On Feb. 15, 2023, left-liberal newspaper Die Zeit published an op-ed by Eva Illouz with the meaningful title ‘I long for a total victory’ (orig. Ich wünsche mir einen totalen Sieg). Three days later, on Feb. 18, the editors of Die Zeit modified the header to ‘Endgame without End’ (orig. Endspiel ohne Ende). The subheader, reading ‘Perhaps only a crushing defeat can help Russia emerge from its dictatorial history’, remained unaffected by these post-publishing editorial changes. Although the link is the same, the juxtaposition of both versions—original here, courtesy of the Internet Archive, and its current version—shows this clearly.

It must be noted, though, that 18 Feb. is not just any other day to bang the drums and shout such phrases from the rooftops. To the contrary, this year—almost as if ‘by chance’—Feb. 18 marked the 80th anniversary of Joseph Goebbels’ infamous Sportpalast Speech in which Hitler’s Propaganda Minister asked: ‘Do you want the total war?’

Fast-forward 80 years, German legacy media was buzzing in mid-February, mainly because none other than Jürgen Habermas had pointed out the necessity of negotiations in an essay published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 14 Feb. 2023. What follows is an exploration—as in ‘gazing into the abyss’, as Friedrich Nietzsche would have it (1)—of the darker corners of the German soul—to which Austrians, for historical reasons, also belong.

I find it difficult to write such articles. In my last essay on the subject matter, I decried the creeping normalisation of (Neo) Nazism in my home country, Austria. The point I am trying to get across, though, is not to point the finger at others and morally condemn them, but rather to document this madness, at least in part. Moreover, it is also important to speak out and object to the normalisation and trivialisation of the memory of the ‘Third Reich’ that seems to be metastasising at a seemingly quickening pace.

This is me trying to keep (some) receipts, especially as this is not the first time German legacy media has done such a thing: take, for example, a piece that appeared in Die Welt a year ago that claimed the existence of Neonazis among the Azov units would be a Russian ‘lie’—and, in the original version of the article, illustrated this with a photograph showing no less than four Nazi symbols. I first learned about it from an article by Thomas Röper, but the mechanism of action—significant retroactive edits—is identical. Moreover, and contrary to what is typically done, the editors over at Die Welt also changed the URL (see for yourself: original article, albeit with an edited picture, dated April 22, 2022 vs. the updated version with the modified header and URL, dated April 22, 2022). For my summary of this example, see here.

Brief Notes on the Recent History of the Normalisation of the Nazi Era

In autumn 2021, that is, at the height of the Covid scare, Austrian short-term Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (‘tighten the reins’) led the country towards a ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’ and announced the government’s intent to make ‘vaccination against Covid mandatory’. This not only brought about the use of the digital vaccination certificates, the so-called ‘Green Passports’ and the resurgence of block wardens, but also the staggered denial-of-access rules known in German as ‘G Rules’.

At the same time, at the Buchenwald Memorial, the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp, and certainly in other locations, the ‘2G rule’—access permitted only to ‘vaccinated’ or ‘recovered’—was also applied. In Buchenwald, this ‘ironically’ pertained also to visitors of the permanent exhibition on ‘Exclusion and Violence 1937-45’.

A few months later followed the renaming of the formerly ‘German-Russian Museum in Berlin’, whose director, Dr. Jörg Morré, felt compelled by events to remove the reference to Russia from the museum’s name in the spring of 2022: ‘Already on the first day of the invasion we said this is such a profound turning point that we had to do this’, Morré is quoted by the British Guardian in May 2022. In an announcement dated 27 April 2022, the Berlin-Karlshorst Museum stated (my emphasis):

For a long time now, we have been discussing our name as the ‘German-Russian Museum’. Because this name, although historically grown, does not adequately reflect our actual work. We remember all Soviet victims of the German war of extermination, regardless of their nationality. In future we will use our name ‘Museum Berlin-Karlshorst’, which is registered in the official public records.

