National Socialism as Anti-Modernism?
F. Roger Devlin
Julius Evola’s Notes on the Third Reich
Notes on the Third Reich
Trans. E. Christian Kopff
London: Arktos, 2013
Evola wrote this short assessment of Hitlerian National Socialism as a follow up to Fascism Viewed from the Right. The basic thrust of the study is that National Socialism is significantly inferior to its Italian cousin from a traditionalist perspective, and this even though Germany presented a far more favorable setting for a “revolt against the modern world.”
Even after the military collapse and the revolution of 1918, and despite the social chaos, remnants survived with deep roots in that [pre-modern] hierarchical world, which was at times still feudal, focused on the values of the state and its authority that were part of the earlier tradition, in particular of Prussianism. This was the tradition because of which the Central Powers had appeared in the eyes of the western democracies as an ‘intolerable obscurantist residue.’ In fact, in central Europe the ideas of the French Revolution had never taken root as they had in the other European countries.
As in Italy, returning veterans played an essential role in maintaining older ideals: “the war was a test that, in the best of them, had provoked a process of purification and liberation.” Those who were able joined the Reichswehr, the official armed forces of the WeimarRepublic, which were limited to 100,000 men under the Versailles Treaty.
[I]mbued by a rigorous sense of honor and discipline . . . [the Reichswehr] did not accept the new regime, and maintained the ideas, ideals and ethos of the previous tradition, which had shaped the officer corps. The Reichswehr did not consider itself as a simple military force at the disposition of a bourgeois parliamentary regime, but rather as the representative of a vision of life and also of a political idea.
Veterans unable either to fit back into civilian life or to find a place in the official army could join the Stahlhelm or any of a number of so-called Freikorps. The Stahlhelm was a veterans’ organization which served as the armed wing of the Deutschnationalen Volkspartei, the principal German nationalist party of the 1920s, protecting its meetings from disruption by leftist thugs. The Freikorps were unofficial anti-republican paramilitary units. In Berlin, Freikorps units played a critical role in subduing the proto-communist Spartacist uprising and later made an unsuccessful bid to overthrow the Republic (the Kapp Putsch of 1920).
The period of the Weimar Republic also witnessed the flourishing of a number of anti-liberal and anti-democratic intellectual currents now commonly grouped under the umbrella term “Conservative Revolution.” Some of its representatives, among the finest minds of their time, became enthusiastic admirers of Evola through his books Pagan Imperialism and Revolt Against the Modern World. Evola even got invited to address important conservative groups such as the Berliner Herrenklub.
Evola wrote of the men of the Conservative Revolution that “[t]o allow themselves to be carried away by a mass movement that had to be politicized and fanaticized with propaganda, settling every scruple aside, was contrary to their anti-demagogic mentality and seemed to them a ‘rather dirty’ affair.” So when National Socialism came to power they were quickly marginalized or silenced. Evola’s own activities in Germany were barely tolerated by the new regime; an SS report on his lectures described him as a utopian reactionary and recommended ignoring him and discouraging his influence.
The “first component of Nazism,” according to Evola, is its appeal to the national sentiment of the working masses. This by itself is enough to demonstrate its fundamental incompatibility with Evola’s own traditionalism. The pre-enlightenment regimes he admired were aristocratic and derived their authority from above rather than below—ultimately from the spiritual realm.
As explained in our review of Fascism Viewed From the Right, Evola asserted the primacy of politics and the state over nationhood, going so far as to assert that nations are the creation of the regimes which govern them. Evola applauded “the Prussian tradition of acting for the people, while holding it at a distance, but not through the people. . . . Prussia had been the creation of a dynasty that had the nobility, the army, and the higher bureaucracy for its backbone. The state, more than the land or ethnos, constituted the real foundation and unifying principle.”
For Hitler’s followers, however, “the Volk was understood as a kind of entity defined by a common stock whose identity would be maintained through the ages.” In Hitlerism, “the state was conceived as a secondary and instrumental reality, while the primary formative, moving and bearing force was supposed to be the Volk with the Führer as its representative and incarnation.” In Mein Kampf, Hitler had written: “We must distinguish with the greatest accuracy the state, which is the ‘vessel,’ from the race, which is the content. This vessel has a purpose only if it is holding and protecting the content. Otherwise it makes no sense.”
[T]he Third Reich presented itself in terms of a popular dictatorship, since power was in the hands of a single individual lacking any superior chrism [i.e., legitimation “from above”], drawing the principle of its ‘legitimacy’ uniquely from the Volk and its consensus. This is the essence of the so-called Führerprinzip. It was supposed to relate to a tradition from the times of the ancient Germani, with the chief and his followers united by a bond of fidelity.
This derivation is spurious, however. Anciently, such a bond was established only in an emergency or in view of definite military ends, like the office of dictator under the RomanRepublic. Moreover, the ‘followers’ of old were the heads of various tribes, not the anonymous masses. Finally, even the temporary war-leaders of the ancient Germani recognized a hereditary king as above them in dignity.
Of the Enabling Act, which invested dictatorial powers in Hitler (supposedly limited to a period of four years), Evola has the following to say:
Even without adhering to the fetish of the so-called rule of law of liberal inspiration, we ought to see this situation as excessive. It is not right to perpetuate and virtually institutionalize what can be legitimate only in particular temporary situations. The ethical bonds, which are necessarily indeterminate and elastic, between the responsibility held by one part (from on high), and the trust and fidelity by the other, cannot replace definite statements of law.
