It’s not really a paradox. In some circumstances, nationalism leads people to go to war with their neighbors. In other circumstances, it leads them to bond with their neighbors.
In some circumstances, a strong Jewish or Christian or white or black identity will cause you to hate out-groups with whom you must compete for scarce resources. When this competition for resources is not intense, however, the need for hating out-groups is reduced.
This ethno-nationalist renaissance presents an odd paradox. European nationalists who at one time might have gone to war with one another now promote a kind of New Right rainbow coalition, in which sovereign states steadfastly maintain their ethnic and cultural identities in service of some larger “Western” ideal. This “ethno-pluralism,” as New Right activists call it, is not based on Western liberal notions of equality or the primacy of individual rights but in opposition to other cultures, usually nonwhite, that they say are threatening to overtake Europe and, indeed, the entire Western world by means of immigration. The threat to the West is also often cast in vague cultural terms as a kind of internal decay.
The stronger your in-group identity, the more likely you are to have negative feelings about out-groups. This social identity theory applies to almost all groups be they Jewish or Christian or Muslim or racial.
That question has deep roots in Germany. In 1918, the German philosopher Oswald Spengler published the first volume of “The Decline of the West,” arguing that cultures decline as regularly and predictably as any other organic entity — and that Western civilization was near the end of its cycle. Germany had just lost a war, and Spengler’s book struck a chord with disillusioned Germans looking to explain their sense of downfall. Spengler belonged to a loosely defined group of German thinkers called the Conservative Revolutionaries, who argued that Western decline was the inevitable result of materialism and soulless democracy. They opposed the fractious parliamentary democracy of the time, the liberal values of the French Revolution and ultimately modernity itself. They called for national revival by way of an authoritarian leader who could bring about an almost-mystical regeneration of the Volk — in part by pitting them against the Volk of other nations. “A people is only really such in relation to other peoples,” Spengler wrote, “and the substance of this actuality comes out in natural and ineradicable oppositions, in attack and defense, hostility and war.”
…But the German New Right has other influences as well. Nils Wegner, a young writer who translates English-language books into German for Kubitschek’s publishing house, follows the American alt-right scene with great interest — listening, for example, to podcasts by Richard Spencer, the white-supremacist leader who once declared before a crowd of acolytes: “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Wegner told me that the American idea of a “racially defined ethno-state” would “come across as pretty weird over here,” because Europeans are not comfortable putting identity matters in racial terms. I asked him if this discomfort was substantive or merely semantic, and his answer was surprisingly forthright. “I would say that the main difference is the semantic difference,” he said. “Also, the modus operandi is not really the same.” Unlike alt-right activists in the United States, he went on to explain, activists on the European New Right tend to avoid appearing alongside “orthodox” right groups — neo-Nazis — because “the look” would impede their effort to appear as a “new kind of postmodern” patriotic movement.
Wegner said another difference was a matter of intensity. The Americans, he said, see their country as collapsing, and therefore they advocate revolutionary action — the creation of a white ethno-state in the Pacific Northwest, for example. European New Right activists don’t see their circumstances as that dire, he continued. They would be content with a “roll back” on immigration.
…One sympathetic teacher suggested that Kubitschek read the work of the historian Ernst Nolte, known for a controversial essay he wrote around that time titled “The Past That Won’t Go Away.” Nolte portrayed Nazism as a reaction to the “existential threat” posed by Bolshevism and suggested Bolshevik “class murder” was comparable to the Holocaust, calling it the “logical and factual predecessor to the Nazi ‘racial murder.’ ” Nolte’s revisionism sparked a divisive debate in Germany known as the “historians’ dispute,” and though Nolte was denounced as a Hitler apologist, several conservative German historians and journalists supported him. For Kubitschek, Nolte’s work has been a lifelong influence.
…The source of the contempt, according to Kubitschek, was Germany’s “memory politics,” the effort by Germans to confront their Nazi past, which involves tempering any nationalist urges. New Right thinkers see that restraint not as a virtue but as a symptom of a deeply ingrained self-hate — a hatred that must be overcome for Germany to be great again.
In January, Björn Höcke, the AfD leader, voiced a similar lament in a speech at a beer hall in Dresden, and much more caustically. Germans are “the only people in the world who have planted a monument of disgrace in the heart of their capital,” he said, referring to the Holocaust memorial near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. German history was being made “rotten and ridiculous,” he said. “It cannot and must not go on like this! There is no moral duty to dissolution!” The speech provoked a national uproar, and even some politicians within AfD criticized it.
Kubitschek saw it as a tactical error. Höcke’s comments, he said, were “correct in substance but wrong in tone.”
…Kubitschek casually mentioned that he would not mind at all if a strongman came to replace Merkel, if that was the only way to correct her decision to allow the migrants to enter Germany. In a time of great peril, he noted soberly, a leader must act beyond the law. He cited Carl Schmitt, the conservative political theorist who criticized parliamentary democracy and aligned with the Nazis after they took power: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” Merkel herself had acted outside the law by opening the border, Kubitschek said, and that proved she was sovereign. And yet, he continued, “I’d have absolutely nothing against it if someone came along and with the same sovereignty did the opposite. Someone who would say: ‘The experiment is over. The Parliament won’t be consulted. I will prop up with my power the administration, the organs of the state, the police’ — who would in any case be supportive — ‘the border patrol, the military, and we will end this experiment.’ That means: borders shut. Test to see who can be assimilated; they can stay. Those who can’t be assimilated, they’ve got to go.”
This is an amazingly fair and even-handed article from the New York Times.
Life is frequently a war over scarce resources and different groups have different interests and different understandings about what is good and right and Godly.