Professor Sucharit Bhakdi… Rabble-Rouser?

Professor Sucharit Bhakdi of Kiel, Germany, who has spearheaded the campaign against the “Covid” dictatorship and the MRNa “vaccines,” has recently been indicted on flimsy charges that boil down to rabble-rousing. What is more, a change to the German Criminal Code has just been waved through the Bundestag, one designed to facilitate a clamp-down on dissidents of every stripe, including those who do not buy the “Satanic Putin” tale. We review the issues here.

Since the 16th Century and the crusade waged by a certain ex-Augustinian and heavy feeder, unredeemed by his undeniable literary skills, and going by the initials ML, Germany’s enthusiasm for freedom of speech and freedom tout court, has been at best, lukewarm. Mendelssohn Moses, author of these lines, would merely remark that the views of that monk on the subject of my co-religionaries, though notoriously unflattering were perhaps less immediately disastrous than his views on the peasantry—8,000 murdered in the Peasant Wars of 1524 to 1526.

The fact remains that from the days of the bizarre ML, the German-speaking world, like England since the day of that other heavy feeder Henry VIII, has squirmed in fear of the authorities.

However, while in 2022, the entire German state apparatus is seen to fawn and simper before its NATO oppressors, Germany is not quite Sodom and Gomorrah: she has righteous men in her midst.

Such as Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, standing straight as a poplar. Although born a Thai, he has been a German citizen for decades, while his endless CV points to perhaps the most-decorated natural scientist in the contemporary German-speaking world:

1979 Justus Liebig University Giessen Prize
1980 Konstanz Medicine Prize
1987 German Society for Microbiology Prize
1988 Dr. Friedrich Sasse Prize
1989 Ludwig Schunk Prize for Medicine
1989 Robert-Koch-Förderpreis of Clausthal-Zellerfeld
1991 Gay-Lussac Humboldt Prize
2001 Aronson Prize
2005 H. W. Hauss Award
2005 Verdienstorden des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz
2009 Rudolf-Schönheimer Medal of the German Society for Arteriosclerosis Research

From the outset of the Scamdemic, Bhakdi spoke out on every occasion against the irrational “anti-Covid” measures, and then, well ahead of the curve, against the so-called MRNa-based anti-Covid “vaccines,” foreseeing precisely what forms of harm would likely arise. Suddenly, he and his wife Karina Reiss became international celebrities, and their books on the matter, best-sellers. (Separately, there is also an excellent dissection of the “Covid” scam networks by two intelligence specialists).

Where NATO Stalkers, Playing Goodie Two-Shoes, Make the “Law”

But in Germany, the hyena, not the bear, roams the wilds. The moment an intellectual pokes his head above the parapet, an army of hyena-like Goodie Two-Shoes pore over his every word, in hopes of finding a nano-particle of that catch-all substance, “anti-semitism.” (As an aside, allow me to add that Palestinians and “Arabs” are every bit as much the Semite as Papa Mendelssohn, save that anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and of course anti-Muslim sentiment is actively encouraged… one wonders why?)

Be that as it may, one day in April 2021, bursting out in disappointment at the lamb-to-the-slaughter attitude of Israel’s citizens in the face of the vaccine lobby, Professor Bhakdi exclaimed:

“Here we have a people who fled Germany, a Germany racked by outright Evil, and we find they have made (of their country) something worse even than was Germany then (…) What is disturbing with the Jews, is how quickly they learn. No other people learns so readily. But they have learnt what is Evil—and they have put it to work. Israel has become hell on earth.”—Die lebende Hölle.

On September 24, 2021, at an election meeting whilst campaigning for office on the Die Basis party ticket, Bhakdi declared that the “anti-Covid” injections were to be analysed in the context of an Endziel, a “final solution” or second holocaust.

If one can still speak of “law” in Germany’s current state of disarray, we are to believe that merely referring to a second holocaust would amount, in legal terms, to “relativising” that which struck the Jews in WWII. One fails to see how such a ludicrous argument might hold, but the point, of course, is to muzzle all opposition.

And so, in July 2021 we find the Public Prosecutor at Kiel, the town of Bhakdi’s residence, examining whether the Professor should be indicted for “relativisation” (sic) and “incitement to hatred” (Volksverhetzung), which roughly corresponds to that legal UFO known to the English-speaking world as “hate crime.” To the keen disappointment of some, in November 2021 the Prosecutor dropped the case for lack of suitable grounds.

The air resounded with relentless howling from the hyenas however, and by May 2022, Kiel’s superior, the Public Prosecutor for the State of Schleswig Holstein, had been got to file a complaint against Bhakdi for “incitement” to hatred and contempt, which was accepted by the Plön Circuit Court (Amtsgericht) in November, just in time for Bhakdi’s birthday. By the way, the legal position has been dealt with on several occasions and very competently, by a group of “dissident” Judges and Prosecutors, KriSTA.

In any event, assuming that poor Germany, littered with US bases and atomic weapons, may still exist in May 2023, the case will be tried in March 2023.

Bhakdi Attempts to Head Off the “Covid” Disaster

Allow me a digression here: Professor Bhakdi is a practising Buddhist, and something of a visionary, foreseeing the consequences of acts and events years, even decades in advance. For us Jews, Bhakdi is the very definition of a prophet. Like the vaccinologist Stefan Hockertz, who has had, literally, to flee Germany, or his colleagues Professors Vélot, Peronne or Toubiana in France, or the medical doctors Carlo Giraldi, Dario Giacomini and Giovanni Vanni Frajese in Italy, Bhakdi was right about “Covid,” right about the “anti-Covid” scam, right about masking, right about the D-dimer tests, right about the MRNa vaccines—while most of the Western world was hiding under the bed.

Fearing for the future of Man, and to crack us out of mass-hypnosis, Professor Bhakdi has a penchant for harsh, even ruthless language – prophetic if you prefer. Upon this being who suffers for Man and who is therefore vulnerable, unlike the grinning enforcers of this world, falls the latter’s rage, as they attempt to drive him to bankruptcy through legal fees, and to despair.

Wailing and Teeth-Gnashing? The Rest of the World has had Enough

Before looking at the changes to German law on Volksverhetzung, voted up shortly before midnight on October 20, 2022, allow me to return to the allegedly unique character of what happened to European Jewry between 1939 and 1945, the incessant droning repetition of which is designed to keep Germans cowed and on the leash for eternity.

Most historians would put the figure for the dead amongst my co-religionaries at roughly six million. WHAT then shall we say of the 26 to 40 million Slavs, Hungarians and Gypsies of various nations “lost in death’s dateless night” during Operation Barbarossa? Entirely burnt up, sacrificed—that is what the Greek word “holocaust” means. For Russia alone, though the exact figure remains unknown, 20 million civilians at least are thought to have been lost, and well over ten million soldiers, as the Wehrmacht broke over her borders. What if Operation Barbarossa had succeeded? Would there yet remain a single Slav on earth? Bear in mind that we are meant to believe that the Western Ukraine is not “Slav”. Therefore, what of the current alliance between Germany, NATO and the Stepan-Banderites in the Ukraine—is this not Operation Barbarossa II?

Accordingly, Papa Mendelssohn has a message to his co-religionaries: Watch your step. The peoples of the rest of the world have had it up to here with our non-stop wailing and gnashing of teeth over the events of 1939-1945, used to justify the many and varied crimes perpetrated before our eyes—or, face it, by us. Get to work on the veterinarian Albert Bourla and his bosses first. Given the kill-rate in Israel from the vet’s injection campaign, saving what’s left of us Jews is going to be a tall order. So, deal with it. (As an aside—have we yet the right to call ourselves “Jews,” as we blithely ignore Yahve’s Sixth and most fundamental Order to Moses? Which is THOU SHALT NOT KILL).

Professor Bhakdi is Not, nor Ever Has Been, a Volksverhetzer

On no account whatsoever, neither in the ancient nor in the modern sense of the term, can Professor Sucharit Bhakdi be said to be a “Volksverhetzer.”

The term Volksverhetzung is an ancient one, referring to acts that deliberately cause disturbance amongst the people. It is made up of the term Volk (people), and the ancient verb hetzen or verhetzen, which means “to stir up” or “incite.” Might there be some sort of relation between the verb hexen, to cast an evil spell, and hetzen? Whatever—the fact remains that in modern times, the legal purview of such an offence must always be very narrow indeed, and restricted to those rare circumstances where an agitator willfully stirs the crowd to perpetrate a crime against persons or property. A very recent and telling example of Volksverhetzen and Hexerei (witchcraft) is when provocateurs excited the crowd to burn fifty Russian-speaking trade unionists alive in their offices at Odessa on May 2, 2014.

And so we have the latest wording (October 20, 2022) of Section 130 para. 5 of the German Penal Code:

“Whosoever shall approve of, deny or crassly downplay whether in public or at a demonstration, a gesture amongst those referred to at Sections 6 to 12 of the International Criminal Code directed at a group referred to at paragraph 1, point 1 (of the German Criminal Code), or against an individual on account of his belonging to that group, in such fashion as to incite to hatred or violence against such persons or group and to disturb the peace, may be sentenced to fines or to three years’ goal.”

As the Göttingen legal scholar Dr. Wolfgang Bittner observes, Sections 6 to 12 of the International Criminal Code concern genocide, crimes against Mankind, against persons, operations and humanitarian emblems, and war crimes that involve forbidden methods of means of war. That Section’s purview is so vast, that a Prosecutor or Magistrate will enjoy virtually unrestricted latitude faced with dissidents of any stripe. What of Demonstrator X marching down the street, whilst somewhere lost in the crowd Demonstrator Y, a hirsute fanatic or provocateur, waves about a sign with irresponsible scribblings? Might X be prosecuted for marching in the same crowd? With the new wording of Section 130, the answer may very well be Yes.

“Political convictions” and New Section 130

Neither is Colonel (Reserve) Edgar Siemund a happy camper—as one sees from his remarkable commentary, published on November 3rd in the on-line Austrian weekly Wochenblick.

Col. Siemund, a practising lawyer, notes that the German Government claims to have had new Section 130 para 5. voted up, only further to grievances raised by the EU, when Germany “failed” to implement EU Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JAH dated 28th November 2008 on various forms of racism and xenophobia. That Framework Decision however, dates from 2008, while the Bundestag was called upon to vote in October 2022—out of the blue and near midnight—on this rider, smack in the midst of NATO’s Operation Barbarossa II.

Secondly, Col. Siemund pointed to a fascinating little “Whereas” (N° 10) of that Framework decision, where one reads:

“This Framework Decision does not prevent a Member State from adopting provisions in national law which extend Article 1(1)(c) and (d) to crimes directed against a group of persons defined by other criteria than race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, such as social status or political convictions.”

Are we to understand that harsh critics of the Ukrainian Banderites such as Arno Klarsfeld, may henceforth be indicted for Volksverhetzung, having objected to the Banderites’ “political convictions?”

As one will readily perceive, like most of what passes for EU legislation, these self-proclaimed “legal” texts are so poorly drafted, as to admit of virtually any interpretation or rather, manipulation. That this is precisely the aim, is scarcely conjecture.

Following Col. Siemund’s lead, we shall skim through the all-purpose terminology offered up on a platter to Prosecutors, terminology for which the new German Section 130 does not trouble to propose a definition, whether linguistic or legal.

  • leugnet (to deny) : should a researcher express doubt as to a received “truth”, has he ipso facto become a “denier?”
  • gröblich verharmlosen (crassly relativise or minimise): who shall define the semantic field of the adverb “crassly”? What does “relativising” a murder mean? Merely placing it into a military or social context? Would a silly, vulgar joke brawled out at a drunken get-together suffice ?
  • zu Hass aufzustacheln (inciting to hatred) : what is “hatred”? Lack of respect for a Banderite? How does one “incite” third parties to hatred? Does that take years? Months? Minutes? Must the inciter hold sway and authority over the incited?

As an aside, it is my conviction that the notion of “hate crime” has no place, in any form, in any modern legal system. Either the hater undertakes an overt, criminal act against persons or property, or engages in an overt, criminal conspiracy to commit such acts. What he may think, whom he may hate, will always remain irrelevant to the law—unless actual harm be done. Or unless we intend to carry on policing Thought—a trend which cannot but lead to mass psychosis, outbreaks of rage and thus criminality on an unheard-of scale.

Surprise!—The Non-Existent “Russian” Lobby and Sundry “Dissidents”—The Law’s Real Target

On November 5th, 2022, Ulrich Heyden, a formerly mainstream and now “controversial”, Moscow-based reporter, observed in Rubikon Magazin
that the German Parliament, manifestly intent on setting up a legal grey-zone, expressly declined to restrict the notion of Volksverhetzen in criminal law, to those rare cases where a domestic or international Court had already found that some form of war crime or crime against humanity was indeed involved.

According to Heyden, a prominent Green Party MP, Canan Baryam, after expressing delight at the opportunities the new Section 130 might afford against the opposition party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), let the cat out of the bag to Legal Tribune: “one can full well imagine a state of affairs,” where the new Section 130 might be relied upon against those who fail to toe the NATO line on “Putin’s” war in the Ukraine. “For example”, she said “in the context of the Russian war of aggression, endorsing a war crime against the Ukrainians as a group via slogans or signs carried aloft at a demonstration, could become an indictable offence.”

New Section 130 Cunningly Interwoven with the G10 Act

As though the above were not enough, on to the hidden nasties. Like Dr. Hans-Georg Maassen, former head of the Bundesverfassungsschutz (domestic intelligence services) now considered to be a “dissident” and a “conspiracy theorist”, Col. Siemund has happened on another worm in the bud. Section § 3 para. 1 S. 1 Nr. 6A of the Act dealing with limits on the secrecy of private correspondence (Gesetz zur Beschränkung des Brief-, Post- und Fernmeldegeheimnisses)10, known as the G10 Act, refers back to the aforesaid Section 130.

