The Blurb On The Back:
Racism, extremism, anti-democratic sentiment – our increasingly polarized world is dominated by a type of thinking that doubts others’ positions but never its own.
In a powerful challenge to fundamentalism in all its forms, Carolin Emcke, one of Germany’s leading intellectuals, argues that we can only preserve individual freedom and protect people’s rights by cherishing and celebrating diversity. If we want to safeguard democracy, we must have the courage to challenge hatred and the will to fight for and defend plurality in our societies. Emcke rises to the challenge that identitarian dogmas and populist narratives pose, exposing the way in which they simplify and distort our perception of the world.
Against Hate is an impassioned call to fight intolerance and defend liberal ideals. It will be of great interest to anyone concerned about the darkening politics of our time and searching for ways forward.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Carolin Emcke is a journalist, academic and self-described “intellectual” and in this book (translated from German by Tony Crawford) she rehashes the familiar intellectual arguments brought out against hate-based actions and populism and in favour of diversity and in doing so, makes the mistake of thinking that rational argument can counter rather than legitimise and help publicise an emotion and politics that works on a base emotional level.
This is not to damn Emcke for making the effort. I am part of the middle-class, liberal audience that her arguments appeal to and that is precisely the problem. This is a book aimed at middle-class, liberal readers and while it is strong in identifying how groups come to be marginalised and why some are attracted to groups that seek to marginalise and blame others, she carries out her exercise on an intellectual level. Specifically, she largely neglects the social conditions and media arena in which hatred is magnified, disseminated and popularised and people either deliberately go looking for it or fall down the rabbit hole thanks to the algorithms of social media sites and when she does deal with social and economic conditions (such as the closure of a factory in Clausnitz and its repurposing as a hostel for refugees), she’s vaguely condescending in her attitude to those upset at the loss of jobs.
She also makes the classic mistake of assuming that populist politics will fall apart when brought into a public arena and challenged or, where it gains power, where it is forced to deliver on the easy solutions that it makes. This is to completely misunderstand the way that populism and totalitarianism often go hand in hand and to assume that its politicians either (a) want to lead (why do so when you can snap at the establishment more easily from the side lines?) and (b) are afraid of being held up to scrutiny (when, on the contrary, they know that it gives them an additional means of getting their message out to a wider audience, some of whom will be receptive while simultaneously allowing them to get out their sound bites, which can then be cut down and edited for social media campaigns among those already drawn to their politics).
She gives consideration in the book to video footage of the intimidation of refugees brought to Clausnitz and gives considerable thought and explanation to how the people in the bus – mostly women and children – can be terrorised by a mob. She breaks this down into an argument of otherness and gives some speculation as to why people would stand by and allow this to happen before giving more consideration to how the people on the bus must have felt. If she really wanted to engage with what drove the mob (and the police who turned a blind eye to it), then she has to look closer at the organisation of active racism and the emotional buzz that people like that get out of it. Causing terror and upset is the point. Being seen to stand up for your ‘fellow white man’ is the point. Showing people that they are not welcome or wanted is the point. Much as Emcke hand wrings about it, I don’t see – and she never really makes a convincing argument – for how intellectualising this from both side’s point of view actually combats it.
The language is, at times, academic, e.g. in one chapter she carries out a prolonged analysis of the transformation of Bottom and Titania’s infatuation with him in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to belabour her point that emotions can be aroused by things or persons other than those it is directed at and she references thinkers like Foucault, Eribon and Sartre, which I sometimes found alienating. She is – as you would expect – strong on the situation in Germany and, given the current rise of the AfD (standing on over 20% of the vote in German opinion polls at the time of writing this review) I wanted to see more analysis here as to what she thinks is going on and how it can be tackled. Similarly, she also writes with compassion about the death of Eric Garner at the hands of policemen (particularly poignant as his family are, at the time of writing this review, waiting to hear the result of NYPD disciplinary action against the policeman who killed him – a man who has never been brought to trial).
Ultimately, she makes her arguments as to how hatred and populism works on an intellectual level but there’s nothing new here about subjects like institutional racism and othering etc for those who already have an interest in the topic. Part of the problem is that this book was originally published in Germany in 2016 and, certainly in Britain, we’ve moved past the concerns that were only beginning to flicker when she was writing this into a world where the populism is rapidly becoming mainstream. That’s not her fault, but it does mean that this book is behind the curve – we are at the stage where we need concrete strategies to counter and minimise this problem not explanations for how it works. On that basis, I think this is a book that is behind the curve where this subject is concerned and doesn’t really achieve its objective of building a solid footing on which everyone can stand.
AGAINST HATE was released in the United Kingdom on 18th January 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.