From the NYT:
Germany’s Newest Intellectual Antihero
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL JULY 8, 2017
After the German historian Rolf Peter Sieferle took his own life last September at age 67, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the country’s progressive paper of record, called his erudition “breathtaking.” …
But last month, a posthumous collection of Mr. Sieferle’s observations on Germany’s political culture, “Finis Germania” (the title plays on a phrase meaning “the end of Germany”), hit No. 9 on the prestigious Nonfiction Book of the Month list — and a scandal erupted. Certain passages on Germany’s way of dealing with the Holocaust horrified reviewers. Die Zeit called it a book of “brazen obscenity.” The Berliner Zeitung wrote of Mr. Sieferle’s “intellectual decline.” Süddeutsche Zeitung retracted its earlier praise. The Nonfiction Book of the Month list was suspended until further notice.
The book-buying public reacted otherwise. …
Germans buy a lot of books.
A socialist in his youth like most German intellectuals of the 1968 generation, Mr. Sieferle was drifting out of sync with that tradition by the 1990s. He came increasingly to aim his sarcasm at naïve idealists. At the height of Germany’s refugee crisis two summers ago, he wrote, “A society that can no longer distinguish between itself and the forces that would dissolve it is living morally beyond its means.” …
In “Finis Germania,” Mr. Sieferle rues that his own country is “tragic,” tangled up in history. He doesn’t just rue it, he resents it. “There are un-tragic peoples,” he writes, “whom history pearls off of like water from a well-polished boot.” He means the English and Americans, who have always tried to pass off their oligarchies as cradles of democracy.
Australian history, by the way, makes American history read like Polish history.
… But Mr. Sieferle is critical of Germany’s postwar culture of Holocaust memory, which he argues has taken on the traits of a religion. The country’s sins are held to be unique and absolute, beyond either redemption or comparison. “The First Commandment,” he writes, “is ‘Thou shalt have no Holocausts before me.’ ” Hitler, in retrospect, turns out to have done a paradoxical thing: He bound Germans and Jews together in a narrative for all time. In an otherwise relativistic and disenchanted world, Mr. Sieferle writes, Germans appear in this narrative as the absolute enemies of our common humanity, as a scapegoat people. The role is hereditary. There are Germans whose grandparents were not born when the war ended, yet they, too, must take on the role.
… It is linked to his concern, in “Das Migrationsproblem,” with the challenges of mass migration. He believed that Germany’s self-demonization had left it unable to say anything but yes to a million or so migrants seeking entry to Europe in 2015 and that such a welcome was unsustainable.
Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, is at work on a book about the rise and fall of the post-1960s political order.