notion that the national and the political unit should be congruent”. Gellner sees the nation as a society of individuals, all sharing in a common culture that is instilled in them institutionally. Nationalism is then the notion that all individuals sharing the common national culture should live in the same state. Another common definition of a nation is Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community”, a community of individuals who perceive themselves to be part of it.  How would you define nationalism?

In my book, I accept Gellner’s definition: a rough congruence between culture or ethnicity and state. But unlike Gellner, I argue that long before modernity – for Gellner it means the Industrial Revolution, for Anderson print communities – the connection between statehood and ethnic community goes back all the way to the beginning of history. It goes back to the beginning of states and the beginning of literacy, to 3000 BC; the two earliest writing systems developed in the two earliest states: ancient Egypt and Sumer. My argument is that there has always been a strong connection between ethnicity and statehood. Not all ancient states were nation-states, some of them were city-states, where a particular ethnos was divided among several polities, which nevertheless had a strong sense of belonging to the same ethnos. Take the Greeks or the Sumerians, for example: Every Greek whom you asked in Antiquity would immediately tell you that he belonged to that common identity. So you have city-states where a particular ethnos is divided among several city-states. At the same time, you had multi-ethnic empires, which nevertheless were dominated by a particular ethnos and drew their strength from that particular ethnos. The Greeks created empires under Alexander and his successors and these multi-ethnic Hellenistic empires were dominated militarily and politically by the Greeks. Practically all other empires obeyed the same idea: the British Empire, the French Empire, the Roman Empire, the Russian Empire and so forth. Now, between city-states and empires, you had what historical sociologists call territorial states. This is a bad designation because every state has a territory. This type of polity is also known as dynastic kingdom. But indeed, most territorial states were actually national monarchies. They were based on a clear core of an ethnic majority, or Staatsvolk. For example, the first large state ever, the kingdom of Egypt, centered on a people, the Egyptian people. All those who lived outside its boundaries were barbarians. So the first territorial state ever, Egypt, already obeys Gellner’s definition of a national state.

In contrast to the scientific consensus you argue that the concept of ‘nation’ predates modernity. For modernists, literacy and print are necessary conditions for nation-building, because they unite small, isolated communities, and tie them together into nations. How can this happen before, in the absence of literacy and print?

What I am arguing is that practically all the modernists are theorists only. They do no work on pre-modern societies, so what they propose is a schema of what a pre-modern society was which does not reflect historical realities. The test is to go back to pre-print societies and see if we can find evidence of what these peoples’ sense of community was. That’s the test that can decide the argument, but it is highly problematic because the masses in pre-modern societies could not write. The only evidence we have is from the literate elite. So it’s very difficult to discover the genuine voice of the masses. We have to devise ways to overcome this obstacle and establish what the people themselves thought. The test is to see if there are some clear indications that will tell us whether or not the people had a consciousness of being one people. One of the main means to decipher this enigma is to watch what happened when foreigners invaded the country. If the masses, under desperate circumstances, rose in arms against the invader, responded to the call of blood, as it where, showed patriotic devotion, indeed patriotic sacrifice, sacrifice of everything that was dear in life and property – that would be a clear sign that apparently they felt that the invader was a ‘bloody foreigner’ and ‘we don’t want him to rule us’. If the masses fought for liberty from foreign rule, evidently they considered themselves to be a national community. There are numerous historical examples of this. Let me just cite two: One is the remarkable case of a maiden called Joan of Arc. We are fortunate to have written records here because the inquisition interrogated her. She was a country girl, the daughter of a peasant in Lorraine, a province of France. Her upbringing, her background, was not exceptional. How did she know, or from where did she hear that the English were foreigners and that they had to leave France?

Now another case is the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. We have two peoples here. One, according to many, the first modern nation: Revolutionary France. The other, entirely backward – pre-modern by all accounts, and still desperately rising in arms against the invading forces.

Now to the second question. How did they know? How did they know that they belonged to Russia?  The answer is that the modernist theorists vastly underestimated the communication means of pre-modern societies. That is, the myths, the cults, the legends, the oral traditions. We all know, in principle, how powerful these were. For example, just one point that has been entirely overlooked: there were temples everywhere. There were local churches and temples with priests in every village. There were rites, and these were largely of national character, even in Christianity, which has a universal message. The local church was patriotic. So in Serbia, for example, under Ottoman rule, they carried the national banner against the invaders, against the imperial rulers.

The higher clergy sometimes had all kinds of political calculations. They were conducting high politics and sometimes they would choose their side very carefully. But the lower clergy, very close to their people, poor, living within their communities, were invariably patriotic.

So if the main argument for the coherence of nations, how does that work with voluntarily formed nations, such as the USA, Singapore or Ukraine, that are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural?

You have three very different cases here. Immigrant nations like the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are all predicated on the concept of the melting pot. People who came to America all changed their language. The United States started as an Anglo-Saxon country. Yet they had German immigration in the 18th century, so much so, that Benjamin Franklin felt it was a danger to the integrity of the American people. He feared that they would not assimilate. But this did not happen, and the USA demonstrated its ability to assimilate all newcomers. Of course, parts of the old traditions remain and they also enrich and change American identity. But the point is that the main identity of all these newcomers – if not during the first generation then from the second, the third generation onwards – merged into a common American identity despite the symbolic significance that remains in some communities. Jews for example, they too are now assimilating in larger numbers.

And this assimilation into a merged identity also applies to Australia, New Zealand and partly to Canada. Canada is an interesting test-case, because in Canada, unlike the other cases, you have two ethnic identities. You have the so-called Canadian identity, which assimilates immigrants from all over the world, and you have the Quebecois identity. They speak a different language, they have a strong sense of being a separate community, and they indeed threaten the integrity of the country. It may split. So the identities of immigrant countries depend on the integration of the newcomers into a common culture and identity. Obviously, this may still involve connection to the old country, especially during the first and second generation, but overall you see the remarkable success story of the melting pot. Now to the other examples.

Yes, Singapore is a unique case, considering it is also a city-state. But what about Ukraine?

First of all, there is a Ukrainian identity. The Ukraine, except for a very short period, never had independence. It was first ruled by Poland and then revolted against Poland. Those who present this as a social revolt – as the Ukrainian peasants were suppressed by the Polish nobility – forget that the peasantry in Poland did not rebel. So the revolt was social and economic, but it also overlapped with national considerations. A decade after the revolt, the Swedes invaded Poland in the “Deluge”, and the Polish peasantry, one of the most oppressed in Europe, rebelled against the invaders.

So, there is a Ukrainian identity, but it is not a black and white affair. They had this long connection with Russia, they needed support against Poland, so they had no choice but to subjugate themselves to the Tsar. They tried to guarantee their rights and their identity, but after a time the Tsars trampled on the agreements and did what they wanted in the Ukraine. Many people in the Ukraine started speaking Russian, the city-dwellers spoke Russian, if they didn’t speak Yiddish, that is, if they were Jews. All of eastern Ukraine is very ambiguous in terms of ethnicity, it’s not clear if they’re Russians, if they’re Ukrainians. But otherwise, there was a difference, an ethnic difference, a difference of identity and with the right political circumstances, there was a split. Which does not preclude the possibility of tensions between parts of the Ukraine, which can lead to other splits, especially with foreign involvement.

So, all those examples of multi-ethnic states still work with the pre-modern definition of statehood?

The Ukraine is not multi-ethnic. Parts of the Ukraine are vague in terms of their ethnicity, but the Ukraine is predominantly Ukrainian.

Nationalism has always been around, but also other forces. There were the forces of European integration, which led to many blessings, but also created a backlash when people felt that it was being taken too far.“  


Multi-lingual or multi-religious, maybe. We have spoken quite a bit about the nation, now to nationalism. If the nation is pre-modern, nationalism is too. With Brexit, Trump and the rise of right-wing parties in Europe, is there, or isn’t there a resurgence of nationalism in Europe?

There is. Nationalism has always been around, but also other forces. There were the forces of European integration, which led to many blessings, but also created a backlash when people felt that it was being taken too far. The people expressed their wishes in the referenda that took place a decade ago, and in some places voted against the continuing integration. And the Union said: “There was a referendum, but we disregard it.” Over time, especially when the problem with immigration became acute, people reacted to it, because they felt their national identity was under threat.

If you are poor, you are prepared to suffer economic inequality much more if you feel that you belong to the same people. […] If you are wealthy within a nation-state, then you are more willing to share with people whom you feel are your own people.” 


You already mentioned the refugee crisis in Europe. The refugee crisis coincided very much with this sharp increase in nationalist tendencies. So is the nationalism we see just a chiffre for people wanting to keep their economic status and cultural position?

It’s not. On the one hand, economic considerations are always involved, but there are other, national factors too. Take Scotland: there is a strong constituency in Scotland that wants to secede from the UK. Economic considerations are part of the picture. But in the North of England, the economic conditions are worse than Scotland, and compared to the affluent Southeast of England. Yet nobody wants to secede from Britain. If you are poor, you are prepared to suffer economic inequality much more if you feel that you belong to the same people. Such people often try to change the system from inside – by becoming a socialist, for example. But this does not mean they wish to secede. Same from the other direction. If you are wealthy within a nation-state, then you are more willing to share with people whom you feel are your own people. When the wealthy feel that they have to distribute to foreigners, their willingness decreases sharply. So economic considerations are obviously important, but they are closely connected with national identities and therefore with the welfare state. In a way, the nation is perceived as a large family, so we are willing to share more with people who we feel belong to our national community. Ethnically it matters even if this is not explicitly defined.

In your book one of the most recently formed nations is absent. How does Israel’s establishment as a state following 2000 years of diaspora support or challenge the notion of the pre-modern origin of the nation?

The Jews was a pre-modern nation in antiquity: Jews were a quintessential pre-modern people. Why? Literacy was a strong engine of nation-building, because it built a sense of common identity – Anderson is not entirely mistaken, of course – and Jews became literate in order to read the Torah. But after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD they were scattered around the world and there was ostensibly nothing to unite them, because they did not share a territory, and there was no way in which they could coordinate politically. But there was antisemitism, which was the main motive for modern Zionism: Jews found that even if they wanted to assimilate – of course many did assimilate could not. They would always carry a mark on them. Society around them would always regard them as “not of us”. The second element that kept Jewish identity as a nation alive and made Zionism possible is the Jewish religion. It is a major element of this religion, as reflected in the Bible, that the Jews are a people, indeed, a “chosen people.” It’s a national religion and it imprints on you, wherever you are, that you are part of the people of Israel. If you go around for centuries, carrying this basic cultural tenet, it’s easy – or not easy, but understandable – that under modern conditions, diverse communities from all over the world, sharing in very different cultures were brought together under the umbrella, the idea, of reviving our old nation in our old country. Had the United States not closed its borders to immigrants in 1924, the majority of the Jews – as they’d done before – would have immigrated to America. Zionism began in 1882, officially. By 1924, there had been perhaps 100,000 Jews that had chosen Palestine. At the same time, from the 1880s on – that was the time of the Pogroms in Russia – 3.5 Million Jews from Eastern Europe, the home of 80% of world Jewry at the time, went to America. And they are still there. In 1924, America closed its gates and so the two next waves of immigration came to the then Palestine. The first was Jewish immigration from Poland in the late 1920s, because of anti-Semitic legislation in Poland, and the second in the 1930s from Germany, because of Hitler. The German Jews would not have gone to Palestine if not for Hitler, and they would have gone to the United States or Britain if they could. They went to Palestine because it was the only option open to them.

So the creation of Israel owed much to chance?

Chance, but not only chance. Because that was precisely the problem of the Jews. The problem of the Jews was that they were not accepted. The Jewish problem created Zionism, and the Jewish problem was not a matter of chance. It had many manifestations. Things changed, circumstances changed: Russia opened and closed, the Soviet Union came, Hitler came to power in Germany, the USA changed its immigration policy, but the basic condition was that there was a huge Jewish problem in Eastern Europe. Millions and millions of Jews.

Herzl, the founder of Zionism was an assimilated Jew. He was entirely immersed in Viennese, in German culture, he knew nothing of Jewishness, he was not observant in any way, and did not know the language of the Jews, Yiddish. He was entirely immersed in the cultural life of Vienna, one of the great European cultural centers. And yet, from a certain moment he felt that Jews would never be accepted into European society.

One of the things I always found striking is that there is Zionism and Anti-Zionism all over the world. Why is that?

First, there is still a problem of antisemitism. Let’s begin with that, and I’m not arguing that everything is antisemitism, but there is still overt and covert antisemitism. That’s one thing. Second, there is anti-colonialism in the West, a strong sense of guilt regarding the so-called “Third World”, the former colonial empires. According to this view, the native population of all these places were subject to serious injustices and cruelty. The Jews who came to Palestine are seen as part of this phenomenon. Because of this sentiment, Israel increasingly found itself on the wrong side. Even more so since 1967, with the occupation of the territories. There is also anti-Americanism, with Israel being considered a strong ally of the United States. And you have a large group of Arab states, and behind them a large group of Muslim states, which are more or less united. That keeps the conflict very high on the world agenda.

At the same time when Israel was founded, another nation came into existence and they are linked together by the same fate. Would you say that Palestine as a nation also fits into your pre-modern definition?

Palestine is a new nation with a new national identity. Nationhood is old, but not all nations are old. For example, Holland is not one of the oldest nations of Europe. The old nations of Europe include the English, the Scots, the Swedes, the Danes, the Germans, the Serbs, the Polish, the Russians – there are many, but Holland is not one of them. Holland was part of the German sphere but because of a split in the Habsburg domain, it found itself out of the Empire and then in conflict with Spain. It forged a new separatist identity only from the 16th century on. There were local identities in Holland, as there were within the German realm. They also adopted a separate literary language, in contrast to the German Swiss. The Swiss spoken language is unintelligible to a German speaker in the same way that the Dutch language is, but the Swiss use Hochdeutsch for writing, whereas the Dutch adopted their own literary language. So it’s a relatively new nation, same way that the Ukraine is.

There is an Egyptian joke that apart from Egypt, all the other Arab states are but “tribes with a flag”. Egypt had and still has a strong national identity, but in other Arab countries it is all very brittle, as we see now in the wake of the “Arab Spring”.“  


The Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole are again somewhat different. Before the 20th century, the national state was not the common form of organisation throughout Southwest Asia because of the continuing conquest by empires, from the Assyrians to the Ottomans. Essentially, these territories fell under the control of a series of empires, one replacing the other, which was not the case in Western Europe. So, what you had here was an imperial structure. And under it, identities were indeed mainly local, religious and tribal. There is an Egyptian joke that apart from Egypt, all the other Arab states are but “tribes with a flag”. Egypt had and still has a strong national identity, but in other Arab countries it is all very brittle, as we see now in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. Because of this, the Palestinians did not have a separate identity until the Zionist arrival. They saw themselves as part of the Arab sphere, or as Muslims and Christians. But over time, because of the conflict with the Zionists and Israel, they have developed a separate sense of identity. The Palestinian definition of their national identity is: The Palestinian Šaʿb, meaning people, within the Arab Ummah, the Arab nation. But all this is relatively recent. It’s still under heavy pressure from local forces and from tribal and semi-tribal identities; the Hamula, the extended family. The clan structure is still powerful in many places in the Middle East, as are the calls for Islamic universalisms. So yes, there is a Palestinian national identity, but under the above mentioned qualifications, pressures and conflicting forces.

Interview: Marian Blok


Prof. Dr Azar Gat
Tel Aviv University


Nationalism and the Language of the Right-Wing

“The right-wing rhetoric often seeks to polarise.”

Interview with Prof. Dr Fabian Virchow, Research Center for right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism at the University of Düsseldorf.