Given the rarefied responsibilities Dr. Maassen held until very recently, it may not be found amiss to cite his Tweet from October 26th in full:

“Take a close look at the new wording of Section § 130… it’s an onslaught on freedom of opinion. Few realise that Section § 3 para. 1 S. 1 Nr. 6A of the G10 Act refers back to it. (…). The latter Section deals with monitoring telephones, WhatsApp, e-mails etc. and the post by the intelligence services, which monitoring may be set up as soon as someone even thinks of Volksverhetzung. Since we now have a broader purview of Section § 130 of the Criminal Code, Section § 3 of the G10 Act may be implemented without restriction. The law as it stands today, was already unworthy of a free democracy, since the intelligence services may listen in to someone on mere suspicion of Volksverhetzung (as opposed to some capital crime). With the broadened purview of the offence under Section § 130 and consequently, extension of Section § 3 of the G10 Act, not a shred remains of the secrecy of private correspondence.”

Just perhaps, writes Col. Siemund, those who live in glass houses might not want to throw stones – while 12 million Germans have been forced or coerced into taking the “anti-Covid” shots with the disastrous known effects, the unvaccinated have been ostracised and deprived of basic rights. One day rather sooner than one might imagine, these twisted laws may be twisted back against the perpetrators of these new forms of injustice … such as one Nils Dampz, who, from German public television’s ARD studios at Los Angeles, in an article attacking Elon Musk, went on to refer to non-conformists as “rats, racists or conspiracy theorists”.

Meanwhile, back at the Ramstein air base in Hessen, the earth trembles at the arrival of US bombers, whilst Foreign Minister “Miss Piggy” Baerbock baldly states that the Ukraine’s interests must prevail over those of Germany’s citizens. Behind the back of Chancellor Scholz, away in China attempting to patch up the broken crockery, Miss Piggy then receives US Secretaries Blinken and Vikki “Cookie Handout” Nuland.

Keep calm and carry on. As the Gauleiters winkle away at their work of death and destruction, a shadow government is arising in every nation of Europe, made up of those who like Sucharit Bhakdi, are Thomas Mores who will keep their head.

[On November 30, 2022, Professor Bhakdi spoke, via video, to a sold-out conference in Austria, to which Herbert Kickl head of the FPÖ, sent a message of greetings when he was unable to attend at the last minute].

Mendelssohn Moses is a Paris-based writer.

Concerning Consciousness, with Reference to Franz Brentano

With modernity a Copernican turn occurs in philosophy, as Kant observes, and the metaphysics that until then started from the question of the entity as entity, now starts from the subject. It is thus transformed into a metaphysics of subjectivity, as Heidegger rightly noted.

This metaphysics that is born from Descartes’ ego cogito has a second stage that is inaugurated with the detailed analysis of consciousness. And the first to study it in itself and in detail was Franz Brentano from 1860-1870, until he finally published his The Classification of Mental Phenomena (Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene) in 1911.

Let us begin with Brentano, a German philosopher of Italian origin who taught in Vienna. José Gaos, a Spaniard living in Mexico, who was Brentano’s first translator of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), affirmed that Brentano was a heteroclite philosopher; that is, he departed from the ordinary rules of what a philosopher should do or say. Thus, Brentano had as disciples and students important figures, such as Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Christian von Ehrenfels, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Kazimierz Twardowski, Anton Marty and many others—who excelled in phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Gestalt theory, object theory, language theory, logical positivism, symbolic logic, value theory, etc. Moreover, behind the Vienna Circle and the great contemporary studies on Aristotle (Jaeger, Ross, Owens, Zürcher, Aubenque) is the figure of the philosopher Marienberg.

But then why has Brentano not been studied in the universities as his contemporaries have, such as Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, Frege, Dilthey? Because Brentano subjected Kant to a merciless and severe criticism. He called Kant prejudiced by his a priori. He called him ignorant of the history of philosophy and mathematics. And this was not forgiven by the German universities and thereafter by the rest of the universities. Thus, it was that the Catholic universities, where scholastic philosophy is taught, ignored him thoroughly, even though Brentano was an excellent connoisseur of Thomas Aquinas whom he quoted assiduously and knew to perfection. [Without delving further, on the subject of conscience, he often resorts to Aquinas whom he cites in his support. It is a subject that has not been studied, the use of Thomas Aquinas in Brentano. It would be good if someone would do it]. All this explains why Brentano has never been studied. And if he is mentioned in the faculties of philosophy, it is only in relation to the intentionality of consciousness when Husserl and phenomenology are taught.

Let us now turn to the subject at hand.

There are at least two terms to speak of consciousness: consciousness and conscience. The first is closer to its Latin roots and indicates the capacity of the human being to know and perceive reality. And the second, which is in common use, indicates rather a knowledge of what is right or wrong. The former translates the German word Bewussbeit, which alludes to our capacity to have psychic phenomena and to realize that we have them and which refers to that special capacity we human beings have—often manifested in the form of an inner voice—to know what we should do and what we should not do.

Both terms are limited to the phenomena of knowledge in such a way that they do not contribute much to the study of consciousness itself or whatever its meaning may be. Brentano makes his contribution: “I prefer to use the word consciousness as equivalent to psychic phenomenon or psychic act.” Thus, psychic phenomena are those to which something is inherent. Consciousness is always “consciousness of.” As the great Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri maintained in his thesis on Husserl in 1921: “Brentano discovered that things are something independent of experience but consciousness is not something empty.”

The experience of psychic phenomena that are the constitutive of human consciousness and of which the rest of reality is the object or intentional correlate are lived as immediate and original evidence.
And these phenomena are true in themselves: “as they appear to be, so they are in reality; a fact attested by the experience through which they are perceived.” That is to say that each psychic act is lived as such before any conceptualization. This way of living the psychic is the true way of experiencing the real. And consciousness lives and experiences it at the same time, representatively, judicatively and affectively. Internal perception is infallible and there can never exist in us a psychic phenomenon of which we have no representation.

Thus, consciousness as a psychic act is composed of three fundamental kinds of psychic activities: representation, judgment and emotion, interest or love. If psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry are clear about this Brentanian liminal distinction, which he traces back to Descartes and J.S. Mill, they will advance on a sure step, otherwise they will get lost in a thousand confusing and sterile subtleties. Or worse, be harmful.

[In his Metaphysical Meditations III, Descartes calls “representations” ideae, “judgments” judicia, and “emotions” voluntates sive affectus. Aristotle calls the latter ορεζις, “desires,” and all the medieval philosophers “representations” and “judgments”].

In representing, something always appears to us. Thus, when we see something, a color appears to us; when we hear something, we represent a sound; when we imagine something, a product of the imagination, and so on. The purpose of names is to arouse representations: “We understand by representation not what is represented but the representing. This representing constitutes not only the foundation of judging, but also of craving and willing.”

Those representations, when we accept them as true or reject them as false, bring abouit the judging. And although representing and judging are phenomena of thinking, judgment cannot be reduced to simple representations or combinations of these. If I say “mountain of gold,” I express a representation; and as long as I do no more than that, I express no judgment.

As for the emotions or phenomena of love or interest, they comprise the phenomena that affect our appetite or will. And so, every judgment takes an object to be true or false, every emotion takes an object to be good or bad.

Basically, all three are different modes of reference of the consciousness to the object. The difference between them is that the intentional mode in judgment is to admit if it is true, or reject if it is false, while the intentional mode of reference in the emotions is to like or dislike.

Whereas in representing (the term best expresses the psychic act of representation) there can be no analogy, for I can represent to myself black or white, but I cannot represent to myself, for example, black or white in two opposite ways.

The internal experience of consciousness immediately shows the difference in the content of the three primary psychic activities.

It should be clarified that every psychic act is conscious because it gives itself a consciousness of itself; but at the same time it has a consciousness according to three modes: the representation of it, the knowledge of it and the feeling towards it. “Every psychic act, even the simplest, has a fourfold aspect from which it can be considered.” Thus, we can distinguish, even though the psychic phenomenon is unitary, a primary object (e.g., sound, the act in which we hear), and a secondary object (the phenomenon in which the sound is heard). The object of consciousness is only represented in the first place; knowledge constitutes a second moment, the same as feeling or interest because “representations are also the foundation of craving and feeling.”

Just as the content of a judgment insofar as it is true is admissible and as false rejectable, in the same way, in the case of feeling and liking, of sentiment and will, the good is pleasant and the bad unpleasant: “It is about the value or disvalue of an object.”

All these representations arise from the internal experience of these phenomena. This third kind of activity of the consciousness is not a judgment “this is to be loved or that is to be hated;” but it is simply a loving or hating that the internal perception shows us in an evident way.

At this point, Brentano argued that there is no fundamental distinction between feeling and will as proposed by Hamilton, Lotze, Kant and Wolff, among others, because the term appetite (apetitioI) is not adequate “to cover all psychic phenomena other than thinking,” so that the acts of joy and sadness cannot be considered appetitive acts.

[Brentano states in note 27 of Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint: “Only occasionally do we see signs of an emancipation from this tradition – of designating with the term appetite the psychic phenomena of feeling and will – for example, in Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa theologicae I, q.37, a.1 and elsewhere) uses the term amare as the more universal name of the class].

To this also contributed the ignorance of the relation between representation and judgment that led to confusion about the relation between feeling and will. And he reproaches Kant for limiting the feeling of pleasure and displeasure “unilaterally to the judgment of aesthetic taste.”

If representation and judgment are psychic phenomena of a different class, and feeling and will are phenomena of the same class when the ideas of the true, the good and the beautiful are applied to them, they will correspond in this way: “The supreme perfection of the representative activity resides in the contemplation of the beautiful, whether through the influence of the object or independently of it”… The supreme activity of the judicative activity resides in the knowledge of truth, naturally and above all, in the knowledge of truths that reveal to us a rich fullness of being more than others… Finally, the supreme perfection of loving activity lies in the free elevation to the higher good.”

The ideal of ideals consists in unity of all that is true, good and beautiful whose representation shows infinite beauty, infinite truth and infinite goodness. “The triad of ideals (of the beautiful, the true and the good) can very well be explained by the system of psychic phenomena.”

We see once again, as it happened with other great philosophers of the twentieth century (Heidegger, Eugen Fink), how the classical theory of the transcendentals of the entity appears, although in a different form from that formulated formerly. In this case through the system of psychic phenomena of representation, judgment and emotional phenomena.

Moral Conscience—it is understood as the instance that deals with our own moral experience. Modern philosophy established it as the main mode of moral knowledge, as opposed to the “prudence” of classical antiquity and medieval prudentia. In introspection it allows us to delve into both our personal life and the life of the historical world. That is why when we speak of ethical questions, we speak at the same time of ourselves, of our experience, especially the older we get.

Moral conscience exists above all as an “inner voice” that guides us in our actions, but we cannot base ethics on moral conscience as Kant and the neo-Kantians tried to do, who, in order to understand ethics, started from the analysis of moral conscience. But this is not possible because we cannot free ourselves from the quantum of subjectivity of our conscience. And science cannot be built on subjectivity.

The philosopher does not draw the norms from himself but finds them in his vital situation; he finds them in that which governs the tasks of an epoch, as the most intimate conscience of this epoch. Of course, he can dissent and propose others, but this is only for a great philosopher who can leap over his time, thus contradicting Hegel’s saying that no one can leap over his time.

If we would like to use moral conscience as a norm, we must necessarily complete it with historical objectivity, with the great cultural systems; that is to say, great effective and affective nexuses that unite men to carry out historical achievements, in order not to keep reinventing the wheel. This explains the tremendous effort made by Hegel, the greatest philosopher of the metaphysics of subjectivity in his Phenomenology of Spirit, as a science of the experience of consciousness (1807), in order to justify the experience of moral and political consciousness.

Moral consciousness emerged as a process of emancipation from theology carried out by the Enlightenment in order to achieve with it an internal subjection of the modern subject. This was known by the term of the “principle of autonomy,” which began from the certainty of internal experience, and ended with the exaltation of the individual over the community, in an exaggerated liberalism: “I look after Number One”—in a society of exorbitant consumption and in a man transformed into a homunculus.

Moral conscience is there, present, it exists and we make daily use of it; but that does not mean that we can transform it into a norm, nor as a principle of freedom, for as Nicolai Hatmann, a former member of the Marburg School, observes very well in his magnificent Ethics: “One cannot make a conclusive argument for the freedom of the will from the phenomenon of the consciousness of freedom. Therefore, neither from the consciousness of self-determination, a more reduced consciousness, but qualitatively equivalent to it.”

And still less to raise it as a paradigm of universal history, as Hegel pretended in that enormous “sulfur factory” in which German idealism ended.

Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.

Featured: “Man repels the Appeal of Conscience,” by Frederic james Shields; painted in 1910.

AfD… Party of the Russian Germans?

The October 9, 2022 elections in Lower Saxony saw the German populist party AfD (Alternative for Germany) double its tally with 10.9 percent. Fingers pointed for its pro-Moscow stance. This German political movement is coming out of a difficult year and soaring in the polls. In some districts, such as Hanover, the party even got 30 percent of the vote. These districts have a particularity—they are largely populated by Germans from Russia [also known as the “Volga Germans”].

On April 3, 2022, the media outlet Visegrad24 tweeted about Germans from Russia as a “fifth column” within Europe. Reacting to a video in which German Russians showed their support for the “Special Military Operationm” this pro-NATO media pointed the finger at a community that has been living in Germany for nearly three decades. With Russian and German flags, mixing the two languages, this community, very little-known outside of Germany, is nevertheless 3 to 4 million strong. It is a community full of surprises.

The Germans of Russia are ethnic Germans, with some two and a half centuries of history. Originally from Germanic lands, who went out to the steppes of Kazakhstan and Siberia via the banks of the Volga, they only returned home after the fall of the USSR. They are not economic migrants like the Turks, or refugees who left the USSR as people today flee Afghanistan or Syria. The comparison with our compatriots pieds-noirs does not hold either because the latter lived in Algeria, but in French departments. To get an idea, we should rather imagine, as an example or as an improbable analogy, millions of Italian-Americans who, after a century of American way of life, returned to Italy. German Russians are characterized by their ethnic identity. Recognized during the time of the Soviet Union, their Germanness allowed them not only to return in 1992, but also to obtain German citizenship. Leaving Kazakhstan or Siberia, where they were deported by Stalin in 1941, these Germans returned to their homeland. A homeland they had left in 1763 when their ancestors responded favorably to the call of Catherine the Great.

