Perhaps someday there will be a proper review. Until then it should be enough to look at the last excerpt, the very last words in the book, to see what Woods tries to “prove”. Consequently Woods is unable, or simply does not want, to see, for example, Ernst Jünger’s development during the Weimar years. By 1933 Jünger is no longer a nationalist in any of the meanings normally given to the word.
Ernst Niekisch and other “National Bolsheviks” are given precious little space. All in all, everything that doesn’t help Woods to make Conservative Revolutionaries to look as much as Nazis as possible is left out. To those who are lucky enough to understand Swedish Spöknippet recommends Carl-Göran Heidegren's Preussiska anarkister instead, or at least first.
In common with other Conservative Revolutionaries, Moeller [van den Bruck] then goes on to develop his vision of an alternative socialism for which Nietzsche supposedly provides the model: not ‘that socialism which is a doctrine, but socialism as the vital expression of an emerging humanity with its instincts still strong, healthy and intact’ (p. 175).
p. 37 Quote from Das dritte Reich
The Conservative Revolutionaries projected themselves as the young generation of German nationalists, with their sense of mission and shared identity growing in large part out of the First World War which so many of them had experienced at first hand during their formative years. The First World War had ‘given birth’ to ‘new nationalism’, and, according to its supporters, this new nationalism was fundamentally different from the forms of nationalism which had preceded it.
The difference between old and new nationalism and the difficulty of finding a unique pace for new nationalism in the political landscape of the Weimar period are set out in Deutsches Volkstum in 1929. Here it is argued that after 1919 everyone had assumed that any attempts at a coup d’êtat from the conservative camp would be preoccupied with restoration. But ten years on, the political discussion had transcended such primitive thinking and had left ‘conservative reaction’ behind. On the other hand, the political discussion had still not reached the stage where it could present a clearly formulated alternative.
If one branch of the Conservative Revolution was intent on redefining socialism but regularly lapsed into a tradition of right-wing thinking, another branch seemed intent on dragging the right closer to traditional socialism. The main groups involved in this enterprise were Ernst Niekisch’s Widerstand circle and Karl Paetel’s Group of Social Revolutionary Nationalists which in turn had links with the group within the Nazi Party around the Strasser brothers.
These groups generally favoured an alliance between the Soviet Union and Germany against the capitalist West. Whereas the ‘German socialists’ we have looked at so far were unable to state by what method they would achieve the all-embracing social and economic community which they saw as the ultimate goal, Karl Paetel calls upon young nationalists to take a stand with the proletariat. He asks nationalists to say exactly what they will do when proletarian revolution breaks out, for this will be the day of reckoning for the revolutionary nationalist movement.
Conservative Revolutionaries in fact go through distinct phases in their attitude towards political programmes. They switch away from a call for clarity over political aims towards anti-programmatic activism and the ideal of the strong leader is one of the major developments in their thought in the Weimar period: Ernst Jünger’s words on self-sacrifice […] have their political parallel in his assertion in 1929 that programmes are not needed and that the young generation of nationalists must learn to march without flags. Ernst Niekisch suggests firstly that the Conservative Revolution failed to overcome the left-versus-right split, and secondly that the result of that failure was a withdrawal from the problem.
This call [in the article “Schluss”, Die Standarte, 20/27 December 1925, p. 3] for a clear statement of aims and programmes as the nationalists’ primary task is resumed two weeks later when Jünger writes that nationalists are waiting for the great programmes and the nationalist manifesto. In the coming year the ‘four pillars’ of modern nationalism – the national, the social, the military and the dictatorial – have to be provided with their intellectual foundation. The will to power already exists and it has just to be shown its goals.
The contrast between these thoughts and those expressed some three-and-a-half years later in an article for Widerstand is striking. For the task of working out a programme is no longer of prime importance. Indeed, such a task is now the ‘last stage of nationalism’. The beginning of nationalism, declares Jünger, is not marked by establishing a party or a programme. This retreat from the call for a clarification of nationalist aims is taken one step further in September 1929 when Jünger responds to an invitation from a left-wing journal, Das Tagebuch, to write about his ‘young nationalism’. Jünger begins with a by-now familiar rejection of the traditional tenets of German nationalism and immediately goes on to state:
Let me just say for the benefit if those who cannot do without having it put into words that nationalism, inasmuch as it is a political phenomenon, has as its goal a state which embraces all Germans and which is based on national, social, military and authoritative principles. These are of course words which must be given meaning by life itself, I am convinced that nationalism has enough energy at its disposal to get by without any dogma at all.Jünger thus reaches the point where he feels obliged to suggest that nationalism is in part something other than a political force, and where even the four pillars – the most constant element of his nationalism – are restated only reluctantly and appear to be ranked with the dogma he repudiates. Why should Jünger and his fellow new nationalists change their minds on these central issues between 1925 and 1929?