“Lying press” [Lügenpresse] and “the people” [Volk] – can these expressions be classified as right-wing language? In the interview with 42 Magazine Prof. Fabian Virchow, head of the research center for right-wing extremism at the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, discusses whether right-wing ideological vocabulary even exists and how right-wing actors use language to benefit their world view.

Prof. Dr Virchow – we are witnessing a resurgence of right-wing political actors – whether these are Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders or Frauke Petry. To begin with: In your opinion what are some of the reasons for this?

This can hardly be generalized for the number of suggested actors. If there are commonalities, these can be found, one the one hand, in the loss of confidence in the established political system, especially the parties and the governments. In some countries, this loss was fueled by practices of bribery against members of the so-called ‘political class’. However, the turn away from democratic structures, processes and institutions of a civic democracy is also often evident in the significantly lower voter turnout in neighborhoods which lag behind. The low turnout is often an expression of political abstinence. In comparison, voting in wealthier neighborhoods is well above average. On the other side, it is a rejection of a specific form of modernization – or less normatively charged: a social development, which generated significant changes in the last decades – whether this is regarding the population composition as a result of migration processes, or in terms of the visibility of – directly or indirectly mediated– religious pluralism or concerning a broadened acceptance for arrangements regarding sexuality, relationships, and families which do not correspond to the heteronormative matrix.

So primarily, processes of change within a society provide the base for right-wing ideology?

The rejection of these developments – or even skepticism and uncertainty towards them – can be found in specific conditions that are embedded within the political culture of a country. However, the rejection can also become visible with the emergence of new political (party) actors or events which are quickly deteriorating, or which are externally generated such as the so-called refugee crisis. Thus, this often applies to societies, which are still strongly attached to national ideas of homogeneity or in which former social groups defend their positions of power and privileges against politics aimed at greater equality and equal rights.

In addition, there are other factors, some of which may constitute substantial weight, such as the depreciation of life-time achievements and biographies of former GDR citizens, which are remembered across generations. This can lead to the detachment and devaluation of established political actors.

Does the economy and its related changes in the living condition of those affected play a role?

In my opinion, economic crises are not immediate predictors for the rise of right-wing parties, not least because there are numerous counter examples. For instance, there are either economically prosperous states that have strong, extreme, or right-wing populist parties nonetheless or there are societies with permanently high (youth) unemployment rates, in which there are no strong far-right actors, such as Spain or Portugal. Nevertheless, a part of those whose social and economic status is shaken by neo-liberal globalization and structural change, or those who have the subjective impression that they do not control their own lives. This calls for a solution in social concepts that promises exclusionary solidarity. The demands of members of the “we” group are treated favorably in comparison to those of “the others”. The feeling of loss of control over one’s own life also derives from increasing relocation of decision-making responsibilities to supranational bodies, such as the European Central Bank (ECB). A precise analysis also must pay attention to the specifics, for instance, the significance of religion and the church, like in Poland. The political profile of the respective parties and movements partially presents considerable differences. A few examples include the orientation of the foreign policy – transatlantic or pro-Russian – in their economic and social policy or the extent of positive references to authoritarian pre- and inter-war traditions.

It is certain that right-wing actors intend to influence the meaning and interpretation of terms by giving them specific associations and invoking certain images. 

During their election campaign, the AfD used phrases and slogans such as “super alienation” [Überfremdung] and “nationalist”; “ethnic” [völkisch]. The party’s slogan for the 2017 campaign read “Dare, Germany” [Trau dich, Deutschland]. The French Front National promotes the slogan “National preference” – “préférence nationale” – national interests first. It seems as if there exists right-wing ideological vocabulary or a right-wing language. How does this language stand out?

It is quite contentious if a genuine right-wing language exists or not. It is certain that right-wing actors intend to influence the meaning and interpretation of terms by giving them specific associations and invoking certain images. Historically speaking, this is not a new phenomenon. In the Weimar Republic, representatives of the anti-democratic right, such as Carl Schmitt, have advocated the maxim that language control of the population is a prerequisite in order to dominate a nation. Görtz Kubitschek from the extreme right-wing Institute for State Policy, joins this point of view by demanding that expressions need to escalate, and political opponents must be branded. Accordingly, the extreme and populist right is concerned with giving more corporative meaning to certain ideas and associated expressions of order, such as the terms “achievement” or “tradition”. Furthermore, this is also about giving more generally positive connoted words such as “freedom” and “solidarity” national connotations and associations, as well as making them more effective. However, terms like these do not thus simply evolve into right-wing language.

Are there further characteristics of right-wing language?

Yes, there are also invented words such as “foreign national alienation” [“Verausländerung“], which can (most likely) be understood as genuine right-wing language. Terms like this one, interpret social developments in a specific negative way and capture them in a nutshell. I cannot think of a context in which such a term loses its ideological guidance. Terms like “nationalist; ethnic” [völkisch] express central ideologues, thus parts of ideologies, of the world view of this political spectrum.

These terms have often largely disappeared from everyday language due to their connection to the national-socialist racial and extermination policy. In this regard, the extreme and populist right are working on their reinstatement; or they are still or again quite common, such as the word “super alienation” [Überfremdung], which was recently used by a prominent talk show host who used the term without an indication of from far-right ideology.

The rhetoric of the right-wing simplifies and stereotypes. It produces images of enemies by personifying social issues – whether this in regard to individuals, for example recently the chancellor, or in regard to groups. 

Why is the language of the right appealing and how does it function?

The right-wing language makes use of the fact that stereotyping and simple world views are widespread in society and subjectively relieving. Thus, it is often included in the population’s everyday understandings of events or social conditions. The right-wing rhetoric often seeks to polarize by presenting oneself as someone who is not afraid to break taboos and who is not scared to address what others might want to hide. This is the grand gesture, which actually – if we think of authoritarian regimes – feeds off the exaggeration of possible negative consequences of free speech. The language of the right-wing also lives off the provocation, which one the one hand is supposed to present a rebellious moment. On the other hand, it follows and serves the logic of media attention. Ultimately, exaggerations, one-sidedness and occasionally plain inventions – for example with regard to the crime rate of refugees or specific violations of rights – serve to create a feeling of fear and thus, increases the desire for ambiguity, order, and authority. In this respect, the language of the right-wing also refers to authoritarian characteristics and intends to mobilize these. The rhetoric of the right-wing simplifies and stereotypes. It produces images of enemies by personifying social issues – whether this in regard to individuals, for example recently the chancellor, or in regard to groups. The juxtaposition of “us” vs. “them” also serves to present right speakers of the right-wing, displayed in disrespect, as the chosen saviors.

Is the vocabulary and language of the right encrypted? Do they not say what they actually intend to say to avoid that messages might sound right-wing?

I do not share the opinion that many words are encrypted. This might partially be the case with anti-Semitic speech, which talks about “power centers on the east coast of the United States,” but actually follows an anti-Semitic conspiracy narrative of “the (influential) rich Jews”. However, especially in the last few years – and specifically in connection to the increasing number of people seeking protection – I observe most notably a disinhibition in the language as well as a more frequent and more offensive use of derogatory terms.

Which derogatory terms are frequently used in Germany?

The term “lying press” [Lügenpresse] is just one example that is accompanied by an increasing number of hostility and physical attacks on journalists. On the internet there are often extermination fantasies about people marked as “different” and “foreign” – or those who support the welcoming culture. It is also possible to refer to the sexualized threats against female representatives of gender studies.

Terms like “lying press” [Lügenpresse] and “do-gooders” [Gutmenschen] have found their way into our everyday language. Is this a deliberate strategy of right wing parties or a side effect associated with the right-wing debate?

No, this is a conscious and deliberate attempt to occupy and conquer the prerogative of interpretation in social discourses. The extreme and populist right has grappled with this task for a long time. The function of the terms you mentioned is that of denouncing political opponents and citizens engaged in solidarity and attacking their attitudes. The regular reading of right-wing publications promotes a multitude of texts that deal with language policy issues. Liberals and left-wing social forces are accused of wanting to change society through language – think on the allegations of “political correctness,” for example. In fact, however, the extreme and populist right itself appears accordingly.

The AfD and other right-wing parties are counting on the “division” of society. “Us against you” or rather “you against us” – what role does language play in this context?

Language is a central factor since it constitutes a substantial part of communication among people. Terms and figures of speech are used to assess how social movements are valued, who is recognized as a legitimate speaker, which concepts of order are necessary and appropriate – and also how the central question of belonging is discussed. Questions of affiliation and recognition can be discussed linguistically based on various criteria. Traditional racial superiority refers to “race” or “ethnicity,” which is tied to certain physical attributes and character traits. However, because these traits are not (and cannot be) directly recognizable, contrary to the racists’ claims, certain markers have to indicate that a person belongs to a particular group that is stigmatized as “the others”. That was also a function of the so-called “Star of David”. This yellow badge was only able to fulfill this function because it was embedded in corresponding discourses of exclusion and devaluation.

However, verbally expressed racism, is often subtler – what linguistic devices does this rhetoric use?

In cultural racism, features and attributions that revolve around culture and religion emerge to the forefront. In many cases, these are practically naturalized. But they are also associated with other meanings, such as the productivity of social groups. Therefore, I am convinced that this perspective for understanding extreme and populist right-wing policies is still disregarded too often. As this works strongly with the image of the “hard-working people” who are denied the fruits of their labor; on the one hand by the “corrupt elite,” on the other hand by the “lazy subclasses,” thus either Sinti and Roma, refugees, the homeless and the long-term unemployed, but also “the lazy Greeks”. This demagogic confrontation and political slandering is highly linked to common sense and perception and connects with other figures of thought, such as penal populism, in which the lower classes are marked as dangerous. The “law-abiding citizens” must guard himself against those, if necessary with self-help.

Let’s go into detail: The term “the people” [Volk] played a big role in the AfD’s campaign. In Clausnitz, Saxony, refugees who wanted to get off a bus were attacked by right-wing advocates who shouted, “We are the people!” [Wir sind das Volk!]. What do the right-wing people mean by “the people” and how do they use the term?

The term “the people” is a central concept of the political right insofar as it refers to the core of their world view, that is, the assumption that there are collectives whose members are interlinked by ancestry, history, language, and space in a specific way and that they can be clearly distinguished from other collectives. The right-wing basically think as “peoples,” as one of their theorists put it. Therefore, the right does not think of individuals or of social classes – these are other ways to organize social order. In this nationalist logic, peoples are acting subjects and must assert themselves against other peoples – economically, territorially, culturally and, if you like, bio-politically. The latter logic addresses issues of migration, but also issues of birth control. That was the basic premise of Thilo Sarrazin’s bestseller: From his perspective, peoples are able to survive if they keep the “foreign influence” as low as possible.

Historically speaking, this ethnic assumption has produced numerous terms such as “national being” [Volkheit] and “allegiance to the nation” [volkstreu]. These terms are used less today. The AfD also repeatedly demanded to reevaluate the concept of “ethnic” [völkisch]. It is a central concept of the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany).

How does the slogan “We are the people” fit into this picture?

The slogan “We are the people” resonates with the demarcation to the “others”. Above all, however, it creates a contrast between “the people” and the political and media elite. In relation to both groups, it is pretended that these are homogeneous groups distinguished by typical behaviors and character traits. The message is, “You, the elites, do not represent us, we are the majority and the foundation which you have to comply with in your decision makings.” This is an abbreviated understanding of democracy as it lacks, in particular, the correlation to human as well as fundamental rights. On the one hand, the appealing aspect of the slogan has to do with the fact that it is very open to interpretation, and therefore does not necessarily have to be read from a nationalist perspective. On the other hand, this specific slogan refers to a specific historical constellation, namely the Monday demonstrations 1989/90 in the GDR. This is where the slogan draws its strong legitimation from. For the number of people who use this slogan once again, it is associated with the idea that there may be an imminent regime change.

In the United States, Donald Trump celebrated an electoral victory with the slogan “Make America Great Again”. He further promised to “drain the swamp,” which in his opinion is made up of the corrupt political establishment in Washington. Does a universal right-wing language exist, or might it vary based on different countries and political parties?

Basic ideologues and linguistic expressions are often very similar because from a nationalist perspective, it is always about an “own people’s” or the “own nation” first policy. Repeatedly, it can be observed that specific wordings are taken on by one national context from another. The phrase “the great replacement” [Grand Replacement] which originates from an author of the extreme right-wing in France, has also found its way into texts in Germany. At the same time, however, the terms also link to different historical contexts that exist in the respective countries. References which are intended to support the claim of a “great replacement” have to, for people from the respective societies, be part of the interpretation of their everyday experiences and be catchy so that they can be effective in terms of propaganda.

The right-wing populists of the AfD call themselves an alternative. In the United States, the so-called “alt-right” movement is gaining strength, and it also sees itself as an alternative, a traditional left-wing word in politics. Why does the right embrace this language?

In the past, “alternative” may have been widely used by groups of the political left-wing – think of the Alternative List Berlin. But it is certainly not a genuinely left term, so it is open to interpretation. The right-wing has adopted the term at a time when parties are little distinguishable based on many political questions and governmental decision making – in particular the euro rescue policy – have been described as having no alternatives. This has irritated a considerable part of the population. Therefore, the party has opted to use the term as part of the party’s name. Even the immediate precursor of the AfD was called “Election Alternative 2013” [Wahlalternative 2013].

In your opinion: Does the transition of vocabulary, which is primarily used by right-wing political actors, into the everyday language demonstrate a danger for society?

First, it is important to remember that language and terms have an influence on structure perception and thinking processes. Indirectly it often has an impact on actions as well. If one follows the speech act theory it can be said that speaking is an action as well, which influences societal reality. Therefore, it is possible to feed right-wing vocabulary into the discourses of society or even supposedly high-value words, which allegedly generate positive emotions, such as “freedom”. Thus, these are linked with specifically right-wing interpretations, thereby shifting semantic fields and pushing back democratic content.

How can a democratic society identify the language of the right-wing and what can it do about it?

This development can be counteracted by promoting a language sensitivity. This means that we become aware of the power of language beyond simplifying manipulation theories; that we visualize the historicity of certain concepts and the language policies of the right-wing. In addition, this is also about seeking to avoid terms that explicitly or implicitly convey negative images or to stabilize stereotypes if they seem inappropriate. Finally, I would like to agree with Judith Butler that the responsibility of speakers is not to reinvent language, but to deal with the legacy of their use, which restricts or makes the respective speech act.

Interviewer: Martin Böhmer

Translation: Hannah Riegert-Wirtz


Prof. Dr Fabian Virchow
University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf


Nationalism in Art History

“By attacking modern art, the National Socialists attacked the concept of modernity as such.”

Interview with Dr Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe, art historian and chairwoman of the foundation Situation Kunst in Bochum, Germany

In contrast to “Degenerate” Art, “Compliant” Art has not enjoyed much attention in the past. The stigma of its glorification by the National Socialists had relegated it to museums’ depots. But this perception seems to be changing. During her conversation with 42, art historian Dr Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe portrays the challenges of dealing with historically charged art and what we can learn from it.

Dr Berswordt-Wallrabe – in 2016, you opened the exhibition “Artige Kunst. Kunst und Politik im Nationalsozialismus“ („Well-behaved art. Art and politics in National Socialism“). This was the first exhibition to show a substantial number of works of art that were glorified by the Nazis. What made you exhibit Hitler’s art?

One starting point for us here in Bochum was the art historian Max Imdahl’s (1925-1988) preoccupation with NS-art, especially the sculptor Arno Breker’s work, whose career was massively promoted by the Nazis. Situation Kunst is no “normal” museum, it is associated with the University of Bochum and dedicated to the memory of Max Imdahl. Imdahl himself dealt with the issue of “Nazi-art” when Klaus Staeck started a debate in the 1980s about whether it should be exhibited or not. Since the question has still not been satisfactorily answered, it seemed logical to us to take it up again. Moreover, it was clear to us that especially a university museum can show art critically and should even foster controversial discussions when needed. That is why, for example, we dealt with individual works in the catalogue entries and analysed them in detail. Many accounts of NS-art mostly examine the overall tendencies. Inspired by Max Imdahl’s text on Arno Breker, we made the effort to analyse individual works and place them in the historical context.

