Repressive Liberalism

[Note — This is my translation of an anonymous German article. Please see the associated blog post for more details on the original publication and my translation.]

Of the End of a Decade and the Dream of a Silent Majority

Every once in a while there are good reasons to let the political era differ from the strict calendar. Elementary events or the change in certain prevailing moods are then more helpful in the recording of epochs. We know the phrase of the “long 19th century” starting early with the French Revolution in 1789 and closing late with World War I in 1914 or 1918. It was followed by the “short 20th century” which dawns with World War I and the Russian Revolution in 1917 and ends with the collapse of communism in 1989/1990.

The Political Decade

We might say something similar about the past decade if we condense several super-regional phenomena on the political right into a short era. First, a variety of right-wing populist parties are formed or reformed as early as the late 2000s. There are even two in Austria at the time: the FPÖ under the then-young Heinz-Christian Strache and its splinter party BZÖ under the mature founder of right-wing populism, Jörg Haider. With Haider’s death in 2008 his newly founded party dies as well, the FPÖ once again becomes the only relevant right-wing populist force. After quite a few years of steady growth as opposition it enters, full of hope, a government coalition with the ÖVP [Austria’s dominant center-right party] in 2017. The euphoria of “bourgeois” actors has them talk of an enterprise comprising no less than two legislative periods. Soon after it is clear: they could not even finish one. Weak personnel on the part of the FPÖ, political cannibalism of the ÖVP, alleged scandals about FPÖ contacts to “identitarians,” but above all the so-called “Ibiza affair” terminate the change of direction after about one and a half years of government. The ÖVP is strengthened in the following election campaign and finds a new sidecar in the Greens. All this throws the FPÖ into a veritable identity crisis, not least because ÖVP boss Kurz managed to appropriate the FPÖ core topic of migration. During the Corona crisis, which allows Western governments to stage themselves as successful crisis managers and make any opposition seem superfluous, the irrelevance of the FPÖ is reinforced.

Parallel to the period when the Strache FPÖ develops, a new right-wing populist party is founded in the Netherlands after the political murder of Pim Fortuyn. That is the PVV under Geert Wilders which after an initial growth to over 15% in national elections (2010) experiences a mix of unsteadiness and sometimes pronounced downward trend in elections. And right-wing populists also emerge in other countries. That is true for example in the FRG where the AfD forms in 2012, although it does not develop a typical right-wing populist profile until the following years. Its creation was likely enabled by the Euro crisis, but only the 2015 asylum crisis allowed an establishment in the Western federal states at around 10-15%. In the East the AfD could lately even reach 30% but nationally it cannot much exceed the Western results.

In the USA right-wing populism comes with yet more delay – and probably in the only conceivable variant given the rather rigid two-party system. Donald Trump causes an unexpected development within the established Republican party. He and his Rasputin Steve Bannon force on his party a right-wing populist profile, hitherto unknown and evidently also unwanted by the apparatus. Already the Republican primaries starting in 2015 cause an unprecedented euphoria within the US-American right, and finally in 2016 something happens that hardly anyone had expected: Trump becomes US president. But here too disillusionment occurs swiftly, at least among the ranks of the “dissident,” “alternative,” or “new right.” Bannon is soon removed again and Trump can barely keep his promises. In part he even appears to continue the neocon policy of previous governments.

One could easily continue the list of right-wing populist parties going through a certain cycle in this generously conceived decade, but let us look at right-wing non-parliamentary actors. In Italy the “Casa Pound” (CPI) appears as a new organization of the radical right. As a subcultural group they try to mold another lifestyle, a “fascism for the third millennium,” and from 2013 also compete in elections. The electoral successes are extremely modest, whether alone or on lists with established parties, leading to an announcement in 2019 that engagement in party politics has ended. Moreover they can or will no longer resist the increasing repression by the city of Rome in recent years. The best years of the CPI seem to be over for now.

