Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Reinhold Gärtner (2000) 'Neue Rechte: Ethnocentrism, Culture and Cultural Identity'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, <>

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Received: 28/4/2000      Accepted: 22/5/2000      Published: 31/5/2000


While there are still traces of the old right in the Neue Rechte (new right) - e.g. up to now it has not been possible to see a consistent difference in their attitudes towards Nazism (cf. the Lipstadt-Irving-case) - the Neue Rechte focuses more than its predecessor on 'our' culture as the central theme of its anti-foreigner policies.

This article will examine various elements of the Neue Rechte: especially the concept of 'Thematic leadership', the topic of ethnocentrism, and racism and culture. While Austria is the main case discussed it should be understood as an example of a broader phenomenon. There are very many similarities between new-right arguments across Europe, especially where 'culture', 'cultural identity' and anti-foreigner policies are concerned. Nor is the paper intended as a discussion of the FPÖ specifically. Rather their programme is used as a rich source of material to illustrate Europe-wide developments.

When we talk of the Neue Rechte in the German-speaking world we also need to bear in mind that it is neither a specific political party nor a group which can be clearly delimited or circumscribed. The Neue Rechte is a network of organisations, publishers, small groups, and newspapers or magazines. Papers like Junge Freiheit in Germany or Zur Zeit in Austria (not to be confused with the German quality weekly Die Zeit!) are part of the Neue Rechte, as are their editors and contributors. Thus it is not always easy and clear-cut to identify a paper or a person as being a part or member of the Neue Rechte, but when you follow the traces you find a complex of diverse connections. The main and common concern to all of them is the attempt to establish an intellectual Neue Rechte. As Jürgen Hatzenbichler, one of it's former representatives, put it: 'If the Right see the validity of Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony, it has to establish metapolitics as its method. The Right has to go into the den of the (left) lion and beat him with his very own weapon, with theory.' (AULA, 9/1991).

Thematic Leadership

Representatives of Neue Rechte thus try to gain thematic leadership (cultural hegemony, [see, Gessenharter 1994 and 2000]), they try to describe reality as they see it. The concept of thematic leadership is part of the Neue Rechte's (mis)appropriation of Antonio Gramsci. Following Gramsci they argue that it is high time for a new cultural war in order to gain cultural hegemony. However, while Gramsci pointed out that this cultural hegemony has to be gained by the proletariat and while he warned of the danger of a passive revolution by the ruling class, representatives of Neue Rechte assume that this passive revolution was Gramsci's original concept and authentic strategy (Jäger, 1994: 166). Thus the reference to Gramsci is a simple sham. The main themes of the Neue Rechte's concept of thematic leadership are the 'normalisation' of Nazism, anti-foreigner policy, anti-Americanism and Euro-scepticism.

Normalisation of Nazism means, on the one hand, the relativisation of the Holocaust and thus, on the other hand, placing Nazism on the same level as other dictatorships such as fascism. In 1992, the leader of the then MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiana - the predecessor of Alleanza Nazionale), Gianfranco Fini, said that for him Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. Of course, Gianfranco Fini stood for and remains in office in his party. So far no politician in Germany or Austria could say the same about Hitler without evoking public and political protest (though the distance to Nazism is not always clear, as the case of the Austrian FPÖ illustrates). It would be impossible for an Austrian or German politician to say that Hitler was the greatest statesman of the 20th century and to remain in office in his party (with the exception of neo-nazi parties). Thus the fact of the Holocaust still marks a very important difference between Fascism and Nazism (Steinberg, 1990).