Part of the explanation for the change of attitude is to be found in a debate on what the contents of a nationalist programme should be – a debate initiated by an article Jünger wrote in June 1926 and in which he calls upon nationalists to form a united front. The new nationalists clearly felt pushed into formulating a political programme in the mid-twenties after the failure of the military assault on the state in the form of the Kapp Putsch of 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.
In his call for a programme Jünger says that after the war nationalists saw the things the stood for apparently sink to miserable depths. They needed to retain their belief that the sacrifices they had made served some profound purpose. Jünger goes on to say that the resolved to cling to tradition, but now he strikes out in a new direction by asserting that nationalists have found a new meaning to the word ‘tradition’: it is no longer a ‘fixed form’ but the ‘living and eternal spirit’ which each generation must shape anew. The idea of a fixed form seems to hark back to Spengler, for whom it is a feature of a moribund civilisation, and by using it Jünger is pointing out the futility of upholding traditional nationalism in the postwar world. The race that was transformed by the war must fight to establish a new state based on the four pillars of nationalism. This state will be radically different not only from Weimar but also from the old Kaiserreich, for nationalism is not reactionary but revolutionary. Jünger sees the four principles of a future nationalist state becoming a basic feature of all non-parliamentary nationalist groups, and he declares that the finer points f these principles are still being clarified. Individual nationalist movements are not large enough to operate independently and the time is therefore approaching when they must form a nationalist front around a clear and decisive programme.
A social programme must be worked out since its absence is causing concern to nationalist workers’ leaders: Jünger suggests hat nationalist workers should be left to conduct the economic battle while nationalist soldiers lead the struggle for power. The workers will be supported in their battle by nationalists who took leave of ‘bourgeois ideology’ in the war. Former bourgeois and Marxists will thus stand shoulder to shoulder. Finally, in the absence of a single great leader, a central council of leaders should be formed in order to maintain the purity and clarity of the movement.
In short, Jünger is attempting to make the nationalist groups confront what he saw as the crucial problem of cutting loose from traditional nationalism with its monarchist beliefs and founds a new nationalism which would set out to win over the workers.
In an attempt to take the revolutionary nationalists beyond a purely negative stance, their leaders repeatedly call for the single great personality who can provide the movement with unity and direction. But, in the absence of such a leader, aims remain vague and centre upon Germany recovering its position as a leader in world politics; the frequently invoked terms ‘new beginning’ and ‘turning-point’ merely underline the inability of the writers to generate a positive programme.
Moreover his [Jünger’s] original call for a united nationalist front around a clear programme gives way in his concluding article to a nationalism which is a ‘single movement’ but progressing ‘along different routes’. Nationalism is now an aim which cannot be defined in a programme but is ‘engraved in the heart’ of every committed nationalist. Here Jünger is taking a step back from rational debate, and it seems reasonable to conclude that this step reflects his realisation that the nationalist debate has largely failed. Indeed, in his closing article he reaches the point where debate and action are practically alternatives: words and blood, programmes and fighting units are set against each other, and the former lose too the latter. The attempt to evolve a revolutionary programme gives way to a revolutionary stance whose aims are not articulated.
In ‘Die zwei Tyrannen’ [Arminius, 13 March 1927] he [Jünger] looks back to the calls for unity of the previous year and says that it was both right and wrong to assume that there was basic agreement about the aims of the nationalist movement. In domestic politics there was certainly no agreement, yet Jünger does see unanimity about the aim of foreign policy: a strong, independent Reich, secure against the outside world. If the threat of an attack from abroad will always be the greatest force for unity within Germany the second greatest force is an outstanding personality.
In what can only be a criticism of National Socialism Jünger goes on to state that the present attempts to find new values are welcome but they are not succeeding. One cannot assert superiority by an act of will since superiority is basically existential. Nor can one artificially cultivate or proclaim a heroic philosophy, for what is innate in the hero degenerates when seized upon by the masses. The same is true of race and the “total state”.
Regardless of individual Conservative Revolutionary criticism of the Nazis, the deeper commitment to activism, strong leadership, hierarchy and a disregard for political programmes persists. These features suggest that the detail of the responses to National Socialism which we have traced in Jünger and Spengler are significant for the Conservative revolution as a whole. Unresolved political dilemmas result in an activism and in an interest in hierarchy which means that there can be no fundamental objection to the National Socialist assumption of power.