About this Site - Sitemap



UTOPIE

----1400----

VORLÄUFER

----1890----

LEBENSREFORM

BOHEME

  • in München
----1918----

RÄTEREPUBLIK

  • in München

ARBEITERTHEATER 1880-1930s

WEIMARER REPUBLIK

  • braunes München
  • Berlin
  • Moskau - Paris - New York
----1955----

1960 - 1970 - 1980

----1989----

HEUTE



























edit this sidebar



Recent Changes Printable View Page History Upload File Edit Page

Weimar: Thunder from the right

 Walter Laqueur

- from "Weimar a cultural history 1918-1933" -


Chapter 3

Thunder from the Right

Both left and right-wing intellectuals in the Weimar Republic had, in theory, the choice between several parties, and both were, in the last resort, politically homeless. Just as the left-wing intelligentsia was anything but monolithic, so right-wing ideologists ranged from those advocating terrorist measures to moderates expressing vague discomfort at the way things were going in the Republic. There was reluctance to accept the new order even among moderates. Hans Delbrck, who accepted Weimar - much to the disgust of many of his colleagues -maintained that he could not participate in celebrating its anniversary, for 'the Republic was still too young to ask for respect'. What German professor would have refused to pay respect to the Reich in 1872 on the ground that it had come into existence only one year earlier ? At the other extreme there were the wild men of the right, a motley crowd: rabid anti-semites, nihilists, charlatans and true believers, arch-conservatives and 'Bolsheviks of the Right', paranoiacs and desperadoes, uprooted men who may have chosen politics rather than gangsterism because it seemed to offer greater rewards.

It is not easy to think of any common denominator that would cover the whole range of the right wing; certainly many of them were not 'conservatives' in the traditional sense, for what was there to conserve ? They were united in their opposition to the Republic and of course to 'Weimar culture', which they thought an abomination. All of them were in favour of a strong authoritarian state; but some thought that the Volk

Thunder from the Right / 79

would have to be regenerated and the race 'purified' first, while others preached aggressive nationalism without identifying its specific features. Most right-wing thinkers would have rejected the 'intellectual' label, for an intellectual, by definition, was a man of the left; the term had been used in France around the turn of the century by the right as a derogatory term to denote their left-wing enemies. Intellectualism was arid, negative, rationalist; an intellectual lacked intuition, faith, feeling, respect for all that is sacred. In Nazi parlance the term was invariably used as an expression of contempt or ridicule. But however much they resented the label, most right-wing ideologists were, of course, intellectuals of sorts, including Goebbels and Rosenberg.

If the right-wing critics of Weimar agreed on the symptoms of the disease, there was no unanimity about when it had started and whether it was at all curable. The majority believed that Germany's spiritual decline had not started in November 1918; they saw its origins in the last third of the past century. The tocsin had first been sounded several decades earlier against the growth of soulless materialism, the unfettered progress of capitalist culture, the ascendancy of Berlin - the un-German metropolis - the brutality, emptiness and Entseelung ('alienation' in current parlance) of the age. The works of Lagarde, Langbehn, Lienhardt and others less well known had been read by thousands, and the legacy of Kulturpessimismus was again invoked after 1918.

The emptiness of the Wilhelmian era had been as acutely felt by the young idealists of the right as by their contemporaries on the left, but they had reacted in a different way. Neither right nor left had advocated violent political action before 1914; to bring about this change a major earthquake was needed. The right, like the left, had reacted by advocating cultural remedies: a change in life-style, a return to old values, a more simple and natural life. Hence the call for a v lkische Kultur - as against cosmopolitan civilization. Kultur, as the right saw it, was rooted in the people, had a soul; whereas Zivilisation was soulless, external, artificial.

The pre-1914 seers had warned against the dangers of decay, but only a minority had listened to them. Germany was prosperous and outwardly at the height of its power. But the

8o / Thunder from the Right

parades, the pomp and circumstance had just been a varnish covering the putrefaction underneath, and after the defeat it became apparent just how pervasive the decay had been. Wherever a German patriot looked he found little to comfort him: the national values were openly undermined and turned into ridicule: pacifist novels abounded; the manly values were dragged into the dirt; on the stage, incest, pederasty or at the very least marital infidelity were glorified. Berlin had taken over from Paris as the world capital of lasciviousness and obscenity. Illustrated magazines featured naked dancers and international gangsters, frequently shown in company with each other; the cinema corrupted the young generation by glamourizing sadism and rape, with prostitutes and their protectors as the main heroes. It seemed as if only the criminal, the ugly, the blasphemous, was of any interest to modern art. The rest was low or at best middle-brow culture suitable for entertaining philistines. All over Germany the literati were in command, enemies of order, profiteers of chaos. Like tubercular bacilli they affected all weak cells in the body politic. Rootless themselves, they were bitterly attacking any manifestation of healthy patriotism. They had no shame or modesty, they were the apostles of sensationalism, forever in search of new trends and fashions, however worthless. Their stranglehold had to be broken to make a cultural recovery possible.

This, broadly speaking, was the Weimar cultural scene as seen by the right-wing intellectual. He most certainly overrated the number and the influence of his enemies: for every pacifist novel there were two that were militarist in inspiration; for every attack on the old order, there were several directed against the new state. But our patriot was in no mood to engage in quantitative analysis; so far as he was concerned it was an outrage that a Tucholsky or a George Grosz could find any outlet for his traitorous and blasphemous effusions. While arguing that he represented the great majority, the right-wing intellectual felt himself acutely isolated. The enemy, on the other hand, was omnipresent; he dominated the scene, his voice was the only one to be heard. A few weeks after Hitler had come to power Friedrich Hussong, one of the most implacable enemies of the left-wing intelligentsia, summarized this resentment in a book significantly entitled Kurfrstendamm:

Thunder from the Right / 81

A miracle has taken place. They are no longer here. . . . They claimed they were the German Geist, German culture, the German present and future. They represented Germany to the world, they spoke in its name. . . . Everything else was mistaken, inferior, regrettable kitsch, odious philistinism. . . . They always sat in the front row. They awarded knighthoods of the spirit and of Europeanism. What they did not permit did not exist. . . . They 'made' themselves and others. Whoever served them was sure to succeed. He appeared on their stages, wrote in their journals, was advertised all over the world; his commodity was recommended whether it was cheese or relativity, powder or Zeittheater, patent medicines or human rights, democracy or bolshevism, propaganda for abortion or against the legal system, rotten Negro music or dancing in the nude. In brief, there was never a more shameless dictatorship than that of the democratic intelligentsia and the Zivilisationsliteraten.

Underlying the denunciation of Weimar culture was the assumption that the process of cultural decay and moral disintegration was by no means accidental. It was concerted and centrally planned: a deliberate conspiracy by world Jewry to undermine everything that was still healthy in Germany so that the country could never again recover and rise to greatness. If, according to Alfred Rosenberg, Bolshevism was the revolt of the racially inferior elements against the old (Aryan) elites, Kulturbolschewismus was its equivalent in the cultural sphere. Against paranoia - one of the consequences of the defeat -rational arguments could make no headway. Nor would right-wing intellectuals be impressed by the idea that Germany in the 1920's was facing a crisis of modernity which was worldwide in character. They ignored the fact that the cinema, the loosening of family ties and sexual mores, were characteristic of other countries too, or that anti-militarism was as widespread in France and Britain as in Germany. The nationalist ideologues were in no mood for such comparisons; they compared Berlin not with London, Paris or New York but with what Germany had once been and with what, in their view, it should be again.

