The 'New Squares', Christian Rickens calls them in his new book, Die Neuen Spiesser: Von der Fatalen Sehnsucht nach einer überholten Gesellschaft ("The New Squares: On the Fatal Yearning for an Outdated Society"). It's a provocative title, Spiesser (roughly, "square") is a mildly pejorative term.
The New Squares range from the Federal Constitutional Court Judge Udo di Fabio, whose recent book Kultur der Freiheit ("Culture of Freedom") warns us that the collapse of common sense puts the "west in danger"; to Paul Nolte (G), historian at the Freie Universität Berlin, who denounces a new permanent underclass of alienated, tattoed Gameboy addicts cut loose from stabilizing bourgeois values; to Eva Herman, a peppy TV celebrity whose new book Das Eva-Prinzip: Fuer eine neue Weiblichkeit ("The Eva Principle: For a New Femininity" (G)) calls on German women to admit that the attempt to combine children and career cannot succeed, and return to the comforts of hearth and home. This is a pretty European brand of conservatism; fond of talk about ancient customs and traditional values, and skeptical of the free market. You could call the New Squares throne-and-altar conservatives adrift in a throneless cosmopolis.
Now comes Christian Rickens, an editor at Manager Magazine (G), to give them the back of his hand in this crisply-written, entertaining polemic. The tone throughout is lightly ironic, although not flippant. Rickens doesn't intend to confront right-wing doom-mongering with its left-wing Doppelgaenger. In fact, he mocks doom-mongering. Issue by issue, he sets out the New Squares' claims and demonstrates, by a bit of research and clear thinking, that the problems they describe are nowhere near as grim as they'd have us believe, and that their proposed solutions are generally unworkable.
Rickens acknowledges differences in temperament and intellectual caliber among the New Squares -- some are university professors, others tabloid columnists. However, Rickens identifies two typical thought-mistakes (Denkfehler) common to them all. The first is a weakness for spongy pseudo-scientific phrase-mongering: stuff like "the erosion of our cultural substance," or the "declining sense of togetherness and being bound together by fate" (Schicksalsgemeinschaft). The New Squares, he comments, seem to be reading "too much Nietzsche and too little Popper." Many of their arguments are, therefore, unfalsifiable -- dinner-table banter wrapped up in pretty rhetorical ribbons. How are we supposed to tell whether a nation's "cultural substance" is disappearing?
The second error is the conservative tic of confusing social change with collapse or decay. What Fritz Stern wrote of an earlier crop of German cultural conservatives still holds true: "[O]ften they mistook change for decline, and, consistent with their conception of history, attributed the decline to a moral failing." German society is changing, argues Rickens, but many of the problems bemoaned by the New Squares are much more manageable than they let on, and some of them aren't problems at all.