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Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
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. The book was one of the first in English to explore the Wagnerian roots of Nazism. Wagner was not only a great composer but something of a radical political pamphleteer. Despite having jewish promoters and agents Wagner blamed a jewish conspiracy for is works not being as popular as he imagined. Viereck explores not only the cultural roots of nazism but the appeal of nazism to what he calls Germany's "Greenwich Village Warriors", alienated bohemians in exile in their own hometown. And then there is the unusual number of 'failed' artists drawn to the nazi movement.

Viereck's analysis starts with Ludwig Jahn, who Viereck recognises as a pioneer German "Volkish" nationalist, a forerunner of nazism but perhaps one who would be appalled by the later developments of his thought. It proceeds via Wagner, the Wagnerians and moves on to Hitler's "official philosopher" Rosenberg.

He speculates Wagner may also be appalled at how his ideas were used but in Wagner's case, he was truly a proto-nazi, there is a stronger chain of responsibility than in Jahn's case, despite some minor retreat from full bore Volkism towards the end of his career. In any case , the first generation of 'Wagnerites', including family members (for example, the in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain) were not just proto-nazis but the real thing, indeed taking Hitler into their circle as "Uncle Wolf" to the children.

Viereck explores the development of Volkish German romanticism, and he doesn't condemn all threads of romanticism, in laying a popular and intellectual foundation for the later growth of nazism. He also explores the role if Rosenberg and the "Realpolitlik" pioneers, Fichte, Hegel and Treitschke in the development of nazi ideas. Viereck notes the attempts by the Nazis to appropriate Nietzche, something some of the philosopher's family promoted, but highlights Nietzche's prescient warnings against the rise of antisemitic German nationalism.

Viereck's analysis helps get us beyond the simplistic and misleading Verailles / inflation / depression analyses of the origins of nazism. Much of Rosenberg's "Myth of the Twentieth Cenury" was written before Versailles and the worst of the Great Depression did not hit Germany until after the Nazis had already emerged as Germany's biggest political party. Viereck provides some unfortunately brief debunking of economic determinist explanations of Nazism, focusing mainly on the how Hitler double crossed and ultimately expropriated his former sponsor, the industrialist Thysen. To his credit he does recognise that the allies were not guiltless in feeding the bear, besides the well known condemnations of Chamberlainian appeasement, there was the British Hunger blockade in World War 1 and the French occupation of the Rhineland, all of which undermined the liberal west's claim to moral leadership, at least in the eyes of the German public, when dealing with Hitler.

Viereck devotes about a chapter or so to another idea that needs more exposure. He says we tend to overestimate the otherwise rootless Weimar Republic. It's very foundation may have been something of a strategem by Germany's military leaders to avoid popular responsibility for defeat, obtain a softer peace and pave the way for a militarist renewal down the track. Certainly the artifice of circumventing Versailles armament restrictions was well practiced before Hitler assumed power. And his assumption of power was aided by old school militarists who retained pivotal positions in the army and bureaucracy throughout the Weimar period where they behaved like a government-in-exile at home.

Still the core of Viereck's book is in analysing the 'spiritual' dimension of nazism. This can be easily forgotten, for example, nazi racism, although it did attract a corps of racial scientists, their role, however repulsive, was more opportunist and parasitic to the whole enterprise. Nazi racialism, as expounded by Rosenberg was not even a corrupted version of darwinism, it was essentially a romantic attachment to 'blood'.

Readers should check the various editions of Metapolitics available. I have the 1941 edition which comes with excellent appendices that include correspondence with Wagner scholar Thomas Mann as well as some reviews from the period. I understand the later editions include more supplementary material. Also readers should hunt online for Peter Viereck's 2004 essay entitled "Metapolitcs Revisited" which provides some additional insights and further developments that I am sure readers of the original volume would appreciate.
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29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
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.

Viereck elides the fact that Jahn was an outspoken democrat who insisted that French rule should be replaced by a democratic, independent and unified Germany. I feel no defensiveness towards Jahn; though no proto-Nazi he was an antisemite with insufficient other merits to balance that fact. But misrepresentation is irritating.

