Whoever today judges political movements that have characterized Germany in recent times, specifically those which began in the in the period after WWI and were developed in various ways during the Weimar Republic leading up to the coming of the Third Reich in the direction opposite to Marxism, frequently encounters simplistic formulations like fascism, crypto-fascism, Nazism, racism: formulations that can be used in common debates, but which do not at all take reality into account, which is much more complex and differentiated. In effect, at that time multiple influences in Germany were in play which moreover were not be identified with national socialism as commonly known. Its principles instead connect back to a movement that can be characterized by the term “conservative revolution”, which appears largely independent of Hitlerism, even if common influences are not lacking and in some cases are conveyed. In general, outside of Germany little is known about all that. For that reason, the contribution given by the young Swiss historian Armin Mohler with a recent very well documented and systematic work is valuable; it is intended precisely to throw light on the exponents and the ideas of the “conservative revolution” in Germany, considering it essentially in the period from 1918 to 1932, i.e., up until the coming of Hitler. A precise account of Molher’s research, we believe, will even interest the Italian reader.
The conservative revolution is a concept that, in part corresponding to the French counter-revolution (Maurras, De Poncins), cannot be well understood without taking into account the particular historical situation of Germany and, in general, of the countries of central Europe. As Mohler correctly points out, in those countries the whole ideological world which is connected to the French Revolution has never taken hold in most of the remaining European nations. It was on the contrary often felt to be something foreign, perverting their own ancient and straightforward tradition. On such a basis in various environments there was even a reaction—however “reaction” not in the vulgar meaning typical of the class-conscious argument, but rather as the need for renovating by revolution, of removing dross and exogenous and destructive influences, without trying to simply restore yesterday and return to the ancien regime. Nevertheless, in the noted formulation (which seems to have been used for the first time in 1927 by Hofmannsthal) the term “revolution” assumes a meaning quite different from the progressivists. It does not designate a violent evolutive phase, but a restorative action starting from perennial values. To conserve faithfulness to such values and to react by going back to the origins – such is the basic position. Moeller van den Bruck, who was one of the principle exponents of this current, wrote however: “Conservatism has eternity for itself … To be conservative does not mean being attached to what was, but to live from what has always had value.”
Van den Bruck had coined the phrase “Third Reich” which was then employed – abusively and usurpatively, according to various exponents of the “conservative revolution”—by Hitlerism. That was the prevalent word for Wilhelmine Germany (corresponding to the second Reich; the first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire) did not appear as a realization of the idea realized by it. Behind a mere façade of feudalism, and in the rhetoric, multiple economic and social developments in Wilhelminism would have instead created forms far from expressing what some called das geheime Deutschland, or “Secret Germany”.
The rebirth, or better said, the impulse toward a rebirth had to occur only with the first world war and after. In such regard, they ended up saying that the victory of Wilhelm Germany would be the defeat of this secret Germany. The war as experience is interpreted as catharsis, that process of purification and of liberation (Thomas Mann): the destruction of rhetoric, false idealisms, great words (H. Fischer) and only nihilism in that sense (“positive nihilism”); the school of a “heroic realism” that imposes on the person to be brought down to the depth of being, where no destruction can reach (E. Junger). The recovery would therefore have had to follow the defeated military, i.e., the third Reich, the true Reich, based on an almost esoteric tradition, having as its goal not the mere conquest of political power, but a spiritual revolution and fidelity to the pure idea. All that, however, was manifested only in more or less hidden and dispersed traces, in small groups, circles, “Orders”, reviews, publishing centers. Right after the war (1918), spontaneous exponents of the same spirit were already the Freikorps, the voluntary corps—that of the Baltics and of the noted commander Ehrhardt – with their anti-communist battle and their fight to the death in lost positions.
More united formulations were those that had to nourish an already political alliance, like the “Helmet of Steel” (Stahlhelm) of Seldte and Dusterberg. The same group, the Reichswehr, sees in the period of the Weimar republic only a type of interregnum, it was faithful to the legal government, maintaining however a close adherence to the ideas of the “conservative revolution” and its autonomy, that it moreover (together with the elements of the diplomatic corps, professions and industry) did not completely lose in the very period of Hitlerism. On the whole, it tended toward an organic system, unitary but not totalitarian, opposed to a fanatic mass nationalism, surpassing individualism, rationalism, and the Enlightenment through qualitative and hierarchical values. All that, more as an attitude than as a theory or precise political program. Mohler, with reason, reproached a certain “mutism” in the conservative revolution and indicated what had to constitute its inferiority in respect to the method of the party that then won power: the repulsion to turn to the masses and to act by means of it, the repulsion for propaganda and the political battle in the modern sense, the conviction that, as in other times, the strength of charisma and tradition had to be decisive.
