Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know:
James J. O'Meara
The Love Song of Alfred Rosenberg
Ostara Publications, 2015
According to Joseph Kingsbury-Smith, who covered the executions for the International News Service, Rosenberg was the only condemned man who, when asked at the gallows if he had any last statement to make, replied with only one word: “No.”
If only he had kept his mouth shut in the first place!
Talk about a no second thought required purchase — not just the memoirs of Alfred Rosenberg but, according to the publisher, “the sensational memoirs of Alfred Rosenberg, the Third Reich’s leading ideologue, Minister of the Occupied Eastern Territories, and author of The Myth of the 20th Century, written while in prison at Nuremberg.” And if that doesn’t grab you, “these memoirs contain a no-holds barred overview of his political life, from the time of his earliest involvement in the NSDAP, right up to the Nuremberg Trials.” All this for three bucks!
Whatever. I’ve long had a kind of fascination with the good Doctor, who was hanged at Nuremberg, officially for “conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity.”
The final judgment against him named him one of the principal planners of the invasions of Norway and the Soviet Union. It also held him directly responsible for the systematic plunder of the occupied countries of Europe, as well as the brutal conditions in Eastern Europe.
Rosenberg, as we’ll see, was probably pleased as Punch to be considered such a mastermind. But of course, what they really killed him for, was writing The Myth of the Twentieth Century. A philosopher, killed for writing a book! When’s the last time that happened?
For obvious reasons, Rosenberg’s books aren’t too widely available, but what with the availability of texts on the intertubes and, now, even as kindles on Amazon, I’ve had a chance to acquaint myself with some of them, as well as James Whisker’s The Philosophy of Alfred Rosenberg (Noontide Press, 1990).
Whisker’s book make reading the notoriously turgid Myth a lot easier, or, perhaps, renders a reading unnecessary. For personal reasons, I find his discussions of mediaeval German mystics more interesting than the racial theorizing, and I was especially interested in his notions of an original, Aryan Christ and the possibility of creating a true German Church.
But my most personal reason for interest in Rosenberg is that I find something about his thought processes, as revealed in his published works, that reminds me of how my own thoughts work — a kind of archetypal or typological approach; perhaps, if it doesn’t sound too grand, like Spengler’s “physiognomic tact.”
Otherwise, he’s just so adorable, a bright overachiever from a cultural backwater he’s very defensively proud of, coming to the Big City, with his hair carefully combed and wearing his best suit, and getting in way over his head.
The story of the overachiever who makes good despite the odds is where we start, of course. Rosenberg, in the style of the place and time, seems altogether vague about what exactly he’s studying and for what purpose — physician, archeologist, high school principal? — which perhaps foretells the autodidactic contents of the Myth, ricocheting around from tedious swathes of Baltic history to expositions of Meister Eckhart to speculations on the Aryan population genetics of Galilee.
After his stories of poor grades in math it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that he seems to have launched himself, like George Costanza, on a career as an architect.
Rosenberg mentions, without any particular emphasis or irony, that his first project was designing a crematorium; since subtle humor is not his forte, can we infer that he hadn’t heard of the supposed “Final Solution”?
For some reason, I had always imagined the Memoirs would be a short book dealing mostly with current matters, what with his dire situation and all. But there’s a lot more here than I had imagined, and after the Bildungsroman at the start, we get a full length insider’s account (although Rosenberg, as we shall see, thinks of himself as a constantly frustrated outsider) of the rise, career, and fall of the Third Reich.
There is, of course, a considerable about of self-justification here, even apart from Rosenberg sounding like the kind of job-seeker who, asked by an interviewer to name a personal flaw, submits such faults as “trying too hard” or “takes on too much responsibility.” Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see that Rosenberg holds that
A really comprehensive account, that only the more or less distant future will be able to provide, will establish . . . the part played by certain disappointed elements in the country itself, and by others who exerted constant emotional pressure which frequently crossed up cautious and shrewd concepts.