The Museum Berlin-Karlshorst with its multinational sponsorship stands in a tradition of dialogue. However, in view of the war of aggression against Ukraine, we do not wish to celebrate 8 May this year with state representatives of the Russian Federation and Belarus. But also in the future it is very important to us to remain in exchange with all people who lived in the Soviet Union as well as their descendants and to remember together with them the end of the war in Europe and to commemorate the 27 million Soviet victims.

A truly noble aspiration, I think, but one that is counteracted by the former Ukrainian ambassador Andrey Melnyk, among others. Not only did he gain a reputation as a rabid ‘Russophobe’ but on 9 May 2022 he said the following at a commemorative event in Berlin-Treptow (my emphasis):

I call upon Germans to take this war more seriously because this war also concerns the Germans even if Germans refuse to believe this. This means going beyond merely symbolic gestures and to undertake all that is possible [man wirklich alles unternehme]. When I say ‘all’, this means actually ‘all’, be it militarily as well as economically, to ensure that Ukraine doesn’t lose this war.

There remains—at least—a stale aftertaste regarding the renaming of the museum and its declared intent to ‘remain in exchange with all people who lived in the Soviet Union’. What a historical coincidence that this name-change was instituted mere days before the 2022 anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Endowed with these factoids, we may now turn to more recent events in this farce.

Jürgen Habermas calls for weapons and negotiations—and is ‘cancelled’

At 93, Jürgen Habermas is not just anyone in post-1945 (West) Germany, which renders the consequences of his ‘Call for Negotiations’, voiced in mid-February in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, very significant.

There was an almost immediate rebuttal in the pages of the very same Süddeutsche Zeitung (15 Feb. 2023), which quite accurately reproduced the main points of Habermas’ essay, but it also offered the stage to the now Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Melnyk, who is quoted as follows:

The fact that Jürgen Habermas is also so brazenly serving Putin leaves me speechless’, tweeted the current deputy foreign minister, who is known for his drastic formulations. ‘A disgrace for German philosophy. Immanuel Kant and Georg Friedrich Hegel are rolling over in their graves out of shame.

Berlin-based Tagesspiegel, on the other hand, was a tad more accommodating in this matter:

At the centre of his stringently comprehensible essay, Habermas is concerned with two questions: at what point does the West become a party to the war, and whether, willing or unwilling [sic], it is not already. Also, note that the US government ‘cannot maintain the formal role of an uninvolved party’.

The other issue is a discrepancy that is also conceptual in nature: on the one hand, Ukraine should not ‘lose’, which is why it should be supported as long as possible. On the other hand, it is now often said that Russia, that Putin, must be ‘defeated’. From which it follows for him that, even within the political factions, antagonisms between pacifists and non-pacifists are rather diffuse and that ‘even in the broad camp of party-supporting supporters of Ukraine, opinions differ as to the right time for peace negotiations’.

In all brevity: the question ‘at what point does the West become a party to the war’ has been assessed by the Wissenschaftlicher Dienst (Research Staff) of the Bundestag in March 2022, although not without hedging their bets (emphasis in the original):

Only if, in addition to the supply of weapons, the instruction of the conflict parties or training in such weapons were also in question, would one leave the secure area of non-belligerence.

We thus note, in passing, that the training of Ukrainian troops—on NATO territory, no less—signifies that one would be leaving ‘the secure area of non-warfare’.

This fact, however, remains unmentioned in the Tagesspiegel. What is brought up is the comment by a ‘community member’, which is thus elevated to exist on a par with Habermas’ essay:

Habermas ultimately contradicts his life’s work, his philosophical work, and thus plays into the cards of exactly what Critical Theory has always argued against: the resurgence of an anti-liberal, totalitarian social order [writes community member iuklin].

