Maurice Bardèche on “Germanic Fascism” — Part One

The long second chapter of Maurice Bardèche’s Qu’est-ce que le fascisme (What is fascism?) is presented here in several installments.

In this first section of Chapter II, Bardèche explains that German National-Socialism was different from Italian Fascism in: 

  • its origin, from the defeat of Germany in the First World War, 
  •  the limited time-frame – only four or five years – in which National-Socialism could unfold naturally before being forced by circumstances to prepare for another war, 
  • its foundation in a Germanic and Mediaeval, rather than a Roman vision, 
  • its application of biology to politics (imported from the United States).

I said that I would have some criticisms of what Bardèche says about National-Socialism, and so I do. The following points are just about this first section.

* * *

Bardèche objects that “true fascism” does not take account of biology. Insofar as the German National-Socialists never called themselves fascist, and insofar as the word Fascism properly belongs to an Italian movement that was more sociological than Darwinian in outlook, this seems to be true. But, that is not to concede that National-Socialism was not an improvement over Fascism, with its more radical approach to improving the nation, not just through discipline but through husbandry of the people’s germ-plasm. 

This aspect of National-Socialism is related to Germany’s defeat in the First World War, insofar as the Germans wanted to avoid future defeats and were willing to learn from the powers that beat them. They were heavily influenced by Madison Grant’s observation about the importance of Nordic men for having an effective military, and adopted eugenic policies that originated in the United States. 

This imitation of the victors extended even to seemingly trivial matters such as Hitler’s advocacy of boxing, because habituation to fistfighting had given the Americans a great advantage in hand-to-hand combat over the more civilized Germans  during the First World War.

* * *

DNVP placard: “Rescue the east!”

Bardèche says that National-Socialism was animated by the Mediaeval and Germanic ideal, and by the agenda of reacquiring lost territories, but these were not unique to the NSDAP. The Deutschnationale Volkspartei (conservative nationalists who were also Pan-Germanist like the NSDAP) also featured these themes in their electoral placards. 

* * *

The suggestion that Germany could have avoided intense international criticism by taking a slow approach to removing Jews from the elite professions and the levers of power in Germany is probably wrong. Macchiavelli said that if the prince must inflict unpleasantness, he should do it all at once. Bardèche’s suggestion seems to be based on the premise that there was something reasonable about the Jewish vendetta against Germany. Was it reasonable? Recall that the American Jewish Congress issued its famous declaration of war against Germany on 27 March 1933, when Hitler had been chancellor only a few weeks and hardly anything had happened in terms of restrictions on Jews. Later, apparently deeming deportation and expropriation of wealth an inadequate grievance, Jews added fake grievances, claiming that the entire Jewish population of Axis Europe as of 1942 was being systematically killed and turned into soap. Thus, the propaganda against Germany far outstripped the reality of what was happening, so that greater moderation toward the Jews on the part of the Germans would likely have made no difference. History shows that nothing is gained by being nice to the Jews — except, eventually, a knife in the back.

Furthermore, Hitler was in a race against time, insofar as he had to make use of the emergency powers that had been granted to him to fix as many things in Germany as much as possible while it still was possible, while the public mood still supported drastic measures. A gradual reduction of Jewish influence would have brought Jewish influence at some point to a seemingly tolerable level, which would have made de-judaization difficult to complete. Jews of course would be using whatever influence they retained to try to undermine the process. That is another reason why it was advisable to disempower the Jews all at once. To protract the aryanization and de-judaization of the economy and society over a long period of time as Bardèche proposes would have doomed the project to stalling before completion. 

* * *

Not everyone would entirely accept Bardèche’s criticisms of Mein Kampf. Bardèche seems to find relatively little to learn from it, but what was obvious to a French fascist who had lived through the war is not necessarily obvious to us today, given that the French had their own fascist and anti-Jewish traditions. Hitler’s criticisms of Jews, for example, would not have been the novelty to Bardèche that they are to an American of today.

Also, Bardèche speaks of Mein Kampf as if it were the definitive work presenting National-Socialism, but this is disputable. Mein Kampf, as the very title indicates, was a book about Adolf Hitler the man, explaining who he was and what he wanted to do, and why. Not everything that Hitler proposed to do was a ramification of National-Socialism. 

While Bardèche appropriately notes that it is unfair to judge National-Socialism by the short time that it was allowed to exist under relatively normal circumstances, one can also say that National-Socialism is not precisely the same as Mein Kampf. (Examples: Hitler referred to the Aryan and the Jew as races, but when the official racial doctrine of the NSDAP was promulgated, it reflected contemporary racial science and differed from what Hitler had written. Also, the foreign policy that Hitler outlined in Mein Kampf has only a slight resemblance to how events unfolded.) 