In their extreme form these views were admittedly confined

82 / Thunder from the Right

to the lunatic fringe, but in a somewhat less crude and sweeping fashion the dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs was shared by large sections of the middle classes. Thus Gustav Stresemann, not a wild man of the extreme right but a moderate par excellence, foreign minister and pillar of the establishment, bitterly complained in a speech to students in 1926 that the 'intellectual [geistige] gentry' had been proletarianized. They were no longer the foundation on which the state had been built. For centuries the family, with its closely-knit ties and its ambitions, had functioned as a germ cell; it had provided the recruits for the government, the officer corps and the clergy in Prussia and Germany. This class had been educated to serve but they were no longer needed. Was it a matter of surprise that they quarrelled with God and their fate ? That they refused to accept a moral order that made beggars of those who had done their duty, whereas men devoid of scruples rose to influence, power and wealth?

The new anti-militarism with its satirical poems and cartoons was anathema not only to the ex-officers but to much wider circles. It affected the many families which mourned fathers and husbands, brothers and sons. There were millions of them and it could easily be predicted how they would react to the cartoons of George Grosz and the poems of Tucholsky. For if the anti-militarists were right, all the sacrifices had been made on behalf of a worthless cause. But as the nationalists saw it, Germany had been encircled by a world of enemies who envied its progress and would not allow the Germans to gain that 'place in the sun' which was rightfully theirs by virtue of their efficiency and their cultural achievements. Having defeated Germany because its domestic front did not hold, its enemies had perpetuated in the Versailles treaty the lie of Germany's war guilt. The treaty was denounced for its inequities not only by the German right but by many liberals in the West and by the Bolsheviks, yet this did not make the German right any more friendly towards liberalism or communism.

There was more than enough ammunition even if one disregarded foreign affairs. As already mentioned, the right saw one of the main causes of the cultural and moral decay in the loosening of family ties. Right-wing attitudes towards women's emancipation had always been, at best, ambiguous. The

Thunder from the Right / 83

function of woman was to be wife and mother, and the emergence of a new social system in which many women went out to work (and even liked it) seemed unnatural. For this order created a new type of modern emancipated woman, with the film star, the sportswoman and the woman of the demi-monde as its idols. Before the war, one right-wing spokesman wrote, there had been real ladies but eheu fugaces. . .

The new elite was based neither on culture nor on a social ethos but on money and fashion. Before the war there had been a genuine society and true social life (Geselligkeit); after 1918 there was dancing, and the great chase after various, mostly dubious, kinds of entertainment. Germany's great cities had become provincial without however regaining the quiet, calm, small-town atmosphere of intimacy and friendliness.

According to the right-wing prophets of doom, monogamy was on the way out and trial marriage (or worse) was practised. Divorces more than doubled between 1913 and 1930 and adultery was openly extolled in countless films, novels and hit songs. All this was bound to have a terrible effect on the young generation. It was one of the constant complaints of the right that there was little if any idealism left among the young; boys and girls grew up in an all-pervasive climate of materialism and cynicism. They read thrillers and pornographic literature, and juvenile delinquency was increasing at an alarming rate. Partly this was the fault of the parents, partly of teachers, who had been infected by liberal and Marxist ideas, advocating an education without ideals, without discipline, without national aim and purpose.

The Kulturpessimisten were equally unhappy about the new financial and economic elite. In the nineteenth century the national economy had made spectacular progress because German inventors had perfected technology, because able artisans had slowly worked themselves up, often from the most modest beginnings, because workers had been diligent and efficient. 'Made in Germany' had been a synonym for excellence. But more recently the economy too had been depersonalized: family firms had been bought up by big anonymous concerns and trusts, the creative industrialist had been replaced by the financial speculator, the royal merchant by the black-marketeer. Everything now centred on profit and money. The

84 / Thunder from the Right

old work ethic had vanished, labour had become drudgery, it no longer gave satisfaction.

The right-wing intellectuals were ready to admit that to a certain extent these dismal developments had been inevitable; they were the outcome of industrialization and capitalism. Since they had no alternative to capitalism and had no idea how a modern society could be run without industry, their critique was necessarily vague. But, as the right saw it, the situation had been aggravated by Jewish speculators and manipulators who had streamed into Germany from the east; their activities were tolerated and sometimes abetted by the new state, leading members of which benefited from the spread of corruption. The cases of Sklarek, Barmat and Kutisker attracted much publicity, even though these men were small fry indeed in comparison with the great profiteers of the inflation such as Stinnes. But Stinnes was of Aryan birth, he was a German patriot, and he also happened to control many newspapers. In right-wing circles, to give another example, there was much indignation that the actor Max Pallenberg and his wife, the actress Fritzi Massary, had allegedly earned 400,000 marks (about 100,000 dollars) in a single month. Thyssen made more money and so did Kirdorf, but these captains of industry did not have the misfortune of being Jewish.

The man of the right suffered from a major moral-cultural hangover during the postwar period. Delbrck once published an entertaining essay entitled 'The Good Old Days' in which he conclusively showed that since time immemorial pessimists had always proclaimed that the age of the fathers and grandfathers had been in every respect vastly superior to their own, especially in its moral climate. In fact, this was by no means true, certainly in so far as these things could be measured. It was claimed, for instance, that the crime rate (and alcoholism) had shown an alarming increase since before the war, but the statistics simply did not bear this out. But the men of the right needed no statistics; they knew in their bones that something was radically wrong. They knew that forces were at work to destroy time-honoured beliefs and traditions. Modernism, as they saw it, was all-pervasive and yet difficult to define. It was the negation of the old Romantic world-view and of German idealism, it was the antithesis to all that had made Germany

Thunder from the Right / 85

great in the past, it was Brecht and Weill against Goethe and Beethoven, not to mention Hlderlin and Spitzweg. The new trend was in stark contrast to German Innerlichkeit, wholesome-ness, organic growth, rootedness. Modernism stood for the sickness of the soul, for the loss of equilibrium, for alienation and dehumanization. Seen in this context, both mammon (capitalism) and collectivism (mass culture plus communism) were manifestations of modernism. Many an educated German felt uncomfortable vis-a-vis these trends which, he suspected, were about to destroy his world; he wanted to combat the forces of evil and he was groping for alternatives.

The right maintained that as a first step German art and literature would have to be purged of their domination by alien influences. While often rejecting racialism in its cruder form, it argued that not all literature written in German was necessarily German literature. Whether the work of a Jewish writer was good or bad, interesting or boring, was immaterial in this context; more often than not it did not belong to German literature. The German public had to be re-educated to rediscover its own cultural heritage, to appreciate the work of the 'quiet ones' (the Stillen im Lande): those who, unaffected by fashionable trends, far from the hustle and bustle of Berlin literary coffee houses and artistic salons, pursued their vocation irrespective of awards, public recognition and financial success. What the Berlin cultural impresarios contemptuously dismissed as 'provincialism' was in actual fact rootedness, idealism, the aristocracy of the spirit. These were the men and women who were upholding cultural standards when culture was threatened by Kulturbolschewismus.

But what was Kulturbolschewismus ? The thinkers of the right had only the haziest ideas on the subject; most of them grotesquely misjudged Communist cultural policies, assuming in all earnest that Dada, Brecht's refrain Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral, or Walter Mehring's Merchant of Berlin represented the aesthetic theory and the moral philosophy of Marxism-Leninism. They failed to understand that the Communist attitude towards the boheme was at bottom not much different from their own; that Communist cultural policy in the Soviet Union, after a short experimental interlude, changed course, putting the emphasis on heroic, positive values; that so

86 / Thunder from the Right

far as their attitude to 'unhealthy modernism' was concerned, the right and the Stalinists were brothers beneath their skins. All this should have been clear by 1931-2 at the latest, but the right-wing intellectuals failed to see it; perhaps they did not want to take cognizance of it because it did not fit in with their concept of Kulturbolschewismus.

