- Series: California Library Reprint Series
- Paperback: 367 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First edition (October 7, 1974)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520026268
- ISBN-13: 978-0520026261
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (California Library Reprint Series) First Edition
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This is a study in the pathology of cultural criticism. By analyzing the thought and influence of three leading critics of modern Germany, this study will demonstrate the dangers and dilemmas of a particular type of cultural despair.
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This is, again IMO, one of the great books of historical reportage and interpretation. Stern wrote the book in the 60's; he could have had no inkling of current goings-on in Muslim land, the relevancy of the book to which other reviewers have commented approvingly on.
I underlined almost every sentence. I have not done that since my mid-twenties. Either, at 65, I'm loosing it, or the book is pretty good. Both are likely.
Paul de Lagarde was a biblical scholar and a master of oriental languages like Aramaic and Persian. He was also a rabid Jew hater who openly called for extermination. He loathed classical Western liberalism, science, and capitalism. For him, these were all spiritless abstractions. For Lagarde, Western liberalism, capitalism, science, and the Jews where the monstrous embodiment of all he hated. He had a romantic notion of a mythical Germanic past, and he believed the Jews and the modern society of the West were conspiring to pollute and corrupt this pure German spirit. He advocated a Great Leader, a "purge the Jew" program, and a divinely inspired expansionist foreign policy to rekindle an authentic and noble Germanic way of life.
Lagarde despised bourgeois 19th century German Christianity, and he called for a "new" German religion that would purge all the Jewish elements of Christianity and become the unifying spiritual basis and justification for the new German state. This new religion would fuse the squabbling German factions and sects into a unified people and nation with one single will .... embodied in the form a "Great Leader."
Lagarde rejected the premise of general education, and instead, he proposed a totally new education system based on social status and intellectual promise. This new, state-run authoritarian education system would mold the leaders of the new German nation.
Julius Langbehn wrote a book that extolled the Dutch artist Rembrandt as an authentic "German man". If this sounds confusing, well ... it is ..., but recall that many years later the Nazis attempted to use Rembrandt as a cultural symbol to force a Dutch-German alliance after they occupied Holland during the war.
Like Lagarde, Langbehn hated the modern liberal society because of its mechanization, realism, bourgeois lifestyle, and commercialism. Like Hitler, Langbehn was an "artist"; he was anti-scientific, anti-Western, and anti-rational. He postulated a "cult of the young" (think Hitler Youth) and a "Hidden Emperor" (think Führer) who would emerge to unite the German people. Again like Lagarde, Langbehn hated the U.S.A because it was the embodiment of all he despised. He warned that Jews were destroying the German "Volk" by "worming" their way into German life. For Langbehn, modernity itself was the ultimate cause of German decay, and the Jews were to blame for bringing this modernity to German society. For Langbehn, the Jews were "democratically inclined; they have an affinity for the mob," and like Lagarde, Langbehn called for extermination of the Jews.
I won't go on about Moeller van den Bruck, because it is similar to Lagarde and Langbehn. One important footnote: The Nazi's got the term "The Third Reich" from one of Moeller's books.
In summary, we find a set of three German intellectual romantics who were alienated by modernism and who abhorred all that was new. They suffered from "cultural despair." For these three, the "Jews" were the immediate agents of corrupting change, and it was America that was the colossal embodiment of all they detested. For them, a pure and authentic German way of life was lost due to the conspiracy and confluence of these horrible forces of modernism. All of the ills and fractiousness and faithlessness of German society were attributable to Jews and liberal modernism (as exemplified by America).
These three sought to annihilate the bourgeois modern society they found themselves in and they sought to replace it with a utopian dream. Their utopia was a unified and harmonious German people -- purged of Jews -- who would be orderly, hierarchical, and authentic. This unified German nation would be led by a strong emperor who would perfectly embody the unified will of the people. They sought a "New German religion", free of Jewish influence, that would provide a unifying framework for this new society. They proposed state-controlled education and propaganda, leadership by a small elite, annexation and conquest of middle Europe, and they called for the extermination of Jews.
In short - these three "culturally despairing" egg heads predicted much of the horror of the Nazis. All three were widely read in German society at various points in time leading up to the rise of National Socialism.
We know that Hitler emphatically read Lagarde. For more on this, see "Hitler's Forgotten Library" in the May 2003 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, by Timothy W. Ryback. On p.295, Stern shows how Lagarde, Langbehn, and van den Bruck influenced other key Nazi ideologists like Alfred Rosenberg.
The book contains extensive footnotes and end notes, a large bibliography, and a good index. I have one gripe with the book. There are several book titles, quotes, and passages that are in German without English translation. I could not work them out with my meager German. I wish translations were provided. I also wish pictures or portraits of Lagarde, Langbehn, and van den Bruck were provided.
Finally, I'd like to add that many of the themes we see having emerged from Lagarde, Langbehn, and van den Bruck are similar to what is found the more recent work of the influential Islamic radical Sayyid Qutb. I strongly recommend the Paul Berman book "Terror and Liberalism" for a very readable and enlightening treatment of Qutb.
My answer to that question is an unequivocal "Yes."
The contradictory ideas of a "conservative" revolution proferred by the nineteenth century German cultural figures profiled in the book are identical to ideas professed today by so-called American "conservatives."
This is a dense but illuminating text from which a close reading ultimately pays off.
Stern dicusses these men in an objective and unsparing manner, often acknowledging when their criticisms of Wilhelmine society were appropriate. The book includes some interesting comments on the generality of anti-modernist sentiments like these. There is a particularly good summary analytic chapter that concludes the book. I recommend reading this book in conjunction with George Mosse's The Crisis of German Ideology, which covers some of the same ground. The Mosse book is a more general history of Volkish ideology and its consequences with breadth and context lacking in this book. This book, however, provides a deeper view of the Volkish ideology.