Jan Fleischhauer is a well known editor of the German magazine „Der Spiegel“. In 2009, he published one of the most disputatious books regarding the political situation in Germany over the last 40 years. „Among Leftists“ (Unter Linken) immediately entered the bestseller list but was attacked at the same time by many critics. We spoke with the author about the actuality of the left-right schema, German students and Henryk M. Broder.
Citizen Times: Mr. Fleischhauer, your book „Among Leftists“ (Unter Linken) hits the (conservative) nail on the head. Why didn’t you write this book earlier? Was it previously not possible?
Jan Fleischhauer: No idea. I had just reached a point where I felt the necessary power. It takes a certain basic energy to get over the distance of 350 pages, especially if one does something in addition to regular work. This energy was only here now.
Citizen Times: You were immediately attacked by some critics, such as in fact more conservative FAS (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung) by Julia Encke. Did you expect that?
Jan Fleischhauer: This was foreseeable. It was surprising to me that the first fundamental assault was carried out by the FAS. But at second glance it was not that amazing. The arts section of the FAS is a reliable bastion of the left thinking in Germany. The editors who work here go to work each day with a clenched fist and the settled conviction to give Volker Zastrow, who directs the policy section, and all the other conservatives a wipe out at every possible opportunity.
I was the perfect object of hate. On the other hand: Did the criticism hurt? Absolutely not. It has promoted the debate, and that was good.
Citizen Times: The critics often argue, that the left-right-schema is out of date. Must we now think in different and more complex schemes?
Jan Fleischhauer: That’s what I hear, since I write about politics. But strangely: Just the two camps were re-elected in Germany by the voters quite impressive. It even speaks some evidence that we go after the end of the grand coalition, which has here led to some confusion, again in a time of clearer ideological differences.
Citizen Times: Why are today still (almost) all the students leftists and select the party Die Linke?
Jan Fleischhauer: All students? It is not that bad. In economics, law or science, the share does not exceed the socially acceptable cut, I would suspect. But for the humanities, the assumption is certainly correct. The reason is less rational rather than emotional. One would like be on the right side, stand for the good and noble, therefore the left seems to be the right choice. The promise of moral superiority is always something seductive.
Citizen Times: How might a conservative cultural-politics-intelligentsia look like?
Jan Fleischhauer: For this I lack imagination. Nor do I belive in intellectuals who gather under one flag. People who think similarly, will find each other, so I don’t worry. And if you remain in the minority it is also not bad.
Citizen Times: You say that your book is a very personal one and the subtitle gives the impression of an autobiography. But isn’t „Among Leftists“ rather the biography of an entire nation after the 2nd World War?
Jan Fleischhauer: Well, maybe not of an entire nation, but of a generation with certainty. I did not stop at the sixty-eight-generation as do many who criticize the left, but I take the reader to a journey through the past 40 years of leftist mentality, history, enclosing the German Autumn (Deutscher Herbst) and the strange enthusiasm for the RAF, the nuclear death hysteria of the eighties and the New Inwardness (Neue Innerlichkeit*), the minority debates until the present time. This recognition effect is evidently also a part of success.
In a televised debate one of the presenters described the book as „a politically Generation Golf,“ which is not so wrong regarding the biographical parts.
Citizen Times: Henryk M. Broder said, that he would liked to have written your book. Instead he has written the book on Islam („Hooray, we surrender“), you probably wanted to write. What have you both in common in your function as authors?
Jan Fleischhauer: The fun of polemical pointed emphasis, a joy on the free thinking – and a certain fearlessness, perhaps. You should not be too sensitive when you point out your politically opinion that clear, as we both do it. Broder describes himself still as a leftist, but that is of course only a very nasty volte-face.
Citizen Times: About which topic you’ll write your next book?
Jan Fleischhauer: We will see. I have one or two ideas, but for now I take a rest. A few readers have encouraged me to write the next book about the conservatives. I do not know if I should do to you is: A book on the rightists would not be much more lenient than that now on the left, I fear.
* The New Inwardness (Neue Innerlichkeit), also New Subjectivity is a term invented by the literature critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki to describe a kind of German literature in the 1970s, which is characterized by personal experiences. It was a countermovement to the political literature of 1968.
So far, the book is only published in German:
You will find a full book review here.
This interview is a translation of the German version at BuchTest.