Among those groping for an alternative way of life, the youth movement ought to be mentioned. It had come into being well before the outbreak of the First World War, a neo-Romantic reform movement, apotheosizing the group rather than the individual, an expression of a fresh awakening to life. As we shall see, the Blaue Reiter artists and the Jugendbewegung had this in common: they confronted the anaemic intellectualism of a civilization self-consciously preening itself, while threatened with suffocation in the materialism of a utilitarian faith in progress, in the belief in a new world which, to them (to quote Nietzsche), 'still seemed abundant in beauty, strangeness, doubt, horror and divinity'. They did try spontaneously, if often awkwardly, to alter the human condition at a time when philosophers and sociologists were writing about the 'alienation of man', the 'atomization of society', the diminishing of human contact; when the anonymity and impersonality of modern life, a loss of vitality in individuals and a growing social torpor were already themes of contemporary cultural and social criticism. But all attempts to prolong the youth movement into later life were unsuccessful. The movement shared an adolescent experience, it inculcated certain values and interests in its members, some definite character-ideals and the love of nature; but as the boys and girls grew up these were superseded by other interests, impressions, friendships and loyalties.

Beyond the youth movement there was a multitude of sects and cults, more political, more faddish and less interesting. There was full agreement among them that the war had been inevitable and that Versailles was a national disgrace. They were anti-liberal, anti-parliamentary, anti-democratic and, to varying degrees, antisemitic. Rejecting the class struggle, they called for a strong leader. Over and above acceptance of these basic tenets they were engaged in permanent internal quarrels on a great variety of subjects. The monarchists wanted the Kaiser back, or at least one of his sons. Others maintained that

Thunder from the Right / 87

the Kaiser had behaved ignominiously in 1918. Ludendorff and his wife sponsored an anti-masonic campaign and a new religion. The Volkische (in contrast to the monarchists) maintained that the defeat and the rule of the 'November criminals' were the legitimate outcome of the rot that had set in under the monarchy as the result of putting all the emphasis on the nation - and of neglecting the Volk, the purity of the race, blood and soil. Some rightists favoured a conservative military dictatorship; others combined extreme nationalist slogans with revolutionary demands. If the left had its Dada and other cultural and political splinter-groups, the right was equally fragmented. While Dada did not take itself too seriously, the right-wing sectarians were profoundly convinced, like some sixteenth-century alchemists or astrologers, that they had discovered the philosopher's stone. Some of them combined racialism with spiritualism, others with occultism, yet others with various number games or sun worship.

The more extreme elements among them opposed modern civilization tout court, including radio and cinema, advertising and dance music, weekends and motorcycles. All these were manifestations of the soulless new civilization, enhancing man's alienation from nature and from his fellow man. Some of these advocates of the simple life joined forces to settle on the land in small communities. But such ventures involved them in endless contradictions. For a return to the soil, however praiseworthy, would hardly provide the industrial basis which Germany needed to become a strong military power again. To give another example: nudism, according to German right-wing thought, was an abomination, and the dances of Josephine Baker, the toast of Berlin in the 1920's, were a frequent target in their literature; yet 'Nordic' nudism had not a few adepts. According to the gospel of the right the sanctity of family life was one of the preconditions for the moral recovery of the German people and they castigated the 'system' for loosening the ties of family. Yet among the Volkische sects there were also some advocates of polygamy, such as Willibald Hentschel and the Artam Bund. Hentschel regarded the current state of the Aryan race as alarming, hence his conclusion that, to quote George Mosse, only a crash breeding programme could recover lost ground and halt the degeneration: 'Constant production,

88 / Thunder from the Right

constant propagation of the race was imperative, and the breeding capabilities of Aryan men and women must be used to the full.' Hentschel also anticipated some of the ideas of a later generation of school abolitionists: the children of Mittgart, as the new settlements were to be called, were not to breathe the dust of soul-destroying schools up to the age of sixteen.

The Nazis played no significant part in the internal debates of the right-wing intelligentsia until about 1930. Some of their ideas were propagated in periodicals specializing in extreme antisemitism, such as Fritzsch's Der Hammer. The literary historian Adolf Bartels, another fellow-traveller, waged relentless war against Jews and pseudo-Jews in German literature; Alfred Rosenberg published his collected essays from the Vlkische Beobachter (Der Sumpf, 1930); and in 1927 the Deutsche Kunstkorrespondenz (later Deutscher Kunstbericht) was launched to wage all-out war against Kulturbolschewismus in the plastic arts. But Rosenberg was the only active Nazi among them, and he was not an intellectual heavyweight. A Baltic German by origin, he had joined the Hitler movement early on, a true believer, a fanatical antisemite and a massive bore, utterly lacking force, sparkle or humour. For the German intelligentsia he was not quite salonfhig; the fact that the Nazis made him their chief intellectual shows that there was no abundance of talent in their ranks. His technique as a writer was simple and frequently not without effect. He published excerpts from Tucholsky or Kstner, from Ernst Glaeser or Walter Mehring, with just a sentence to the effect that these indecencies and blasphemies were typical of the spirit of the criminals who were ruling Germany. He assumed, rightly no doubt, that his readers would find the texts so outrageous that no further comment was necessary. Goebbels was far more gifted than Rosenberg but he wanted to appeal to the masses not to the intelligentsia, assuming, correctly as it later appeared, that once the Nazis were a mass movement the nationalist intelligentsia would join it anyway. The Nazis had a far more astute grasp of the realities of power than the other right-wing leaders; they did not think highly of intellectuals as allies in the political struggle, and they made no great efforts to win them over.

Disagreements among the German right concerned political as well as cultural subjects. There were those who were deeply

Thunder from the Right / 89

impressed by the achievements of Italian fascism and thought that the Italian national revival could teach Germany a lesson in its hour of distress. Others took a dimmer view of Mussolini, partly because the new Italian regime was trampling under foot the national rights of Germans (in South Tyrol), partly because the Italians were obviously not 'Nordic' and thus racially inferior to the Germans.

Some right-wing intellectuals were so disappointed by the cowardice and egotism of the German bourgeois that they tended to write him off as an ally in their struggle against the 'system'. Hence the call for a 'conservative revolution', a 'revolution from the right', and occasional massive attacks on the traditional right. Others took a more tolerant view. The Catholic Centre Party, they argued, was basically patriotic in inspiration, and the same applied to most middle-class organizations. Whoever did not belong to the left was a potential ally; the patriots simply did not know their own strength. This was certainly true so far as sheer numbers were concerned, and also publicity outlets. If the left had the Weltbhne and the Tagebuch and a few other magazines at their disposal, the forces of light had the Preussische Jahrbcher and the Sddeutsche Monatshefte, the Trmer, Kunstwart and Ring, Die Tat and Deutsches Volkstum, not to mention influential Catholic periodicals (such as Hochland, Stimmen der Zeit, Das Neue Reich, Gral), which also did their part in the struggle against Kulturbolschewismus. Moreover, most German publishing houses were by no means dominated by the left, nor were the majority of the daily newspapers (from the Klnische Zeitung to the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung in Berlin, the Hamburger Nachrichten, the Munich and Leipzig Neueste Nachrichten).