However, if the normalisation of Nazism could be successfully achieved, politicians could say that Nazism was merely one dictatorship among many. Were Dresden, the Gulag or Hiroshima to be seen as the same as Auschwitz the process of whitewashing could begin. The Holocaust would then be seen as a 'detail of 20th century history' as Le Pen put it years ago. In this respect, the recent judgement against David Irving is very important. It would have had dire consequences had Irving been whitewashed. In April 2000 a London Court had to decide the Lipstadt-Irving case. In 1995 Deborah Lipstadt published Denying the Holocaust; a book in which she called Irving an admirer of Hitler and a Holocaust denier. Irving went to court as he saw his reputation as historian seriously endangered. In the trial Irving said that it was likely that there was some kind of murder with poison gas in Birkenau, but not in a systematic way. This exactly highlights the strategy of the Neue Rechte: the relativisation of the Holocaust. The judge though explained in his verdict (Lipstadt was found not guilty) that Irving: 'has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism' (Judgement David John Cadwell Irving vs. Penguin Books Limited and Deborah E. Lipstadt, 11th April 2000, par. 13.167).

A similar example of the old right can be found in the extreme right-wing Austrian paper AULA. In 1995 the author of an article (Hans Moser, a pseudonym) wrote that there was no evidence of mass-murder with poison gas in Auschwitz-Birkenau and this fact provided 'a milestone on the path to truth'. While this formulation is commonly found among the old right, Neue Rechte would prefer to say that there was mass murder in Auschwitz, but there was also mass murder in Hiroshima and in the Gulag. So why make such a fuss about Auschwitz and the Holocaust if the same crime was committed elsewhere? The editor of AULA was given a suspended sentence.

A recent contrasting example of the relativistic treatment of the Holocaust can be found in another Austrian paper, Zur Zeit (15/2000, April 7th, 2000). 'Crimes against humanity are always detestable', Friedrich Romig writes, 'no matter if it is the "brown Holocaust" against Jews or the "red Holocaust" against class enemies, or the "democratic" mass murder of unborn children. In both (sic) cases the driving force behind these crimes is', for Friedrich Romig, 'a perverted ideology with common roots in materialism. Not Nazism, dictatorship and intolerance brought war, hatred against foreigners, bondage, racism and mass murder, but the ideology behind it. It is a result of the Enlightenment'. Finally, Romig quotes Horkheimer as having said that Nazism was the logical consequence and monster of the French revolution with its droits de'l homme. Between the lines is a simple message: 'so what?' Why always blame the Nazis and not those who committed similar crimes?

Anti-foreigner policy is the second important aspect of thematic leadership for Neue Rechte. In previous years representatives of right-wing political thinking favoured a simple 'foreigners out!' policy. Meanwhile, they argue differently. It is not primarily a question of foreigners, but of the indigenous people: they are not 'against foreigners' merely in favour of the indigenous: 'Nicht ausländerfeindlich, sondern inländerfreundlich.' And who could argue against the proposition that politicians should take care of the indigenous population? This corresponds to the Neue Rechte argument for the non-universality of human rights and the restriction of human rights to those who already enjoy such rights. Thus the 'Recht auf Heimat' (right to a national home) should be restricted. And if we accept this Recht auf Heimat as a basic universal principle we have accepted an exclusory right. Moreover, the question is how to define those who should have access to this right. If it is dependent on citizenship many people throughout Europe in the late 20th and early 21st century would be excluded. If it is restricted to the vague term 'Volk', even those with citizenship are sometimes excluded. And in the eyes of Neue Rechte it should be combined with the concept Volk. As right-wing groups put it:

Our patriotism is not orientated to a state but to the German cultural heritage which formed us. Our confession to Fatherland places us under the obligation to speak up for the rights and freedom of the German cultural people. Our Fatherland is the German cultural union not the state, and cultural people is the community of all Germans, not the community of citizens' (Akad. Landsmannschaft Tyrol, <>)

The basic point of the anti-foreigner- or pro-indigenous - policy of Neue Rechte is that foreigners can never become fully accepted members of the indigenous population. They remain foreigners - Fremde - even if they acquire (in this case German or Austrian) citizenship: '"Stop foreign infiltration" means protection of one's home and this has nothing to do with xenophobia'. (Romig in Zur Zeit 15/2000; 'Stop foreign infiltration' was one of the FPÖ's racist slogans in the election campaign in 1999).

