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The Political Theology of the New Right
by Rolf Schieder
Email: marc1seed (nospam) yahoo.com
29 Sep 2019
The new right-wing movements try to create a state of emergency with the help of apocalyptic rhetoric enabling them to suspend rules and procedures. Apocalypticists long for the final struggle between good and evil. Eschatologists are driven by a theology of hope.
THE POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF THE NEW RIGHT
By Rolf Schieder
[This article published on March 21, 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.feinschwarz.net. Rolf Schieder is professor of practical theology and religious education at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where he also serves as a dean in the Faculty of Theology. His research interests include religion in Germany and the United States, religious education, and the religious dimensions of political culture.]
Can the ideology of the New Right be considered theology? What distinguishes the New Right from the political theology of the 1960s and 1970s? Rolf Schieder analyzes the apocalypticism that generates the state of emergency.
The term “political theology” had a good sound in the blissful time after the 1968 unrest. Alongside many others, Johann Baptist Metz, Dorothee Soelle and Jurgen Moltmann urged a politically vigilant, emancipating and ecumenical theology. This political theology understood itself as liberation theology. At that time, the people were still regarded as a revolutionary subject – not like today as a heap of xenophobic “populist” idiots. Political theology was institutional-critical and part of a movement that sought to change the dominant political, social and economic pecking order in a radical and revolutionary way. Whoever emphasized the purpose of institutions as promoting freedom and the independent dignity of the political was quickly decried as reactionary at that time. The question whether a political decision was worse or better was hardly raised in light of the pressure to fight on the side of the good or on the side of evil. Christians must be socialists; it seemed to us young political theologians. This was a question of faith, not a question of political economy and rational deliberation. The field of politics was the preferred place of the status confessionis.
Carl Schmitt’s Grandchildren
Fifty years later, we are confronted today with a political theology of the New Right. This is also radical, socially-critical and polarizing. Political compromise is not sought. Rather, the masses are mobilized in the struggle against evil elites who threaten to “corrupt” the people. Carl Schmitt wrote the screenplay for today’s political theology. His “Political Theology” written in 1922 was a reaction to Hans Keisen’s conception of the state as a constitutional state legitimated by the transparent application of laws that needed no civil religious justification. Legitimation by procedures should be enough.
In contrast, Schmitt propagated a priority of the political before the law and constitutional state procedures. “The normal proves nothing,” Schmitt argued. “The exception proves everything.” Whoever decides over the state of emergency is sovereign.” Whether a state of emergency actually exists is ultimately unimportant. The power to define a state as a state of emergency and to generate a decision –making pressure is crucial. In these days, the American president tries to create plausibility for his declared state of emergency at the border to Mexico. Many autocrats before him used this political strategy. This political weapon remains dull and without resonance in the population. The people must be transported into a state of excitement as though they were in a state of emergency.
According to Schmitt, a theology is needed to trigger collective emotional states. “All terms of modern state theory are secularized theological terms,” we read. Schmitt emphasized the theological neediness of modern state theories. A modern state can no longer be based on developed structures and traditions. Its sovereignty rests on decisions. The modern state needs radical distinctions for its legitimation. Sharp distinctions can be drawn with a religiously-charged semantics of the extreme.
Whoever can make radical distinctions and polarizer a society in good and evil, pure and impure, believing and unbelieving, native and refugees, right and left and people and elites is sovereign. Inclusion is created through exclusion. Theological semantics is valuable. When G.W. Bush lunched the Iraq War, his advisors told him to proclaim the war of the good against the “axis of evil” or against the “evil empire.”
Religion as an Empty Meaningless Identity
In his 2016 book “Saving the People. How Populists Hijack Religion,” Olivier Roy defended the thesis that the New Right had no genuine interest in religion. “Most of these parties are only Christian insofar as they reject Islam.” The Christian tradition is only proclaimed to defend the “West.” Europe is a continent where many “rent or hire” a religion and “no one appropriates a religion anymore.”
The religion of the New Right is a mere identity marker without any recognizable religious content. The New Right instrumentalizes religion and contributes to its secularization.
This is misleading for several reasons though it sounds plausible at first. Firstly, the conventional distinction between a “secular” and a “religious” sphere is no longer viable. Secondly, Roy’s diagnosis stands in an explicit contradiction to the expressed goal of the New Right to work on a “re-sacralization of the political” as it says programmatically in the 2003 journal “Secession.” Readiness for combat, sacrificial will and a feeling of unity could awaken in the population when the political is again understood as something sacred. Overcoming an atomistic utilitarianism and resistance against a creeping dissolution of all things through a global materialistic consumerism are impossible without faith in a greater whole.
Work on the Apocalypse
An apocalyptic interpretation of the world stands at the center of the political theology of the New Right. As everybody knows, an apocalypse reveals something hidden in the past. What does the New Right uncover? It reveals the catastrophic state of the West. Germany today is in a worse state than 1918 or 1945. What is truly demonic is that the masses do not recognize they are caught in a murderous cage hard as steel through the success of international capitalism. Isolation, impoverishment, uprooting and exploitation were praised and extolled as gains of freedom. The global elites who betrayed and deserted the simple people are the seducers.