The allegations about the stranglehold of the Jewish-left-liberal clique belonged largely to the realm of fantasy; the idea that an honest, gifted patriot had no chance to make himself heard was simply not true. The trouble was that the right did not have a great deal of talent in its ranks; in fact, the political leaders of the right did not think very highly of their own intellectuals. Hitler borrowed a good many ideas from the vlkisch sectarians; there is very little of his own in Nazi ideology; all the basic ideas had been well known even before the war. But at the same time Hitler referred only with contempt to the

90 / Thunder from the Right

thinkers of the right, monarchists and racialists alike. The right-wing ideologists reflected the intellectual climate of the 1920's fairly accurately and to a certain extent helped to shape it, but they were in their way as uninfluential as the intellectuals of the left. So far as the parties of the right were concerned, they were not much in demand; intellectuals, however patriotic, were socially not quite acceptable in a conservative world still dominated by Junkers, generals and captains of industry. They were quite out of place among the new Nazi elite. They would be invited as a curiosity, they might be given some financial assistance, but no Spengler or Moeller van den Bruck, no Ernst Jnger or Carl Schmitt, was needed to explain what was wrong with Weimar. They would be praised as staunch patriots, their books would be published, bought and sometimes even read, but no one would dream of consulting them whenever political questions of importance were concerned.

The attitude of the Nazis towards the right-wing ideologists was even more negative than that of the conservatives, partly because they had a Fhrer who was omniscient and could not acknowledge a debt to other thinkers or seers, but also because the thinkers of the right usually deviated on one or more important points from official Nazi doctrine: some of them were nationalists of the old school, others regarded antisemitism as a marginal issue, and most of them were not sufficiently respectful vis-a-vis Nazism as a movement with cultural ambitions. By denigrating the intellect and attacking rationalism, the thinkers of the right had undermined their own position. For once it had been established that the life force, blood, myth, the will to power were the central forces, and that it was pointless to subject them to critical analysis, it followed that intellectual interpreters were no longer needed. Everyone could feel these things, one exegesis was as good as another, everybody was his own ideologist - and the Fhrer the ultimate arbiter.

If the intellectuals of the right had little political influence, they still made a substantial contribution to the general climate of opinion and for this reason their views are of more than academic interest. Among them Oswald Spengler was the most widely known. His magnum opus The Decline of the West was conceived originally in 1911 as a critique of German foreign policy, a warning against the blind folly, the criminal and

Thunder from the Right / 91

suicidal optimism prevailing in the late Wilhelmian era. By the time the first volume was finished it had turned into something altogether different: a new cyclical philosophy of history, a morphology of culture, a commentary on the present state of mankind and a prognosis - the philosophy of the future, in Spengler's own words. Spengler had asserted that there had been eight fully fledged cultures - meaning those attaining maturity and lasting each for about a millennium. He found that they had all been subject to certain laws governing their rise and decline. Spengler's thesis about Apollonian, Magian and Faustian man was rejected by most historians who, with a few notable exceptions, were not even willing to discuss his work seriously as a contribution to scholarship. But the general reader was dazzled by what appeared to be the tremendous erudition, the broad sweep and the unshakeable certainty of the writer. Above all, his comments on recent history were impressive and provocative. With the nineteenth century the decline of the West had set in; the age of materialism, uncertainty and formlessness. Imperialism had opened the door to centuries of perpetual warfare and to the new Caesars who would eventually take over. This in turn would lead to a new primitivism and mysticism (or religiosity). That Spengler was a man of obvious talent even his critics did not dispute; it was less obvious what this edifice, all the errors of fact quite apart, had to do with the writing of history. It certainly combined ingenious ideas and expressed a mood which appealed for a variety of reasons to many contemporaries. But in the final analysis Spengler's approach was unhistorical; he had simply picked and chosen from the sources what he wanted to find. He had invoked Clio in vain; as poetry his visions would have been unassailable; as an academic work equipped with all the outward apparatus of scholarship it was no better than the work of any other learned and industrious charlatan.

Spengler's magnum opus had been written in anticipation of a German victory, in which case it would in all probability have been ignored. It was precisely the defeat which made it topical and appealing. Coupled with a political pamphlet published in 1920, Preussentum und Sozialismus, it provided a Guide to the Perplexed. As a French historian wrote after Spengler's death:

92 / Thunder from the Right

In the twenties Spengler offered the wares that at the time were in most demand: A certain pathos, a determined anti-intellectualism, a heroic notion of destiny, anti-aestheticism, the thrill of the mere human being before the majesty, the broad majesty, of History. . . . This is what gave Spengler his success: Not the success of an analytical and deductive historian, but the success of a prophet, of a magician, of a visionary, perfectly adapted to the needs of a troubled Germany. (Lucien Febvre - quoted by H. Stuart Hughes)

The Republic of Weimar, needless to say, was rejected by Spengler - it was not a state but a business enterprise; it had no authority, no lasting message. Earlier than other right-wing thinkers, Spengler realized that old-style monarchism had no future in Germany, although, as he once put it, Friedrich Wilhelm I (not Karl Marx) had been the first conscious socialist. Socialism was a matter of upbringing; every genuine German was a worker, while the average Frenchman was middle-class in his outlook. Thus Prussianism and socialism were essentially the same thing; according to the Prussian ethic, the king was the first servant of the state. Spengler suggested that the elite of the working class and the most farsighted conservatives should join forces against the common enemy - liberalism and capitalism - to create a truly democratic and socialist Prussian state. He advised the Social Democrats to take as their model Bebel, a man of action and an authoritarian who was in favour of military discipline, rather than Marx, a Jewish moralist, deeply rooted in the world of liberalism, who had mistakenly believed that economics were more important than politics. Marxism, as Spengler saw it, was simply the capitalism of the working class. To survive, Germany needed not the indiscriminate nationalization of the means of production but an effective (Prussian) technique of administration and the slow transformation of the worker into a cog in an immense industrial machine. Much as Spengler disliked mass democracy, and much as he regretted the eclipse of the aristocracy, he realized that the age ahead belonged, at least temporarily, to the masses. (He was not quite consistent in his predictions; on other occasions he announced that Germany was far more likely to produce a new Caesar than a new Goethe.) His message to the

Thunder from the Right / 93

conservatives was thus simple: they had to adapt themselves to the mass age, to democratic rules. Like Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann and Moeller van den Bruck, he was one of the main proponents of that nebulous slogan, the 'conservative revolution'. Eventually, the message was taken up not by the traditional right wing, unable to jump over its own shadow, but by Adolf Hitler, quite independently of Spengler's writings.

Spengler viewed National Socialism with misgiving even though he paid his respects to the 'mighty phenomenon' of the national revolution, which constituted a considerable advance in comparison with the state of Weimar. But he did not accept the theory of Aryan blood and the vlkisch myth, which were in his view reprehensible - part Romantic fantasy, part relics of nineteenth-century Darwinist positivism. The Nazis, he maintained, had produced a great deal of sound and fury; they had intoxicated the younger generation. Whether they were capable of the hard, patient work which would lead to future victories was by no means certain: 'Enthusiasm is a dangerous burden on the road to politics.' Hitler, 'a heroic tenor - not a hero', was, in Spengler's view, not a man of the same stature as Mussolini. Hitler, he suspected, would exacerbate the tension between the various European nations and this would open the door to the real danger, the onslaught of the non-white peoples. These, together with Russia, threatened Faustian (Western) culture, and a disunited West would be incapable of meeting this threat. The Nazis on their part, while recognizing Spengler's merits as a detractor of Weimar and all it stood for, attacked him for what they considered his misguided views, his determinism and pessimism. If he wrote that the Nazis raved like mendicant friars, they replied that he had an ice-cold contempt for the people, was hypnotized by his own intellectual constructions and blinded by his prejudices. This charge was true only in part, for although Spengler always stressed the element of inescapable destiny (he says at the end of The Decline of the West: nolentem fata trahunt, volentem ducunt.) he did not in fact accept with equanimity the prospect of decline; all his political writings were devoted to finding ways and means of escaping this fate.