Another movement forms in 2012. It is the former youth wing of the French “Bloc Identitaire,” now called “Génération Identitaire” (GI). In the following years it is emulated in numerous European countries, so in Czechia, Slovenia, Hungary, Denmark, and Great Britain. For the FRG and Austria this is the “Identitäre Bewegung” (IB). Although the GI/IB is rooted ideologically in the Nouvelle Droite or Neue Rechte, from the beginning it seeks to pool all who advocate nonviolent struggle against replacement migration. Aside from a clear rejection of National Socialism all other ideological aspects are considered secondary. Only the patriotic minimum consensus is binding, that is the prevention of the “Great Exchange” by means of metapolitics, concretely: raising awareness through “civil disobedience.” Following Gene Sharp and Srđa Popović the IB wants to bring the topic into the streets, the media, and finally the heads of the “silent majority” using a “policy of nonviolent action.” Götz Kubitschek’s short-term project, the “Konservativ-subversive Aktion” (KSA; a reference to the “Subversive Aktion” of the German pre-1968 movement), and the contemplations in his Kaplaken booklet “Provokation” provide another blueprint for the IB in the FRG and Austria.

Provocation and Repression

The starting point for the Identitarians is rather clear: the politico-media complex which accepts, condones, or advances the Great Exchange is an all-powerful opponent with vastly more resources than several hundred activists. Only calculated provocation remains to bring one’s own matter into the mainstream media. It is a political drama fashioned after “David vs Goliath.” Here the IB enters a stage where it is not really allowed, namely the stage of the established politico-media business. There it attempts now and then to unmask the actors of the Great Exchange in order to present a fact to the audience, i.e. the nation, which is usually played down, concealed, or simply reinterpreted.

The establishment and with it the state, as the final instance among its instruments of power, now have roughly two possibilities of reaction: toleration or repression. Toleration would mean accepting the provocations, not removing the opponent from the stage and thereby conceding him similar opportunities as other oppositional actors, such as from the political left. However, that would necessitate a debate over political contents because the challenger would otherwise gradually damage the own metapolitical narrative, the liberal agenda. But liberalism has long lost the ability for such a debate, partly because it isn’t necessary with its still-firm power base, partly because it would relatively quickly run out of arguments. Concretely: liberalism has already left behind the time of its great radiance. The liberal establishment is much too tired to debate the opponent on facts. There is nothing left but social pressure and phrase-mongering. Of course that says nothing about the half-life of liberal systems as a whole, only about their phase in the life cycle.

So the established fall back on repression. For the media this means the most negative reporting possible: from reinterpretation, “reframing” of actions of oppositional actors – viz. Lügenpresse [lying press] – to concealment, especially of attacks on the oppositional actors themselves – viz. Lückenpresse [gap press]. Private companies terminate contracts, quasi-monopolists on the Internet exert pressure through “deplatforming.” The state overwhelms actors with sanctions by the executive and judiciary, even though their use routinely, but much later, proves unjustified. At least in Austria the establishment acts unanimously: whatever is taken by investigating authorities in illegal raids sooner or later reaches parties, media, and antifa which see to the soft terror – a very convenient division of labor, as direct state action in this area would badly damage the liberal narrative. After all liberalism is commonly defined as the opposite of any totalitarianism. On top of that, politics directly puts the screws on with legislative means of criminal and administrative law – viz. Anlassgesetzgebung [unchecked ad-hoc legislation]. This abundance of repressive measures which were in fact employed against the Identitarian Movement in the FRG and Austria did not remain hidden from attentive observers, and one must assume that an outside view could not even perceive everything.

One may justifiably ask how this kind of repression is even possible in a liberal system, especially as it is applied in quite different intensity to oppositional actors from the left and the right. Why could the Conservative-Subversive Action not do the same as the Subversive Action before 1968? Why did the Identitarian Movement encounter different conditions than the APO since 1968, despite being not nearly as radical? The answer is simple: because it is no longer 1968 but after 1968. Liberalism has since then taken a decisively more political turn, and that was due to the ’68 movement itself. Concerning the political right the (left-) liberal state after 1968 was no longer permissive but repressive, and quite in the sense of Herbert Marcuse. In Marcuse’s famous essay on “repressive tolerance” [Repressive Toleranz in 1968. Eine Enzyklopädie, Suhrkamp-Verlag, Frankfurt/Main 2004, p.143–164] he politically charges liberalism using rhetorical sleights of hand: there should no longer be indiscriminate tolerance, instead tolerance is only possible where it serves the cause of progress, so certainly not on the right. The system’s contemporary tolerance would be “repressive” because it did not distinguish between “progressive” and “reactionary” actors. That would be due to a total context of delusion [Verblendungszusammenhang] of classical liberals, their inability to think “out of the box,” thereby enabling opposition against the liberal authorities themselves. Today’s fully internalized slogan “no tolerance for intolerance” is the quintessence of Marcuse’s essay. Of course the ’68 movement did not have quite an easy job either and also encountered resistance, but it was much clumsier and less political. Moreover, in 1968 there already were metapolitical supporters among the establishment, whether in the media (“Der Spiegel” etc.) or in certain parts of the professorate (“Frankfurt School” and many others). Today and on the opposite side that is not even remotely the case.

