Following the aftermath of the cataclysmic defeat of Germany and her Axis partners in the Second World War, exhausted Europe came under the hegemony of the victorious Allied powers — above all the United States and Soviet Russia. Understandably, the social-political systems of the vanquished regimes — and especially that of Hitler's Third Reich — were all but completely discredited, even in Germany.
This process also brought the discrediting of the conservative intellectual tradition that, to a certain extent, nourished and gave rise to National Socialism and Hitler's coming to power in 1933. In the intellectual climate that prevailed after 1945, conservative views were largely vilified and suppressed as “reactionary” or “fascist,” and efforts to defend or revitalize Europe's venerable intellectual tradition of conservatism came up against formidable resistance.
Those who defied the prevailing “spirit of the times,” maintaining that the valid “Right” traditions must be accorded their proper and important place in Europe's intellectual and political life, risked being accused of seeking to “rehabilitate” or “whitewash” Nazism. Germans have been especially easy targets of this charge, which is nearly impossible to disprove.
One of the most prominent writers in German-speaking Europe to attempt this largely thankless task has been Armin Mohler. As German historian Ernst Nolte has observed, this job has fortunately been easier for Mohler because he is a native of a country that remained neutral during the Second World War.
Born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1920, Mohler worked for four years as secretary of the influential German writer Ernst Jünger. He then lived in Paris for eight years, where he reported on developments in France for various German-language papers, including the influential Hamburg weekly Die Zeit.
In his prodigious writings, including a dozen books, Dr. Mohler has spoken to and for millions of Europeans who, in defiance of the prevailing political-intellectual order, have sought to understand, if not appreciate, the intellectual heritage of Europe's venerable “old right.”
Mohler's reputation as the “dean” of conservative intellectuals and as a bridge between generations is based in large part on the impact of his detailed historical study, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932 ("The Conservative Revolution in Germany, 1918–1932"). Based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Basel, this influential work was first published in 1950, with revised editions issued in 1972 and 1989.1
In this study, Mohler asserts that the German tradition of the Reich ("realm") in central Europe (Mitteleuropa) incorporates two important but contradictory concepts. One sees Mitteleuropa as a diverse and decentralized community of culturally and politically distinct nations and nationalities. A second, almost mythical view stresses the cultural and spiritual unity of the Reich and Mitteleuropa.
The main current of radical or revolutionary conservative thinking is expressed by such diverse figures as the Russian writer Feodor Dostoyevsky, Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, American poet and social critic Ezra Pound, American sociologist Thorstein Veblen, and English novelist C. K. Chesterton.2 This intellectual movement began at the close of the 19th century and flourished particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. Sometimes also called the “organic revolution,” this movement sought the preservation of the historical legacy and heritage of western and central European culture, while at the same time maintaining the “greatest [cultural and national] variety within the smallest space."3 In Germany, the “Thule Society” played an important role in the 1920s in this European-wide phenomenon as a kind of salon of radical conservative intellectual thought. It stressed the idea of a völkisch (folkish or nationalist) pluralism, underscoring the unique origins and yet common roots of a European culture, setting it apart from other regions and geopolitical groupings around the globe.4
In Mohler's view, the twelve-year Third Reich (1933–1945) was a temporary deviation from the traditional conservative thinking. At the same time, the conservative revolution was “a treasure trove from which National Socialism [drew] its ideological weapons."5 Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany were, in Mohler's judgment, examples of the “misapplication” of the key theoretical tenets of revolutionary conservative thought. While some key figures, such as one-time Hitler colleague Otto Strasser, chose to emigrate from Germany after 1933, those who decided to remain, according to Mohler, “hoped to permeate national socialism from within, or transform themselves into a second revolution."6
Following the publication in 1950 of his work on the conservative revolution in Europe, Mohler explored in his writings such diverse subjects as Charles DeGaulle and the Fifth Republic in France,7 and the Technocracy movement in the depression-era United States.8 In 1964 Mohler was appointed Managing Director of the prestigious Carl-Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, a leading scholarly and research support institute in Germany. In 1967 he began a stint of several years teaching political science at the University of Innsbrück in Austria. That same year, Konrad Adenauer honored Mohler for his writing with the first “Adenauer Prize” ever bestowed.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Mohler was a frequent contributor to Criticon, a scholarly German journal whose editor, Caspar von Schrenk-Notzing, has been a close friend of the Swiss scholar and a major promoter of his work. In 1985, Dr. Mohler produced a collection of writings to commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Siemens Foundation. The volume contained contributions from the writings of Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Konrad Lorenz, Hellmut Diwald, H.J. Eysenck, and Julian Freund.