* * *

Bardèche speaks as if Hitler had intended all along that Germany should wage war against the entire world. This is clearly not what Hitler wanted. The war in 1939 was provoked by cross-border Polish incursions (more information), and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was preemptive (more information). Hitler especially would have liked to have had an alliance with the UK, and in that partnership Germany, dependent on the mercy of the British fleet for access to foreign colonies and trade, would clearly have been the junior partner, not at all undertaking to stop the Sun in its course as Bardèche says.

* * *

Bardèche says that the greatest reproach against Hitler is that he gave the provocation for war. He wrote that in 1960, two decades before Jewish propaganda made the entire history of the era rotate around their so-called Holocaust, and the fictitious 6 million were made to count more than 60 million that really died in the war. 

 * * *

What Bardèche says is of interest, but his historical perspective was different from ours. To some extent Bardèche’s attitude is conditioned by being French, rather than German or American, and to some extent he was still in the lingering fog of wartime propaganda. There is always a tendency, even today, to try to explain the destruction of National-Socialist Germany through some fault or error of Hitler, even though the war, and its expansion, was forced on him — and Bardèche seems not immune to this tendency. We should take the limitations of his perspective, and of course also our own, into account.

Maurice Bardèche 
Germanic Fascism 

from Qu’est-ce que le fascisme?, 1961
translated by Hadding Scott, 2018

German national-socialism, like Italian Fascism, is connected to an historical vision; it was baptized by fairies no less illustrious, whose sponsorship was also not more fortunate. Completely different from Italian Fascism, it was born from the German defeat, from the humiliation of the German people, and also from Germanic pride. Conquered after an heroic war in which they had exhibited the somber bravery of the soldiers of Arminius, the Germans demanded at once from their Germanic past a justification for their threatened national unity, and a reason to believe in themselves. While some men in morning coats, bent over maps, dismembered Germany, a handful of vanquished soldiers remembered the war-song of the infantry formations surrounding the barbarian chariots with their arms joined — at their mighty march against the line of Varus, at the empire of the war-chiefs that succeeded the Roman Empire, at the time of Charlemagne, which is more handsome and more poetic than the age of Augustus, [and] at the great river called the Middle Ages, which is the father of our fields and of our cities. And thus they feel solid ground beneath their steps. Their truth and their faith were there. This was the boundary of their despair and the certainty of what they were. A new Jerusalem arose for them upon the ruins of their country: it was an entirely different matter from the work of national management (gestion nationale) that Mussolini undertook in 1921.

Another fundamental difference is that national-socialism did not have time to be realized. Hitler attained power in 1934 and, from 1938, he left to his colleagues the realization of reforms and devoted himself entirely to preparation for a war that he reckoned inevitable. From the beginning of the war, the implacable necessities of the struggle against a worldwide coalition command all national-socialist policy; the character of the government is changed entirely. Can one render a definitive judgment on a government that had only four years of peace for molding a nation? If we pretended to judge the Soviet government based on the Russia of 1924, what Communist would accept this criterion and what adversary of Communism would even dare to propose it? It is however what we do by judging without appeal national-socialism, based on the one hand on what its short years of full exercise permitted it to do, based on the other hand on what the necessities of the war forced it to impose.

Since then, the trial that one habitually stages for national-socialism runs the risk of being completely distorted. A doctrine is indicted and judged based on the results that it produced during a period of abnormal functioning. While pursuing the discussion on this terrain one encounters only passions and cries of hatred; one crashes against the impregnable fortifications of propaganda that time alone can cover with froth and disarm in oblivion: the only rewards of this task are glorious wounds, but it does not appease, and, at least for the moment, it does not reconstruct.

Let us leave however this presently unfruitful discussion. Ultimately, when one investigates what a coherent definition of fascism can retain of national-socialism, what is striking is the foreignness of national-socialism; I mean by that what it has that is fundamentally Germanic and inadaptable to other peoples. Had it not committed errors with which we have no reason to declare solidarity, it is so far from us by its profound inspiration that it is almost unusable. It remains the strong image of fascism: like a young god triumphant and terrible, but coming from foreign plains where unknown gods dwell.

One will more easily admit at least some of this affirmation if one bewares the following finding: the majority of the chapters of Mein Kampf are bereft of interest for a reader of 1960, however voracious for neo-fascism you might like to imagine him. That is because they deal with the situation of Germany in the Europe of 1935, which is as far from the Europe in which we live as the Europe of 1905 that conditioned the positions taken by Maurras.

These chapters of Mein Kampf are doubly unusable for us: first because they refer to an equilibrium of forces that no longer exists, then because they place national-socialism in the service of a nationalism of reclamation that has disappeared from our preoccupations as thoroughly as the Europe of Poincaré. But let us tear out the pages of Mein Kampf that concern the Treaty of Versailles and the borders of Germany. But let us also regard as suspect all those who have as their chief purpose to enable the German people to support this reclamation. If national-socialism is only a doctrine of avengers, it has nothing to attract us.