Viereck greatly exaggerates Jahn's importance. Jahn founded his Turnverein (gymnastics organisation) movement in 1811 and lost control of it with his imprisonment in 1819, and though he remained generally respected until his death in 1852, he exercised precious little influence. I've looked for references to Jahn in the work of the German romantics, and found only a satirical _attack_ on Jahn in an 1823 play by the romantic playwright Joseph von Eichendorff.

Viereck's portrait of the early German romantics defames admirable people, brotherhood-of-man democrats and liberals like Herder. Fichte is less admirable, but is also utterly misrepresented. Even those German Romantics who did lose their liberalism in old age didn't turn to any form of radical rightwingery that could be called proto-Nazi. They reverted to conservative Catholicism and monarchism.

Viereck's attack on Wagner illustrates his method. For example Viereck's first, 1941, edition of this book was the first text to frame Wagner by quoting the concluding words of "Judaism in Music" while - without alerting the reader - omitting Wagner's key words, "for then we shall be one and indivisible", in order to hide the fact that Wagner was calling for assimilation. This deception has been much imitated since.

(Viereck also brings in additional words from another Wagner essay. Several of Viereck's supposed Wagner quotes are actually mosaics assembled by Viereck from fragments of Wagner text. Wagner was undoubtedly a disgusting antisemite; Viereck's damning quotes from Cosima's _Diaries_ are real enough. Though selective; he does not cite passages where Wagner defends Jews from antisemitic attacks, or says he would no longer write against the Jews. And Wagner called for assimilation, unlike some of his contemporaries who really were proto-Nazis.)

Viereck claimed that Wagner's call for the founding of a people's army, in his "The Revolution" essay, was "a dream akin to what Röhm in 1934 envisaged for his Storm Troopers." But Wagner's text called for the army to be under the control of a democratically elected government. Did Viereck really not know the difference between Storm Troopers in a Nazi state, and an army accountable to an elected government?

Viereck also claimed that Wagner invented the Führer-principle. You'll find no such idea in Wagner, since Wagner was a young anarchist who eventually drifted as far right as supporting constitutional monarchy. So Viereck claimed that when Wagner used "a number of other terms, especially 'hero', 'folk-king' and 'Barbarossa'", he really meant "Führer". Viereck pioneered the technique of claiming that if Wagner's words don't support your conspiracy theory, then the words must be in a secret code. Thus anything can be said to mean any old thing, making "proving" a case much easier.

Viereck also invented a Wagner essay called "Heroism", which apparently called for racial purity under a dictatorship. There is no such Wagner essay, nor any Wagner essay that ever called for either racial purity or dictatorship. Wagner's clearest late statement on political systems, "State and Religion", advocated constitutional monarchy, the monarch exercising a symbolic function above politics, while political parties of "men of equal rights" contended for office.

Wagner did write, in an essay called "Heroism and Christianity", that there was no such thing as a German race and that Europeans should get used to racial intermingling, explicitly advocating racial equality "under a universal moral concord, such as only Christianity can bring about."

Is "Heroism and Christianity" related to Viereck's fictitious "Heroism" essay? Hard to say. Still, Viereck, who writes from a rightwing Christian worldview, needed to insist that the late Wagner was anti-Christian, though the essays and _Diaries_ show this is quite untrue. This can have comic results, as when Viereck used an anti-Christian remark by the young Wagner to prove that _Parsifal_, written decades later, must be anti-Christian. It may be that Viereck, with his own agenda, was embarrassed by the words "and Christianity" from Wagner's "Heroism and Christianity" title, so he "disappeared" them, along with the actual content of that essay.

Summary: This book has been tremendously influential, especially in its earlier editions. But it is a sustained piece of academic misrepresentation, and its influence has been pernicious and regrettable.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2014
Format: Paperback
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. Even conservatism had become a dirty word, and Viereck set out to restore its tarnished image.

The final personal crisis for Viereck was the pressure to hand in his PhD thesis. From a 1940 book They Wanted War by Otto D. Tolischus, Viereck found the perfect scapegoat to bear cross of the sins of fascism: Richard Wagner. And from the same book, Viereck learned of Constantin Frantz's term "metapolitics", a term which he then borrowed for the title of his PhD thesis - but without evincing the slightest evidence of having studied Frantz's 1878 "Open Letter to Richard Wagner" (Bayreuther Blätter - Primary Source Edition) from which the term was taken. Viereck demonstrates evidence of only knowing of the contents of the Open Letter from secondary sources--namely from Tolischus. The volume of the Bayreuther Blätter which it was published in was clearly unavailable in the Harvard library, and he could not be bothered to locate a copy in another library, nor track down other titles containing similar ideas by Frantz for study.