What is Nazism’s role in art history?

After 1945 you can observe the same processes of collective repression that characterised the overall societal reaction to Nazism at first. The works that were approved of by the regime disappeared in depots. If you were to believe most of the surveys of art in the 20th Century, art production and exhibition did not exist between 1933 and 1945 in Germany. It was not until the 1970s that a handful of art historians became interested in Nazi Germany’s art.

What does the term “Nazi-art” represent?

There was no single stylistic definition and no overarching programme. However, through the rejection of modernist tendencies, a representational and comprehensible art form oriented towards the traditional academic paintings and sculptures of the 19th Century prevailed. In the context of our exhibition, we looked at art that was valued and promoted by the regime.

What was it like to work with Nazi-art?

It was a special experience because a lot of the works had hardly been exhibited and published before. That is also why the research was quite work-intensive. The database of the GDK-research-group [Editor’s note: image-based research platform on the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen” (“Great German Art Exhibitions”) 1937-1944 in Munich] was an important source of information, and soon it was evident that the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) in Berlin would become the most important access point. Many works from German museums and other official stocks were confiscated and brought to the USA by the Allied Forces after 1945. Since most of the works were returned, the DHM has the most extensive stocks of formerly “official”, i.e. conformist art from the period of National Socialism. Our starting point was a CD on which the DHM had recorded the stocks in blurry black-and-white photographs. We used this CD for an initial selection. As part of a group of people from the museum and catalogue authors, we could then look at the original works in the depot of the DHM. The difference between the small black-and-white depictions and the partly overwhelmingly large paintings is, of course, considerable and it underlines how important it is to deal with the originals.

Was it difficult to choose the works or were you quick to reach an agreement?

We were relatively quick in agreeing on which works should be represented in the exhibition. It soon became clear that a couple of themes played an especially significant role, for example, family and peasant life in propagandistic respects, pseudo-mythological and quasi-religious themes, sports and body culture. Of course, there were discussions about some pictures, but we felt like we were able to make a very meaningful selection. All the works we chose were exhibited in the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen” (“Great German Art Exhibitions”) that took place in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich from 1937-1944 and were bought by the state. That was definitely a criterion for us. We wanted to show what political leaders found interesting and worthwhile of support and we wanted to explore the reasons for this interest and support.

“I think that an examination of the art of Nazi Germany and its role in the wider social context can open our eyes to what is happening right now. It can also help us understand socio-political contexts in general, as art production is always influenced by its surroundings.”


What difficulties did you face in curating the exhibition?

Finding cooperation partners for the exhibition proved extremely difficult. A lot of art historians declined and said that this was not good art and therefore there was no point in dealing with it. Many museum people were also sceptical and scared that presenting the works in a museum would revaluate them. Actually, this strange reluctance towards an objective examination encouraged us in our conviction that this issue had to be dealt with, especially in the face of the evidently growing right-wing-populist tendencies in the current political debate. We still had some concerns from time to time though: Will the exhibition of these works make them accessible to the public and will they then be applauded from the wrong side? Apart from the evasive and negative reactions, we also got encouragement: Norbert Lammert, who was the president of the German Bundestag at the time, took over the patronage for the project. And Dorota Monkiewicz, the director of the museum in Wroclaw, was very excited and absolutely wanted to show the exhibition. She especially liked the critical aspect. However, half a year before the opening in Bochum, she was informed that her contract was not going to be extended and that the exhibition “Artige Kunst” would not take place in Wroclaw. The fact that an exhibition was cancelled due to political reasons was of course a shocking experience. Especially since it was not cancelled because of reservations against NS-art, but because a critical assessment of this art was unwelcome. It was clear from early on that the exhibition would also be shown in the Kunsthalle Rostock. The Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie in Regensburg stepped in as a third exhibition partner. It might be surprising that an exhibition like this did not take place in Berlin or Munich, since this would have been fitting with regard to the historical context. But we did not find any cooperation partners there.

Hitler himself acted as a promoter of art: In 1937, the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung” in Munich was opened under his patronage. What position do you think art was supposed to take in the Nazi-regime?

Of course Hitler, a failed artist himself, was very interested in art. The same was true for Göring or Goebbels, who privately collected paintings which were very different from the art that was publicly propagated in the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen”. But there was no clear official definition of what NS-art should look like. There were vague formulations from the political leadership, which placed art creation in the so-called völkisch or national identity, but there were no formal, stylistic or thematic instructions. It was not like somebody said, from now on please only draw pictures of peasants or families. The artists themselves, who were drawn to these topics, the political leadership and also private interested parties could choose from these sets of pictures at the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen”. The artists who exhibited their work there thus used the leeway concerning interpretation and action and also influenced developments. In 1937, at the latest, when the exhibition of “Degenerate Art” was opened at the same time as the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung”, one could be sure of what conformist art should not look like. For the most part, NS-art defined itself by excluding the so-called “Verfallskunst” (“decaying art”), by demeaning everything that was avant-gardist, modern, or critical. By excluding, vilifying and persecuting all the representatives of the avant-garde, as well as all Jewish artists and those who had unwanted political opinions, according to the perverse NS-logic, a sort of pure German art would emerge. Of course, the fine arts offered an ideal target to articulate a general discomfort and the hatred of modernity. By attacking modern art, the National Socialists attacked the concept of modernity as such.

Which artists and styles were vilified and presented in the “Degenerate Art”-exhibition?

The exhibition “Degenerate Art” was preceded by vast confiscations in numerous German museums. The confiscated works either ended up in an exhibition that travelled through Germany, were burnt, or sold abroad. All abstract paintings and all works of the modern streams since Impressionism – that is Cubism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Constructivism were included as a matter of principle, as well as anything that was critical of society, ironic or subversive. By the way, the Nazis were met with broad societal approval in their rejection of modern art, from völkisch-nationalist as well as conservative-bourgeois circles. Finally, independent of any stylistic or thematic criteria, anything created by Jewish artists as well as political opponents was classified as “degenerate”.

What exactly classifies as “artige” (well-behaved, agreeable or good) art?

The title of the exhibition is, of course, ironic and also meant in a slightly provocative way as a counter-term or antonym to “entartete Kunst” (“degenerate art”). Interestingly enough, there is no similarly succinct term for the art that was tolerated and welcomed in Nazi Germany. Sometimes, the Nazis spoke of “arteigene” (“belonging to the species”) art, but a proper antonym was not coined. A lot of people probably assume that all the art that was tolerated and promoted was always openly ideological. For instance, many of our visitors were expecting a predominance of paintings depicting war and soldiers. However, these kinds of pictures only made up a small part of the art that was being produced and only really came up in greater quantities in the 1940s. What came before and made up a much larger part was rather harmless and stuffy at first glance; it catered to a taste that was bourgeois through and through.

“Organising such a massive and hateful crack-down on works of art and their producers means that you think they are capable of doing a lot of harm – this can also be seen in other dictatorships.”


Did the contemporary art serve the rulers as a medium of propaganda all the same?

The evaluation of the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen” has shown that the large majority of art production was made of landscapes, still lifes of flowers, portraits and peasant scenes – a strangely disconnected, backward-looking imagery that had hardly anything to do with the social reality of the time. But it was indeed important to Josef Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler and other leading politicians that art was not explicitly propagandistic. Although these mechanisms were not addressed in a fundamental way, it seemed to be more about presenting a relieving alternative world to everyday life, just like the films of the time did. In this sense, art seemed very important to the NS-leadership. Otherwise, you cannot explain the huge efforts that went into the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen” from 1937 to 1944. However, the banning and destruction of the so-called “degenerate art” is almost more significant. Organising such a massive and hateful crack-down on works of art and their producers means that you think they are capable of doing a lot of harm – this can also be seen in other dictatorships.

What exactly was the imagery of the national-socialist idyll-paintings?

The painting of the rowers by Albert Janesch says a big deal. Simply the depiction of a sporting activity, you could say. But when you realise how simplified and schematic the figures are, the muscular and mechanical way in which they accomplish an effort together, you can see the message in there: They are striving for an overarching goal as a homogenous unit. We do not see individuals, but clones of the same type. In the end, a picture like this illustrates Nazi ideology and the idea of a homogenous racial corpus. It is not about the cooperation of independent individuals, but about a uniform movement that erases all individuality. The metaphor of hard peasant work was also popular, especially ploughing: The peasant, portrayed with his horses and his plough, in a time when agriculture was already industrialised, and reality was completely different. The ploughing in the picture seems like an enormous effort to bring about upheaval. On the one hand, these motifs have something idyllic about them, but there is also an underlying dull murmur. A lot of the pictures distinguish themselves by downplaying certain things in an extreme manner. We see an ideal, pre-industrial world where there are happy, healthy and energetic people, among them numerous mothers with lots of children, in keeping with the Nazis’ family policy. When you think of the simultaneous reality of the murderous Nazi regime, however, the mendacity of these images is evident.

Art in National Socialism is often dismissed as meaningless kitsch, yet the works disappeared in depots after the end of the war. Were the pictures perceived as dangerous?

The fact that the works silently disappeared in museum depots after 1945 mirrors what happened in other parts of society: First repress and lock away, and then go back to the time before the war or look ahead. This also explains the concept of the first documenta in 1955. Basically, people pretended like the time between the late 1920s and the end of World War II had not happened in Germany. This view was widely spread until the 1970s, when younger art historians started to deal with NS-art. The first attempts of showing this kind of art in exhibitions actually met with concerns that the works could exert a suggestive attraction – the exhibition of the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst in Berlin was subtitled “Aesthetic fascination in fascism”. When you look at the majority of the pictures in the original though, fascination is very limited. There is little virtuosity, a lot of stuffiness, and at best solid craftsmanship and the attempt to impress through large formats.

How did the audience react to your exhibition?

When we installed the exhibition, we did fear getting unwanted approval from people who were not democratically-minded, at first. As a matter of fact though, most of the over 15.000 visitors in Bochum reacted in a level-headed way and could place the works into the social context of the time. There was a lot of curiosity, many people wanted to learn more about the background. There has never been an exhibition in Situation Kunst that has generated so much discussion and so many questions. That showed us that, especially in this field, there is not only the possibility, but also the necessity for direct confrontation with the original works. And yet, this proved to be quite challenging for our curators Irina Lammert and Katherina Zimmermann, and especially the supervisory staff, who were all art history students. Some visitors, for example, were irritated by and even upset over the fact that we brought the reality of the time into the seemingly harmless ideal world portrayed in the imagery of the exhibition. We only tentatively did so by exhibiting four photographs of war-related destruction and the victims of the mass murders in concentration camps. Nevertheless, for most visitors, this cut was understandable and even helpful: They did not want to disregard this reality in their contemplation of these works. Some visitors recognised idyllic motifs that they had already seen in a different context, for instance as a reproduction in their grandparents’ house. This made them deal with these works in a very personal way. Many animated and even heated discussions in front of the exhibited works showed us that the topic triggers very different associations, but in the end, it affects everybody personally in one way or another.

Do you think that we perceive National Socialism in a different way as a result of the aforementioned contemplation?

Even though these pictures are no obvious propaganda, they were embedded in the political system. That this does not always work through obvious motifs and obvious propaganda is demonstrated very vividly in the exhibition. There are very different kinds of motifs, themes and styles, but still, walking through the exhibition provides you with an atmosphere that is definitely telling of Nazism and its propagated ideals. We consciously juxtaposed official NS-art with works of modernity, works of artists who were persecuted at the time. Not to take up and turn around the Nazis’ criteria or mechanisms of distinction, but because we wanted to show what was happening at the same time. That is why we also displayed the works of some artists whose relationship to National Socialism was rather ambiguous, for instance Otto Dix or Franz Radziwill. We also wanted to indicate grey areas, since the situation of many artists was of course much more complex than a simple juxtaposition can show. In any case, the works of the avant-garde show that there was an interest in the subjective, in actual experiences, and also in expressing distress, fears and personal concern. All of this cannot be found in the NS-art. The people we see there do not seem like individuals with whom we can identify, but more like generalised, simplistic types. For us, this exhibition was also a statement. During the preparations, it became evident that the New Right was gaining more and more followers: Thousands took to the streets in the pegida marches, the AfD became increasingly right-wing, the identitarians started their first actions and Donald Trump’s electoral campaign gained momentum. That gave us a feeling for the current political topicality of the exhibition. These connections to current affairs were also made by most visitors without us having to point them out explicitly.

Can “well-behaved” art help us learn something about the current political situation?

I think you can learn a lot about certain forms of staging and the function of supposedly harmless pictures; just think back to some of the AfD-posters from the last general election campaign. I think that an examination of the art of Nazi Germany and its role in the wider social context can open our eyes to what is happening right now. It can also help us understand socio-political contexts in general, as art production is always influenced by its surroundings.

Do you think that the fine arts can be an indicator of a political system change?

Drawing hasty conclusions from single works of art is surely somewhat tricky and unprofessional. You do have to examine a whole lot of works and take into account social contexts and backgrounds concerning cultural politics and mentality. However, you can deduce certain tendencies from the large number of works. My impression is that exhibitions like the “Artige Kunst” do not only offer indispensable analytical approaches but that they also tell us a lot about the time in terms of atmosphere, at least there is more than what the pictures show us superficially.

Interview: Jana Kipsieker

Translation: Charlotte Bander


Dr Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe
Foundation Situation Kunst Bochum


Nationalism in Modern History

“With the Thirty Years’ War, a constant reflection about the question what makes a modern state began –how is it organised and what can it do for the wellbeing of its citizens.”

Interview with Prof. Dr Marie-Thérèse Mourey

Anyone who deals with the German nation state will inevitably encounter the well-known phrase: “In the beginning was Napoleon”. However, before Germany enters the crucial phase of its national history, it exists in the form of a peculiar political construct: the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. In a conversation with 42 Magazine, Prof. Mourey explains how this empire differs from the nations that emerge during the nineteenth century and discusses whether it is a precursor of the modern nation state.

Prof. Dr. Mourey – Do you think the terms “nationalism” and “nation” can be applied to the phase of history you are most interested in?

The term “nation” can be applied to the Early Modern Age, the period between the Middle Ages and the French Revolution, but not as it is commonly used today. “Nationalism” can be used with the utmost caution and only in particular contexts.

What does the word “nation” refer to in the term “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”?

The meaning of the term “nation” has changed over time. Originally, the term “nation” referred to the so-called nationes: corporations of emigrated students at universities and academies. They set up groups based on lingual, cultural and geographical similarities. At medieval universities, students were assigned and registered according to their “nation”; derived from contemporary France, there were Picard, Norman and Gallic nations, for example. The councils produced a notable case where “nations” were founded on shared attributes to prevent the superiority of the Italian prelates. The term “German Nation” in “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” specifically starts to appear at the end of the 15th century. The first references can be found between 1470 and 1475. The term was then officially established in a recess at Cologne’s Imperial Diet in 1512. This legal action determined that from then on, the Empire was Roman because it was heir to the Roman Empire and Holy because it was Christian.

“‘Territorial fragmentation’ is a term that keeps coming up in reference to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation precisely because the Empire was divided into so many individual states.”


The term “German Nation” already included regions that still belong to Germany today – Bavaria and Swabia for example – but it also included Bohemia, which now belongs to the Czech Republic, parts of Hungary and also Silesia, which has been part of Poland since World War II. So it becomes clear that the term “nation” refers to the affiliation with a community determined by a common language, artistic and cultural acts as well as customs and conventions, maybe even ethnicity. And finally, the term “German Nation” refers to the region of the Holy Roman Empire and its citizens. You should keep in mind that the term “nation” is not identical with the political and governmental nations that emerged during the time of Napoleon and during the 19th century.