The third theme, anti-Americanism, centres around the topic of re-education after 1945. America - i.e. U.S.A. - is seen as the main reason for having lost what Neue Rechte calls 'German culture and German values'. (U.S.) America is portrayed as 'BigMac-culture' and as having no real values. Thus anti-Americanism shows - for Neue Rechte - the decay of so called 'secondary virtues' (e.g. order, patriotism, decency, reliability, historic conscience and so forth). There is usually no discussion of the perversion of these 'German virtues' in the Nazi era.

The forth and final theme of thematic leadership is Euro-scepticism. This is not to be seen as a constructive criticism of Europe or of the European Union, but as a criticism of the common Europe which - in the eyes of Neue Rechte - covers over national (which means cultural) peculiarities and characteristics. The German-speaking Neue Rechte sees a common Europe as another serious threat to German culture.

To sum up, thematic leadership means the revitalisation of so called German values and German culture. However, we are never told in any detail what these original German values or what the essential elements of German culture are. Neue Rechte pretends to know what it is and they also pretend that everybody else shares the same associations and connotations notions of German values and German culture. And it also is oriented towards the supremacy of German culture.


One of the very important aspects of this new (?) description of reality is the concept of 'ethnocentrism'. Basically ethnocentrism mean the same as 'Foreigners out' (Ausländer raus) but sounds more intellectual. With the notion of ethnocentricity the Neue Rechte tries to forge homogeneous entities in which only those who 'belong' may stay. The main task is thus to define the criteria by which certain persons 'belong' and are members of the in-group and to identify those being excluded. One hears such slogans as 'Germany for Germans', 'Tyrol for Tyroleans', 'Asia for Asians' or 'Turkey for Turks'. The criteria though are not clearly explained or even presented. To make this concept work it is necessary to pretend that one knows already who belongs to which group.

If the criteria were discussed and made explicit it would become apparent that no consistent logical argument supports this in-group/out-group dichotomy. Thus the Neue Rechte avoids presenting precise definitions. The problems with these ascriptive identities are as follows:

If neither birth nor residence act as criterion of inclusion within the in-group, what is it then that makes one belonging or not?

There is, of course, no further examination of what will happen to children of mixed parentage. Does a child with an Austrian (or German) mother and an Albanian father belong to the in-group because the mother is Austrian (or German), or not because his or her father is Albanian? And what about the grandparents? Do we thus still have something similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Arian certificate?

In Neue Rechte arguments we do not often find direct reference to race, but we quite often find hints about 'culture' or 'cultural identity'. The term 'race' (Rasse) cannot so easily be used in the German language because of the experience of Nazism and 'Rassenideologie' (racist ideology). In Neue Rechte discourse there is no explicit explanation of what this cultural identity amounts to. Culture moreover is mainly used as a synonym for the heavily discredited German term Rasse. Through 'culture' the Neue Rechte tries to find a new - culturally racist - criterion for exclusion. By not precisely defining culture it is again possible to pretend that everybody knows what the term means and that it has similar associations for everyone. However, if culture - or cultural identity - is to function as a means of exclusion, it has to contain at least a superficial content.

Thus the culture-concept of Neue Rechte usually stands for common language and history. And if language is not really a criterion which is totally exclusive (if only because others can learn the -common- language) history is or can be so long as one has a very specific notion of what that history is. Just as a Spaniard cannot have a common history with a Serb for whom the Battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of Black Birds, 1389) is part of his cultural identity, neither can an Albanian nor a Turk in Austria share the Tyrolean myth of Andreas Hofer and 1809. Thus it is left to to those who define the common history also to define who is accepted and who is excluded. For anyone who wants to be accepted as part of the in-group it is necessary to accept this transformed and constructed history. Moreover, it is essential to be accepted by the representatives of the in-group as one of them.