Here, Rosenberg anticipates the conclusions of some of the more disinterested historical accounts that have begun to appear, which put the blame for the Reich’s disintegration on just such “disappointed elements” as the old Prussian aristos in the Wehrmacht’s general staff.
But then Rosenberg just has to go further, and we find out about those exerting “constant emotional pressure” and who thus “crossed up cautious and shrewd concepts”:
According to everything I have been able to find out, it was always Goebbels who urged Hitler on to radical actions by claiming they were genuinely revolutionary.
There’s a lot of that kind of stuff, mostly about Goebbels. It’s kind of sweet and sad to see Rosenberg as he, probably unwittingly, portrays himself: a prissy little schoolboy, who only wants to get good grades and do what’s right, but constantly being pranked and bullied by the other boys, and as for the schoolmaster, whom Alfred only wants to impress, why, he’s no help — he plays favorites, and lets the others get away with anything!
I agreed that under the circumstances my appointment would naturally have to be postponed. Much would have been different if Hitler had also used these reasons of state in connection with others who merited such treatment much more than I did. But since his feeling for Goebbels and Himmler was stronger than it was for me, these two were able to do the most unbelievable things without being restrained.
This and several other passages deserve to be animated using the Simpsons character Martin Prince.
The chief villain is Goebbels, for whom Rosenberg seems to have an implacable hatred. He, his ideas, his actions, are constantly described as superficial and often even as “theatrical,” and he seems to have a hold on der Führer far out of proportion to his merits, few as they are.
Hitler knew very well, of course, that I understood art and culture much more deeply than Goebbels [of course!], who could hardly look beyond the mere surface. In spite of this he left the leadership in a field that he loved passionately in the hands of this man because, as I realised at many future occasions, Goebbels was able to give Hitler the kind of setting I should never have been able to contrive. Goebbels took beautiful and gifted artists and great actresses to the Führer. He told him stories about life among artists. He fed the theatrical element in his nature with gorgeously mounted products of the lighter Muses, thus providing that relaxation which the Führer, under the constant pressure of foreign policy and economic problems, simply had to have.
Whenever the Führer happened to be in Berlin, Goebbels always had lunch with him. When I ate with the Führer, once every three or four weeks, he usually sat around with us, too. He invariably had a new story to tell, or made some little malevolent remark about this or that person. This was his approved method of entertaining the Führer, and of slowly building up in him an aversion toward certain people. Occasionally he was actually quite amusing. He also played the role of an art enthusiast rather effectively whenever Hitler spoke about something outstandingly beautiful in the field of the new sculpture, and shrewdly enlarged upon whatever sarcastic remarks the Führer might make in connection with some event.
At night Hitler frequently invited one or another person for a long talk before the fireplace. Goebbels, Ley, and a few others were favourites, outside of the usual group at table. I can’t speak with authority because I was never invited. This was no doubt the time when emotion held sway, and most of the passionate decisions made must have been born during these hours.
Oh, to have been present when those “passionate decisions” were made!
Reading this, I could not help but be reminded of the book that Thomas Mann was writing in exile at about the same time, Doktor Faustus; specifically Chapter XXXVIII, in which Adolph is Adrian, shy, withdrawn artistic genius, Rosenberg is the narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, Adrian’s childhood friend who yearns to be at least close enough to say “du” to him, but his pedantic, bourgeois nature keeps them at arm’s length, while Goebbels is the violinist Rudi Schwerdtfeger, charming, witty, and utterly unworthy, who ultimately “seduces” Adrian, to their mutual disaster.
Yes, these are the men running the Third Reich. It does give a new resonance to Rosenberg’s reference to Goebbels’s as “the Mephisto of our once so straightforward movement,” as well as his applauding the Röhm purge. Similarly, his pretense of superior artistic taste stumbles when he singles out Goebbels’ patronage of Hanns Heinz Ewers for abuse; Ewers is one of the most significant German writers of the “weird” genre, but for Rosenberg he’s a “morbid” personality and a “half-rotted person [who] should keep his hands off Horst Wessel” (whose biography Goebbel’s commissioned from Ewers).