Cultural Distinction and Political Shock

The Germanic origin of these new citizens was not enough to erase two centuries of Russification and decades of Soviet rule. Their economic integration took a generation. But their “cultural” integration, which is slower, enrages German right-wingers. The Germans of Russia resembles the former citizens of the GDR more than the tolerant, open-minded West German of 2022, who is totally in line with the cosmopolitan type of “anywhere.” Conservative, proud of their German identity while retaining their Russian culture, the German-Russians became visible in the media in the mid-2010s, during the demonstrations against the reception of Syrians, by holding up signs that read, but written in Russian: “My homeland will remain German!” The Germans from Russia were then the talk of the media.

In the 2017 parliamentary elections, the AfD won 13% of the vote and became the third largest party in Germany. Russian Germans were 15 percent to vote for this movement against 10 percent for the rest of the German population. This was a shock for the German media. The AfD thus achieved its good tally among former citizens of the USSR and their descendants. In the last elections, the AfD fell to 10.3%, but limited the damage and again obtained good results in the German Russian districts.

A Community that is Now a Must for the AfD

The Lower Saxony elections of October 2022 were a major victory for the AFD. After a difficult year of electoral setbacks, the nationalist party doubled its tally and national polls now give it 16 percent of the vote. This is a real “comeback” when some predicted the AfD would be marginalized after the war in Russia began.

In the Wahlbezirk district of Hanover, the party received 30 per cent of the vote. In the 2021 parliamentary elections in Berlin and in almost all major West German cities, the Russian-German districts carried the AfD. This was the case, for example, in Cologne-Chorweiler (15%), in the Marzahn district in Berlin (16.8%), Buckenberg in Pforzheim (30%) and Oberhausen (22.2%) in Augsburg, in Bavaria. The tally was down from 2017, but it was enough to allow the AfD to limit its drop and retain 83 seats.

Germans from Russia are the backbone of the AfD in Berlin, for example. The nationalist movement has a real electoral policy vis-à-vis this community, and this is not limited to campaigning the day before the election. Germans from Russia have even reached the highest level of the party, such as the MP Eugen Schmidt, born in Kazakhstan. There are leaflets in Russian, a proposal to relax language tests and family reunification, an international position favorable to the “Russian world.”

Since February 24, the AfD has sought to be the bulwark of Germans from Russia against Russophobia in Germany. Despite pro-Kiev statements by Georg Pazderki, former head of the AfD in Berlin in the first weeks of the conflict, the party’s line remains the following: Russia is not responsible for the war. Thus, the AfD demands an end to sanctions, an end to arms supplies to Ukraine and neutrality on pro-Russian referendums. The attack on Nord-Stream and the increase in gas prices have led Alice Weidel, the party’s co-president, to say that “an economic war is being waged against Germany.” Voting preferences have risen from 9 percent in May to 16 percent at the end of October. Since mid-September, demonstrations have been held on Mondays in almost every city in Germany. Against the backdrop of inflation and the gas crisis, the demonstrators are criticizing federal policy towards Moscow. Russian imperial flags were flown alongside the German flag. The media and the party’s opponents mocked them, saying that with the AfD, it was not “Germany first” (its slogan), but “Russia first.” However, reducing the AfD vote of Germans from Russia to their pro-Moscow stance misses the point.

Fundamental Anchoring of the AfD Vote

It should be remembered at the outset that the Russian-German community is strongly divided over the situation in Ukraine. Some Germans from Russia lived in present-day Ukraine before their deportation in 1941. Others understand the Russian position, but condemn the use of force. The AfD vote among Russian Germans is therefore not just a pro-Putin or simply anti-immigration vote. The AfD vote is a German vote. Russian Germans want to be recognized as what they are: Germans from Russia. And the AfD knows it. Russian Germans have been complaining for a quarter of a century that they are treated as immigrants by the rest of German society. In fact, their history is very peculiar—but they are Germans. They keep saying so. The AfD is the only party that plainly says to this population: “You are Germans. You must not be treated as immigrants.” Assimilation? “How can that be? You are native Germans.” These words really catch the attention of Germans from Russia, even if they do not vote AfD. In contrast to this, a left-wing newspaper, a few years ago, ran the headline: “All immigrants must learn German, except Russians.”

The AfD is certainly not the party of Germans from Russia in the sense that the majority of them still vote for other political movements. Nevertheless, since 2017, the German populist party has achieved good results in this community. The war in Ukraine was a real dilemma for the AfD—either align with the media’s one-track thinking or keep the bar high with respect to Moscow and the Russian world in general. The AfD chose to take a non-Atlanticist line. Declared dead in the spring of 2022, the movement is now in first or second place in many Länder. Whatever its electoral future, the Germans of Russia will be part of it!

Stéphane Brizzi writes from France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of revue Éléments.

The Last Monarchy

The German Empire (1871-1918) was an original and effective regime that sank with the continental monarchies in the defeat of 1918, marking the irretrievable end of the “world of yesterday” (Stefan Zweig).

Proclaimed on January 18, 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the German Empire sealed the federal bond, uniting twenty-five states (twenty-two of which had a reigning dynasty and three republics: Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck), under the preponderance of the most active and powerful of them, the Prussia of the Bismarcks and the Moltkes—which alone covered 65% of the surface area of the new Reich and brought together sixty-two percent of its inhabitants. Moreover, since the emperor was at the same time the king of Prussia, head of the house of Hohenzollern, as in his function, the imperial chancellor, who was also the Prussian prime minister, enjoyed the assistance of his own government, as in the Bundesrat (where the plenipotentiaries, nominated by each of the princes and each of the three cities, sat and voted in their own right), the said Prussia, thanks to its blocking minority, had the leisure to neutralize decisions judged to be inopportune—one can indeed speak of a hegemonic influence.

But it is also necessary to be specific. Having lost their oft-illusory sovereignty, the medium and small federated states enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, kept their own constitutions and governments, and in short, preserved their distinctive features within the Reich—the latter having a constitution and a government common to all. Thus, in addition to the emperor and the chancellor, the Reichstag or Chamber of Deputies and the Bundesrat or Federal Council, there were assemblies which made the law and, like the chancellor, had authority. However, although elected by universal suffrage, the Reichstag could not overrule the chancellor, who was chosen by the emperor and was responsible only to him. As for the Bundesrat, which was charged with arbitrating as the supreme court in disputes between the Reich and the states, its approval was necessary to declare war and dissolve the Reichstag.

In any case, by force of circumstance, and although the princes were allies of the emperor, not subjects, the central government became more complicated, more substantial, and more and more powerful at the expense of the federated states. Initially embodying the entire ministry, Bismarck was led to recruit several senior civil servants from the pool of the senior administration, subordinate to his authority, to whom he entrusted the direction of offices (foreign affairs of the empire, justice, railways, post office, navy, etc.) outside of a close collegial structure. To sum up, as a result of the synchrony between the growing importance of Prussia in the Reich and the development of the latter’s competences, the Hohenzollern kingdom tempered unitarism wherever the maintenance of Prussian prerogative required it, while strengthening it by giving it the management of Germany (increased since May 10, 1871 by Alsace-Lorraine).

Social Advances

Wilhelm I died in his nineties on March 9, 1888, and his son and successor Frederick III, suffering from cancer of the larynx, died on June 15 of the same year, giving way to Wilhelm II. There followed, the presumptive young monarch on one side, Bismarck on the other, twenty-two months of increasingly difficult collaboration which, from January to March 1890, turned into a real crisis, resulting in the forced resignation of the old and illustrious chancellor. A struggle for power? From the very beginning. But it was the social question that was the cause of the rupture. At the Council of the Crown on January 24, Wilhelm, after a series of large strikes, presented two memoranda, forwarding an obligatory weekly day of rest, a number of measures in favor of women and children, the creation of works councils and savings banks, the construction of hospitals, orphanages, etc. Then on February 3, he signed two ordinances, without the chancellor’s countersignature, announcing the preparation of a labor law and the establishment of workers’ representatives to negotiate with employers and the administration. Indeed, the emperor, taking seriously his Christian duty to help the oppressed, dared to say of the bosses at that time that they only thought of squeezing the workers “like lemons” and that he wanted to be “the king of the beggars.”

Opposed to the prepotency of elective assemblies, Bismarck had basically paved the way for the “personal regime” of Wilhelm II, who was now, as he wrote to the princes, “the watch officer on the ship of state.” Significant words. Then, the emperor, “an instrument chosen by Heaven” and the supercilious leader of the army, appointed officers, decided on their promotion, punished them, and dismissed them. He was the active head of the military and of naval command, fond of beautiful uniforms, reviews and impressive parades (revenge for a disability—his left arm was too short and ankylosed—which humiliated him); and he was the comrade of soldiers. Nevertheless, despite noisy sorties on dry powder and sharpened sword, for twenty-six years, from 1888 to 1914, the Wilhelmine Reich, except for the expedition against the Boxers, remained at peace with the world.

A Tyranny?

But a tyranny, many have claimed, hidden under a constitutional veneer. Indeed, neither a flat parliamentary monarchy of the dualist type (or a regime with a decision-making body with a simple monarchic executive), nor, much worse, a spurious regime in monarchic form, an evanescent image, therefore negating royalty, but a system based on das monarchische Prinzip, alien to the recognition of a duality of principles and even more to the total sabotage of the royal function. One had thus, in this case, and distinct from the old absolute monarchy, which realized, with the theoretical unity of the State power, the permanent unity of the exercise of this power, a limited monarchy which, while ensuring the supremacy of the king (of Prussia) and the emperor (German) in the exercise of this power, subjected the said exercise (according to a gradation of techniques proper to the kingdom and proper to the empire), initially in the legislative area, to certain dependences likely to obstruct the ruler’s will—without ever, essential point, constraining it positively.

Blessed with a very good memory, great facility for learning, real qualities of an orator, Wilhelm II, until the war, had a great influence on his subjects. Proof of this magnetism—on June 15, 1913, during the silver jubilee of his reign, addresses, ceremonies, commemorative works, and erections of statues multiplied. Better than the primus inter pares of the Bismarckian era, than the first of all German princes, the emperor henceforth symbolized, in the eyes of the masses, the constancy of a Germanic nation in full development of its economy, in full demographic expansion (67 million inhabitants in 1914), maritime and industrial, almost without unemployment, and benefiting from laws on health insurance, on accident insurance, on old-age insurance, to which nothing in any other country came close (and certainly not in republican France, with its insignificantly low birth rate—41.5 million inhabitants in 1914—the red lantern in terms of social rights).

The War

Unfortunately, then came that terrible conflict, announced on June 28, 1914 by the criminal act of Sarajevo, consequence of the Balkan crises of 1908 and 1912-1913. After that, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Russia was mobilized from July 29; and on August 1, in the evening, Germany declared war on Serbia, then on August 3 on France. And on August 4 it was Britain’s turn to declare war on Germany. Of course, Wilhelm immediately became the prominent figure of the Burgfriedenspolitik, cheered on with his wife, as they drove through the Brandenburg Gate on July 31. The next day, August 1, he was cheered on the balcony of the Berlin castle, and his words were reproduced on postcards with his image, which were widely distributed.

But in November 1918 came the defeat. The Emperor and King of Prussia had to abdicate. And so did the kings of Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg, the grand dukes of Baden, Oldenburg, etc.—in a word, all the crowned heads of Germania. Final catastrophe, according to the Italian historian Guglielmo Ferrero, for the principle of authority that dominated the greater part of Europe—for the principle “already shaken by incredulity, rationalism, egalitarian doctrines” and “uprooted completely by the world war.”

Michael Toda is a historian and author of Henri Massis, un témoin de la droite intellectuelle, Louis de Bonald, théoricien de la Contre-Révolution, Parcours français. De Corneille à Jean Guitton. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: “Inauguration of the Reichstag, June 25, 1888,” by Anton von Werner; painted in 1893.

Colonialism and Bruce Gilley: Electric Kool-Aid Acid of the Moral Imagination


When Queen Elizabeth II died the poorest people in the United Kingdom crawled out of their hovels in their dirty rags to join in solidarity with all those poor people who were still suffering from the yoke of colonialism in the undeveloped world. As one, they cheered that the source of all their suffering was finally gone—now, at long last, they could all live the free and prosperous lives that the Queen of the British Empire had denied them. YIPPEE… Oh, sorry, that did not happen.

If the lines of millions mourning her passing are anything to go by, there were plenty of outpourings of grief from her subjects, not to mention her own family who, for all the tabloid guff, are people. The grief of the living in their mourning is something that is a reminder of the fleeting nature of life on earth and what awaits us all. Irrespective of whether one is for or against the monarchy, it was a somber occasion, signaling the passing of an age as much as a sovereign, as much as a person.

Some people, though, are incapable of mustering even a modicum of decency in the face of death—they are the ones that generally show as little respect for the living as for the dead, though they often yell and scream as if they were the carriers of humanity’s better self, which is the picture that they have of themselves. And while there is a good case to be made that the monarchy as an institution in Great Britain may not last much longer, now that one of the most popular and dutiful of monarchs has died, the fact is that the Queen always displayed far more compassion, and respect for her subjects and their institutions than the members of that class that has successfully seized upon the moral imagination of the present, which it uses to denounce any relics of the past as well as anyone else that may obstruct the imperial ambitions of its authority. What they call diversity is merely division.

The Queen was indisputably vastly wealthy, but her life was one which few of us would like to lead. It required the kind of curbing of appetites and desires that few of us, and few in her family, were capable of—of devoting herself to a life-time, in which decorum and duty overrode everything else. This was authority and duty in the old style. She may not have been so flash on Derrida or Foucault, but her bearing and intelligence and character were all tailored to the position for which she had been groomed and which she carried out with grace.

Grace is not a word that comes to mind when I think of the new pro-globalists moralists that run the show now, in every Western land. They see the world as a great big trough which they will lead others to, provided they, in their role as liberators and representators of the oppressed, have their fill first. Anyone who thinks that their ideas are just verbal squish covering up their own sense of self-importance and ambitions to rule the earth alongside the globalist corporations and technocrats will need to be destroyed. Tyrants, as Plato rightly observed, are bred in the chaos of ultra-democratic aspirations and the accompanying social breakdown those aspirations create.

