The Religion of the Nazis
Written by Dr. Koenraad Elst
Contemporary historians, along with novelists and filmmakers, just can’t get enough of Nazi Germany. Scholars of religion too are now frequently zooming in on this subject, though often with more polemical than scholarly purposes. The stakes are high, so competing ideologies invest heavily in showing their own dissociation from and their opponents’ association with Nazism. Therefore, when anthropologist Prof. Em. Karla Poewe of Calgary University in Canada comes out with a book titled New Religions and the Nazis (Routledge, Oxon & New York 2006), critics are on the alert for signs of bias.
The Religion of the Nazis
Koenraad Elst, Ph.D.
Contemporary historians, along with novelists and filmmakers, just can’t get enough of Nazi Germany. Scholars of religion too are now frequently zooming in on this subject, though often with more polemical than scholarly purposes. The stakes are high, so competing ideologies invest heavily in showing their own dissociation from and their opponents’ association with Nazism. Therefore, when anthropologist Prof. Em. Karla Poewe of Calgary University in Canada comes out with a book titled New Religions and the Nazis (Routledge, Oxon & New York 2006), critics are on the alert for signs of bias.
But let us first of all appreciate the new factual data presented by the author. Prof. Poewe does a real historian’s job. Instead of synthesizing existing books by older colleagues into yet another “interpretation” of history, she has spent months and months in several German archives reading a lot of hitherto unexplored primary source material. This consists mainly of unpublished letters, speech transcripts and testimonies by or about the leading religious ideologues of the 1920s and 30s in Germany. Somebody had to do this job, and now it has been done.
- An underground Religion comes to the surface
The book’s main focus is on new religious movements of the German interbellum and their leaders, such as Mathilde Ludendorff (née von Kemnitz, wife of WW1 general Erich Ludendorff) and her Deutsche Gotterkenntnis (German God-knowledge) movement; and especially Jakob Wilhelm Hauer and his associates in his Deutsche Glaubensbewegung (DGB, German Faith Movement). Hauer was originally a Christian missionary planning to spend a lifetime in India converting Hindus. His studies led him to a favourable interest in Hinduism, then in hypothetically reconstructed Indo-European Religion, and finally in “West-Indo-Germanic” Religion, i.e. minus the “Indo-“. According to Poewe, “the new religions founded in the pre-Nazi and Nazi years, especially Jakob Hauer’s German Faith Movement, would be a model for how German fascism distilled aspects of religious doctrine into political extremism”. (back cover text)
When trying to establish himself in the ascendant Nazi movement, and after violent criticism of his Oriental exoticism by the Ludendorff couple (who saw the Asian cultural influx, from Christianity down to Theosophy and neo-Vedanta, as the result of Jewish conspiracies), Hauer found he had to drop the Indian part and highlight an “Indo-Germanic minus Indian” religion, i.e. European religion rooted in the ethnic soul of the Germans and more broadly the Europeans. The emphasis during the Nazi period was more on the narrowly Germanic element (Nazism was “Aryan” only in slogans, its focus was German and at best Germanic, with steep contempt for fellow “Aryans” such as the Slavs, the Armenians and Indians and of course the Gypsies), but his post-war followers such as Sigrid Hunke broadened it to all Europeans.
Of this supposed “truly European” religion, few pure formulations exist, but it is said to be visible through the writings of Christian heretics who dressed it in Christian language, though the Church often saw through their un-Christian inspiration. Poewe lists mystics, philosophers and poets like Pelagius, the early heretic who disbelieved in Original Sin; Johannes Scotus Eriugena, the 9th-century philosopher; Francis of Assisi, the nature-loving saint who conversed with animals; a high tide with the late-medieval German monistic mystics Nikolaus Krebs von Kues (Cusanus), Meister Eckhart von Hochheim, Heinrich Seuse (Suso) and Johannes Tauler; the natural philosopher and medic Paracelsus; the angel visionary Jakob Boehme; the twilight-Christian poets Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Rainer Maria Rilke; and the Christian evolutionist Teilhard de Chardin. (p.170)
To be sure, this supposed non-Christian thread was sometimes badly blurred by conjunction with Christian positions, e.g. Francis of Assisi was also a great popularizer of Original Sin, till then a minority belief among Christian commoners; Eriugena was accused of heresy but was an active opponent of heresy himself, in particular against Gotteschalk, the preacher of predestination, who also figures on Hunke’s list of true European religionists; while Gotteschalk himself was a leading light to later militant Christian dissenters like Calvinists and Jansenists; and Suso was such a heretic that the Church canonized him as a saint. But by and large, the contributions of these religious explorers purportedly show a common thread of what Hunke called “an underground Religion” (p.170). Intertwined with Christianity for centuries, it decisively seceded from the latter with the anti-Christian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. And now, Providence had made the 20th century into the age of its long-awaited blossoming.
So, this is a strange thing to note: whereas the stated focus of the book is the “new Religions” of some Nazi-related thinkers, and while the term “neo-Paganism” is frequently used, the inspiration of these ideologues (as amply and faithfully documented by Poewe) is a line of thinkers of whom most have always been booked as Christian. It is not uncommon to pretend that Nazism was a “Pagan” movement, e.g. Pope Benedict XVI called Nazism “an insane racist ideology born of neo-Paganism” (“Pope warns of rising anti-Semitism”, 20 August 2005, The Hindu). Such claims are typically illustrated with some old drawing of the Germanic god Wotan/Odin (e.g. Robert L. Bartley: “Christians, Jews and Wotan: What we still need to learn from Nazism”, 25 March 2002, Wall Street Journal online) but the one-eyed god didn’t figure in Nazi iconography at all. The true picture is far more complex and far more interesting.
- The way out of Christianity
Before embarking on her historical excursus, the author clearly lays out her views, i.e. her interpretation of these data. She argues that Nazism had an outspoken religious dimension, which she describes as neo-Pagan. But it soon transpires that “Pagan” in this case does not have its simple dictionary meaning of “non-Christian”. The term is actually used here in three senses: historical pre-Christian religions (but not Judaism), post-Christian “new religions”, and certain unorthodox tendencies within Christianity itself. Hence expressions that may sound contradictory at first, like “neo-Pagans both within and outside the Church” (p.14). Being a Church member and a declared Christian is apparently not enough to be a real Christian.
In the Muslim world, we are rather familiar with the phenomenon of Takfir, or excommunicating a fellow Muslim by declaring him to be an unbeliever (Kafir) at heart, but in Christianity, we had developed the impression that this was a thing of the past, now only extant among so-called fundamentalists. Then again, in a vaguer sense this excommunication of fellow Christians as crypto-Pagans is now more common than ever: not only Popes and preachers of fire and brimstone do it, but also glib liberal vicars smiling into the camera as they tell you that opponents of the latest political fad (from socialism to lesbigay liberation) are “un-Christian”. And come to think of it, in principle they all may have a point. After all, Christianity is a demanding religion and the fullness of being Christian requires more than just being baptized and paying Church dues. It only remains to be determined who are the real ones and who the crypto-Pagans.
Who are these un-Christian Christians in Poewe’s view? German history has had many “heretics” who provided inspiration to religious ideologues in the Nazi orbit, like to many others earlier and later. Meister Eckhart, the famous Neoplatonist mystic, was one such “heretic” (p.6): though never disowning Christianity, he was recognized as a peddler of un-Christian mystical practices by Christian critics who correctly argued that Christian salvation is only through Christ, not through some funny mental experiences resulting from introspection. From Church doctors of yore criticizing the mystics down to modern New-Agers celebrating them, there is wide agreement that the Christian mystics were heterodox, arguably in tune with some putative “original teachings of Jesus” (a free-for-all, ever more prolific as lost early Christian writings keep on getting discovered) but not with historical Church teachings.
And like those premodern mystics, the self-described Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”), i.e. the majority of German Protestants supporting the Nazi regime, are classified as “not Christians but Pagans” (p.8). This is a bit of a jump, from the premodern mystics seeking direct experience of God to the modern Churchmen making deals with the Nazi state. Moreover, it was not these bourgeois Church spokesmen but its errant ex-members who were cultivating the memory of those heretics of yore.
Since it would be ludicrous to pretend that 20th-century German Protestants were somehow adherents of Pagan religion, worshipping Wotan and Donar and Freia, and since they were not even particularly concerned with crypto-Pagan mystics from the Christian Middle Ages either, the term “Paganism” clearly refers to something else, something modern. The culprit is an aspect of modern secularism, viz. relativism, possibly not excluding epistemological relativism (the disbelief in the existence of final truth), but mostly meaning moral relativism. In fact, the two go hand in hand and can be deduced from the rejection of monotheism: “To neopagans, human beings are the measure of all things. There is no single God, anymore than there is one truth, nor one humanity”. (p.173)
Liberals on the American campus scene are the ones who oppose the “imposition” of “Western” science as universal: “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go!” They think that “the Black experience”, “the gay experience” etc. can found equally valid worldviews which heterosexual White males have so far suppressed with their pretence of universalism. White science is not only not better, it is worse than the rest, for it has caused environmental degradation and the nuclear threat. This diversity of worldviews was also accepted in Nazi Germany, at least by Nazis. Thus, there was good Aryan science, such as quantum physics, and there was evil Jewish science, such as relativity theory. For a different kind of relativistic downplaying of reason’s universal claims, one of the ideologues discussed in this book, Ludwig Klages, valued image-consciousness (as in dreams or shamanic trances) and myths over reason; and this preference for “biocentrism” over “logocentrism”, we “find also in Hauer and in numerous street philosophers” in interbellum Germany. (p.86)
Those are rather extreme examples, but relativism is all around us in less obtrusive forms. Particularly, in religion, liberals undermined the old certainties of the Bible (to Protestants) or Church tradition (to Catholics) by an appeal to reason and free interpretation of these sources of authority. This led to widely divergent schools of exegesis, and once those floodgates had been opened, other types of pluralization followed suit. One of these is along ethnic lines: nowadays, liberal Church leaders accept that Africans should have their own cultural emphasis and give expression to these in an African liturgy, Indians should bring Hindu elements into their liturgy etc. This is not all that different from the Nazi-era idea that there should be a distinctive German Christianity.
