What The Hell Is A Conservative Revolution?
In the early days of the still innocent year 2018, one video suddenly flooded my Facebook feed. Germany’s minister of transport and digital infrastructure, the conservative Mr. Alexander Dobrindt had given an interview in which he defended an article he wrote. Somebody apparently posted the interview with a headline that suggestively asked: “Is this already the stupidest interview of 2018?” But what was this article about that he tried to defend? And why do I think this is relevant to a global audience?
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
In his comment, that was published in the big German newspaper “Die Welt” on January 4th, Mr. Dobrindt writes:
“Germany is not Prenzlauer Berg [a very liberal, hipster and slightly wealthy neighborhood of Berlin]. Our country was never left-wing, but always bourgeois. The left revolution of the sixties and the dominance of our elites has to be answered with a conservative revolution of the bourgeois.”
“Many middle-class citizens feel that they are not represented in our debates with their positions, their opinions and their daily experiences. That the political fight for equality, freedom of speech and tolerance regards everyone but them.”
The public outcry of the accused ‘elites’ followed short after on social networks. Aside from the mentioned comment that was quickly spreading on Facebook, many people took to Twitter to declare their outrage. While some stuck to simple phrases such as the elegant tweet “Go home #Dobrindt” others tried to weave pop-cultural references into their criticism, tweeting things such as “The Idiot wears Prada” with a picture of Mr. Dobrindt in a Prada suit or “Rebel without a Clue”, a reference to the famous movie starring James Dean.
Unfortunately, nobody was able to actually say what part of his comment they were taking offense with. He then went on to defend his article in said television interview, but given his unfortunate lack of rhetorical aptitude he was not as successful as I’m sure he had hoped to be.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
At this point, you might be wondering: What is all the fuss about? To be honest, I asked myself the same question. First of all - and that’s the criticism that I am still able to understand - Dobrindt used some words in the wrong context and got some facts wrong. For example, it is quite an exaggeration to say that the sixties represent a decade of ‘left revolution’ in Germany or to call intellectuals, youngsters, hipsters and the citizens of Prenzlauer Berg ‘elites’. The term ‘conservative revolution’ also sparked some outrage amongst many people, firstly because in its most used form it references the anti-democratic and anti-liberal movements of Germany’s 1920s and secondly because revolutions usually aim at annihilating their ‘enemy’.
"The term ‘conservative revolution’ also sparked some outrage amongst many people, firstly because in its most used form it references the anti-democratic and anti-liberal movements of Germany’s 1920s and secondly because revolutions usually aim at annihilating their ‘enemy’."
But despite the formal flaws of Dobrindt’s argument, I believe that many millennials choose to overlook or fail to recognize its true core - and even prove that core right themselves.
Mr. Dobrindt is the latest victim of a mindless hunting fever that seems to overcome everyone who reads certain buzzwords that might infringe on their privilege, their righteousness. Journalists, politicians and other societal actors treat social media like it is an exact representation of our democratic, public discourse. But in truth, it is a medium in which subtle positions don’t get likes and where grey zones don’t exist. Instead, those who are most apt in this new technology and are not afraid to take radical positions get their voices heard.
As a consequence, even in old media such as TV or radio, these positions now prevail - despite being positions of minorities most of the time. One such example to me is the recent discussion about dreadlocks. A white, American man in his mid-twenties posted a new profile picture to Facebook. The catch: he had changed his hairstyle and was now wearing dreadlocks. Although I would personally not recommend this hairstyle to anyone, I don’t find it morally offensive either.
But the Facebook community apparently did. A shit storm evolved - people accused him of stealing the cultural symbols of Afro Americans. Eventually, he took the photo down and apologized. I would argue that the vast majority of society, even the inhabitants of Prenzlauer Berg would agree with my stance on the issue of dreadlocks and not find them grossly offensive. But this is not reflected in the relevant discourse. As a consequence, people feel like a ‘regime of leftist hipsters’ not only exists but also needs to be overthrown.
"However, for fear of appearing outdated or being destroyed in a shit storm themselves, most moderate politicians don’t pick a fight when it comes to representing common sense in an online discussion."
Mr. Dobrindt did not want to say more than this: If the actual opinion of the people is not reflected in public discourse anymore, they will flock to extremists. However, for fear of appearing outdated or being destroyed in a shit storm themselves, most moderate politicians don’t pick a fight when it comes to representing common sense in an online discussion. They’d rather have someone else do the dirty work and later point the finger at him or her.
Considering this, Mr. Dobrindt’s follow up argument also makes sense: The majority feels that the political fight for equality, freedom of speech and tolerance regards everyone but them. While this certainly has a privileged angle to it, many of the Facebook commenters criticizing his initial interview later proved him right. If you’re not able to show tolerance for another opinion but your own, your fight for tolerance loses its credibility. As a consequence, you might even build such resistance against your world view that you do more harm than good.
I also believe that this is a phenomenon that is not exclusive to Germany, on the contrary: This is a global issue that has found its manifestation in the uprising of many of the right wing parties worldwide who are glad to exploit this lack of reason in debates to replace it with their own, twisted ideas.
SO HOW DO WE FIX THIS?
Is there a solution to this problem? We certainly don’t need a backward-facing ‘conservative revolution’ like Mr. Dobrindt suggested, resulting in figurative bloodshed and reversing many societal achievements. But like German media-commentator Anja Reschke suggested in a different context, the answer might lie in an ‘uprising of the moderate’. Centrists need to take a stance for those who are bullied on social media, not only when they express leftist-liberal ideas but even when they voice conservative ones. And those who preach tolerance need to stick to their own principles. Only then, I believe, can the widening cultural gaps in societies around the world be closed. Only then could “Open Season” on social media start to mean “Season of Openness”.
Views expressed are personal.
About The Author
Kilian J. Grunther currently studies law at the University of Cologne in Germany and spends most of his time making music, watching the news and drinking too much coffee. Among other things, Kilian co-hosted the INMUN 2016 and worked in statutory representation in Germany and the Netherlands. In his earlier days he won multiple science competitions, inter alia, for the development of a window seal that protects against flooding.