Andreas Roedder: “21.1.” – Politics
The world doesn’t stand still. So anyone who takes the laudable risk of writing a history of the present must work on updating it from time to time. The busy Mainz historian Andreas Rödder did it: his book “21.0 – A Brief History of the Present” was published in September 2015, when the dispute over Angela Merkel’s refugee policy was just beginning. Since then came Donald Trump, the US-Chinese confrontation, an increased threat from global warming, Brexit, the corona pandemic and Russia’s attack on the Ukraine added, and now Rödder’s book is called “21.1”.
As with computer software, you shouldn’t think too much about the version number (soon a quarter has passed since the 21st century, when should “21.2” be expected?), but rather simply press Update. Then you get a compendium of Germany’s situation in the midst of global changes, which has been carefully and balanced for the most part up to date. Andreas Rödder describes the difference to eight years ago as follows: “The question from 2015 as to whether the 1990 order had failed became the question of why it failed.”
Some is crowded, some selective
The original book was strongly influenced by the processing of the financial and euro crisis, which is also noticeable in the new version. Furthermore, many of today’s developments go back to the course set in the 1970s, to the liberalization of markets and lifestyles. Here Rödder resorts to a genealogy of the past five decades, as did his fellow historians Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, for example (“After the Boom”) and Philip Sarasin (“1977”) have done while Andreas Wirsching in his contemporary history of Europe (“The Price of Freedom”) only began in the 1980s to put his own epoch into words.
As is unavoidable in such an overall presentation, some things in Rödder’s “21.1” are concise, some selective. Sometimes popular legends are also reproduced, such as the story that in postmodernism the ideas of French post-structuralists “seeped through to the breadth of Western societies” in the sense that they promoted social pluralization and political doubts about the truth. There are considerable doubts about such a causality.
Otherwise, Andreas Rödder offers an impressive and useful overview of the conditions of contemporary living conditions and political decisions: demographics, forms of living together, global economy, problems of the democracy, consequences of digitization, history of mentality, European and security policy. Numbers and contemporary diagnosis, facts and judgments are always cleverly mixed.
The threat posed by Russia’s Ukraine policy, which Rödder had already clearly named in the first edition, also darkens the tone at a time when “unilateralism and nationalism” are returning. There is also a new chapter on the three years of Covid-19 ravages; Seeing the pandemic historicized like this on a few pages has something calming about it, if only because of the narrative form. This Corona chapter is written soberly and balanced, even if the author’s complaint about “moralization” appears at one point.
Left identity politics as a target
Which brings us to the problematic aspects of this book. Because in the meantime, since the first draft, something has also happened to Andreas Rödder. The liberal-conservative professor slips more and more often into the role of the activist. CDU leader Friedrich Merz has made Rödder head of the commission “Foundation of values and fundamentals”. As a crucial threat to democracy and as a (disputed in the Union) main target of the CDU Rödder the left so-called identity politics turned off. Eager words: gender, “cancel culture”, the supposedly endangered freedom of expression.
For this fight, Rödder is now entering into some creepy alliances under the motto “Das woke Germany threatens our freedom”. And as is typical for the anti-wokeness alliances, there are less arguments about possible excesses in equality and anti-discrimination policy in the matter, rather one prefers to attack communication contexts on the meta-level: an allegedly “ideologically charged one public debate” and again and again that dreaded one “moralization”.
This is how things are now in Rödder’s book, because he states at the outset that the historical changes of recent years also include “a debate about identity politics”. With this, a (however fictitious) “common sense” of society is abandoned. However, in his introduction as a historian, Rödder rejects an “opinion-driven pointing” that belongs elsewhere, “while the historical-scientific judgment has to face the demands of an open-minded and empirically proven analysis”. In contrast to other public statements, this forces him to exercise a certain self-restraint in the book, which Rödder did not succeed in everywhere.
In some sentences, for example, the historical past tense suggests a historical impartiality, where Rödder actually only gives impressions and political opinions: “At the same time, the shift in the framework drew new boundaries of what can be said and took on ideological traits of repressive tolerance.” Rödder laments “the discursive devaluation of traditional ways of life and families, of whites and men” and the “moral charge” of climate protection (the necessity of which, however, he does not deny). It is also significant how he edited or left the book’s concluding remarks compared to 2015: Instead of substantially rewriting the passages on the relationship with Russia, Ukraine or Germany’s security policy position, he primarily adds the “identity politics” that was called “Inclusion” in its first edition.
If Andreas Rödder penetrates the CDU with his adviceto shift to culturally combative topics is just as uncertain as the appearance of the next version of “21.1”. One way or another, one can learn a lot from this book about the uncertainty of what actually is conservative.