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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (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, 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 ideology. 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. Note . 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: email@example.com.