Mohler is a leading figure in the European “New Right,” or “Nouvelle Droite.” (For more on this, see Prof. Warren's interview with Alain de Benoist, another major figure in this social-intellectual movement, in The Journal of Historical Review, March–April 1994, pp. 28–37.)
Year after year, political leaders, educators and much of the mass media take care to remind Germans of their important “collective responsibility” to atone for their “burdensome” past. This seemingly never-ending campaign has become nearly a national obsession — manifest recently in the enormous publicity and soul-searching surrounding the Spielberg film “Schindler's List.” In Mohler's view, all this has produced a kind of national neuroses in Germany.
Mohler has written extensively on the particularly German phenomenon known as “mastering the past” or “coming to grips with the past” ("Vergangenheits bewältigung"). He tackled this highly emotion-laden topic in a book (appropriately entitled Vergangenheits bewältigung), published in 1968, and later re-issued in a revised edition in 1980.9 Two years later he turned to the subject of German identity.10
In 1989 Mohler again boldly took on the issue of Germany's difficulty in coming to terms with the legacy of the Third Reich in what is perhaps his most provocative book, Der Nasenring ("The Nose Ring").11 [A review of this work appears elsewhere in this issue of the Journal.]
With the reunification of Germany in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of the Cold War US-USSR rivalry, and the withdrawal of American and Soviet Russian forces from Europe, has inevitably come an earnest reconsideration of the critical issues of German identity and Germany's the role in Europe. This has also brought a new consideration of precisely how Germans should deal with the troubling legacy of the Third Reich and the Second World War.
Changing social-political realities in Germany, Europe and the world have given new significance to the views developed and nurtured by Dr. Mohler and his circle of like-minded “revolutionary conservatives.”
This writer was privileged to spend a day with Armin Mohler and his gracious wife at their home in Munich early in the summer of 1993. After having spoken earlier with historian Ernst Nolte, I was interested to compare his views with those of Mohler. In particular, I was curious to compare how each of these eminent figures in German intellectual life assessed the present and future climate of their nation, and of the continent within which it plays such a critical role.
Although his movement is restricted due to a serious arthritic condition, Dr. Mohler proved to be witty, provocative and fascinating. (In addition to his other talents and interests, he is a very knowledgeable art specialist. His collection of reprints and books of Mexican, US-American and Russian art is one of the largest anywhere.)
During our conversation, Mohler provided both biting and incisive commentary on contemporary political trends in Europe (and particularly Germany), and on American influence. Throughout his remarks, he sprinkled witty, even caustic assessments of the German “political class,” of politicians spanning the ideological spectrum, and of the several generational strands forming today's Germany. As he explained to this writer, Dr. Mohler felt free to offer views without any of the “politically correct” apologetics that have hampered most native German colleagues.
Q: What do you see as the state of the conservative political movement in Germany today?
M: Well, first let me explain my own special analysis. I believe there are three possibilities in politics, which I characterize as “mafia,” “gulag,” and “agon.” Each has been a possible or viable political form in twentieth century history. Of course, between the choice of the “gulag” and the “mafia,” people will choose the latter because it is more comfortable and less apparently dangerous, or so it seems.
But what of this third option, which is taken from the Greek term “agon” ("competition” or “contest"), and recalls the ancient Hellenic athletic and literary competitions? I believe it is possible to have a society that is free of the politics both of the mafia and of the Left, but bringing this about is quite complicated. It is a pity that today we appear only to have a choice between the mafia and the gulag. Liberalism in the 19th century context was a positive idea with a serious basis of thought. Today, however, liberalism has become just another name for the mafia. I do not believe that political liberalism is able to govern in the modern world. My ideal is most apparent today in the “tiger” states of Asia, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan, which have dynamic free market, liberal economies, but without liberal politics.
Q: When you speak of a “third option,” are you referring to the anti-capitalist and anti-Communist “third way” or “third position” advocated by some political and intellectual groups in Europe today that reject the establishment elites of both the traditional left and right?
M: No. I do not see any significant movement of that kind. What small steps are being taken in this direction are denounced as “fascist” or in the “fascistic style.” The role of the modern mass media has destroyed any possibility of such “third way” politics. This means, unfortunately, that we must exclude the “agon” option. We are left only with the “mafia” or the “gulag” options.
Q: Are you therefore saying that a true conservative revolution is not possible? Is there now in Germany anything that might be called an authentic conservative movement?
