Beachhead or Refugium? The Rise and Dilemma of Germany’s Far-Right Intellectual Counterculture

Lecture | April 23 | 12-1 p.m. | 201 Moses Hall

 Eliah Bures

 Institute of European Studies, The Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington DC

Today’s intellectual far right loves rebellion. In calculated acts of public provocation, radical conservative writers and thinkers present themselves as outsiders and nonconformists, bravely breaking the taboos of a "politically correct" mainstream culture. It is not for nothing that one of the premier publications of the German "New Right" is called "Sezession" and carries as its motto the Latin inscription "etiam si omnes—ego non" (even if all do it, I do not). As Milo Yiannopoulos put it in 2017, "being right-wing is the new counterculture, the new punk, an act of rebellion in an era of political correctness, safe spaces, multiculturalism and globalism".

The far right’s embrace of the "counterculture" label is an effort to wrest the mantle of transgression and emancipation away from the leftist counterculture of the 1960s. In the eyes of the far right, the counterculture of the Sixties became hegemonic and oppressive, creating a climate of smug intolerance toward those who refuse to mouth liberal pieties. Less obvious is that the right-wing’s identification as a counterculture also reflects a deliberate "metapolitical" strategy. Faced with an unfavorable political climate after 1945, writers and theorists sympathetic to fascism regrouped in a counter-sphere of journals, institutes, publishing houses, and personal networks, hoping to build momentum to one day reclaim the culture.

This talk will consider the development of right-wing intellectual counterculture since WWII, paying particular attention to the influence of Ernst Jünger and Botho Strauss on the postures and attitudes of contemporary writers such as Götz Kubitschek and the Austrian "identitarian" Markus Willinger. I argue that, for all its noise, today’s New Right is in fact split: while many are insurgents eager to conquer the mainstream, others fear that a decisive transformation is still many years away. For such skeptics, far-right counterculture is primarily a site of refuge for alienated radicals—a space in which ideas and values can be preserved and new talents cultivated as they continue to wait for liberal modernity’s final collapse.

Eliah Bures received his PhD in modern European history from UC Berkeley in 2014. From 2014 to 2017, he was a postdoctoral fellow in Spain. Bures is currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. His first book, "Friends and Enemies: Ernst Jünger and the Countercultural Survival of the German Far Right", is under contract with University of Pennsylvania Press.