Had Viereck bothered to actually read Frantz's "Open Letter" he would have discovered that Frantz had defined Metapolitik as the idealistic opposite of Prussian Realpolitik, and that Frantz emphatically denounced pan-Germanic militarist expansionism under the point of the Prussian sabre. Germany, wrote Frantz, must be smaller and not larger. Metapolitik, for Frantz, meant that Germany should exist only as a loose federation of central European states, very much like the European Union of today. Frantz further denounces any "repristination" of the Holy Roman Empire by a new imperialist Germany. Germany, says Frantz, should only conquer the world as the music of J.S. Bach has "conquered" the world: in an ideal and metapolitical sense, and not in a real and militaristic sense. For Viereck to claim that such pacifist opposition to pan-Germanic expansionism constituted the ideological foundations of National Socialism is utterly laughable in its catastrophic failure to study primary source texts. The choice of Viereck's title alone totally undermines every drop of credibility in his whole book.

There was much more that Viereck plagiarised for his thesis from Tolischus, since the following passage of Tolischus' 1941 book is almost a perfect summary of Viereck's 1941 PhD thesis:

"[Wagner] became a synthesis of the German intellectual turmoil that began to separate the German from the rest of the occident in the nineteenth century ... It was a turmoil symbolized by such names as Arndt, Fichte, [Friedrich] List, Feuerbach, Treitschke and Konstantin Frantz, whose "metapolitics" especially interested Wagner, and finally, as an extreme outsider, Nietzsche. Though these men differed in stature and ideas, the end result of this turmoil was a nostalgia for the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation".... It marked a break with French enlightenment, universalist humanism, and Hellenistic classicism ... and led to a concentration on the Germanic mythos which found its climax in an exaltation of Germanism as the remedy for the world's ills." Tolischus, p.12.

In each chapter of Viereck's PhD thesis, he systematically discusses almost each and every one of the names listed by Tolischus. It is an odd collection of bedmates who often sat on diametrically opposite sides of the political fence. Feuerbach, for example, is one of the leading pre-Marxist generation of thinkers considered by Marx and Engels to be intermediary between Hegel of their system of thought. Here, you can see the polemical point of the book: to scapegoat the political left for the sins of National Socialism, while largely ignoring the hoard of right-wing writers who really did influence them. This is why the ideological influence of Martin Luther is systematically downplayed by Viereck, the Christian right-wing apologist - even though writers who focus on the cultural origins of National Socialism such as William Shirer, Robert Vansittart, Rohan Butler, and more recently Goldhagen, have unanimously pointed at the figure of Luther. In "Mein Kampf" Hitler actually tells us clearly that he wishes to be remembered as the successor of three great Germans before him: Frederick the Great, Richard Wagner, and Martin Luther.

At this point, as a Christian right apologist, Viereck quickly shifts blame away from Martin Luther to Richard Wagner as as a convenient scapegoat for the religious right. After all, Wagner had been a follower of Feuerbach, and a revolutionary who fought for democracy beside his friend Mikhail Bakunin in 1849, and then later became a follower of another Left Hegelian thinker, Constantin Frantz. Viereck tells us:

"Steeped in what Germans call the 'French ideas' of rationalism and atomistic liberalism, Wagner then called himself proudly an 'anti-mystical materialist'. Philosophically he belonged to Feuerbach's "Young Hegelians". Feuerbach, connecting link between Hegel and Marxism, preached a more materialistic and socialistic version of Hegel. Politically, Wagner sympathized with the self-styled "Young Germany" group, whose leaders (Heinrich Heine and Börne) were actually Jewish exiles in Paris. There they wittily challenged sentimental German patriotism from their more utilitarian and rationalist criteria. Among his Parisian compatriots, Wagner was influenced musically by his chief patron, the Jew Meyerbeer; intellectually, by the Jew Heine. An anti-Semite in theory, Wagner had a reputation for preferring Jews to other Germans as his intimate friends".

