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The Ideological Precursors of National Socialism

The revolutionaries based their ideas on organic rather than materialistic thinking, on quality instead of quantity, and on Volksgemeinschaft (“ethnic community”) rather than class conflict and “mob rule“. These writers produced a profusion of radical nationalistic literature that consisted of war diaries, combat fictional works, political journalism, manifestos and philosophical treatises outlining their ideas for the transformation of German cultural and political life. Outraged by liberalism and egalitarianism and rejecting the commercial cultureof industrial and urban civilization, they advocated the destruction of the liberal order—by revolutionary means if necessary—in order to make way for the establishment of a new order, founded on conservative principles. The movement had a wide influence among many of Germany’s most gifted youth, universities and middle classes.

The term “German conservative revolution” predates World War I, but writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and political theorist Edgar Julius Jung were instrumental in making this term an established concept of the Weimar periodThomas Mann used the term to describe Friedrich Nietzsche, whose philosophy greatly influenced many of the thinkers associated with the movement.[1]

Initially, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was the dominant figure of the conservative revolution in the Weimar Republic.[2] Rejecting traditional conservatism, he proposed a new state, a “Third Reich” which would unite all classes under authoritarian rule[3] based on a combination of the nationalism of the right and the socialism of the left.[4] Jung promoted a fascistversion of conservative revolution from the 1920s to the 1930s, which like fascism spoke of nations as being singular organic entities; attacked individualism while promoting militarism and war; promoted “total mobilization” of human and industrial resources; and promoting the productive power of modernity, similar to the futurism espoused by Italian Fascism.[5] While Carl Schmitt promoted antisemitic views, he claimed that he held no fondness towards the Nazism of Adolf Hitler which he considered to be too vulgar.[6] Hermann Rauschning was typical of the conservative revolutionaries.[7] For Rauschning, a conservative revolution “meant the prewar monarchic-Christian revolt against modernity that made a devil’s pact with Hitler during the Weimar period”.[8]

The conservative revolutionaries, many of whom were born in the last decade of the 19th century, were all basically formed by their experiences of the World War I.[citation needed] The war and the German Revolution was for them a clean break from the past, which left them greatly disillusioned.[citation needed] First, the experience of the horrors of trench warfare, the filth, the hunger, the negation of heroism to a man’s effort to stay alive on the battlefield and the random death led to many recognizing that there was no meaning to this war, or to life itself.[citation needed] They also had to contend with the Dolchstoßlegende (“stab-in-the-back legend”) of the end of the war.[citation needed] Second, in this Kriegserlebnis (“war experience”) they sought to re-establish the Frontgemeinschaft (the “frontline camaraderie”) that defined their existence on the warfront.[citation needed] They felt that they were “like a puppet which has to dance for the demonic entertainment of evil spirits”.[citation needed] Some were attracted to nihilist ideas.[citation needed] In their Froschperspektive writings, they sought to give their experience meaning.[citation needed]

The conservative revolutionaries held an ambivalent view of the Nazis.[9] After 1933, some of the proponents of the conservative revolutionary movement were persecuted by the Nazis, most notably by the SS of Heinrich Himmler, who wanted to prevent reactionaries from opposing or deviating from Hitler’s regime in this early time. Jung would lose his life in the Night of the Long Knives and this would for many conservative revolutionaries end the alliance between them and the Nazis.[10] Rauschning came “to the bitter conclusion that the Nazi regime represented anything other than the longed-for German revolution” and his position was “generally typically of the majority” of conservative revolutionaries.[11]

Some conservative revolutionary movement members went into anonymity, some arranged themselves within the new regime and became Nazi Party members. Rauschning defected to the West and wrote against the Nazi regime. Others, like Claus von Stauffenberg, remained inside the Reichswehr and later Wehrmacht to silently conspire in the 20 July plot of 1944. Historian Fritz Stern stated that it was “a tribute to the genuine spiritual quality of the conservative revolution that the reality of the Third Reich aroused many of them to opposition, sometimes silent, often open and costly”.[12] However, Stern concluded: