Translation by Kolarov
Pictured above: Machiavelli – Nietzsche – Arthur Moeller van den Bruck – Oswald Spengler – Carl Schmitt
The Konservative Revolution
Question: Please explain to us the meaning of the “Konservative Revolution” and if it’s possible, point out some of its ideological keys and main figures.
Answer: When the term “Konservative Revolution” was used in Europe, it was mainly in the sense given by Armin Mohler in his famous book “Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918-1932″. Mohler dictated a long list of authors that rejected the pseudo-values of 1789 (disregarded by Edmund Burke as mere “blueprints”), praised the role of Germanity in the evolution of European thought and inherited the influence of Nietzsche. Mohler avoided the purely religious “conservative” instances, whether Catholic or Protestant.
For Mohler, the essential point of the “Konservative Revolution” was a non-linear view of History, but he didn’t simply pick up the cyclical view of traditionalism. After Nietzsche, Mohler believed in a spherical conception of History. What does this mean? This means that History is not a simple repetition of the same events in regular intervals, nor a straight path that leads to beatitude, to the End of History, to Heaven on Earth, to happiness… but it resembles a sphere that can roll (or better said, be pushed) in all directions according to the impulses it receives from strong, charismatic personalities. Such charismatic personalities direct the course of History in very particular ways, ways that are not previously defined by the hand of Providence. Mohler, in this sense, never believed in universalist political doctrines, but in the personalities that represented them. Just like Jünger, he believed the “general” (in its historical sense) was a residue of the “particular”. Mohler expressed his vision of the particular dynamics using the problematic term “nominalism”. For him, “nominalism” was the accurate expression that shows how the strong personalities and their followers were able to open new and original paths in the jungle of existence.
The key figures of the movement were Spengler, Moeller van den Bruck and Ernst Jünger (and his brother Friedrich-Georg). We can add to this triumvirate the names of Ludwig Klages and Ernst Niekisch. Carl Schmitt, as a Catholic and constitutionalist lawyer, represents another important aspect of the so called “Konservative Revolution”.
Spengler will be remembered as the author of a brilliant fresco of the civilizations of the world that inspired the British philosopher Arnold Toynbee. Spengler described Europe as a Faustian civilization, whose best expression were the Gothic cathedrals, the interaction of the light and the colors of the stained glass, the snow storms with white and gray clouds of many Dutch, English and German paintings. This civilization is an aspiration of the human soul towards the light and self-compromise. Another important Spengler idea is the concept of “pseudo-morphosis”: a civilization never completely disappears after decadence or a violent conquest. Its elements are inherited by the new civilization that assumes its succession and retakes the original ways.
Moeller van den Bruck was the first German translator of Dostoevsky. He was greatly influenced by Dostoevsky’s diaries, full of severe critiques against the West. In the German context after 1918, van den Bruck supported, using Dostoevsky’s arguments, a Russo-German alliance against the West. How could the respectable German gentlemen, with an immense artistic culture, favor an alliance with the Bolsheviks? They had the following arguments: during the whole diplomatic tradition of the 19th century, Russia was considered a shield of reaction against the consequences of the French Revolution and against the revolutionary modes and mentality.
Dostoevsky, a former Russian revolutionary that later admitted his revolutionary path was a mistake, more or less considered that the mission of Russia in the world was to erase any trace of the ideas of 1789 from Europe. For Moeller van den Bruck, the October Revolution in 1917 was just an ideological swap of clothes: Russia still was, despite what the Bolsheviks said, the antidote to the liberal mentality of the West. Defeated, Germany was supposed to ally with this anti-revolutionary fortress to oppose the West, which in van den Bruck’s eyes was the incarnation of liberalism. Liberalism, says van den Bruck, is always the terminal disease of the peoples. After a few decades of liberalism, a people will inevitably enter a phase of final decadence.
The path followed by Ernst Jünger is widely known. He started as a young and ardent soldier in WWI, being part in the trenches of the assault corps that handled the hand granades with the same elegance the British officers used the whip. For Jünger, WWI was the end of the small bourgeois world of the 19th century and the “Belle Époque”, where everything was as “it should be”, for example, acting in accordance to the teachings of professors and priests, just like today we act in accordance to the self-proclaimed rules of the “political correctness”. Under the “tempests of steel”, the soldier was reduced to nothing, to his mere and fragile biological being, but this vision, in Jünger’s eyes, wasn’t a excuse for an inept pessimism, of fear and desperation. Having experimented the cruelest of fates in the trenches, under the bombardment of thousands of artillery shells that shake the ground, seeing everything reduced to the “elemental”, the infantry soldier knew better than others the cruel human fate over the face of the earth. All the artificiality of the urban civilized life suddenly appeared as pure imposture.
In the post-war, Ernst Jünger and his brother Friedrich-Georg were the best national-revolutionary writers and journalists. Ernst armed himself with a very good dose of cynicism, irony and serenity to analyze life and human acts. During a bombardment of a Parisian suburb, where factories were producing war supplies for the German army in WW2, Jünger became terrified by the unnatural, straight aerial route taken by the American fortresses. The linearity of the aerial routes to Paris was a negation of all the curves and sinuosity of the organic life. In modern war, the destruction of the flings and serpentines that characterize the organic is implicit. Ernst Jünger began his career as a journalist apologist for war. After having observed the unstoppable attacks of the American B-17s, he became completely disappointed with the anti-values showed in the war by pure technique.