Just as their view of the present involves preferring abstractions (you know the ones, equality/equity/diversity/inclusivity/ emancipation, etc.), which have not been adequately tested in the reality of history, to see if they are of any more value than providing some kind of status of moral authority to the ones who use them—it takes these same abstractions into the past, and in finding that these abstractions were not there in any meaningful way is able to condemn the past as one of sheer oppression. Of course, the past they select to condemn is very selective: for the same class loves to create fantastical stories about premodern or non-Christian societies, as if they were just wondrous paradises of tolerance, diversity, equity and inclusion—from the world’s first and greatest democracy in Aboriginal Australia, where they would meet in their town-halls to make sure all was fair and square, to the wonderful multiculturalism of the Ottoman empire, with its pride parades.

It was primarily the members of this class of fabulists, who now control the Western education system and media outlets, who were predominantly using the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s death to bang on about the genocidal history of the British empire and the role of the monarchy in general, and Elizabeth in particular. I do think the treatment of the native Americans in the USA in the nineteenth century might be described as genocidal; it was certainly absolutely shocking, but that was not the fault of the British empire, any more than the gulags were the fault of the Romanovs. But it did not matter to those tweeting their spittle about the Queen’s death that since the handing over of Hong Kong to the CCP in 1997 (something deeply regretted by the many Hong Kong locals I met in my eight or so years living there), Great Britain no longer has any colonies, while when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 there were still over 70 colonies. Not that decolonization was an act triggered by the crown for, as everybody but those doing their celebration of spitting and drooling, seem to know, the British monarch while a de jure Head of State/constitutional monarch is de facto a ceremonial figure, symbolizing the nation’s unity—which to be sure is no easy feat in the divided area of the United Kingdom. In any case, her position requires her not intervening in political decisions that are the province of the parliament and courts. Thus, it was when there was a constitutional crisis in Australia back in the 1970s, and the deposed Prime Minister sought for her to intervene, she stayed right out of it.

In the United States, one of the first out of the blocks to drool and punch the air in celebration was the Nigerian born Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University, Uju Anya. She tweeted, “That wretched woman and her bloodthirsty throne have fucked generations of my ancestors on both sides of the family, and she supervised a government that sponsored the genocide my parents and siblings survived. May she die in agony.” The fact that, a few days after tweeting this bile, some 4000 other “scholars” publicly endorsed her (there must be far more by now), just goes to show what tax-payers and students are getting for their money.

From what I can gather, the slender threads of reality that Anya has woven into her fabric of verbal vomit and idiocy are that the British government supplied arms to the Nigerian government in their war against the secessionist attempt by the military governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, in what turned into a horrific civil war. A mountain of literature exists on the war, though anyone who wants fair and brief appraisals of what occurred might read pages 199-205 (2011 edition) of Martin Meredith’s magisterial, The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence, or Margery Perham’s even-handed and first-hand account, “Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War” in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), vol. 46, No. 2 (Apr., 1970)., pp. 231-246.

In a manner befitting the moralizing, fabulizing, historically revisionist class of which she is a member, Anya fails to address the most basic of facts about her own country’s history: the French and Russians were also providing arms to the belligerents; that is belligerents on all sides were killing each other and seeking weapons from anyone willing to supply the same to them; the secession attempt by Ojukwu was a resource grab without any legitimacy that would have had disastrous results for Nigerians outside Biafra; Ojukwu’s propaganda game was as dangerous as it was vile as it was disastrous in its contribution to the mass starvation of the Biafran people that remains one of the most shocking famines in relatively recent historical memory. The chain of events which sparked the war and famine was ignited by Igbo military officers who assassinated key figures in the First Nigerian Republic. Finally, and to quote Perham, “the federal constitution of the three provinces, taken over by the Nigerians in October 1960 was largely the product of the Nigerians themselves, built up in intensive discussions and conferences, and attended by all the political leaders over a period beginning in the forties, and ending with the final conference of 1958. The basic differences between the main parts of Nigeria were not evaded: they were endlessly argued, but not even a dozen years of discussion and political advance, following half a century together under the canopy of British rule, could square the obstinate circlers within which deep and ancient tribalisms were enclosed.”

But who needs real political facts when you can become a mega-star in todays’ academic world with a tweet, so long as the tweet amplifies an ostensibly morally certain consensus, whilst confirming the moral superiority of all those, who also don’t need to actually know anything to know what they know, viz. that empires and colonialism are very, very bad? And no good person could ever be a beneficiary of empire—somehow, magically, the Nigerian born Anya, along with God knows how many of the other 4000 scholars, lives in the USA, reaping the benefits of office and wealth that come from what colonizers and their techniques and technologies of world-making have created.

This “logic” is the logic of the silly, who think that they can just arbitrarily go back into bits and pieces of history to select a point from which they can blame the people they don’t like—this time British imperialists. Sorry, but no people anywhere have been where they are forever. Which is partly to say the world is not a moral fabrication of bits and pieces all fitted together into a nice Disney movie about all the inclusion and diversity there would have been had it not been for… the British, the Germans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls, the Celts, the Abassids, the Persians.

Really folks! The world we inhabit is what people in their conflict, scarcity, cruelty, suffering, and everything else that has been done in the past have made. We are all respondents to a reality that precedes us and that we then work upon. Here, the moralists puff themselves up and splutter some kind of nonsense that has to do with their indignation that some people have killed more or suffered more…blah blah…than others. Let’s just say, we can’t undo the past, and pretending that we do by having reparations, etc. is just one more fantastical bit of fanaticism that is only a new way of creating work for a bureaucracy and moralizing class seeking ever more dependents.

In the case of reparations, they will mean nothing two generations down the track—but understanding that means thinking about economic behaviour, and human motivation and institutions, and the kind of thing that requires that rarest of things in today’s Tik Tok academic world—thoughtfulness.

This virtue stuff exhibited by people who are paid to denounce unequal things that obstruct universal emancipation is today’s electric Kool-Aid Acid of the moral imagination. Let’s face it, everyone has to earn a buck, and there is no easier way to do so today than by running around tweeting, screaming, teaching, or writing great big refereed academic tomes from illustrious brand name presses or densely footnoted articles in “prestigious journals” denouncing people who just won’t take out that part of their brain that enables them to see that all that stands between them and emancipation (which means—as far as I can see—having lots of sex and having lots of stuff) is their being subject to racist, sexist, colonialist blah blah blah ideas that scholars like Anya and her 4,000 mates (probably far more by now) think are “facts.”

So, I really can’t blame Anya; or, to pluck another from the media wing of the cathedral of woke idiocy, Tirhakah Love, a “senior newsletter writer for New York Magazine, who wrote, “For 96 years. That colonizer has been sucking up the Earth’s (sic.) resources,” and “You can’t be a literal oppressor and not expect the people you’ve oppressed not to rejoice on news of your death” for seizing the career opportunities made available to them by a ruling class whose rule is predicated upon destroying the shared norms, institutions and cultural achievements of the West in the name of the moral progress they embody, and the great future they believe they will bring into being—on the basis of which we can see already that would be a world of ever greater spiraling inflation, ethnic/tribal violence resulting from opening up “citizenship” to anyone who wants to live anywhere irrespective of criminal background, or commitment to any traditions of their new homeland; far more urban, racially based riots and burning of businesses, including black ones (to make way for gentrification); far greater crime (from burglary, shoplifting to murder), adorning inner city areas with tents for the ever-increasing number of homeless junkies; the redeployment of police resources away from crime prevention and into community development activities, such as flying pride flags and dancing in parades when they are not arresting racists, and homo-transphobes; schools in which critical race theory (whites are all the same—unless they teach critical race theory—and all bad), and the joys of the multiverse of sex and the importance of sexual rights, like the rights to change your sex as soon as you can speak are the main curricula; ever more spaces for public denunciations and ever more censorship; sacking of all who won’t do whatever the right-thinking authorities say they must do, say, or think; increasing the number of abortions up to and in the aftermath of an unwanted birth; ever more military interventions funded by you in the West for people outside the West to die in in far off lands that will save this great world from its nefarious enemies—and lots more butcher’s paper and crayons for “life-long” learning because learning to live in this shit will require that one remains a compliant imbecile during the entirety of one’s life-time.


Bruce Gilley is a Professor of Political Science at Portland University—at least he was still there last time I looked, though it seems his existence is an affront to all the other good and virtuous professors who work there and who are doing their damnedest to push him into unemployment (the idea that professors could in any way be more virtuous than other people, and hence be tasked with instructing them in how to be better people, is something that, in a world less insane, would be worked into one of the more incredulous episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Bruce Gilley was once a highly respected scholar—with a dizzying number of academic prizes behind him—who once published books with such illustrious academic presses as the University Of California, and Columbia and Cambridge University. He burnt his bridges within the academic world with his essay “The Case for Colonialism.” The paper originally appeared in Third World Quarterly in 2017, having passed the blind refereeing process—a process that might give the delusion that the refereeing process in the Humanities and Social Sciences ensures academic quality and integrity—it doesn’t. But in any case those denouncing Gilley only care about referees who agree with them; and in the case of this essay, a petition of “thousands of scholars” and the resignation, in protest, of nearly half the editorial board of the journal, plus death threats being sent to the editor of the journal ensured it being “withdrawn” and given a new home.

Since the denunciations and attacks, Professor Gilley has written two books, both with Regnery Press—one can safely assume a university press will no longer touch anything he writes. His previous book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’s Epic Defense of the British Empire, before getting into print, underwent a similar saga. It was first going to be published by Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield), where Gilley was also going to oversee, as the Series Editor, “Problems of Anti-Colonialism,” which would bring out books that sought “to reignite debate through a critical examination of the anti-colonial, decolonizing, and post-colonial projects.”

Then, the cancel crowd stepped in, started a petition on “Against Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics.” Many indignant “scholars” eagerly added their signatures. There was a counter-petition, which got nearly 5000 signatures, to try to save the series. But true-to-form, Rowman & Littlefield buckled and cancelled the series.

Eventually, Gilley found a far better home for his work—Regnery Publishing, which has also published his most recent book, In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West. This book does an excellent job of showing the ideological idiocy of those who are entrusted with teaching history to the youth of today, and who preside over the institutions which are preservers and now complete fabricators of a historical memory; that is to act as a foundation for future building.

Professor Gilley does not need my help in the shootout with the academy, as he takes down one “scholar” after another for preferring their ideological concoctions to the facts of the matter. But it is worth drawing attention to a few points that undermine not simply the ideological nonsense or inconvenient facts that derail the academic consensus which Gilley takes on with verve and astuteness, but both the role that the academy has adopted in ostensibly learning from the evils of the past to build a better future, and the mind-set that so commonly succumbs to preferring ideological simplicities and grand sounding nostrums to the far more complicated explorations which yield equivocations and hesitations in judgments about people who have had to deal with vastly different circumstances than those of our professional idea-makers, brokers, and overseers—as well as conclusions which one might not particularly be appreciated for reaching. That is, the study of real history requires being prepared to consider questions that transport one outside of a consensus that has been cemented because it was not driven by facts, historical or otherwise, nor by a well-considered and well-orchestrated series of questions, but by a priori “morally” and politically derived commitments which close off all manner of questions and hence understandings about reality.

History was among the more belated of the Humanities to fall into the kind of ethico-politics that took over Literary Studies for at least a generation.

In any case, working in the profession of “ideas” today involves little by way of having any virtue other than repeating and making inferences based upon certain moral consensuses and topics. One becomes a member of the profession of ideas by virtue of teaching and writing—the one exception in the doing is that increasingly universities have accepted the pedagogical value of political activism, if it is of the sort that conforms to the ethico-political ideas that have been accepted as true by those who write and teach on, and administer, the ideas which are to be socially instantiated. There are, to be sure, things one must not say (words or phrases one must not use) or do (at least to certain people with certain identities); but in the main not saying or doing those things is not remotely difficult, especially when the rewards are there for the taking, if one just goes along with things.

Just as character is a matter of irrelevance in today’s ideational configuration of identity, bestowing the right to a position, as a representative of one’s favoured disempowered group, being committed to a group narrational identity, has professional currency. Being an identity is to today’s mindset; what intelligence and character used to be. Neither of the latter are particular important anymore, as intelligence is dumbed down to the level of the school child, and character dissolved into an identity feature.

Today, our morally-fuelled anti-colonialists are condemning something that is now totally safe to condemn because it is no longer a reality that has any other part to play in their world than a moral occasion for their career advancement as talking moral heads. Being a part of today’s educated/ educational “leadership” brings with it all manner of predispositions and circumstances, and they are not ones that have anything remotely to do with what people who signed onto the foreign service or civil service in the age of colonialism, or even the academy some sixty or so years back, had to do.

People of different ages are pushed and pulled by different influences and priorities—and in so far as most young people are swept into whatever activities are part of the streams of opportunity, approval, ambition and mimetic desire that defines them, the difference between the youth who were caught up in the colonial enterprise, the revolutionary enterprises in Russia or China, or liberal progressive Wokeness today is not so much in their emotional enthusiasm and certainty, but the specific enterprise that has been socially and pedagogically concocted by the preceding generation and the opportunities that they grasp.

One can definitely identify which elites and which nations fare better by their doing; but so much of the doing is based upon what was made by previous generations, and who did what with the opportunities they had, as well as how much overreach and wastage occurred. Yes, I do think the elite generation of the West are more imbecilic and less charitable and capable of understanding the world and the circumstances that have made it and what is required to sustain a civilization than the elite that spawned colonialism. All groups have their blind-spots, and pathologies (here I am an unreconstructible Aristotelian) and the elites of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century are not beyond criticism—no group is, because no group and no one can see exactly what they are doing, nor have all the information that would help their doing—but to dismiss them all as racists and plunderers is to be shockingly ignorant about their intelligence, moral sensibilities and motivations.

In any case, the various reasons that were involved in decolonization, including their excessive cost, an increasing lack of support on the home front, and the aspirations of an indigenous elite and rebels calling and /or fighting for national independence, were not events that had anything to do with the academics of today who contemplate colonialism as a moral problem with a very simple answer—it’s really bad.

Our time is not one in which colonialism offers any kind of desideratum at a personal, social or political level. Which is also to say the academic who writes critically about colonialism today is doing about as much to stop colonialism occurring now as their writings have to do with preventing a reconnaissance mission on Venus.

Of those teaching in universities who have fought for wars of independence who are still alive and who might hold a job in a university or in the media, the kind of questions raised by Gilley then come into play, viz. did things fare better once there was “liberation?” The answer to that will depend upon many things—who the colonizers were and what they did, and what transpired afterward.