As a symptom of the Zeitgeist, articulating the general malaise, Spengler's work is of great interest, even though his

94 / Thunder from the Right

suggestions were of limited use to the German right. He propagated elitism and an authoritarian regime, hardly a great innovation in right-wing doctrine. He understood the necessity of making certain concessions to the masses. But he was quite incapable of developing a right-wing populist programme which could have appealed to the masses, for with all the grandiose visions encompassing many cultures, millennia and continents, essentially he remained a nineteenth-century conservative. The socialism he envisaged was private enterprise ('based on the old Teutonic desire for power and for plunder') without strikes or pressure-groups in which the state (represented by efficient and incorruptible bureaucrats) would act as the ultimate arbiter. It may be unfair to blame Spengler for the vagueness of his notions on domestic policy, for he was, of course, far more interested in foreign affairs. Foreign policy was fate (Schicksal), domestic affairs a necessary evil. Spengler was widely read at the time, probably as much among the liberal middle class as among the right; unlike other German right-wing thinkers he even had a certain revival after the Second World War. But his political impact, as we have said, was insignificant. The Nazis did not need him, and he did not identify with them; when the 'national revolution' came he failed to recognize his own children, as one Nazi put it.

One day in 1920 Spengler was invited by the June Club to hold a debate with Moeller van den Bruck. The June Club was an exclusive political debating society in the German capital. Founded shortly after the war, its political spectrum reached from the democratic centre to the far right, with the emphasis however on neo-conservatism. At no time did it have more than a few hundred members, but since most editors of national journals of opinion and also some leading politicians belonged to it, its real importance was greater than mere numbers would suggest. Moeller was one of the stars of the club, in some ways the right-wing intellectual par excellence. Born into a well-to-do family, he dropped out of high school, married at twenty-one, was divorced soon after and devoted his time to editing and translating modern literature (including Baudelaire, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Thomas de Quincey). His literary magnum opus was the editing and translation of Dostoevsky's collected works (in twenty-two volumes) between 1905 and 1914. Living in

Thunder from the Right / 95

virtual seclusion and suffering from various neurotic complaints, he moved to Paris at the age of twenty-six to escape being drafted into the German army. So far his biography reads like that of a typical 'decadent' litterateur; a bohemien, a cosmopolitan rather than a German nationalist, a drifter lacking political interest. But then, all of a sudden, he discovered the 'Prussian style' through a study of architecture and provided a vivid, if idealized and overdrawn, picture of the culture of Prussianism, with its precision, sobriety and lack of romanticism.

Between the outbreak of war and his death (Moeller committed suicide in 1925) he wrote a great deal on politics; the titles of his two main books, The Right of Young Peoples and The Third Reich, indicate the general direction of his thought. The conflict between old (Britain, France) and young peoples (Germany, Russia and America) was the key to the world war and to the subsequent disaster. The revolution had been a major disappointment but it could still be made a success if only the conservatives would take it over.

Moeller's orientation towards Russia was spiritual rather than political in character; he did not know what to make of the Soviet Union and wavered between the idea of setting up Germany as a bulwark against Bolshevism, and attacking the extreme anti-communists such as Ludendorff who wanted to pursue an interventionist policy in collaboration with the Allies. Germany's place, he maintained, was on the side of the young peoples. The Third Reich was if possible even more vague, and as a political programme of no use whatsoever because Moeller neatly evaded clear answers to the pressing problems facing Germany. He attacked traditional conservatism both for having been liberalistic almost from the beginning and for having been reactionary in character. But it did not emerge from his writings what form the new purified conservatism was to take. Like Spengler, he suggested that the conservatives should borrow heavily from socialism to create a new, German socialism. The German working class, rooted in the liberal and internationalist theories of the nineteenth century, had failed to understand that only an imperialist policy would provide an answer both to the national and the social problems facing the German nation. But how could such a doctrine be squared with

96 / Thunder from the Right

the anti-imperialist ideas of the Right of Young Peoples ? Such contradictions and inconsistencies were typical of Moeller's muddled thoughts; when pressed hard he would answer, 'We have to be strong enough to live in contradictions.'

Moeller could not make up his mind whether German socialism was to be a planned, state-controlled economy, or based on capitalist principles. Like Spengler he was fascinated by foreign politics and found social issues boring; the invocation of socialism was little more than a bow to the Zeitgeist. Moeller is remembered mainly for the catchphrase about the Third Reich (the book was originally to be called 'The Third Party' or 'The Third Viewpoint'). Clinging to the magic number of three, which had intrigued thinkers from Joachim of Fiora to Hegel, he solemnly announced that the third party was the party of continuity in German history, the party of all Germans who wanted to preserve Germany for the German people, the party to end all parties. Its protagonists were the men ready to fight for the final Reich that had always been a promise but was never fulfilled, the Reich of synthesis, of uniting contradictions. Whether it would ever become a political reality was by no means certain, for unless approached the right way it would remain a grand illusion; Germany might even perish through the dream of the Third Reich. Moeller agreed with Spengler that not race but the nation and its cultural unity were the key to history and politics. In contrast to Spengler he included Italy among the young nations; the 'socialist foreign policy' he suggested implied an orientation towards Russia and Italy. Moeller's writings, like Spengler's, are full of poetic visions, enormous promises and apocalyptic forebodings. Eloquent in his critique of the existing system, the alternatives he presented made neither rhyme nor reason whatever way one looked at them. It was said about left-wing Weimar intellectuals that their critique of the system was 'purely destructive'; the same applied a fortiori to Spengler and Moeller. They were most eloquent in their attacks on liberalism, but they had little to offer of their own. Since Moeller died years before the Nazis came to power he did not directly clash with them as Spengler did. But the praise accorded him after 1933 was lukewarm; it was freely admitted that he had been one of the forerunners of Nazism, but in some ways he did not fit into the Nazi scheme

Thunder from the Right / 97

of things and thus came to be more or less ignored in the real Third Reich.

Spengler and Moeller dominated right-wing thought during the early Weimar period. Later on a great many others joined the campaign against the 'ideas of 1918'- liberalism, social democracy and parliamentarism. They were a mixed lot: novelists and metaphysicians, journalists and legal philosophers. With very few exceptions none of them later joined the Nazi Party; one was assassinated in 1934, several were sent to prison or to concentration-camps and most were at one stage or another attacked by the Nazis. Quite a few of them realized soon after the 'national revolution' that they had been grievously mistaken in supporting Nazism. Others reacted like the novelist Hans Grimm, who told Hitler that he would always serve the same cause as the Fhrer but he would 'never belong to him'. But whether Grimm formally belonged to the party or not is largely immaterial; his Volk ohne Raum became one of the basic articles of faith of the extreme right. As a young man Grimm had spent some thirteen years as a merchant in South Africa, and this country, as well as the neighbouring German colony of South-West Africa, provides the historical background to his best-known novel, the Magic Mountain of the right (it ran to 1,300 pages and sold 700,000 copies). Of all the right-wing books of the interwar period Volk ohne Raum is one of the most readable and most powerful, despite its nationalist perversion, its relentlessly didactic approach, its utter lack of humour. It has a certain elemental force which the slicker products of the modish right lacked.

Most right-wing thinkers preferred, like Hans Grimm, not to be identified with any specific political party, certainly not with National Socialism. Nazism had no elaborate philosophy nor indeed did it need one; individual Nazis such as Alfred Rosenberg (author of The Myth of the 20th Century) tried their hand at producing a systematic Weltanschauung, but we have it on the authority of Hitler that he never bothered to read the book and there is no reason to believe that other Nazi leaders acted differently. Plodding, earnest, humourless, Rosenberg was a bit of a laughing-stock among the Nazi leaders.

