Friday, February 5, 2010

Rosenberg, Chamberlain, Harnack (Nazis & Christians & Pagans, Part Six)

Alfred Rosenberg and The Myth of the 20th Century
Alfred Rosenberg was the leading "intellectual" of a movement that had nothing but contempt for intellectuals. He was an ultranationalist German whose mother was Estonian and whose father was Lithuanian (albeit both of German ancestry). He was an anti-Semite with a Jewish sounding last name.

Just exactly how influential either Rosenberg or his "ideas" were within the Nazi party is a matter of ongoing debate. (Supposedly, Rosenberg's fellow Nazis found him to be arrogant, narrow minded and humorless. Which is kind of amazing when you think about it.) But there is no doubt that Rosenberg held important positions, including editor of the main Nazi newspaper and Reich Minister. He was one of the more prominent Nuremberg defendants, and was hanged on October 16, 1946.

Rosenberg's The Myth of the 20th Century sold more than a million copies during the Third Reich, second only to Mein Kampf. The subtitle of the book is "An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual Confrontations of Our Age," and it is precisely the "spiritual-intellectual" pretensions of the book that make it stand out. It is often touted as the real "Bible" of Nazi "mystical racism".

But the fact is that there was nothing "mystical" about Nazi racial theories. The Nazis' views on race were couched in "scientific" language, and the conceptual framework of "scientific racism" was a well established and deeply ingrained paradigm throughout the western world by the time the Nazis came to power in 1933. Consider, for example, the nonchalant, indeed, shockingly callous, racism in the following excerpt from T.H. Huxley's essay Emancipation -- Black and White (written in 1865, only 23 years before Adolf Hitler was born):
It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognisant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest.

But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward lie between nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it, and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore. And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy.

The doctrine of equal natural rights may be an illogical delusion; emancipation may convert the slave from a well-fed animal into a pauperised man; mankind may even have to do without cotton-shirts; but all these evils must be faced if the moral law, that no human being can arbitrarily dominate over another without grievous damage to his own nature, be, as many think, as readily demonstrable by experiment as any physical truth. If this be true, no slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man.

The like considerations apply to all the other questions of emancipation which are at present stirring the world–the multifarious demands that classes of mankind shall be relieved from restrictions imposed by the artifice of man, and not by the necessities of nature. One of the most important, if not the most important, of all these, is that which daily threatens to become the "irrepressible" woman question. What social and political rights have women? What ought they to be allowed, or not allowed, to do, be, and suffer? And, as involved in and underlying all these questions, how ought they to be educated?
(I added those Civil Rights themed pics and links to highlight the fact that T.H. Huxley's racism in 1865 was actually quite mild compared to attitudes that were still all-too-prevalent a full century later in the US.)

It is, in fact, easy to show that Nazi racism and anti-Semitism were perfectly consistent with the mainstream bigotry of Western society at the time, and also that the Nazis were far more inclined to view their racial theories as scientific ideas rather than as mystical revelations. Nevertheless Alfred Rosenberg is inevitably trotted out as a star witness by those who wish to make that case that Nazism was inherently incompatible with Christianity, or at least with modern European Christianity, and that the Nazis true and natural religious affinity was with Paganism.

But Rosenberg opens his magnum opus on "the religion of blood and soil" with a quote from the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart:

"This address is only for those who have already found its message in their own lives, or at least long for it in their hearts."

Meister Eckhart is mentioned over 40 times by Rosenberg in his Myth, always to praise him. Rosenberg also praises Francis of Assisi, although less often. Jesus is mentioned over 100 times, always in the most positive light. Luther is mentioned approvingly 45 times.

But when it comes to the old Pagan Gods, Rosenberg finds little to praise. In fact he forcefully distances himself from any notion that he wishes to return to ancient Germanic Paganism, which he considers a vicious distortion of what he is proposing: "[I]n an unscrupulous manner the fantasy was concocted that I wished to reintroduce the pagan cult of Wotan."
[from Rosenberg's preface to the 3rd edition]

Two more Wotan quotes from Rosenberg:

"The Jehovah of the church is as moribund as Wotan was 1500 years ago."

"Wotan (Wodan, Odin) is dead as a religious form. He did not die at the hands of [Pope] Bonifacious, but of himself. He completed the decline of the gods during the mythological epoch."

Rosenberg also lists "Wotanism" along with "blasphemy and atheism" as insults hurled at him by his critics.

