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Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler [Paperback]

Peter Viereck
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 3, 2003 0765805103 978-0765805102 Expanded

More than half a century after the fall of the Third Reich, Nazism, its roots and its essential nature, remain a central and unresolved enigma of the twentieth century. During the period of Hitler's ascendancy, most attempts at explaining this unprecedented phenomenon were framed in "economic," often Marxist, sociological terms and concepts. Peter Viereck's Metapolitics, initially published in 1941, broke with this convention by indicting Hitler in terms of the Judaic-Christian ethical tradition and locating certain elements of the Nazi worldview in German romantic poetry, music, and social thought. Newly expanded, Metapolitics remains a key work in the cultural interpretation of Nazism and totalitarianism and in the psychological interpretation of Hitler as a Wagnerite and failed artist.

The term "metapolitics," a coinage from Richard Wagner's nationalist circle, signifies an ideology resulting from five distinct strands: romanticism (embodied chiefly in the Wagnerian ethos), the pseudo-science of race, Fuehrer worship, vague economic socialism, and the alleged supernatural and unconscious force of the Volk collectivity. Together, those elements engendered an emphasis on irrationalism and hysteria and belief in a special German mission to direct the course of the world's history.

Viereck analyzes nineteenth-century German thought's conflicting attitudes toward political procedures and social arrangements rooted in classical, rational, legalistic, and Christian traditions. This edition includes an appreciation by Thomas Mann and an exchange with Jacques Barzun debating Viereck's criticism of German romanticism. Viereck's essays on the case of Albert Speer, on Claus von Stauffenberg (the German officer who led the army conspiracy to assassinate Hitler), and on the poets Stefan George and Georg Heym appear here for the first time in book form.

Editorial Reviews


"Extraordinarily meritorious... a profound historical and psychological insight."

–Thomas Mann  

"Viereck has given us a book that is as unconventional as it is pertinent, as courageous as it is brisk, as scholarly as it is streamlined..."

– Boris Erich Nelson, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

“The best account of the intellectual origins of Nazism.”

– Crane Brinton

“An important and original work.”

– Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

“This is an extremely important book.”

—Joseph Harsch, Christian Science Monitor

About the Author

Peter Viereck (1916-2006) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, critic, and historian. He held the Kenan Chair in History at Mount Holyoke College and was known as one of America’s early leaders of conservatism. He was the recipient of Guggenheim fellowships both in history and poetry. In addition to his contributions to Poetry Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly, his many books include Inner Liberty: The Stubborn Grit in the Machine; Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler;and Conservative Thinkers: From John Adams to Winston Churchill.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 620 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; Expanded edition (December 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765805103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765805102
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #809,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hitler's folk song army October 12, 2006
Tom Lehrer a few decades back satirically warned us about the march of 'the Folk Song Army'. He was lampooning the social radicals of America in the early 1960s. Maybe his warning came too late for Germany which had it's own folk song army to deal with.

Recently deceased Peter Viereck is something of an interesting character. His father, George Sylvester Viereck, possibly the Kaiser's illegitimate grandson, argued the pro-German case in America during Woodrow Wilson's run up to war. By all accounts his Great War oppositionism was both principled and loyal to America. After Versailles however GSV became more radical in his pro-Germanism and was eventually imprisoned as a German agent during World War Two. He also broke with his two sons around this time, both of whom served in the US Army with one dying in the Anzio landings, and the other, Peter, working for the Army Psychological Warfare Division.

Peter Viereck sees Germany as uniquely torn between two souls, in short, a western looking, european and Christian civilisation soul and a northern looking Volkish Kultur soul. Goethe versus Wagner. Considering his family history perhaps the conflict struck home.

Peter Viereck wrote "Metapolitics" whilst a Harvard undergraduate. Not bad work for a twenty four year old! He went on to an academic career and earned the 1949 Pullitzer Prize for poetry. A life long political conservative he was an ardent critic of McCarthyism in the 1950s.

The term 'metapolitics' is derived from Wagner, similar to 'geopolitics', it refers to the German nationalists' metaphysical vision as it approached cultural and spiritual issues, where 'geopolitics' looked at the intersection of geography and politics.
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28 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sleight of hand: a shabby way with texts and history December 23, 2004
By Laon
This book has a sweeping scope that can initially seem impressive. Until you fact-check Viereck's claims, especially his citations. This was no genuine exploration of the origins of Nazi ideas, "the roots of the Nazi mind". This was a polemicist with an extremely conservative cultural, religious and political agenda, smearing with a proto-Nazi tag those aesthetic and cultural movements that he happens to dislike.

Viereck's main target was the romantic movement of the 19th century, especially but not only Richard Wagner. Although Viereck wrote in the manner of a moralist condemning the romantics from on high, his agenda led him into certain failings of his own. His portrayal of "Father Jahn" and other figures bear false witness, and he commits academic sins like altering texts, inventing fictitious works, misleading quotation, and the like.

Basically Viereck's story was that the National Socialist flame was lit by Friedrich Jahn, who supposedly influenced the early German romantics, Fichte, Herder and so on, who then passed the torch to Wagner, who synthesised their evil ideas into a fully-fledged Nazi philosophy with all pieces complete, from Führer-principle to Holocaust, which Hitler then picked up and applied.

This is nonsense. First, the historical Friedrich Jahn was neither a proto-Nazi nor an especially important figure. Viereck truthfully called Jahn a German nationalist, which sounds sinister because of 20th century history, but glossed over the fact that Jahn's nationalism came at a time when the German states were occupied, ruled and plundered by foreign armies under Napoleon. To be a nationalist under those circumstances was to resist tyranny, not promote it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rightfully Dismissed by Modern Historians March 8, 2014
By Sator
Peter Viereck's Metapolitics was originally his Harvard PhD thesis, written between 1936 and 1941 and first published in 1941. Viereck (1916-2006) was a right-wing American historian and Pulitzer Prize winning poet. In many ways Viereck's book is the product of a personal crisis precipitated by the events into which he was personally intricately intertwined. Viereck was the son a German father and an American mother. His father, George Sylvester Viereck, was a vitriolic apologist for the National Socialists, and for which he was imprisoned between 1942 and 1947. Caught between divided loyalty towards his country and his father, the answer to Peter Viereck's personal crisis was simple: blame it all on Richard Wagner. After all, Wagner was the evil genius pulling the strings behind the veil of historical events, and making Viereck's life difficult. And by framing Wagner as the perfect embodiment of everything German that was to be dutifully hated, Viereck could win accolades through his conspicuous and perfectly hysterical scapegoating of Wagner for the sins of the entire German nation, in an intellectual circus show that ostentatiously demonstrated just how much of a true American German-hating patriot he was, thus helping to exorcise the looming threat of internment that faced many of German-American background.

Beyond a loyalty divided between country and family, there was a further crisis going on here. It was a crisis of confidence in the American political right. It was a crisis precipitated by the looming dominance of Roosevelt's Democratic Party, but also a crisis further deepened by the tarnished image of the political right in the face of fascism. It was important that if they were to maintain credibility, the American right simply had to valiantly dissociate itself from fascism.
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