Thursday, June 04, 2009


Jan Fleischhauer, born in 1962, has been an editor at Der Spiegel since 1989. But recently, he's become an "accidental conservative," as he details in a Spiegel excerpt from his forthcoming book:
I am part of a generation in Germany that knows no other reality than the dominance of the left. Everyone was a liberal where I grew up. This isn't entirely self-evident, because the neighborhood in which I grew up would generally be described as an exclusive residential area. My parents' friends -- and their friends, of course -- all voted for the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD), and later for the Green Party. . . [C]onservatives are practically nonexistent wherever decisions are made on how we look at and evaluate things.

Go to any theater, museum or open-air concert, and you'll quickly realize that ideas beyond the mindscape of the left are unwelcome there. A contemporary play that doesn't critically settle scores with the market economy? Unthinkable. An artist who, until George W. Bush left the White House, could associate anything with America other than Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the Washington's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol? Out of the question. Rock concerts against the left? A joke.

The left has won, across the board, and has become the happy medium. When we search for a definition of what left means, we can draw on an impressive array of theories. Leftism is a worldview, as well as a way of explaining the world and how everything is interconnected. Most of all, however, it is a feeling. A person who lives a leftist life is living with the appealing awareness of being in the right, in fact, being right all the time. In Germany, leftists are never truly called upon to justify their views. In fact, their views have become the dominant views, not within the population, which stubbornly adheres to its prejudices, but among those who set the tone and in circles where they prefer to congregate.

Of course, the left has suffered its share of defeats along the way. Liberals have lost the fight against cable television, and they were unable to prevent reunification, but in retrospect all of this recedes to the point of insignificance. The other side doesn't even know what to call itself. No one in his right mind in Germany would refer to himself as right-wing. Middle-class, perhaps, or conservative, but even those terms are used with caution. Being politically to the right is not the other side of a spectrum of opinion, but a judgment of condemnation.

In the business of opinions, where I earn my money, there is practically nothing but leftists, and anyone who is not is well-advised to keep it to himself. One reason for the cultural dominance of the left may be that the other side has nothing to say or leftist ideas are so convincing that everything else pales by comparison. But I would hazard to guess that many are to the left because others are.

Man's tendency to assimilate, though well-documented in experimental psychology, is a trait routinely underestimated in everyday life. What we call conviction is often nothing but adaptation in an environment of opinions. Opportunism is an ugly word that doesn't apply here, because it assumes that we adopt opinions for purely calculated reasons. Let's call it social instinct instead. No one wants to be the only person in an office who isn't asked to join the group for lunch. . .

Members of this social class are critical of the market economy, and yet are unable to specify an alternative. In their view, the current economic crisis is a gift from God, because it provides perfect fodder for all kinds of prejudices and practically eliminates the need for argument. All it takes is to mention words like "Deutsche Bank" or "Wall Street" in any discussion in which someone has dared to voice a cautious objection, and everyone standing around will quickly nod their heads in agreement, causing the troublemaker to withdraw, while mumbling apologies. In secret, however, they hope that this crisis of capitalism will not progress too far, because their own prosperity depends on capitalism and because, for the past 150 years, no one has been able to demonstrate that a comfortable retirement was not possible under good old Karl Marx.

I missed the connection at some point. I don't know when it happened. There wasn't a specific day or incident that turned me off to the left. I cannot even claim that I consciously distanced myself. It just happened. Suddenly I no longer found it amusing to listen to constant jokes about the physiognomy of (former Chancellor Helmut) Kohl. I realized that I was relieved when my sons converted the puppet theater my father-in-law and I had built for them into a parking garage. When the discussion turned to the uselessness of marriage and family, I was the one who was secretly rooting for every married couple, hoping it would last as long as possible. Once, at a party, I even dared to put in a good word for nuclear energy during a conversation about climate change. It immediately put a damper on the evening. . .

I have since learned to go on the offensive with my conservatism. In fact, sometimes I even have the courage to address prejudices head-on. We recently invited a couple we have known for a long time, but with whom we had fallen somewhat out of touch, over to our house. He became a law professor at a university in eastern Germany not too long ago, and she promotes golf courses. The conversation quickly turned to the last Michael Moore film, and our friend suddenly claimed that the film could not be shown throughout the entire Midwest of the United States. He made it sound as if Moore were some French auteur filmmaker who was finally holding up a mirror to the Americans, which they couldn't abide.

I had a pretty clear idea of how the conversation would continue, and I knew that I would be upset with myself afterwards, once again, because I hadn't challenged him decisively enough. "To make it brief, because we'll get to this point anyway," I heard myself saying: "No, I don't believe that the CIA was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and yes, we liked living in America." He was quiet, we drank our tea, and the two said their goodbyes before long. I was shocked by what I had said, but also a little proud of myself.
Read the whole thing.

(via Assistant Village Idiot via neo-neocon)

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