Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Hitler was not an occultist": Mitch Horowitz is right but his sourcing is all wrong (Nazis & Christians & Pagans, Part Four)

A post ("Author Mitch Horowitz Says Adolf Hitler Was Not An Occultist") over at the always interesting blog Prometheus Unbound drew my attention to Alexander Zaitchik's recent review of Mitch Horowitz's book Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation. Here is a direct link to Zaitchik's review: "Into the Weird" (originally posted at Killing the Buddha, but also found at Alternet as well as The Witches Voice).

Of course Horowitz is absolutely right that Adolf Hitler was not an Occultist, and also that left/progressive movements in the US have had strong links with Esotericism (which I think is a better term that "the occult"). And Zaitchik is right to praise Horowitz for saying that. But it turns out there is a serious problem with how Horowitz supports what he says about the Nazi/Occult connection.

Here is what Horowitz says in his book:
Is there a natural affinity between fascism and the occult? Today commentators and historians increasingly speak of occultist and pagan influences on Hitler. The subject is a favorite of cable-television documentaries. It has even spawned a subgenre of historical literature, ranging from the speculative to the serious, that casts the Third Reich as an occult empire....

But the following cannot be stated clearly enough: Hitler was not an occultist. He contemptuously dismissed the work of fascist theorists who dwelled upon mythology and mystico-racial theories. In Mein Kampf, he specifically condemned "volkisch wandering scholars" -- that is, second tier mythically and mystically inclined intellects who might have belonged to occult-nationalist groups, such as the Thule Society, with which the Nazis shared symbols. From the earliest stirrings of Hitler's career in the tiny Germany Workers' Party and its street-rabble allies, he was consumed with brutal political and military organization, not theology or myth. He employed a symbol as a party vehicle when necessary and immediately discarded the flotsam around it, whether people or ideas. He castigated those members of his inner circle who showed excessive devotion to Nordic mythology, dismissing the theology of Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg as "stuff that nobody can understand" and a "relapse into medieval notions!"

Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, who has done more than any other scholar to clarify these issues, noted that:
Hitler was certainly interested in Germanic legends and mythology, but he never wished to pursue their survival in folklore, customs, or place-names. He was interested in neither heraldry nor genealogy. Hitler's interest in mythology was related primarily to the ideals and deeds of heroes and their musical interpretation in the operas of Richard Wagner. Before 1913 Hitler's utopia was mother Germany across the border rather than a prehistoric golden age indicated by the occult interpretation of myths and traditions in Austria.
Under the Nazi regime, Theosophical chapters, Masonic lodges, and even sects that had produced some of the occult pamplets that a young Hitler may have encountered as a Vienna knock-about were shunted or savagely oppressed, their members murdered or harassed. Despite astrology's well-publicized appeal to a few of Hitler's cadre, the ancient practice was effectively outlawed under Nazism, and many of its practitioners were jailed or killed. The man sometimes mislabeled "Hitler's astrologer," Karl Ernst Krafft, had no contact with Hitler but briefly reached the attention of mid-level Reich officials for predicting the 1939 assassination attempt on him. Krafft later died en route to Buchenwald. Nazi authorities sentenced Karl Germer, the German protege of British occultist Aleister Crowley, to a concentration camp on charges of recruiting students for Crowley, whom they styled a "high-grade Freemason.
[pp. 185-188]
The problem is that Horowitz cites, and extravagantly praises, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, who turns out to be the world's leading advocate of the very theory that Horowitz wishes to refute: that there is "an affinity between the occult and fascism"!!