The only thing was that Hitler, totally ignorant of Wagner's political writings, enjoyed listening to Wagner's music. This has been a highly convenient point for right-wing thinkers, since it has opened up the opportunity to claim that National Socialism was a form of "socialism" with its intellectual origins in left-wing thinkers such as Feuerbach, Bakunin, Marx, Engels or Frantz.

According to the view that Viereck took from Tolischus, the right had been lead down the false path of fascism by an evil wizard manipulating history from beyond the grave - Richard Wagner - who had allegedly convinced the political right to base their political ideology purely on grand opera. The singular goal of German fascism was now to be seen as the enactment of Wagner's grand operatic "vision" on the world's stage and this was where the political far-right was seen to have turned ideologically sour. Or to quote the passage from Tolischus that Viereck plagiarised for his PhD thesis:

"'Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner', Adolf Hitler has often to his friends; and the whole National Socialist regime, which finds its foundation in the Germanic mythos and the cult of the heroic, is in fact unthinkable without Wagner and all he represents. In that sense the whole present war resolves itself into a super-Wagnerian opera turned into grim reality." Tolischus: They Wanted War, p11, New York 1940.

National Socialism was actually an opera company disguised as a political party - one that had transformed the Reichstag into an opera house. Once the root source of all that had misled the political right could be identified in the form of Wagner, and then purged, the right could venture forth once more with renewed credibility, cleansed of all defilement by Wagnerian operatic badness.

The central thesis implicit within "Metapolitics" is one that posits a culturally based theory of the origins of WWII and the Holocaust. At the time, in most history departments, Marxist influenced interpretations of history based on analysis of socio-economic infrastructure dominated. When the war was over, Viereck knew that there would be a wave of anti-fascist, post-Marxist historians looking at the Great Depression and hyperinflation as key driving elements that precipitated war. Viereck devotes a whole section to the subject under the title "Economic Determinism", which is partly a code for Marxism. Viereck fiercely denounces the standard textbook teaching that the Great Depression had much to do with the rise of National Socialism. In other words, the cultural mindset of Germany alone was to blame, and any analysis of socio-economic determinants is to be denounced as a communist conspiracy. Even as a student, the proto-McCarthyist Viereck was determined to have none of this. In its place, Viereck wanted a culturally based explanation for WWII. History was to be explained, not by structural and socio-economic analysis, but entirely as the end-product of the poetic influence of the Great Man whose epic odyssey single-handedly shaped history.

The human poetic genius alone would thus be the steering hand of history, even if that genius was an evil genius, such as Nero, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler - or Richard Wagner. The structuralist analysis pioneered by Marx was to be rejected outright as a left-wing conspiracy, in favour of a right-wing and romantic view of history shaped by the poetic vision of epic heroes and anti-heroes. The poet in particular was viewed as having been endowed with a seminal role in single-handedly shaping world history according to an inspired vision. And Wagner was Viereck's trump card to "prove" that the demonic vision of a poet and composer could single-handedly steer the course of history. After all, mesmerised by Wagner, Hitler had supposedly transformed the world's stage into a gigantic opera set.

Today, much of this seems rather comical. No serious mainstream academic historian takes any of this seriously. For example, Sir Richard J. Evans compared Viereck with the widely discredited Daniel Goldhagen, whose PhD thesis-come-book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners" became an international bestseller:

"Goldhagen argues that Germans killed Jews in their millions because they enjoyed doing it, and they enjoyed doing it because their minds and emotions were eaten up by a murderous, all-consuming hatred of Jews that had been pervasive in German political culture for decades, even centuries past (pp. 31-2). Ultimately, says Goldhagen, it is this history of genocidal antisemitism that explains the German mass murder of Europe's Jews, nothing else can. This is a bold and arresting thesis, though it is not new. Much the same was said during the Second World War by anti-German propagandists such as Robert Vansittart or Rohan Butler, who traced back German antisemitism - and much more - to Luther and beyond; a similar argument was put forward by the proponents of the notion of a German 'mind' or 'character' in the 1960s [citation to Viereck's 1960s revised edition of Metapolitics], and by William L. Shirer in his popular history of Nazism. Goldhagen asserts that German society as a whole had been deeply antisemitic since the Middle Ages. The tradition of Christian antisemitism was reinforced by Luther, and further strengthened in the nineteenth century by the rise of German nationalism, which defined Germanness from the outset against the 'otherness' of the Jew (pp. 44-5). By the late nineteenth century, antisemitism was not only all-pervasive but also exterminatory. To be antisemitic in Germany meant to will the physical annihilation of the Jews. It was a doctrine, Goldhagen claims, that was adhered to by the vast majority of Germans throughout modern history." Evans Rereading German History.

