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Primal Fears Seize the Middle

by Christoph Butterwegge Saturday, Jan. 08, 2005 at 1:41 PM

Social justice decays to mere equal opportunities.. Demography often serves economic circles, established parties and the media as a tool for social-political demigogues in legitimating neoliberal recon-struction or dismantling the welfare state.


New Scapegoats: Nature and Nation become Legitimations of a Divided Society

By Christoph Butterwegge

[This article originally published in: Freitag 52, 12/17/2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Christoph Butterwegge is a political scientist and sociologist at the University of Koln.]

The same picture is confirmed again and again with income, assets and education chances. Social differences in Germany are becoming more crass. The polarization is no longer denied in the poverty- and wealth report of the German government. This is also reflected in the assertion that the multicultural society has failed and in the idea of migrants taking an oath to a “western-Christian culture.” Obviously there is a connection between social development and global and national exclusion of ethnic minorities. Racism was socially respectable after September 11, 2001 in the form of scapegoats in the distribution battles intensifying in many countries of this earth.

The all-pervasive neoliberal idea has turned upside down the conceptions of equality and justice of the first postwar decades. While the social balance between classes was regarded in the past as a desirable goal of state policy, only alms are given to the losers by owners of assets and their zealous henchmen. Being social no longer means worrying selflessly about the disadvantaged, sick and disabled and making moral commitments. The social should now bow to one’s competitiveness and administrative efficiency.

Social justice requiring a redistribution from top to bottom decays to mere “equal opportunities.” The result is a further division of society. Neoliberals seek this division, understand themselves as a national elite and claim a large part of the material resources.

The question about “cultural identity” moves more and more into the limelight while this “economizing” of all areas of life advances… The individual no longer feels as a member of a group because he or she belongs to a certain class with common interests. Instead cultural agreements, a common language, religion and tradition are sought. The more economic competition intensifies in the framework of “location security”, cultural distinctions between people can be more easily charged with resentment.

Intentionally or unintentionally, a “national competition state” that refuses to be a conventional welfare state prepares the ground for ethnization processes. Solidarity with the other is not encouraged but their stigmatization. Thus ethnic minorities act as scapegoats on which frustration and feelings of hatred are projected. A national “community” is constituted that pursues far-reaching political goals. “Germans first!” and “Foreigners out!” are slogans anchored in the consciousness of people. If cultural identity is defined according to descent, an opposition can be easily conjured between inside and outside and natives and immigrants. This contrast conceals the opposition between top and bottom, the top owners of capital and those without capital who depend on selling their labor power.

At the same time so-called experts and the media transform biology into interpretation models for social processes. This “naturalization of the social” is socially acknowledged again after being rightly considered reactionary for many years. Social conduct is increasingly explained with the respective gene pool although every Pisa-test proves that social conditions are responsible for the distribution of chances.

The “demography discourse” fits this intellectual climate. The social security systems are no longer viable on account of the supposed “aging “ of society. Demography often serves economic circles, established parties and the media as a tool for social-political demigogues in legitimating the neoliberal reconstruction or dismantling of the welfare state. “Generational justice” – a seemingly innocuous slogan – is emphasized again and again in this connection. Strangely enough, the growing social inequality within the generations is hardly discussed while the supposed conflict between old and young is heard again and again.

Social democrats and Greens sometimes urge an “active population policy” to promote the fertility of German mothers. Rightwing extremists and neo-Nazi worried since time immemorial about the continuance of the German people are encouraged by the way that politics, science and journalism thematicize the population decline and consider counteracting measures. Whoever views the population forecasts mounting up in the media as catastrophe scenarios realizes that the primal fear of rightwing extremists that the German people could die out moves increasingly into the center of society. The destruction of the social state and the appeal to the national come together. Their common breeding grounds are horror visions, depressing prognoses and cries of doom.

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