Much of the intellectual spadework for the 'revolution of 1933' was done outside the Nazi movement. 'We are glad about

98 / Thunder from the Right

the growth of National Socialism', Edgar Jung, one of the spokesmen of the right-wing intelligentsia, wrote in 1932; 'we have greatly contributed towards it especially among the educated classes. However, when due respect is paid to the popular movement and the militancy of its leaders, it is still true that they have no right to consider themselves the salt of the earth and to belittle or denigrate their intellectual pacemakers.'Jung was killed by the Nazis in 1934, but what matters in this context is neither Nazi ingratitude nor the subsequent fate of other right-wing thinkers, but their historical role as gravediggers of Weimar; in this respect Jung's assessment is not far from the truth.

It was a collective endeavour, carried out by a motley crowd. Some of the fighters on the battlefield against liberalism and democracy were eccentrics or lone wolves, such as Ludwig Klages; others belonged to various circles of likeminded individuals such as the neo-conservative Herrenclub in the early years of the Republic or the later Tat-Kreis. Some were fairly close to the church, such as Wilhelm Stapel, a Protestant, or Othmar Spann, the semi-official Catholic social philosopher; others preached neo-paganism. Some were romantics, others essentially nihilists, such as Ernst Jnger; some were in the tradition of nineteenth-century reactionary thought, others frightened their conservative colleagues with their sympathies for Bolshevism. To classify them and their changing views would not be a very rewarding task. All that needs to be stressed in the present context is that there was unanimity among them about certain basic beliefs: nationalism, the conviction that parliamentary democracy was wholly unsuitable for Germany, the belief in the need for strong, authoritarian government. It would be comforting if all of them could be written off as backwoodsmen, eccentrics or charlatans. But this was by no means the case; while the right-wing intelligentsia had a greater share of crackpots than the left, it also had in its ranks men of great erudition, fine intellect and an original frame of mind.

However baneful the influence of Carl Schmitt, the legal philosopher, no one in his right mind could dismiss him as an intellectual lightweight. His critique of the Weimar Republic was closely reasoned, based on a wide reading in history and political philosophy. Where Moeller had published impassioned

Thunder from the Right / 99

appeals ('Liberalism has undermined cultures, destroyed religions and fatherlands. It is the decomposition, the self-surrender of mankind'), Schmitt conceded that Liberalism (and its political concomitant, parliamentary democracy) had played a positive role during the past century, but asserted that it was quite incapable of solving the problems of modern mass democracy. For this reason the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic were not accidental, they were the logical outcome of an unsuitable political order. If democracy was (or aimed at) the identity between rulers and ruled, it did not follow that liberalism was the only approach to a democratic order: 'Bolshevism and fascism are like all dictatorships anti-liberal, but not necessarily anti-democratic.' In Schmitt's philosophy the state takes the central place. Its main task is not to administer but to serve as a centre of power engaged in a struggle against other centres of power. Thus the state is born out of enmity; if wars ceased, there would be no need for a state; the very idea of the state presupposes the notion of politics, and politics is governed by the conflict between friend and foe. Liberalism, with its belief in harmony in both domestic and foreign policy, had failed to understand what politics was really about. It envisaged the state as a community of interests, at most a social community. But in fact a state was much more than that; it was entitled to expect its citizens to fight and if necessary die for it. The Christian 'Love thy enemies' ethic applied to the private, not the public enemy; serious political conflicts could not be settled by discussion and persuasion, as liberalism assumed, but by struggle and war. For this reason Schmitt had nothing but contempt for Weimar parliamentarism; the parliament was not really democratic because the deputies were puppets manipulated by party organizations, not 'representatives of the whole people subject only to their own conscience', as the Republic's constitution had proclaimed. Really important decisions were taken outside parliament. At the same time Weimar parliamentarism weakened the state: the important thing in politics was taking decisions; those who spent their time in endless parliamentary debates were simply evading taking a decision. Every political order rested not on certain generally valid norms but on a basic decision, something which the bourgeois mentality was incapable of grasping.

100 / Thunder from the Right

Schmitt's critique of liberal democracy and the Weimar state delighted the right and had a profound influence on a young generation of academics. It could not however be accepted by the Nazis without reservations, because by putting such strong emphasis on state power the theory downgraded two other concepts dear to their hearts: race and Volk. Furthermore, there was a nihilist element in Schmitt's philosophy. It justified war, but it did not necessarily prove that Germany's cause was just or that war waged by another nation against Germany was evil. What appealed to the Nazis in Schmitt's doctrine was the quasi-scientific justification of dictatorship, for the rejection of the liberal state led logically to an authoritarian order. Schmitt had argued that a minority might well under certain circumstances represent the popular will; other right-wing thinkers went even further, maintaining that it was ludicrous to assume that the popular will was the sum total of votes in an election - as if one vote was equal to another. Such an electoral system would result in the victory of soulless party-machines ; it was a mechanical process bound to give power to the irresponsible, inferior elements in the community. Hence the conclusion that political parties were Germany's misfortune; whoever destroyed them by fire and sword would be doing a noble deed.

What would become of individual freedom once there were no longer elections, political parties and a parliament? The right-wing ideologists had a ready answer. Following Spengler, they maintained that the Prussian system provided an 'inner freedom' despite the harsh outward discipline. Together with some Protestant theologians they developed a new argument according to which freedom was by no means identical with the outdated liberal concept of individual liberty: a man could be really free only in a collective, at one with his people. A new and higher political order would give freedom to the oppressed nation and thus provide happiness for the whole.

Such ideas were bound to fall on fertile ground in a country in which parliament and the political parties had never been popular; they were regarded by most educated people as a divisive factor, an attitude which the Germans shared with Rousseau. Since a state could not be strong unless the people were united, and since a powerful state figured much higher

Thunder from the Right / 101

in the German scale of priorities than individual freedom, appeals for doing away with the 'parasitic parties' and the parliamentary talking-shop would always earn applause. Strong leadership was natural, whereas parliamentary discussion, give-and-take and compromises, were artificial and undesirable.

Schmitt's doctrine was perfectly rational, once one accepted its premises - a kind of Hobbesian anthropology, involving certain basic assumptions about the low value of individual freedom and the overriding importance of the state. Other leading thinkers of the right saw the salvation of mankind in extreme irrationalism. Among the characters in Musil's Man without Qualities figures a philosopher by the name of Meingast who wishes mankind would once more acquire a 'powerful myth' (ein krftiger Wahn). Meingast was a character based on Ludwig Klages, who had been a leading member of the George circle, had settled in Switzerland in later years and is now mainly remembered as a pioneer in the field of graphology. The title of his chief philosophical work, published in three volumes between 1929 and 1932, conveys the message: The Intellect as Adversary of the Soul. Taking Nietzsche and vitalism in its extreme form as a starting-point, he maintained that morality was an odious invention of Jews and Christians, contrary to the heart, which was the essence of man. The decline of mankind thus started not with the Enlightenment but at least two thousand years earlier, when the elemental forces were first harnessed and the attempt was made to 'discipline the soul' with Socratic rationalism and the Old Testament creed of free will. Seen in this light all culture is destructive; it makes man a soulless automaton, it transforms the earth into a super-Chicago with a few scattered agrarian oases. Technical civilization will bring this orgy of destruction to its logical conclusion by annihilating nature and life altogether. Despite his antisemitism and his fanatical irrationalism, Klages was not an altogether desirable ally from the Nazi point of view. His basic approach was pessimistic, for he believed that the process of the destruction of the soul had gone too far and could no longer be arrested; the last opportunity to halt and reverse the process had been missed. Furthermore, Klages's philosophy was essentially individualist and anarchistic. He regarded man as a beast of prey but for that very reason opposed any attempt to tame, discipline and

102 / Thunder from the Right

repress him, sometimes in terms reminiscent of latterday neo-Marxist writings on alienation. Such views were bound to be rejected by a mass movement like Nazism, based on strict discipline and blind obedience.

