The Yearning for and the Right to a Homeland
About the Author
Rev. Prof. Wolfgang Ockenfels OP was born in Bad Honnef am Rhein in 1947. Having entered the Dominican Order in 1967, he studied Philosophy and Theology and was ordained in 1973. From 1974 to 1978 he read Social Ethics and Economics in Freiburg, Switzerland. His doctoral thesis was on the theme of Unions and the State. In 1984 he completed his habilitation in the field of Christian Social Doctrine at the University of Augsburg on the subject of faith and politics. Since 1985 Prof. Ockenfels has been a (full) professor for Christian Social Science in the theological faculty in Trier. He has published a very long list of monographs, articles and contributions. Since 1985 he has been Chief Editor of Die Neue Ordnung, a Christian journal founded in 1946 by opponents of National Socialism.
The original source appeared as an editorial in Die Neue Ordnung, April Nr. 2/2018
by Wolfgang Ockenfels
Translation by Rembrandt Clancy
Strange, how quickly a conservative topic such as longing for one’s “homeland” is coming to light on the agendas of the day; and how busily, yet sluggishly official governmental action wears itself against this theme and threatens to burst into flame. That is no accident, for the homeland question has become politically central and contentious ever since alternative parties and identity movements have taken up the issue, indeed, across Europe and worldwide and with increasing success. The local power-elites, the cosmo-politicians who enthuse in all directions, rightly experience this as a threat, for it imperils them with the loss of power in their homelands. Well, why shouldn’t it, after all? In a democracy and a market economy competition has always been experienced as a danger to the prevailing monopoly on power. It is precisely for this reason that these liberal-democratic structures were invented, so that a violence-free, peaceful transition of power can occur at all.
According to Karl R. Popper, to whom Catholic social thinking was rather remote, the advantage of democracy consists not in constantly confirming the supposed good in politics, but in minimising the experiential evil and voting it out of office. Therein lies the crux of democracy. From this critical perspective, conservative Catholics especially find a political homeland in democracy, which is obligated not only to the formal principle of majority rule, but especially to natural human rights. When these, for instance, are approved [freigegeben] for an arbitrary [willkürlich] power-political interpretation; that is, when a “human right” to kill unborn life or life unworthy” of human life [“lebensunwerten” Menschenlebens] is claimed in accordance with the temper of the times and enforced across Europe, the hour for democratic resistance has struck. Here vigilant Christians need not first wait for the official approval of their spiritual leaders.
Combining democratic criteria with an emotional or patriotic idea of a homeland, or even with a “right to a homeland”, may represent to the tradition-forsaken C-Parties [CDU/CSU] a lunatic distortion. But what will one not do for the sake of holding on to political power? The success of another makes for envy and greed, and so it is not surprising if, in the competition for political power, those who have held it until now cut a thick slice off of the successful opponent. The latter, of course, are supposed to have “instrumentalised” the traditional concept of homeland, whilst the former prepare to “occupy” the venerable idea in a new way and use “social construction” to fill it with content, an age-old semantic strategy, which did not fall into disrepute for the first time through nominalistic hermeneutics and the terminological fraud of the sixty-eighters.
Let us remain in the realm of reality. First there is the consequence of chaotic “globalisation” bent on pushing through its “capitalism” without consideration for cultural, religious, ecological and social losses. But even at the European level, it is becoming apparent that identity with the homeland and national responsibility can no longer be suppressed by abstract, cosmopolitan unity-slogans. On the contrary, more and more Europeans are inquiring after a socioeconomic policy which will come to their defence against an anonymous capitalist power which completely abhors restriction by the personal principle of subsidiarity. However, it was precisely in this principle that the contribution of Catholic social teaching to the Constitution of Europe came to light. But since then Europe has fallen into a centralised construct which no longer inquires into its Christian origins, but merely seeks the short-term economic efficiency of a “levelling solidarity” in the interests of the communitarisation of debt and the “saving” of the euro.
What does the term ‘homeland’ have to do with the foregoing? It remains first and foremost an expression of yearning which can be identified in various ways. Aside from the sentimental effusions which, despite the sneaking Nazi-suspicion, may still readily find expression in “kitschy” homeland films and in the songs of Freddy Quinn and Heino, homeland means, above all, the solidarity-nourishing recollection of one’s own family; one’s own circle of friends; one’s own faith community; one’s own language, cultural community and community under law, including the aboriginal countryside with the seasons and climatic zones into which one was born.
