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Rainer Zitelmann: Reunification and German Self-Hatred (1992)

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In his book Der deutsche Komplex [The German Complex], Rolf Stolz, the onetime co-founder of the Greens and the initiator of the “Leftist Germany discussion,” warns against underestimating the phenomenon of left-wing German self-hatred: “The Germans as life-not-worth-living; Germany: part absolute political impossibility, part Europe’s cancerous sore. That is the condensed, overwrought feeling of self(hatred) that thus far has only taken hold of a certain milieu in this radical form, but that is already an actual mass phenomenon in its milder form.”* It is surely an exaggeration to speak of a “mass phenomenon,” but it would in fact be a mistake to dismiss self-hatred as a phenomenon among only small marginal groups with the extreme left-wing scene. And so Michael Schneider concedes: “Apparently, there is no more stubborn relic of the German past than left-wing German self-hatred, which is not foreign to me either.”** There is reason to doubt, however, that left-wing German self-hatred should be understood primarily as a “relic of the past.”

[ . . . ]

Left-wing self-hatred is not only a result of the Nazi past, but also, and above all, the result of a frustrated zeal for enlightenment and a frustrated sense of mission. The Left feels like the real representative of the “objective interests” of the “masses” of the population. The masses, however, did not and will not listen to the Left. Many books and essays in left-wing magazines have been published on the question of why the “masses” fail to recognize their own interests and act against them. This experience was all the more painful since it corresponded with an enormous, highly “committed” missionary zeal. The frustration over a sense of mission that was basically going nowhere caused many leftists to feel distant from their own nation, and it even produced in some a massive antipathy that could turn into hatred. This is a crucial root of the self-hatred, which is actually not self-hatred in the true sense of the word, because people do not hate themselves but rather the “rest of the people.” You see, people speak of “the Germans” as though they themselves do not belong to them. And indeed: they do not feel part of them. People have excluded themselves and feel both comfortable and very uncomfortable in this exclusion.

This is also a social gap, namely a gap between the intellectuals and the people. As Günther Nenning accurately observed: “The class chasm between the intelligentsia and the people is becoming wider and wider . . . We intellectuals are filled with an absolutely correct humanity, which costs us nothing. The people, noting this, are filled with an absolutely justified mistrust of us intellectuals . . . A good portion of the high- and middle-brow media is occupied by theme: we don’t like our nation. Our nation is stupid and fascistoid. The high- and middle-brow media devotes almost no space to the question: What’s the matter with our intelligentsia? Why can’t the intelligentsia stand the people? Does the reason for this mutual lack of understanding between intellectuals and the people lie only in the fact that the intellectuals are enlightened and the people blind?”***

[ . . . ]

* Rolf Stolz, Der deutsche Komplex. Alternativen zur Selbstverleugnung. Erlangen, 1990, p. 43.
** Michael Schneider, Die abgetriebene Revolution. Von der Staatsfirma in die DM-Kolonie. Berlin, 1990, p. 112.
*** Günther Nenning, Die Nation kommt wieder. Würde, Schrecken und Geltung eines europäischen Begriffs. Zurich, 1990, p. 96 f. A similar question is raised by Paul Noack in his stimulating study: Deutschland, deine Intellektuellen. Die Kunst, sich ins Abseits zu stellen. Stuttgart, 1991.

Source: Rainer Zitelmann, "Wiedervereinigung und deutscher Selbsthaß," Deutschland-Archiv 25, Nr. 8 (1992), pp. 811-20.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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