Spirituality and National Socialism

Quite by accident I ran into the book Between Occultism and Nazism of Peter Staudenmaier. It is not one of these popular books about occult interest of Nazis, but an academic publication about how esotericists, mostly Anthroposophists, acted during World War II and how the regime reacted to them. It is not immediately a wildly interesting subject at first sight, but in a way this could say something about Farwerck and people in his vicinity.

Looking back today it is quite incredible that people with -in this example- Antroposophist leanings would see anything in the upcoming of a regime that would destroy millions of lives, the same as it strikes us as odd that Farwerck was of the opinion that he could work for his fellow man through workers’ unions, Freemasonry, the Rotary and National-Socialism. Staudenmaier has some observations that may help explain this.

As homogenous as we may think the German National-Socialist movement was (or the Italian fascist movement), it was actually pretty divided on some points. One of these points was “occultism”. Some of the leaders were involved themselves in one type or another, while others -that later on would get the upper hand- were fiercely against anything that smelled of it and arrange prohibitions from 1935 on, yet under strong opposition of supporters.

Anthroposophy tried to navigate the changing sentiments. The book is no fun read when you think Anthroposophy stayed miles away from anything that had anything to do with the new regime. The author investigates Rudolf Steiner (1891-1925) who had some strong ideas, Also some of his followers showed sentiments that would nowadays cause persecution. As the new regime got more foot, the Anthroposophical Society tried to navigate the new waters to prevent being forbidden like similar groups. The worked for a while and some ‘factions’ (such as The Christian Community) remained in their seats even longer. Also interesting are the cases of biodynamic agriculture and Anthroposophical medicine which by many high-ranking Nazis (including Rudolf Hess) were exactly how they wanted to reform, so they tried to soak them off of Anthroposophy and have it continue. The ever increasing anti-occult faction also won that battle though (when Hess fled to the UK).

Whether invoking common foes or common goals, anthroposophists and Nazis were able to reach a degree of agreement when their overlapping agendas appeared to be in accord. (p. 155)

Says Staudenmaier on page 155. Indeed there was overlap. Anthroposophy put a lot of stress on Germanness and not infrequently found the races of Northern Europe superior to other races. Also certain reforms were part of the agendas of both Anthroposophists as (certain) National-Socialists.

Anthroposophist responses to Nazism revolved around differing conceptions of national renewal and Germany’s destiny. While some anthroposophists saw National Socialism as a form of materialism and considered Hitler’s movement a threat to their own claim to spiritual guidance, others saw National Socialism as a harbinger of spiritual regeneration and an embodiment of the German mission to redeem the world. (p. 145)

The other way around, there was some interest as well.

The crossover between Steiner’s teachings and National Socialism did not go unnoticed among sympathetic observers. For some Nazi officials, anthroposophy still had much to offer in the effort to renew the German nation. The extensive cooperation between Nazis and anthroposophists in the fields of health care, agriculture, education, and elsewhere gave institutional expression to the
ideological affinities linking the two worldviews. (p. 175)

A faction growing in influence within Nazi Germany was staunchly anti-occultism -though- so whatever had but the slightest scent of “occultism” had to vanish.

When faced with unremitting opposition from anti-occult Nazis, anthroposophists did not retreat into the private world of spiritual ideals but focused instead on practical efforts, demonstrating the worth of Waldorf schools, anthroposophical medicine, and biodynamic agriculture for the New Germany. Many anthroposophists distrusted democracy and sympathized with authoritarian alternatives, and the chance to contribute concretely to the re-construction of the German national spirit held strong appeal. This made the dawn of Hitler’s regime seem as much a promise as a threat. But the available room for maneuver within the public space of the Third Reich soon narrowed and all but disappeared. Proven fidelity to the German cause was not enough to mollify Heydrich and Bormann, and the protection of figures like Hess and Darré could not outlast their fall from grace. Anthroposophists reconfigured their expectations as the Third Reich developed, with some hoping merely to endure the Nazi era and others exploiting the occasion to promote their own projects. Messianic longings were reduced to prosaic organizational politicking, and tactical coalitions with various centers of institutional power took precedence over ideological details. (p. 144)

Staudenmaier describes how Anthroposophists fared in Italy where the situation was somewhat different, but in many ways similar.

Other “occult” groups are hardly spoken about by the author, but he does mention:

Substantial segments of the Masonic milieu displayed extensive ideological overlap with National Socialist thought and worked assiduously to accommodate themselves to the Third Reich. As with occultists, many German freemasons were simultaneously “victims and sympathizers of the National Socialist regime.” (p. 219)

And there we have Farwerck. Without a doubt there was overlap between his thinking and Dutch National-Socialism (he had a lot less sympathy for the Germans, especially after their invasion) and he hoped that by joining he could fulfil some of his goals. Also Farwerck “worked assiduously to accommodate” himself to the new regime; also the other way around. For a while.

It is interesting to see in Staudenmaier’s book that also in Germany there were different ‘factions’ within National-Socialism and that the current, party and later regime got more and more radical as time went on. Just as in the Netherlands, antisemitism only got the upper hand later, Anti “occultism” did as well and it was mostly German pressure that costed Farwerck’s ‘Masonic’ head.

So where was this ‘overlap’ to be found?

These beliefs lent themselves to adaptation far beyond the bounds of esoteric arcana. In Steiner’s day, analogous ideas appealed not only to occultists but to participants in the nebulous völkisch scene which overlapped extensively with the life reform movement. The plethora of völkisch groups in early twentieth century Germany cultivated a mixture of Romantic nationalism, ethnic revivalism, and opposition to both socialism and capitalism, while promoting racist convictions as part of a hoped-for Germanic renewal. (p. 16)

Steiner had some strong ideas that are definitely racist. As we can see in the quote, that was not uncommon in these days. These ideas weren’t yet political though.

Hitler’s new order initially appeared as an opportunity to advance Germany’s spiritual mission; the task of the “German essence,” in anthroposophist eyes, was to heal the world. Ideological overlap helps explain the conspicuous level of practical convergence between anthroposophists and National Socialists in several fields, but also led to mutual suspicion and animosity.

This is also interesting. Staudenmaier describes that these similar ideas made Anthroposophy (and similar movements) competitors to the new political current and there is a big reason for them to get rid off “occultism”, especially the branches with race theories.

And yet, for a long time, there was also overlap in “personnel”. Relatively famous were Anthroposophists very active National-Socialists. High ranking National-Socialists were interested in (elements of) Anthroposophy. A very crude example: concentration camp Dachau had a biodynamic farm worked by the prisoners.

I think this ‘case study’ of Anthroposophy gives a good idea of how in the interbellum (the time between both world wars) certain ideas start to rise and flourish, some of which also in political groups. Initially there was (apparent) overlap (at least on some details). Staudenmaier describes how this plagued the Anthroposophical movement. Not only Nazis grew out of it, also staunch anti-Nazis. Sometimes these two factions remained in Anthroposophy (for some time), sometimes people left. This is comparable to Farwerck leaving Freemasonry.

With the knowledge of today this grey area is pretty dark grey, but in these days, the grey area provided some sort of hope. For a short while at least.

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