After WW2, his brother Friedrich-Georg wrote the first theoretical critical work on the new Germany based on ecologism, “Die Perfektion der Technik”. The main idea of this book, to my understanding, is the critique of the “connection”. The modern world is a process of trying to connect human communities and individuals to great structures. This process of connection destroys the principle of freedom. You’re a poor proletarian if you’re “connected” to a great structure, even if you earn 3000 pounds per month or more. You’re a free man when you’re completely disconnected from these huge steel heels. In a sense, Friedrich-Georg wrote the theory that Kerouac experimented in a non-theoretical way through the choice of the “fall” and the “journey”, becoming a wandering singer.
Ludwig Klages was another philosopher of the organic life against abstract thought. For him, the main dichotomy existed between Life and Spirit (“Leben und Geist”). Life is crushed by the abstract spirit. Klages was born in Northern Germany, but emigrated, as a student, to Munich, where he spent his time in the taberns of Schwabing, the district where artists and poets used to gather (and still do). He was friends with the poet Stefan George and a scholar of the most important figures of Schwabing, like the philosopher Alfred Schuler, who claimed to be the reincarnation of a Roman colonist in Germania by the Ruhr banks. Schuler had a genuine sense of theatrics. He liked to wear the togas of Roman emperors, admired Nero and set up performances remembering the audiences of the ancient Greco-Roman world. But apart from his fantasy life, Schuler acquired a cardinal importance in Philosophy due to his insistence on the concept of “Entlichtung”, which is the gradual disappearance of the Light since the times of the old Greek nation-states and the Roman Italy. There’s no progress in History, quite the opposite, the Light gradually faints, same as the freedom of the free citizen to choose his own destiny.
Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin, from the left of the conservative-liberal stance, were inspired by this idea and adapted it to different audiences. The modern world is the world of complete darkness, where there are slim chances of finding again periods where “illuminated-beings”, unless charismatic personalities like Nero arise, dedicated to art and the Dionysian ways of life, introduce us to a new era of splendor, which would only last as long as the blessed season of Spring.
Klages developed Schuler’s ideas, who never wrote a full book, after his death in 1923, due to a badly prepared medical intervention. Klages, right before WW1, gave a famous speech in the Hoher Meissner hill, in Central Germany, in front of a crowd of the youth movement known as “Vandervogel”. This speech had the title “The Man and the Earth”, and it can be considered as the first organic-ecologist manifesto, clear and comprehensible, despite its solid philosophical background.
Carl Schmitt began his career as a Law professor in 1921, living until the respectable age of 97, writing his last essay at 91. I can’t list all of the important points of Carl Schmitt’s work in the course of this modest interview. Let’s summarize it by saying that Schmitt developed two fundamental ideas: the idea of the decision in the political life and the idea of the “Great Space”. The art of giving shape to politics, the art of a good political figure, resides in the decision, not in the discussion. The leader has to make decisions in order to guide, protect and develop the political community. The decision is not dictatorial, as many liberals say in these times of political correctness. Quite the opposite: a personalization of power is something more democratic, in the sense that a king, an emperor or a charismatic leader are always mortal. The system that they impose is not eternal, it will end up dying like all human beings. A nomocratic system, on the contrary, will try to stay eternal, even when the events or innovations contradict its norms or principles.
The second great theme of Schmitt’s work was the idea of “Grossraum”, the Great European Space. The “out-of-space” powers would be blocked from intervening in the body of this Great Space. Schmitt wanted to apply in Europe the same principle Monroe used in the US: “America for the Americans”. Schmitt could be compared to the North American “continentalists”, critics of the Roosevelt interventions in Europe and Asia. Ibero-Americans also developed similar continentalist ideas, and the Japanese imperialists talked about the Great Pacific Area. Schmitt gave this idea of the “Great Space” a strong judicial base.
Niekisch is a fascinating figure in the sense that his public debut was as a Communist leader of the “Soviet” Bavarian Republic of 1918-1919, that was squashed by the Freikorps of von Epp, von Lettow-Vorbeck, etc. Obviously, Niekisch was disappointed by the absence of a historical view in the Bolshevik trio of the Munich Revolution (Lewin, Keviné, Axelrod). Niekisch developed an Eurasian view, based in the alliance of the Soviet Union, Germany and China. The ideal figure that would work as the human engine of that alliance would be the farmer, the adversary of the Western bourgeoisie. Here a parallelism with Mao-Tse-Tung is obvious.
In the magazines edited by Niekisch we find continuous German temptatives of support to all the anti-French and anti-British movements in their colonial empires or in Europe (Ireland versus England, Flanders vesus the Frenchified Belgium, Indian nationalism against Great Britain, etc).
I hope I was able to explain in a few words the main tendencies of the so called Konservative Revolution in Germany between 1918 and 1933. I also hope that those who know this pluridimensional movement could forgive me for this simplified introduction.