M: At first, just after the war, we did have a certain kind of conservatism. Essentially, it had two aims: first, to be the Number One enemy of Communism; and second, it must be allied with America. It also had its origins in two forms of conservatism. One was Burkian [after Edmund Burke], what I have called Gärtner-Konservatismus — “Gardener Conservatism” — that is, merely attending to the cultivation and restoration of society as a gardener would. The other is the “humility conservatism” of the Christian churches. These were the only kinds of conservatism allowed by the Americans. After all, they were the ones who handed out the chocolates, and western Germany wanted that. What the entire population did not want was Communism.
At last this began to change, particularly with the publication in 1969 of Moral und Hypermoral by Arnold Gehlen.12 This book opened the way to a real Conservatism. Gehlen used the term “conservatism,” which I do not like because it implies merely wanting to hold on to something from the past. Most of the time “conservatism” is used to refer to rather trivial and stupid things. In any event, a year after Gehlen's book was published our journal Criticon was started. The first issue was devoted to Gehlen and his ideas.
And then there was the “War Generation.” I am not referring here to the “Old Nazis,” but rather to a second generation that no longer believed in the early romantic notion of revolutionary National Socialism. By 1942, the “Old Nazis” were effectively all gone. In Berlin, by then, all of the government posts were in the hands of young technocrats: the “second generation” of National Socialists. They were not interested in the stories of the Party's struggle for power, or in the fight against Communism.
And this generation — members of which I met in 1942 in the government ministries in Berlin — were in their 30s. A good example of this type is Helmut Schmidt, who eventually became leader of the Social Democratic party, and then Chancellor. He is very typical of this generation that had conducted the war: in the later war years, they played a major role in the government agencies and in the [National Socialist] party organizations. They were very much a group of “survivors.”
Q: So they were the first “new” class?
M: Yes. This first “new class” — most of whom came of age in the 1940s — accepted the ideology of the Western allies because they told themselves, and others: “We lost the war, now at least we must win the peace.” I worked for 24 years at the Siemens corporation with people of this type. I tried to encourage them to fight against government regimentation. But they replied, “you can do that, you are Swiss. We, though, have to trust the system, to appreciate the possibilities of life within this economy and society.”
They didn't have to develop a liberal or free market economy, of course, because Hitler was intelligent enough not to socialize or nationalize the economy. He had said, “I will socialize the hearts, but not the factory.” And the members of this “new generation” felt that there was no time to dwell on being individualist: “We must work. We lost the war, at least we must win this struggle.”
They are completely different from their sons and daughters! This next generation, which is now between 40 and 60, you could call them the “unemployed” generation: too young to serve in the army of Hitler and too old to serve in the army of Bonn. Well educated, they sought only to work in a liberal, industrial society, vacationing in Tuscany. They've wanted money for themselves, not accepting any social responsibilities. They wouldn't think of sacrificing their blood in wars decided by Americans or Russians. In their youth they were Maoists, but not seriously so; after all, they want to live comfortably. They didn't want to work hard like the Asians. Disdaining such a goal, they declared, “Our fathers and mothers had to work too much.” They wanted an easier life, and they succeeded. The money was there, and the larger political questions were settled for them by the Americans. So these were the “volunteer helpers” — the “Hiwis” or Hilfswilligen — of the Americans.
The young socialists of this generation rejected the idea of national and social responsibility. It regarded the notion that men must work, and that one must help others, as a secondary and not very important idea of old people. These are the sons and the daughters of the people of my generation, too. This is largely a destroyed or wasted generation.
I admire the “war generation” very much because they had a sense of responsibility, and furthermore, they didn't lie. They did not mouth the trivial and hackneyed old political slogans of liberalism; they were too serious to do this. They knew in their hearts that this paradise of the Bundesrepublik [German federal republic] would not be viable.
But now we have a generation in power that is not capable of conducting serious politics. They are not willing to fight, when necessary, for principles. Typically, they think only about having good times in Italy or the Caribbean. As long as the generation between the ages of 40 and 60 remains in power, there will be bad times for Germany.
The generation that is coming into its own now is better because they are the sons and the daughters of the permissive society. They know that money is not everything, that money does not represent real security. And they have ideas. Let me give my description of this generation. For 20 years people like me were on the sidelines and barely noticed. But for the past six or seven years, the young people have been coming to me! They want to meet and talk with the “Old Man,” they prefer me to their fathers, whom they regard as too soft and lacking in principles.