Having taught in Darwin (Australia), I met a number of people who had fought against the Indonesians to create an independent East Timor/Timor-Leste. The results in Timor-Leste are mixed, though it is very poor; and while there are issues of corruption, it is stable. For their part, the Indonesians were, to put it mildly, not loved by the locals. The fact that the Indonesians occupied it after they had liberated themselves from the Dutch only goes to show that yesterday’s colonized can readily become tomorrow’s colonizer.

The question of how a country fares after colonialism is a serious one, and in some places the results have been horrific. It was the existence of such cases, of which there are many, with Cambodia winning the prize in that department, closely followed by a number of African nations like Uganda and Congo, that makes an article, such as Gilley’s case for re-colonialism, worth considering. But it is a far better career move to hate on Gilley by people who would rather ignore any facts which might complicate the founding passage of post-colonial scripture that the ‘white-colonialist devil’ is the demiurge responsible for all the post-colonial violence that occurs, and the formerly colonized are either angels of light and liberation, or zombies created by their white masters.

Gilley’s article is short enough for me not to have to repeat its contents. I will simply say that Gilley was trying to make serious recommendations about how recolonizing might be a better option in some places than continuing in the same way. That is the kind of idealism/thinking by design that I genuinely eschew, but as a thought experiment it deserved better than the accolades of denunciation it garnered. And had his critics taken their heads out of the sack of Kool Aid Acid, they might have realized that Gilley does not argue for reconquering territory, but for investment with legal/sovereign strings attached being undertaken in areas desperately in need of economic and social development.

My problem with this is that just as the anti-colonialists in Africa were often educated in the West, where ideas about how great communism and such-like started to abound and were commonplace in the 1960s, now what the Western mind offers would be even worse. The re-colonizers would be operating with their ESG and their DEI commitments and targets—they would be saddled with green energy goals, which would make sure they stay poor, and be expected to buy electric cars, otherwise keep on walking; their kids would be schooled in critical race theory, so they could blame everything that goes wrong on white people, and gender-sexual anatomy fluidity to break up the traditional family and anything else that the elite running corporations have seized on to incorporate into the great new world.

The new mental imperialism promises nothing but the endless division and persecution of anyone out of step with the ideology that ensconces Western liberal progressivism as the global norm. The clientelist assumptions and strategies which make of our professional ideas-people the emancipators of all and sundry who are not white, wealthy, cisgender men, who don’t support the globalist political left/progressive technocratic view of life being transposable to any circumstance, including that of people who live in former colonies, who only have to sit down and read their various primers on Fanon, or study post-colonial fiction and poetry, etc., along with Judith Butler to see how they can fix up their world, and get to the same standard as, say, a San Francisco tent for the homeless with free crack.


Much of what Gilley says in his article has been said by others, his “mistake” was to say it straight and assemble it into a formulation that exposes the thoughtlessness of the modern ideological consensus about colonialism. More broadly, though, the thoughtlessness that Gilley is dealing with is not just about colonialism, it is about how the world has come to be the world that is. Colonialism is certainly one part of that, and it is what concerns Gilley.

But if we take a step back from colonialism (and it is this that also distinguished, as Gilley notes, the “pro-colonialist” Marx from the “anti-colonialist” Lenin), two further considerations about the world are particularly pertinent, if we want to free our minds from the enchainment of stupidity that is presented as some kind of moral progress which is due to the purity of thought and being of our contemporary pontificating paragons. The first is where violence and war fit generally into the schema of human things. The second is technology (including the division of labour it requires—one of Marx’s better thoughts was to see the interconnection the division of labour, i.e., classes and technology; and like all Marx’s better thought, Marxists have abandoned it), and administrative technique.

With respect to the first, warfare is a perennial feature of human existence. The reasons for any given war may vary, but to blame war itself on one particular group is ridiculous. In the context of colonialism, warfare was pertinent to colonialism at every level of its development—from the wars that were commonly occurring between rival groups that colonialists were frequently able to use to their strategic advantage, to the wars between and against colonial powers that led to the demise of empires and their colonies.

That wars would continue after colonialism would only surprise those who think that merely deeming war a bad or an immoral thing might somehow play a role in preventing it. But while I find pacificism to be a response to war akin to when my cat thinks that if he cannot see me, I cannot see him—so he hides under a stool with his back to the wall and tale sticking out right under my nose—I find even more abominable the moral cherry-picking that poorly informed academics make about which violent conflicts they choose to take a stand on, without concerning themselves too much with all the forces and flows that go into it—thus, in general, their tacit support for the NATO proxy war in Ukraine.

A general, and hence, to be sure, not overly helpful formulation about why wars occur is that competing interests, predicated upon ways of being in the world and making the world, go to war when they see no other way to get what they want—in the past, more often than not, that was acquiring or protecting scarce resources, including labour power. Modern commerce does not necessarily prevent war because some resources are such that access may be unreliable or so tenuous that conquest is the more certain way to acquire them. But international trade is often the more secure way to acquire wealth. Of course, the moral imagination of the modern academic is not slow to critique capitalism. But as with violence and war, it cherry-picks which kind of capitalists are bad and who it serves (finance capital/big tech/big pharma are now its major “masters”)—it also comes up with fudge-words when confronted with the truth that socialism was no less murderous—and generally resulted in even more poverty—than capitalism, though state apparatuses and the elites who run them do make a very big difference as to whether capitalism can be even mildly benign.

Just as there is no genuine design solution to the problem of competing interests and life-ways, there is no simple design system that can eliminate war or class differences—though one thing that might ameliorate some of our problems is that groups have more thoughtful and well informed sources of information and representation, so they might be able to broker their differences from positions of strength (which in turn requires discipline in what is done with resources, how they are channelled in terms of strategic priorities, and who is fit and able in applying them).

But sadly, we have handed over the minds of our public and private institutions to a class of people, in the main, with ambition and enterprise existing in inverse relationship to the ability to think through alternative scenarios and consequences.

Irrespective of how one “parses” the moral behaviour and qualities of any group in conflict with another, and while just war theory may have an illustrious history, it has become a standard go-to position of idea professionals, whose sense of justice can be traced back to their own magnanimity—the fuse of most wars is woven out of various complex threads that go a long way back and have their own “reasons,” which is why a new party of force may take advantage of older animosities between groups to leverage its new authority.

Imperialism and the establishment of colonies are ancient ways of doing power that involve war; and any suggestion, whether tacit or outright, that suggests that there was something uniquely immoral about British imperialism or modern European colonialism is a fantasy.

The question of what benefits or costs were associated with any given empire or colonialisation project can only be answered by sitting down and doing the calculating. At some point, one might find that certain behaviours fit into some kind of moral calculus—such as Spaniards ending human sacrifice in the Aztec empire, or the British prohibiting the practice of widow-burning (sati) in India; or one might count the number and scale of massacres and ethnic and religious rivalries and wars committed during the reign of a colonizing power with those that occur previous to or after their reign. In the latter case, no matter how heated someone wants to get about the violence of the British in India, none in their right mind could think that the scale ever remotely approximated the scale of violence of the Partition (1947), or the subsequent war of Bangladesh.

In any case, and in any given colonial or imperial venture, there will be all manner of pluses and minuses that could be calculated, and there will be some beneficiaries and some losers. The point here, though, is that any fool can say that any imperial or colonial endeavour of yesterday is immoral—but the reasons for the endeavour were as much the reasons of yesterday as were the morals of those who undertook them. We might well be thankful that we do not live in such times with such choices or moral consensuses—all well and good, but so what? A strictly moral account of any given society is always going to turn out negative—life is frequently one tragic set of choices after another—which in part is why our educated elite can keep getting away with the nonsense of the air in their heads and the smoke of their words seeming more beguiling to youth and know-nothings who believe that all we have to do is “reimagine” the world to get the world we want—one of endless stuff and sexual pleasure—yippee!

While Gilley, citing pertinent writings and speeches from Bismarck, makes a case for Germany’s colonial enterprise being largely driven by extra-commercial incentives, in the main I think it difficult to un-entwine benign moral intentions of those with authority from opportunity for cads and bounders that may exist in the new colonies—though, my point is equally that wherever you go and whenever you went there was always some lot extracting stuff from and being cruel to another lot. Concomitantly, anti-colonialist forces often had to be as ferocious and cruel against those who did not find the new aspiring hegemonic elite to be serving their interests, as they were against the colonialists whose resources and power they wished to capture.

If the point I have just made emphasizes the eternal return of violence/ war/ opportunity/ authority, the second point, I think extremely important, is the unique nature of the technological and technocratic levels of advancement that occurred in the West, leading up to and culminating in the industrial revolution.

There are many aspects that we can consider to be definitive in the formation of the modern, but the industrial revolution makes any nation, in the position to take advantage of it, far more powerful than any peoples who are required to succumb to its authority. But, as Carroll Quigley convincingly argues in Tragedy and Hope, the industrial revolution is but one in a sequence of revolutions that occurred in the West; and the uniqueness of the West’s potency—as well as the problems it generates for itself and elsewhere—is intrinsically bound up with the sequences of its revolutions.

Here there can in my mind be no doubt that the world wars are the West’s creation, and I strongly recommend the little known book by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out Of Revolution: An Autobiography of Western Man, which provides an account of the flow and circulatory nature of the revolutionary events which formed the peoples of Western Europe into the powers that would find themselves in the Great War and its aftermath.

But when the West is transported into other regions, such as its colonies, the powers that have been its revolutionary offspring come in a very different sequence and with varying accompanying problems.

I do not want to go into the different sequence of structural developments of revolutionary processes feeding into different and staggered modernities, but I do want to highlight the point that whether it was grace, genes, or the luck of the historical draw, or something else again that led to the modern West, once there was a modern West, and once there were modern weapons, and an industrial revolution, then class conflicts in non-Western countries played out along lines which have everything to do with resource-opportunities and competition and wilful determination by groups ready to use their arms to engage in the age-old act of resource extraction, from those who grow food to those whose labour can be put to use for them to expand the possessions and services at their disposal. One can morally condemn this all one wants, but it is a universal phenomenon that only passes by the intellect of people whose understanding of premodern life comes from Rousseau and Disney.

That is, once modern weaponry and machinery and the various goods they produce, from cars to tanks, designer clothes and luxury homes, smart drugs and high-class whores (let’s face it, the appetites of gangsters are as basic as they are commonplace among the extremely wealthy), exist, along with a group who are willing to do anything to get them, there will be an “enslaved” or violently brutalized class. That there will be tribal-elements involved in the social bonding is also pretty well inevitable (the Mafia and dynasties follow a similar logic).

This situation, to repeat, is not the result of colonialism as such but of modernity. And modernity brings with it a reality in which the choices are as inevitable as they are terrible: join it or don’t join it. Any group that opts out of joining makes itself vulnerable to any group with weapons who wants to encroach upon its territory, its resources, its labour, and its women. Further, the longer the delay in joining it, the more difficult it will be to adapt to what to a traditional life-way is a massive juggernaut of technologies and techniques exploding its fabric.

This is why the greatest enemies of the traditional life of the most vulnerable of social groups on the planet, the indigenous peoples who had not formed cities and/or larger units of social organization, were not missionaries or colonizers of the nineteenth century but the progressives of today who purport to ally themselves with anyone against Western supremacy, but who are, in fact, anti-traditionalists, Western supremacists, who have ditched anything that grounded the West in those pathways of life shared by all peoples.

Irrespective of the time of “joining” with a life-way of a superior power, and irrespective if the joining is one of choice or conquest, any group that joins in the process of modernization will find that it has to compromise/adapt its traditions and behaviours to the juggernaut. Seen thus it is hard to see how colonialism itself can be blamed for the choice. It isn’t responsible for that choice. Though our ideocrats tend to think that every problem is merely a matter of educating moral reprobates, which seems to be working out swell in US inner cities, where all manner of crimes go unpunished, and levels of violence and criminality are plummeting—NOT. Why not, though, try exporting a batch of critical race theory books to those areas where post-colonial gangsters and dictators—sorry victims of colonialism—now extort and kill others so they can wake up and see the light and go back to college, perhaps even one in the USA, and learn how to teach critical race theory and so be part of the great love fest that the new moral leaders of the West are creating.

German postcard (1899). “Hurrah! Samoa is ours!”

But let’s get back to reality—colonialism might better induct the colonized into the means and manners required to live with the machinery and technology, and administrative and various systems that are being introduced into this world that cannot escape modernity—to repeat, because if it is not introduced by the colonizers, it will definitely be introduced by those “industrious” enough to get hold of the equipment and weapons that they can put to use. This is where Bruce Gilley raises important arguments, and why the reaction to him only illustrates what a mind dump the academy is, as it disseminates fantasies, moral and not so moral, about the world and its history so that it can enable a technocratic infantile future, as bereft of knowledge and wisdom, as it will be bereft of real love, and creative and cooperative endeavours.

I have already made the points that I wish to emphasise about modern colonialism needing to be interpreted against the constant of human conflict nd the tragic choice placed before any premodern people. I do think that life is ever one in which we are born into the sins and transgressions of our fathers; which is to say, I think Greeks and Christian were essentially correct and in agreement about the kinds of limits we confront, and that the modern elite aspires to throw away those limits and does so by substituting fantasies about the past as well as the future to beguile us into their nightmare.

But there can be no doubt that the modern opens up previously undreamt-of technologies and techniques which are amazing, and which enable the possibility of greater comfort and opportunities to do things for those that can get access to them. Thus, it is inevitably the case that any people who are conquered by a technologically superior people, if not completely turned into slaves, will benefit from the materials now available to them. We might call this the Monty Python/ Life of Brian argument for colonialism. To put it briefly: What have European colonizers ever done for the World? Answer: they brought with them the modern techniques and technologies of wealth creation. And the absence of those techniques and technologies is lower life expectancy and, in terms of sheer numbers, less wealth and less social choices.

Of course, in any society not everyone is or was a beneficiary of new social or technological innovations, and in every society the number of poor is significant—and prior to the industrial revolution poverty was far greater, and far more people were far more vulnerable to unfortunate climate conditions. And let us be real, at a time when there is so much panic about climate change, the fact is that any future famine, as with a number of past ones, will be far more likely due to political conditions than climate alone. At a time when the Malthusians run amok and aspire to dictate how the world should be depopulated, there is less global poverty and food shortage than ever; and where it does occur, politics and corruption rather than climate or population are the primary causes.