A “demographic Jihad” is predicted in the apocalypse of Thilo Sarrazin titled “Germany Abolishes Itself” from 2010. Germany women will not bear children anymore while Muslim “headscarf women” are more fertile. In 50 years, the great Christian cathedrals will be rededicated mosques.
Apocalypses foment fear and above all generate the feeling of being in a state of emergency. Whoever wants to avert the apocalypse must set to work now. In all apocalypses, it is always a little resolute remnant, courageous and blessed with insight that is responsible for liberating the world from the rule of evil. Apocalypses are a radicalization manual.
Whoever becomes immersed in the literature of the New Right discovers Islam is not the enemy. Islam is a fantasy. According to Jacques Lacan, a phantasma refers to an averted and repressed deficiency. It only announces what is lacking and does not describe any real object. Thilo Sarrazin misses indigenous children. Others admire Islam’s readiness for combat. In “Islam,” the New Right finds many things lacking in its own culture. Islam is not the enemy but an obsession. The liberal elites who hand their population over to the destabilizing forces of a global capitalism destroy all sense of community. “The people are ruined by neoliberalism, not by Islam,” exclaimed Martin Semitsch alias Martin Lichtmesz.
How Should We Upend the New Right and its Political Theology?
The strategy of refusing conversation and ignoring failed given the nearly 30% of voters for AfD (anti-immigrant Alliance for Germany). The New Right is part of our current political culture and we have to deal with them in a cultivated way. The liberal credo is inclusion. But liberalism is characterized by a strong trust in constitutional institutions and procedures. The new right-wing movements try to create a state of emergency with the help of apocalyptic rhetoric enabling them to suspend rules and procedures.
Describing the present situation as a state of emergency is not recommended. Protestants are urged not to equate today’s situation with the 1934 situation of the Confessing Church against the Nazis because they would then fall into the first trap laid by the right-wing , namely interpreting today’s political situation as a state of emergency.
Theologically, stressing the difference between an apocalyptic and an eschatological political theology could be very important. Apocalyptics long for the final struggle between good and evil. On the other hand, eschatologists are driven by a theology of hope. They do not work on the apocalypse. Rather, they understand themselves as patient co-workers on God’s coming reign. This constitutes the theological difference between the political theology of the 1968 eras and the political theology of the New Right
WITH ADORNO, UNDERSTANDING THE NEW RIGHT’S UPWARD TREND
By Joachim Bischoff
[These excerpts of Joachim Bischoff’s article published on August 4, 2019 are translated from the German on the Internet, www.sozialismus.de.]
… We should be aware that “right-wing radicalism “is not a psychological and ideological problem. Rather what is objectively false and untrue in its substance operates with ideological or propagandistic means. The political struggle must be countered with political means. The only thing that seems somewhat promising is warning the potential followers of right-wing radicalism of its consequences.
What are the reasons for the current political boom of the New Right? In western democracies, authoritarian, semi-authoritarian, identity or populist parties increase their voter share and in many countries mutate into right-wing populism. Right-wing leaders today are rather dubious contemporaries of the Donald Trump type, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Matteo Salvini or Victor Orban who ignore and despise the democratic will. They make a few symbolic decisions and the maze of social problems remains… Racism and nationalism are made the guidelines of politics.
The feeling of completely losing control is the motivational driver for accepting right-wing offers and not the alternatives. Financialized globalization with its contradictions and crises is ultimately responsible for blowing up the meritocratic idea. The social middle erodes. The negative effects are felt by an ever-greater number of citizens. Hartz IV, privatizations, deregulations and tax relief for well-to-do groups weaken the community and the social state.
The parties of the middle lose their social support because they lack any prescription for the escalating loss of control of the meritocratic social order. In contrast, the right-wing political populist offers rely on the insecurity and rage slumbering underneath the economic stability.
The programmatic takes a back seat to the radical rejection of the political establishment and the media (the “lying press”) based on emotion. The party develops and changes its goals. The market-radical, neoliberal demands and justifications lose their importance since all conduct is nationalistically-ethnically dyed. The ethnic-nationalist wing builds an increasing network in civil society, is already anchored in community structures and depends on a network of activists in the unions.
The tide of refugees and the immigration of “foreigners” are the projection surfaces of racist resentment, not its actual breeding ground. The growing social polarization, the feeling that hard efforts are no longer properly rewarded and future prospects of the children are blocked and the impression that the political class is not concerned about all this are the essential factors for the new rise of the modern right-wing. Technological change, globalization, and the weakening of worker rights have in recent decades created the basis for the emergence and spread of social inequality with all its destructive consequences which turn into an anti-state resentment against the establishment
Alternatives must gain a majority and deprive the right-wing of their social breeding social ground.