The following is taken from Lapis magazine, it is "based on a talk he [Goodrick-Clarke] gave at the New York Open Center in April 1997":

How much of the original dynamic of Aryan racial cultist ideology was preserved in the Nazi party itself, once it was dominated by politicians, rather than occult cranks, is a matter of debate. It's fair to say that Hitler really wasn't an occultist in his own right, but he was certainly someone who could relate to gnostic dualism in a strong way. While he was raised as a Catholic, there's evidence to suggest that he tended towards that heretical side of Catholicism that sees the world in very sharp black and white terms. Certainly, Hitler's anti-Semitism owed much to the famous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to which he was introduced by his mentors, Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg. This notorious Jew-baiting document was first published in German in 1920, but had originated in Russia in the late 1890s. It was highly popular among Czarists during the Russian Revolution as a way of attributing the forces of disorder and radical change to the Jews. There's also very strong evidence to suggest that Hitler actually read Lanz's magazines in Vienna, before World War I. But after the war there was tremendous acceleration in Hitler's dualistic worldview - most probably due to the Protocols - that the world can be saved only if the Jews are destroyed. Many contemporary observers, people like Albert Speer and others who knew him very well and saw him daily right throughout the Third Reich, noticed that an almost eerie, strange light came into Hitler's eyes whenever Jews were the subject of discussion. He looked kind of haunting; he looked paranoid; he looked strange. He looked as if he was up against something he couldn't beat in the end, because ultimately it was a projection of his own fear. There was the sense that he was a prisoner of dualism.

The person who best exemplified this kind of messianic occultism was undoubtedly Himmler, leader of the SS, Hitler's terrifying police and security force, who was responsible for the administration of the Holocaust. The SS combined the idea of recreating a racial aristocracy on purely eugenic lines with the idea of an ideological elite representing wisdom derived from the Aryosophists. Himmler was totally dominated by these ideas. He maintained within his staff a private magus named Karl Maria Wiligut, who came straight out of the occult tradition. Wiligut was born in 1866, demobilized after a perfectly respectable and successful military career in the Austrian-Hungarian army at the end of World War I, went into retirement, but was hospitalized because he had a nervous breakdown and exhibited traits of schizophrenia and paranoia. Then in the late 20s, he moved to Germany and became a prominent figure within the Aryosophical underground. By 1933 he'd joined Himmler's staff on the recommendation of an SS officer who happened to be a member of Lanz's order. Wiligut was promoted from the rank of captain to brigadier and joined Himmler's private staff. His job consisted almost exclusively of recording myths and symbols and stories that he intuited from the ancient Teutonic past, because he, like List, considered himself an ancient priest king, a magician who had direct knowledge of Germanic traditions. From Himmler's archives we know that anything that Wiligut produced, Himmler read, marked with his signature HH, and assiduously filed. Wiligut also designed the death's head ring that was worn by all SS men and claimed by Wiligut to be his ancient family's seal. Wiligut also administered to Himmler all kinds of stimulants and special medications that unfortunately had a very damaging effect on his health. Himmler was aware of Wiligut's psychiatric history, and it was widely known that he'd been committed as a patient in Salzburg before 1933 and he was obliged to resign. But he made one final, extraordinary contribution to Himmler's SS mythology and ritual, and that was the design of a great medieval castle celebrating Teutonic glory, intended as a kind of pagan Vatican, a Germanic center in opposition to Rome and Christianity. The Nazis were ultimately determined to replace the Christian heritage of Europe with something that reflected their pagan past.

Such dreams and visions and beliefs were redolent with gnostic and manichaean heresies. But while Nazi racist beliefs have plenty of theological precedence, in terms of dualistic doctrine and a fanatical desire to change the nature of life on earth, such heresies had never ignited historical events of such consequence. I am convinced that the Nazi fantasies of being a missionary-elect, the Nazi pursuit of the millennium in the name of nationalist racist ideology, and the extermination of six million European Jews in death camps are political events which can be understood only in a theological context. It is perfectly consistent with earlier examples of militant heresy in Europe that the Nazis should have wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence. When endless columns of Nazi legionaries were marching beneath crooked crosses in the massive marshal displays at Nuremberg, Nazi Germany was effectively saluting its first founder-emperor and F├╝hrer of the new one thousand year Reich. But those feelings of exuberance and hope were matched by equally intense feelings of fear and a conviction that destruction of evil was a condition of this new age. Again I'm reminded of the eerie expression that Hitler allegedly wore whenever the word Jew was mentioned in his presence. The proposed shining eternal city of Germania, Hitler's resurrected Berlin, was to be the political center of a vast Germano-Eurasian empire, predicated upon a network of slave and death cities where the antagonists of the millennium would be worked to death or immolated in a holocaust conducted by god's chosen people, the Aryans. The Nazi crusade for a new eon was entirely dualistic in its conception of battling deities for good and evil, order and chaos, and Judeo-Christian in its adoption of cultural symbols involving the destruction of the followers of Satan in a lake of fire and brimstone.