The points I have made above are general, but if I were to recommend one book that any reader wanting to consider a test case, which refutes so much of the moralising that is done about colonialism should read it would be Gilley’s In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West. The Postil has already published a short extract from it; but that extract did not indicate the extent to which Gilley exposes and successfully critiques the thoughtless claims that academics have made about German colonialism—or, in his (un-minced) words, “the drivel that passes for academic history” about German colonial history.

Early in the work, Gilley makes three points about colonialism in general, which are worth repeating and the antithesis of the kinds of facts that get in the way of a good moral fantasy. I will quote them:

Islands offer an almost perfect natural experiment in colonialism’s economic effects because their discovery by Europeans was sufficiently random. As a result, they should not have been affected by the ‘pull’ factors that made some places easier to colonize than others. In a 2009 study of the effects of colonialism on the income levels of people on eighty-one islands, two Dartmouth College economists found ‘a robust positive relationship between colonial tenure and modern outcomes.’ Bermuda and Guam are better off than Papua New Guinea and Fiji because they were colonized for longer. That helps explain why the biggest countries with limited or no formal colonial periods (especially China, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand, and Nepal) or whose colonial experiences ended before the modern colonial era (Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti) are hardly compelling as evidence that not being colonized was a boon.”


Colonialism also enhanced later political freedoms. To be colonized in the nineteenth–twentieth-century era was to have much better prospects for democratic government, according to a statistical study of 143 colonial episodes by the Swedish economist Ola Olsson in 2009.


These twin legacies of economic development and political liberalism brought with them a host of social and cultural benefits—improved public health, the formation of education systems, the articulation and documentation of cultural diversity, the rights of women and minorities, and much else. It is no wonder, then, that colonized peoples by and large supported colonial rule. They migrated closer to more intensive areas of colonialism, paid taxes and reported crimes to colonial authorities, fought for colonial armies, administered colonial policies, and celebrated their status as colonial subjects. Without the willing collaboration of large parts of the population, colonialism would have been impossible.

With respect to the motives and the legacy of German colonialism, Gilley makes the argument that it was not primarily a plundering undertaking, in which blacks were to be treated as sub-humans and whites could treat them however they wanted—Gilley provides a number of examples of whites behaving badly in the German colonies and being punished for doing so. To frame it thus is not only to replace fact with fantasy but it is to ignore not only the statements of the colonizers themselves, but more important the voices of the colonized—Gilley provides numerous citations—who found that German colonial rule had bought greater peace and prosperity to them, thanks to placating tribal rivalries and long held animosities (Chapter 3 provides an analysis of the Herero and Nama peoples, and the imaginative claims that Herero-Nama wars were created by the Germans, or even more fantastically that they were gestures of anti-colonialism!). The major motivation, argues Gilley, is that colonialism was perceived as the accompanying condition of nation-building and being taken seriously as a major European power. The point is an interesting and important one, and it illustrates the vast gulf that separates the mindset of the generation that now dominates in the universities from that of a previous generation caught up in a completely different set of priorities of world-making.

Gilley provides numerous examples of what the German colonialists built, and again I will cite a few of his cases.

Having first established peace in East Africa, the Germans proceeded to establish prosperity. A 1,250-kilometer railway was built linking Lake Tanganyika to Dar es Salaam. To this day, the railway remains the lifeblood of Tanzania’s economy and of Zambia’s trans-shipment traffic. The German colonial railway was not just economically beneficial. It also led to the documenting of the region’s geography, vegetation, minerals, and peoples—much of which was carried out by the German-English railway engineer Clement Gillman as he surveyed the new line.


For the green conscious, it is especially noteworthy that German colonialism discovered the knowledge and crafted the regulations that protected the great forests and fauna of today’s Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.


Without doubt, Germany’s greatest humanitarian contribution to Africa during its colonial period was the discovery of a cure for sleeping sickness. In terms of lives saved, Germany’s colonial achievement could stand on this ground alone. Sleeping sickness originated in nomadic cattle-herding populations in Africa whose movements had spread the disease for hundreds of years before the colonial era. The increase in intensive farming under colonialism accelerated its spread, an inevitable result of policies to increase food supply and modernize agriculture. The disease was ravenous. The British calculated that an outbreak in 1901–07 killed between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand people in British Uganda, and two million people succumbed in all of East Africa in 1903 alone.

Nineteenth century colonialism is, as Gilley rightly notes, part of a genuinely civilizing approach to world-making. While that approach had both liberal and traditional European (conservative) accompaniments, it was also to be found in the communists Marx and Engels; and while the German socialists opposed how colonialism was being administered, they were, again as noted by Gilley, not unsupportive of colonial rule.

While the success of the modern, as these examples indicate, can be seen in terms of technical and technological advances, its diabolical underside is disclosed by the ideological concoctions that were to be transposed globally with far more devastating effects than colonialism itself. And if the first part of Gilley’s book might be an eyeopener for those who have not wanted to seriously think about what benefits accompanied colonialism, which is to say, those who have not thought out of the now fashionable moral academic box, the second part of the book makes the important point that both the Nazi and the communist projects were able to fuel anti-colonialist sentiments among various members of the aspirant elites in colonized country for their own geopolitical benefit and to the greater detriment of the societies in which these ideologically “educated” elites took power.

Need I say that any elite members wishing to gain power through national independence had no need to worry about the boring give-and-take and talk-fest that is endemic to democracies. Far easier to push through one’s will and that of one’s loyal support group or tribe and end up with—bloody chaos.

In an age where the holocaust is the diabolical terminus of history and anything and anyone from St. John to Luther to the family has been held up by some scholar or philosopher to be responsible, it is not surprising that colonialism would also be held responsible for the holocaust. But in spite of it now being commonplace among German academics to claim that there is line of continuity between German colonialism and the Nazis, the Nazis themselves from Hitler down wanted no truck with the colonialists and, in the main, few of the colonialists wanted what the Nazis wanted. In case anyone had not noticed, the Nazis were not in the civilizing business. Their fusion of nationalism and socialism, along with their antisemitism, and cult of the leader, was also embraced, along with open admiration for Hitler himself, by numerous anti-colonial leaders, most famously Nehru, Nasser, Amin and the Palestinian cleric Amin al-Husseini.

In the main, while academics don’t like the Nazis (unless they are Ukrainian ones who kill Russians and draw up hit lists of people to be liquidated for speaking out against them), they generally do like communists – in their upside-down world, communist rebels are freedom fighters. That communism is a Western ideological import that has not only exacerbated group and class conflicts but has been the means for justifying and entrenching “third world” elites with no idea how to better enhance economic conditions of people other than seizing land and property and pointing guns at people who must do what they are told.

The story of former colonies becoming entangled in the cross-fire of the Cold War like that of ambitious elites who used independence to secure their own power and wealth, along with those groups who give them their allegiances, is a horror story that belongs to the post-colonial age; but it is not the kind of story that neatly folds into a curricula or mind-set, where the answers to the cause of all things bad are white supremacism, i.e., European colonialists.

In a world as complicated as ours, the failure of the West to have an educated elite that are incapable of understanding the world before it, and the past behind it, is devastating. We are now living in that devastation; and although I detest those whose moral imaginations have been formed by sticking their heads in the bucket of Electric-Kool Aid Acid that now passes for an education, I have to concede that previous better-educated generations failed to see the consequences of their actions, and we are now living within those consequences.

Post script. Readers of a certain age will probably have recognised that I have borrowed the phrase “The Electric Kool-Aid” from Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Test, a book about Timothy Leary and his Merry Pranksters bussing across the US and their other shenanagins. This was in the days before college kids demanded safe spaces and fentanyl had become the drug of social breakdown. Wolfe was one of the founders of what was hailed as the new journalism in the early 1970s. Our world looks life the morning after what may have started as a party of sex and drugs and rock n roll and has turned into a nightmare of loneliness and totalitarianism.

Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen booksHe also doubles up as a singer songwriter. His latest album can be found here.

Featured: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa,” a poster by Grotemeyer, dated 1918. The caption reads: “Kolonial-Krieger-Spende,” or “Colonial Soldiers Fund.” Signature of von Lettow-Vorbeck at the bottom.

Ernst von Salomon and the Freikorps in the Baltics


The September issue of the Postil, contained an interesting article by Valentin Fontane Moret about Ernst von Salomon, seen as a revolutionary, a conservative, a lover. By chance just that month I published in Italy a book about the withdrawal of the Freikorps from the Baltic, and that article made a small bell ring in my head. Thus, I’d like to underline some aspects related to those facts. It could be useful in order to get a better focus on von Salomon and his environment in 1919, because those facts are often perceived as a sort of clash between Right and Left, between Europe and Communism; and, anyway they are the facts which make of him both a revolutionary, and somehow a conservative, if he was a conservative, of course.

The first point I’d like to discuss is a statement by Fontane Moret: “Dominique Venner was able to describe this mythical epic as a nihilistic adventure.” Was it really so? I mean, to von Salomon it was surely an epic adventure, but in itself, by itself, was it so? And was it nihilistic?

There are some aspects we must take in consideration. The history of the German occupation of the Baltic Eastern coast is not so well known beyond the Baltic countries. In the general mind it relies upon, or better, it is heavily affected by, Venner’s book Baltikum. Venner in fact depicted the German occupation as a mythical epic, and rendered it familiar to an entire generation of Right-winged young men, the Western European generation of the late 1970’s. As a result, a wrong perception of those old actions arose among that youth, and the young men of 1978 thought of those German fighters as heroes desperately fighting for German and European traditional values against the mounting barbaric, blindly violent wave of the Slavic threat from East.

A first point needs to be underlined here—in von Salomon’s mind, the difference is between the men and—literally, I quote him—the “white negroes.” These two words used by von Salomon in person when in his book Die GeächtenenThe Outlaws—he spoke of his further commitment in Upper Silesia with his comrades. They went there to defend German civilization threatened by a plebiscite to decide if the region had to remain German or pass to Poland; and he tells the reader that he, and his comrades agreed with the British privates in despising the soldiers of the other peacekeeping forces – French and Italians in that case (hence, as an Italian, I’m included, and I wonder whether Venner realized that, as a Frenchman, he too was included)—looking at them as at racially inferiors. Basically this was the same mind von Salomon applied to the Balts, and to the non Germans he and his comrades fought against in the Baltic; only, he depicted them as merciless barbarians.

Second point: how long did that mythical epic last? Not that long, actually. The first Freikorps were established in early 1919, and reached the Baltic area in March. The last left Lithuania by December 13th that same year 1919; hence in the very longest case, they remained in the Baltic countries eight months and half. This, of course, can be enough to build a myth, and to generate a mythical epic, for there is no rule about how long an enterprise must be to became mythical and epical.

But was it really so? I mean, this was von Salomon’s perception, or, at least, the way he later portrayed it. But did the other fighters really share von Salomon’s vision, or not? Who were they? The answer is not easy.

The Myth and the Reality

There was no standard of the German fighter in the Baltic. There were all kinds of people. It is true that many of them later joined the Nazi Party, but—warning—to be a Baltic veteran did not mean that one became a Nazi later, because many veterans simply did not join the Party. For instance, Gotthard Sachsenberg, a pilot and one of the best-known officers of the Freikorps, never joined the Nazis and had a lot of troubles from 1933 till 1945. Moreover, it is wrong to think that whoever was a German conservative later joined the Nazis, because—what is normally forgotten—Nazism was a leftist ideology, just like Fascism in Italy, whose roots lay in Socialism.

In the 1930’s, Nazi propaganda emphasized the Freikorps, and underlined their will to fight against the barbarians; but if we look carefully at the entirety of the fighters, the fight against the barbarians did not cover everybody’s reasons. To be complicated, these probably were some of the reasons of some leaders, and some soldiers, but surely these reasons were not shared by all the combatants.

For example, we rarely have only one reason to do something. Normally we are pushed by different aspects, some of them may be more relevant than others, but rarely, or never, do we act because of one reason only. The same happened to the members of the Freikorps. Because of various studies, we know who they were, and what did they thought, after von Salomon in person, who on page 67 of the Italian first edition in 1943, wrote: “There were in the Baltic, many companies, regulated corps under self-confident leaders, regularly enlisted, who marched obeying severe orders; hordes of restless adventurers who looked for war, booty and disorder; patriotic corps who did not resign to the ruin of the motherland and came to defend the borders against the breaking-in red torrent.

There was also the Baltic Landwehr, enrolled by the nobles of that region, willing to save at any cost their seven centuries of tradition, their consistent, refined culture and the Eastern bastion of German lordship; there were German battalions composed of peasants who wanted to colonize: they were ground-hungry, they sniffed the earth, calculating the resources which could be offered by that harsh soil. But troops ready to fight for the order, there were none. The great number of words gave everybody the certainty that they too would receive a minimum of reward and hope, an attractive goal.”

So, there were idealists, there were outlaws, there were people who did not like to go back to the civil daily life based on a monotonous and hard work, and there were the poor men, who, when civilians, were fatigued from dawn to the evening, and could hardly survive. How many were there of the latter? Which ratio they were in the total?

Von Salomon just told us: “There were… companies…. who marched obeying severe orders; hordes of restless adventurers… battalions composed of peasants who wanted to colonize.” A horde can be big or small, but normally is not that big; a company is smaller than a battalion—normally you need from four up to six companies to compose a battalion—and if the “disciplined” soldiers, let us say the idealists, composed companies, the peasants composed battalions, hence the peasants were the absolute majority. Why?

The situation in Eastern Prussia, being Eastern Prussia it was the most similar area to the Baltic countries due to history, geography, economy and, above all, due its landlords and their estates.

In the last quarter of 19th century, agriculture in Eastern Prussia was less and less convenient. Bismarck did his own best to support agriculture. He increased and made easier to get State credits, and kept high taxes on foreign products, especially on wheat and corn, to protect Prussian agricultural economy.