‘Mimimi Moralia’, or: A Tempest in the Teapot of German Legacy Media

The Tagesspiegel is by no means alone when it comes to the damnation of Jürgen H. This notion is at the heart of an op-ed penned in response to Habermas’ essay. Its author, Jan Behrends, is a professor of history at the Europa-Universität in Frankfurt an der Oder whose expertise is ‘Germany and Eastern Europe after 1914’.

Entitled, ‘Lauter Blinde Flecken’ (Mainly Blind Spots), Behrends chastises Habermas in Die Zeit, arguing that the latter’s call for arms deliveries and negotiations ‘is based on an ignorance of Eastern Europe’.

Now, one may agree to disagree about this and many other issues, but this is hardly an even-handed debate.

This comes clearly to the fore in the virtue-signalling disdain displayed towards Habermas, as can be seen in a post on LinkedIn in which Behrends ‘introduced’ his op-ed with the following comment:

Mimimi Moralia. Notes on Jürgen Habermas.

[For copyright reasons, I cannot offer you visual proof here; do venture over to my Substack to see this and other images for yourself.]

You’ve read this correctly: Behrends contributed to the debate by posting ‘mimimi moralia’, a clear allusion to Theodor Adorno’s 1951 volume entitled, Minima Moralia. This book is one of the seminal, if not the most fundamental texts, of Critical Theory.

Welcome to academic contributions on public policies in 21st-century Germany.

Covid + Ukraine War = The End of Critical Theory

Whatever one may think about the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory—whose leading protagonists, besides Habermas, are the not uncontroversial intellectual giants Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and many others—Behrends’ commentary is indicative of the great scholarly void that was cracked open violently by the one-sided demonisation of everything Russian and Vladimir Putin in particular (click here for the example of the Czech National Theatre’s cancelling of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Slippers in March 2022).

The Corona ‘pandemic’ and the Ukraine conflict have ushered in a new age of ultra-conformity among ‘intellectuals’ unseen since the dawn of the Cold War. We note, in passing, that the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory played an instrumental part in the resurrection of West Germany (and, ultimately in a weakened form, Austria) from the ruins of World War 2. Yet, it would seem that its anti-communist critique of Capitalism is no longer part of the scholarly mainstream, even though it emerged, in no small part, from the exiled critics of Hitler’s National-Socialist Germany.

It is therefore to be feared that we can expect the return of virtually all other of those unpleasant things that were considered unacceptable after the Second World War. Some of these, such as state-imposed coercion hailed by public officials and mandatory ‘medical’ interventions, are already back in vogue.

Meanwhile, Eva Illouz ‘Longs for a Total Victory’

Knowing a bit about Germany’s twentieth-century history, I for one could not have imagined what else left-liberal newspaper Die Zeit of Hamburg would do. On 15 Feb. 2023, though, the paper once edited by former Social Democratic chancellor Helmut Schmidt (in office 1974-82), published an op-ed with the title ‘I long for a total victory’ whose borderline incendiary header was changed on the exact day of the 80th anniversary of the infamous Sportpalast Speech delivered by Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels.

While one cannot rule out pure coincidence (which I doubt), this is what happened. In Germany. In 2023.

More curiously, the author of this infamous piece is the Moroccan-born French-Israeli academic Eva Illouz. She currently works as a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (bio via Wikipedia), exploring the intersections of emotions, capitalism, and culture. Even more curiously, Ms. Illouz has been a long-standing and oft-consulted ‘critic’ whose op-eds have appeared in Die Zeit and other German legacy media outlets before. She is conventionally counted among those academics who appertain to the Frankfurt School founded by none other than Adorno and Horkheimer, as evidenced by Ms. Illouz once delivering the appropriately named ‘Adorno Lectures’ at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In other words: among her academic and philosophical foundations is—you probably already guessed it—Critical Theory, and Ms. Illouz is therefore conventionally counted among the Frankfurt School.

With this in mind, I for one would very much like to learn what Ms. Illouz was thinking when she penned that op-ed.