The core of Poewe’s thesis is that “Liberal Christianity” was the gate through which millions of Christians removed themselves from the Christian spirit to embrace National-Socialism. This was true in the case of apostates like Hauer, through his liberal revaluation of Christian non-conformists frowned upon by the traditional Church, but also of Church-loyal “German Christians”. Some kept on calling themselves Christians while others openly turned against Christ, but their ideological estrangement from true Christianity was fundamentally the same.
The end result of relativism was this: “There is no dogma, word or scripture. German morality is not rigidly chained to words but changes as reality changes and as the original nature adapts to new conditions. It is a convenient moral relativism that Hauer and his cohorts developed. In the final analysis, it is a fighter ethic that negates all moral ties except those with respect to the interests of one’s own Volk.” (p.15)
On one occasion, the author acknowledges the Christian elements in the Nazi blend: “the variant core elements of Goebbels’ religiosity consisted of Christological symbols and Vitalism” (p.24), but this was not a deeply-held Christian faith anymore, for “Goebbels followed the stations of political ideologization from Catholicism toward freer forms of a Christian view of the world and self (as in liberal theology) and then National-Socialism”. (p.7) The case of Goebbels is taken to illustrate very well how the modernist leftward drift inherent in liberal theology was an exit from or at least a “thinner” of true Christian convictions. Likewise, “it was precisely Hauer’s and other Nazis’ radical liberalism that led them to National Socialism”. (p.20) And so: “Liberalism broke the ground enabling the emergence of radicalism.” (p.21)
- From Völkisch to New Age?
What I like about Prof. Poewe’s approach of tracing certain developments to the corrosive impact of liberalism, is that it is unabashedly Christian. In recent decades, Christian scholars writing about politics have typically behaved like sheep obeying their Leftist sheepdogs, sincerely doing their best to toe the latest Leftist party-line. Here at last is a pro-Christian author defending the record of the Christian side and not afraid to denounce the Left and the liberal attitudes along with their Nazi (alleged) counterparts. Indeed, the terms “left” and “right”, though certainly not obsolete or meaningless, happen to be unfit for a description of the political spectrum in interbellum Germany: “Hitler could as easily be ordered into the extreme left as the opposite. In fact, the traditional conservative opposition saw Hitler as standing left”. (p.20)
This Christian vantage point beyond the animosities of Left vs. Right ought to shield the author from the excesses of denunciatory rhetoric so common in Leftist writing about the Nazi period. Leftists always love to cast the net of Nazi suspicions as widely as possible, dirtying as many people and organizations as possible with the Nazi brush. This satisfies their lust for power, for every accused becomes a helpless pleader for mercy (an appetizing sight, like that of a desperate mouse to a cat), and it restores legitimacy to their Marxism whenever people bring up its dark record: Hitler remains the best excuse for Stalin. In this book, my eye has been caught by only one lapse into this pattern of calumny, and it is precisely where she uses Marxist author Peter Kratz as her reference: “Kratz argues that not only the gods of neo-Paganism, but also those of the (European) New Age are Nazi brown. The spiritual movement centred on godliness in harmony with nature and the cosmos, working in and through all things human, is today called New Age. In the twenties it was called the völkisch movement.” (p.173)
This attempt to extend the denunciation of a few interbellum movements as Nazi-inspired to the totally unrelated New Age phenomenon is contemptible. The authors concerned are perfectly aware that the allegation of Nazi connections is the single gravest allegation that can be uttered in today’s opinion climate, and throwing that kind of allegation around lightly (as here by claiming in passing that “völkisch” and “New Age” are synonyms) is simply vicious. To set the record straight: the New Age current is individualistic, xenophilic, mixophilic, futuristic, cosmopolitan, anti-authoritarian and eager to enlist the findings of science into its worldview. The völkisch movement, i.e. the neo-Romantic ethno-nationalistic movement, by total contrast (and incidentally also at variance on some points with more modernistic tributaries to the Nazi movement), was collectivistic, xenophobic, puristic, past-oriented, centred on national identity, welcoming of the Leader principle, and hostile to science.
Yes, they may have some ideas about enjoying outdoors life or experiencing the divine in common, but this says nothing about all the other things on which they are poles apart. It only proves that not too much should be deduced from the religious pastimes of people who otherwise also have political opinions, and widely divergent ones at that. Could this calumny be a Christian polemical attempt to discredit the most popular challenger to established religion among contemporary Westerners? Well, let’s rather put it down as an instance of careless copying from a false authority.
- Secularist Modernism
Karla Poewe doesn’t give any fodder to the consumers of the myth of Nazi occultism. We already knew that Nazi secularists like Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels and Martin Bormann held anything occultist and obscurantist in contempt and ordered a number of successive crackdowns on it, and that Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess were forced to practise their occultish hobbies discreetly. Not the Nazi era but the Weimar Republic, so despised by the Nazis, was the high tide of occultism in Germany. Here Poewe shows that even the new quasi-religions which did have certain genuine links with the Nazi movement defined themselves within the framework of secular modernity.
Thus, she quotes Mathilde Ludendorff as writing in 1935 that her Weltanschauung is not concerned with relieving pain and promising an afterlife, but only with truth: “If you want sham consolation, it is better that you turn to a Christian or some other sort of non-Christian religion, or to any of the occult teachings…” (p.163) I would add that this corresponded to one of the crucial axes in the imagined Aryan/Semitic or European/Asian opposition: truth, along with wakefulness and freedom, is Aryan; while delusions and dreams, along with despotism and surrender, are Asian or Semitic.
Poewe frequently provides evidence that many of these ideologues (like, incidentally, Adolf Hitler himself) first of all broke with Christianity simply because modern scholarship has discredited it. Which, as a secular and scientific position, provides a perfectly respectable reason for apostasy, one that also applies to millions of other modern people unrelated to Nazism. Thus, summarizing then quoting Mathilde Ludendorff: “Christianity does not convince. ‘Natural science has replaced it.'” (p.163) This is something on which all educated modern people should be able to agree, even if some Nazis also happen to agree with them: there may be room for Religion, or rather for spirituality, in a modern or post-modern or hypermodern culture; this may even borrow or continue some contributions of Christianity to ethics or the arts; but even so, the irrational beliefs that make up the defining core of Christianity cannot be salvaged.
Instead of speaking of “new religions” in the Nazi age, it would be more appropriate to describe these fledgling doctrines as philosophies or worldviews (Weltanschauung). Thus, summarizing a speech by Nazi pedagogue Ernst Krieck, an associate of Hauer’s, Poewe relates: “The Third Reich represented yearning for salvation from despair through the fount of power that had its source in the German people (Volkskraft), not in an otherworldly God. Krieck ended his midsummer night’s talk with a hail to the German Youth, German Volk and Third Reich” (p.151) Not a hail to Wotan, nor to Krishna or Buddha for that matter, and indeed not to Christ either, but to the secular gods of Nation and State.
So, the finality of the “new religion” was a secular one: “Development of the new faith: not Christ but the Third Reich”. (p.148) Indeed: “The whole thrust of core Nazi radicals was to overcome what they regarded as an already secularized Christianity and replace it with a faith in the ‘Third Reich’.” (p.149)
- Christianity, a Jewish fabrication?
Modern scholarship has pin-pricked Christian beliefs, but for the ideologues under consideration, this was not always the only reason to discard their parents’ religion. With direct quotations, Poewe argues convincingly that many people in the Nazi orbit who grew away from Christianity, offered the explanation that it is a product of the Jewish mind, a “Semitic” religion and hence a harmful Fremdkörper in the German soul. Thus quoting Mathilde Ludendorff, “Furthermore, our race (ethnic-national) consciousness has become too strong to let us overlook the fact that all words of the Bible are purely Jewish or derived from Jewishness. Consequently, biblical teachings are a danger for our Volk” (p. 163-164)
This is correct. That is, it is correct to say that those ideologues held the belief in Christianity’s essential Jewishness. They had it in common with their opponent, Pope Pius XI, who declared in his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge of 1937: “In a spiritual sense, we (Christians) are all Semites.” But this belief, in turn, is incorrect. To most Christians throughout history, it would have sounded both blasphemous and laughable. They would have countered this belief immediately with a list of points on which Christianity and Judaism are poles apart.
Thus, every Christian youngster who knows his catechism and a bit of the Bible will tell you that Moses taught revenge while Christ taught forgiveness; that Judaism is ethnocentric, Christianity universal; that Judaism is centred on the Letter, Christianity on the Spirit; that Judaism disbelieves in Jesus’ divine status, which is the defining core of Christianity; that Judaism’s concept of God is Unitarian while Christianity’s is Trinitarian. Modern scholars might add that this Christian doctrine of the Trinity owes certain ideas and thought patterns to the Indo-European doctrine of trifunctionality, theorized by Georges Dumézil. Indeed, New Testament research has shown up numerous inputs from non-Judaic sources, mainly Hellenistic but even including Buddhist ones, and some of these have determined key doctrines of the Christian faith. The Church calendar has incorporated many Pagan elements, such as Christmas and All Saints’ Day. Christian theology and ethics have borrowed heavily from Plato and Aristotle. The Christian interpretation of the main stories from the Old Testament often differs widely from the Judaic interpretation of the same, as do their interpretations of the key concept of “Messiah”.
No, Christianity is definitely not Jewish. If Hauer c.s. thought that it was, they were mistaken. If they opposed Christianity’s “Universalism”, they were mistaken if they thought that this was a Judaic trait (the Israelites conquered their promised land but otherwise had no ambition to dislodge other nations and religions). Most Germans who voted the Nazis to power were dues-paying Church members who knew better. We may not agree with their hostility towards the Jews, but along with the Jews themselves they were entirely correct in assuming that Christianity and Judaism are widely different religions.
