Carolin Emcke (Mülheim, 1967) has spent years working to find ways to name violence and hatred: searching and understanding what generates them, observing the structures that make them possible. But the forcefulness with which he reels them does not pretend to be paralyzing: we must defend, he always insists, equality in difference. “The hostility and resentment of the radical right continue to penetrate public discourse in Germany,” says the philosopher and journalist in an interview with elDiario.es, five years after the publication of her successful essay Against hate.
At the gates of the federal elections, Emcke, one of the voices most outstanding From the German intellectual scene, in an interview with elDiario.es he analyzes the departure of Angela Merkel and describes the most urgent political challenges of the moment, including the fight against the climate crisis and anti-democratic movements. He also makes a plea in favor of the “feeling of mutual vulnerability” generated during the pandemic, on which he reflects in his new book, Journal.RELATED
On Against hate (2016), warned of the growing hostility towards democracy and the danger of a climate of fanaticism. “Something has changed in Germany, now it is openly and blatantly hated,” he says. Is it still valid five years later?
Yes, unfortunately, hostility and resentment from the radical right continue to permeate our public discourse. We have also witnessed three brutal and horrible far-right terrorist attacks.
In June 2019, Walter Lübcke, a politician from the CDU – the conservative Christian party – was assassinated in front of his house. Lübcke had been a prominent defender of Angela Merkel’s immigration policy and a critic of racism and resentment.
In October 2019, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a white supremacist attempted to commit mass murder in a Halle synagogue. Since he couldn’t open the door, he set about killing a woman who was passing by, and then he went to a kebab restaurant and killed a man there. He was a misogynist, an anti-Semite, a racist, and he broadcast his attacks live, commenting on the dire events in the language of first-person shooter video games. He framed himself and his terrorism in the tradition of the terrorist from Christchurch, New Zealand.
A few months later, in February 2020, another right-wing extremist, with mental health problems, killed nine immigrants in the city of Hanau.
In 2018, Merkel said she would like people to conclude by the end of this term that German society “has become more humane, that divisions and polarization have been reduced, and that social cohesion has increased.” Has this objective been achieved?
I’m not sure. There are dynamics that intersect. On the one hand, we have seen during the pandemic a growing populist movement of denier groups, conspiracy ideologues, anti-Semites, right-wing radicals, and esoteric anti-vaccines. What connected these rather heterogeneous groups and individuals was a deep hatred of the public broadcasting system and a resentment against modernity, enlightenment and science.
And this is precisely what divides our society: those who value scientific methodology, who care about the distinction between information and misinformation, between what is true and what is false, and who want to have a common reality and those who only simulate scientific discourse, those who adhere to conspiracies and those who distrust everything common, everything public. In the United States, we have seen how this disregard for the truth with Trump has evolved. But we also see this epistemic nihilism here, in these neo-fascist movements.
At the same time, there have been impressive solidarity movements, the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, but also, these days, the huge public support for the evacuations from Afghanistan, the desire to help and offer refuge to the refugees remains enormous. As much as the far right tries to incite hatred and fear, most people support offering asylum to Afghans who are now in grave danger under the rule of the Taliban.
So there is also a humanistic conviction, only it is less represented in the media. There is a television bias that focuses on the vulgar, on the politically obscene, on racist, misogynistic or anti-democratic performances or protests. Is he voyeurism of entertainment journalism that has underrepresented the voices and perspectives of normal, caring, reasonable and empathetic citizens.
On Against hateHe predicted that parties or movements “that practice aggressive populism” will break down over time and said that they could lose their appeal when they participate in public debates. Is it starting to happen in Germany?
Yes and no. What I predicted was that those parties would face internal divisions. That they would be weakened by chaos and ideological differences. And we are seeing it. Many of the founders of Alternative for Germany (AfD) have left the party, some regret not having seen the ruthless and hate-filled monster they created.
But the party as a whole has also come under tighter and better scrutiny. The Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) wants to investigate to what extent the party is a threat to the democratic order. This is legally challenging, but already the idea that the party is seen as a far-right danger to democracy has had a great effect.
Even so, members of the radical right remain in Parliament, sit in gatherings, continue to use democratic rights and freedoms to subvert our democracies. They claim to represent the “people” but promote an elitist and authoritarian political model.