Were there political motives for the name “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”? And why did the term emerge right at the turn of the sixteenth century?

Because it was the result of a long-lasting endeavour to consolidate imperial power. It happened in the course of a longstanding conflict with the pontifical power, which was itself divided at the time. During this phase when there were two popes – one in Rome and one in Avignon – the Empire faced political realignment. Add to that the conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the East Roman Empire, by the Ottomans in 1453. And when Martin Luther appears on the scene at the beginning of the 16th century, a trial of strength begins: one between central and regional power but also one between the Emperor and the Pope. Traditionally, the Pope claimed sovereignty over the Emperor. Luther contended this claim, which had been justified by a document from the Donation of Constantine but ultimately turned out to be a fraud. So now Luther was able to demand the restoration of power to the Emperor and the end of the Pope’s tutelage.

What is the difference between “nationalism” and “patriotism” and which term is more applicable to the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”?

Patriotism is defined as the attachment to a community that is not necessarily a state. The Germans know the difference between homeland and fatherland very well. The fatherland is something closer to a political unit with certain values, a social organisation and a jurisdiction. The homeland on the other hand is the country you were born in and stay connected to, although regional, intellectual and denominational affiliations play into that as well. To me, the term patriotism seems fit to describe the various affiliations of states within the anything but unified Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. “Territorial fragmentation” is a term that keeps coming up in reference to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation precisely because the Empire was divided into so many individual states. When you want to distinguish the Empire from other states within Europe, from France, Poland or Russia, you can use the word “nationalism”, but with caveats and only in certain cases.

How did the political construction of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation differ from the kingdom of France?

I have already talked about the territorial fragmentation of the Empire. But there is another term that is often used to describe the peculiarity of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. It was coined by 17th century lawyer Samuel von Pufendorf, who described it as an irregular and monstrous state. The term “monstrous” is not a moral judgement in this case. It reflects the fact that the Empire did not match any of the categories or political compositions that had been used since the time of Aristotle. It was an outlier. Broadly speaking, the Empire resembled a confederation of states. There was an excessive amount of states, all with very different political values and varying significance. It was made up of very large states like the free state Bavaria but also small principalities that no longer exist. These were called “Duodezfürstentum” – in reference to a very small book format. There were also very important free cities like Hamburg and Augsburg. And then there were the so-called “Stände”, political entities that often acted as a counterweight to the prince or the central power. This confederation of states was defined by a strong particularism. A particularism that went hand in hand with a strong dislike of any tutelage of even remotely centralistic nature, which led to many negotiations. When it comes to cultural diversity, decentralisation and territorial fragmentation can be regarded as a stroke of luck. Because every political territory had developed its own forms of expression, there was a real variety in the literature, music, painting etc. of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

And what was the other side of that coin?

With regard to administrative and economic efficiency, the lack of unity was a problem, of course. Just think about the number of customs station you had to pass to go from one territory to another, the difficulties of collecting taxes or the lack of standardised measuring units or common currency. In France, Napoleon understood quickly that these things put a stop to a country’s modernisation effort and economic development. This form of diversity also had disastrous consequences from a military standpoint. There could be no common defense policy if there was no common fiscal policy. And so the negotiations between the Emperor and the individual princes, several of whom had converted to Protestantism, proved very difficult. But by now the Ottomans had become a serious threat. They had done fatal damage in Vienna and Hungary, first in the middle of the 16th century, around 1523-25 and then in 1663 and 1683 when they stood in front of the gates of Vienna and forced the Emperor to flee. We should also not forget the expansion attempts made under King Ludwig XIV. He successfully reconquered some of the cities in Alsace. In time, the lack of unification led to talks about a common finance policy that paved the way for defensive and later offensive warfare. You need an army to go to war, but you need financial means for an army and in turn, you need a functional administration to gain the financial means. There was a chain reaction towards modernisation, especially around the time of Friedrich II. of Prussia.

Were there any other political differences?

Yes. For example, you have to take into account that the Holy German Empire of the German Nation was not a hereditary but an elective monarchy. The Emperor was chosen by seven prince-electors, a system that was determined by Karl IV. in the Golden Bull of 1356. The problem was that when the Bull issued, all the princes had still been Catholic. But during the Reformation, several of them had converted to Protestantism. The fact that the Empire was an elective monarchy heightened the risk of political instability and became one of the reasons for the Thirty Years’ War. The “Stände” (classes) of Bohemia had originally elected Ferdinand of Hapsburg but then dethroned him to elect the prince-elector of Palatinate instead. He, in turn, could have elected the Emperor and thus toppled the majority within the Empire. That was the cause of the Thirty Years’ War. So advantages and disadvantages can be determined quite precisely. On the Empire’s side, there was a strong fragmentation and a huge amount of inequality between the individual members. That was the source of great cultural riches but also resulted in many economic, financial and administrative weaknesses.

And what about the kingdom of France?

There was a stronger centralisation in France, which demanded that everyone had to submit to one king, one faith and one law. There was little consideration for local peculiarities. The Emperor may have had the sovereignty over political institutions in theory. But in practice, his power was very limited and very contested. After the Reformation, the abdication of Karl V and finally the Thirty Years’ War, the Emperor’s power had decreased significantly. After the war, the estimation of the Emperor actually went up again – and then came the dissolution of the Empire in 1806. This revitalisation of imperial power became absolutistic. “Absolutism” is a term that is often used to describe the reign of Ludwig XIV. In many ways, Leopold I also tried to restore the estimation of the Emperor through his politics. Financially, administratively and linguistically, the kingdom of France became centralised much earlier. A permanent army was founded in the Thirty Years’ War. This long-term strategy was consistently enforced in France and the process of centralisation began much earlier.

You have already talked about the threat that the Ottomans posed and mentioned the necessity to unite in the face of this threat. Would you say that “nationalism” and “national identity” always involve hostility and distrust of an adjacent nation?

The case I described concerned hostility towards the Ottomans – non-Christians, infidels. That is why some of the alliances within the Empire can be described as opportunistic. These alliances were born out of necessity, out of an awareness of the threat that a possible defeat against a Muslim – and from a Christian perspective, inferior – people would pose. The alliance between Franz I. and the Turkish sultan Suleiman complicated the matter because naturally, the Hapsburgs were his enemies. That a Christian ruler should join forces with a Muslim against another Christian ruler really shocked his contemporaries. So there was a shift during that time, concerning religious or denominational identities that are not yet national in the modern sense of the word. Furthermore, they are defined by a political pragmatism with the goal to enforce its power and distinguish itself from others.

Has nationalism replaced religion as a belief system or has religion rather been in service of nationalism throughout history?

That’s a wide-ranging question. We are talking about a time when religious convictions were all-encompassing. Despite all internal disagreements, Europe defended a common position against a threat that had universally been identified as Muslim. You can see a natural connection between a common religious faith and an affiliation with a German nation in the 17th century – even if politics had in practice detached itself from religious principles. Let’s go a bit further, to the 18th century, and look at the example of Maria-Theresia of Austria who was very Catholic, bigoted in fact. This resulted in governing problems in the face of the Ottoman threat. She opposed decisions that would have led to a modernisation of the state and made the lives of the people who were not acting morally enough in her opinion miserable. She was against the secularisation of society. In the 19th century, after the fall of Napoleon, the restoration began in Europe and with it, a part of German history that is known as “the alliance of throne and altar”. During this time, politics used religion as a prop to restore the moral order that had been toppled by the liberal ideals of the French Revolution – Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. In the Third Reich, Christianity became an object of disgusting absorption when the “German Christians” claimed that Jesus had not been a Jew but an Arian, that he had been the first glorious German. They claimed that Christianity was German. Today, there are many intellectuals and thinkers who see nationalism as a question of faith, in the sense that it is faith in an ideal. Although of course faith in a nation is immanent, as opposed to faith in a god.

In how far can you compare the Thirty Years’ War with modern wars? Had there been martial conflicts before or had it been a time of peace?

It had not been a time of peace. There had always been conflicts. But they had been comparatively limited in terms of location and length although they had also been pretty severe. What stood out about the Thirty Years’ War was its duration. But also the fact that only a few regions remained unaffected. Vienna was under siege and Bavaria had been hit hard, to name only two examples. But first and foremost, it was a war in which foreign forces fought on German ground and I think that was the crucial circumstance which turned an event into a war that affected all of Germany.

“In the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Thirty Years’ War showed the necessity of strong political power. That means the need for an assertive administration, good finances and a strong army. These conclusions were easy to draw but hard to implement.”


Of course this war was stylised as a great German war afterwards. Mythifications like this were especially common in the 19th and 20th century. I’m thinking of Günther Grass who writes about the question of how authors can deal with the legacy of the great wars of the 20th century in his book Das Treffen von Telgte. He chose the preparations for peace around 1647 as a historical starting point. Of course he had his part in stylising the whole thing as a German war. Some stories about the Thirty Years’ War are unverified. There was definitely a lot of destruction but the claim that two thirds of the population were eliminated seems like an exaggeration to me, more so because there was no reliable census back then. Surveys of that kind were only introduced after the Thirty Years’ War to close this particular gap. But it is true that it was a very long and very gruesome war in which German territories were not spared. It is generally regarded as the last religious war and the first modern war at the same time. As I said, the cause of it was that the “Stände” of Bohemia had dethroned the rightful ruler to elect a new one. That one had been Catholic, this one was a Calvinist. Besides, the Catholic, Ferdinand of Hapsburg, had revoked his concessions to the Calvinists. He had banned services in their churches. So it is important to show that, even if we try to separate religion and politics in the 21st century, the two were almost congruent in the 16th and 17th century.

… because religious power was political power.

Precisely, and the Catholic rulers thought they had a right to force their religion and their faith on their subjects by the grace of God. But I don’t think this war can be compared to later ones, apart from its identity-establishing influence which came later anyway. This identitarian legacy didn’t make itself felt during the wars of the 18th century. There had been wars in the 18th century, between Friedrich II. and Maria Theresia, Poland, and Russia, etc., but this period was only rediscovered by impressionist authors in World War I. They highlighted the parallels between the Thirty Years’ War and World War I. Because back then, foreign forces fought on German ground for the first time, maybe not the US or Japan, but Denmark, Spain, and France intervened. And like World War I, the Thirty Years’ War also resulted in a crisis of consciousness with a nationalist edge.

An important difference between the two wars may have been that mercenaries were still deployed in the Thirty Years’ War…

Yes, exactly. In France, that changed with the revolution. In the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Thirty Years’ War showed the necessity of strong political power. That means the need for an assertive administration, good finances and a strong army. These conclusions were easy to draw but hard to implement. Friedrich I. of Prussia (1701 – 13) did not implement it as well as his son Friedrich-Wilhelm I. (1713 – 40) who founded a permanent army in the form of the famous “lange Kerls”. His own son, Friedrich II, became the beneficiary of these actions and got to make use of this army. But actually, with the Thirty Years’ War, so with the second half of the 17th century, a constant reflection about the question what makes a modern state began; how is it organised and what can it do for the wellbeing of its citizens. Even if the last point was not really essential. The goal was to preserve a strong political force and the state needed an appropriate finance politic to do that.

Is German federalism a result of the territorial fragmentation that was, as you said, so characteristic of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation?

German federalism is not necessarily a direct result of that but there is a certain continuity between the two. Federalism is a logical answer to the loose confederation of states of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation: It’s the same basic strive to find a balance between a central force and local particularities, even if the problem is not as severe today as it once was. There were 360 states then. How many countries are there today?

Not as many…

Not as many, yes. Of course, the ratio between central and local forces has changed and is now legally determined. This relationship between the government and federal states has become a sort of democratic liberalism. But it seems to me that the Germans still have a hard time with transregional policies and you can see what that means for European politics: it becomes just a bit harder. So I believe that historically, federalism is a logical consequence, but I wouldn’t call it legacy.

Interview & Translation: Leo Rasch


Prof. Dr. Marie-Thérèse Mourey, Université Paris Sorbonne

United Nations

Nationalism and the United Nations

“The United Nations provide an established, structured, and institutionalised forum which emanates from the basic assumption of state egalitarianism”

Interview with Prof Dr Heike Krieger, Faculty of Jurisprudence, Public Law, and Law of Nations, Freie Universität Berlin.

The United Nations was founded in 1949 amidst the aftermath of the catastrophes of the World War II. The organisation’s pronounced goal: the safeguarding of world peace. The revitalisation of nationalism is now testing the solidarity of the most important intergovernmental entity for international cooperation. 42 Magazine speaks to international law expert Prof. Dr. Heike Krieger from the Free University of Berlin about the developments within the UN from cooperation to confrontation.

Prof Dr Krieger – At the United Nations, the most diverse states gather. However, in academia, nation states and nations are not congruent. Are nations therefore underrepresented at the UN?

That depends on one’s concept of what a nation is. The UN uses the term interchangeably with that of the state. The discourse in the field of Law of Nations is concerned with the question whether or not there are nations beyond the category ‘state’, focussing rather on the notion of peoples and their rights of self-determination. In some cases, national borders contradict those of peoples, or nations, since there are populations that are spread out in several states. One example would be the Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

How does that play into cases such as Canada, where Québec is recognised as its own nation within the state – or Spain with its autonomous regions?

The right of self-determination has various aspects. A major component is the internal self-determination: Peoples or ethnic groups within a state can be awarded certain autonomous rights. They may include regulations concerning multilingualism or competences in areas such as education. To this effect, national constitutions and laws implement the necessary arrangements, such as the Spanish or Canadian legal systems. Additionally, there are international limitations set by treaties meant to protect the rights of minorities.

Why are some nations or nation states not represented at the UN?

By now, all nation states that are recognised by international law, which amounts to 193 nation states, are represented in the UN. The remaining nations are so-called de facto regimes: units which have the characteristics of a state but remain unacknowledged by the global community, for instance Somaliland or Taiwan. These few exceptions are excluded from membership mostly for political reasons. In the case of Taiwan, for example, both Taiwan and China adhere to the continued existence of a unified state which results in Taiwan not claiming statehood. 

The United Nations have existed for almost 70 years. Why is there no global government yet; or any efforts to that end?

You are asking why there is no global government? Such a governmental system would have to meet very strict requirements, especially if it were supposed to have democratic legitimacy. It cannot be permitted to develop into an autocratic structure. We have to ensure that all parts of the world are represented appropriately and equally within such an enormous organisation. It is a utopian fantasy. There are probably too many barriers to make this fantasy a reality. One issue would be whether or not it is possible to find enough common ground between the diverse nations to have the needful sense of community sprout between them. I believe the current developments suggest that the very attempt would be met with hostility. At the moment, it is unrealisable. However, the question remains: Should the idea be developed further? Could the means to participate on a global level be expanded, for instance? One important step into that direction, although on a lower level, is the election to the European parliament. It is meant to encourage the citizens’ participation in the European idea, and the European Union. The significance of social media and new possibilities of communication should be considered when thinking about ways to increase participatory elements.

As you have just indicated there is a similar development at the EU-level. The project of the United States of Europe is a highly controversial issue.

Exactly. Even though the EU is characterised by its smaller size as an international organisation with historically and culturally interlinked member states, dispute and movements to contest persist. The goal to preserve the European peace used to create meaning; a common purpose that the member states and their citizens shared. However, even in Europe people feel that the interests of individual parts of the population are not sufficiently represented. Culture, religion, and language are perhaps factors of greater significance than it was assumed in the 1990s. The crisis of the process of European integration is also part of what we can observe right now: the return to the ‘national’. Maybe a unified identity should be created on a higher level, an identity policy that creates a greater unity between the peoples instead of focussing on the nation states.