Bottom line: Alfred Rosenberg promulgated a new form of religion, not a return to the worship of the Old Gods. He rejected such a return repeatedly and unambiguously. Rosenberg placed great emphasis on the claim that this new religiosity was deeply indebted to the teachings of Jesus, Luther and Meister Eckhart, while at the same time emphatically rejecting and even deriding "Wotanism."

A complete English translation of the 3rd edition of Rosenberg's book, in pdf format, is at the very bottom of this wikipedia entry:

Chamberlain and The Foundations of the 19th Century
Alfred Rosenberg was deeply influenced by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Indeed, Rosenberg's The Myth of the 20th Century was openely conceived and presented to the world as a sequel to Chamberlain's Foundations of the 19th Century.

There is nothing subtle, or in any way difficult to discern, about Chamberlain's religious orientation:
The birth of Jesus Christ is the most important date in the whole history of mankind. No battle, no dynastic change, no natural phenomenon, no discovery possesses an importance that could bear comparison with the short earthly life of the Galilean; almost two thousand years of history prove it, and even yet we have hardly crossed the threshold of Christianity. For profoundly intrinsic reasons we are justified in calling that year the “first year,“ and in reckoning our time from it.

In a certain sense we might truly say that “history“ in the real sense of the term only begins with the birth of Christ. The peoples that have not yet adopted Christianity — the Chinese, the Indians, the Turks and others — have all so far no true history; all they have is, on the one hand, a chronicle of ruling dynasties, butcheries and the like: on the other the uneventful, humble existence of countless millions living a life of bestial happiness, who disappear in the night of ages leaving no trace behind; whether the kingdom of the Pharaohs was founded in the year 3285 or in the year 32850 is in itself of no consequence; to know Egypt under one Rameses is the same as to know it under all fifteen Ramesides. And so it is with the other pre-Christian nations (with the exception of those three — of which I shall speak presently — that stand in organic relation to our Christian epoch): their culture, their art, their religion, in short their condition may interest us, achievements of their intellect or their industry may even have become valuable parts of our own life, as is exemplified by Indian thought, Babylonian science and Chinese methods; their history, however, purely as such, lacks moral greatness, in other words, that force which rouses the individual man to consciousness of his individuality in contrast to the surrounding world and then — like the ebb and flow of the tide— makes him employ the world, which he has discovered in his own breast, to shape that which is without it.

The Aryan Indian, for example, though he unquestionably possesses the greatest talent for metaphysics of any people that ever lived, and is in this respect far superior to all peoples of to-day, does not advance beyond inner enlightenment: he does not shape; he is neither artist nor reformer, he is content to live calmly and to die redeemed — he has no history. No more has his opposite, the Chinaman — that unique representative of Positivism and Collectivism; what our historical works record as his “history“ is nothing more than an enumeration of the various robber bands, by which the patient, shrewd and soulless people, without sacrificing an iota of its individuality, has allowed itself to be ruled: such enumerations are simply “criminal statistics,“ not history, at least not for us: we cannot really judge actions which awaken no echo in our breast.

Let me give an example. While these lines are being written [1897], the civilised world is clamorously indignant with Turkey; the European Powers are being compelled by the voice of public opinion to intervene for the protection of the Armenians and Cretans; the final destruction of the Turkish power seems now only a question of time. This is certainly justified; it was bound to come to this; nevertheless it is a fact that Turkey is the last little corner of Europe in which a whole people lives in undisturbed prosperity and happiness. It knows nothing of social questions, of the bitter struggle for existence and other such things; great fortunes are unknown and pauperism is literally non-existent; all form a single harmonious family, and no one strives after wealth at the expense of his neighbour. I am not simply repeating what I have read in newspapers and books, I am testifying to what I have seen with my own eyes.

If the Mohammedan had not practised tolerance at a time when this idea was unknown to the rest of Europe, there would now be idyllic peace in the Balkan States and in Asia Minor. Here it is the Christian who throws in the leaven of discord; and with the cruelty of a ruthlessly reacting power of nature, the otherwise humane Moslem rises and destroys the disturber of his peace. In fact, the Christian likes neither the wise fatalism of the Mohammedan nor the prudent indifferentism of the Chinese. “I come not to bring peace, but a sword,“ Christ himself said. The Christian idea can, in a certain sense, be said to be positively anti-social.