In other words, the Goldhagen hypothesis is old hat and it just rehashes old ideas long ago published by the likes of Peter Viereck. The hypothesis goes that Wagner shaped the "German mind" by stirring genocidal bloodlust in the Germans, and that his operas prove the Goldhagen hypothesis about how deeply rooted genocidal anti-Semitism had become by the late nineteenth century. Wagner set the stage to enact opera in the opera house of world history, and single handedly preconditioned history so that it was totally inevitable that someone would soon produce his operas on the stage of world history, and presto, there you would have it - WWII and the Holocaust. Such events were predestined to happen, thanks to Richard Wagner, the demonic playwright who scripted the libretto of world history. To prove this, Viereck cites a quote which he attributes to Hitler:

"Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner [no citation]

Viereck repeats this alleged quote three times over, for example:

"Though he knew much of Wagner's prose by heart [no supportive citations], it is the operas that were the main source of emotion throughout Hitler's life [no supportive citations], a deeper emotion than with any man or woman [no supportive citations]. Already in the 1941 edition I quoted Hitler's statement that "whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner." [no supportive citations]... And what must you know to understand Hitler? I leave that to the biographer..."

I have done an extensive study to determine the authenticity of the oft repeated "whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner" quote, and so far, I have been unable to find a credible primary source for it: it is likely spurious. No evidence has yet come to light proving that Hitler ever said this and none of the mainstream academic historians specialising in this field (eg Kershaw, Evans, Browning, Friedländer) quote it. The only secondary source for the quote that Viereck could muster was "They Wanted War" by Tolischus, who lists no source citation at all. All this merely confirms that Viereck's 1941 PhD thesis was little more than a poorly concealed plagiaristic rehash of the 1940 book by Tolischus.

As for Viereck's question as to what a biographer of Hitler might make of all this, here is what Sir Ian Kershaw - that most respected of all Hitler biographers - would write in his monumental two-volume study of Hitler:

"It is nevertheless a gross oversimplification and distortion to reduce the Third Reich to the outcome of Hitler's alleged mission to fulfil Wagner's vision, as does Köhler, in "Wagners Hitler'." Kershaw: Endnote 121 from Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.

"Köhler's, 'Wagners Hitler', takes this [reduction of history to opera] on to a new plane, however, with his overdrawn claim that Hitler came to see it as his life's work to fulfil Wagner's visions and put his ideas into practice." Kershaw: Endnote 129 from Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris

Kershaw is talking about Joachim Köhler's "Wagner's Hitler - the Prophet and his Disciple", but Köhler's reduction of National Socialist Germany to little more than grand opera is actually an unoriginal, albeit grossly exaggerated, rehash of what the likes of Viereck had said decades before him. Everything that Kershaw says about Köhler equally applies to Viereck.

From a methodological point of view, for a historian, Viereck is also astonishingly willing to make up evidence. For example Viereck claims to be privy to uniquely penetrating insights into Hitler's deepest emotions as well as to know with superhuman insight as to precisely what Hitler did or did not know "by heart." Viereck gives us not the slightest shred of supportive citations to back these bold assertions up, leaving us little choice but to conclude that he merely made them up, especially when you consider that Sir Ian Kershaw has said of Hitler that:

"One reason why Hitler has proved 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' (to quote Winston Churchill, though in a quite different context), is the emptiness of the private person. He was, as has frequently been said, tantamount to an 'unperson'. ... Partly, too, the black hole which represents the private individual derives from the fact that Hitler was highly secretive - not least about his personal life, his background, and his family. The secrecy and detachment were features of his character, applying also to his political behaviour; they were also politically important, components of the aura of 'heroic' leadership he had consciously allowed to be built up, intensifying the mystery about himself." Kershaw: Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.

Yet for Viereck, already in 1941, he claimed to have fully solved the "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" that was Hitler, right to the point of plumbing the deepest and most intimate recesses of Hitler's mind, recesses closed even to high ranking National Socialist officials. And even more remarkable was that Viereck, the PhD student, managed it all from the safety of Harvard University campus.