It is the fact that millions of foreigners are living in Europe without having the citizenship of the state they are living which makes the concept of cultural identity so dangerous. By stressing the importance of a common history they can be kept out for good. This is the real point of Neue Rechte's ideology. With its emphasis on cultural identity and on the concept of ethnocentrism, the Neue Rechte finds it easy to point out that they do not have anything against foreigners, but these foreigners simply cannot be accepted as part of the in-group as they are 'culturally different' (kulturfremd). It also perpetuates the status of foreigners as excluded even after acquiring citizenship.

Thus the concept of ethnocentrism is an extremely dangerous one. It disguises the simple fact that many national residents are not 'indigenous' people but migrants. It also disguises the fact that every country is (and always was) both a country of emigration and of immigration. Ethnocentrism tries to create unchangeable entities at a time of permanent flux. It thus tries to revive the concept of homogeneity in a world of heterogeneity. The extreme danger here is that in effect the logical conclusion of this form of ethnocentrism is to throw out those who - in the eyes of representatives of Neue Rechte - do not belong to the in-group. Thus it helps to create and uphold a divided society for good.

The ethnocentric concept perceives the world as still being divided into separate small units which live a life of their own, without human exchange and without future perspectives of exchange. At a time of global flows and multiculturalism this means the reconstruction of strict differentiation of units which have no bases in reality; there is simply no 'pure race, no 'pure people' and were one to seriously attempt to recreate these units ethnic cleansing would be the only means of doing so. Rather than point this out, the Neue Rechte are inclined to argue that ethnic cleansing (e.g. Bosnia Herzegovina) or race riots like the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles are the inescapable results of multiculturalism. If one were to accept the Neue Rechte conception of ethnocentrism, one has also to accept the 'concept' of ethnic cleansing and ethnic violence.

Racism and Culture

Although this section focuses on Austria, racism and ethnocentrism are not a uniquely Austrian (or German) phenomena. There is both historic and contemporary evidence that we find racism and ethnocentrism in many other countries (Wodak and van Dijk, 2000; Kupchan 1995), from Enoch Powell's 'River of Blood' to Margaret Thatcher's 'swamping' in 1978 up to the Vlaams Bloks, Front National or Mouvement National Republicain and through to the development of racism in the Balkans throughout the last decades.

Ethnocentrism cannot be understood without Racism. The racism of Neue Rechte though is slightly different from that of older concepts of racism; not so much with respect to its basic content but to the arguments which underpin it. 'Blood and soil' (Blut und Boden) discourse has largely given way to cultural racism. According to Miles (1999), racism has two characteristics: first, the process of constituting races by using (alleged) biological differences as criteria for the construction of a collectivity ascribing to it an unchangeable beginning and status, secondly, the imputation of negative characteristics to groups having detrimental effects on that group (Miles 1999: 105).

Let us highlight the 'race' vs. 'culture' discourse within the new party programme of FPÖ presented in October 1997. Chapter III is entitled 'Österreich zuerst' (Austria first). 'Österreich zuerst' was the title of as FPÖ referendum in early 1993 which proposed restricting the rights of foreigners in Austria. Similar formulations can be found within other European right-wing parties (like 'eigen volk eerst', one of the slogans of Vlaams Blok). In chapter III it is pointed out that the Austrian population is united by the will for autonomy and identity in regional variety'. Chapter IV is entitled 'Recht auf Heimat' (right to a national home): 'Home stands for the democratic republic of Austria and its states, the autochthonous peoples (Germans, Croats, Romany, Slovaks, Slovenes, Czech and Hungarians) and the culture formed by them, the law logically states that the overwhelming majority of Austrians belongs to the German autochthonous group'. Two aspects of the programme's talk of 'autochthonous groups' seem - at first sight - to be logical (but only at first sight):

In former years, one very important element of the FPÖ programme was 'Bekenntnis zur deutschen Volks- und Kulturgemeinschaft' (Confession to the community of German Volk and culture). Nowadays, this sounds very old fashioned and has been replaced by 'deutsche Volksgruppe'. The message though is clear and straightforward: Austria, yes - but a German Austria.