Now that the Christian has become conscious of a personal dignity otherwise never dreamt of, he is no longer satisfied with the simple animal instinct of living with others; the happiness of the bees and the ants has now no charm for him. If Christianity be curtly characterised as the religion of love, its importance for the history of mankind is but superficially touched upon. The essential thing is rather this: by Christianity each individual has received an inestimable, hitherto unanticipated value — even the “hairs on his head are all numbered by God“ (Matthew x. 30); his outward lot does not correspond to this inner worth; and thus it is that life has become tragic, and only by tragedy does history receive a purely human purport.

For no event is in itself historically tragic; it is only rendered tragic by the mind of those who experience it; otherwise what affects mankind remains as sublimely indifferent as all other natural phenomena. I shall return soon to the Christian idea. My purpose here has been merely to indicate, first, how deeply and manifestly Christianity revolutionises human feeling and action, of which we still have living proofs before our very eyes; secondly, in what sense the non-Christian peoples have no true history, but merely annals.
[pp. 6-9 in the 2nd ed., published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1912]
In the Introduction to his book Chamberlain makes his attitude toward Christianity even more clear:
In general I have regarded the year 1 of the Christian era as the beginning of our history and have given a fuller justification of this view in the introduction to the first part [see above in this blog post]: but it will be seen that I have not kept slavishly to this scheme. Should we ever become true Christians, then certainly that which is here merely suggested, without being worked out, would become an historical actuality, for it would mean the birth of a new race.
[p. lxvi]
In other words, far from envisioning any kind of a break with Christianity and a return to Paganism, Chamberlain looks hopefully toward a future in which "true" Christianity finally comes into it's own!

Chamberlain became a member of the Nazi party and the party's official newspaper, under Alfred Roseberg's editorship, lavished praise on Chamberlain on the occassion of his 70th birthday, calling his Foundations "the gospel of the Nazi movement." Chamberlain's funeral was attended by Adolf Hitler.

Theodore Roosevelt was decidedly ambiguous about Chamberlain's Foundations. Roosevelt's review of the book, which he wrote in 1913 (after reading Foundations in its English translation by John Lees), contains several unkind remarks, referring, for example, to the book's "startling inaccuracies and lack of judgment," as well as the author's "violent partiality and extreme wrath."

Roosevelt also very pointedly observes that
Mr. Chamberlain himself is quite as fantastic an extremist as any of those whom he derides, and an extremist whose doctrines are based upon foolish hatred is even more unlovely than an extremist whose doctrines are based upon foolish benevolence. Mr. Chamberlain's hatreds cover a wide gamut. They include Jews, Darwinists, the Roman Catholic Church, the people of southern Europe, Peruvians, Semites, and an odd variety of literary men and historians. To this sufficiently incongruous collection of antipathies he adds a much smaller selection of violent attachments, ranging from imaginary primitive Teutons and Aryans to Immanuel Kant, and Indian theology, metaphysics, and philosophy—he draws sharp distinctions between all three, and I merely use them to indicate his admiration for the Indian habit of thought, an admiration which goes hand in hand with and accentuates his violent hatred for what most sane people regard as the far nobler thought contained, for instance, in the Old Testament. He continually contradicts himself, or at least uses words in such diametrically opposite senses as to convey the effect of contradiction; and so it would be possible to choose phrases of his which contradict what is here said; but I think that I give a correct impression of his teaching as a whole.
But, more positively, Roosevelt also opens the review by calling the book "noteworthy" and "always entertaining", and he also praises the author's "brilliancy and suggestiveness". But most interesting of all, in my opinion, is how Teddy ends the review:
Yet, after all is said, a man who can write such a really beautiful and solemn appreciation of true Christianity, of true acceptance of Christ's teachings and personality, as Mr. Chamberlain has done, a man who can sketch as vividly as he has sketched the fundamental facts of the Roman empire in the first three centuries of our era, a man who can warn us as clearly as he has warned about some of the pressing dangers which threaten our social fabric because of indulgence in a morbid and false sentimentality, a man, in short, who has produced in this one book materials for half a dozen excellent books on utterly diverse subjects, represents an influence to be reckoned with and seriously to be taken into account.
Much of Chamberlain's Foundations of the 19th Century can be found online (in both the original and English translation) here:

Adolf von Harnack and Liberal Christianity
Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of modern times. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to a collection of his writings: Adolf von Harnack: Liberal Theology At Its Height (edited by Martin Rumscheidt):
Harnack's thought is by general agreement "liberal," but what does it mean to call it "liberal theology at its height"? Does the term liberal have so unequivocal a meaning that that assertion is clear in its meaning?

As used here, "liberal" derives its meaning partly from Harnack's
own work, partly from specific aspects it shares with the work of other theologians labeled "liberal", and partly from the insights of critics who wanted to do what "liberals" had done but do it better or more appropriately.