Now there remains the doctrine of resistance by Sharp and Popović, the “politics of nonviolent action” which has enabled quite a few liberal revolutions in emerging countries. But whoever thinks that this method is only what it claims to be probably also thinks that Mark Zuckerberg has built Facebook by himself. The Popović approach requires at least two preconditions which are missing from right-wing opposition in the West. On one hand there are no “philanthropic” billionaire backers eliminating financial difficulties, which is no small thing. On the other hand Western-based opposition movements have a metapolitical basis and real political support on the highest level: the NGOs and governments of the West. No right-wing anti-globalist movement can boast such support. There is no non-Western actor supporting patriotic opposition in the West. For us there is no “hinterland.” The front goes right through the middle – it is everywhere.

As inelegant as the method of repression may be, it works. Perhaps it is a matter of mentality that it works especially well in the FRG and Austria, slightly less so in France. What among Germans is a pronounced desire for conformism up to self-abnegation and self-deception, corresponds among Austrians to a deep-seated deference to authority and a quite fundamental need for peace and comfort. And with that the dream to make the “silent majority” comprehensively politically aware becomes exceedingly dubious.

The “Silent Majority”

Returning to the metaphor of the political stage, the situation appears as follows: among the audience quite a few already perceive the problem of the Great Exchange, and also see the repression. This group should be a subset of right-wing populist voters. Then there are those who gain an awareness for replacement migration really only due to activism. But of course there are also others who unreservedly approve of liberalism. However, the largest share is the so-called “silent majority” who observe the drama without stirring at all. But what is a “silent majority” anyway and why is it silent, regardless of whether it is indeed a majority or rather just a larger minority (as suggested at least by election turnout and results)?

We could suppose the “silent majority” lacks knowledge, or lacks courage to act on gained insights, or is simply uninterested in identity politics. But is that really true and what are the consequences?

  1. The first motive would be a deficit of knowledge, which is usually countered by explaining and convincing. So in this group are persons who would reach similar conclusions given a similar state of knowledge – where even equal knowledge does not necessarily imply equal conclusions. However: the necessary information can be obtained. Whoever today is unable to profitably use the available information supplies will be difficult to reach. The expenditure of leading these persons to a lasting political existence is correspondingly high.
  2. The second motive would lie in the emotional and social sphere, which does not justify it any less but perhaps even more. In a democracy, the slightest consequence of acting according to one’s knowledge and gained insight would be voting for a party consistently critical of migration, therefore right-wing populist. But why is even the potential voter so persistently “silent” – to stay with the metaphor – in the case of the Great Exchange? Why does he not at least adequately articulate his vote? Could he lack the courage to check the box of an anti-migration party in a secret ballot – which Western elections still are? A slighter personal risk is barely conceivable. If courage or motivation do not even suffice for that, any further mobilization is going to be very difficult. We take that as a “marker” irrespective of our remarks in Full Speed Into the Void. Why Right-Wing Populists Won’t Save Us which remain valid.
  3. A third motive is often underestimated by politicized people: There are persons who do not participate in politics because they are fundamentally content or entirely apolitical. They might have a different view on the importance of identity politics and support the current course for other reasons. Identity is not appreciated as an existential subject. We see that even drastic events sometimes do not change such a perception. Such persons are ultimately barely reachable. The transition from “content” to “apolitical” is gradual. They might also be persons who side with any dominant ideology regardless of contents. That is not at all extraordinary, considering that the mass democracy of liberalism is historically unique. And we know such phenomena from social groups in general: There is a not insignificant share of persons who practically never participate actively, i.e. play no part in matters of shaping social life. They are simply not interested, or they do not consider it existentially important, or they see themselves unable to say anything on the subject. Or they shy away from argument, which of course is on the rise again in the current situation.