In how far is nationalism a challenge for the international framework of Global Governance?

Global Governance is an international framework of institutions and regulations that are implemented to solve transboundary problems. Right now we observe a wave of populism that is often interlinked with nationalist tendencies. In some nation states populism, sometimes paired with other ideologies, even challenges international law. Certain structural elements from the ideology of a nationalist-oriented populism oppose solid international cooperation. They object to the idea of controlling nation states through international committees, for instance in areas such as human rights, supranational organisations or multilateralism. Populism manifests differently in each country, though. When US president Donald Trump promotes his “America First” agenda, it has a different significance for the international community than if Poland or Hungary pursue nationalist politics. The US are still regarded as the guarantor of international order, an outcome of the Cold War. The pursuit of the rule of law, democracy and human rights remain guiding principles associated with the United States.

According to your observations, do you think nationalism is evolving into a global trend?

Personally, I treat the term “trend” with care. However, many observers do see a trend, since nationalist and populist processes clearly influenced the US presidential election. The development in the UK – the withdrawal from the EU – can be interpreted as a decision informed by nationalism. Hungary, Poland, Russia – even the Indian government is perceived as nationalist. This is especially alarming when legal actions are taken, such as the refusal to accept international court rulings, withdrawing from international organisations or the termination of human rights treaties. Decisions like these can evolve into major challenges for the international order. Nevertheless, it is important to evaluate each case individually. For example, the announcement that the US plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was met with criticism from around the globe. However, this decision may strengthen the agreement in the long run, since the US will not be able to hamper the process from within.

What role does the UN play in the coordination of national interests?

The founding principle of the United Nations is to facilitate the cooperation between states. The actions of the UN should expand beyond the interests of the nation states and enable international law to realise the so-called ‘common interests’ or ‘global goods’. The most representative examples of the attempts to realise these goals originate from environmental politics. The ramifications of pollution and climate change are global. The rich industrial nations in the Global North are responsible for their causes; however, the impacts are especially visible in the Pacific Islands. In order to find a global solution to the problem, the nation states have to look beyond bilateral national interests and work towards a global goal.

“Part of the difficulties that the EU and other international organisations have to face emerges when uncomfortable problems are passed on from national politics to the international level.”


International law aims to reach this goal since 1990. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 as well as the Paris Agreement in 2015 shows that progress. However, there are also states that doubt the common interest and try to scale back the power of international law. These nation states envision a return to a legal system that coordinates bilateral relations instead of realising global interests. The Trump administration stands symbolically for that movement.

The structure of the United Nations is a subject of recurring criticism.

Indeed, there exists a lot of criticism concerning its structure. There certainly is a constant need for reform. Some of the current impulses of the US administration seem sensible to many, such as the call to reform the United Nations Human Rights Council. How can we justify that there are members in the council that violate human rights to a considerable degree? Besides: Doesn’t the right of veto of the five veto-holding powers undermine the legitimacy of the Security Council? These structures remain to be explained. Additionally, there are questions concerning efficiency: are the structures overly complicated? Is the administrative apparatus cluttered? Apart from these questions, however, the United Nations provide an established, structured, and institutionalised forum which emanates from the basic assumption of state egalitarianism. It enables all states worldwide, and therefore also the world population, to determine and pursue common interests.

Can Global Governance only be achieved with the help of the United Nations?

Without having a formally institutionalised organisation, the only way to undertake tasks of global scope would be through a coalition of the willing. There was a tendency to establish such loosely connected coalitions in the early 2000s which resulted in the founding of groups such as G8, G7 or G20. These groups make decisions of far-reaching political importance. The problem of these informal structures is that the most powerful of the states can exercise their power with few limitations. There is no legal and institutional framework. The sovereign equality of the states is not guaranteed to the same extent as within the United Nations. That is because there is no way to fairly determine who belongs and who does not. There is no clear legal basis that informs this decision. This way, the imbalance of power consolidates. Participation and representation of the global population are even less available than in the UN. Compared to that, a well-structured, legally established system should always be favoured, in my opinion.

You talked about the fact that nationalism gains a new significance in many states. Some examples are the recent US presidential election, Poland or India. Critics argue that this development could be especially problematic for the UN Security Council.

Without a doubt, the right of veto privileges the five veto-holding powers: The US, Russia, the UK, France and China. For a long time, this privilege was regarded as an illegitimate means to safeguard the interests of the veto-holding powers, especially in cases such as with Syria, in which the UN Security Council becomes unable to act. However, in my opinion, the right of veto plays a significant part in the current shift in power relations. A conflict between these five powers bears a high potential for escalation. The risk of a limited, bilateral conflict finally escalating into a world war is real.

“But what we can see now is a shift towards a multipolar world. This shift challenges the unipolar world order with the USA as the global leading power.”


Since the end of the Cold War, many have not taken that risk seriously as long as most military interventions were deployed in states with ‘weak statehood’ such as Syria or various African countries. But what we can see now is a shift towards a multipolar world. This shift challenges the unipolar world order with the USA as the global leading power. Russia as well as China assert themselves more intensely within the international system again, sometimes with military measures. The danger of a military escalation between these powers has become a real possibility again. This helps explain why a right of veto is important to prevent a global escalation of conflicts.

Do you think that the UN has a fundamental need for reform?

I am afraid that a large reform of the UN’s system is currently unrealistic. It is unlikely that the underlying set of agreements will be changed. At the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, there were great efforts undertaken in this area. Some states made very specific suggestions to change the composition of the UN Security Council. But these efforts remained unsuccessful. Today the will to work together has become even weaker than it was at the time. National interests regained importance. I can hardly imagine that one of the five veto-holding powers would waive their right to veto at present. Furthermore, the question remains which system should replace the current arrangement of the UN Security Council. 

Is the UN condemned to stagnation?

The UN Charta is a treaty of international law. It evolves through legal interpretation. In international law, the interpretation of a treaty can change, namely by a change in convictions of the states which transforms the exercise of the legal practice. This constant flux prevents stagnation. This way, many rules set by the Charta have been interpreted differently than they were intended: One example would be the deployment of peacekeeping forces. The method to deploy these troops has evolved over a long period of time. It is still possible to further develop the Charta this way. There are many suggestions concerning this issue. For instance, the veto-holding powers could waive their right to veto in cases that involve the violation of human rights to a considerable extend, as France suggested. Another possible solution could be that the veto-holding powers would have to justify their veto in cases such as mentioned above. These suggestions are transformations that could be brought about by a change in practice without having to undergo an extensive contractual reform. Such slow steps are much more realistic and feasible than a complete reform. The structure of the UN administration could be changed in a similar manner. However, we will have to live with this fundamental structure and distribution of power for quite some time to come.

Would you say that plans to reform the UN fail over and over again?

Not necessarily. Some things have been changed, after all. There used to be the Commission of Human Rights; the structure and methods were changed later on, which then gave way to the Human Rights Council. The US has recently requested a reform of the committee. I can imagine that further development is made possible by this. However, to change the actual contractual text, the treaty would have to be changed in a formal act – part of that procedure is the ratification by all member states. Questions arise from this: Do we really want to subject the UN Charta to ratification proceedings in the US, even though its failure is to be expected? I think rather not. Not touching the actual treaty is, in my opinion, a wise decision.

A lot of criticism comes from western countries that are less dependent on the UN or that rather regard it as a committee of coordination and collaboration. Does the UN have an image problem?

Perhaps we can assume that developing and emerging countries of the Global South have set their hopes of a fairer world in the UN, for example by means of distributive justice, during the diverse phases in their history. In the 1970s, there has been a big debate about the new economic world order which was supposed to implement higher distributive justice. The general assembly was an important platform which was supposed to help achieve this political goal. The Global North, however, never relied on these global norms of justice as the Global South did. The states of the Global North regarded the UN as a forum for security politics and a forum for development aids, but always from the perspective of the donor. Additionally, you can see in Germany that, for a long time, foreign policy was primarily oriented towards the EU. There is a European department in every ministry, but only few list a United Nations department. Germany’s neglect to participate sufficiently and prominently in the UN is, in my opinion, a failure of German foreign policy. The significance of the United Nations should be presented to the German public not only as a keeper of world peace, but also as a means to create a good and fair world order.

What kind of participation would you like to see from Germany?

Participation could take place on many levels. As I mentioned, one possibility is the intensified involvement of the UN in the work of the ministries with the help of their own UN departments. An updated security policy is an important point as well, for instance the participation of German troops in UN peacekeeping operations. This has not happened in a long time. The German government considered the military structures of the UN not efficient enough and therefore deemed the operations unsafe for German soldiers. Within the NATO and EU structures, this was different. The involvement of the German armed forces in Mali has changed the situation in a striking way. I would like to see more of this type of participation in the future. For too long, states from the Global South were the main providers of troops for peacekeeping operations. That was an unfortunate imbalance since peacekeeping operations are supposed to be a joint initiative. Besides, the military effectiveness of the states from the Global North is often greater and therefore decisive for the success of the operation.

Currently, the German armed forces are especially promoting the operation in Mali on social media.

Yes, that is really interesting. The legitimacy of such an operation is perhaps higher than with others. Especially when comparing it to anti-terrorist operations, upon which the legal basis is disputed. But when the German military proceeds within the framework of the UN, it should be possible to emphasize that the troops are pursuing the global community’s interests.

Let us go back to the critical voices: Followers of the nationalist tendencies in Europe criticise globalisation in particular. The United Nations are not exempt from that criticism. Is this the reason for the unpopularity of the organisation?

The nationalist and populist tendencies which we observe right now often arise in relation to globalisation. In my opinion, these two issues are interwoven. On the one hand, globalisation has been increasing noticeably since 1990. Consequently, this leads to a higher degree of interconnectivity, global freedom of movement, global communication, to some extent a global public opinion and many positive developments in the economic sector, such as a strong middle class in China and other states from the Global South. On the other hand, globalisation has a wide range of negative consequences: flows of refugees, economic crises, financial crises and evident anxieties stemming from these developments in some parts of the population.

“The nationalist and populist tendencies which we observe right now often arise in relation to globalisation.”


Furthermore, globalisation led to a shift of many political decisions from the national to the global sphere since the ramifications are global, and thus no longer a national issue. However, these processes are often not addressed by the United Nations, but in networks such as G20. These global committees are, as previously discussed, often unstructured and non-transparent. Also, a lot of far-reaching decisions reside with the international financial institutions. With this aspect in particular, the question arises in how far the decisions made by these institutions can be democratised again and thereby gain legitimacy. This issue specifically applies to the Global North and its democratic constitutional states. To me, this is part of the problem.


Although the Global South has profited in part from globalisation, it is still forced to accept major disparities concerning the distribution of global wealth. In comparison, the Global North is pervaded by anti-globalisation tendencies. Some of these include vague concerns over globalisation or well articulated, informed criticism about the lack of legitimacy and transparency in the decision-making processes. Not much is happening in this context. At the same time, international institutions have not always fulfilled their role the way one could have hoped; an example would be the poor performance of the financial institutions during the financial crisis. The reactions to the crisis and the resources deployed, such as the Euro rescue fund, were highly controversial. This is another instance where questions of democratic legitimation have to be asked. Thus, this is the perfect environment for populist and nationalist parties to grow. They take up legitimate points of criticism to connect them to their anti-elite, anti-pluralist, nationalist and racist discourses and thoughts. Their ideology falls on fertile ground.

Nationalist and right-wing tendencies currently thrive within neo-liberalism while simultaneously turning against it. How do they relate to one another?

My guess is that the conservative political branch has diversified. On the one side there is a liberal conservatism of values that counts on a liberal economic system. But this liberal world view refers to a liberal constitutional system, a liberal world order that acknowledges human rights. The right to property is the fundamental prerequisite of a market economy. The idea that human rights and economy are directly connected originates from the 1990s. The conservative-nationalist and populist tendencies are in opposition to the liberal constitutional system and liberality in particular. Victor Orbán makes is abundantly clear in his speeches that he wants to abolish liberal constitutionalism and that he turns against minority rights and certain fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Many followers of these tendencies see their national identity and the sovereignty of their national borders threatened by global processes. Where does this feeling of insecurity come from?

There are many empirical studies on this issue. However, I am a legal expert, not a political scientist. My impression is that the refugee crisis has led to this subjective perception. The fact that this perception often does not correspond with reality probably stems from the political exploitation of these events from several parties. Part of the difficulties that the EU and other international organisations have to face emerges when uncomfortable problems are passed on from national politics to the international level. This is especially true for the responsibility of political decisions. A common excuse is “We could not do anything about it, it was Brussels’ fault!” although the member states participate in the decision-making in Brussels and further pursue their policies. They have a vote in the resolutions. Still, this idea of shifting power has led to a negative image of the global and European institutions. 

How could one address this development from an international perspective? What efforts could the United Nations undertake?

An expansion of the knowledge of the people by a strong PR campaign would certainly be an important step. However, I believe that the responsibility lies with the member states of the UN since they are the connecting link between citizen and organisation. They work within the organisation or together with it on an international level, which is something they have to communicate to their population. The goal is to pursue appropriate policies on an international level and campaign for said policies among the national population, ideally with opportunities for participation. 

One last question: Would you say that despite the justified criticism, the UN is without alternative?

‘Without alternative’ is an awful term. I do believe, however, that the world would be in a much worse state without the United Nations.

Interview: Anna Hörter

Translation: Eva Fürst

United Nations

Prof. Dr. Heike Krieger, Freie Universität Berlin


Nationalism and Philosophy

Each nation is entitled to its own flourishing in the garden of mankind, and nations can overlap and fertilise each other.”

Interview with Dr Edward Kanterian, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Kent

Philosophy and nationalism have a complex relationship. Over the last two and a half centuries, philosophical notions of belonging, human nature and historical progression have given birth to tamed, reinforced, and undermined nationalistic tendencies, both rebutting and providing ideological support for nationalists in Europe and beyond. What can philosophy teach us today about the power and danger of nationalism?

Dr. Kanterian – First of all, I want to get clear on these elusive concepts: nation and nationalism. What is a nation? What is nationalism? How are the two related, and how can we try and understand these phenomena as philosophers? 

Indeed, these are elusive notions. I think we would be better off beginning with theories of nationalism rather than theories of the nation, even if the former concept in some sense depends on the latter. This is because the notion of nationalism seems less vague and context-dependent than the notion of the nation. For nationalism itself, I think the best method is to adopt, for the sake of argument, a working definition. The one offered by Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism is a good starting point, because it has gained some currency. According to this definition, nationalism involves the insistence on ‘the right of self-determination of a people’, a definition which entails the idea of a people’s entitlement to a state, whereby the idea of the state implies having own territorial borders and full political sovereignty. On this view, political identity and ethnic or cultural identities correspond one to one, so that there exists a nation-state for each people. This means that the political borders and demarcations, which are in some important sense ‘imaginary’ – which are part of the realm of ideas, such as rights, liberties or civic duties – coincide with cultural or ethnic borders. This working definition obviously raises many questions about the nature of the state, and of the notion of ‘a people’.

But before we engage in these questions, philosophical problems arise. The crux of the issue is this: The definition just provided seems to entail the exclusion of something else. Now the exclusion of something entails the existence of something which could in principle be shared. Imagine that you propound your vision of an ethnic nation-state and I propound the vision of mine. If I live on Mars and you on earth, we’d have nothing to do with each other and no serious problems would even arise – definitions of nations in the relevant sense only really apply when there is something at stake, something to fight over, something that can be disputed, and this is paradigmatically territory. When we have a definition of the nation that works like this, we are landed with a more specific nationalism: ‘exclusionary’ nationalism, which we might contrast with a more ‘inclusionary’ nationalism.