Harnacks' work manifests a powerful conviction in relation to the imperative of freedom: the freedom of thought, of pursuing truth on every path, the freedom from interference by those who have been given authority in human institutions, from human declarations and rules so that conscience may develop as fully as possible. But that freedom is also inseparable from responsibility, the responsibility towards the object and subject of human action and speech, towards the rigors of human discourse and enquiry. Harnack's 'liberalism,' as it is seen by the author, was his thinking and speaking in responsibility and openness, coupled with a broad and personal modesty. That modesty can be seen in his awareness that there were limits to what he saw and said. But they were not limits set, speaking now in theological terms, by dogmatics as an academic discipline, or by dogmas, affirmations definied by duly authorized people, to be affirmed and held to be true for the sake of salvation; such limits were seen to be antithetical to other, highly characteristic features of the 'liberal' position. Among those were the confidence in the human, finite, spirit, the reverence for the dignity, competence and authority of the power of human thought and the ability to be able to transcend one's subjectivity in the endeavor to attain to genuine objectivity. In Harnack's 'liberal theology' one perceives an incorruptible reasonableness and an unshakeable religious faith; there is his sense of giving his al for the freedom of theology in the very centre of his awareness that he was dependent on the 'absolute' spirit which to pray for was the task of believing Christian theologians. His faith was a faith that knows because it was held by, but not the consequence of, courageous and free thought.

No claim is being made that such features are to be found only in the theology of the this 'liberal,' Adolf von Harnack; what is being claimed is that his theology manifests these, essentially laudable, characteristics. There are others which belong to a more general description of 'liberal theology' as such.

[pp. 33-34]
After the above, Martin Rumscheidt then provides a long quote from Karl Barth (1886-1968), a Swiss Reformed theologian (and one-time student of Harnack's) who was once described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas:
[Liberal theology is] a theology in the succession of Descartes, primarily and definitely interested in human, and particularly the Christian, religion within the framework of our modern outlook on the world, considering God [and God's] work and ... word from this point of view, and adopting the criticial attitude towards the message of the Bible and ecclesiastical tradition -- to this extent, and anthropocentric theology .... The task of free theological study (it could never be too reverently and strenuously undertaken) was just to study Christian doctrine, as it developed in accordance with its inner necessity, and illuminate it by considering the question of real meaning ... [giving] it a critical yet positive examination and exposition; in other words, to raise it from the level of intuition to that of pure concept.
Karl Barth "Liberal Theology: Some Alternatives", in Hibbert Journal, vol lix, No 3 (April 1961) pp. 213-5.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Adolf von Harnack were friends, and they also shared an important mutual friend, German Emperor and King of Prussia, William II. In 1888, during the first year of his reign, Emperor William personally intervened to clear the way for Harnack's controversial appointment to the faculty at the University of Berlin. Among the reasons for the opposition to Harnack's elevation to such a prestigious position were (1) Harnack's open skepticism about the authenticity of the Gospel of John and at least two other Books of the New Testament, (2) his skepticism concerning such accepted Christian doctrines as the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Ascension, as well as all miracles generally, and (3) his questioning of whether or not Jesus had actually instituted baptism in the name of the Trinity.

In large part precisely because of his radical ideas and the strong opposition he faced from the entrenched hierarchies of "both confessions" in Germany (Lutheran and Catholic), Harnack was very popular with students, who packed his lectures. In 1894 he became embroiled in a major dispute over the Apostle's Creed when a delegation of students asked for his advice on the subject. According to Martin Rumscheidt (editor of the above mentioned Adolf von Harnack: Liberal Theology at its Height), Harnack had already "been publicly sympathetic to a wish for a new creed-like expression of Christian faith so that the dimension of personal credibility could take over from that of mere credulity in worship." [p. 17]

Rumscheidt also cites Harnack's daughter and biographer, Agnes von Zahn-Harnack, who characterized those who were outraged by her father's subsequent "advice" to the students as "a horde of small yelping dogs, those pious twisters of truth and that unholy simplemindedness." She also stated that her father's opponents attempted to portray him as a "forger in the pits of heathenism" and a purveyor of "anti-Christian teaching." [As quoted on p. 17 of Rumscheidt's Introduction. Rumscheidt is himself quoting from Agnes von Zahn-Harnack's 1936 biography of her father, titled simply Adolf von Harnack.]

