Sociologists are all left
Sociologist Nassehi: "We talk to the left and then live to the right"
DEFAULT: In your new book you explain "why right and left are no longer alternatives". Is everything equally valid and therefore indifferent monotony?
Nassehi: No alternatives does not mean that there is no difference between the two. It's huge, but not that clear either. In public self-descriptions of modern society, we almost always only know ciphers that we classify as right and left or conservative and more progressive. But today we do not see with these distinctions what actually constitutes the structure of a society.
DEFAULT: How do you define right and left?
Nassehi: I try to fix this to the way of thinking, not to the political theory of colors. A left argument would always be understood to be universalistic. That means, I don't really want to make a distinction between people. It usually boils down to the idea that you have a restructuring perspective on society and see a lever with which you can change things. Classically, that would be the difference between capital and labor. Right thinking is much easier to describe. It judges society to distinguish the own and the strangers, us and the others, and the fantasy would be that a culturally and ethnically more homogeneous society would have fewer or no problems.
DEFAULT: Why are the terms right and left no longer sufficient to describe societies?
Nassehi: Both underestimate the complexity of modern society. A left perspective pretends to be able to treat a society like an object that can be changed because one has insight into its laws. Left theorists are always surprised that, for example, the so-called proletariat, which no longer exists in this form, has no insight into its own objective situation. That is why really left perspectives sometimes become authoritarian because they think they know what the right thought is to enforce. A right perspective is also sub-complex, insofar as the decisive differences that make up society are not those between cultural or ethnic affiliations.
DEFAULT: Because of no left-right alternative - just to be seen in Europe: the "left" Greeks, their "left premier" Tsipras and the others, whatever they are called. Isn't that where alternative economic and political programs are being put in place?
Nassehi: The idea of the left government in Greece is now to have a reorganization perspective. In a situation like in Greece, what else should you think about at the moment? It is interesting that the normal politics of the center is neither right nor left, but more of a muddling-through politics, a muddling through. At the same time, we are observing forms of protest voting from the right in Europe, think of France and the Front National, Denmark, Finland, Ukip in Great Britain, or possibly the FPÖ in Austria. So there is this conversion perspective as a counter-idea to Europe, but also the perspective of ethnic homogeneity. In Europe you can see very well how interconnected and complex the problems are. This cannot be solved by right-wing, ethnic homogeneity or a left-wing restructuring in which the state ultimately controls society.
DEFAULT: You have the assumption that right-wing descriptions are currently particularly popular. Why? Do you mean phenomena like Pegida?
Nassehi: Right-hand descriptions provide very simple descriptions for very complex phenomena. I differentiate between digital and analog worlds. Today, when you think about who your immediate competitor is when you feel bad, then social scientists come and explain to you that it is statistical groups that are difficult to identify that prevent you from getting a real job or to be successful in the marriage or housing market. While right-wing descriptions do identify very precisely, namely analog groups: They are immigrants, people of the wrong faith or with darker skin color, people who actually do not belong here. What is interesting about Pegida is that it is a discourse that works very well in public in crisis situations. These are phenomena of uncertainty. They show that we live in analog worlds, but these worlds can only be understood digitally.
DEFAULT: In view of the "digital socialization" that you describe and increasingly "invisible", because digitized, competing groups - what does that mean for political action?
Nassehi: Politics today has the great difficulty of producing accessible collectives and at least pretending to be able to solve problems. And what is she doing? Muddling through. Muddling through. Of course people see that. In addition, one cannot observe any real alternatives in the political system. A grand coalition like in Germany, but also in Austria, is downright an aesthetic image that the alternatives really only consist of how you get through the next day. The dilemma of politics is that right now it can't make descriptions that people think is great.
DEFAULT: You claim in the book that we "speak left and live right". Many readers feel that they are being trodden on. You have to explain that.
Nassehi: The left-liberal middle class is very used to saying that they make no distinction between people of different skin color, nationality, class and milieu. But life practice makes these differences very strong. We can observe that in these milieus in particular, great care is taken to choose schools with the lowest possible proportion of migrants, not to live in residential areas with socially disadvantaged areas, to gain distinction. We speak universalistically on the left, but then live and then behave in a particularist right. That doesn't mean that these people have a right orientation. But, and this is an argument made by many right-wing intellectuals, that is the thorn in the flesh of our easy speech. We get left-wing arguments incredibly easily, but when it actually comes down to an oath, then it is not that easy to actually live a universalistic life. That is a certain lie of life in this milieu.
DEFAULT: You write: "The relationship between politics and economy is the key difference on which diagnoses of society are sharpened." What does that mean?
Nassehi: The state and the law promise equality. This is a great equality generator. The economy is a generator of inequality. A modern economic system permanently produces inequalities, it cannot produce distributive justice on its own. Therefore, since the social question has existed, since the middle of the 19th century, politics has always tried to steer into the economy. A more left-wing model would say that we have to regulate the economy heavily, a more conservative model would say that it is not so easy to do, a more liberal model would say that the economy does it itself and has self-healing powers, the famous invisible hand . You have to mediate between these logics. That is the basic conflict of modernity. Almost everywhere it is about the political regulation of distribution problems.
DEFAULT: Your book is entitled: "The last hour of truth" and is directed against "the keepers of the grail of truth and morality". Why has the last hour of truth struck?
Nassehi: This somewhat provocative title means: Folks, don't believe these simple truths! Because of, you just have to deregulate, then it will be fine. Or you just have to become ethnically or culturally more homogeneous or remove the basic contradiction of society, and then everything will be fine. It is not that easy. The last hour of truth is the first hour in which one deals with the different logics of society and their complex interactions. Complexity also means that there is no such thing as this one ultimate perspective. (Lisa Nimmervoll, DER STANDARD, April 18, 2015)
Armin Nassehi (55) is Professor of Sociology at the University of Munich. Research areas: culture, religion, knowledge, science and political sociology. Since 2012 editor of the cultural magazine "Kursbuch". Latest publication: "The Last Hour of Truth", Murmann, Hamburg 2015
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