And in some respects, Christianity is even quintessentially anti-Jewish. This observation is likely to hurt Prof. Poewe, so I don’t like putting it forth, but I’m afraid it is necessary. She inveighs against “an article of faith ferociously held against all evidence to the contrary, that anti-Semitism has its source in Christianity” (p.8). True, there have been occasional clashes between Jews and non-Jews in Pagan antiquity, such as in Alexandria, and some uncharitable remarks by Cicero and others, but these resulted from precise and contingent conflicts of interest, of the type documented by Amy Chua in her 2003 book World on Fire for all kinds of ethnic groups coexisting within a country (as Poewe acknowledges: “In Indonesia, the Chinese are its Jews”, p.15). They did not result from some anti-Semitic doctrine enshrined in their religion or philosophy. Indeed, there is no trace of anti-Semitism in the Ilias or the Edda.
By contrast, confronting the spokesmen of Judaism was the main occupation of the Christian Messiah as per the central scripture of Christianity. While the Jewish Old Testament and the Islamic Qur’an have polytheism and idolatry as the main enemy, the New Testament never features Jesus arguing against those; instead, his confrontations are with the Pharisees, the progenitors of Rabbinical Judaism. It pictures the Jews as the main persecutors of Jesus and of the first Christians. It even has them commit the cosmic crime of demanding the death of God’s Only-Begotten Son. Later on, the Church gave the Jews a favourable treatment in comparison to the Pagans (who didn’t survive to become the object of pogroms or of a Dreyfus affair), but it showed them their place as traitors to their Saviour. In 306, the Church synod in Elvira prohibited Jewish-Christian and Pagan-Christian intermarriage, prefiguring the Nazi Nuremberg laws; in 337, the Church decreed death as the punishment for intermarriage. Some children alleged to have been ritually slaughtered by Jews were canonized as saints — what other religion has such central symbols of hostility towards the Jews? The German reformer Luther admittedly discarded the saints but then he went on to write his own anti-Jewish tracts, which the Nazis eagerly reprinted.
The ideologues of the new religions considered here were also wrong in other tall claims about Jewish influence. In those cases too, it deserves mention that their opinion happened to be a counterfactual opinion. Poewe paraphrases Hauer’s friend Ludwig Klages as claiming that “several things entered the world stage together: the ideal of free civic self-government; incorporation of Roman law; ‘Protestantism’ of every kind; ideas of expansion and progress; calculated self-interest; and a discovery-based science. Not unlike Hauer, Klages thought that this Jewish Geist destroyed organicism and the cosmic dimension.” (p.86)
Not one of the items enumerated is a Jewish innovation. Thus, “free civic self-government” was entirely the creation of Pagan societies: Athenian direct democracy, Rome’s republican institutions, ancient Saxon law (of which the American republic was but a revival, according to Thomas Jefferson), Iceland’s parliament. This is not to deny that Jews may have sources of democracy in their own tradition, but Europeans have theirs elsewhere. The “ideas of expansion and progress” were, in the racialist worldview of the early 20th century, typical expressions of the dynamic race spirit of the Germanic peoples. At most one could say that the Protestant Reformation was a depaganization and partial judaization of Christianity by bringing the Old Testament to the centre and discarding many Roman and crypto-polytheistic elements. But it was entirely the handiwork of Christians and even went hand in hand with Luther’s anti-Jewish outbursts.
For the rest, some of these steps in the modernization process may indeed have been destructive to “organicism and the cosmic dimension”, whatever those may be, while some may not. In particular, “free civic self-government” would seem to be eminently conducive to a sense of “organic” belonging together, not the reverse. But at any rate, it does deserve emphatic mention that there is no Jewish angle to at least these instances of modernization. (The growth of capitalism may be a different matter, though that too, along with the banking system, had been started by Christians before Jews proved their talents in it; and likewise socialism was a non-Jewish invention though it subsequently attracted powerful Jewish minds.) Often, critics of the Nazis denounce the latter’s conclusions but share their presuppositions, such as the idea that the revolutionary impact of modernity upon morality and culture was a Jewish achievement.
However, we must concede Poewe’s claim in one important respect: in contrast with religious anti-Judaism, modern anti-Semitism, i.e. a hatred of Jews based on secular biological doctrines, is indeed not a product of Christianity. The stray pre-Christian cases of Pagan-Jewish conflict were not based on some anti-Jewish ideology, nor can they explain or excuse the genesis of a distinctive Christian anti-Judaism. By contrast, post-Christian anti-Semitism was a full-fledged ideology in its own right. As a mass phenomenon, the anti-Jewish fever in the Nazi period drew more on modern secular considerations than on the residual Christian anti-Jewish suspicions. This is not a new insight, but given the anti-Christian climate in certain intellectual circles in the West, it won’t hurt to draw attention to it.
- Christianity and Nazism
Professor Poewe has demonstrated convincingly that some German intellectuals from the interbellum rejected Christianity and embraced National-Socialism. Thus far, her thesis is, I believe, unassailable. But then what? Were these religious experimenters somehow representative for or influential within the Nazi movement? Does this handful of case studies really answer “one of the most important questions of the twentieth century – how and why did Germans come to embrace National-Socialism”, as claimed on the back cover? Why these few Germans did so, yes; but why a critical mass of the 80-million-strong German people did so?
First of all, even within this small circle, not everyone went all the way in embracing National-Socialism, e.g. Hans Grimm is described as a “National-Socialist ideologue”, yet “Grimm and other nationalists like him did not become members of the party” (p.150). Refraining from joining the party in an age when so many fence-sitters and opportunists did join seems to indicate a principled resolve against something in the Nazi regime.
Secondly, and most importantly, we get to see only a very partial logical connection, if that much at all, between the philosophical musings of these ideologues and their Nazi end-point. Would it not have been perfectly possible to cultivate the philosophy of Meister Eckhart or the poetry of Hölderlin without being anti-Semitic, let alone embracing the whole range of Nazi doctrine? To be sure, once you have embraced anti-Semitism, it becomes possible to find anti-Semitic inspiration anywhere by means of projection of your own obsession (thus, any eulogy to carefree wildlife can then be turned into an implicit indictment against city life with its “Jewish” concern for money). But to say that a favourable interest in medieval heretics and crypto-pagan mystics “leads to” anti-Semitism and a Nazi involvement is a different matter. Yes, Hauer was an admirer of Meister Eckhart and he was a Nazi, but I haven’t seen any proof of a logical connection between the two; only indications of Hauer’s subjective attempts to match the two in his own worldview, which is not the same thing.
Thirdly, the importance of an ideological movement to a regime can also be deduced from how its ideologues and organizations fared under that regime. The case of organized neo-Pagan or otherwise unconventional religions, such as Odinists and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophists, was clear enough: even though some of their votaries certainly fell in with majority opinion and welcomed the Third Reich, their societies were officially disbanded in 1935. In subsequent years, their discreetly continued functioning was effectively stopped and many of their spokesmen were arrested, along with astrologers, rune masters and other occultists. One occasion for a serious crackdown on this whole witches’ brood was the embarrassing flight to Great Britain of Rudolf Hess, a known consulter of alternative therapists. More generally, the tough-minded Nazi leadership associated religious eccentrics with anarchism, anti-social attitudes, anti-modern nostalgias, regional chauvinisms, cosmopolitanism, xenophilia, and navel-gazing unfitness for military service. To exaggerate a little: in the list of groups singled out for persecution, Jews Gypsies and homosexuals should be followed by diviners and heathens.
Contrary to the neo-myth of “the occult roots of Nazism”, the secularist Nazis weren’t too fond of this type at all. But how about the subtler cases investigated here by Prof. Poewe? As she herself notes in discussing the case of librarian Erwin Ackerknecht: “Like most völkisch thinkers who outlived their usefulness, Ackerknecht eventually fell into disfavour with some Nazis.” (p.24) This suggests that their role was temporary and instrumental. They were used in the initial conquest of German public opinion to win certain intellectually restless segments over, and discarded as soon as the regime felt strong enough to impose increasing uniformity and push all these unruly eccentrics back into their corners. Hauer fell from grace too: in 1936 he was removed from the chair of his own German Faith Movement. He was not imprisoned, to be sure, but he was sidelined and never reached the top. Nor did any similar ideologue. This doesn’t alter the record of Hauer’s anti-Christian doctrines or of his embracing National-Socialism, but neither is it consistent with the suggestion that people like he were the ones who shaped the ideological face of the Nazi regime.
After this book, the anti-Christian motives of these leading Nazi or para-Nazi intellectuals is undeniable, whatever their ultimate conflicts with other tendencies within the Nazi movement. But this doesn’t prove their importance and it says little about the drift towards National-Socialism of the Christian majority and of others outside the orbit of Hauer’s or Ludendorff’s influence.
I understand that Prof. Poewe must have felt a need to counter the anti-Christian writings putting the blame for Nazi anti-Semitism on Christianity and the Nazis’ rise to power on support from Christian Churches and individuals (starting with “Hitler’s Pope”, Pius XII). It is good that someone counters the cheap shots liberals routinely take at the Christian side in that tragic phase of world history. But we shouldn’t go to the other extreme.
I don’t think any community that was present in Nazi Germany can claim to have entirely clean hands untainted by collaboration with the regime. Even the Jews had an orthodox faction that welcomed the Nuremberg laws for restoring and enforcing Jewish endogamy and stopping the drift towards assimilation, as well as a Zionist faction that welcomed the Nazi policy of Jewish emigration which made German-Jewish capital and labour available for the nascent Jewish state in Palestine.
As for the Odinist neo-Pagans, an even smaller minority in Nazi Germany than in contemporary Europe: those who sympathize with underdogs will feel compelled to defend them when they are unfairly accused of Nazi leanings, but fact also remains that under Nazi rule, quite a few within that small community saw no contradiction between their newfound religion and goose-stepping to the Nazi tune. No, they did not determine the Nazi worldview, as some sensationalist or polemicist writers have claimed; yet their hands were not entirely clean either. The example of their freedom-loving Pagan ancestors, who had parliaments and elected kings and a highly decentralized state authority, was clearly not imprinted strongly enough on their minds to immunize them against the lure of a stifling authoritarian system like National-Socialism.