For more than a hundred years, the province of Saxony — located in the postwar era in the Communist “German Democratic Republic” — produced Germany's best workers. Since 1945, though, they have been lost. The situation is a little bit like Ireland. Just as, it is said, the best of the Irish emigrated to the United States, so did the best people in the GDR emigrate to western Germany. After 1945, the GDR lost three million people. With few exceptions, they were the most capable and ambitious. This did not include the painters of Saxony, who are far better than their western German counterparts. (Fine art is one of my special pleasures.) Moreover, many of the best who remained took positions in the Stasi [the secret police of the former GDR]. That's because the Stasi provided opportunities for those who didn't want to migrate to western Germany to do something professionally challenging. In a dictatorship, a rule to remember is that you must go to the center of power.
Recently, in an interview with the German paper Junge Freiheit, I said that trials of former Stasi officials are stupid, and that there should be a general amnesty for all former Stasi workers. You must build with the best and most talented people of the other side — the survivors of the old regime — and not with these stupid artists, police and ideologues.
Q: Are there any viable expressions of the “conservative revolution” in German politics today?
M: You know, I'm a friend of Franz Schönhuber [the leader of the Republikaner party], and I like him very much. We were friends when he was still a leftist. He has a typical Bavarian temperament, with its good and bad sides. And he says, “you know, it's too late for me. I should have begun ten years earlier.” He is a good fellow, but I don't know if he is has the talents required of an effective opposition political leader. Furthermore, he has a major fault. Hitler had a remarkable gift for choosing capable men who could work diligently for him. Organization, speeches — whatever was needed, they could carry it out. In Schönhuber's case, however, he finds it virtually impossible to delegate anything. He does not know how to assess talent and find good staff people.
Thus, the Republikaner party exists almost by accident, and because there is so much protest sentiment in the country. Schönhuber's most outstanding talent is his ability to speak extemporaneously. His speeches are powerful, and he can generate a great deal of response. Yet, he simply doesn't know how to organize, and is always fearful of being deposed within his party. Another major weakness is his age: he is now 70.
Q: What do you think of Rolf Schlierer, the 40-year-old heir apparent of Schönhuber?
M: Yes, he's clever. He clearly understands something about politics, but he can't speak to the people, the constituents of this party. He is too intellectual in his approach and in his speeches. He often refers to Hegel, for example. In practical political terms, the time of theorists has gone. And he is seen to be a bit of a dandy. These are not the qualities required of the leader of a populist party.
Ironically, many of the new people active in local East German politics have gone over to the Republikaner because people in the former GDR tend to be more nationalistic than the West Germans.
Q: What about Europe's future and role of Germany?
M: I don't think that the two generations I have been describing are clever enough to be a match for the French and English, who play their game against Germany. While I like Kohl, and I credit him for bringing about German unification, what I think he wants most sincerely is Germany in Europe, not a German nation. His education has done its work with him. I fear that the Europe that is being constructed will be governed by the French, and that they will dominate the Germans. The English will side with the French, who are politically astute.
Q: That is the opposite of the perception in America, where much concern is expressed about German domination of Europe. And yet you think that the French and the English will predominate?
M: Thus far, they have not. Kohl hopes, of course, that he can keep power by being the best possible ally of America; but that is not enough.
Q: Do you think that the influence of America on German identity is still important, or is it diminishing?
M: Yes, it is still important, both directly, and indirectly through the process of “re-education,” which has formed the Germans more than I had feared. Where have the special German qualities gone? The current generation in power wants to be, to borrow an English expression, “everybody's darling;” particularly to be the darling of America.
Those of the upcoming generation don't like their parents, whom they see as soft and lacking in dignity. In general, I think that younger Germans are not against Americans personally. They will be better off with Americans than with the English or French. In this I am not as anti-American as Alain de Benoist. The “American way of life” is now a part of us. And for this we have only ourselves to blame.
For my own part, I see a great affinity between Germany and America. When I was visiting a family in Chicago a few years ago, I felt right at home, even if it was a patrician family, and I am from the lower middle class. I felt something. For example, if I were to have an accident, I would prefer that it occur on the streets of Chicago rather than in Paris or London. I think that Americans would be more ready to help me than people in France or England.
During my travels in the United States, I encountered many taxi drivers, who were very friendly if they had an idea that I was from Germany. But when I would tell them that I am Swiss, they didn't respond in this positive way. In the case of Black taxi drivers, there is always the same scenario when they converse with Germans. They say, “you treated us as human beings when we were there.”
Some would talk about those death camps on the Rhine for German prisoners run by Eisenhower, where American soldiers had orders not to give water or food to the Germans.13 (You know, Eisenhower ordered that those who gave food or water to the Germans in those camps would be punished.) Blacks gave them water, though, and that had a great impression on them. To German soldiers they said: “We are in the same situation as you.”