It’s unfortunate that Rosenberg gives all this such a personal accent, since his principled opposition to Goebbels is far more interesting and important. As he finally chokes it out:
In my Myth I had symbolically called the party a German Order, and had stated that, even though in the beginning of a new creation Lutheran figures would necessarily be in the majority, Bismarck’s system would eventually have to be replaced in the interest of our future by the Moltke system.
Figures, systems? What is he talking about?
In other words, the concentration of all functions in the hands of one man and the accompanying unavoidable suppression of all others would have to be replaced by a system encouraging the principle of dutiful opposition, as in the days of Moltke, when even the Chief of the General Staff was requested to deposit in writing whatever objections he might have to his supreme commander.
See what I meant about “typological thinking”?
At the center of the Order there must be absolute integrity, a demand before which everything else, including propagandistic considerations, would have to give way.
Rosenberg was horrified by Goebbels’ glib confounding of art and propaganda, sensing that without intellectual integrity at the center, the Reich might win, but would stand for nothing. Here, Rosenberg’s idea of the party as a German Order echoes Baron Evola’s discussion of the Order State; which is ironic, since Evola considered Rosenberg to be an intellectual lightweight who couldn’t tell the difference between Eckhart and the Illuminati.
Rosenberg supervised all the Ordensburgen and so his ideas served as the principal basis for the indoctrination, which, given the reservations we expressed concerning them, introduced a problematic factor into the system.
Indeed. But the emphasis on intellectual integrity at the heart of the Order also reminds us of another book, also very similar to Doktor Faustus, written around the same time by another German refugee, Hermann Hesse’s Glasperlenspiel. As I wrote in another context:
The Game, we learn, arose out of the ruins of The Century of Wars, which was, not coincidentally, the “Age of the Feuilleton,” symbol of journalistic and scholarly frivolity. [And also, perhaps, the Age of Propaganda] At the last moment, Europe pulled back from the brink, and initiated a movement dedicated to Truth rather than Interest, to Platonically purify and uplift society by purifying the arts and sciences of fraud, triviality, and irrelevance; above all, by demonstrating their unity and interconnection.
For once, our plucky hero is finally onto something, but it’s too late.
The translation seems at least serviceable, with occasional infelicities (the Hochschule Rosenberg attends in Moscow is likely a technical institute, more an MIT than a “high school”). Some text seems to have dropped out that would have introduced a letter from his first wife rather than confusingly going right into it, producing some disorientation of the reader.
The kindle formatting is excellent, unlike the other, slipshod Rosenberg kindle publications sold by Amazon. The endnotes are, as they should be, linked to the text, and are actually quite useful in content as well. One note, for example, points out a paragraph that “reveals Rosenberg’s unrelenting hatred for Goebbels” by its blaming him for promoting “emotional eruptions” and “unworthy excesses” such as “the burning of the books, the day of boycott, and particularly the anti-Jewish action of November 9 and 10, 1937,” always “urging Hitler on to radical actions by claiming they were genuinely revolutionary,” when in fact, as the note goes on to document, Goebbels had opposed and stopped the book burnings, and the one day boycott was a symbolic response to “the far larger and longer lasting boycott of German goods organized by international Jewry.”
Recommended for anyone looking for an account of the Third Reich that errs only by personal pique rather than victors’ ideology.
2. Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930). Although “throughout the trial, it was agreed that Rosenberg had a decisive role in shaping Nazi philosophy and ideology,” most historians disagree, and consider the book to be one of those more cited than read. I suspect that, that with the ignorance adolescent sadism of the gun-chewing GI Joes, they likely just enjoyed seeing a smart guy dance on the end of a rope. The “re-education” of postwar Germany was of course a matter of dumbing down the most cultured people in Europe to the level where the American “world-clown” (Yockey) felt unthreatened, as the contrasting treatment according Heidegger and Schmitt, on the one hand, and the bourgeois timeserver Jaspers, on the other, shows. In Ronald Harwood’s play Taking Sides, Furtwängler’s GI interrogator screams “I want to nail the bandleader!”
