Previous Next

5. 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 Quran 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.

6. 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: eventhough 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, runemasters 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 and 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 neopagans, 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 it 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 premodern 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 say: "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.

Previous Next