Far-right-motivated crimes rose in 2020 to reach the highest level in the past two decades in Germany, according to the Interior Ministry. “Right-wing extremism is the greatest threat to security in our country,”
Yes, but I would like to warn against focusing only on criminal acts and organizations. They must be taken absolutely seriously and interpreted as interconnected ideological and political structures and networks, not as isolated and individual phenomena.
What is even more challenging is that authoritarian, neo-nationalist, racist and anti-feminist thinking has penetrated the core of our societies. It is no longer on the margins, it is at the heart of our democracies. The attempt to ridicule, stigmatize, dehumanize women or Muslims, LGBTIQ + people and Jews, the attempt to treat plurality – and not homogeneity – as a danger to democracy … all of this has become acceptable . We have to resist this anti-humanist discourse. We have to raise our voices, even if individually or collectively we are not attacked. We have to defend equality in difference.
Alert about hostility towards science, misinformation and loss of a common understanding of the facts. At the Green Party Conference, he warned that this would also be evident in the election campaign. It’s happening?
Yes, a report was published a few days ago that analyzes the lies and misinformation in the electoral campaign. It includes the hacking of private email accounts, false images and narratives. We have already seen these patterns of discourse subversion to foster division or manipulate democratic elections during the Brexit campaign, the US elections and, I imagine, in many European countries as well. It’s part of the Russian attempt to undermine Western democracies, but there are other sources of disinformation as well, of course.
According to the report, not only has the Greens party been particularly affected by the disinformation campaign, but Annalena Baerbock, the only female presidential candidate, has been the preferred target of such campaigns.
After 16 years, Merkel leaves power and leaves a vacuum. How deep is it?
Nobody really knows. We will see after the elections. But it doesn’t take much to herald a turbulent time for his party, the CDU. There is a total incompetence to answer the prevailing question: what does it mean to be a conservative in the 21st century?
What has been Merkel’s biggest success and biggest mistake?
His decision to keep the borders open in 2015, to allow Syrian refugees to enter Germany, was a brilliant and beautiful decision.
Brilliant, because he analyzed and anticipated what closing the borders would have entailed: the refugees would have been trapped in Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia … It would have caused a tremendous upheaval in a region that was already fragile enough. So, strategically, he bought time and avoided a political and social disaster in Eastern Europe. And, humanistically, it was the right thing to do. She also knew that there was a strong and very broad solidarity movement in civil society, so she knew that she was not acting against the majority opinion.
Your biggest mistake? Not to better defend this decision, not to argue in favor of this decision in the public arena once it was attacked by right-wing agitators. His communication skills are almost non-existent. He resists rhetorical pathos, and does not understand that this is what is needed in a deliberative democracy: you have to explain and argue, you have to give reasons for decisions. It has given space to right-wing demagogues, to racists, and thereby has allowed them to gain momentum. And thus he abandoned all those who tried to defend a humanistic idea of an open and pluralist democracy.
Merkel is becoming the most popular policy. Can it be said then that German society is hungry for change?
Yes, definitely. Many, many will miss Angela Merkel. For his humility, his courtesy, his intelligence, his sense of humor. Even those of us who have never voted for it. But it is time to change. She has also avoided seriously addressing the climate crisis. It’s time.
What should and is not being talked about in the campaign?
We are faced with multiple interconnected crises: the climate crisis, the rise of authoritarian and anti-democratic movements, and the question of truth in times of platform economy.
We need to have politicians, also journalists, who are up to the complexity of these issues. All of them require radical and rapid responses. They are extremely complex from a logistical, social and political point of view, but the intellectual level of the electoral debates is so far from what is needed that it really scares me.
His latest book, Journal, is a personal-political diary in which he reflects on a new reality, the pandemic, which invades our psychological, social and political structure. Has the COVID-19 crisis changed us?
It’s not over yet. It still continues to haunt us, above all, to the global south. It has changed our codes to move, touch, see us. He has established a regime of corporal discipline that prevents all spontaneity, all intimacy. Hope we can get rid of that at some point.
And I hope that we can maintain this sense of mutual vulnerability. I think this is something existential: that we take care of each other, that we understand our interconnectedness, our dependence on the solidarity of others. In our communities and peoples, but also in Europe and in the globalized world. We need that sense of an ethically and politically universal “we”.