Similarly, the Anthroposophists, an ecologist Christian offshoot of the Buddhist-leaning Theosophists, may have been the target of repression after 1935, but some of their leaders had initially welcomed the Nazi regime with its pioneering ecological policies. Apparently, their philosophy hadn’t instilled in them the necessary defences against the Nazi temptation.
Along the same lines, it would be far-fetched to exonerate the Catholic and Protestant Christians, the vast majority of the German people who voted Hitler into power. In the case of the pro-Nazi Deutsche Christen, Prof. Poewe wouldn’t deny this, only she wouldn’t accept them as real Christians. As for the anti-Nazi Protestants (the Bekennende Kirche), today their positions would still be denounced as half-hearted and on many counts even quite right-wing, but they deserve some credit. The occasion for their protest against Nazi policies was eminently Christian: they could not agree to the Nazi demand that Jewish converts to Christianity be excluded from clerical functions in the Church. Since the Apostles themselves had been Jewish-born leaders of the early Church, it was impossible for a Christian to concede this demand. Granted, this was one issue where Christianity and National-Socialism were poles apart and necessarily had to come into conflict. But in their day-to-day activities, even these principled Christians (like their fellow Protestants in occupied Holland or Norway) made all kinds of compromises with the regime, partly because of their Christian belief that all duly constituted authority comes from God and deserves our loyalty. Not that we are in a position to condemn them for it from the comfort of our post-war armchairs, but again, we shouldn’t go to the other extreme either.
As for the German Catholics, we know that some of them, including the family of the present Pope Benedict XVI, had anti-Nazi convictions. We know that Pope Pius XI openly criticized the Nazis, though mainly on a point which would not enthuse many of today’s critics of the Church, viz. Church-State relations in matters like education. It is likewise known that the Nazis considered Pope Pius XII as an enemy, not at all as “Hitler’s Pope”. Using the Catholic network of monasteries and other institutions, he discreetly oversaw the saving of hundreds of thousands of Jewish and other fugitives from Nazi persecution during the Nazi occupation of much of Europe. In Western Europe, his bishops limited their cooperation with the occupation authorities and refused to recruit volunteers for the Eastern Front, even though the fight there was against “godless Communism” (but the boys who did go, nonetheless mostly did so from a Catholic conviction: “Either Rome or Moscow”). In Germany, Catholic and Protestant Church leaders jointly stood up to the Nazis to force them into halting the euthanasia programme for the mentally handicapped in 1939-40. In Spain, Francisco Franco’s Catholic dictatorship facilitated the escape of thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe.
But then we also know that the Vatican greatly helped in Hitler’s rise to power by dissolving the Catholic Centre Party in exchange for a Concordat guaranteeing certain rights to the Church. And the Papacy never threatened Hitler or other top Nazi Church members such as Goebbels with excommunication, though this would have been a very powerful signal. Anti-Jewish elements of Catholic folk culture, such as the Passion Play of Oberammergau, were eagerly enlisted into Nazi propaganda against the Jews. So, it is a mixed picture. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Nazi regime were very uneasy, diplomatic but by no means friendly.
To put things into perspective, we also should keep in mind that many other authoritarian nationalist regimes of interbellum Europe received enthusiastic support from the Catholic Church. Some of these were sharply anti-Semitic, and this was not particularly a problem to most Catholics. To start in an unexpected place: Poland may have won the world’s sympathy by being the target of a German invasion, but its interbellum regime wasn’t too nice either. Apart from condoning pogroms against the German minority, it pursued anti-Jewish policies and thought up the “Madagascar plan” (with an actual survey visit to the island in 1937) for the deportation of the Jews, which the Nazis were to adopt temporarily as their “final solution of the Jewish problem in Europe” in 1939-41. The Church in Poland didn’t object, still being officially anti-Jewish as well as anti-democratic. In a pastoral letter in 1936, Cardinal August Hlond warned against the corrupting moral influence of the Jews and instructed Polish Catholics to boycott Jewish shops and newspapers.
In Spain, General Francisco Franco’s nationalists received the support from Nazi Germany as well as from the Church: Catholics in every parish worldwide prayed for Franco’s victory. The Franquist slogan “Christus Rex” was also the name of Belgium’s main collaborationist party (shortened to Rex), led by Léon Degrelle who raised a Belgian regiment for the East Front. It was not supported by the Church hierarchy but its recruitment base was among Catholics. In Italy, the Fascist regime was secularist and the Pope famously said that “we don’t need” Fascism, but its Concordat with the Church was reason enough to stay friends with it. Likewise, the Catholic Church supported the Nazi-collaborating regimes in Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia, as did the Orthodox Church in Rumania.
The suppression of democracy and (non-violent) anti-Jewish policies were no problem for the Church, but the Nazis’ secularist policies corroding the Church’s hold on society, esp. through education, were. The Churches had survived many persecutions and were confident of surviving the massive and violent suppression in the Soviet Union too. But the more subtle dechristianization policies of France’s militantly secularist Third Republic (1871-1940) were a serious worry, and the Nazi regime followed the same pattern: allowing the Churches to function but gradually directing the youth in a different direction. The Nazis nurtured the people’s religious instincts with quasi-religious pomp and ritual in celebration of state and race, thus undercutting one of the subtle psychological attractions of Church life. They gave free rein to the press in highlighting scandals involving priests in order to undermine Church authority (ironically something for which Christians in the USA and other countries typically blamed “the Jewish-controlled media”). In the event of a German victory in WW2, the future for Christianity in Germany did indeed seem bleak.
After the Nazi defeat, every party concerned has rushed to present itself as a resister to or victim of the regime. Thus, the Jehovah’s Witnesses proudly tell you that they had been locked up for refusing military service in Nazi Germany. True, but what they don’t tell you is that they also refused military service in countries fighting against Nazi Germany, and that this often brought them imprisonment in those countries too. They were indeed brave as steadfast pacifists, but it is not like as if they were an anti-Nazi resistance movement. Recently I read an article arguing that the Italian “traditionalist” Julius Evola wasn’t much of a Nazi because the SS at one point discontinued his lectures. Was even he a secret anti-Nazi? Not quite, for this was only a family quarrel over minor points, which didn’t prevent Evola from working for the SS research department as an expert on Freemasonry until the end of the Nazi era.
This way, all kinds of people and movements have seen their involvement with the regime minimized, or their conflict with it exaggerated, by their followers. Indeed, such sanitized accounts of Hauer’s involvement by younger admirers appear to have been one of Prof. Poewe’s reasons for this more forthright study of his deeply-held Nazi convictions. It would be a mistake to push a similarly sanitized account of the Churches’ involvement. The Nazis considered here were more anti-Christian than that the Christians were anti-Nazi.
To sum up: the Nazis were all for Christianity’s pioneering models of organization and applied mass psychology (praised many times by Hitler in Mein Kampf and in private conversations as collected by Henry Picker: Hitlers Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier, Seewald, Stuttgart 1977), for its hostility to the Jews, for its role in White colonial world-conquest, and for the constructive parts of its role in German nation-building (such as the Teutonic Knights’ Christian Crusade against the Baltic Pagans, leading to the creation of Prussia). But they were against its “sentimental” compassion, its doctrine of meekness, its race-blind universalism and its otherworldliness, just as they were against the alleged Hindu-Buddhist otherworldliness. Arguably, modern Christianity has a point in asserting that the latter elements (or at least charity and universalism) are the true core of Christianity, while the former are but historical accidents.
- The “New Right”
When it proves difficult to maintain a semantically consistent usage of an old term like “Pagan”, doing so with an entirely political neologism like “New Right” is simply hopeless. This “New Right” is not what is called such in the Anglosphere, where the term refers to the Thatcher-Reagan “revolution” of the 1980s and more recently to Neoconservatism. This is a Continental phenomenon, as we shall see more closely, but even with this restriction its definition is under dispute.
Poewe has the New Right start as early as 1936, when Hauer was discharged from the DGB chair and his friend Hans F. K. Guenther told him to forget about mass organizations and focus on the ideological struggle instead: “This is the insight that informs the strategy of the New Right today.” (p.172) This way, in the very last pages she seems to be making a bid for “relevance” of her historical study: Hauer is not dead, he is still at work through the New Right…
The more usual story is that the New Right started in Paris in May 1968. Rightist French students reacted to the wave of leftist agitation. They didn’t know anything about Hauer or Hunke, whose work they were to discover in the 1970s. They simply saw the triumphal march of the Left and decided that the decrepit Right needed a fundamental overhaul. I must confess I don’t know anything about the German wing of this movement, which may indeed have incorporated more personal continuities with the Nazi or para-Nazi intelligentsia; but I am quite well-informed about its French core (and its Belgian dependencies), which was a genuinely new phenomenon. The term “New Right” is in any case a mere translation of a French original, Nouvelle Droite, which refers to a specific movement, the GRECE (Groupement de Recherche et d’Etude pour la Civilisation Européenne, “Research and Study Group for European Civilization”) and ultimately to the circle of people associated at one time or other with a single man: its founder Alain de Benoist.
In a gradual process of “deepening” its analysis, the Nouvelle Droite distinguished itself from the past-oriented Old Right (WW2, the Algerian war) with fresh ideas that justified the qualification “New”. Its central theme is “identity”: a liberal theme when cultivated by African-Americans, by Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, or by immigrant minorities in Europe, yet a “far-rightist” one when discussed by native Europeans (this paradox might once more illustrate Poewe’s thesis of liberalism’s closeness to its apparent enemies). It champions the right to “difference” and “diversity” (another liberal buzzword): against the uniformity of modern society, all existing communities, whether ancient or newly conceived, should have a right to express and preserve their distinctive identities.