What are the central doctrines of ‘exclusionary’ nationalism? And what do you consider its primary philosophical weaknesses?

The real issue with this exclusionary nationalism is that it makes claims about the necessary connection between the nation and the territory, but it also implies that there is something at issue which we could, in principle, share. There is something to which we both could have claim and access, it is just that each party claims to have exclusive access, or rightful access, to it, the paradigmatic case being territory. The claims of the exclusionary nationalist can only involve a ‘historically acquired right’, say to a territory, and it seems that these can only stand on equal ground – no pun intended – with another historically acquired right to the same thing. I might justify my position by saying ‘because I lived here longer than you’ or something similar. But in principle there is nothing about the territory, land or the landscape itself, no natural properties of the place, from which you could read off ‘this belongs to my nation rather than yours’. This implies a contingency in the relation between the territory and the nation, for implicit in me telling you that ‘you don’t belong here, you have no right to it’ is the idea that ‘you could have been there, you could have had a right to it, but I was there first’. And that we could both have been there makes a strange implicit reference to the universal fact of the accessibility of the territory as such to others, ultimately to mankind as a whole. All this undermines the nationalist tendency to identify a territory as necessarily belonging to a people. If the people had settled elsewhere, exactly the same argument would have applied: ‘You would not have had any right to it, since I was there first’. Notice the use of the same indexicals.

So the nationalists work on the assumption that their nation has a necessary and natural connection to the land, a land to which they therefore have an absolute right. But what you are claiming is that in fact this assumption points to the contingency of the connection between nation and land, because in laying claim to the land we see that anyone could have made such a claim, but just happened not to.

Indeed. Now, the nationalist won’t claim that his nation cannot exist unless it occupies this territory in toto, for we encounter cases in which a nation has to share its territory – in the nationalist’s eyes its fully justified, rightful national territory – with another nation, and no nationalist would say that this invalidates its claims to the land or that his nation has ceased to exist. Perhaps they might say that the nation does not exist ‘fully’, but it is still obviously alive. Think of cases of exile, displacement and deportation, when a nation is forced to leave its ancestral lands altogether. Still, this doesn’t mean that the nation does not exist, although perhaps it means that the nation cannot fully flourish or develop. This again pays tribute to the contingency in the relation between the nation and the land because they come apart in such cases.

The nationalist, in claiming a necessary connection between the nation and the territory, in fact demonstrates the contingency of this connection. Why the mismatch?

Well, this whole analysis involves taking an external point of view on the nationalist, for this is certainly not how the nationalist himself understands his position. We might do well here to distinguish between the ‘internal point of view’, of one subscribing to the nationalist story, and an ‘external point of view’ in which we view the phenomena of nationalism ‘from the outside’ as it were – looking at how this idea of the nation accords with much more general facts about human political and cultural existence on this planet. Often the exclusionary nationalist doesn’t care about that – he doesn’t wish to talk about much except about his nation, his rights and his victimisation, he doesn’t care about how his story fits into a more general picture. But that is only to say that he does not understand himself.

Are there non-exclusionary nationalisms? Do nationalisms not always require an ‘other’ who is not of the nation, or perhaps an ‘other’ who is part of the nation in some sense but not in another – I’m thinking of the enemies ‘internal’ to the state – to define itself against?

I take there to be two very interesting points here. The first is to say that the exclusionary nationalist needs that thing which he rejects. Imagine a world in which all nations are united – I am told that some Serbians claim that wherever some Serb dies, this becomes Serbian land – so let’s say for example that the whole world has become Serbian. Once the entire globe is united in this way, nationalism might cease to be a concern or even make sense. In actual fact, such an ideal situation will never arise. The need to define ourselves against something else will arise anew.

Perhaps a self-definition of ourselves as ‘earthlings’ as against the Martians?

Yes, that sort of thing, although a less fantastical example might also be given by a narrative about the ‘shadows of the past’. We can imagine hearing, once the whole world has become Serbian, that ‘unless we continue along this path of being good Serbians, and drill it into our national-global consciousness, there might be voices arising to challenge us – the voice of the Croatian, the Bosnian, and Hungarian ‘within us’. Then there is the imperative to make sure that these voices do not arise in us and to look out for enemies inside the national-global group.

What does this requirement for the other in the internal dialectic of the exclusionary nationalist prove?

Perhaps that his position is unstable. He needs the other to assert himself, but in doing so, in claiming the dignity and sovereignty of his nation, he is bound to admit the reality of other nations. And that entails that it is possible to accord to other nations this status of dignity and glory he wishes to claim for his own nation. The exclusionary nationalist must oppose himself to something, that is for sure, but to what? Not to stones, not to oranges or apes, not even to slaves or subhumans. He must oppose himself to someone who is on the same level as him in the relevant respects. It is doubtful, of course, that the nationalist is aware of this dialectic, and this is constitutive of the partly mythical character of his enterprise.

Right, this seems like the nationalist therefore works on the tacit assumption that whoever he opposes is roughly equal in dignity and sovereignty, whilst then usually going on to deny this in the course of his argument.

Yes, and we might ask whether this is actually an irrational attitude rather than simply one we disagree with. For if he is buying into an attitude which is at odds with his practise then this seems a good reason for attributing irrationality to him. But of course, we need to investigate whether and to what extent other positions are more rational. In any case, to return to your previous question, I think there is certainly a distinction that can be drawn between exclusionary and non-exclusionary nationalisms. Exclusionary nationalism implies the rejection of coexistence with regards to something which is sharable in principle. For exclusionary nationalism, the paradigm case of the ‘something sharable in principle’ here has always been territory, but more recently we have seen exclusionary nationalistic ideas applied to other aspects as well, such as national culture and identity. You have these ‘identitarians’ popping up across Europe and the US, including Les Identitaires in France and the Identitäre Bewegung in Germany, and those who marched with their torches in Charlottesville. There is something intriguing here, because whilst these are exclusionary nationalists – indeed they seem almost a paradigm case of this – they also have more of a global perspective, or, at the very least, propound a nationalism that extends to the whole European continent.

What defines these movements?

Well, for one thing these movements seem to collaborate across borders. They see external enemies; first, Islam and Islamism, which they don’t distinguish, secondly what some of them call ‘imperialism’ – which basically refers to American cultural dominance, developments that, in their eyes, are erasing native cultures. On the economic front they seem in one respect close to the radical left, at least insofar as they are opposed to ‘globalism’, to centralised entities such as the EU. And like the radical left, which can slide towards anarchism, they claim to aim for direct democracy. But unlike the radical left they are not opposed to private property, and they seem to believe in some sort of free trade, as long as it is ‘anti-global’ – although I’m not sure how worked out these economic programs are. The other thing they emphasise, in contradistinction to the left, is what they perceive as the core of European identity, namely Christianity and traditional Christian values, which they contrast with the values of the ‘arrivals’, the Muslim immigrants, but also of more liberal, ‘rational’, free-thinking and alternative life-styles. As to whether identitarians are supremacists, like the fascists and Nazis, on the face of it identitarians don’t proclaim the inferiority of other races, but just the necessity of the separation of peoples, cultures, religions, races. Of course, even if they are not explicitly racist in their ideology, this often still translates into racism, or at least segregation in practice. Many of their adherents do have such views and it is very easy for these positions to slide. The issue of exclusionary nationalism sliding into fascism is a serious problem. After all, why should cultures or races remain or be separated? Presumably, because one is better than the other. Or is one to think that each is good in itself, but it’s the mixture which is bad? The one reasonable argument one can invoke for the asymmetry between different cultures is precisely the one identitarians cannot invoke; the claim that the values of freedom and democracy, of the dignity of the individual, of rule and order have indeed been developed in the West. It is clear why identitarians cannot invoke this argument – it is universal, ‘globalist’, referring to mankind as such, and it would commit them to the opposite of exclusionary politics. Strictly speaking, they cannot even invoke Christianity, which is not a tribalist, nativist religion, but professes charity towards the other, almost to the point of self-denial. Christian identity politics seems a contradiction in terms to me.

I wonder what the nationalist is trying to do by claiming a necessary connection between the nation and the land. Is it supposed to invoke some kind of right? To what court of appeal?

Well, to return to the more theoretical points, there is this fascinating inner dialectic going on, of which the nationalist is not aware. As philosophers, we are required to do the homework for the nationalist; to provide an external perspective on the phenomena in addition to the internal one. The nationalist, when he lays claim to a certain territory, invokes the right of self-rule.

“The quasi-legal ‘This belongs to me’ is followed by martial ‘Here is my battle axe’, not vice versa.”

But the concept of the rights of a nation is parasitic on, or at the very least grounded in, the more basic understanding of rights, namely the rights of the individual. The invocation of the right to self-determination is not done in a vacuum. If you are the only people on the planet, it is entirely vacuous to invoke a right to the land. Any talk of national self-determination implies that there is a thing which all can in principle lay claim to. And that assumes that there is or there needs to be some external authority to whom we go to settle the clash of rights.

But surely in most cases, at least historically, the convinced nationalist doesn’t rely on a judge or on justice, but on force. Regardless of the verdict of some judge, he who wins the battle controls the land.

Indeed, but this only really works in the state of nature, which is itself a mythical construct. Very soon afterwards, one party – usually the defeated party – realises that this is not the way to go. Even the victorious party will have incurred lots of victims, sacrificed men and resources, and they will sooner or later realise that they need to adjudicate these conflicts by bringing the conflict to some external legislator. As Kant aptly observed: ‘after devastations, revolutions, and even complete exhaustion, nature brings the states to that which reason could have told them at the beginning and with far less sad experience, to wit, to step from the lawless condition of savages into a league of nations’. Often the invocation of such an external legislator, in the first instance not without theological aspects, is implicit, visible from the way one insists on one’s claims. The quasi-legal ‘This belongs to me’ is followed by martial ‘Here is my battle axe’, not vice versa.

It seems to be a central idea of nationalism that the individual who is part of the nation has, in some sense, a moral obligation to the nation at large: To fight for it, work for it and perhaps to glorify it. How do you think that this ‘call of duty’ from the nation compares to other obligations an individual might face?

In the French case, where the relation between the nation and the state seems to be one of identity – as is the relation between the nation and the people, which was once, during the Revolution, distinct – our obligations to the nation are just the standard obligations to the state – pay your taxes, be a good citizen etc. But if we consider the different sizes of social entities we might have obligations towards – a family, a village, a city-state – we realise that the idea that we have a special obligation to the nation is a relatively modern invention. Throughout most of history the obligation would have been to the family, the clan or the tribe, and would be based on interpersonal ties, based around the family unity. Avishai Margalit talks about something similar in The Ethics of Memory. There, he distinguishes between the ‘ethical community’ and the ‘moral community’, where the first is the community defined by personal interrelations and the latter is towards mankind as such. In between, we have this strange creature we call the nation, our obligations to which are parasitic on personal obligations, at least wherever the nation is not understood in a legal sense, as it is in the French case.

You mentioned the hugely influential political thought of Immanuel Kant, and I was wondering whether we could talk a little bit more about some of the philosophers who were important in the ideological development of nationalistic ideas. The names that come to mind – Herder, Hegel and Fichte, were also writing either at the close of the 18th century or in the first decades of the 19th century, at a time when the German lands were politically fragmented and had been humiliated by Napoleon’s armies. Is there a continuous philosophical development of nationalism in this period, and how do we square whatever story we give of the origins of nationalism with the fact that this time and period also saw the first philosophical program for cosmopolitanism, in Kant’s “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”?

I don’t know whether cosmopolitanism started with Kant. We have similar ideas in the early Enlightenment, e.g. in Grotius and Pufendorf, and maybe even before. At any rate, Herder is often taken to be the originator of modern nationalism, but opinions are divided on that because, on the one hand, he did indeed come up with this notion of a nation as an organic, natural unit, and he was liable to say things such as ‘every human perfection is national’ and “he [who] has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself”. But on the other hand, his doctrine is very different from more modern ideas. I suppose one might call it ‘benign nationalism’. Herder believes in two very important things. First of all, that virtually every human being has a drive for belonging, a desire for being part of something greater than himself. He very clearly identifies this desire with a craving for a home and a homeland, and he identifies language as the most important individuating factor between nations, although he also notes the importance of habits, morals, culture as well as broader things such as religion or specific ethics. The second thing is that this greater thing is not something singular, but stands in a concert with other such bigger wholes and they together form humanity at large. So this collection of nations which constitutes humanity, ‘the concert of the nations’ if you will, is of great importance for Herder. He doesn’t have any claim to supremacy here, each of these nations stands in its own right with its full dignity and in fact because each nation is unique, has its own genius, its own language and culture, every nation contributes to the whole – it really is like the different instruments contributing to a symphony.

“One danger with this benign, Herderian form of nationalism is that it might be susceptible to sliding into a less benign, exclusionary form. In such cases, we have to research the conditions under which that can happen.”

I don’t know whether anybody has thought about this, but what about a comparison between Herder and the identitarians here? I mean the semi-globalized identitarians who place great importance on the concept of ‘Europe’. Instead of the ‘old’ nationalist, who defends his own nation, the identitarians see it as if there is a concert of nations in Europe, and Europe is set against Africa or against Asia, also against Islam and America. This is thinking in big geo-political, cultural blocks. But whilst they think that the nations of Europe together form a harmony, they probably don’t think that all nations worldwide together, in these big blocks, contribute a higher harmony. And, frankly speaking, even their vision of the European ‘symphony’ is rather feeble and skewed, merely reactive and combative, pushing for a regressive version of Europe. I am not sure whether a Europe reformed, or deformed, by the identitarians would be a significantly more luminous place than the Europe envisaged by their Islamist opponents. In fact, they have quite a bit in common with the Islamists; they don’t share the same murderous presuppositions as the latter, but they too loath our modern predicament.

To return to the thinking in blocs the identitarians propound – this sounds much more like Huntington’s clash of civilisations than Herder’s ‘concert of nations’.

Indeed, identitarians are in fact quite far from Herder, who was opposed to this spirit of combat and struggle, to the idea of exclusion and, as the next logical step, of conquest. Each nation is entitled to its own flourishing in the garden of mankind, and nations can overlap and fertilise each other. But we must pause for a moment here and ask critically: how stable is even this Herderian position? How safe is it against misappropriations or radicalisations? Being a pessimist, I would say that it isn’t very stable at all, and that it can slide, and has slid into more problematic positions, such as a kind of exclusionary nationalism I mentioned earlier. For somebody can come along and fully agree with Herder that ‘Each nation is entitled to its own flourishing’, but then add that ‘Unlike other nations, my nation is not fully flourishing and that must be, because it contains alien elements. Let’s get rid of them’. So, one danger with this benign, Herderian form of nationalism is that it might be susceptible to sliding into a less benign, exclusionary form. In such cases, we have to research the conditions under which that can happen. This is where Hegel comes in, because it is Hegel who, as Isaiah Berlin points out, realises that in addition to the need for belonging, human beings also have a need for recognition. Whereas in Herder the idea is that I belong to a community and therefore I am safe, which is a somewhat paternalistic form of the relation between the self and the community, in Hegel, this relation becomes more mutual and dynamic, because of the craving for recognition: I want to be recognised by you and you want to be recognised by me. Here, Hegel is bringing in the external point of view concerning how the nationalists, the different nations, in fact deal with one another, and I think that historically there is plausibility to this claim.

Now why do I bring in Hegel here as a possible threat to the Herderian idea? Well, we might ask what happens if the all-important sense for recognition gets violated or is suppressed. If a people are oppressed, and they are not recognised by the concert of the nations, or if they are oppressed by some stronger power, well, then we are in trouble, because then you have an external enemy and, almost by definition, that will lead to a strengthening or enforcing of one’s exclusionary identity politics. This often gives birth to a particularly nasty nationalism. As Berlin says, ‘nationalism in this sense emerges from a wound’. There are many forms this ‘wound’ could take – one is outright oppression, on your own territory; another, very important possibility is when you have a certain territory and that it gets cut up in bits, and you lose territory – that is also perceived as a major wound, a mutilation really.

