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Landscapes of ‘othering’ in postwar and contemporary Germany: the limits of the ‘culture of contrition’ and the poverty of the mainstream

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2012
JournalStudies in Ethnicity and Nationalism
Journal number2
Volume12
Number of pages21
Pages387-407
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In the 1930s the National Socialist regime embarked on a chillingly ambitious and fanatical project to ‘remake’ German society and ‘race’ by deploying a peerless – in both kind and intensity – repertoire of ‘othering’ strategies and measures directed at the Jews, the Sinti/Roma, and non-conformist groups within the Third Reich. At the heart of this campaign was the notion of a ‘zero-sum’ confrontation between the nation/race and its perceived ‘enemies’: namely, that the existence of these ‘enemies’ within German society threatened the very foundations of the German ‘race’ and posed the gravest threat to its mere survival. To what extent can the experience of the 1930s aggressive, violent, and eventually murderous ‘zero-sum’ mindset provide crucial insights into contemporary discourses of ‘othering’, linked with the European radical-populist right but increasingly ‘infecting’ the social and political mainstream? The contemporary ‘ethno-pluralist’ framing of the discussion divulges the persistence of a similar ‘zero-sum’ mentality that is nurtured by socio-economic and cultural insecurity, on the one hand, and powerful long-standing prejudices against particular groups, on the other. The article explores this ‘zero-sum’ insecurity mindset in the anti-immigration ‘mainstream’ discourses in the Federal Republic of Germany, both before and after re-unification. It demonstrates how – in contrast to the postwar ‘culture of contrition’ with regard to the memory of the Holocaust – this mindset continues to be a powerful political and psychological refuge for societal insecurities that has an enduring appeal to significant audiences well beyond the narrow political constituencies of the radical right.