It is easy to see how this can become a racist position. In anti-immigrant demonstrations these days, you often see the slogan: “For a heterogeneous world of homogeneous peoples.” While pledging respect to other peoples and their identities, it also claims the right to exclude these others from a nation’s own territory. Yet, it must be noted that this respect for others is, by and large, sincere. Unlike in the colonial period, when Europeans including the Nazis took it for granted that they had a right to interfere in other peoples’ affairs and rule their countries as colonies, contemporary racists would by now be happy enough to be left alone in their own territory and leave other peoples to rule themselves. When they say they want the same rights for other races as for their own, including self-rule and self-preservation within their own borders, they usually mean it.
White “Supremacism”, though a common term, is actually an extremely rare phenomenon now; decolonization has changed the world as well as the minds. A typical expression of this evolution was Alain de Benoist’s idea of “Europe, Tiers Monde, même combat”, “Europe, Third World: same struggle”, viz. against the homogenizing anti-Identitarian impact of the then Soviet-cum-American hegemony. Some professional anti-fascists prefer to live in an eternal 1945 and pretend that today’s anti-immigrant activists are “Nazis”, but some of the defining elements of Nazi doctrine are simply not viable anymore and are at most only dreamed of by marginal cranks whom we can safely ignore.
The stigma attached to Hitler, if not that of history’s biggest war criminal then at least that of history’s biggest loser, ensures that his popularity cannot be revived except among sick people. Look at neo-Nazi websites and you’ll be treated to an ugly spectacle of internecine fighting at the most vulgar and self-destructive level, with allegations flying of sexual and financial misconduct and “revelations” of the opponent’s mother being Jewish. The real neo-Nazi scene is full of sexual misfits incapable of raising a family, dirty minds incapable of intellectual or organizational discipline. They may well beat up a foreigner once in a while, and fortunately there are laws to contain and punish that sort of crime, but in terms of political power and serious perspectives they are insignificant, in spite of all the police time devoted to them (after the airplane attacks of 9 September 2001, police inspectors in Hamburg complained that they had suspicions against Mohammed Atta but were not allowed to investigate because watching the neo-Nazi scene was a higher priority). The anti-immigrant parties now flourishing in Europe typically screen their militants to weed out actual neo-Nazis because the electorate won’t vote for madmen.
- The “New Right”: how right?
Is there then no connection between the New Right and the Nazi past? I wouldn’t go that far in exonerating it. One thing I’ve noticed is a tendency to keep Nazi connections of respected sources of inspiration out of view. Thus, about Armin Mohler, a scholar frequently cited in Nouvelle Droite publications, it is only now from Poewe’s book that I learn how he described himself as “a fascist in the style of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish Phalanx in the 1930s, whose purpose was to defend a Spanish way of life against capitalism, socialism and liberalism”. (p.158) They had never introduced him as “the fascist historian Armin Mohler”. Likewise, I had to learn about Sigrid Hunke’s Nazi past from a leftist source because New Right articles on her tend to be vague about that part of her career.
Admittedly, it is not strictly forbidden to mention someone’s later work without going into her earlier activities. But let’s face it, a Nazi phase, in Hunke’s case when she was not a teenage camp-follower anymore, is just too important to leave unmentioned. To be sure, real Nazis would not hide the Nazi connection of their heroes but would glorify it; all the same, hiding it remains insincere and indicates a troubled conscience. Apart from insincere, it is also stupid: you merely mislead your own readership whereas the opposite camp can’t be fooled because it has other sources of information. (Not that I was ever in danger of being seduced by Hunke’s thought: her pro-Islamic position and her rather flaky vision of an underground religion with many crypto-Christian faces made me sceptical from the beginning.)
The broader policy of the New Right vis-à-vis the memory of World War 2, however, is rather to emphasize explicitly the complexity of the lines drawn during that conflict, e.g. to highlight the presence of rightists in the resistance movement or that of leftists on the collaborating side. By and large, the data mustered are correct, and to that extent it is a welcome corrective to the ongoing descent of World War 2 memory culture into a replacement of historiography with simplistic morality tales in black and white.
But then there is the company that people keep. At Nouvelle Droite conferences, you won’t meet any declared Nazis, but you do see some groups or individuals who are seriously tainted, e.g. the French society devoted to the memory of the collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach. Among their heroes, you find tainted authors like the unreadable philosopher Martin Heidegger, dues-paying member of the Nazi Party until 1945. Here again, history is a bit less black-and-white than our contemporary judgment has become: before Brasillach was executed for his collaboration with the Germans, there had been untainted patriotic authors as well as leftists among the signatories to a petition for clemency; and Heidegger was acknowledged as a major source of inspiration by the French leftist philosophical movement of Existentialism. But at least it seems that the Nouvelle Droite doesn’t mind being seen in the company of tainted people.
Then again, if the company people keep is to decide whether they are politically respectable, then the Nouvelle Droite stands exonerated. The lengthy attention in articles, and subsequently the invitation to contribute, which Alain de Benoist received from the American liberal periodical Telos, would not have been possible if the top-class intellectuals on the Telos editorial board had smelled a Nazi there. The membership list of the patronage committee of the periodical Nouvelle Ecole includes many top-ranking intellectuals including a virtual who’s who of Indo-European studies. Many of the professors in this field clearly don’t see the New Right as a continuation of the worst possible misuse of their field of scholarship, viz. the Nazi distortion of the “Aryan” heritage. Its other periodicals (most markedly Krisis), also in Belgium and Italy, regularly carry contributions by mainstream intellectuals, and its conferences likewise attract mainstream professors and journalists. This is often a question of personal acquaintance: in spite of shrill far-leftist warnings against the sulphuric danger of the Nouvelle Droite, those mainstream people know from personal experience that the people who invite them are not Nazis. Given the widespread fear among public personalities for attacks on their good name by vigilant leftists, we can surmise that even more mainstream people would be willing to be seen in this company if only they would dare to.
My own reasons for rejecting the Nouvelle Droite after initial sympathy in the early 1990s were mainly the following: (1) a specific instance of papering over the nasty collaborationist aspects of the careers of two Belgian writers in Nouvelle Droite articles about them, exposed in a reader’s letter; not being very knowledgeable about that part of our history, I felt cheated; (2) the lack of scholarly seriousness among its second-rank writers and their palpable subjection of method to eagerly held beliefs, esp. on topics like Pagan and Indo-European history; (3) my suspicions against the rather pompous use of obsolete terminology (e.g. why describe a hoped-for confederal democratic unity for Europe as an “Empire”, after the model of the Holy Roman Empire, when “confederacy” would do the semantic job less ambiguously?) as arguably an implicit admission of nostalgia for pre-modern social relations; (4) my nagging suspicion that its critique of egalitarianism in the name of “differentialism” could at heart simply be a plea against equality in favour of inequality, Old-Right style; (5) its sympathy for Islam, one element which it does indeed have in common with Hitler and Himmler and the authors discussed by Poewe, and strange for alleged neo-Pagans given that Mohammed’s career consisted in the extermination of Paganism from Arabia; (6) its lack of a credible philosophical or religious backbone, compensated for with restless explorations of Pagan mythologies and frivolous exercises in aimless erudition or contrarious rhetoric (the annual conference in Paris is called Journée de la Pensée Rebelle, “day of rebellious thought”, a sign of prolonged adolescence), which struck me by its contrast with the solid philosophical and religious grounding of modern Hindu thinkers whom I had read, such as Sri Aurobindo, or whom I knew in person, particularly Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel; and finally (7) my scepsis vis-à-vis its central theme of “identity”.
To my feeling, identities are just there and will take care of themselves, so that political action can better be theorized in terms of other concerns, such as the people’s prosperity and well-being. At the bottom level, people are all the same in that they have the same material needs; at the top level, people are again all the same, being eternal souls or as, Hindus would say, drops in the same ocean of the Self. Which is a more important concern than the contingent and changeable but inevitable differences that make up our distinct identities. As I once heard Dr. Pukh Raj Sharma says: “The realized person realizes that he is the same as everyone else.”
Wisely or unwisely, I have not taken my scepticism to be a reason for any active hostility to the Nouvelle Droite people, some of whom I count as friends. This is a Christian trait: Jesus spent time with sinners, and I have always been an opponent of boycotting people. Time permitting, I accept invitations from that side, so that I spoke at their conference in Antwerp in 2000, if only as a stand-in for an announced speaker who had cancelled at the last minute for health reasons (Pim Fortuyn, no less, the Dutch liberal sociology professor who criticized Islam, subsequently went into politics, and ended up murdered by a leftist). In the Nouvelle Ecole issue of the same year, I had a little joust with Prof. Jean Haudry about the Aryan invasion theory, a thesis defended in the past by colonialists and Nazis, and now by European rightists and Indian leftists. As a privileged witness, I would consider it a reassuring fact that the Nouvelle Droite clearly doesn’t mind giving a hearing to people it disagrees with. That in itself is a commendable counterpoint to the prevalent leaden atmosphere of la pensée unique, i.e. of the single imposed opinion.
- The New Right: How Important?
While I cannot agree with Prof. Poewe’s explicit claim that the New Right is a continuation of the Nazi movement, I must reject her implicit thesis even more forcefully: viz. that the New Right is an important phenomenon. It was never more than a small group without any impact. And it has even been getting smaller and smaller for quite some time now.
From the 1980s onwards, prominent ideologues started leaving the GRECE because of its intellectualistic focus estranged from political activism, and especially because of its leftward drift towards multiculturalism. Indeed, identity discourse logically led to an acceptance of the separate identities of all communities in France, not just the autochthonous Bretons and Basques, but the immigrant Arabs and Berbers as well. Moreover, Alain de Benoist discarded the idea of ever removing the immigrant communities from France as a delusion. For most rightists, the immigrant question had by then become the central political issue: all the clever distinctions and comparative references elaborated by the brainy de Benoist paled into insignificance next to this urgent problem.
