Niedersachsen in Winter
As 2010 wanes we consider the events and what they mean, what they could indicate for the future. Twenty-eleven is going to be an eventful year in that in all the mass assumptions that have survived up until now probably will have little currency a year from now. Things seem to be moving that quickly.
My recent trip to Germany provided a different perspective and fueled by what I've been doing on and off MilPub over the last year . . . boosted of course by the great input this, our blog provides . . .
So I have someone I would like to introduce:
Hermann Rauschning. A conservative, actually a monarchist German politician, who joined the Nazi Party in 1932, but resigned his office as President of the Free City of Danzig Senate in 1934. Campaigned against the Nazis in 1935 and left under threat of violence for the US in 1936. Had served as a German Army officer in World War I and was wounded in action. Rauschning is also credited with a masterpiece of anti-Nazi propaganda, Hitler Speaks, which was published 1940 in the US and portrayed Hitler as a sleazy, somewhat insane, cynical opportunist in his personal policy dealings, Rauschning claiming that he had had countless personal conversations with the Nazi Leader while in the Danzig Senate. Rauschning isn't dealt with by historians today mostly because of that, since he was a propagandist.
But he was also a political theorist of fascism since he had been part of the movement for awhile and saw clearly its actual nature (having initially mistaken it for something else), so it's this "second Rauschning" I'm talking about, rather the author of an earlier anti-Nazi book, The Revolution of Nihilism: Warning to the West of 1938, that comes across today has both prophetic for his times and a strange warning - in that important similarities exist between his time in Germany and our time in the US - imo.
In The Revolution of Nihilism, Rauschning goes back to the collapse of 1918, the in-built fatal flaws of the Weimar Republic, the absolute failure of the Conservatives to do their basic duty (safeguard the Nation and people) and explains in detail the "deal of 1933" which brought the Nazis to power. His description of Hindenburg is also quite interesting. What Rauschning describes is a systemic failure of all the various institutions to deal with both the dissolving political situation brought on by the economic collapse (which in turn to a large extent was due to over reliance on foreign credit) and the revolutionary nihilism of the Nazis. Too many failed to take the Nazis seriously and after 1933 too many thought that their radicalism would be tamed and they would simply become the instrument for the return of the conservatives. The German Army of course misjudged the situation badly, and what Rauschning describes after 1934 is the relentless politicalization of the military. In the end it was no longer the heir of the old German Army, but Hitler's Army.
In Rauschning's view there were many turning points along the way, when the opposition (and there was potentially a serious one) could have stepped in and turned the tables on Hitler. What was really lacking was simply the "will" to do so - too many saw their economic/professional interests as being possibly at stake and it was easier to simply "go along" or "wait and see what happens". This of course refers exclusively to the German elites since the people were hopelessly confused and disoriented by the chaos of late Weimar and the dizzying pace of Hitler's decrees after 30 January 1933. Fear was a part of the air people breathed, violence a constant political weapon, systematic lawlessness by the new authority difficult to comprehend, while at the same time the old values and virtues were trumpeted, they were simultaneously undermined and destroyed. This since the Nazis understood that to implement their radical worldview would require the destruction of the old, conservative view, that of those who had made the opportunistic deal with them in 1933! While Hitler's successes were of course assisted by the fecklessness of the Western allies during 1933-38, the main reason for his success from the German domestic perspective was the collapse of German conservativism, according to Rauschning, which should have recognized the moral threat the Nazis manifested. In essence they should have seen the swindle and the "movement" for what it was . . .
For the very reason that we acknowledge the eternal values of the nation and of a political order rooted in the nation, we are bound to turn against this revolution, whose subversive course involves the utter destruction of all traditional spiritual standards, utter nihilism. These values are the product of the intellectual and historical unity of Western civilization, of historic intellectual and moral forces. Without these, Nationalism is not a conservative principle, but the implement of a destructive revolution; and similarly Socialism ceases to be a regulative idea of justice and equity when it sheds the Western principles of legality and the liberty of the person.