Viereck also makes up other fairy tales. For example Viereck claims that Hitler stated in "Mein Kampf" that his favourite reading consisted of the "political compositions of Richard Wagner" and he cites p.69 of the 13th edition of "Mein Kampf", Munich 1934 as the source of the quote. I meticulously checked the citation in "Mein Kampf", and Hitler says nothing of the sort either on p.69 or anywhere else in the book. Viereck made the quote up. Sir Richard J. Evans concurs with me in stating that:

"[Wagner's] influence on Hitler has often been exaggerated. Hitler never referred to Wagner as a source of his own antisemitism, and there is no evidence that he actually read any of Wagner's writings." Evans: The Third Reich in Power.

Viereck makes things up elsewhere too. In the preface of the 2006 edition, he states that:

"Yet in the 1869 edition of his 1850 polemic 'Judaism In Music' he added that his work was being persecuted by Jews. The Nazis never mentioned how much this Wagner essay owed to Karl Marx, who had attacked Jews as bankers and for turning creations into commodities. The difference: Marx attacked Jews on economic grounds, Wagner increasingly on racial grounds. Thus Wagner's 'Heldenthum and Christenthum', 1881, called all races capable of salvation through Christ with the single exception of Jews."

While Wagner and Marx certainly did belong amongst the ranks of left wing anti-Judaism, the claim that for Wagner it was purely racially based is unsubstantiated by readings of Wagner's late writings such as "Heldenthum and Christenthum". Nor does Viereck give us the quote where Wagner says all races are capable of salvation "with the single exception of Jews." Viereck is unable to give us a direct citation of Wagner saying "with the single exception of Jews" because Viereck just made the words up. Here are the words Viereck alludes to from Wagner's "Heldenthum and Christenthum":

"The blood of the Saviour flowing from his head, from his wounds on the cross - who would commit such an outrage as to ask whether it might belong to the white or any other race?"

"Das Blut des Heilandes, von seinem Haupte, aus seinen Wunden am Kreuze fließend, - wer wollte frevelnd fragen, ob es der weißen, oder welcher Rasse sonst angehörte?"

However, to attempt to trace National Socialist genocide to Wagner and Marx is simply an attempt by the political right to shift the blame for the Holocaust onto the left. Nineteenth century left-wing anti-Semitism is of an entirely different political character and with different historical origins. Merely scapegoating either Marx, Bakunin, Frantz or Wagner for "causing" the Holocaust does nothing to convince us of anything other than that the blame for this appalling tragedy belongs squarely with the warmongering political right. And had Viereck been raised in Germany, a right-winger in his position would have justified voting for the National Socialists on the basis that they were protecting Germany from becoming a Bolshevik republic - just like Viereck's father.

Evans goes on about Viereck:

"It has been all too easy for historians to look back at the course of German history from the vantage-point of 1933 and interpret almost anything that happened in it as contributing to the rise and triumph of Nazism. This has led to all kinds of distortions, with some historians picking choice quotations from German thinkers such as Herder, the late eighteenth-century apostle of nationalism, or Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century founder of Protestantism, to illustrate what they argue are ingrained German traits of contempt for other nationalities and blind obedience to authority within their own borders. Yet when we look more closely at the work of thinkers such as these, we discover that Herder preached tolerance and sympathy for other nationalities, while Luther famously insisted on the right of the individual conscience to rebel against spiritual and intellectual authority. Moreover, while ideas do have a power of their own, that power is always conditioned, however indirectly, by social and political circumstances, a fact that historians who generalized about the 'German character' or 'the German mind' all too often forgot [citation to Viereck's Metapolitics]." Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich.

Viereck's witch-hunt against German liberal thinkers is based on slanderous hearsay and insinuation without proper study of the primary texts of liberal thinkers he tries to blame for the origins of National Socialism. You would expect a PhD student writing a thesis, attempting to argue that National Socialism arose out of the German liberal tradition of thought, to demonstrated direct familiarity with the primary texts of those thinkers he is attempting to incriminate: something which our young history PhD student has failed to do because they are way too hard for a history major without a substantial background in philosophy to read, and the young Viereck had too little time to study them before writing up his thesis. Instead, our time-poor student is reduced to hurriedly passing sweeping judgement on the thinkers he writes about based on caricatures of them he has gleaned from secondary sources - namely upon caricatures plucked from Tolischus.