Thus the focus here is on the remembrance of one’s own ancestry, and thereby it is also a question of an expectation for the future which prohibits, for instance, a Rhinelander, who was instructed by his own father, within his native country, and a Westphalian mother linguistically in high German, from giving in to Rhenish assimilation when it comes to questions of faith and Weltanschauung. There is still, thank God, not only a Roman, but also a Rhenish Catholic liberality which does not surrender itself to the pressures of universal claims to power. It distinguishes between “de ming” and “de sing”, which do not refer to Chinese language influences, but represent the fundamental difference between “mine” and “yours”, even when it comes to religio-cultural prerogatives.
And there continues to be a “right to a homeland”. This was proclaimed as early as the 15th century during the years when colonisation was beginning. In his bull, Dudum Nostras of 1435, Pope Eugenius IV condemned slavery, dispossession and the expulsion of indigenous peoples. A current reminder of a right to a homeland is now being cruelly violated — above all in Africa, for example, through economic and military interventions. And it is producing streams of migration, which in turn affects the ancestral right to a homeland for indigenous Europeans.
At the end of their lives Christians are reminded of a completely different homeland:
Mere guests we are on earth
we wander without rest,
in many ways afflicted
to eternal homeland onward.
But please let us not confuse the eternal with the worldly homeland. “We cannot stop the course of history”, reckoned Wolfgang Schäuble recently with an eye to Islamisation. Needless to say, we can stop the course of wolves; we even have to do it, for it does not by any means represent the course of salvation history, which is what leads to the eternal homeland.
1. democracy… is bound especially by natural human rights: “Natural human rights”, of course, refer to natural law, upon which Western legal systems are based, notwithstanding the varying theoretical approaches to it. The argument in this paragraph is based on the very old fundamental idea that natural law is not a human creation. Thus, if a positive law violates natural law, even if the former has been enacted through “the formal principle of majority rule”, resistance is justified.
2. “‘life unworthy’ of human life” [“lebensunwerten” Menschenlebens] evokes the title of the proto-National Socialist monograph by Karl Binding (jurist) and Alfred Hoche (psychiatrist): “Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens: Ihr Maß und ihr Ziel” (1920) or “Approval of the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life: Its Measure and Objective” (Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag. 2006).
After Binding and Hoche’s publication, the criteria for inclusion under “life unworthy of life” multiplied to include ever broader categories of “defective people” (Defektmenschen: Hoche, p. 52) or people who “form the dreadful counter-image of a genuine human being” (Binding, p. 30). For this reason their book is remembered as having established the rationale for the National Socialist euthanasia programme and its later expansion to the death camps.
Also in this context, Dr. Ockenfels’ invokes Binding and Hoche with his use of the verb freigeben (to permit, to allow, to approve sth.) as follows: “when these [natural human rights] are approved [freigegeben] for an arbitrary [willkürlich] power-political interpretation….”.
“Freigeben” or its noun form “Freigabe” has a specialised meaning according to Wolfgang Naucke, who wrote the Introduction to the modern German printing of the book. Naucke explains the terminology of the book’s title as Binding and Hoche understood according to their respective fields of law and psychiatry:
“Lebensunwertes Leben” [life unworthy of life] is a label, which powerful experts apply to feeble invalids: “lebensunwert” = “incurably imbecilic” (Binding, p. 49). “unheilbar blödsinnig” = “intellectually dead” (Hoche, p. 49). “Freigabe” is a juridical, specialist term, which legitimises state power to destroy “lebensunwerte Leben” without criminal liability. “Vernichtung” is killing, according to scientific knowledge, by gas or poison or allowing someone to starve. (Wolfgang Naucke. Introduction to Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens. p. VII. Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag. 2006, p. VII)
3. “tradition-forsaken C-Parties”: These are two federal, sister parties which are considered “conservative” and by their names and histories ostensibly represent tradition. Also called the “Union Parties”, they are made up of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), currently under Chancellor Merkel, and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), under Horst Seehofer. They form a single block in the federal parliament, because they are deemed have the same policies. Therefore the CDU has no representation in Bavaria.
4. “an age-old semantic strategy, which did not even fall into disrepute through nominalistic hermeneutics and the terminological fraud of the sixty-eighters.”
While nominalism (L. nomen, name) is “an age-old semantic strategy”, it was first systemised by William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347). In its extreme form, nominalism holds that only particular physical things can be real; hence abstract general terms, also called universals, represent no real existent and are thereby mere words (flatus vocis). This hermeneutic denies the intellect behind the word, just as the radical behaviourist denies the subjective factor behind behaviour. The implication, in the present context, is that words become plastic. Accordingly, modern “nominalistic hermeneutics” uses words to create reality, as has been observed under National and International Socialism. The “strategy” is also reminiscent of the Newspeak of Engsoc (English Socialism) in Orwell’s 1984.