I cannot tell you how much I would have liked to be the proverbial fly on the wall in the editorial meeting over at Die Zeit when the decision was made to modify the header. The same holds true for the motivation of Ms. Illouz.

As much as I would like to know, I cannot know what was going on, but I will say this: as a historian, I am very much interested in the content of these editorial debates about the content and the context of the decision to modify Ms. Illouz’ op-ed on the anniversary (18 Feb.) of the Sportpalast Speech. As a professor of history specialising in German-speaking Europe’s past, I do wonder about the quality and efficacy of the massive educational investments in precisely this kind of ‘reckoning with the past’ (Vergangenheitsbewältigung), to say nothing about the reasons why the op-ed was changed on 18 Feb. I shall not try to guess at the actors’ intent, yet there was something that facilitated this decision. All I can do is trying to document these changes—and shake my head in disbelief.

Elsewhere in these pages, I have documented Central Europe’s creeping normalisation of its Nazi past exemplified by Austrian politicians and legacy media; it would seem that it is Germany’s turn to ‘catch-up’.

Stoltenberg Endorses Habermas, Adding, ‘the war…started in 2014’

Lest I forget, Habermas’ qualified appeal to commence negotiations was endorsed by none other than NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (!) who praised Habermas’ proposal in the highest terms, as for example the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported on 23 Feb. 2023:

[The Ukraine conflict] will probably end up in negotiations. But any signal that we are not fully committed to Ukraine reduces the chances of a peaceful solution. It is only when Putin realises that he will not win on the battlefield that we can hope for a negotiated solution.

Yes, you read that correctly: NATO’s own Jens Stoltenberg endorsed the position taken by Habermas.

Yet, the phrase ‘never again’ has been thrown around repeatedly in the aftermath of the Russian military operation, with German legacy media often at the forefront of virtue-signalling disgust over what is happening. It is almost as if (official) Germany is rejoicing at the plight of Ukrainians because the Kremlin’s military operation is absolving Berlin of its historical ‘original sin’.

By the way, Stoltenberg also went a bit farther than that—by stating, correctly, that ‘the war…began in 2014’. These words, however, did not make a comparable splash in German legacy media.

Speaking at a press briefing at NATO’s mid-February summit in Brussels, Belgium, here is the full statement, courtesy of their own full transcript of the press briefing on 13 Feb. 2023 (emphases mine):

Lorne Cook, AP: The war is coming up to virtually it’s one year mark, and I wonder if you have any thoughts on how that’s changed NATO and in particular your job, and is this a job that you want to keep doing as we come into the next summit in Vilnius.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg: In one way, it has not changed NATO. It has just demonstrated the importance of NATO and how important it has been. Actually since 2014, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcements of collective defense in a generation, because the war didn’t start in February last year. It started in 2014. And that triggered a big adaptation of our Alliance with higher readiness of forces, with more presence in eastern part of the Alliance, with more exercises.

Needless to say, this could be a gaffe, but to make sure, German state broadcaster ZDF followed up on Lorne Cook’s question in the following way (again, my emphasis):

Florian Neuhann, ZDF: Thank you very much. Mr. Stoltenberg, just a quick follow up on the question with regards to fighter jets. Do I understand you correctly that you do not rule out the delivery of fighter jets? Because there are some member states, especially the German chancellor has said that this is a no go, due to the risk of escalation. And the second question, I’m sure you’re aware of the concept that your predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has developed for Ukraine. He promotes the idea of security guarantees for Ukraine, the midterm, as an alternative to NATO membership. What do you think of this? Do you think this is realistic and a possibility to secure the future of Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, it is possible, of course, to secure the future of Ukraine. The first thing we need to do then is to help them to win this war. And that’s exactly the main focus of everything we do. To ensure sufficient supplies, of everything from heavy armor to, to drones, to fuel and non-military support in all forms and shapes. So that’s exactly what we do. So that’s precondition number one.