Naturally the stated points will frequently appear entangled in practice, and certainly one could find numerous further motives beyond. Whatever the reason – the “silent” group is unlikely to be very small. And so political actors dream of being able to instrumentalize it. Activists dream of the activation of a “silent majority slumbering within the nation” and parties dream of the mobilization of nonvoters, who moreover appear undecided and still suggestible – which however is merely an assumption. Over these hopes they forget that the group of nonvoters is likely not very homogeneous and that – despite decades of “nonvoter research” in political science – nobody has yet really succeeded in tapping this alleged potential. One of the few findings about nonvoters is the social layering: lower strata are more prone to non-voting than higher strata. Aside from socially induced feelings of powerlessness or lower civic conditioning due to less education, the lower stratum perhaps includes persons whose ancestors had already resided on the lowest level in the premodern estate society, and here we simply see the perpetuation of a proletarian character type and its expression under modern circumstances.

But back to the essential: We see how so far all actors have failed to truly mobilize this alleged potential. Consequently it is of no interest for political change. The sober conclusion: The pool is largely exhausted and any further exploitation is associated with high political marginal costs. As early as the 1980s Alain de Benoist [Kulturrevolution von rechts, Jungeuropa-Verlag 2017, p.46] warned against comforting oneself with “the idea of a ‘silent majority’” and to believe that the true national soul would slumber there, beyond the established public. The topos of the “silent majority” might motivate political actors, but if it continually proves far from realistic it loses its motivational power. In the worst case it even obstructs the way to a deeper analysis.

What Remains?

So what remains of this political decade? We can assume that quite a few right-wing populist parties will stabilize at a relatively low level – in stock market language: the sideward movement becomes the characteristic pattern. Thus the FPÖ will not participate in governments for the foreseeable future, and everything indicates that it will continue to resist reforms in the direction of metapolitics and intellectualism. Similar for the AfD which despite some top-class personnel (compared to the FPÖ) has significant structural problems on the middle level and currently increasingly “FPÖ-izes,” i.e. degenerates to a mediocre right-wing populist party. In the West and in the Bundestag the AfD can at most annoy the other parties, only in the East there remains a tender possibility. But even there one should not be deceived by the election results – 30% are not enough to turn around a state, and access to executive power has so far not been achieved either.

In the USA the misery is considerably more advanced. Trump has either forgotten his campaign promises or was forced to change course by his own party, the opposition, or the deep state. The last years made evident what leeway a US President really has. Even if Trump once again wins elections in 2020 it will be four more years of the same, that is an undiminished liberalization of the West. After Trump, a regression of the Republicans to the neocon doctrine is most likely. Even more likely is that the Democrats will provide the next president – and that means the new “progressive” generation, no longer representatives of the postwar generation. In the end all those are minor matters to us, as the Trump government is emblematic for what we had already described (Full Speed Into the Void): Right-wing populist parties cannot effect any fundamental reform of the political and social system – their chief benefit would lie in supporting and protecting metapolitical actors (which however they are not doing).

The non-parliamentary actors, most of all the Identitarian Movement, have achieved one thing in the past years: The opponent was “distorted to the point of recognition” – to quote Götz Kubitschek. He was unmasked, forced to bare his teeth and sometimes bite – even though this starkly contradicts the liberal self-conception and also the treatment of the political left. Once again we learn: “A liberal state is a house with 100 glass doors of which 99 are locked.” [Robert Hepp, cited in Armin Mohler: Gegen die Liberalen, Edition Antaios, Schnellroda 2013, p.6] Those who are able to see can do so now – and whoever still cannot see can scarcely be helped. The potential in that direction is largely absorbed, but also partly politicized with lasting effect. Each further step is now associated with high political marginal costs. The party-political actors – once again – did not fulfill their intended role of cooperation. That means the political costs can only be covered by pure self-exploitation. Everyone must decide for himself if that is worthwhile for a few small and short-lived successes. All told the non-parliamentary actors from CPI to IB also failed to develop a realistic long-term perspective, too dominant were pragmatism in day-to-day business and diffuse hopes concerning goals.