Among the most clearly anti-traditional aspects of National Socialism was Gleichschaltung, or “uniformization.” Under this policy, the organic, historically determined regions of Germany known as Länder were transformed into mere administrative divisions and rechristened with the spuriously antique-sounding name of Gaue. These subdivisions were headed by functionaries of the Reich’s central government, who were no longer representatives of the corresponding communities. The policy was justified in the name of national unity and efficiency in the pursuit of national goals, which in practice meant war-preparation. Evola himself favored a subsidiary or federalist form of state, believing that to allow decisions to be made at the lowest appropriate level was a sign of strength in a state.
Despite all these reservations, Evola writes that “[i]t is very silly to think that this state could have existed only thanks to a regime of terror and oppression.”
Such a regime could not have produced the impulse for so many accomplishments. [N]or can it explain the virtues of the entire population and the armed forces, which required six years of ruthless war and the combined forces of almost the entire world to defeat the Third Reich militarily, and thanks to which Germany held firm almost to the last without a complaint or a rebellion.
The selfless dedication Germans displayed in the war even carried over to the postwar era and helps account for the astoundingly rapid recovery of the West German economy. This undoubtedly successful aspect of National Socialism Evola attributes to the concurrence of two factors. One is the Prussian tradition, involving “a love for discipline, the spirit of impersonal and eventually heroic dedication and fidelity,” which is “a factor essentially different from fanaticism.” Evola thus agrees to some extent with “those who have accused Hitler of having abused the intrinsic gifts of the German and used them to thrust Germany along a road that led to ruin.”
The other factor, however, Evola is only able to describe as “the fanaticism aroused by the arts and spells of a great wizard:”
Anyone who has heard Hess, Hitler’s lieutenant, shouting hysterically at the party’s convention at Nuremberg, ‘Germany is Hitler! Hitler is Germany!’ which was received by the frenetic screams of hundreds of thousands of people, must have got the impression of a real phenomenon of possession.
Evola approves, however, many of the economic policies of Hitler’s government, characterized neither by government ‘micromanagement’ of industry nor by the pursuit of private profit for its own sake:
[I]t was a question of a national front where each stood at his post and had a fruitful and responsible liberty of initiative. . . . [I]f the entrepreneur-capitalist was respected and his authority reinforced with a political and moral chrism, the Party opposed the simple financier-capitalist ‘of the Hebrew type,’ who was foreign to the productive process. This orientation can be ascribed to the credit of National Socialism.
Also to be admired was the government’s “defense of the peasant or small farmer.”
The Third Reich, although far from averse to industry, energetically undertook to prevent ‘the uprooting of the peasants’ (therefore, implicitly, their exodus to cities) and to protect the natural base of their existence, that is, their own property, not only against expropriation and economic speculation, but also against the breaking up of farmland and debt. At the center stood the concept of Erbhof, or an inalienable hereditary plot or farm which was transmitted to a single heir . . . to preserve through the generations ‘the inheritance of the stock in the hands of free peasants.’
Evola also speaks approvingly of Nazi Germany’s programs of social assistance to the lower classes, although the “presumptuous rabble” which benefited from such policies was offensive to his carefully cultivated aristocratic snobbery.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler had written that “the National Socialist trade union is not a tool of the class struggle, but rather an organization for professional representation.” Once in power, he had all trade union headquarters occupied and many trade union leaders arrested. Free trade unions were replaced with a “national labor front” under party leadership. Evola enthusiastically approved these actions, regretting only that Germany did not formally institute a system of vocational representation such as existed in Fascist Italy. He claims that National Socialism’s model for Nazi corporatism was “the Medieval organic and corporatist structures, which various exponents of the national revolution reappraised and adopted as the foundation of a third way beyond degenerate capitalism and Marxism.” Without being an historian, I am forced to suspect this aspect of Nazi policy of being just another example of central control barely disguised beneath a spurious antique and “organic” sounding terminology.
Evola had no objections to racialism per se:
[A] certain balanced consciousness and dignity of ‘race’ can be considered as salutary, if we think where we have ended up in our days with the exaltation of the Negro and all the rest, the psychosis of anti-colonialism and ‘integrationist’ fanaticism, all which are phenomena occurring parallel to the decline of Europe and the West as a whole.
But Evola’s principal interest lay with the “race of the spirit.” He attests the example of the effete postwar Scandinavians, “lifeless, spiritually bastardized and deprived of the virtues that characterized them in other epochs.” Something more than Nordic blood is lacking when the sons of the Vikings freely elect a character like Olof Palme to govern them.
National Socialism badly overemphasized the purely biological aspect of race. They spoke as if all the racial question required was the prevention of cross-breeding and the adoption of a few eugenic measures, and “lost virtues would reappear, the idea being that almost automatically, man would arise again as the creator of a higher culture.”
Concerning the massacres of Jews during the war, Evola says simply that “no justification or excuse can be accepted.”
Irredentist nationalism was Hitler’s idée fixe, preventing him from making full use of the political possibilities open to him, such as “playing on the atavistic anti-Russian sentiments of the Polish people in order to win them over as allies in Operation Barbarossa.
National Socialism also squandered a great deal of good will by its manner of administering conquered Soviet lands.
So it happened that, while at the very beginning the victorious Germans were welcomed with joy as liberators in different Russian areas, later the attitude of the population was bound to change when, instead of the hoped-for liberty, the commissars of the National Socialist Party, military commanders and unscrupulous exponents of the Reich’s industry and trade took the place of the Soviet authorities and gave the impression that one oppression had been replaced by another. Free governments set up at the beginning by Russians in territories conquered by the Wehrmacht were dissolved, and even patriotic anti-Communists were persecuted.
Thus, although he finds things of which to approve in National Socialism as well as in Italian Fascism, his final verdict is that “one must reject and resolutely condemn a system in which the tendencies we have just discussed were maintained.”
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