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Heinz Kluth, "The 'Hooligans' [Halbstarke] – Legend or Reality?" (1956)

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If the “hooligan-violence” of the past had not partly escaped broader journalistic coverage, had not partly been viewed through a different lens owing to special circumstances, then mere recourse to the experiences of the interwar period could show that, in many cases, the specific forms of expression, but certainly not the problem itself, are connected to the particular conditions of our time. For example, one must not overlook the fact that a portion of the young people who were involved in violent political clashes in the 1920s were certainly not involved in a deeper political sense. These clashes, however, provided nearly unrestrained possibilities of expression for a largely undifferentiated urge to take action. Therefore, it is surely no coincidence that this pseudo-political portion of the youth increasingly drifted to the radical, that is, more “action-filled,” wings of political life. After 1933, this pressure toward action was then forcibly channeled and released only to the extent that it was in keeping with the goals of the rulers (persecution of the Jews, for example, and war). In the present, by contrast, the preconditions for such “political engagement” have largely vanished. Our misunderstanding begins when we judge and evaluate the same kind of behavior differently merely because it no longer manifests itself as seemingly politically motivated, but is undisguised, as it were, without motivation. The reason why “hooligans” exist today is therefore incorrectly formulated, since “hooligans” are not new to our day. The more correct question would be why there are no longer any “hooligans” cloaked in the nobler garb of “higher” motives.

One crucial root of the “hooligan problem,” which takes the entire question beyond the obtrusive immediacy that some would like to endow it with, lies in the developmentally-determined intersection of a heightened urge to do something and be someone, on the one hand, and emotional-mental and social frailty, on the other, which characterizes the period of transition from childhood to adulthood. This constellation contains from the outset the possibility of a conflict with the environment. And so the really surprising fact is not that “hooligans” exist, but rather that there are relatively few of them. The fact that, up to now, the hooligan “problem” has been largely – though not exclusively – limited to the large cities shows that the constraints that have preserved the fragile balance of the transition period (the so-called youth, that is) from being overturned, have been loosened only in the large cities.

Clogged Valves

People in the large cities have evidently forgotten that the diffuse urge to do something cannot be wholly channeled into “socially useful” activities, indeed, that the urge for action purely for the sake of it grows to the degree to which people are squeezed into a pattern of rigid behavioral norms. Now, there is no denying that the traditional regulatory forms vis-à-vis the youth have been largely dismantled – to such a degree, in fact, that there is a growing chorus of voices that want to attribute all youthful excesses to education that has become too lax, too soft. Except that, here, one overlooks the fact that the strictness has shifted onto other areas, and that people are trying to maintain it there with the utmost consistency. To pick out just one example, the working day of a young person has generally become, in external terms, not only shorter, but also easier. However, crucial to our question is the fact that the demands for behavioral discipline at work have grown at least to the same degree. Already the apprentice and the young worker are being subjected to the high factual constraints of rationalized work and training.

Added to this is that the world of grownups, for all its “softness,” uncertainty, and lack of clarity vis-à-vis the youth, seems to agree on one point: at least in the larger cities there is something akin to an unwritten law that the youth must be urged to be quiet – if need be, with the help of the state’s coercive power. [ . . . ] And so every possibility that this youth has to let off steam in a “meaningless” way is severely curtailed wherever possible. That is to say, the youth of the large city is deprived of something that was, and still is, a matter of course for the youth of the countryside and the small city: the legitimate possibility of breaking out of the written and unwritten behavioral constraints of society.

People are trying to close all the valves through which “pointless” and “disruptive” energies could escape and are then surprised when these energies seek their own way out and in the process puncture the entire structure of regulated proper behavior. The hooligan racket is in essence nothing other than the “silly pranks” of our fathers or the rough ending to a village fair. But silly pranks and fairground fights were outlets that had their unquestioned place within the social fabric. People were aware of their function as outlets, of the necessity and limited nature of their existence, and so they were not only tolerated within these boundaries, but even promoted, though they were just as rigorously curtailed as soon as these boundaries were crossed. By contrast, in the current social structure of a large city, in which cohabitation – at least ideally – is supposed to and is able to run only within tracks that arise from demonstrable contexts, the young person who “merely” wants to let off steam must turn increasingly into a foreign body.

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