If “Nouvelle Droite” is used in a broad sense as including all those who once belonged to GRECE, then its current point of gravity is divided in two overlapping yet distinct tendencies, (1) around Guillaume Faye, simply anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic, neutral on the Middle East conflict but tactically pro-Israel, and anti-American only in so far as the US is perceived as pro-Muslim (cf. the pro-Muslim interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo), neutral on religion as being a matter on which we can have our convivial quarrels only after we have undone the “colonization” of Europe by Muslim immigrants; and (2) around Pierre Vial with his movement Terre et Peuple (“Earth and People”), explicitly neo-Pagan as well as racialist, not anti-Islamic yet anti-immigration and hence in practice anti-Muslim, and solidly anti-American.
Vial once transferred from GRECE to the political party Front National, but later followed Bruno Mégret when the party split, leaving Jean-Marie Le Pen with his core support base of old-style nationalists and rightist Catholics. When this split occurred, it was predictable that people tinged with Nouvelle Droite influence would quit Le Pen, a plump incarnation of the Old Right. Now, under pressure from the young militants who find all these internal quarrels an unforgivable waste of energy in the face of the fast-increasing immigrant presence, the differences between the various rightist factions are being patched up. Religious differences have always been tactically disregarded within contemporary rightist parties, which in Belgium, France and Northern Italy typically include traditionalist Catholics along with religious post-Christians (a more appropriate descriptive term than “neo-Pagans”) and a majority of secularized agnostics.
At any rate, the old GRECE stands outside these political developments. Shrinking in membership and resources, this year it didn’t even have the means to organize its annual conference. Today, Alain de Benoist is the leader, not of some political campaign or intrigue, but of an intellectual forum (I wouldn’t even call it a movement anymore) counting few noteworthy members except himself. He is simply a capable editor of a few periodicals, in which he ably reports and comments on current societal trends and ongoing debates in history, philosophy and religion. The others have shed most of the elements that made the New Right “new”; they have either quit the scene for a better career elsewhere or have joined the Old Right. In Belgium, on the Flemish side, the Nouvelle Droite organization has been reabsorbed into the right wing of the Flemish movement, placing itself in the mainstream conservative tradition of Edmund Burke. On the Walloon side, leading GRECE apostate Robert Steuckers has become another well-informed commentator without political influence. He is better known in Russia than in his homeland, but there again, his Russian contacts sound like the old school of narrow nationalism, “New-Rightist” only in their affectation of a bit of intellectual jargon.
So, as a distinct intellectual movement, the Nouvelle Droite is practically a thing of the past. Even the term is up for grabs: a new Dutch anti-immigrant party calls itself Nieuw Rechts, “New Right”, but has nothing to do with GRECE thought, being e.g. very pro-American. When we survey the movement’s history and its impact on politics, we must unambiguously evaluate it as a failure. When I see meticulous scholars like Prof. Poewe describe it as some kind of threat, it makes me wonder. As I have witnessed it, the New Right was only a mouse that roared.
The early Nouvelle Droite used to toy with the notion of “Gramscism of the Right”, after the Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci who taught the importance of capturing the cultural sphere in preparation of seizing political power. This notion has only been taken seriously by the leftists, who know the power of the Gramscian approach from their own experience. With their “long march through the institutions”, the leftists of May 1968 have indeed captured the cultural power and used it to change the polity beyond recognition. Their hold on the institutions is firm and secure, with absolutely no chance for any known rightist to pass the entrance screening, like a discreet but highly effective McCarthyism. By logical contrast, the Right has only lost ground in all ideologically consequential sectors of society, and this continuously throughout the decades when a few Paris intellectuals were playing at “Gramscism of the Right”.
The only “rightist-Gramscian” success I can think of is when Alain de Benoist and a few companions briefly held jobs at the centre-rightist newspaper Le Figaro, ca. 1980, but that is long ago now. Today, de Benoist may be one of the most erudite and eloquent French intellectuals, but you will never see him on any of France’s numerous TV debating shows. His only recent appearance in the general media was a guest column in the liberal weekly Marianne during the presidential election campaign of 2002, when he advised the voters not to vote for either of the “rightist” candidates, Le Pen and president Jacques Chirac. See, only when he says something anti-rightist is he allowed to get a hearing. Incidentally, the final round of the election was between precisely those two candidates, an extra illustration of his irrelevance.
The only rightward move in Europe’s public sphere in the last twenty years has taken place within the hegemonic Left, viz. leftists abandoning their commitment to socialist economics under pressure from economic realities and the implosion of the Soviet Union, and now also leftist politicians cherry-picking a few proposals originally made by anti-immigrant rightist-populists under pressure from mounting ethnic tensions in working-class neighbourhoods. But in all these developments, the Left remains firmly in control of the public sphere and decides for itself where and when it may make some rightist-looking gestures.
It is a different matter that on the ground, a certain Right in several degrees of extremeness is making gains, as the British National Party has done in the recent municipal elections. But there’s little ideologically “New” about that Right, and its gains are not the result of some “rightist-Gramscian” strategy, but of the escalating polarization in our society. Parties without ideology except the most basic anti-immigrant instincts now make gains simply because tensions are growing. There may be a threat from the Right, but it is not the so-called New Right.
- The New Right: What Religion?
This is how Prof. Poewe summarizes the religious worldview of the New Right: “European neo-paganism sees itself as the restorer of all that it claims Christianity removed from European life and thought, that is, human godliness, the seamless unity of religion and science, and the harmony of human beings with the environment.” (p.173) Well, at first sight, who could argue with that? Yes, Christianity did create a conflict between science and religion that had not existed in the Greco-Roman world. And yes, Christianity reduced man to his property of being fallible and a sinner, denying any godliness (howsoever this may be defined) to him, and making the struggle against sin the central theme of existence.
The allegation that Christianity broke “the harmony of human beings with the environment” is a different matter. Long before Christianity, human societies have destroyed forests, engineered soil erosion and exterminated species. Australia was a bit greener and much richer in large mammal species when the Aboriginals with their Dreamtime religion appeared on the scene to make it their own. The West-Europeans were Christian when they exterminated wolves and bears in their part of the world, but there is no indication that they would have refrained from doing so if they had remained Pagan: it was Pagan Europeans who already had exterminated the lions from their continent. The ancient Pagans were not against industry: Thor’s lightning was represented by a hammer, both a product and an instrument of technology. So this use of environmentalism in religious apologetics is but an instance of how neo-Pagans, exactly like Christians, try to appropriate politically or otherwise fashionable ideas.
According to Poewe, the neo-Paganism of Mathilde Ludendorff and Sigrid Hunke, which she claims is continued by the New Right, “rejects Christianity for its imperialism, its radical judgments, its totalitarianism, its privileging of the sense of incurred injury, its linear history, its denigration of woman and humanity, and its source in the culture of the Hurriter (Jews).” (p.172) What a mess that is.
Some of the objections are valid, but wrongly taken to be typical of Christianity: denigration of women is pretty universal, vide e.g. ancient Greek society, which was Pagan enough but treated women as a household commodity. The appropriation of feminism is another typical case of “political correctness” in neo-Pagan self-advertisement.
Some are obnoxiously bad history, such as the equation of Jews with Hurrians, a polytheistic nation of unaffiliated linguistic identity (non-Semitic, non-Indo-European) in upper Mesopotamia, mid-2nd millennium BC. Incidentally, they gained their place in Indo-European studies by employing an Indo-Aryan clan of horse-trainers who left their tell-tale Indo-Aryan terminology in a much-cited equitation manual. This scholarly sloppiness spurning the findings of contemporary research is common in the outer orbit of the New Right, and sometimes even taints the work of the core ideologues, e.g. the talk of Indo-European culture often harks back to the state of Indo-European studies not just before World War 2 but even before World War 1.
Some objections to Christianity are valid but odd when coming from people supposedly in the Nazi orbit, such as “imperialism”. Didn’t the Nazis aspire to building a new empire? And it would be an odd Nazi who objects to “totalitarianism”, wouldn’t it? Yet, it’s not so odd anymore when coming from post-Nazi New-Rightists who had interiorized the accomplished facts of decolonization and democratization, but that’s where Poewe’s claim of continuity from Nazis to New Right breaks down.
In the 1930s, very many people right and left doubted the virtues of democracy and cited the successes of Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union as proof that the authoritarian system was superior. After the latter’s defeats in 1943-45 and 1989-91, few people would maintain that same position. In this respect, talk of “reviving Nazism” belongs more to nostalgic-leftist rhetoric than to serious social science, for one of the defining elements of Nazi doctrine, viz. the Leader principle, is quite dead. (This is not to deny that democracy is threatened today, yet the main threat does not come from the rightist opposition but from the establishment, e.g. the growth of transnational institutions not subject to serious democratic controls, such as the European Union; or security-oriented legislation neutralizing civic freedoms, such as the USA’s post-9/11 Patriot Act; or the proliferation of Orwellian laws punishing “opinion crimes”.)
And now for a really serious allegation. Anti-Semitism in Europe “cannot disappear so long as the New Right and its pagan base choose, in rehabilitated form, to play off against one another two irreconcilable worldviews, namely, Western representative democracy rooted in Christianity against European national democracy rooted in paganism. According to Hunke, the latter would not be a Hitler state. It would, however, be a Europe that acknowledged its roots in the notion of Reich.” (p.174)
Note again the exaggerated importance attributed to the New Right: this marginal tendency is not going to decide the future of anti-Semitism or of anything else. Moreover, if there is one point on which the GRECE has radically broken with the past of a certain Right, it is definitely anti-Semitism. I can of course not claim to have read its whole output, but then it is up to the accusers to do so and dig up the evidence for their allegations. What I do know, at any rate, is that de Benoist and company are frequently lambasted by genuine anti-Jewish authors for “ignoring the Jewish problem”.