Thus, as we said, as more than a few the thought, the national socialist Third Reich represented a supplanting and a forgery rather than the realization of the third Reich hoped for by the conservative revolution. Certainly, in the mixture of ideas and tendencies present together in national socialism are found some that also belong to the “conservative revolution”. Yet, as Mohler correctly notes, the problem is the extent to which a doctrine can be truly held as responsible for the all the results that do not conform to it. If, among the conservative revolutionary alliance, there was those who included national socialism, hoping to achieve the desired results by working within it, there were many others who, after an encounter that disillusioned them, abandoned it, and then those who right from the beginning fought against it, putting themselves on the path of a more or less hidden revolt. And a considerable blood tribute was paid by the conservative revolution because of the defections by the opposing party, because many of its exponents were victims of repression both on 30 June 1934 and in 20 July 1944 (the military plot against Hitler, in which the part played by elements of the above mentioned movement is still little noted).
Mohler in one noteworthy part of his book tried, in particular, to indicate the worldview, or Weltanschauung, more or less common to the various conservative revolutionary movements. His framework, however, presents some misgivings. First of all, it seems to us that the author had focused too much on the ideal plane and too little on the political forms that really could have corresponded to the spirit of the movement. For the part that concerns precisely the political domain, it seems to us the he accentuated too much the separation that might have existed between those currents and true conservatism, comprising a tendency toward monarchy, a separation that in Germany was not actually as great and widespread as who those who read the book would be led to believe. The reverse process against the second Reich was led only by extremist elements, which few seem to remember the part that the Frederick tradition had in the second Reich.
As for the worldview, Mohler takes as its base the opposition existing between two general conceptions, which he called linear and cyclic. In the first, history is development, novelty, evolution, and tends to a final end that justifies it. This is the conception typical of the various progressivist currents, but in Christianity, as well, insofar as it gravitates toward an “end of time”.
The second conception is based instead on the idea of the “eternal return”, of the recurrence of the same forms. That was the basal view of the conservative revolution. In our opinion, the contrast in those terms is not well formulated. If anything, we should speak of historicism and anti-historicism, of civilizations of being and civilizations of becoming. It is not about expecting the return of the same forms (Vico, Spengler), but rather of believing that fundamental values never change; of recognizing a normative order containing a priori and ab initio all the principles, without which a civilization and a normal society are not conceivable.
Then we can draw on another criticism of Mohler’s schema, which too much harks back to a viewpoint of Nietzschean intonation, and to an immanentism that, to tell the truth, is poorly reconciled with the spirit of a true conservativism, revolutionary or not. Mohler attributes an anti-Christian bias to this, because the fundamental need of the movement would be unity or totality (Ganzheit), while Christianity is characterized by dualism, by the separation between two worlds, of which one does not have the same value as the other. Now, here we should distinguish between dualism and dualism, because although a lacerated dualism exists, there is however another that is the presupposition of every formative action in the traditional sense. If we do not distinguish another, higher, ideal, and transcendental world from the contingent world, then we lack the very possibility of conceiving an action from above, a hierarchy, an elevated authority (which Catholicism in its best period up to de Maistre, Bonald, and Donoso Cortes, has recognized). However, the foundation, without which we can no longer speak of conservativism and not even of conservative revolution, but they start onto problematic paths, paths in which actually several of the authors mentioned, followed. And one knows that on a not different line— a not purified and not transfigured immanentism or Nietzscheanism, up to a more than suspect “paganism” —the most negative aspects of the national socialist conception of the world had to take form.
Different views should therefore be introduced in order to characterize spiritually the best currents of the authentic conservative revolution, with a more adequate differentiation. Politically, it is right to recognize in them, with Mohler, a position of triple independence: independence in the face of Marxism, conservatism in the pejorative sense, and national socialism. Once recognized, it is natural that Mohler, if only in a brief notice at the end of the book, asks himself if positions of the type are completely expired, or rather, if they by chance could reacquire actuality because, with the situations today being analogous to those of the post-WWI period, it is probable that they also represent the same needs toward a “third force”—a force that should be kept distant both from communism and from national socialism, from progressivism and reaction, at this time abused terms. In such a case, everything would be in seeing which hands might be capable of directing adequately—without the dangers of sliding, subversion, or supplanting, this time—a reconstructive development in the noted sense, starting naturally above all from moral factors.
This remains, nevertheless, a separate point. Essentially, with these notes we tried to point out a notable contribution to the history of yesterday, which shows us aspects of the least flashy aspects of Germany, more secret but fundamentally also more significant to essentials of which come to the first plane in the recent tragedies whose consequences Europe is still experiencing.
~ Julius Evola, Rassegna Italiana, Rome, June 1952