Young Germans are using shock tactics to
rattle the liberalism of their parents, and sending a message about
tolerance to the West.
Among the millions of Euro-sceptics applauding last week’s “no” votes
on the European constitution, one would almost certainly find three
German lads living in a small city west of Munich. The three friends,
in their late teens and about to graduate from high school, featured
the previous week in an article in the magazine Der Spiegel on the
neo-Nazi movement, to which they are loosely attached.(1)
It is doubtful that these boys know much about the European
Constitution — which their own government ratified without a
referendum — but they live in the new Europe and they don’t much like
it. Their reasons are a mixture of real fears and right-wing
propaganda. Real fears include violent foreigners in their own home
town. Propaganda includes the view that Germany’s problems of economic
stagnation and unemployment would be solved if the foreigners went back
to Russia, Albania and Turkey.
Fears for their own freedom and safety, and a slick campaign by
neo-Nazis to colonise youth culture, have seen these and increasing
numbers of young people adopt a xenophobic posture and the insignia of
the right-wing scene — from Lonsdale jackets and Doc Marten boots,
through CD’s from extremist heavy metal bands, to cell phones with
Adolf Hitler’s voice as the ring tone.
Scary stuff, and, accompanied by actual violence here and there, enough
to get the cash-strapped federal government to pledge spending of 180
million Euros (if the Euro survives) by 2006 on programmes, mainly in
schools, to combat right-wing extremist ideology.
But is right-wing ideology the real problem? Der Spiegel follows the
scent of a different ideology and finds that it leads straight to the
doors of parents who are so liberal that nothing but a “Heil Hitler!”
from their son can shock them. For some, at least, says youth
psychologist Wolfgang Bergmann, the Hitler fad is no more than this —
a stage of puberty, a form of rebellion when neither sex, drugs nor
poor grades at school can faze parents.
That is not the whole story, however. A study by the Bavarian State
Office for Political Education hints that young people’s right-wing
extremism is a revolt against liberalism itself. For the generation
that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s there is, officially, only one
great commandment: “Thou shalt tolerate everything that has not
definitively been proved harmful by a large consensus of peer-reviewed
But kids who have grown up in the vague moral universe of tolerance are
not impressed. They feel unfairly exposed to cultures that have a
strong identity linked to strict moral codes — or, at least, a strong
survival instinct. They are angry with their parents for not equipping
them for this struggle and they fall to fighting back with the only
weapons provided: banned CDs and bovver boots.
America faces reality
It is not only in Europe that the ersatz morality of tolerance is
wearing thin. In her book, <I>Liberation’s Children</I>,
American journalist Kay Hymowitz has severely criticised the adult cult
of “non-judgementalism” and its effect on the younger generation.
Parents, she says, have laid aside their traditional role of
instructing their offspring in moral values and have become instead
“housemates” and “facilitators” who accompany the child in the
autonomous project of creating an “authentic self”.(2)
In fact, says Hymowitz, the project is doomed. All that today’s values
of tolerance and open-mindedness do is set kids adrift in a sea of
experiences and expose them to manipulation by people who do know what
they stand for, particularly the entertainment industry. The mind and
soul are freed, but only by emptying them.
The Beatle, John Lennon, in a song that epitomized the spirit of 1960s
liberation, imagined that without heaven, hell, religion, patriotism or
anything to die for the world would be filled with peace and the spirit
of universal brotherhood. Thirty years later we know better. A world in
which the traditional sources of values — including the family — are
suppressed is not a morally different world. It is a morally empty
world, rapidly filling up with new power politics, anxiety and mutual
It is just such a void that the German neo-Nazi movement is exploiting.
It is the void that “no” voters in France and the Netherlands have
begun to suspect lies behind the European Constitution. Americans have
seen it opening up in their own society but, as is so often the case,
they have proved smarter than their European cousins. Last year large
numbers of them changed political colours to vote for “family values”.
It is not clear to what extent popular feeling against the European
ideal in its current form is motivated by such concerns. But to the
extent that it is, to the extent that Europeans realize the tolerant
society is actually endangering their children, America has set a
dramatic and encouraging example.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet
(1) “Shock Mom and Dad: Become a Neo-Nazi”. Der Spiegel. 21 – 25 May, 2005
(2) Kay Hymowitz. Liberation’s Children: Parents and Kids in a Post-Modern Age. Ivan R Dee, 2003