Klages was preoccupied with cosmic problems and hardly ever bothered to comment on current affairs. But his contemporaries, who shared the fashionable belief in the destructive power of the intellect, drew political conclusions. There was a certain logic in it, for the idea of irrational man does not go well with a policy of tolerance and humanism. This is not to say that accepting the limits of reason was necessarily a step towards barbarism; accepting the Id did not make Freud sing its praises. The Expressionists, irrationalist in inspiration, tended politically to the left; Theodor Lessing, once a friend of Klages, who developed a philosophy in some respects quite similar, was considered by the Nazis to be one of their principal enemies and they had him assassinated in his Czechoslovak exile. It was one thing to accept the idea that man was more primitive and less rational than a previous generation had assumed, quite another to relish this discovery.

While many left-wing intellectuals were pronounced Francophiles, hostility to France and everything France stood for was a basic element in the creed of the right. Moeller published long tirades against France ('the profiteer of history'), arguing that the very belief in the possibility of a reconciliation between France and Germany was treasonable. According to Stapel, editor of the Deutsches Volkstum, a French-German accord was an 'empty dream'. Ernst Niekisch, spokesman of the 'National Bolshevists', wrote that 'to destroy the republican system in Germany is tantamount to the destruction of the outposts of France within our own nation'.

Thus, with all the internal divisions, there was a consensus on certain basic tenets among the right, whether conservative or radical in inspiration. The attitude to France is one example; the belief in the leader principle another. This refers to the expectation that a Fhrer would arise to lead the people out of its present misery to a better future, the belief in a saviour, more deeply rooted in German history than elsewhere and reinforced by the breakdown of parliamentary democracy. This longing was by no means limited to extreme right-wing groups. The

Thunder from the Right / 103

youth movement and the George circle had done their share in preparing the ground, even though the concept of the Fhrer presented in their speeches and writings had little in common with the real Fhrer who came to power in 1933. Wilhelm Stapel, in a book on The Christian Statesman, predicted that the coming leader would not flatter the masses. He would be both paternal and tough. Imbued with soldierly spirit and exerting charismatic power, he would be ruler, warrior and priest all in one. He would be a man fully conscious of his mission and would come to power by popular acclaim. But what if the Fhrer were to fall short of these high standards ? This question seems not to have occurred to the ideologues of the right. Since the Weimar Republic had produced few leading personalities, the popularity of the Fhrer myth was not difficult to understand. But precisely because the right-wing thinkers took a dim view of human nature, it is surprising that not one of them seems to have considered the possibility that the long-awaited Fhrer could turn out to be a demagogue, a charlatan, perhaps even a criminal. Once established in power, who would be able to stop him ?

Following Spengler, the right-wing thinkers all agreed that the Fhrer would be mainly concerned with foreign policy. Politics is foreign policy, wrote Edgar Jung; this was Germany's fate and its mission in the world. As the central power in Europe it was to see its aim in the restoration of the Reich. Hated and persecuted by the other nations, with artificial frontiers that could not be defended, the Fhrer was to make Germany the dominant force on the continent. This meant that Germany had to expand - a perfectly natural course of action for those who believed in the mission of the master race. The conservative-Christian thinkers, on the other hand, felt that some justification was needed and invoked the idea of a divine Reich, the benefits of which should be shared with other nations under Germany's wise and just rule. They argued that Germany was called upon to unite Europe under its leadership because it constituted the only effective bulwark against the spread of Bolshevism.

Mention has been made of the impact on right-wing doctrine of racialist thought as it had been systematically developed before the First World War. But racialism as a

104 / Thunder from the Right

science was propagated only by the Nazis and by some sectarians. Most intellectuals of the right thought that German superiority was rooted in historical-cultural ideas rather than in something biologically definable. This was true of Spengler and Moeller, as well as of Schmitt, Stapel, Hielscher, the brothers Ernst and Friedrich Georg Jnger and other advocates of the new nationalism. Antisemitism was not the cornerstone of their ideology; they did not like the Jews and would refer to them with contempt. But Rosenberg's idea of the Jew as the 'world enemy' found few converts among them. Even Stapel, one of the most antisemitic writers on the right, would engage in public debates with Jews - something which no Nazi would have done. Economic and social problems were of no great interest to the thinkers of the right, with the exception of the Catholic advocates of the Stndestaat, who wanted to reconstruct society largely on a medieval pattern. Carl Schmitt referred on one occasion to Rousseau's dictum that only slaves were concerned with finance. For the true patriot, let alone the true statesman, this was a job best left to specialists. Foreign policy was fate, economic policy a bore. Underlying this assumption there was also the belief that Germany's economic problems could not be solved within the borders fixed in the Versailles treaty and that for this reason, if for no other, it had to expand.

Economics could be ignored while the going was good, but after 1929 this was no longer possible. Thus by the sheer logic of events the Tat circle became the most influential group on the intellectual right. The Tat, founded before the war, devoted its pages largely to cultural comment and various unpolitical reform movements. It fell on evil days and when Hans Zehrer took it over in 1929 its circulation had fallen to 800 copies. Within three years it became the leading intellectual monthly, with a circulation exceeding that of Tagebuch and Weltbhne taken together. Zehrer was not yet thirty at the time; his closest collaborators, such as Fried and Wirsing, were in their early twenties. This group of young people infused a new dynamic spirit into right-wing thought, seeing their main task in rigorously working out an economic doctrine which at that time (they ruefully admitted) could be found only on the left. They predicted the coming demise of the capitalist order when the crisis had just begun and they welcomed it: the chaos was a

Thunder from the Right / 105

blessing in disguise, because out of it a new order would be born. A revolution was needed in place of the abortive one of 1918.

It had never been fashionable on the right to defend capitalism; Sombart and others had attacked it as plutocratic and feudalist. The right-wing critique of the evils of capitalism had been outspoken and the theories about the rule of finance capital, about late ('senescent', 'moribund') capitalism, were reminiscent of Marxist writings. But once it came to outlining alternatives for the economic order, the right had little to offer but platitudes about an 'organic' German (national) socialism, which would create a harmonious society free of class struggle; spiritual values, not considerations of profit and efficiency, would shape its life. By 1929 such meagre intellectual fare was regarded as inadequate by the more intelligent sectors of the right.

The Tat critique of capitalism was far more radical. The journal gave chapter and verse to document the great accumulation of wealth in Germany and the fraudulent manoeuvres of the big concerns: no families owned most of Germany's property; 80 per cent of the population owned nothing at all. How in these circumstances could one continue to argue in favour of capitalism ? The pauperization of the middle classes and their political radicalization were the outstanding facts of social life. The situation of the white-collar workers was much worse than that of the industrial workers, for the latter had strong organizations of their own; but who was there to take care of salaried employees who found themselves out of work ? The spokesmen of the Tat left no doubt that the system was not merely unjust but that it was doomed - free trade had come to an end, there was no longer the stimulus of free competition. Since fundamental technical discoveries could no longer be expected, the industrial revolution which had once given the great impetus to the growth of capitalism had played itself out. The End of Capitalism was the title of Ferdinand Fried's bestseller, published in 1931.