Today in Germany any criticism, even from the noblest and most genuine of patriots, is accounted one of the worst of crimes, and placed in the same category as high treason . . . xii-xiii
The basic problem in 1933 was the rejection by the ruling elites of dealing truthfully with the people, instead they lied to them constantly, painting rosy pictures of potential success, when ahead was only failure. The actual goal of the conservatives and the Nazis as well was power, but the conservatives misunderstood the nature of the tiger they were riding. Rauschning laments that this misunderstanding was the same as what had happened in 1918, when Ludendorff and the German High Command demanded "fixed resolve and unquestioning faith" in final victory, while viewing the people with a "contemptuous belittlement of the moral forces of the nation". In 1918, as in 1933, the conservative elites were mostly to blame for what followed:
But the nation that reveals this weakness of excessive capacity for illusion has a greater need than any other of criticism and plain speaking. "We have been lied to and duped" - such was the despairing exclamation, twenty years ago , of no demagogue but the last leader of the old Conservative Party, von Heydebrand, when the truth about the terrible situation burst through the clouds of pseudo-patriotic propaganda. It seems our destiny to have to repeat the same mistakes with a berserker's infatuation. xiii
So, let's see, what we've got: collapse of conservatism as a political philosophy, systemic institutional failures, economic collapse linked with an irresponsible demand of foreign credit, the political focus on gaining and retaining power regardless of the means or damage, total contempt for truth and honesty in public communications, politicalization of the military, radicalism wearing the mask of conservatism, growing government lawlessness and suppression, confusion among the people exacerbated by relentless irrational propaganda (ie constant repetition of symbols, emphasis on fear), fostered unquestioning belief in future "success" by simply "going along", lack of a focused opposition and many missed turning points along the way, a political movement which is essentially a rejection of the Enlightenment/classic Western values . . . see anything familiar?
Of course history does not repeat itself, and I am not saying that the USA today is a repeat of Nazi Germany, but rather the situation that Rauschning describes in 1933-38 (remember the book was written before World War II had begun) does imo indicate certain similarities of a political resemblance. This should not be surprising since the most dynamic political philosophy in US politics today - Neoconservativism (actually the only political philosophy of note) - seems to follow a certain familiar pattern, but that's not surprising given Leo Strauss's private view . . .
In many ways the distinctions are more interesting than the similarities, but I'll comment on those in the postscript since I'm interested in any comments which will thus ultimately influence my conclusions, so this is hopefully an attempt at achieving a dialectic, a real dialogue.
There is one last point of many I could make. The predictions that Rauschning makes in regards to the coming war are many and most historically accurate: he uses the term "holocaust" at least twice although in a broader sense, predicts the quick collapse of France, the ultimate attack on the USSR, a policy of "depopulation" in regards to the Jews and Eastern Europe in general, that America will be drawn in, that Japan, Italy and Germany will be on the same side, etc. The point, however I would like to make concerns the actual political goal that the Nazis hoped to achieve. Here he relies on the thought of Karl Haushofer regarding geopolitics. Karl Haushofer is largely forgotten today, but in Edward Earle's The Makers of Modern Strategy of 1943, Haushofer rated his own chapter. Reading Haushofer today with his emphasis on strategic minerals, "heartlands", "renovating and resisting powers", and the need for a new "imperialism" one is struck by this obvious influence on what passes for US strategic thought today, yet none speak his name, obviously since no one with a few exceptions dare admit what US "grand strategy" actually is.
Rauschning provides an idea as to what the actual Nazi goal was and how Germany was not the aim, but the instrument for the achievement of that goal . . . sound familiar?
Germany's Role as a World Power
New rulership, would influence, world transformation, world hegemony - this is the direction of the principles of German foreign policy thus far considered. But they do not aim at a Greater Germany, they are not content with the place of Germany as an element of order in Central Europe; they are no by any means confined to "overland" conceptions, as Haushofer calls them. The "faith in a role of leadership in world policy" inspires the German activities. The "mystical faith in a world mission which at times of slowly crippling pressure throws itself into an unheard of inner strengthening and steeling, in order to be ready at the given moment for the highest achievement," is Haushofer's description of the actual nerve of the new German political purpose. "For we have not much more time to allow the energy of movement of the worlds Powers and the speed with which they are marching toward their immediate and remote objectives, and their thrust, already begun, though the old Great Power groups . . . to pass by, without being clear in our minds that in this approaching settlement the destiny of our people and Reich will be determined for centuries, perhaps for ever". The German situation leaves the nation no political choice. Dynamic movement is necessarily more important for us in world politics than a static condition, a condition of holding on. . .
The lesson the National Socialists draw from Germany's past is that dismemberment can only be prevented by rigid centralization. The developments of the British Empire seem to their historians to be a repetition of the error of the old German Reich. . . The essence of the German mission today is the universal task. Germany no longer menaces Britain; she is seizing the leadership only because the British nation has become feeble and weary. The young German imperialism of pre-war days was an attempt to solve our pressing population problems without suffering a continual loss by emigration; the new German will to world hegemony is the definite resolve to transform the world order under German leadership. pp 208-9