Harnack's relationship with Chamberlain is discussed below in a review by Roderick Stackelberg (Department of History, Gonzaga University), of a new book (in German) titled Harnack, Marcion and Judaism by Bonn University Theology professor Wolfram Kinzig:

In this closely argued book, church historian Wolfram Kinzig explores the puzzling question how Adolf Harnack (1851-1930), the most famous academic representative of liberal Protestantism (known in Germany as Kulturprotestantismus) at the turn of the century, arrived at his notorious proposal to exclude the Old Testament from the canon of the German Evangelical Church. Elevated to the hereditary nobility by Kaiser Wilhelm II after his appointment as royal librarian in 1906, Harnack made his startling recommendation in his last major work, a biography of the second-century Greek quasi-Gnostic heretic Marcion, which he published in 1921 at the age of seventy.[1] Völkisch publicists after the First World War, including members of the Nazi-supported Deutsche Christen, frequently referred to Harnack's recommendation to justify their own rejection of the "Jewish" Old Testament, despite the fact that Harnack repeatedly disassociated himself from the antisemitic movement and criticized its doctrines of racial supremacy. While the specific focus of Kinzig's study is the genealogy of Harnack's proposal to revoke the canonical status of the Old Testament, his more general purpose is to investigate and critique Harnack's attitudes towards Judaism as a religion and towards contemporary Jewry as a people.....

Harnack's prejudices and ambivalence, and those of Kulturprotestantismus more generally, are nowhere more evident than in the third part of Kinzig's book, "The Correspondence between Harnack and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927)." Their acquaintance was mediated by Wilhelm II in 1901, who wanted the distinguished theologian to meet the newly celebrated author of The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1900). Like many other liberal Protestant theologians, Harnack had praised Foundations for its exaltation of Christianity and the Reformation while either dismissing or ignoring its racist and antisemitic content. The two writers did not exactly hit it off, each criticizing the other in letters to third parties. In 1902 Chamberlain wrote to Cosima Wagner, "Ich verehre Harnack als Gelehrten.... doch geistig fühle ich mich durch eine Welt von ihm getrennt" (cited on p. 215). To Wilhelm II Chamberlain complained about Harnack's all-too-moderate nationalism in 1903: "Er ist doch ebenso frei wie ich und hätte eine deutsche, entschiedene Sprache reden dürfen und sollen" (cited on p. 216). Between 1901 and 1912, the Harnack-Chamberlain correspondence was limited to polite but fairly perfunctory exchanges. Harnack's longest letter in 1902 contained his sometimes quite censorious corrections to Chamberlain's collection of sayings by Jesus, Worte Christi (1901), most of which Chamberlain adopted in the second edition of his pamphlet in 1903. The nature of their relationship changed abruptly in 1912 after Chamberlain sent Harnack a copy of his newly published biography of Goethe. Harnack responded with five letters of effusive praise and detailed commentary between November 13 and 21, 1912, as he voraciously read the book chapter by chapter. Again he rejected Chamberlain's antisemitism and racism (less pronounced in Goethe than in The Foundations), writing, "You are really possessed by an anti-Jewish demon that clouds your vision and disfigures your wonderful book.... I believe that we owe Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and above all Jesus Christ himself to the Jews" (cited on p. 263). But Harnack made it clear that he would not let the issue of antisemitism get between them, cutting short his criticism of Chamberlain's racism with the words, "But enough; the Jew is not to have the last word. May he rather now disappear completely [from our correspondence] and may only the conviction of how much we have in common remain, as you have so wonderfully shown in your portrait of Goethe" (cited on p. 266). Chamberlain agreed to drop the subject--"Sie werden Ihre Meinung nicht ändern, und ich die meine ebensowenig"--(cited on p. 271) but not until after he tried to rationalize his hatred of Jews as a necessary corollary to his love of honor, nobility, reverence, and morality. "Seien Sie auch hierin generös," Chamberlain wrote, "und lassen Sie mir meinen Haß, auf das ich nicht meine Liebe verliere" (cited p. 272). They continued on good terms. Harnack gratefully acknowledged receipt of Chamberlain's war pamphlets in 1914 and 1915, and praised them highly to the Kaiser, and his Mensch und Gott. Betrachtungen über Religion und Christentum in 1921. Chamberlain reciprocated by heaping praise on publications sent by Harnack, including his Marcion in 1922. Certainly they were united in their hopes for a German victory in the First World War, in their bitter disappointment at German defeat, and in their assumption of the superiority of the German form of Protestant Christianity. Although he preached tolerance, it was Harnack who had written in 1901, "Wer diese Religion nicht kennt, kennt keine, und wer sie samt ihrer Geschichte kennt, kennt alle" (cited p. 204).