The editors of the Tat propagated a modernized form of mercantilism and a policy of autarky as the panacea for Germany's economic problems. They did not want foreign trade to cease altogether but advocated economic planning and a state foreign trade monopoly. In this way enough would be

106 / Thunder from the Right

exported to pay for the import of essential raw materials. They hoped that their programme would gain the support of those sections of society which had been 'pulverized' as the result of the struggle between capital, industry and organized labour: white-collar workers, small entrepeneurs, the intelligentsia, part of the peasantry and, above all, the young generation. A new elite based on this 'third force' would emerge and lead the country towards a better future.

This prospect may have seemed plausible enough in 1929. Three years later it appeared that the extreme forces of the right and left had benefited from the chaos and that there was to be no 'third force'. The Tat still argued that a majority of Reichstag deputies had been elected on an anti-capitalist platform ; unfortunately they were quite unwilling to reach a compromise on the basis of the Tat programme. In these circumstances the idea of a dictatorship from above gained ground : Hindenburg and the Reichswehr were to take power and to pursue a policy such as had been outlined by Die Tat. There was no alternative: the parties were corrupt, parliament impotent. Hence the mood of confidence which made Zehrer write in September 1932: 'We are today just about to reach our target. The great turning-point has been reached.' The Tat pinned its hopes on Schleicher (the 'social general') who lasted exactly two months as chancellor. Hitler's victory meant that the Tat circle ceased to exist; Zehrer disappeared from the political scene altogether; some of his collaborators found a comfortable niche in the Third Reich, but none of them attained a position of power and real influence.

The ideas and activities of the Tat reflected fairly accurately the anti-capitalist aspirations and the anti-liberal mentality of the younger generation. They provided an ideology which was far more sophisticated than that embodied in Hitler's vague social and economic programme. What bothered liberal critics was perhaps not so much the anti-capitalist sentiments of the Tat, which were fairly widespread in the country, but the contempt with which these young ideologists dismissed the heritage of freedom and liberty, and their naive belief in the omnipotence of the state to 'save the country'. Like other right-wing intellectual groups, the Tat suffered from strange delusions as to their own political importance. As one of its leaders said

Thunder from the Right / 107

after the war: 'We made a totally mistaken appraisal of Nazism, and did not know about the real power of this movement. We thought that these people were not sufficiently intelligent, and we believed that intelligence was of importance in politics.' Seen in retrospect, the anti-parliamentarism of the Tat, its belief in a planned economy and the other ingredients of its programme were not an exclusively German phenomenon. There were interesting parallels elsewhere in Europe, such as the French Ordre Nouveau, or Mosley's New Party in its early stages.

Nor was National Bolshevism something specifically German; similar moods and trends existed in other European countries. In Germany the 'left people of the right' were found mainly among the younger generation. They saw in France, and to a lesser degree in England, the principal enemy; the West was corrupt, the antithesis of Germany and all it stood for. On the other hand Germany had much in common with the Soviet Union, such as, for instance, an interest in keeping Poland down. Germany and Russia were the 'young peoples' about whom Moeller had written, to whom the future belonged. The National Bolsheviks admired Lenin and Stalin, strong, purposeful men who had led their country towards a national renaissance, very much in contrast to the decline of the Western democracies. For some right-wing thinkers the idea of an alliance with Russia was seen as largely tactical, but the National Bolsheviks genuinely wanted a Soviet-German axis based both on an affinity in outlook and on long-term common interests. As one of them wrote: If we take our place in the great phalanx of proletarian and oppressed peoples as Lenin -one of the greatest of us - commanded, we do this out of sincere conviction, not for tactical reasons.' They were quite certain that the national elements in Bolshevism would ultimately prevail over its professed internationalism. Subsequent events were to show that this assumption was not altogether fanciful. The West, as the National Bolsheviks saw it, was synonymous with the American way of life, Chicago gangsterism, the Versailles treaty, bourgeois materialist society, Jewish liberalism, decay and decadence. The East, as Goebbels wrote in the 1920's, was 'Germany's natural ally against the diabolical temptations and corruption of the West'. Radical slogans put out by these

108 / Thunder from the Right

circles, such as the call for a united anti-capitalist front of workers, peasants and soldiers, caused much discomfort to the traditional right, which stoutly maintained that Bolshevism was a mere disguise for the Jewish drive to world domination and that there could be no collaboration with the Soviet Union. But the National Bolsheviks were not impressed by the strictures of Rosenberg and other professional anti-Bolsheviks; they distrusted and despised the reactionaries almost as much as the representatives of the 'system'.

National Bolshevism was not represented by a political party, a homogeneous bloc, but consisted of dozens of little sects. Its ideological spectrum reached from Ernst Jnger, who played with it for a time, to Ernst Niekisch, who took it far more seriously. For Jnger, Russia was the representative of the will to power; the Soviet Union fascinated him simply because it was less boring than the Western system. At the same time he had little use for Leninist ideology. Niekisch on the other hand tried to provide a synthesis between the extreme nationalism of the right and revolutionary communism. An erstwhile Social Democrat, he had been involved in the Bavarian revolution in 1918-9 but left the SPD because it had not taken a strong stand against the Versailles peace treaty and also because he rejected Marxist internationalism, which was still part of its ideology. Niekisch called upon German youth to spit out all 'Roman' influences; for him Paris was the home of all the enemies of the white race; it would cease to be the de facto capital of Germany only when it went up in flames. He rejected the ideas of 1789, published antisemitic propaganda and favoured a totalitarian state; 'even the most barbaric means are justified when they are necessary in the national interest', he once wrote. But at the same time he argued that the spirit of Potsdam, the great ideal of every true German patriot, had found its reincarnation in the Russia of the day. His pro-Soviet sympathies increased over the years; ultimately he came to believe in historical materialism and ridiculed his erstwhile allies for claiming (as he himself had done) that Old Prussia had been a socialist state when in actual fact it had been feudal and patriarchal.

The 'left people of the right' emphatically rejected the idea that 'international Bolshevism' rather than international finance was Germany's main enemy. They were antagonized by the

Thunder from the Right / 109

zigzagging tactics of the German Communist Party, but the idea that Germany was a proletarian nation and that it needed a real social revolution strongly appealed to them. These articles of faith at one time had supporters even among the left wing of the Nazi party. If National Bolshevism did not become a political force, this was partly the fault of the German Communists, who were doctrinally far too rigid to make political use of the anti-capitalist ferment on the right. True, they made certain concessions to German patriotism, such as publishing a programme for the 'national liberation of the German people', and they opposed reparations. But in the last resort the Communist Party could not jump over its own shadow; it was not a German national party but the German branch of the Communist International. Its dynamism and its discipline strongly impressed the National Bolsheviks, but its policy was made in Moscow, not in Berlin. With all their sympathies for the Soviet Union, the National Bolsheviks could not accept essential parts of Marxist-Leninist ideology, such as historical and dialectical materialism; they did not deny the existence of the class struggle, but they still regarded national solidarity as the ultimate aim. Such basic differences in ideological outlook could not be overcome.

A review of right-wing thought in the Weimar period shows as much divergence as consensus. Only a few right-wing intellectuals believed that a return to the monarchy was possible or desirable. Their critique of the 'system' was radical but they had only the haziest ideas about the future of their country; their concessions to socialism were largely verbal. They were counter-revolutionary in as much as they rejected the 'Western ideas' of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 'arid intel-lectualism', liberalism, parliamentary democracy. They virtually monopolized nationalism, and what united them was the belief that the 'system' was so corrupt that any political order that succeeded it would be an improvement on Weimar. They played an important role as pacemakers for the Nazis by spreading ridicule and contempt for democracy among the German middle classes, but they had no direct influence on the course of events.


See also: Walter Laqueur - Weimar - The Left Wing Intellectuals

Edit Page - Page History - Printable View - Recent Changes - WikiHelp - SearchWiki
Page last modified on May 26, 2005, at 09:51 AM