This seems to ring true historically, and it is certainly a good way of thinking about the development of German nationalist thought during and after the Napoleonic wars. Shortly after the humiliation of these wars, Fichte gave his famous addresses to the German nation, which seems to be an important example of early nationalism. Could you say a bit more about Fichte’s role in this development?

Yes, exactly, we can also point to the French nationalism which developed after the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, when the Germans enter and conquer France, leading to an emergence of a much more radical form of nationalism in France. Or we could recall the humiliation and wound inflicted on Germany after the Treaty of Versailles. There are many other examples we could point to, of the ‘need of recognition’ being violated, and this leading into something much less benign. You are right to point to a third important figure in this trajectory: Fichte. Fichte takes two elements of Kantian moral philosophy as his starting point. The first one is Kant’s defence of the dignity of man and his freedom, crystalised in the central notion of ‘autonomy’. In Kant’s moral philosophy, the battlefield is not political, but is entirely in the human heart if you will, in the human soul; no matter the vicissitudes of history, no matter the resistance and the impediments of the external world, which are always based in contingencies, I may act freely and morally by exercising my will. Whether I become happy or not is up to the world, and I may not really become happy, but I have complete control of my inner dignity, defined by my moral will alone – that’s the first ‘sacred’ thing he believes in. The second sacred thing he believes in is the ethical community of mankind – man cannot realize himself unless he becomes part of this community, which in Kant has utopian and theological aspects.

And how does Fichte, the most shadowy and perhaps the most historically compromised of the group, develop Kant’s ethical thought?

Fichte thinks through the contrast between personal and collective morality more radically than Kant, although in the end he encounters great problems. Concerning ‘personal morality’, Fichte says, for example, that “I am internally totally free”, that “I am my own creation”, and that “I do not accept the law of what nature offers me because I must, I believe it because I will”. So ‘will’ or Wille, that is to say the act of willing – volition – is what defines me, and that immediately lends itself to the importance of values like dedication, resolution, authenticity and so on. But again, these are vacuous values unless they are put into action. Now what comes next, at least according to Berlin’s analysis of Fichte, which I think is broadly correct, is that you ask yourself: What is this ‘I’? Let’s not forget that Fichte is a metaphysician, and the ‘I’ here is not the empirical ‘I’, but the ‘I’ of the ‘I will’, which is at the end of the day a transcendental or a metaphysical ‘I will’, whatever that means. And so you have immediately a problem that is already present in Descartes, the problem of the identity of the res cogitans, of the fact that the ‘thinking thing’ and the empirical self are not equivalent. The idea of a thinking thing doesn’t seem to define my individuality, to distinguish me from others as a human individual. In real life it is very easy to identify who ‘the self’ is, and who the other is: I’m the one who is currently speaking, and you are the other! So, you are identified, for example, by your utterance, and I am identified by mine. But this response is not possible for Fichte because we referred to the empirical ‘I’, the human being sitting over there versus the human being sitting over here. The metaphysical ‘I’ is not sitting anywhere, and there cannot be more than one such ‘I’.

How does Fichte solve this problem? It certainly seems like the notion of the transcendental, metaphysical ‘I’ is rather detached from real life, let alone political theories like nationalism.

So Fichte is lead into the position of positing a single supra-individual ‘I will’ which transcends empirical, individual human beings. If we accept this, we are immediately presented with a dichotomy between the single transcendental ‘I’, contrasting with the various individual, empirical ‘selves’. Now this transcendental ‘I’ already vaguely points to the notion of a collective of individual empirical selves, because, like the collective, it is one and supra-individual. Fichte is forced to transform the transcendental ‘I’, which underpins his notion of a collective, into something more concrete, because properly speaking the transcendental ‘I’ has no agential powers. So in order to endow the collective with agential powers he needs to resort to some sort of analogy or projection. He cannot disperse the agency back onto individual humans, because then there would be no collective-cum-agent, and so, as an intermediary between these two poles of empirical individual selves and the transcendental ‘I’, he projects the agential powers of the collective onto a single human being, a very special one. I don’t want to call him a Führer, but he is certainly a leader – a Zwingherr in the German – who unifies the will of the many whilst retaining the agency unavailable to the metaphysical ‘I’, but also the unity of the latter, and, to some extent also its transcendence, its trans-historicity. Fichte needs to connect the supra-individual ‘I’ back to empirical reality – which lands him with the collective, but as the collective cannot itself have strictly speaking proper volition, he is forced to postulate and demand for a leader who unifies them. This can be seen as lying at the root of a more modern, more disturbing nationalism, especially when Fichte connects these ideas to that of ‘Germanness’. It seems to me that there is a huge leap from the transcendental level to the collective via the postulation of a leader, and another leap from there to notions of Germanness, leaps which are philosophically, let alone politically, very suspect. And Fichte did not stop there. It was part and parcel of his authoritarian views that the whole nation is to be educated, especially children, ‘whose free will is to be entirely destroyed’, so that they are driven by necessity to develop ‘an unfailing good will’.

Fichte gave his speeches in 1808 and died a few years later, but these speeches were not much taken up and discussed until German unification in 1870, and only became centrally important to German nationalism around the time of the First World War. What sort of developments took place in the 19th century that allowed the ideology of nationalism to become a political reality over so much of Europe?

Well, many of the most important foundations are already in place by the time we get to Fichte. However, the ideology has not yet morphed into practise. I see 1848 as one of the crucial dates for the development of nationalism, both in Western and Eastern Europe. In this period, nationalism could go hand-in-hand with the rhetoric of liberation and self-fulfilment. The oppression many of them resisted was real – they declared that they did not wish to be ruled by the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians or whoever, and that they wished to rule themselves. In principle, minorities – even Jews! – were to be accorded rights and citizenship. The next vital development is the formation of political parties. Through this, an ideology is bound to a specific party who becomes the vehicle of the idea.

Now the exclusion applies not only to those who don’t belong to the nation on ethnic or cultural grounds, but also to those who don’t belong to the nation on political grounds. We see this very clearly in Fichte’s texts, that those who are not good patriots, who do not truly love the German nation, must also be excluded. This certainly points us towards fascism, who seeks out to eliminate not just external, but also internal enemies, the ‘bad’ Italians, French, Germans.

Now that we have seen how exclusionary nationalism has a tendency to slide into more extreme ideologies like fascism, I’d like to ask about the crimes of nationalism, in particular the genocides of the 20th century. Is there anything in exclusionary nationalism itself, perhaps in its attitudes towards minorities, which leads to these crimes against humanity? Were these crimes ideologically driven for the most part, or were they contingent on the circumstances?

Well, first of all, we would do well to note that nationalism is not at all limited to Europe, and secondly, that whilst genocide is not at all limited to fascist regimes, it is a possible consequence of nationalism, given the right historical conditions. Concerning the first point we need only look at the Rwandan genocide, in which the Hutu government massacred hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. This was clearly a crime of exclusionary nationalism, indeed of racism, and a crime against humanity of the highest order. For the second point we might point to the Armenian genocide, which occurred after the Young Turks took power at the beginning of the First World War. The Young Turks were not fascists, but nevertheless they inflicted a genocide based on ideals of Turkishness, of the purity of the nation-state based on this identity, directed against a minority; in fact, against more than one minority; the Armenians certainly paid the highest toll, but the Greeks and Assyrians suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks during this period as well. So these crimes are limited neither to Europe nor to fascism.

What are the kind of historical conditions that can lead to these crimes, how does this relate to Berlin’s talk of ‘nationalism emerging from a wound’?

I think the picture we sketched, of nationalism as a reactive attitude that can be enflamed by some wound or loss, gives us a good way of understanding this. Nations can turn very violent if they are attacked, or suffer some, possibly perceived, loss, especially if this is perceived as a loss contrasting with the glorious past of the nation, people, empire. A minority caught inside the territory of such a nation, and perceived to be an agent of the external powers that have inflicted the wound to the motherland, is doomed. Manus Midlarsky has analysed this murderous logic in detail. This was the case with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that preceded the Armenian genocide, and in the Rwandan case. And of course, in the case of the Holocaust, Germany had suffered major territorial losses in the First World War and the radical German right perceived the Treaty of Versailles as a humiliation. These things were never forgotten, which laid the ground for a particularly dangerous founding myth of revenge and then to the most terrible form of exclusionary nationalism and racism we have witnessed in the modern age.

So, the conditions for these crimes seem to be that first of all a nation perceives itself as threatened, and secondly that it has suffered some loss, or at least has some narrative of loss in the not too distant past. Thirdly, this nation has within its territory – this might be occupied territory as with Nazi Germany and occupied Eastern Europe – a minority who is perceived as the agent of the external threat. When these elements are all present, there is always the threat that, if events turn in the wrong way, some crime will occur, and this seems to be one of the major problems with nationalism, no matter its benign origins.

Interview: Jonathan Egid


Dr. Edward Kanterian, University of Kent

Nationalism and the Identitarian Movement

“Identitarian ideology is ultimately characterized by ethnic nationalism.”

Interview with Prof. Dr. Gudrun Hentges, Professor for Political Science, Educational Policy and Civic Education at the University of Cologne

The identitarian movement has been attempting to make nationalism socially acceptable utilising attributes of youth culture. Even though the group is small in numbers, it has managed to establish itself in the name of progress with spectacular initiatives as the avant-garde of the New Right. Political scientist Prof. Dr Gudrun Hentges illustrates means, goals and the ideological background of the New Right.

Prof. Dr. Hentges – as a political scientist, you are, among other things, particularly concerned with the phenomenon of nationalism. First of all, would you tell us what nationalism means for you?

First of all, I would differentiate between political and ethnic nationalism. Political nationalism expects the inhabitants of a country to identify with its history, its culture, and its respective key principles as well as to assimilate accordingly. By doing so, it eventually offers them the opportunity of citizenship. Ethnic nationalism, by contrast, aspires to align ethnic and territorial borders, assuming that nation states should be ethnically homogenous. Consequently, it seeks to banish elements which do not conform to this homogeneity from its national territory. France and the French Revolution are often called an ideal type of political nationalism, whereas the German notions of “blood and soil”, common descent, and ethnic homogeneity are commonly regarded as the prototype of ethnic nationalism.

How do these two types of nationalism relate to the question of which passport an individual can possess?

Political nationalism offers identification and assimilation. Insofar as individuals agree to that, they are offered citizenship regardless of their respective ethnic background. According to ethnic nationalism, on the other hand, the question of citizenship depends on somebody’s ancestry.  We thus draw a distinction between the right of soil (ius soli) and the right of blood (ius sanguinis). These are simplified ideal types, of course. In all of today’s nation states, hybrid forms apply.

In Western democracies, nationalism used to be seen as a position without majority appeal. Recently, however, we have witnessed the rise not only of right-wing populist parties but also of nationalist groups, particularly the so-called Identitarians. What is the Identitarian Movement (IM) and what is this name supposed to tell us?

The concept of identity has been very important to the environment of the Nouvelle Droite or the New Right since the early seventies. With the combination “Identitarian Movement”, ethnic-nationalist activists have created a catchy term that has triumphed in the media and the feuilleton over the last couple of years. It should be noted though that this term is a self-description. The activists who have founded the initiative in France, Germany, and Austria claim to be a movement. By doing so, they deploy a term which has been associated with social movements since the seventies and eighties. The term has a positive connotation since it is commonly assumed that social movements address certain deficiencies and problems in society and mobilize the population in order to develop solutions. With regard to the Identitarian Movement, however, it is questionable whether they actually are a movement or rather a virtual phenomenon: a small group of people who exude social influence by staging spectacular actions.

Where does the Identitarian Movement have its roots?

The IM originated in France. In 2002, a member of the extremist right-wing Unité Radicale attempted to assassinate Jacques Chirac on the French National Day. As a result of this attack, the Unité Radicale was banned. Consequently, several members united to form the Géneration Identitaire, which became the association Bloc Identitaire in 2003, which in turn became a political party in 2009. In Germany, the first identitarian groups were founded in 2012. Back then, a video of the French identitarians circulated in the media, which was titled “déclaration de guerre” and caused a great stir. Subsequently, in 2012 a meeting of identitarian groups from Austria, Italy, France, and Germany occurred in Frankfurt – it was destined to establish a network. The consequences of this transnational cooperation were entirely uncertain at the time. Up until then, the IM was primarily a phenomenon of the Internet and continued to be one until German, French and Austrian groups united approximately two years ago with the intention to carry out greater actions. Arguably the most prominent is the campaign “Defend Europe”…

… in the course of which the IM chartered a ship and advanced into the coastal region of Libya in order to uncover and document alleged cooperations between people smugglers and NGOs specialized in sea rescue. Similarly spectacular was the occupation of the Brandenburg Gate. Flash mobs are also popular, for example the disruption of Elfriede Jelinek’s play Die Schutzbefohlenen in Vienna. The use of ships, the occupation of buildings, and flash mobs are forms of action which we rather associate with left-wing organizations like Greenpeace. How does that fit with the notion of right-wing activism?

Indeed, the IM employs a repertoire of actions that we are familiar with from Greenpeace or the Occupy movement. By doing so, they aim for as much media attention as possible. However, we have to distinguish these kinds of actions from their content: Despite this formal adoption of left-wing protest culture, they strive for closed borders and ethnic homogeneity. They ultimately follow the notion of self-contained ethnic nation states that should regain their supposedly lost sovereignty. It is exactly this tension between form and content – of far-right activists employing left-wing forms of action – that causes irritation and attracts attention.

This frequent presence in the media gives the impression of a numerous group. Is this true?

It is hard to say how large this group actually is. The German IM speaks of 400 supportive members who contribute financially on a regular basis. However, only a small fraction of these 400 is politically active. If we add up the names of the activists, we end up with about 100. These are predominantly male students aged between twenty and thirty. At first glance, that does not seem like a lot. However, we should not underestimate that this small circle of people has a high mobilization potential and that the circle of activists could grow as a result of such spectacular actions as the ones mentioned. With regard to the current political developments in Germany – the presence of the AfD in the Bundestag and in state parliaments – there also exist the structural and financial prerequisites for establishing such activists in the environment of elected representatives. 

So far most politicians of the AfD deny any contact with the IM. The question is, of course, whether this is true. 

The AfD denies any proximity to the IM since the latter is connected to far-right extremism due to its history. The AfD does not want to be associated with that. However, this does not mean that there is no ideological common ground and no occasional cooperation. It is up to further investigations to reveal this. 

In the light of the IM’s historical relation to right-wing extremism, it is astonishing how the group presents itself as harmless. Their preferred actions, their logo, and their corporate identity make them accessible for young people and create the impression of a right-conservative Antifa. At the same time they emphasize their dissociation from traditional National Socialism. If it is not traditional right-wing extremism that the IM relates to, which ideology is it then?

There is a whole range of ideological references. To begin with, there is the Italian CasaPound. Following the Italian example, they frequently relate to the American author Ezra Pound, an anti-Semite and admirer of Italian Fascism. Furthermore, the IM relates strongly and very positively to the representatives of the Conservative Revolutionary Movement: Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, and Armin Mohler. They were the pioneers of the antidemocratic movement in the Weimar Republic and prepared Hitler’s seizure of power with their ethnic-national ideology. Moreover, the IM draws on the pioneers of the French Nouvelle Droite, Alain de Benoist for instance. Henning Eichberg is also extremely important; he did not just coin the term national identity in the context of the New Right but also the term of ethnopluralism, which plays a major role in the intellectualization of the New Right. Additionally, the identitarians draw on the French author and publisher Renaud Camus and his book Le Grand Remplacement, so there is a multitude of political role models.