This comment is made only in passing. The essential is elsewhere. Look: the Germanic or mediaeval vision of the world is not more fundamental for a modern fascism than the Roman vision of Mussolini. Let us understand this point: while they speak of labor, of courage, of heroism, or while we recall our shared origin or our shared vocation, nothing is more essential than these images of our past, nothing nourishes better our sensitivity and our thought. But these nourishing evocations of imagination ought not to be transformed into myths and even less to be confused with medicines. The Germany of the Holy Roman Empire, the Roman Empire, the France of Louis XIV, are not stone horsemen that a magic wand can reanimate. Their greatness contains secrets of life and youth that we must rediscover. But their resurrection, if it were possible, would not suffice to save the West. We have to save ourselves each day and we shall have to save ourselves each day: in that regard, peoples are like Christians. The Hitlerian dream of history however contains in itself the same element of fantasy as the Maurrasian dream or the Mussolinian dream: it was based on no universal affirmation; it did not propose any mission for all men; it affirmed only a mission of the German people.

But it offered something infinitely more formidable than the dream of Mussolini: this is that it conformed to some extent with reality. The downfall of Mussolini was a normal downfall, in some way, it was a downfall of a captain of industry, a downfall of an inventor, the heroic downfall, the classic downfall of Icarus, that of men who are no longer in touch with reality. The downfall of Hitler was horrifying because he had taken the entire German nation into his dream, because the German people was taken entirely as ice in a river is taken by the winter and because the catastrophe came crashing down not only on the dreamer but on everyone.

For the fact unrelated to fascism was to play this Germanic card alone and above all to play the Germanic man alone, to the exclusion of other men. Fascism never said anything about the Germanic man alone. Fascism quite likes the Germanic man; it has nothing against him: but it never recognizes anything exclusive about him; it recognizes some qualities in him, which is not the same thing, but no exclusivity, and there is not reason – I mean that there is no universal reason, no reason in wisdom and justice – to confer upon him in fact an exclusivity. For Europe is not only the Holy Roman Empire; it is also the Europe of Caesar; it is also the France of Louis XIV. And Germany succumbed to this enormous error and to no other: to have wanted to actualize the historical delusion, to have believed above all that they could actualize it, to have believed that the Germanic man alone, like Joshua, could halt the Sun.

For everything came from there. “The Germans will lose the war,” someone said to me in 1942, “because it is a small nation.” I believe that it is unnecessary to seek elsewhere for the cause of the German defeat. A small nation, a pink dot, a small pink pocket in a universe entirely opposed to it with forges, with fleets, with planes, with inexhaustible batallions. The Germanic man could be worthy of the comrades of Arminius: he was that. But he was unable to achieve victory alone; he was unable to halt the Sun; the Germanic man alone could not impose on the world the Germanic peace, Germanic law, the great silent peace of the Holy Roman Empire.

And the errors came from there too. In Berlin in 1934 42% of the physicians were Jews, 48% of the attorneys, 56% of the notaries, 72% of the stockbrokers, 70% of the real estate in Berlin belonged to the Jews. Would it really have seemed exorbitant for the German government to try to reintroduce some Germans into these privileged professions? Would a policy of replacement, conducted with caution, have exposed Germany to this international conspiracy of hate whose power Hitler himself had explained? But it was all passionate, and, what is even worse, scientific. In the place of the habitual norms of politics – what is useful, what is possible, what is necessary – one sees the appearance of an unexpected premise, biology, which, to true fascism, is as foreign as German nationalism.

The Germanic man was not content to be the magnificent human animal that he was, with his qualities that are admirable; he was not content to perfect, to cultivate, to improve with reason, as in a breeding project, this courageous and serious human animal who had grown on his soil; he felt the need to invent the contrary of the Germanic man, to personify the anti-German as he had personified the German and to extirpate him scientifically by means of a spectral analysis as infallible as those of the chemical industry. Metaphysics are reincarnated also with the cruel automatism of science. A systematic vision of the world began to thresh the area like a machine for separating grain from chaff. And it was necessary to separate the grain from the chaff, but not with a blind machine that was crushing thousands of harmless helots, not with a system that was absolute, rigid, mechanical like all systems. But the scientific thresher, nickel-plated, insensate, automatic, poured men into sacks, blind sower of distress and hatred. And the Germanic man emerged from this machinery implacable, alone now, quite alone, a pure statue, an incorruptible god, bright like brand new brass, but menacing like an unfamiliar god, like a denizen of another land. For the thresher was not too bothersome for us people of Auvergne. And while totally admiring the great blond barbarians, we thought deep inside ourselves that the same energy, loyalty, sacrifice, and patience could be found also in a laborer of Romania, in a lowly black-haired peasant of Old Castille, and even in an Auvergnat.

Part Two is not yet posted.

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