Thus, holocaust revisionist Prof. Robert Faurisson wrote on his website in April 2004: “On y trouve tout un tas d’articles fort instructifs, mais on remarque aussi une chose, en parcourant ces centaines de titres: la Nouvelle Droite a ignoré entièrement le révisionnisme, et ne dit jamais un mot qui pourrait fâcher les juifs. On fait le totor, on paganise, on heideggerise, on démondialise, on celtise, on synergise, on suroccidentalise, mais quand il s’agit des juifs et des crimes du sionisme, c’est le point aveugle grand comme la place de la Concorde, il n’y a plus personne. Ils ont tous la tête dans le sable.» (On the New Right websites, “one finds many interesting articles, but one also notices one thing while browsing through these hundreds of writings: the New Right totally ignores revisionism and never says a word that could anger the Jews… When it comes to the Jews and the crimes of Zionism, there’s a giant blind spot, no one shows up. They all have their heads in the sand.”)
As for the notion of “Reich”, I don’t know what Sigrid Hunke wrote about it, but I surmise from Poewe’s citation that her view of it evolved away from the Nazi view. Leftists find it hard to conceive of the possibility of change in people, stagnant as they themselves are in their own triumphalist confidence of being on the right side of History. But people on the defeated side were forced to rethink their commitments, and some of them actually changed their views, e.g. from belief in the uptight Nazi uniformity towards a more relaxed and tolerant view of political organization
The Nouvelle Droite view of “empire”, at any rate, is almost the opposite of the Nazi view. Whereas the so-called Third Reich (1933-45), and to a lesser extent already the Second Reich (1870-1918), had been a homogenizing national state, the original Reich, the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), and its partial successor state, the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire (1806-1918), had been pluralistic and decentralized constructions. As Belgian Nouvelle Droite ideologue Robert Steuckers likes to remind us, the Austrian emperors in the 18th century were very popular among their Belgian subjects because they respected local autonomies and largely left the Belgians to rule themselves all while being sufficiently powerful to guarantee them military safety against French expansionism. During the Vienna Conference reorganizing Europe in 1814-15, a Belgian delegation came pleading for the re-inclusion of their country into the Habsburg Empire. If that is what is meant by “Reich”, I wouldn’t worry too much about it; but the Nouvelle Droite‘s choice of terminology remains ambiguous and therefore unfortunate.
As for Poewe’s notion of “Western representative democracy rooted in Christianity”, I fear that this betrays a certain bias. Western representative democracy may have many roots, but Christianity is not among them. When the Christian religion seized power in the Roman empire, it took on an imperial form of organization and started suppressing what much of internal democracy had so far existed within its own communities. European kings who converted to Christianity (Clovis of Belgium and France, Olaf II of Norway, Vladimir of Kiev Russia) and imposed their new religion on the people, typically also strengthened their central authority at the expense of local autonomies and the rights of nobles and cities, or promoted their dynastic power over the older practice of elective kingship. Until well after 1945, the Catholic Church opposed democracy in principle and associated it with the godless French Revolution. At most, one might say that the Christian notion of the human person as a unique creature made in God’s image has indirectly contributed to the notion of the Rights of Man, a notion abhorred by the Church when deist and atheist revolutionaries proclaimed it.
Christianity has a long record of appropriating others’ merits. In the colonial period, missionaries fooled the natives of non-Christian countries into believing that Europe’s technological progress was the fruit of Christianity. In fact, the four inventions that changed Europe in the Renaissance and propelled it as a naval power, were paper, printing, the compass and gunpowder; all four invented by the Pagan Chinese. Every educated Christian knew that the birth of modern scholarship and science was due to the rediscovery of pre-Christian Greece and Rome. Heliocentrism was introduced against the opposition of the Church. Yet, when the Jesuits in China impressed the Chinese with the simplicity and accuracy of heliocentric calculations (in fact they used Tycho Brahe’s hybrid system, with the sun revolving around the earth and the other planets around the sun, thus keeping the earth in the middle yet simplifying the kinetic relations between the sun and the planets), they falsely presented these as a proof of the superiority of the Christian religion. And today, we find that even democracy is claimed as a contribution of Christianity.
- Hitler and Krishna
Karla Poewe’s thesis brings to mind another recent effort to give a specific religious dimension to the Nazi regime. In that book too, the case made ought to provoke the questions: “Were the people presented as propagating this religion (in case two religions) really of any importance to Nazi thought and Nazi power?” And: “If they believed in a connection between National-Socialism and the religions concerned, were they right or wrong in holding this belief?” If the answer to this last question is yes, it implies a terrible indictment against those religions. And this much is effectively assumed by anti-cult activists who use the book as a warning against “cults” belonging to these religions.
In 2002, the former Maoist author and publisher Herbert Röttgen and his wife Mariana, a violinist and art historian, using the double pseudonym Victor & Victoria Trimondi, came out with a book titled Hitler, Buddha, Krishna. They have started a very professional website (www.trimondi.de) collecting all the related previous and subsequent papers, the reviews and translations, the feedback and correspondence about their provocative thesis.
I first heard of the book on a now-defunct Hindu internet forum which carried an article from the press agency Hindu Press International, itself based on a despatch of the Deutsche Presse-Agentur: “Book Tries to Link Hitler with Buddhism and Hinduism. Hamburg, Germany, 19 September, 2002: Adolf Hitler was fascinated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and many of his henchmen viewed him as a Krishna-like divine warrior who would cleanse the Earth of ‘vermin’ in a baptism of fire, according to a headline-making new book.” The Trimondi couple are further reported to draw attention “with a number of books exploring what they call the ‘violence- prone’ side of Buddhism and Hinduism. It was this side of those Eastern philosophies — the image of the vengeful demigod annihilating enemies without mercy to create a new earthly order — which fascinated Hitler as a young man and which continues to fascinate impressionable young neo-Nazis, say the authors.”
A quick web search in neo-Nazi sites reveals no particular interest in Krishna or the Buddha. But there must be many such websites, including a few maintained by agents provocateurs (a recent court case before Germany’s Supreme Court in Karlsruhe fell apart when the neo-Nazis who had engineered violent incidents turned out to be infiltrators of the secret service), so I suppose anything can be found in at least a few of them, upon request if need be. Still, there are many newspaper reports and TV documentaries about neo-Nazis and I have never seen any references to Krishna or the Buddha in them. But never mind the neo-Nazis, what about the Nazis themselves?
An office-bearer of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP) commented on the first news of this alleged Hindu-Buddhist link with the Nazis: “In fact, there is little new in the book by Herbert and Mariana Roettgen, who write under the pseudonym Victor and Victoria Trimondi. Beyond linking the Swastika with Hindu symbolism, the authors fail to prove that Hitler himself actually had more than a brief flirtation with Eastern philosophy in pre-World War I Vienna.”
I might add that even the Swastika is very weak as proof of a Nazi connection with Hinduism and Buddhism. To the Nazis, the Swastika was not an exotic import product from India or Tibet but an age-old heritage of the Aryans, i.e. of their own ancestors. Some wayward Aryans had taken it to the Orient, where Hindus and Buddhists were to embrace this exotic occidental import product, but it was and remained first of all an Aryan symbol, at home in their European homeland. In Mein Kampf and in conversations, Hitler had clearly expressed his contempt for Hindus and Buddhists, so it is unlikely that he would have adopted the Swastika as national flag if he had considered it as a Hindu-Buddhist symbol.
But playing devil’s advocate, I proposed to the Hindus on the web forum that we all do a bit of mental effort and try to imagine how someone in the Nazi era with a little knowledge (a dangerous thing!) about Hindu-Buddhist teachings, or conversely an Asian with only a little knowledge of Hitler, could have seen him as a Hindu or Buddhist sage. According to his international reputation, the Swastika-wielding Hitler was a vegetarian, teetotaller and celibate. It was even said that unlike most conquerors, he punished rape committed by his soldiers on subject populations. He lived soberly and shunned the fruits of plunder, unlike some of his generals who collected stolen art. He extolled truth to the given word (“my honour is loyalty”) and was a self-proclaimed crusader for truth against the Big Lie. You could say that he also crusaded against theft, viz. the theft of German lands by the Versailles powers in violation of their given word, having first assured compliance with Woodrow Wilson’s principle of popular self-determination (which would have allowed German-speaking populations to get Austria, Sudetenland and parts of Poland allotted to Germany) and then going back on their promise.
As for World War 2, didn’t people back then agree that he was forced into it against his will when Britain and France declared war on him for his little incursion into Poland? Look at Communist writings from 1940: they present the “bourgeois” states as the war-mongers who have forced war upon Soviet ally Nazi Germany. The Allies also encouraged armed resistance by civilians, in contravention of prevailing war conventions, and this included acts of sabotage and murder, or what we now call “terrorism”. So, a case could very well be made, with the information then selectively available, that Germany was up against the forces of Adharma (unrighteousness, disorder). And even then, Hitler did not abandon the rules of Dharma Yuddha (righteous warfare) altogether, e.g. he never resorted to the use of poison gas in battle.
So, if you permit the wry irony, Hitler was arguably a votary of Indian systems of morality such as the Pancha Shila, the basic five rules of the Buddha: non-violence, non-stealing, truthfulness, chastity and non-intoxication. This much for the irony, but was that the real Hitler? It is not because a few exalted spirits in 1940 have believed certain things, that we now should take their beliefs at face value. They may have been mistaken.
The VHP spokesman also argued that this kind of allegation was yet another arrow in the plentiful quiver of the Christian missionaries. I responded that the Trimondis don’t seem to be Christians at all, that this kind of rhetoric is not confined to Christian propagandists and that it was certainly not invented by them. Associating people with Nazism is such a tremendous shortcut to publicity and blackmail power that the Left has been at it for decades. Casting the net of “Nazism” ever wider, blackening ever new groups of people, provides such a windfall of moral superiority that it forms a permanent temptation to worthless people eager to become somebody overnight. Conversely, some of their dupes see Hitler references wherever they look. Think for example of the idiot who told the French swimming team at the Olympic Games of 1996 to walk to the pool in SS goosestep as an “anti-Nazi gesture of memory”; the girls were only saved this ignominy at the last moment by Jewish protests. Given this craze for seeing ever more Hitler references, everyone should now expect to get his turn to be exposed as the “secret accomplice” or “ultimate inspiration” of Hitler, so it was about time that Krishna and the Buddha got their share of the blame for the Nazi crimes.