The situation balanced, but, in the last years of the century, agriculture became less and less profitable, and many landlords preferred to sell their estates, and reinvest the money in the financial market or in industry. On the other hand, many workers abandoned the countryside, and moved to cities, looking for a factory job. The life conditions of the lower classes were so bad that more than five and a half million Germans emigrated to North America between 1820 and 1920, with a yearly maximum of 250,000 in 1882, not to speak of those who went to South America or to Africa.

Basically, by the end of 19th century, a great Prussian landlord often spent for his farms more money than he got from them. On the other hand, getting a small property was seen by the lowest class as a way to escape poverty, but a way prevented by an obstacle—the money needed to purchase the land.

In 1890 Bismarck resigned. This opened the way to the supporters of free market, and to industrialists. The new chancellor von Caprivi ended protectionism, and agriculture was heavily affected.

By the end of World War, I big Prussian and Baltic landlords perceived their land properties as a source of troubles. It was possible to live exploiting them, but if one could sell them for a good price—especially in a period when cash was scarce—and if in the Baltics one could keep properties or sell them without being killed by the incoming Bolsheviks, that would be best of outcomes.

On the other hand, small farms could give poor families a better life, especially during the post-war crisis; and that’s why the Freikorps were filled with people attracted by the promise to get lands in the Baltics.

True or not, the Freikorps soldiers knew that when the Letts lost Riga, and Mitau, their troops would oppose the Bolsheviks, thanks to German help, holding a weak line around Windau, as von Salomon wrote later: “Ulmanis’ Latvian government escaped from Riga to Libau, and nonetheless promised land to be colonized to the German volunteers: eighty morgens of land, relevant credits and a better wage if they re-conquered those cities.”

A Morgen—a morning—was the land one could work in half a working day; more exactly it was two third of a Tagwerk—the “work of one day”—and, besides of all the kinds of Tagwerk existing in history along the Baltic coast, in 1869 the Northern German Confederation stated it to be 2,500 square meters, and if including Prussia with the Baltics, it could be up to 2,700; hence 80 Morgens meant a no less than 20 hectares—or 60 acres—land to each veteran; that is to say, not too bad a bad farm, for free.

Because of that promise the Freikorps fought; because of that promise they re-conquered Riga and Mitau; because of that promise further volunteers engaged in one of the 16 recruiting centers scattered everywhere in Germany, and came to the Baltic as reinforcements; because of that promise they were the tools used by Winnig to try to achieve his plans.

Winnig was a high-ranking Reich official, the Superior President,\; that is to say the governor of Prussia. He was a Social-Democrat and had a plan in mind. Just to make a long story short, basically he wanted to organize a German State separated from Germany, including Prussia and the Baltic countries, in order to keep German values alive there. He thought that if none of the new countries born after World War I had been regarded by the Allies as co-responsible for what Germany and Austria-Hungary had done, the same could probably be applied to a new German State, which was not the German Reich. No matter how unlikely this plan was, at that time the Baltic barons, who were linked to German culture, and were the landlords especially in Latvia and Lithuania, found the plan interesting; as well, the highest ranks of the German Army in the Baltic also found the plan interesting. So, in Spring and Summer 1919, German regular troops, enhanced by the incoming Freikorps, helped to expel the Bolsheviks, to save the interests and properties of the Baltic barons and to achieve the Winnig plan.

At the beginning, the Allies in Paris had so many troubles everywhere that if the Germans kept the Reds off the Baltic, it was fine. But then, in early Summer 1919, they realized how many well-armed German soldiers were there—50,000, that is to say half of the German Army as foreseen by the Peace Treaty—and decided it was better to recall them; and because they were still holding some territories that Germany had no right to claim, unless they held on these territories until the day the Versailles Treaty would be ratified.

The German War Minister Noske was asked by the Allies to call the regulars back to Germany, and he did. But the more the regulars left, the less the volunteers accepted to leave. Why? Because to most of them the core of the question was the land they expected to get, and how they could get it if they went back to Germany?

By the way, in the harsh days of the German revolution in winter 1918-19, Noske relied heavily on the Freikorps. But when the revolution was over, he did not know what to do with all those armed men, who, being war veterans, knew quite well how to fight. Having no idea, in early Spring 1919, he was happy to silently allow them to proceed to the Baltics, where Winnig—belonging to his same party—was furthering his plan. And all went well till the Allies also demanded the volunteers be recalled, and Noske had no other option. He tried to recall them, but the reaction was quite bad. On August 24th, 1919—according to von Salomon’s account—Josef Bischoff, commanding the Iron Division (a lieutenant colonel from the reserves)—appeared at the Mitau station, and, in the general confusion, prevented the departure of the first train carrying the 1st Courland Infantry Regiment back to Germany.

Then Bischoff came to an agreement with the White Russian units in Lithuania, and his men now served came under General Bermondt-Avalov’s Tsarist colors. But a problem remained—who would pay for needs of the Iron Division? Their supplies, wages and so on? And who would pay for the other Freikorps?

By September the Letts and the Lithuanians were trying to eject the Germans from their countries who did not want to leave because they were collecting the harvest and sending ut to Germany—a way to survive through commerce—and they were also getting horses, and food. In Latvia the Germans were still before Riga, and kept Lithuania which, being between Latvia in the north and Prussia in the south, was vital to get military supplies and ordnance from Prussia.

Clashes against the Germans occurred in Latvia and Lithuania; and the whole population—supported by the British—was against the Freikorps. Why? Because no matter what one may now think, the German speaking population in the whole of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) hardly totaled 10 percent. And what about the “Germanic” culture, the Germanic soil and so on? Well, the landlords, the Baltic barons, the civil officials, they all shared a certain German flavored culture. They spoke German—and Russian, and the local language, whatever it was—no matter if those lands had been part of the Russian empire, and if many of them had served the Czar against the Germans in the just ended World War. So, what von Salomon implicitly admitted when mentioning the “bastion of German lordship,” and did not explicitly say in his work, was that he and his comrades were fighting on non-German soil, and against the population that soil belonged to, just and only to keep the interests of the small German speaking minority, composed of the landlords, and of the Baltic barons, and just to get the 60 acre farms each soldier had been promised by the Letts, if they ejected the Reds, and that was it.

There is not that much myth in this, I’m afraid—besides the artificial myth built by von Salomon who, probably, believed honestly the stories they told him, and refused the rational result of what his eyes saw, and his ears heard: people did not speak German there, and that was not a German land, no matter if the German knights had built Memel castle in 15th century. It was not Germany and it had never been Germany.

The Epic and the Reality

On November 12th, 1919 a group of five Allied officers entered the castle of Koenigsberg, the capital of Prussia, to meet Winnig and the local military commander, General von Estorff.

The Allied officers composed the Interallied Commission for the German evacuation from the Baltic countries, and their task was to let all the Germans go home, not only the regulars—all, Freikorps included. The Commission was chaired by a French division general, and included an American, a British, and an Italian brigadier, and a Japanese major. Before long, they got Winnig to realize that his plan was over—no German military could remain in the Baltics; and that meant the end of the dream of a Germanic state which was not Germany.

It would be long and boring to explain how the Commission succeeded and achieved its task. What is important is that by November 28th the evacuation of the Germans belonging to the Freikorps began, and was hurried by a Latvian offensive—mentioned by von Salomon—pushing them from Southern Latvia into Lithuania.

There were fights, of course, between the Letts and the German rearguards. And, before retreating, the Germans damaged as much as they could, and stole as much as they could, as the Commission then recorded. The Latvian government later presented a bill, listing a 283 million Reichsmarks total damage, and Noske, and the Imperial Chancellor Bauer were notified of the huge amount of damages that Germany had to pay back to Latvia and Lithuania.

The Commission enforced the end of the fight. In a few days they obtained a cease-fire by the Letts, Then they convinced the Lithuanians to not engage the Germans further; otherwise, they explained, how would it be possible to get them to leave?

So, by December 4, 1919 no further action was carried out, and the Germans were free to leave. As one can see, up till this point the epic combat lasted six days, and it seems not to have caused huge casualties on both the sides. There were casualties, of course, but a few, because the Commission asked both the Latvian and the Lithuanian government not to further engage the Germans, to avoid any pretext the German headquarter in Prussia could exploit to send reinforcements. The Commission was obeyed; the fights ceased, and the Germans left.

In that moment they were more or less around the small Lithuanian city of Siauliai, a railway hub, 123 kilometers south of Riga, and that was the longest distance the Freikorps marched along, and sometimes fighting—123 kilometers and no more.

One may wonder, how is it possible that if the Freikorps Rossbach is remembered for its glorious 1,200 kilometers march from Thorensberg, now known as Torņakalns, a suburb of Riga—to Berlin? Good question. But during their withdrawal, as soon as they reached the safe zone protected by the cease-fire, they were embarked on trains, and went back to Prussia—that is to say to Germany—by train. Hence, they marched only a bit more than 120 kilometers, and then they made a 1,080 kilometers trip, almost all in the German homeland, and mostly on the German railways to Berlin. Free. So, it is true that they marched from Riga; it is true that they went to Berlin; it is true that the distance between these two cities is 1,200 kilometres (actually the shortest is 1,044, but no matter: they did not go via the shortest route). But I’d say that later the data was a bit worked on to make it sound more epic. The Iron Division refused to use trains, and marched from Siauliai to the Prussian border—134 kilometres. But after leaving Siauliai on December 4th, they faced no threat and were never engaged in a fight.

Can we consider a trip by train epic? Perhaps, if there are some unexpected facts—e.g., as happened in the Far-West—yes, but unfortunately that trip happened without any inconvenience, not to speak of fighting, and with all the precision Whilelmine Germany was famous for; hence no delay, no incidents; regular trip at regular speed; not that epic, and very middle-class style, I’d say.


At this point, one should wonder if that adventure was really nihilistic as depicted by Venner, not to speak of the myth, and of the epic; and it will be useful, I’d say, to underline some aspects.

The first is how dangerous it is to rely on myths instead of on history; not on stories; on history; that is to say on facts. As you have seen, facts were a bit different from the way the story was later told.

A second aspect is how dangerous the myth is, because it misleads a lot of people. I do not know how much Baltikum was responsible for the errors made by many who were young when I was young, but I know for sure that it gave them a distorted vision of some facts, which it would have been better not to emphasize.

There is a problem here, a problem born of the misperception of Nazism, purposely seen only as a sort of somehow conservative ideology, aimed at keeping Western civilization (carefully not mentioning some small details as the Nuremberg laws and their consequences), and engaged in a mortal clash against Barbary and the dark forces—the Communists—who wanted to destroy the civilized world and its values. Well, it was not so; it never was so. In short, Nazism was not conservative. It attracted the German conservatives; it involved them; but it did it so only to destroy them and their potential opposition. Nazism and Communism were basically the Hegelian Right and Left; thus, two arms of the same creature. Thus what difference could there be between the two?

But this misperception (among other things) of looking at the German campaigns in Russia since 1941 as at the fight of the Western values against the Barbarian East was—and is—misleading, and wrong on may counts. It’s wrong because it is based on racial difference; hence it puts among the barbarians all the Slavs—including a highly civilized, and cultured people like the Poles, a real pillar of the West, always. It’s wrong because it focused exclusively on the Germans as the only keepers, and protectors of the Western civilization, which, with all due respect to Germany, is not right. It is wrong because it misled, and still misleads, thousands, tens of thousands young people in Europe, and out of Europe toward those wrong opinions, letting those people happily pass over a not so negligible fact—had the Nazis won, a huge ratio of those young Nazi supporters would have been considered as subhuman, because they do not belong to the German race, and it is not enough to feel pro-Nazi to be accepted by the Nazis. One is accepted in a group not because he or she feels alike, but is accepted because the members of the group assess his or her standards, and decide whether these standards suit their own standards or not. And, being the standard in this case only a racial one… you may realize the result.

Last, and worst, the narrative of the Freikorps in the Baltics was deprived of its actual aspects; thus no Winnig plan, no quest for a farm, and for a quiet family life, but a heroic clash, artificially and purposely built, in order to create the root of a political myth, to be exploited later by the Nazis as a heritage, and a legacy. And, grounding on that heritage and on that legacy, we have seen the Nazis doing terrible things.

So, I wonder, shouldn’t we stop considering von Salomon, his book, and Venner’s Baltikum as part of conservatism and its values?

Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.

Featured: Freikorps Berlin Landeschutzenkorps Recruiting Card, 1919.

In Defense of German Colonialism

Through the kind courtesy of Regnery Publishing and Regnery Gateway, we are so very honored to present this excerpt from Professor Bruce Gilley’s recently published book, In Defense of German Colonialism, a tour-de-force of the great good that the German colonial effort achieved in Africa, such as economic development, the rule of law, good governance, and human rights for minorities and women.

In an insightful link-up with the present, Professor Gilley shows that the dismantlement of the German colonies enabled Nazism which, in turn, is the root of wokeness. Professor Gilley’s research is impeccable and his conclusions undeniable. Please support his valuable work by purchasing your copy of this intriguing and informative book. You will not be disappointed.

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The Spirit of Berlin

Bismarck’s ironclad indifference towards the colonies cracked in 1883 when a failed tobacco merchant from Bremen named Adolf Lüderitz wired to say that he had run up the German flag on a thin strip of land on the Atlantic coast of southern Africa. Lüderitz had bought the land from natives of the Nama tribe for two hundred loaded rifles and a box of gold. The Nama needed the rifles for their ongoing wars against their historic enemies, the Herero. Bismarck at last gave in. Following his recognition of Lüderitzland (population twenty), Bismarck told the Reichstag that henceforth he would fly the flag whenever established German merchants requested the protection of the state. “We do not want to install colonies artificially,” Bismarck sighed. “When they emerge, however, we will try to protect them.” His hope was for empire on the cheap: “Clerks from the trading houses, not German generals,” would handle the functions of government.

Since Germany was a colonial newcomer, it had the neutrality to convene the 1884–85 conference to set new ground rules for colonial endeavors. Being sensitive to publicity, the Germans invited some Africans from the Niger river to join their delegation, at first calling them porters, then river navigators, then caravan leaders, and finally “princes.” Other European powers hastened to bring their own “loyal Africans” to wintry Berlin to demonstrate their own legitimacy.