The second main focus should be that when this war ends in one way or another, we should ensure that Ukraine is able to deter and defend itself. Because what we saw after 2014 is that Ukraine was not in a position to deter a second attack. Russia went in and illegally annexed Crimea and, and then a few weeks or months after they went into eastern Donbass. And then we had the war going up and down for many years until the full-fledged invasion.

You may also watch the above-quoted exchanges (Lorne Cook’s question starts at the 28:20 time stamp).

Finally, in a long-form interview with Norwegian state broadcaster NRK, published on 23 Feb. 2023, Stoltenberg came full-circle, endorsing Habermas’ position hook, line, and sinker (again, my translation and emphases; you may venture over to my Substack to read the entire exchange):

There is an ongoing debate in some European countries about whether arms aid to Ukraine should be accompanied by demands for negotiation.

‘This is a war that concerns everyone, so we have the right to discuss what the terms of a negotiation should be, not just wait until Ukraine says it wants to negotiate’, the famous German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has recently argued.

This will probably end up in negotiations. But any signal that we are not fully committed to Ukraine reduces the chances of a peaceful solution. It is only when Putin realises that he will not win on the battlefield that we can hope for a negotiated solution.’

Stoltenberg’s comments were accompanied by a picture of NATO’s Secretary-General sitting in a Japanese fighter-jet, with the caption quoting him as follows: ‘What happens in Europe today can happen in Asia tomorrow’, Stoltenberg said during a visit to Iruma Air Base on Jan. 31, 2023 (for copyright reasons, like above, please click here to check out my Substack, incl. pictures).

These statements by NATO’s Secretary-General show one thing: it is not Jürgen Habermas who is on the proverbial ‘wrong side of history’ here.

It is most of German legacy media, including the heavy-weights of its academic juste milieu, as well as, curiously enough, their perhaps unwitting collaborators like Eva Illouz.

If that ain’t stranger than fiction, I don’t know what might be.

The Ukraine War and (vs.) Germany’s Vergangenheitsbewältigung

I hardly ever take offence, but in this regard I do, even though I’m not sure whether I am offended because of the utter madness of deploring anyone who isn’t firmly pro Zelenskyy’s régime—or due to the utter disregard, if not historical amnesia, of virtually all of Germany’s (and Austria’s) academics, public intellectuals (Habermas excluded), and politicians with respect to our shared history, however deplorable I personally may find it.

The gravity of the above-related episode is perhaps best explained in the following way:

Faced with the crimes and depravity of the Nazi régime, post-1945 (West) Germans devised a new, strikingly different explanation of their history. Until the Second World War, Protestant Germans explained their ‘delayed nationhood’ (Helmut Plessner) by pointing fingers at the machinations of the Catholic Habsburg emperors and repeated foreign invasions. In many ways, the Nazi régime tapped into—weaponised—existing sentiments, which rendered the unmodified continuation of Germany’s established history untenable after 1945. In the wake of defeat, West German scholarship thus devised a modified account of their country’s history. Known as a variation of the Sonderweg (Special Path), it is perhaps best summarised succinctly by one of Germany’s leading contemporary historians, Hans Mommsen, who held that

our history starts in 1945 or with the Holocaust…We have developed a new national consciousness, one formed from the terrible legacy of Auschwitz (2)

What has happened to Habermas, then, may be further explained by taking recourse to a recent piece by Peter Kuras in Foreign Affairs, which appeared in February 2021. Summarising post-unification developments, Kuras’ verdict appears eerily prescient:

The left is relativizing the past, the far-right is insisting on its uniqueness, and the country’s historical culture is cracking from within (3)

In short: look no further for answers as to why the above-related ‘cancellation’ of Habermas has occurred in the context of German legacy media pushing this kind of ‘alternative’—fake—history.