Q: You are saying that there is a camaraderie among victims?
Q: How is it possible to throw off this domination, this cultural occupation, as it were?
M: I had the idea that we must have emigration — as the Irish have had — to make Germans more spontaneous. I have written on three different occasions about Ireland in Criticon.
It was not fair of me to judge Ireland during that first visit, because I did not know the country's history. Then I dug into the subject, and especially the 800-year struggle of the Irish against the English. I relied on the best study available, written by a German Jew, Moritz Julius Bonn. An archivist at the University of Dublin had given Bonn access to all the documents about the English colonization of Ireland.
In my second Criticon article I boosted Ireland as an example for the Germans of how to fight for their independence. I said that it was a war of 800 years against the English. At last they won. And the English genocide was a real genocide.
During my first visit to Ireland, I felt that there was something really different, compared to Germany. Last year, after two decades, I returned to Ireland. Writing about that trip, I concluded that I had been deceived earlier, because Ireland has changed. Europe has been a very bad influence. Every Irishman, when he saw that I was from Germany, asked me, “Do you vote for Maastricht?” [referring to the treaty of European unification]. When I replied that the German people are not allowed to vote on this matter, they seemed pleased. And to me, the Irish now seem very demoralized. Twenty years ago, when I arrived in a little Irish town in Castlebar, it was a quiet little town with one factory and some cars, some carts and horses. Now, all the streets were full of cars, one after the other. “Is there a convention in town,” I asked. “No, no, it's normal.” I then asked, “Are these cars paid for?” “Ah, no,” was the answer I received.
Every person can have three days off a week, and then it's Dole Day on Tuesday. Their mountains are full of sheep. They don't need stables for them, because it's not necessary. The owners are paid a sum of money from the European Union for each sheep. Their entire heroic history is gone! It's like the cargo cult [in backwoods New Guinea]. For the Irish, the next generation will be a catastrophe.14
Q: Returning to an earlier question: what does the future hold for German-American relations?
M: On one occasion when I was in America doing research on the Technocracy movement, I recall being the guest of honor at a conference table. At my side was a nationally prominent American scientist who was also a professor at a west coast university. Also with us was an internationally prominent Jew, a grey eminence in armaments who had an enormous influence. He was treated like a king by the president of the university. And at the other end of the table I sat next to this west coast professor, who told me that he didn't like the cosmopolitan flair of the East Coast. “You should come to western America,” he said to me. “There you will not always hear stupid things about Germany.” And he added that in his profession — he works in the forests and woods — are people who are friends of Germany. So I remember this fraternization between a visitor from Germany and someone from the American west coast.
Q: Are you suggesting that if it were not for the influence of certain powerful academic or political elites, there would be greater recognition of the compatibility of German and American values?
M: You see, this difficult relationship between Germans and Jews has had an enormous influence on public opinion in America. Jews would be stupid not to take advantage of this situation while they can, because I think Jewish influence in America is somewhat diminishing. Even with all the Holocaust museums and such, their position is becoming ever more difficult. This is partly due to the “multicultural” movement in the United States. Actually, the Germans and the Jews are a bit alike: when they are in power, they over-do it! New leaders in each group seem recognize that this is dangerous.
Dr. Mohler also spoke about the Historkerstreit ["Historians' dispute"], which he sees as a critical milestone on the road of enabling Germans to consider their own identity in a positive way. (For more on this, see Prof. Warren's interview with Dr. Ernst Nolte in the Journal, Jan.–Feb. 1994, pp. 15–22, and the review of Nolte's most recent book in the same issue, pp. 37–41.)
He expressed the view that many European leaders — particularly those in France and Britain — welcome an American President like Bill Clinton who does not seem expert at foreign policy matters.
With regard to developments in Germany, Mohler explained that he speaks as both an outsider and an insider, or as one who is “between stools” — that is, born and raised in Switzerland, but a resident of Germany for most of his adult life.
"With the Germans,” he said, “you never know exactly what they will do the next day. You may become so involved in what is true at the moment that one thinks things will last for an eternity. People thought this about [Foreign Minister] Genscher."15 In a closing comment, Dr. Mohler declared with wry humor: “In politics everything can change and the personalities of the moment may easily be forgotten.”
Ian B. Warren is the pen name of a professor who teaches at a university in the midwest. This interview/ article is the third in a series.
From the Journal of Historical Review, September/October 1994; Vol. 14, No. 5, p. 3.