Viereck further frankly asserts (quoting Kolnai) that "from Fichte to Hitler . . . the line runs straight". While it is true that Hitler's private library does contain Fichte's complete works given to him by Leni Riefenstahl (but not a single volume of Wagner's prose works), it must be pointed out that Fichte was a liberal in his time whose philosophy of a perpetual struggle for autonomous self-determination was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution (see Frederick Beiser's "German Idealism"). Hitler's Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life also contains the complete Shakespeare (in contrast to the striking absence of Wagner's complete works), yet nobody claims that Hitler merely sort to enact works of Shylock's creator on the stage of the globe's theatre.

You can see how from the perspective of the historian specialising in National Socialist Germany, a narrative reducing their entire field to the enactment by Hitler of Wagnerian revolutionary opera on the stage of world history in order to blame shift responsibility for the ideological origins of National Socialism onto the left must seem comically preposterous. Yet in claiming that National Socialism has its origins in Wagner's support for Frantz's anti-militarist and anti-pan-Germanic concept of "metapolitics", that is exactly what Viereck does. Such reductionism makes a mockery of academic historiography by turning it into a exercise in farcical right-wing revisionism for the sake of self-serving political expediency. This is why I call such narratives reducing the vast complexity of history down to Wagnerian opera, Nazi opera conspiracies. These can be considered siblings of Nazi UFO conspiracies (UFOs are Nazi secret weapons made in collaboration with aliens wanting to conquer earth), and Occult Reich conspiracies (the Nazis were all satanists). None of these lurid populist conspiracy theories make it into serious mainstream academic studies of the Dritte Reich era written by genuine historians dedicated to studying this era in history.

Admittedly, though, to his credit, Viereck does admit in his 2006 preface of "Metapolitics" that the Nazi opera conspiracy theories he pioneered had now gotten completely out of hand:

"[M]y Wagner-Hitler research was greeted with general skepticism in 1941. Also by economic determinists, who saw only a capitalist plot, a kind of Protocols of the Elders of Wall Street. But today the Wagner link has gone too far in the opposite direction. Countless exaggerated articles on WagnerHitler. Today what is overlooked is the crucial differences between the two. One book (by the rebel great-grandson Gottfried Wagner) even declares that there is not a single line in 'Mein Kampf' that doesn't derive from Wagner. 'Mein Kampf' has major sources unconnected with Wagner, such as the lost war, German humiliation by Versailles, and the Free Corps of 1919-1920. In turn, the complicated Wagner (again, we need nuance) had not only major proto-Nazi strains but was influenced by totally un-Nazi strains, such as pacifism, Christianity, Feuerbach, Bakunin, Buddhism, Schopenhauer (the stress on doom, on the twilight of the gods), and a fanatic vegetarianism and anti-vivisection. The last two were shared by Hitler but not by the Party."

The oblique reference to Joachim Köhler's "Wagner's Hitler" is unmistakable, where Köhler wrote that "reality meant for [Hitler] the task of transforming the world into a Wagnerian drama". Yet Viereck astonishingly fails to see how Köhler's methodology of making things up, falsifying evidence, and systematic misuse of bibliographic citations, remains unwaveringly loyal to the gutter level methodological standards pioneered by Viereck for whenever right-wing writers speculate about Nazi opera conspiracies.

Although Viereck likes to imagine "proto-Nazi strains" everywhere in Wagner, and then claims to have discovered in them the very origins of National Socialism, it is clear he freely imagines such things anywhere it suits his political agenda. Naturally, Viereck only ever "discovers" such proto-Nazi strains in the writings of left-wing German thinkers. As Evans says, you can cherry pick "choice quotations" to argue just about anyone was a proto-Nazi as the polemical need arises. Even Shakespeare, the creator of Shylock, could similarly be targeted if so desired, since Hitler himself greatly admired Shakespeare, even owning his complete works, thus creating another another alleged "straight line of influence" from Shakespeare straight to Hitler and the crematoria of Auschwitz.