There is no shortage of hypocrites, sell-outs, and, yes, pro-revisionism supporters in the German-speaking lands. What once, during the so-called Historikerstreit (Historians’ Dispute) of the 1980s was the exclusive domain of right-of-centre scholars like Professors Ernst Nolte (1923-2016), Andreas Hillgruber (1925-89), and many others publicly debated the uniqueness of the Nazi régime and the Holocaust in particular.

The Dispute erupted in the late 1980s, with Jürgen Kocka (*1941), Eberhard Jäckel (1929-2017), Jürgen Habermas (*1929), and others taking the counter-position in opposition to such revisionist arguments.

The debate abated to certain degrees in the wake of the end of the Cold War (1947-92), yet it is equally fair to consider it an ongoing concern. While no longer conducted as heatedly as a generation ago, and irrespective of the arguments put forth by either side, the mere existence of the Historians’ Dispute permitted the eventual emergence of revisionist considerations in other contexts, too. Apparently, the same can be said about some Israeli ‘intellectuals’.

It seems, thirty years on, it merely shows that Peter Kuras was correct: Habermas, a foundational member of the Frankfurt School, is now vilified as a Putin apologists while the notionally left-liberal Zeit openly pushes highly questionable content on the anniversary of Goebbels’ Sportpalast Speech.

While it might be that this ‘coincidence’ had escaped the participants of the Zeit editorial meeting, I suppose the editors of Die Zeit are all very well educated, including instruction in Germany’s twentieth-century history and its reckoning with the past. Apparently, no-one appears to be troubled by this.

In closing, I do have one piece of information that might help understand this situation: in late December 2022, Angela Merkel spoke about Western intentions behind the Minsk I and II agreements, which has since been confirmed by former French president François Hollande (in office 2012-17). The West never intended to keep its word to either Moscow or Kyiv, with Merkel explaining that Russia had ‘never been pacified’

With that kind of knowledge, everything about this conflict, including the cancellation of Habermas, makes a bit more sense.

Never again. Until and unless it is about ‘total victory’ over Russia, it would seem.

If anything, George Orwell’s 1984 might be next in line when it comes to memory-holing, if ‘only’ because of what it means (and memes).

Buckle up.


  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Aphorisms and Interludes’, in Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Ian Johnston (Arlington, Va.: Richer, 2009), 70-86, at 81.
  2. Quoted by Thomas A. Brady, Jr., German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 405. This is no place to itemize the vast amount of works on the German Sonderweg; conveniently, guidance is available via the essays in Hartmut Lehmann and James Van Horn Melton, eds., Paths of Continuity: Central European Historiography from the 1930s to the 1950s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and Stefan Berger, ‘Rising like a Phoenix: The Renaissance of National History Writing in Germany and Britain since the 1980s’, in Nationalizing the Past: Historians as Nation Builders in Modern Europe, eds. Stefan Berger and Chris F. Lorenz (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 426-51; for a monograph-length synthesis, see Heinrich-August Winkler, Germany: The Long Road West, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford: University Press, 2006-2007).
  3. Peter Kuras, ‘Germany’s Holocaust Remembrance Is Turning Upside Down’, Foreign Affairs, Feb. 20, 2021, https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/02/20/germanys-holocaust-remembrance-is-turning-upside-down/.

    (Featured Image: “Jürgen Habermas, painted portrait DDC_0642” by Abode of Chaos is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

Author

  • Stephan Sander-Faes

    Stephan Sander-Faes is Associate Professor in Early Modern History at the University of Bergen, Norway. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Graz, Austria, in 2011 and obtained the Habilitation in Early Modern and Modern History from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in 2018. Before moving to Scandinavia in 2020, he taught for ten years at the history departments at the Universities of Zurich and Fribourg, as well as held the István Deák Visiting Professorship in East Central European Studies at Columbia University in 2018. His research focuses on Central and Eastern Europe, in particular on how state and non-state actors shaped shaped the transformation of states and (vs.) societies.

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