An example of how the idea of a “homeland” is “occupied” (besitzt) by means of “social construction” is Frau Merkel’s interpretation (hermeneutic) of what it is to be German. She has repeatedly replaced indigenous “Germans” with the noun-phrase “those who have been living here longer” (die schon hier länger Lebenden) or literally, “the-already-living-here-longer”. Hence by virtue of words she has already replaced the indigenous German population, nominally, by eliminating the boundary between Germans and foreigners, hence a propaganda of nominalistic hermeneutics. In her recent “Government Declaration” (Bundeserklärung, 21 March 2018), the Chancellor ends hers speech with “We are all Germany”.
“Nominalistic hermeneutics” can also be explained in terms of postmodernism where there is no such thing as meaning or even reason. Since all words are relative, those who possess the sovereignty of interpretation also preside over a “dictatorship of relativism” (Ratzinger). Professor Ockenfels elaborates on this modern expression of nominalism in his editorial, Im Netz der Zensur (In the Web of Censorship):
It is an old-modern problem, namely, the distortion of facts, the lie as half-truth and construct. Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps the first fake philosopher, for in his own words “all life is based on semblance, art, deception, optics, and the necessity of perspectives and error”. The philosophical question of truth is nominalistically factored out [nominalistisch ausgeklammert]… And the political question of truth is identified with the question of power: Who has the power to define and interpret? Who can define classical terms anew — or “occupy” [besetzen] them anew, as it said by way of the militaristic-semantic strategy of the ’68ers? However, this strategy in the age of the Internet is increasingly slipping from the hands of the dominant political-media complex. The discourse is becoming ruler-free, democratised; anyone can be a sender and receiver, journalist and reader, politician and voter. (Die Neue Ordung, No 2, April 2017)
Professor Ockenfels takes the words of Friedrich Nietzsche from section 5 of “An Attempt at Self-Criticism” which Nietzsche wrote in 1886 and then retroactively used it for the preface to his first book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872).
5. According to the principle of subsidiarity, only those activities which cannot be undertaken at the lower levels of the social order should be performed by the higher levels. Stated simply, subsidiarity orders the relationship between the individual and the collective. It is defined by Pius XI in his Encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno” (Nr. 79):
Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.
6. “de ming” (mine) and “de sing” (his):
These are absolute possessive adjectives as in “this is mine“ and “that is his“, presumably from one of the many low German dialects in the Rhenish region of North Rhine-Westphalia. Dr. Ockenfels’ main point is this: the distinction between what is “mine” and what is “yours” (the other) is discernable in a language deeply embedded in the ancestral life of Germans in their local communities. Language expresses culture. However, while low German gives way to the universalising tendency of high German, language itself is not a defining aspect of culture. By his reference to Rhenish “liberality”, Dr. Ockenfels is suggesting that the distinction between what is “mine” by ancestry and what is foreign (yours) survives the language transition. Universalising claims to power, such as globalisation, destroy the very distinction itself.
The principle of subsidiarity balances the centrifugal forces of local culture with the centripetal forces of universalisation (cf. endnote 5).
7. “Mere guests we are on earth
we are migrants without rest,
in many ways afflicted
to eternal homeland onward.”
These lines constitute the first verse of the Catholic hymn, “Mere Guests we are on Earth” (Wir sind nur Gast auf Erden). It was written 1938 by Georg Thurmair (1909-1984). His hymns are still sung in churches in Germany and Austria today on Sundays and feast days (Traunsteiner Tagblatt).
From a broad historical perspective, earthly exile is a theme in Catholic (Western) culture. It appears, for example, in the much older Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) attributed to the very brilliant Blessed Hermann the Cripple in the 11th century. This anthem reminds the believer of his suffering mortality and spiritual exile against a transcendent background; but in more modern times, its liturgical use intensified in parallel with the rise of materialistic utopias in the 19th century. In this spirit the Salve Regina, in addition to its traditional liturgical applications, became one of the so-called Leonine Prayers (after Pope Leo XIII), which were eventually intended, in part, for the conversion of Russia. The Leonine Prayers were removed from liturgical use after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), but they are still said after every Low Mass by the priest and congregation in what is now a small but apparently resurgent, traditional Catholic liturgy. The theme of exile is highlighted with added emphasis in the following lines from the anthem:
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To the do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,….