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Querdenker: local intellectuals, far-right populism and the politics of aesthetics of Kulturnation in Germany

Göpffarth, Julian Jasper (2020) Querdenker: local intellectuals, far-right populism and the politics of aesthetics of Kulturnation in Germany. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004406


Scholarly and public debates generally envision the far right as a populist, irrational and anti- intellectual movement. Driven by economically left-behind voters it is seen as diametrically opposed to rational and educated, bourgeois liberal democracies. In Germany, this is echoed in the vision of a liberal-democratic cultural nationhood or Kulturnation¸ a country of poets and thinkers, that is imagined as a bulwark against the far right. Yet, envisioning themselves as Querdenker – original thinkers – a growing number of German intellectuals, once celebrated as representatives of Kulturnation, have recently embraced the populist far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the PEGIDA movement. Why and how do well-off educated bourgeois intellectuals and institutions formerly seen as exemplifying Kulturnation embrace far-right populism? Why and how is the populist far right appealing to academics, artists, writers and their educated bourgeois audiences? To explore these questions this thesis analyses ethnographic data gathered among Dresden’s intellectual and educated bourgeois milieu between 2016 and 2018. Employing Jacques Rancière’s concept of the “politics of aesthetics” and symbolic boundary theory it argues that Dresden’s intellectuals use the aesthetics of Kulturnation not to counter, but to reproduce, substantiate and legitimize far-right populism and racism. As producers and interpreters of shared cultural symbols, local writers, artists and academics draw on the racist heritage implicit in Kulturnation’s politics of aesthetics to ideationally articulate and spatially prefigure an explicit white identity that resonates with educated bourgeois and far-right populist audiences. As a concept of nationhood that is perceived as post-racist, Kulturnation helps to design a shared white identity while veiling its biological underpinnings. The findings demonstrate that the far right is not a “populist other” that is essentially distinct from rational post-racist visions of national identity. Rather, Dresden’s intellectuals make visible unmarked racial and irrational dimensions in liberal-democratic discourses on national identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Julian Jasper Göpffarth
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > European Institute
Supervisor: Özyürek, Esra and Glendinning, Simon

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