In the field of mainstream academic historiography dominated by the idea of The Twisted Road to Auschwitz, this sort of invention of straight lines to Auschwitz as it suits the writer's polemical agenda are ignored. Viereck is regarded as being of historical interest only. His right-wing attempts to locate the origins of National Socialism in the German tradition of liberal thought fails in its attempts to blind us to the obvious fact that National Socialism was precisely a violent right-wing reactionary movement against the great German liberal tradition in thought. Viereck is likewise merely the reactionary product of his personal life situation, needing to prove his Americanness while stuck with a notorious pro-Nazi father, yet still desiring to clean up the tarnished image of the conservatism he inherited from his father in the face of the rise of fascism. Viereck's views of National Socialism are now rightly classed as "populist" alongside those of journalist, William Shirer's, and understandably lumped together with a whole range of other often lurid and sensationalist populist writers in the field.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have read many books about the history of ideas--how ideas have shaped history--this is among the very best. Wagner had a profound impact on Hitler, going much further than even the most ardent of fans. Hitler not only adored Wagner's music and librettos, he implemented Wagner's political stance and became the leader that Wagner had hoped for. It is horrifying to see how much Wagner and Hitler had in common philosophically--even the rabid anti-Semitism was there. Hitler became a friend of Wagner's widow and her children, and even gained their support for his political rise. The influence is impossible to deny.

The insight that can be gained about what motivated the Nazi movement would make this book invaluable. However, when you take into consideration that many of these same ideas are espoused by today's terrorist leaders, it becomes clear that this is a timely read as well. It can help us understand the attitudes and anger that fuels the most dangerous people in our own time, because these ideas are as popular today, among those who hate western civilization, as they were in the 1940s.
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
_Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler by Peter Viereck was one of the earliest books written during the World War to show the influence of Wagner on the thinking of Hitler. Previously it had been believed that Nietzsche's amoralistic thinking had played a larger role in the development of Hitler's Third Reich. However, as Viereck shows in this book, it was indeed Wagner who was the antisemite (and one of the most virulent antisemites even prior to the coming of Hitler).

This edition put out by Transaction publishers of _Metapolitics_ is expanded not only to cover the influence of German Romanticism on Hitler (which preceded Wagner himself), but also to include a new introduction and several appendices on Albert Speer (Hitler's architect of the Third Reich), Count Claus von Stauffenberg (the aristocrat who tried to assassinate Hitler), the poet George Heym, and the poet Stefan George and his circle.

In the letters of Richard Wagner is included a letter from an admirer and ardent nationalist which states: "To be genuinely German, politics must soar to metapolitics. The latter is to commonplace pedestrian politics as metaphysics is to physics." Metapolitics as defined by Viereck is the type of political thought serving as inspiration for Hitler and his Third Reich regime.

The book begins with a discussion of German Romanticism and its influence on Hitler. For Viereck, the Third Reich may be perceived in some sense as German Romanticism writ large. The book also discusses the influence of "Father" Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a German nationalist in the 1800's, on the storm troopers and on Volkish nationalism in general. The book next moves on to discussing the case of Wagner. Many of Wagner's operatic pieces can be seen as allegories for different components of his metapolitical thinking. For example, it has been suggested that certain characters (the dwarves and the dragon) represent capitalists or Jews within his operas. The book subsequently discusses Houston Stewart Chamberlain whose racialist tracts served as inspiration for Hitler. Also, the book includes several chapters on Alfred Rosenberg, the official Nazi philosopher. Rosenberg was also influenced by German Romanticism and his understanding of history proved particularly virulent. Viereck opposed Christian morality to Rosenberg's neo-paganism.

In sum, this book presents an interesting discussion of some of the precursors of the Third Reich. Both German Romanticism and Richard Wagner played a large part in the development of the thinking of Hitler, and also in many of his primary proponents and Nazi fellow travelers.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
This transaction reprint from 1941 is a classic chestnut and still reads well as one of the first analyses of the sources of fascist ideology. The case against the Romantics, and such as Fichte, is always important, although it is open to challenge. We can find the earlier sources, but no simple causal sequence--and yet...

As Nietzsche well knew Wagner's spiritual odyssey was a strange one and we see the attempt at high tragedy itself turning into a tragedy, irony indeed.

One of those books... Significant and lively reading with a 'genealogy' on the mark.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
This new edition of Peter Viereck's classic is very gratifying in that it has stood the test of time. Prophetic when it was published before the war, wise and insightful when I first read it in the sixties. Even more interesting forty years later. This is one of the few intellectual historians whose autobiography I would loved to read.
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