Publication details

Memory Culture, Civil Sphere and Right-Wing Populism in Germany : The Resistible Rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)



Year of publication 2021
Type Chapter of a book
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Attached files
Description This chapter analyzes the rise of right-wing populism in Germany empirically while exploring the link between memory cultures and civil solidarity theoretically. As the German case suggests, national memory cultures and foundational myths do not necessarily lead to particularistic and anti-civil identifications but may even facilitate the incorporation of outsiders and strangers into civil society. It is the canonization of the Holocaust as the foundational myth of an open German society that has recently come under attack by right-wing populists in Germany. After introducing the theoretical concepts of the civil sphere, collective memory, and memory culture, I will analyze how West German post-war society and its civil sphere were shaped by three consecutive memory cultures, the newest being the so-called “Holocaust identity”, while the East German state propagated a distinct socialist memory culture. After reunification, German identity became once more a contested ground, even though the Holocaust identity was further institutionalized in the 1990s and early 2000s. Debates over collective memory accompany the rise of the AfD and its rapid transformation from an ordoliberal immigration-friendly, Eurosceptic party to an anti-immigration, right-wing populist party. This study solves two puzzles: Why is the AfD more successful in Eastern Germany? And why do its representatives attack Germany’s official memory culture, despite questionable political gains and backlash from civil society? In the wake of the “refugee crisis,” it became clear that the ethics of solidarity implied by (or blamed on) Germany’s Holocaust identity, which is more strongly rooted in Western Germany, are incompatible with the political aims of the right-wing populists, who reject both postwar Germanys in favor of a racially and culturally homogenized imagination of a ‘pre-postwar’ Germany. This study demonstrates how the concept of memory culture may aid our understanding of real civil societies and their struggles with populism.
Related projects:

You are running an old browser version. We recommend updating your browser to its latest version.

More info