In Auschwitz we see the stain that Nazism cast upon humanity as a whole, an undying testimony to its perverted crusade. The Nazi crusade failed, despite its appeal amongst eccentric apologists for new empires and faiths, because of its hysterical narcissism, its paranoid hatred of things outside itself. You could say that the fundamental pathology of Nazi Germany's hysterical rejection of things that were foreign to itself was a rather brittle talisman. If we think about the lessons of Nazism and the shadow within certain kinds of new age belief, it really comes down to the fact that there is a terrible risk in such projections. When you start to split the world into light and darkness, order and chaos, goodness and evil, it's important that we also bear in mind something that comes very strongly to us through Christian belief: the idea of mea culpa, my fault. List and Lanz, the founders of Aryosophy, cast themselves as shining knights. But their religious dualism was shot through with the idea that they were right and the rest of the world was inferior or wrong. It's this terrible danger of the narcissism and paranoia that run through these pseudo religions and their hysterical assertion of rightness against all that seems disorderly or different that constitutes the ultimate risk - the sense that one can only solve one's problems by destroying the other.
In summary of the above, according to Goodrick-Clarke, the Holocaust "can only be understood in a theological context." And this context is that the Nazis "wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence." This could only happen because the Nazis had abandoned "Christian" ethical principles in favor of Occultism, thus becoming morally debased because of the "narcissism and paranoia that run through these pseudo religions." Bah. This is exactly the bullshit that Mitch Horowitz wishes to argue against, and rightly so!!

In the first two sentences of the Author's Preface to the 2004 Edition of his The Occult Roots of Nazism (originally published in 1985) Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke could not possibly make himself any clearer:
As we witness the renewed growth of the far right across Europe and America and the former East Bloc, The Occult Roots of Nazism helps illuminate its ideological foundations. By examining the occult ideas that played midwife to the Hitler movement, the most destructive right-wing ideology in history, we can better understand their implications today.
So while it is true that Goodrick-Clarke concedes "that Hitler really wasn't an occultist in his own right," he nevertheless has literally made a career out of the following claims:

1. Nazism has it's "roots" in the Occult.

2. Occultism was the "the midwife" of Nazism.

3. Under the sinister influence of Occult ideas and neopaganistical "pseudo religions", the Nazis abandoned the "Christian" belief in personal responsibility ("mea culpa, my fault"), and therefore succumbed to the "terrible danger" of "narcissism and paranoia."

4. The Nazis "wanted to destroy Christian civilization in the name of a new dispensation under pagan influence."

5. The Occultism of the Nazis also provides the "ideological foundations" of the modern day "far right".

In this blog I have previously discussed the false claims that the Nazis were anti-Christian and were guided in some way by Paganism and/or Esotericism, in the following two posts (which both contain reliable and extensive sourcing):
European Christendom and the Historical Background of Nazism
Quotes Demonstrating the Christianity of the Nazis

In addition, we know that Christian missionaries working in Africa up through the mid 20th century incorporated scientific racism, especially in the form of the so-called "Hamitic hypothesis", into their strategy for spreading the Gospel on the Dark Continent. The point is that the Church itself saw nothing whatsoever problematic in the racial theories that are the heart and soul of Nazism. This has been discussed, and documented, at some length by me in the following two posts:
Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda
"Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwanda Experience"

This post is part of the series on "Nazis & Christians & Pagans":
[1] Nazis and Christians and Pagans, Oh My! (Part One)
[2] Christian Nazi Quote-fest (Part Two)
[3] Fascism, Islam, and Freedom of Expression (Part Three)
[4] "Hitler was not an occultist": Mitch Horowitz is right but his sourcing is all wrong (Part Four)
[5] Karla Poewe's "New Religions and the Nazis" reviewed by Richard Steigmann-Gall (Part Five)
[6] Rosenberg, Chamberlain, Harnack (Part Six)