The VHP man cited a headline from the German paper Bild, “Hitler was a Buddhist”, and wondered: “To what depths of malignancy can people stoop?” Well, not so quick, let us first give them a fair hearing. Maybe they didn’t mean to be malignant, maybe they issued a timely warning against religious figures whose teachings had to lead to tyranny and mass murder? Is it not kind of them to protect us against such a terrible outcome?
Let us start with Krishna, believed by his devotees to be the incarnation of the solar deity Vishnu. Apparently, some intellectuals close to Nazi leaders like Himmler taught their sponsors what the latter would be pleased to hear, viz. that Hitler was a divine incarnation, similar to Krishna in role and radiance. Assuming that the Trimondi citations to this effect are correct (their job is less thorough than Poewe’s), my first question would be: was this only the pastime of a handful of people, or did it influence top Nazi decisions such as, say, the invasion of Poland?
There are neither Jews nor anti-Semitism in the Bhagavad Gita, so that’s not what any Nazi could have gotten out of it. But what about a doctrine of war? No indication is given that Hitler and his generals, more down-to-earth men than Himmler, ever cited any except purely secular reasons for annexing Austria, Sudetenland and Bohemia-Moravia and then invading Poland. The Gita does not figure there. I guess we are expected to believe that hearing of the Gita somehow turned their minds sufficiently to condition them subconsciously into pursuing war-mongering policies.
Moreover, I would venture the second question: even if any Gita-wielder in the Nazi orbit had recommended these steps towards war on the basis of the Gita, would he have been right in proposing such a conclusion from reading the Gita? Here the answer is definitely negative. Correctly interpreting the Gita requires a certain amount of background knowledge, which was clearly lacking in these Nazi amateurs. True, Krishna tells Arjuna that it is his duty to fight the war against his cousins. But this is not a glorification of war for war’s sake, as sometimes imputed to the Nazi mind, nor a war justified by an amoral principle of “might is right”, as definitely accepted in the Nazi worldview. Instead it is a war necessitated by the existence of a conflict of claims and by the failure of all Krishna’s attempts to solve the conflict peacefully. Indeed, it is the enemy side that lives by the “might is right” principle, and Krishna condemns this as utterly evil. Hitler and Krishna were on opposing sides of the battlefield.
The Mahabharata, which provides the context for the Gita, clearly lays down that “non-violence is the highest duty” and describes how Krishna tries several non-violent solutions. Only when these fail due to the stubborn selfishness of the other party, and when the justice of his party’s cause is established and acknowledged even by elderly members of the opposite party, does Krishna gradually accept the second maxim, viz. that “violence is a duty against wilful evildoers”. That’s when he agrees at last to let the war begin.
I am not saying this because I perforce need to save the Gita from any negative comment. Personally, I have my doubts about the Gita too. My philosophy teacher Prof. Kedar Nath Mishra called it a “hodge-podge” juxtaposing all the Hindu philosophies chapter after chapter without a proper synthesis. I would add that a Krishna-worshipping editor managed to sneak a Krishna-deifying line into every one of those chapters, thus succeeding into his sectarian plan of subordinating all branches of Hinduism to his own favoured worship of Krishna. I don’t like such typical devotee’s behaviour, though I will grant that Krishna is presented as giving some valid teachings. At any rate, his conduct in the whole process leading up to the start of the war is neatly compatible with the European theory of Just War, and could even be read as the earliest attempt at formulating such a doctrine of the conditions for Just War.
The Trimondis pay a lot of attention to post-war cranks like Miguel Serrano who deified Hitler and dragged Vishnu into their fantasies by making Hitler an incarnation of Vishnu. Their beliefs obviously had no importance for the history of Nazism itself, but here again, the question must be answered: was their belief right? Or at least: did it make sense? Moreover, solar deities are supposed to spread light: is that what Hitler did?
I don’t believe in divine incarnations, but if I did, I would at least expect to find certain positive qualities in them. If God cares to come down to earth, He should at least come in glory. Jesus went through great humiliations and an apparent final defeat, but then he rose from his grave and defeated death. Krishna died at a high age in a silly hunting accident, after having seen his family destroy itself in internecine fighting, but at least he was on the winning side in the war he was most famously involved in. Hitler, by contrast, was a loser, both in his youth in a more ordinary sense, and at the end in a world-shaking cataclysm. He was in many ways a pitiable figure, whereas Krishna was relaxed, successful in war and with the ladies, no stranger to persecution yet at all times enjoying the comforts of his noble birth. Krishna also remained lucid till the end, while Hitler went increasingly crazy due to the strain of a losing war and perhaps the side-effects of all the medicine he took.
If we assume that the philosophy expounded in the Gita was really Krishna’s, we must admit that he was fluent in the higher reaches of human thought, while Hitler’s only book is of a far cruder quality. And again, Hitler’s defeat alone is reason enough to be sceptical of claims that he was a divine incarnation. Serrano and his ilk were wrong in recognizing Hitler as an incarnation of Vishnu, as most Hindus would agree, esp. with what is now known about the Nazi regime. Moreover, as a matter of good manners and respect for others’ cultural property, Serrano as a non-Hindu ought to have felt inhibited from making such pronouncements about a Hindu deity. But crackpots think the whole world is theirs to manipulate in their fevered fantasies.
Another crank author, to whom too much importance is given by the Trimondis, is Baron Julius Evola, a self-described “integral traditionalist” who had worked as an ideologue and researcher for Mussolini and for Himmler. Yes, it is true that he wrote about Tantric sexuality, but so what? First of all, he might as well have left those books unwritten, for it is unlikely that many readers of his writings on this abstruse subject have given any practical effect to the lessons learned. Moreover, like most of the dabblers in Orientalism on the Trimondi radar screen, he couldn’t possibly bring Oriental doctrines to Nazi or neo-Nazi circles simply because he never mastered those doctrines in the first place and distorted what much he understood in terms of his European ideological agenda. Thus, as his contemporary A.K. Coomaraswamy already pointed out, he was wrong in assuming that the Kshatriya caste was ritually higher than the Brahmin caste, but it is obvious where this mistake came from: he glorified the warrior spirit and happened to be a member of Europe’s own old warrior caste, the aristocracy.
But he was crazier than that, e.g. he derived a sacralization of sadism from his reading of Tantric literature, with the sacrifice of the female partner, at least “symbolically”. I surmise that he never gained much of a following with that, for if he had set in motion of whole movement of applied Tantric sadism, we surely would have heard about it. The importance of such information is not that it has ever made any difference, but only that it shows the utter crankiness of the kind of people described here. And this crankiness is what made them ineffective and hence unimportant. Far too much attention has been paid to freaky characters like Evola and Serrano.
As against these occultist approaches to Nazi history, I prefer hard-headed explanations, say Frantz Fanon’s thesis that Hitler merely did to fellow Europeans what Europe had been doing to other continents. Or the Marxist explanation that “Fascism” was but an emergency attempt by the bourgeoisie to control the crisis of capitalism. They may be right or they may be wrong, but at least they place the Nazi phenomenon squarely inside history.
- Hitler and the Buddha
The main attack of the Trimondis is directed against Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan variety. Maoists have eagerly used this book to embarrass the sympathizers of the Dalai Lama. In principle, I would agree that the corrective of an irreverent treatment of Buddhism is to be welcomed, given that Buddhism has been spared the waves of criticism to which Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have been subjected. However, this attack really goes too far.
Buddhism is usually praised, and sometimes denounced (e.g. by V.D. Savarkar in his analysis of India’s weakened defences after the reign of Buddhist emperor Ashoka), as a non-violent religion. The Buddha could have fought all the wars he wanted if he had remained a prince, but instead he chose to become a wandering ascetic. He remained passive even when his Shakya castemen were slaughtered as punishment for their caste hubris: a neighbouring dynasty had wanted a Shakya princess for their own prince, but the proud Shakyas had given them a substitute bride, viz. a maidservant; they paid later with their own annihilation when her princely son Virudhaka discovered the ruse and took his revenge.
Admittedly, on this occasion the Buddha did something else that deserves criticism, viz. he justified the event by explaining that the Shakyas had collectively committed a sin in a past life, and that this massacre was merely their deserved punishment (in which he himself as a born Shakya also partook by having a headache). This is an instance of the karma doctrine at its worst, and the one reason why many Westerners abhor it, viz. its passive acceptance of injustice and misfortune as the just outcome of our actions in past lives. All the same, the Buddha did not advocate or commit violence.
Yet, the Trimondis manage to present a very different face of Buddhism. Indeed, Buddhism had been the religion of the Samurai warrior class in Japan, Nazi Germany’s ally. German researchers Eugen Herrigel and Karlfried Graf von Dürckheim had favourably reported on Japanese Buddhism in their homeland. It could be argued that something of the Kshatriya (warrior caste) origin of the Buddha had somehow survived throughout Buddhist history, considering e.g. the development of martial arts in the Buddhist Shaolin monastery. Possibly, the Shramana-s or wandering ascetics whom the Buddha had joined upon leaving the world, had originated from the young men’s groups living separately in the margins of society, described by scholars as an ancient feature of Indo-European culture. From challenging one another to self-surpassing feats of martial prowess, via exercises in hardening themselves, on to pure asceticism: it looks like a logical development. However, this hypothetic genealogy of Buddhism doesn’t nullify the radical difference between the conquest of others, which is the goal of warriors, and the conquest of oneself, the goal of Buddhist ascetics.
The Trimondis’ crowning piece of evidence for Buddhism’s not-so-benevolent and Nazi-attracting nature is the element of violence and conquest in the text of the Kalachakra Tantra, a 10th-century text used in an initiation rite regularly conducted by the ever-smiling Dalai Lama. This seems to be the central revelation of the Trimondis: the Kalachakra preaches a war of conquest against the demons until everyone will accept the truth of Buddhism. When I first heard of this, I thought it would be some metaphor for the fight against the demonic tendencies in ourselves, famously depicted as demons in Tibetan paintings. But it