According to the FPÖ programme everybody has the right to declare himself a member of a specific national tradition ('Volkstum'). This declaration, though, is the basic precondition for the preservation and further development of the cultural values of each ethnic community. Thus if one wants to keep one's historic-cultural identity, one has to declare one's self a member of one of the Volksgruppen. The group 'Austrians' is missing from the list. As there are only autochthonous groups - with the new 'Volksgruppe' Germans - and no hint at new minorities, this leads to exclusion: 'The juxtaposition and acting in combination of the various 'Volksgruppen' has established Austria's peculiarity. It can only be preserved by the further existence of autochthonous groups.'

According to FPÖ, peace in Europe can only be preserved by means of a European-wide 'Volksgruppenrecht'', also requiring cross-border co-operation. Thus the FPÖ demands that (German) Austria be allowed to take responsibility for German-speaking minorities in former Austrian-Hungarian countries. No further explanation is offered as to why this responsibility for minorities in other countries is restricted to German people only. Logically, Slovenia would have to have the right to take care of Austrian Slovenes, Croatia for Austrian Croats, Hungary for Austrian Hungarians, and so on. Though it is not surprising that this demand is not to be found in the programme there is a logical inconsistency here. A few years earlier, in 1994, the FPÖ Academy favoured segregation. It asked for 'recognition of the incompatibility of cultures', for internal and external 'difference with equivalence' in order to avoid 'the threat of an inferno of multiculturalism.' (Freiheitliches Bildungswerk, 1994: 115f).

Returning to Miles' definition, if we add the term 'culture' to 'race' we have examples here of cultural racism. 'Culture' merely replaces 'race', but reproduces the basic assumption of racist discourse.


The German-speaking Neue Rechte is not a single political movement nor is it an isolated group or publication. It is a network with various different roots and parts. Political parties like FPÖ in Austria and other right-wing populist or extreme right parties throughout Europe have elements of Neue Rechte discourse in their programmes and members of these parties have also written for papers like Zur Zeit in Austria or Junge Freiheit in Germany. JÖrg Haider's cultural advisor in Carinthia, Andreas MÖlzer, is editor-in-chief of Zur Zeit (and in former times was editor-in-chief of the extreme right paper AULA). Others support these papers through interviews or articles. It is a network which represents an intellectual threat to the 21st Century social and political common sense by reposing questions which have long been answered and by consistently trying to turn the clock back. They do not favour a democracy of equals but a cultural hierarchy which excludes heterogeneity. They try to establish a new political order based on biological and cultural - i.e. racist - tenets.

Up to now the Neue Rechte is far from gaining thematic leadership. There is still no clear turning away or dissociation from Nazism which would allow us to label Neue Rechte as qualitatively new. However, there is a very strict concentration on ethnocentrism and on the (never defined) role of 'our' culture which picks up and develops further anti-foreigner sentiments present throughout Europe. The main question is whether the Neue Rechte can solve its problems with logically consistent arguments. The vague use of catchwords and slogans, the steadfast refusal to accept political and societal reality will work only if the highly emotionalised discussion continues rendering rational discussions more and more difficult. In this way the Neue Rechte potentially represents a fundamental threat to democratic values. This potential can be realised, however, only if the Neue Rechte is able to continue successfully on the path of backward-looking and logically inconsistent argumentation. Though the Neue Rechte doesn't have appropriate answers, it will be necessary to deprive it of its mystique; of its appeal to those who prefer simple answers instead of logic arguments.


1'Jus sanguinis' means that citizenship is given according to descent: children get the same citizenship as their parents. In contrast, 'jus soli' means that children get the citizenhip of the country in which they were born. For the recent discussion of citizenship see Bauböck 1999.


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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000