Clearly, Kinzig's purpose in including Harnack's correspondence with Chamberlain, some of which has not been published before, is to show how very different Harnack's attitudes toward Jews and racialism were from those of Chamberlain. But he concedes that their correspondence "casts a dark shadow on the biography of the church historian" (p. 231) and requires explanation. From a post-Holocaust perspective historians cannot help but question how Harnack could have maintained such friendly relations for so long with so notorious an antisemite, and Chamberlain was not the only one, as Harnack was also on excellent terms with völkisch theologian Johannes Müller (1864-1949), whose evangelical community at Schloß Elmau he visited for extended periods in the 1920s.
[Roderick Stackelberg's review of Wolfram Kinzig's Harnack, Marcion und das Judentum: Nebst einer kommentierten Edition des Briefwechsels Adolf von Harnacks mit Houston Stewart Chamberlain
from H-German (May, 2007)
The relationship between Harnack and Chamberlain is also discussed by Richard Steigmann-Gall in his Holy Reich (a book already referred to frequently in this blog). Steigmann-Gall is primarily interested in using Harnack to demonstrate that there was in fact no great theological barrier between Liberal Protestantism and the kind of Christianity embraced and advocated by the Nazis. This is especially important with respect to the Old Testament, which the Nazis had to reject because of it's unambiguous Jewishness. Harnack, albeit for different reasons, came to the same position as the Nazis with respect to the Old Testament.

As already discussed above, Harnack was also willing to call into question significant parts of the New Testament, as well as the Apostle's Creed. So in Harnack's case, his attitude to the Old Testament wasn't simply a matter of crude anti-Semitism, but rather it was at least in part an expression of his historical-critical approach and his general skepticism. Nevertheless, in his book-length study of Marcion, Harnack did go so far as to deride the Old Testament as merely "Jewish carnal law" that was, as such, "below the level of Christianity" [see page 134 of the 1990 Durham edition of Steely and Bierma's English translation]. In that same book Harnack speculated that it had perhaps been impossible for the early Church fathers to do without the Old Testament, but that the time for such an "unburdening of Christianity" had been ripe as far back as Luther [see pages 134-139].

Their own rejection of the Old Testament has sometimes been used to argue that the Nazis were not genuinely Christian, but as Steigmann-Gall points out, "So long as departures such as Harnack's existed within the parameters of legitimate Protestant theology, the Nazi rejection of the Old Testament cannot be used to demonstrate an antithesis to Christianity."

It is also important to emphasize Harnack's nationalism. He, and other Liberal Protestants, strongly supported Germany during WWI. In fact his friend and supporter Kaiser Wilhelm called on Harnack to draft the "Call to the German People", which the Emperor delivered on August 6, 1914. The following month Harnack, together with many other intellectuals including a dozen theologians, signed a manifesto endorsing Germany's war aims.

The Executive Summary on Harnack is this: one of the most prominent, popular and influential Christian theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries promulgated a Liberal Protestantism that was completely compatible with the kind of Christianity favored by the Nazis. He was also a vocal German nationalist and a friend and even admirer of the viciously anti-Semitic Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who, in turn, was a major and direct influence on Nazi ideology.

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)

Karla Poewe's "New Religions and the Nazis" reviewed by Richard Steigmann-Gall (Nazis & Christians & Pagans, Part Five)

Below is Richard Steignmann-Gall's review of Karla Poewe's New Religions and the Nazis. Poewe's book first appeared in 2006, published by Routledge. Steigmann-Gall's review was posted to H-NET in May of 2007.

Published by (May 2007)

Karla Poewe. _New Religions and the Nazis_. New York: Routledge,
2006. xii + 218 pp. Table of contents. EUR 65.00 (cloth), ISBN
0-415-29024-4; EUR 18.95 (paper), ISBN 0-415-29025-2.

