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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


  • Aristotle Kallis

    1. Lancaster University
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    • Aristotle Kallis is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Lancaster University. His main research interests are located in the field of extremism, with a particular focus on generic/comparative fascism, the study of contemporary right-wing populism, and the dynamics of diffusion of radical discourses. He is the author of Genocide and Fascism (2009), Nazi Propaganda and the Second World War (2005), The Fascism Reader (2003), and Fascist Ideology: Territory and Expansionism in Italy and Germany, 1922–1945 (2000). He is currently working on a monograph on Italian Fascist modernism and urban planning in Rome.


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.