Ethnopluralism seems to be particularly important for the IM. “Ethnopluralism” – at first that sounds a lot like multiculturalism. What is it really?

Ethnopluralism is based on the assumption that different ethnic groups should inhabit their respective territories while ethnic homogeneity should be established within these territories. The IM is using this term as a magic formula in order to suggest that they are not nationalistic but rather acknowledge the diversity of different coexisting cultures. However, their ideology is ultimately characterized by the ethnic nationalism we have talked about earlier. They thus advocate the reinforcement of national borders and seek to reestablish ethnic homogeneity in the European nation states.

Consequently, the result of ethnopluralism would be a diversity of distinct ethnically homogenous states that coexist next to one another. They just should not dare to mix.

Exactly. Pointedly speaking, one could say that ethnopluralism is apartheid – just phrased nicely. All of this is being connected with the idea of a Europe of fatherlands. Ultimately, those are old catchphrases and slogans, which have been advocated by representatives of the far-right in the European Parliament since the eighties: the rejection of the European Union and the European unification, and the claim that cooperation should only take place within a restored Europe of homogenous nation states.

Talking about restoration, there has to be a prevalent notion that the ethnic homogeneity of the European states is in decline. In this context, the New Right often uses the term “great replacement”. What does that mean?

Like I said, the term “great replacement” was coined by Renaud Camus. Camus claims that the economic and political elites of the western European nation states intend to reduce and eventually to marginalize the native population in favor of immigrants. A closer reading of Camus’ book (Le Grand Remplacement) reveals that this is a sort of conspiracy theory. He believes that the modern migration movements are part of a grand plan; a plan to exterminate the European people. According to him, the tool for this extermination are the immigrants from the former colonies, whom he accuses of craving for revenge for the colonial crimes of the respective countries. Like a postcolonial boomerang, they allegedly return to the former colonial powers to replace the original population.

“Pointedly speaking, one could say that ethnopluralism is apartheid – just phrased nicely. All of this is being connected with the idea of a Europe of fatherlands.”


But isn’t there the possibility of the immigrants assimilating in the sense of political nationalism? Or does Camus advocate ethnic nationalism so that they can never biologically become Europeans?

In his thought there is no case in which people from sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, commit to the French traditions, assimilate, and become a part of the nation. Camus utilizes binary oppositions: the Christian occident and the French people on the one side and Islam and foreigners on the other. This nationalism is racist, even though Camus does not speak of genetic descent in terms of biological racism.

Regarding this division of friend and foe, the friend, in this case Europe, appears to be surprisingly homogenous. Here, the IM seeks to defend European culture and European values. How come they practice a sort of European nationalism and reject European unification at the same time?

With regard to the assumptions of ethnopluralism, this is contradictory, of course. It would be illusionary though to assume that the ideology of the IM is consistent. If we ask the question where the IM’s enthusiasm for Europe comes from, we repeatedly come across a date: 732, the year of the Battle of Tours and Poitiers. At the time, Charles Martel, the great-grandfather of Charlemagne, defeated the Arab and Berber armies approaching from the Iberian Peninsula on Frankish soil, which is part of France today. The IM associates this date with the myth that Charles prevented a Muslim conquest of Europe with his victory. At the same time, this battle is being declared the origin myth of Europe, suggesting that a battle of Christianity against Islam marks its birth. The IM’s positive relation to Europe is ultimately derived from this opposition between friend and foe.

But back then there was no homogenous Europe that could have united to oppose Islam. There weren’t even nation states in today’s sense.

The IM does not care about that, though. Everyone acquainted with history knows that this argumentation is not convincing at all. Nevertheless, the year 732 gets glorified as the year in which Europe was founded – regardless of all historical knowledge.

Besides this date, symbols play an important part. The IM is using a yellow lambda as their logo and as the main component of their corporate identity. What is this about?

The lambda is derived from the Hollywood movie 300, which stages the battle of Spartans against the Persians at Thermopylae (480 BC). The shields of the Spartan army featured the lambda, the eleventh letter of the Greek alphabet. By appropriating this symbol the identitarians want to demonstrate that they relate to the battle of the Greeks against the Persians in a positive and kind of proto-European way. At the same time, they place themselves and their activism in the tradition of the Spartans.

In this light, the title of the campaign “Defend Europe” becomes all the more frightening, since it assigns the role of violent invaders to the refugees who are crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat.

Concerning this campaign, there is also some new information which we should not withhold here. In summer 2017, a rather substantial contact between the identitarian movements of the western European countries and the Alt-Right, the American version of the New Right, was established for the first time. There was even transnational cooperation taking place, namely on form of a crowdfunding campaign. It is likely that the campaign “Defend Europe” could have never been financed if the Alt-Right-Movement and also the extreme right had not joined in. The prominent activist of the far-right and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke has publically called for support for “Defend Europe”. It has become apparent that the IM is also compatible with this area of the political spectrum. Thus, I envision the danger that the originally European phenomenon of the IM could become a transnational phenomenon in the next few years in terms of a cooperation between the IM and the Alt-Right.

Interview & Translation: Jonas Hermann

New Right

Prof. Dr. Gudrun Hentges, Universität zu Köln


Europe and Brexit

“It is not enough to say that it is illegal to be racist, that it is illegal to spread racial hatred. We need to make it absolutely clear that racism is not socially acceptable.”

Interview with Prof. Dr Julie Smith (Baroness Smith of Newnham), Director of the European Centre at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge

The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Hungary, Germany – no matter which European country examined, nationalist parties are on the rise, raising the question what factors lead to the resurgence of nationalism in Europe. Is it truly a threat to European democracy and if so, what are viable prevention measures? Dr Julie Smith gives a comprehensive overview of nationalist tendencies in Europe in the light of her background as a member of the UK House of Lords.

Dr Smith – scientists and politicians, among other, are alarmed about the threat of nationalist tendencies, that are arising once more in many countries across the world. How would you, as a political scientist, define the phenomenon of nationalism?

On one level, nationalism can be seen as pride in, or devotion to one’s own country; that would be a dictionary definition of it. However, it is often associated with less positive attributes, such as hatred of others, of either being opposed to other countries or having a xenophobic tinge. Identity is an evolving issue and problem in contemporary politics. There are clearly people who feel that their own identities are undermined by European integration and globalisation and have begun to query the nature of European and global politics in the 21st century. They are then looking back to their own nation. That can be quite dangerous because of the potential to foster confrontation of precisely the sort that European integration was intended to end. The second understanding of nationalism is about the desire for national independence, which means the idea that your nation has its own independent state. This is a concept that evolved in the 19th century. Take Scotland, for example: the people there have a strong sense of national identity and many want to be separate from the United Kingdom. But nationalism in Scotland is not accompanied by racism or violence. Therefore, it does not raise the same concerns as nationalism does in many other parts of the world.

Is there a form of nationalism that remains dangerous to this day? Is it – as often supposed – an actual threat to Europe?

Nationalism in terms of separatism does not need to be detrimental to the European Union. Indeed, in many ways, the European Union facilitates the possibility of smaller nation states. Scotland, for instance, is able to find examples in other small countries like Ireland and Denmark and can argue: ‘They function perfectly well within the European Union, why do we have to be tied to the United Kingdom?’ But there are areas where nationalism causes problems. Look, for example, at the public and political discussion in the Visegrad countries over the rights of refugees and the resulting increase in xenophobia in this area. So yes, nationalism can certainly be a danger, but it does not necessarily have to pose a threat to Europe.

“It is certainly possible to have multiple identities, multiple loyalties.”

Does that mean that national interests and a growing interconnectivity between countries do not have to be mutually exclusive?

Globalisation and economic interdependence ensure that states have lost a significant degree of autonomy – even if they retain formal sovereignty, they are less able to act independently. There is a need to ensure that citizens nevertheless feel that they are empowered rather than disempowered. Finding the balance in this relationship is one of the greatest challenges for policy makers in Europe and beyond, but it especially applies to the European Union. In some member states, like in France, there has long been an understanding that by pooling sovereignty you get better political outcomes for everyone in the EU; unfortunately, this is something that has never really been understood or accepted in the United Kingdom. It is certainly possible to have multiple identities, multiple loyalties and therefore be concerned about your local area, your country, your continent, and the world you live in. Each of them will have different aspects of decision making. This is not a contradiction, but very often in the UK it is treated as one.

War, legitimised by nationalist beliefs, caused millions of deaths in the 20th century. As a result, one of the founding ideas of the European Union was to prevent dangerous nationalism through interconnectivity of the member states once and for all. What would you say, how has that worked out so far?

European integration very much started as a peace project to make war among European states materially impossible. It is based on the understanding and expectation that the more European countries cooperated, the more people would engage, exchange in terms of travel, work and study abroad. The idea was that they would then begin to identify much more as Europeans and focus less on their own national identities. What seems to have happened is a political willingness in most countries – my own country may be the exception – to work together and cooperate. Nonetheless, this has not in all cases taken away the nationalist feelings within the society. The problem is in many ways that national identities are so deeply ingrained that it is difficult to overcome them. If people don’t identify with the European Union, if they don’t develop a European identity, they don’t turn out to vote as the elections to the European Parliament have shown. They choose not to be engaged and the democratic legitimacy of European actors comes into question. The growing political and economic interconnectivity in Europe was not accompanied by enough socialisation, especially of newer member states. For many European politicians and citizens, it seems to be unclear what European integration is about. Europe is not just an economic club. It is a club of values. We need to get European values higher up the political agenda again in all member states.

So in your opinion there has been a rise of nationalism in Europe once more throughout the last years?

Yes. I think there are significant waves of nationalism. Particularly in the United Kingdom, where so much of the “Leave” dynamic was grounded on the basis of an anti-immigrant sentiment. The legacy has been racism, including physical attacks and verbal abuse towards both EU-nationals and other non-British people resident here. This development is absolutely shocking.

What are the main reasons for the nationalist tendencies you just described?

The rise or resurgence of nationalism in many cases, certainly in Western Europe, seems to result in part from people feeling left behind. They feel that the processes of globalisation, economic interdependence and also European integration have not benefited them. That there are winners and losers. If the European Union is not delivering for you, if you never travel to other European countries, a common currency is of no interest to you. People who do not travel regularly will also not care about the abolition of roaming charges, simply because they do not benefit from this development. It is very easy for people to forget that: For people who live a more international life, who benefit from programs like the Erasmus scheme and so on.

“Europe is not just an economic club. It is a club of values.”

But in many parts of the United Kingdom or the European Union in general, people do not feel that they are benefiting in the same way that other people appear to be. This has caused significant frustration and certainly was one of the issues the “Leave” campaign profited from. People who traditionally voted for the Labour Party, which means left of centre, were voting “Leave” and in some cases shifting support to the UK Independence Party. The same is happening in other countries. If you look at France:  Over the years, the Front National has taken votes from the sort of people who, in the past, would have voted for the Communist Party. Quite often you see that the far right is able to take votes from people who feel left behind, people who might normally cast their vote in favour of a left-wing party. During the referendum, the very “Leavers” who were complaining that the establishment was against them, actually belonged to the establishment themselves. They were able to talk in a way that resonates better with people who feel left behind. Whereas the people who run the “Remain” campaign just sounded like they were out of touch.

How does this feeling of being left behind lead to hatred and racism? Why do people blame foreigners for the perceived injustices?

In the United Kingdom far-right politicians and especially parts of the media continuingly implied that if you had problems to get a job, a place for your child in school or a hospital bed, that is because there are too many foreigners. This idea that immigrants are to be blamed for all sorts of personal problems became mainstream over the years. Ahead of last year’s referendum, for example, the Daily Mail was keen to illustrate cases of nationals of other EU member states who had committed terrible crimes. It was highlighted how dreadful they felt it was that we cannot deport them, because they are from other EU countries. Inevitably, such coverage affects people’s attitudes.

Do you think that as a consequence the decision of the British citizens to exit the European Union was motivated by nationalist feelings within society?

The vote to leave was very complex. Some people voted to leave because they wanted to regain national sovereignty. They wanted – in the words of the slogan – to ‘take back control’. Some people believed the rhetoric about the EU to be very costly and that we would get money back after Brexit. But the “Leave” campaign certainly used a sort of anti-immigrant feeling within the country to persuade people to vote to leave the European Union. In some parts of the country, where a lot of nationals come from the subcontinent; from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, the “Leave” campaign deployed the following rhetoric: When we leave the European Union, more of your families will be able to migrate to the UK as we won’t have to accept as many EU nationals anymore. That was obviously attractive to some voters. Yet elsewhere the “Leave” campaign was implying that somehow by voting to leave, immigration would be reduced, which is not necessarily going to follow. But the “Leave” campaign certainly politicised the immigration question and weaponised it.

The British society is known for being open as well as being a melting pot of many ethnicities and cultures. How do the described nationalist tendencies fit into this picture?

The UK has a very long history as a transit country and a country of immigration. There are people that came here, as some of my forebears did, from Ireland, escaping grinding poverty. There were people who intended to travel through Europe via the UK to the United States but never got beyond the cities of the United Kingdom. There have been significant waves of immigration over the years from Commonwealth nations, particularly in the aftermath of World War II. The United Kingdom tried to espouse multiculturalism but at several times in our history, there have been racist reactions to immigration. It is slightly too easy to think that the United Kingdom implemented a multicultural policy, which brought all the different cultures together and everything was fine. I think for many people who came here as immigrants, the reality was different. However, over the years there were moves to ensure that racism was eradicated. The depressing reality in the aftermath of the referendum was that some of these tendencies re-emerged. How we can get that genie back into the bottle is hugely important, to ensure that, as a country, we can come back together.

Do you think nationalist tendencies could worsen after Brexit as the British society will become increasingly isolated, and while the vibrant exchange with other cultures may suffer?

I think that’s a real danger. A lot of people who led the “Leave” campaign passionately claimed, ‘We are not anti-European, we love Europe, we go to Europe on our holidays, we just don´t like the EU.’ Genuinely, there are some internationalists who were in favour of leaving because they felt that the problem were the tight structures of the EU and its institutions, not Europe itself. But it is probable that only a small proportion of the “Leave” supporters felt that way. Many of its leaders are part of the establishment and may simply be assuming that they won’t be impoverished intellectually or culturally by the UK leaving. But as a country we will be. If the government really wanted to do what it claims, which is to make the best of leaving the Union and take all the opportunities, it would be hugely important to maintain visa free travel, allow free movement of workers and try to find actual ways of ensuring that we continue to maintain close ties with our closest neighbours. One essential step would be to say: ‘we are a hugely attractive destination for tourists and international students. Let’s welcome them and accept more international students especially.’ At the moment the Home Office appears to be so reluctant to allow people into the country that the mood music is really discouraging for potential students coming from foreign countries. This further reduces the opportunities for cultural exchange.

So what measures should in your opinion be taken to overcome nationalist or racist tendencies in the EU in general and in the UK in particular?

It is not enough to say that it is illegal to be racist, that it is illegal to spread racial hatred. We need to make it absolutely clear that racism is not socially acceptable. There is a real problem in overcoming the currently established trend of people making abusive comments and feeling that’s acceptable. Looking at Trump, Brexit, the Front National, or other right-wing movements all across Europe, a lot of what is being said is very similar in terms of populist and often anti-immigrant discourse. The internationalist, liberal sections of society are often far less effective in making their perspective understood. They need to be as adept at social media as the populists and bigots to get across a message of openness and tolerance. We have to find a way to make this liberal message relevant to and resonate with those sections of society that feel left behind – and take their problems seriously.

Interview: Donna Doerbeck


Prof. Dr. Julie Smith, University of Cambridge