Of New Ways

What now, if nothing can be expected of right-wing populists and the present methods of non-parliamentary movements are exhausted? What if the “silent majority” does not exist at all and we must acknowledge that “we” are already a minority? Perhaps not biologically but politically. And the one is merely an anticipation of the other. And what if nothing changes for the foreseeable future or “forever?” Was that it? Is it now “the last one turns out the lights?” By no means. Renewed thinking is essential under the given conditions. How can one manage an environment where one is in the minority? That will be the question of the coming political decade. And for that coming decade wholly reformed or new actors will be needed. Just as the establishment performed an adaptation in the past years, the right-wing opposition too will have to rethink. New formats, new ways are needed, implying at least in the near future internal work above all. We shall see if there will be once more an opportunity to cut a lane into the establishment, if with favorable winds the sails can be set once more to gain speed towards Realpolitik. A reorientation under new circumstances, a self-optimization, and also a deeper theoretical-cultural self-assurance are in no case harmful.

This self-assurance also comprises a return to our fundamental viewpoints. One of those is that liberalism constitutes a causal problem. And if we cannot overcome it on the level of state policy then we must do what would be much more natural: overcome the liberalism in ourselves. The nation-state, anyway just a usurper of our ethno-cultural identity, is de facto history. What we see today is merely tomorrow’s past. It only exists as a liberal management organization. Besides, a repatriation of those immigrants who settled in Europe since the 1960s is totally unrealistic from today’s perspective (but would be another precondition for a “homogeneous nation-state”). Rather we must see who of the people of European descent still wants to be European, and what Europeanness even means besides descent. This is by no means clear. Those who still want to have an identity must take care of it themselves and gather in new communities. It is also unlikely that one view of Europeanness will be equally accepted by all dissidents. We should count on a multitude of such new community designs. And the state will not help us, on the contrary. All those who no longer want any identity at all – and that is a gigantic majority – will merge into whatever modernity can still accomplish.

Turning away from the too-common and towards “ourselves” expressly does not mean a retreat into “private life,” although that seems to be a deep yearning of the present. A new bourgeois Biedermeier has come into fashion even among liberals and will cement the power base of those governments who promise a continuation of the current situation. Among the right it is mirrored by a seemingly unquenchable thirst for restorative designs (we had already talked about the “spread of reaction” in The Great Fatigue).

Our secession must be intelligent and political. An uncoupling from liberal society, widespread among agrarian romantics and such, would be naïve. Renouncing technology would mean forfeiting not just comfort but above all political clout. And in a personal case of emergency at the latest one would not want to go without many a useful thing, such as the blessings of top-class medicine or the like. Rather we must come to the conclusion which every liberal and many immigrant groups have reached anyway, namely to develop a relationship to the liberal state that is based purely on subjective benefit. This appears sacrilegious to the “statesmanlike conservative” but it must be a necessary conclusion for the realist. One would first separate oneself from the offerings of state and society where it is both particularly relevant to us and more easily replaced. Autonomy should not primarily be sought in the technical or economic but in the cultural and moral sphere. And there is another sphere where the state is retreating: the guarantee of physical security. The pacification of Western societies has left behind its zenith in the late 1960s. Insofar the new communities will also have to cover this most basal aspect of any community.

The future does not belong to nation-states, parties, or diffuse majorities of persons, but to the clans: new tribes, new ethnic communities. This is already foreseeable in various Western European regions, only the Europeans blank it out. Wherever new ethnic-ideological communities emerge, new culture and morals form the horizon of life, there is the personal and political future. There the individualism of liberal molding is overcome in a new “we.” And there the fight is no longer primarily against something but for something.

One thought on “Repressive Liberalism”

  1. Somewhat pessimistic about electoral chances but otherwise correct about metapolitics. What you ignore is that with a well-executed metapolitical “focus on ourselves”, we can win elections, especially as (if) the liberal state disintegrates (and is eroded by geopolitical failings)

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