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

Conservative journalist Rainer Zitelmann argues that leftist intellectuals are responsible for propagating a sense of German self-hatred. He views this as debilitating not least because it distances the intelligentsia from the people. For Zitelmann, left-wing self-hatred not only stems from the Nazi past, but also, and above all, from a frustrated zeal for enlightenment and a frustrated sense of mission. He also criticizes the Left for creating a discourse in which German division was viewed as an acceptable permanent solution.

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Reunification as Trauma

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Among the unification-opponents Grass, Habermas, and Kuby, the condemnation of German history and the expression of disappointment about it are crucial for the view that the supposed “transcending of the national” in West Germany was, after all, a delusion. Perhaps Grass, Habermas, and Kuby are merely the honest and non-opportunistic mouthpieces of the majority of West German intellectuals, who, for decades, have transfigured German “double statehood” into the final state of German history, one that bestows everlasting happiness.* Only a few strayed from this consensus. One of them, Martin Walser, noted in October 1988: “The majority of spokesmen, on the left and the right, participated in rendering the division reasonable . . . There is probably little at this time that left-wing and right-wing intellectuals agree on more than this: that the division is acceptable.”** An undivided Germany, as Walser stated in October 1989, was “for writers, intellectuals, philosophers . . . either the least important or least desirable thing. Those among us who do not want to accept division are said to lack soundness of mind, both intellectually and morally.”***

The dream of the end of the nation-state was by no means only a left-wing dream. Many liberal and Catholic-conservative intellectuals in West Germany also felt that the division of Germany was more of an opportunity than a burden. Still, it would seem that the conservative-liberal intellectuals have come to terms with the end of double statehood much more quickly and much less problematically than the leftists. At least they could point to the fact that everything they had been saying about Socialism/Communism turned out to be true. The victory of the liberal and free-market system over the Socialist planned economy is something the liberal-conservative intellectuals could also experience as the triumph of their own creed over Socialist fantasies.

* On this, see Jens Hacker, Deutsche Irrtümer, Schönfärber und Helfershelfer der SED-Diktatur im Westen. Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, 1992.
** Martin Walser, Über Deutschland reden. Frankfurt am Main, 1990, p. 100.
*** Ibid., p. 101.

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