Reviewed for H-German by Richard Steigmann-Gall, Department of History,
Kent State University

Many a Slip Twixt Cup and Lip

This volume seeks to explore the "contribution of new religions to the
emergence of Nazi ideology in the 1920s and 1930s" (p. i). Its author,
Karla Poewe, has set for herself a prodigious goal; to demonstrate that
"leading cultural figures such as Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, Mathilde
Ludendorff" and other fringe religious figures in the Weimar Republic
"wanted to shape the cultural milieu of politics, religion, theology,
Indo-Aryan metaphysics, literature and Darwinian science into a new
genuinely German faith-based political community. Instead what emerged
was a totalitarian political regime known as National Socialism, with an
anti-Semitic worldview" (p. i). In other words, she seeks not only to
explore the milieu of pagan-Germanic "Faithlers" within the Third Reich,
a small group about whom a great deal is already known, but to
demonstrate that they _invented_ Nazism as an ideology. Elsewhere
Poewe puts this ambition more plainly: "Although the book concentrates
on [Jakob Wilhelm] Hauer, it shows more broadly how young intellectuals
and founders of new religions shaped the ideology and organizations
of an emergent National Socialist state" (p. 10). Any lingering ambiguity
as to her scholarly goal is put to rest when she contends that Hauer and
others of his ilk "not only intended to destroy 'womanish' Christianity so
that a new knowledge might emerge but they were instrumental in creating
that new knowledge. We know it as Nazism" (p. 14).

Even as the argument for taking ideology seriously in the Third Reich gains
increasing traction, the Nazi _Weltanschauung_ is conventionally deemed
far too amorphous to have its precise intellectual genealogy or antecedents
reliably traced. In this regard, scholars frequently contrast National Socialism
to Marxism, which was notable for a series of programmatic writings that
established a much more delineated set of tenets and beliefs upon which
a Marxist politics could reliably be founded. Not so Nazism, or the larger
phenomenon of fascism for that matter. _Mein Kampf_ is arguably the
closest thing to a Nazi version of _Das Kapital_ in the sense of a
foundational text, and while Alan Bullock tendency of discounting Nazi
ideology is deservedly on the wane,[1] Hitler's writing is so meandering
and uninterested in defining its terms that it defies answers to the question
of precisely where its author obtained his core beliefs. An older generation
of scholarship interested in Nazi ideology thought in terms of "proto-Nazis"
or "pre-fascists," an approach that has been problematized since its
conception. It is not for nothing, therefore, that in spite of an environment
more favorable to the ideological, no current scholarly trend considers (or
reconsiders) the "intellectual origins of Nazism."

Karla Poewe claims to find those origins. She does this by delineating, in
the first half of the book, the worldviews of Hauer and others responsible
for establishing "Deutsche Glaube," a variety of paganist thinking that
found a window of opportunity in the marketplace of Weimar culture and
attempted to take advantage of the new Third Reich to further its religious
ambitions. The second half of the book concerns itself more with
developments on the ground. Poewe seeks in this section to demonstrate
that leading members of the party subscribed to these views by teasing
out the web of associations in which this circle traveled. In this way she
attempts to demonstrate that it was not just a set of loosely-defined ideas,
but social connection that belies Hauer's status as the true locus of Nazi

Poewe's book demonstrates that Hauer was an important figure in the
paganist milieu, an individual who could periodically rely upon a few
contacts in some high places in the Nazi state. This part of the analysis,
although not particularly original, nonetheless demonstrates effectively that
Hauer could occasionally draw on some associates within the party to his
own benefit. The book also demonstrates that he clearly attempted to
position himself as a man of consequence and import in the emergent
_völkisch_ movement. More than that, ample evidence is offered, primarily
through correspondence and letters, that Hauer was a man of great
ambition, one in the middle of a loose cohort of ideologues who hoped to
bring about a cultural and political revolution. Poewe can be convincing in
her critique of others' works on this topic, most especially that of Margarete
Dierk, who published in 1986 the only political biography of Hauer, but who
was herself the product of a Nazified university system. The book's
arguments pursue a series of other scholars as well, with varying
degrees of success. In particular, the analysis is somewhat less
convincing in taking on Werner Ustorf's portrayal of Hauer as Christian
incomplete in his apostasy (p. 26). Whether or to what degree he remained
a nominal Christian can admittedly not be a very good indicator of his
inner state of mind, a point that Poewe makes effectively. But that
conclusion only raises the problem of whether Hauer's pronouncements
can be a more useful guide.