3. The German Church or German Faith movement was unknown to me until reading Rosenberg; there are only a couple books in English on it, and I won’t bother to cite them since they fall into the usual “how could such crazed demons be allowed to exist in decent society?” school of victor’s history. Most academics and almost all theologians and preachers like to pretend the Bible, King James translation, came down from Heaven, and that Christians hadn’t spent 2000 years re-writing, editing, burying, and burning “scriptures” to suit their needs. Given his suspiciously violent animadversion to homosexuality (found here in his account of the Röhm Affair), it’s ironic that his Gnostic-oriented edition of the Bible, minus the Old Testament and several epistles, along with Revelation, would have also removed every passage supposedly condemning the sin of Sodom. Just saying.
4. Most obviously, in my keystone work, the titular manifesto of The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012). Analogously, the Myth could have been called The Aryan and the Judaic. For Spengler, see H. Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (New York: Scribner’s, 1952), p. 71.
5. “When I mentioned some time ago that for one of my teachers, as for so many Balts, Weimar was what Athens had once been for Weimar, I merely paraphrased the primarily cultural feeling with which all of us were imbued.”
6. “In my class, consisting of about forty pupils, there were four Russians, three Poles, two genuine Estonians, and two who later posed as such. All the rest were Balts.” Like Rudolf Steiner or Emile Cioran, coming from lands long since submerged to seemingly random changes (I’ve seen Steiner called German, Austrian, Hungarian, Yugoslavian, and Croatian); but unlike Rosenberg, they got in over their heads (except, posthumously, Cioran).
7. “I still don’t believe this part where you allege to prove that deliberate mass extermination was practice in this manner. I did, of course, know that in connection with our struggle there were many executions. I did not know anything about mass extermination to the extent and in the manner as you say.” — Interrogation of Alfred Rosenberg, conducted by Major General Alexandrov, Nov. 5, 1945, International Military Tribunal records, pp. 16-18, cited in the Introduction.
8. See for instance Richard Tedor’s Hitler’s Revolution: Ideology, Social Programs, Foreign Affairs (self-published, 2014). Orthodox historiography, written by the victors, calls these traitors with triple-barrel names “heroes.” See, for instance, the recent Cruise-fest Valkyrie. “I advanced the officer’s careers and their economic status whenever I could. . . . And now every officer up to general who comes to me I have to have searched in a vestibule first, in case he’s bringing in some killing device like this Count Stauffenberg.” — A. Hitler, quoted in Tedor, op. cit.
9. I recall reading somewhere that Rosenberg was constantly being ribbed for his Jewish-sounding surname, and just as constantly humorlessly lecturing everyone, like Al Gore debating Dubya, on how, in his part of the world, there are plenty of Balts with such names who are fine, upstanding Nordic types.
10. Hanns Heinz Ewers, Strange Tales, Edited and Introduced by Stephen E. Flowers with a Foreword by Don Webb (Runa-Raven Press, 2000): “Ewers is a vastly ignored and misunderstood master of the horror and fantasy genre of literature. He was an associate of Guido von List, Lanz von Liebenfels, and Aleister Crowley and later a member of the NSDAP, but also a nudist, pioneer of sexology and decadent poet, film maker, playwright and cabaret performer.”
11. In general, see Men Among the Ruins but, more specifically, his Notes on the Third Reich (London: Arktos, 2013), especially the remarks on The Myth in Chapter V.
12. Das Glasperlenspiel, 1943; English as Magister Ludi (1949) and The Glass Bead Game (New York: Holt, 1969). Theodore Ziolkowski’s Foreword details the similarities to Mann’s book.
13. Hesse’s “Introduction,” written by a supposed narrator in the 25th century, would the “really comprehensive account “ that Rosenberg thinks awaits a “more or less distant future.”
14. “‘I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine’ Michel Houellebecq’s Sexual Anti-Utopia” here and to be reprinted in my forthcoming collection Green Nazis in Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).
15. “Amigo, I think you’re onto something.” — DA Schwartz to Vargas, Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958); “I say, that’s an astonishingly good idea you have there, Doctor” — Russian Ambassador to Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964).
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