The last point is particularly germane in this case, because any author
who treats this topic has a great deal of explaining to do when it comes
to Hauer's frequently contradictory utterances. Hauer was not simply a
stereotypical, Janus-faced Nazi politician speaking out of both sides of
his mouth for the sake of expediency. The problem is much more
fundamental than that. In Poewe's analysis, two issues are most central:
first, that true antisemitism must also be anti-Christian; second, that
Hauer, as an alleged founder of Nazi ideology, was therefore both.
Unfortunately, the book's own evidence shows that he was highly
inconsistent and even contradictory, on both counts. Although the
usual rantings against the Church and Christian religion to be expected
from paganistic "Faithlers" are cited, the book also demonstrates
that Hauer still felt protective of the religion he allegedly rejected. In his
search for a new religion, he describes how "nearer [!] I came to
the person of Jesus" (p. 65). Elsewhere, Poewe's analysis itself
contends that "Hauer did not like the church because most of its clerics
were non-Christians" (p. 57). She also demonstrates that Hauer was not
consistently antisemitic. At one point, we are treated to Hauer's defense
of a Jew banned from a public lecture (p. 59). On another occasion Poewe
herself admits: "Yet Hauer did not regard himself as anti-Semitic. Nor did
all of his followers" (p. 95). Surely this is not
a simple matter of detail for someone we are told was a foundational author
of the Nazi worldview.

The ways in which Poewe's intepretations try to reconcile such
inconsistencies are rather remarkable. Regarding Hauer's
poorly-developed sense of Jew-hatred, Poewe asks: "Can one live a
lie not knowing that one is doing so? I think the answer is yes" (p. 95).
It would be hard to find a definition of historical method that can carry
the burden of such a formulation. On other occasions, the author tries to
explain away such inconsistencies by arguing that Hauer's
correspondence was intended to hide his "true" feelings when Nazism
was still just a movement, that he was not always "on the level" regarding
correspondence on his political views (p. 28). At one point she states:
"His view that German Faith should become the essence of National
Socialism ... was not openly expressed until the end of 1933" (p. 35).
If we take this argument _prima facie_, on the presumption that it was
too dangerous for Hauer to "unfurl his true colors" sooner, by what
method can we reliably determine when his "real" views are being
expressed? Poewe not only diminishes her ability to rely upon his
political and religious utterances when she claims they are "genuine,"
but also fatally undermines her main ambition of demonstrating that
Hauer helped form the basis of Nazi thinking. Not only would a "true
Nazi" uphold his views and his party membership publicly during
the Weimar Republic, neither of which Hauer did, such individuals were
also much more consistent in their basic ideological views. In her
defense, Poewe admits that her book is "not a smoothly written history"
(p. 16).

The biggest problem of all, however, is that the author simply never
demonstrates that Hauer took a hand in shaping Nazi ideology. He was
a fellow-traveler, intent on riding the coattails of Nazi success and, like
a great many "little Führers" swimming in Hitler's wake, attempting to
claim some of the glory. Proof of Hauer's place in Nazism rests far
too much on assertions made by Hauer, such as his profession that
"[t]he German Faith Movement has today become a movement that has
penetrated the whole of our _Volk_" (p. 75). Poewe excels at
demonstrating Hauer's sense of grandiosity, but her efforts to prove he
was of any real import feel contorted. For instance, she explains Hauer's
poor relations with most Nazis in the following terms: "[H]e did not like
the NSDAP because most of its followers were not National Socialists"
(p. 57). This reduces a definition of "true" National Socialism to whatever
it is Hauer felt was true. The attempt to make the NSDAP something
other than Nazi--and Hauer a "truer" exemplar of Nazism than its own
institutional incarnation--is reiterated elsewhere, as, for instance, when
explaining Hauer's late entry into the party because of its commitment
to "positive Christianity" (p. 47), even as elsewhere her own evidence
demonstrates Hauer's ambivalent attitude toward Christianity.

To demonstrate Hauer's importance to Nazism effectively, scholars would
do well to demonstrate that Hitler had read his work, or better yet made
him a part of his circle. Powe demonstrates only that Hauer wrote to Hitler,
briefly admitting that Hitler never wrote back. Instead of hard proof of
Hauer's ideological influence on the Nazi movement, the reader is offered
pseudo-syllogistic reasoning. Hauer knew Nazis like Werner Best; Werner
Best was an important Nazi; therefore, Hauer was an important Nazi.
Such an approach is untenable at a basic methodological level. Poewe
seems to anticipate the weakness of her own case by ending her book
on a much softer note than she began it: "I am not sure whether new
religions ... preserve western liberal democracies. In Weimar they did
not" (p. 174). But a demonstration that pagans did not get in the way of
Nazism is still a far cry from demonstrating they caused it. This book
shows us that they were hangers-on, intent to appear relevant but ultimately
rejected by the very forces Poewe seeks to show they invented.


[1]. See Neil Gregor, _How to Read Hitler_ (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).

Copyright (c) 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits
the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit,
educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the
author, web location, date of publication, originating list,
and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses
contact the Reviews editorial staff:

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)

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