During the meetings, Bismarck oversaw a major redefinition of colonialism. The Germans spoke most frequently and thus their views had tremendous influence on the final agreement. While the immediate issues were the Congo and West Africa, as well as free trade, the broader question was on what basis colonial rule could be justified. Initial fears that Bismarck planned to make vast claims on unmarked territory proved unfounded. His aim was simply to promote European trade in a way that did not bring the European powers to blows and that delivered uplift for the natives.

The Spirit of Berlin was embodied in two principles. First, colonial powers, whatever else they did, had a responsibility to improve the lives of native populations. European powers, the agreement stated, should be “preoccupied with the means of increasing the moral and material wellbeing of the indigenous populations.” When a colony was established, the powers “engage themselves to watch over the conservation of the indigenous populations and the amelioration of their moral and material conditions of existence.” That included putting an end to slavery and the slave trade. It also meant supporting religious, scientific, and charitable endeavors to bring the “advantages of civilization.” Bismarck praised the “careful solicitude” the European powers showed towards colonial subjects. Native uplift was now an explicit rather than implicit promise of colonialism. A British delegate noted that “humanitarian considerations have occupied a prominent place in the discussions.” Words only. But words that would create norms, and norms that would shape behavior.

The second principle insisted that any colonial claim needed to be backed up by “the existence of an authority sufficient to cause acquired rights to be respected.” Merely planting the flag or signing a treaty with local chiefs for a box of cigars was no longer enough. Colonialism required governance so that “new occupations . . . may be considered as effective.” This was later known as the principle of “effective occupation.” With this idea, Bismarck introduced the expectation that colonialism was not mere claim-staking or resource development—even if those things were still better than no colonialism at all. Rather, as with his newly created Germany, political institutions needed to provide the means to deliver the end of good governance.

The “effective occupation” principle applied at first only to coastal areas since the powers did not want to set off conflicts over border demarcations in inland areas. But as mapping of the inland proceeded in subsequent years, it crept willy-nilly into the bush as well. It “became the instrument for sanctioning and formalizing colonial occupation even in the African hinterland,” noted a legal historian.

One result of the Spirit of Berlin was a surge in trans-colonial cooperation among the major colonial powers. British, French, and German officials, especially in Africa, acted as if they were part of a common European project. They regularly swapped bits of territory, shared tips on governing, and got gloriously drunk to cement the bonds of colonial friendship. Germany’s top colonial official hosted a dinner to honor the retiring British governor of Uganda when they found themselves together aboard a homebound German steamer in 1909: “We made flowery speeches, vowing eternal friendship between our two nations,” the governor recalled. In German Samoa, the governor in 1901 appointed a Brit who did not speak German as the top official of the largest island. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Brit was still expecting to draw his civil service pension from the British colonial office, arguing that European colonialism was a unified endeavor for the betterment of other peoples.

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The Berlin conference has been subject to a relentless campaign of debunking by modern intellectuals. One claim they make is that the assembled delegates “carved up” Africa like a bunch of gluttons. This is wrong. For one, the carving was already happening when Bismarck acted. The conference was a response to, not a cause of, expanded colonial claims. Critics seem to think that absent the conference Africa would have been left untouched. Quite the opposite. The scramble for Africa created tensions, suspicions, and fears on all sides. Bismarck wanted to set some ground rules.

Second, if “carving up” is taken to mean staking territorial claims on a map with a view to gobbling up resources, this is flatly untrue. Of course, economic interests took a prominent role in colonial expansion as a way to pay the costs and reward the effort. But the attendant responsibilities were new. Expansion now required an explicit commitment to native uplift alongside economic development, and this commitment required the creation of effective governing structures.

Finally, the notion of “carving” conjures images of high-handed mandarins in Europe ignorant of local conditions absent-mindedly drawing boundaries on a map while playing a game of whist. The myth of “artificial boundaries” drawn by ignorant Europeans is one that dies hard. In fact, as the French scholar Camille Lefebvre has shown, colonial administrators went to great lengths to figure out where boundaries should be drawn. In doing so, they made use of extensive local knowledge. Later demands by critics to redraw borders along ethnic lines, she argued, “had the paradoxical effect of erasing the history of African political structures and the role of the local populations in defining colonial boundaries.” This reflected a racist idea “that the essence of Africans is to be found in their ethnicity.”

The final border between German Cameroon and neighboring British and French colonies, for instance, was the result of tortuous field surveys carried out with native guides between 1902 and 1913. “The boundary is, as far as possible, a natural one, but, whenever practicable, tribal limits have been taken into consideration,” a Times of London correspondent reported on the arduous demarcation, noting “no opposition was met with by the natives, who realize the advantage of having a definite chain of landmarks between English and German territory.” In German East Africa, the Germans allowed the neighboring British territory to control all of the lake between the two in order to protect native trading patterns. The treaty of 1890 also allowed that “any correction of the demarcation lines that becomes necessary due to local requirements may be untaken by agreement between the two powers.” Critics forget that drawing borders on a map would mean little if they could not be enforced, and enforcement in turn depended on local social and economic conditions.

What is true is that these political boundaries did not always coincide with ethnic boundaries. Many ethnic groups ended up on different sides of borders because carving up “ethnic homelands” would have been both impractical as well as, in Lefebvre’s view, racist. If there is a “high-handed” assumption at play, it is the assumption of later critics that Africans are essentially tribal and need to be organized on tribal lines. Thus borders should be redrawn not based on political, social, and economic logic but on ethnic essentialism. When the apartheid state of South Africa created such ethnic “homelands,” they were roundly derided because they created ethnic ghettos cut off from modern lines of economic and political life. Yet the “artificial boundaries” critique of the borders resulting from the Berlin conference is an appeal for just such apartheid-style “homelands.”

Broader criticism of the Spirit of Berlin is even more hyperbolic: no white man, German or otherwise, the critics avail, had a right to march around the world oppressing helpless brown and black people at gunpoint. One Harvard professor wrote that the British and French should be equally blamed for the rapacious Spirit of Berlin even though the Germans hosted the conference. There should be no Sonderweg or “separate path” theory that explained why only Germans were evil. Any suggestion of a “German (colonial) Sonderweg” would exculpate Britain and France from their fair share of the blame for the great evil that was European colonialism. Scholars like him censure as racist the idea that Western civilization had anything to offer to non-Western peoples. The so-called humanitarian principles of the conference were so much hypocrisy, a clever cloak for
self-interest, they charge.

Not one of these claims withstands scrutiny. Civilization is a descriptive concept that emerged in the field of archaeology to measure the progress that cultures achieved towards the universally common ends of intensive agriculture, urbanization, state formation, the division of labor, the use of machinery, civic government, and a written tradition with record keeping. If Europeans truly believed that black Africans were inherently inferior, why would they try to raise them up to European levels of civilization? It would be impossible. The assumption that European progress was accessible to all was based on a belief in the universal human potential of all peoples.

As to the inevitable coercion that this entailed against dominant local elites, critics forget important lessons from the past in their sermonizing. World history is a story of more civilized nations conquering less civilized ones because they are better organized and thus able to create and sustain more lives, production, and material wealth. Nowhere in the world at the time was it assumed that conquest was bad. Certainly, powerful African groups like the Fulani and the Buganda assumed they had a right to conquer nearby peoples. As Jörg Fisch wrote: “Strictly speaking, the colonial acquisition of Africa needed no justification. The Europeans had the necessary strength and, even within Europe, the right of conquest was widely accepted both in theory and state practice.”

Claims that no African was involved or that colonial expansion ignored African interests are rather bizarre given that such norms were alien to Africa itself. The Fulani, Buganda, Bantu, or Ngoni had not asked whether they should “consult” the African peoples they subjugated before the Europeans arrived. With the Spirit of Berlin promising high living standards, Europe’s conquest of Africa was justified, not just legally but also ethically, and just as much it was unavoidable. The idea that it was “arbitrary” for Western civilization to spread (or that such a spread was based on ill intent) simply ignores the fact that human societies all strive to be more civilized.

Civilization isn’t racist and violent; denying it is. Anti-civilizational discourses that wish upon non-European peoples a return to the five thousand–year developmental gap that they faced when the European encounter began deny the humanity of non-Europeans. These Woke theories embody the racism they decry. As the Canadian scholar Tom Flanagan asked in rebutting claims that the “First Nations” (Siberian migrants to North America) should have been left in their primitive state in Canada, “Though one might dislike many aspects of civilization, would it be morally defensible to call for a radical decline in population, necessitating early death and reproductive failure for billions of people now living?”

The “civilizing mission” was both proper and reasonable as an aim of European colonialism. Germany more than any other colonial power took that mission seriously, as shown by its extensive training academies for colonial administrators and special institutes to understand native cultures, geographies, languages, and economics. As one American historian wrote:

Of all the European powers engaged in colonization in tropical territories before 1914, the Germans made the most extensive efforts in the direction of preparing themselves for their colonial responsibilities. Though their emphasis on colonial education had developed only late in the history of the German colonial empire, it was one of the determinants of their stature in 1914 as one of the most progressive and energetic of all the colonial powers.

In 1988, American historian Suzanne Miers claimed to have “uncovered” a dark secret about the Spirit of Berlin: the conference participants did not give a fig about the civilizing mission (an odd critique when set against the charge by others that they did, but that this mission was racist). Her evidence? The powers were also motivated by self-interest, and they did not try their hardest to enact their altruistic ends. Miers writes, for instance, that the British agreed to limit liquor sales in the Niger River region only “if all powers agreed to it, as, if they refused, British traders would be excluded from a lucrative traffic.” In the next sentence she states: “The Colonial Office certainly was not contemplating British self-denial for humanitarian reasons.” Yet her own sentence shows that they were contemplating this if it could be achieved. Like other scholars, she seems to think that Quixotic and ineffective romantic gestures are what was needed. Thank goodness the Colonial Office was staffed by men of practical bent.

None of this will convince colonial critics, of course, who hasten to point out that the abolition of slavery came slowly, liquor imports continued despite prohibitions, wars were fought using brutal tactics, and all the blessings of civilization like the rule of law, health systems, roads, and education came only piecemeal. Having set up a high standard, the European powers immediately fell short of it, thus “proving” in the eyes of the critics that they never meant it in the first place. Yet these critics never seek to establish what “best effort” would have looked like: What was fiscally, technically, and organizationally feasible circa, say, 1885, even if we wish away all political obstacles? A more accurate view, propounded by the Stanford economists Lewis Gann and Peter Duignan, is that Western colonial powers like Britain and Germany exceeded “best effort,” and the costs that this effort imposed eventually forced Europe to abandon the colonial project altogether.

Bruce Gilley is a professor of political science at Portland State University and the author of five books, including The Last Imperialist.

Featured image: a postcard from ca. 1910. Caption reads: “Our navy. ‘Take me across handsome sailor.'”

The Tolerated Nazi Cult

In recent years, the word “Nazi” has been completely gutted by its inflationary use like no other. Today, “Nazi” is anyone who is not on the top of the tree of political correctness. Accordingly, it seems bizarre when the grave of a genuine Nazi collaborator, namely Stepan Bandera, becomes a place of pilgrimage in Germany. There is no outcry. On the contrary, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the grave of Stepan Bandera in Munich’s Waldfriedhof has been very crowded. If in previous years one Reich flag among a thousand peace flags was enough to declare an entire demonstration a Nazi mass demonstration, here homage is being paid to a Wehrmacht collaborator—without this being criticized in those circles that otherwise suspect a Nazi behind every tree.

A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the colors of the Ukrainian flag caught my eye during a walk through Munich’s Waldfriedhof cemetery. In the distance I saw a gravestone decorated with blue and yellow flags. My curiosity was aroused and so I approached this grave. In the inscription of the gravestone, I read the name “Stepan Bandera,” which is additionally engraved above it in Cyrillic. The name immediately rang a bell in my memory. I knew roughly about the importance of Bandera, his collaboration with the Nazi regime, the cult around his person in Ukraine, which continues to this day, and that he was murdered in the 1950s in Munich by the Soviet foreign intelligence service KGB.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to suddenly stumble into a piece of dark European history during a walk, when I actually wanted to clear my head of political issues. At that point, in the spring of 2021, Covid was crowding out all other issues, so Ukraine and the conflict there were more on the periphery of media attention.

With the winter of 2021/22 and the start of the Ukrainian war, that changed with breathtaking speed. A veritable Russophobia and Ukraine cult developed. These developments also left their mark on Bandera’s grave. In fact, during my walks, I pass by there again and again and observe how this grave is increasingly turning into a place of pilgrimage. Since March 2022, showy SUVs with Ukrainian license plates can be seen around the cemetery grounds, and where a year ago only a solitary Ukrainian flag hung and rather beautiful flowers planted, the grave is now overflowing with offerings and mementos that visitors lay to their icon. In a way, the selection is very bizarre. On the surfaces of the grave lie Ukrainian hryvnia bills and coins, candy—some even from McDonalds—and labeled (FFP2) masks.

Bandera’s grave [Photo: Nicolas Riedl].

The question, who in Germany (!) decorates the gravesite of a Nazi collaborator in such a way, was answered—even if not completely—over days when visiting the grave on a Sunday. Almost every minute visitors come to stand devoutly in front of it, to take photos or to lay down more of the “gifts” listed above. But who are these people? Are they some skin-head types unmistakably identifiable as Nazis?

Offerings at Bandera’s grave. [Photo: Nicolas Riedl].

At one point I pretended to stand at Bandera’s final resting place myself, in memory of him, to get a more accurate picture of the visitors. To my astonishment, each time it was a thoroughly inconspicuous, outwardly completely harmless citizen—parents with their children or young people in tracksuits.

I could not make any sense of this. In this country, anyone who claims to take a warm shower every day is soon considered a Nazi. And yet, in the middle of Munich, without scandal or outcry, the grave of a Nazi collaborator is virtually transformed into a pharaoh’s chamber.

At that moment it even occurred to me whether I was simply misinformed about Bandera. But no—no matter where I looked, whether in older mainstream reports or in alternative media—I could twist and turn the image of Stepan Bandera as I wished—his involvement in Nazi crimes is undisputed and sufficiently proven.

As the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and part of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), he participated in numerous crimes and atrocities against civilians that shocked even SS generals.

Although Bandera was a German prisoner from July 1941 to September 1944—after his plans to declare an independent Ukraine went too far for the Nazi regime—he served his time comparatively comfortably as one of the SS’s so-called special and honorary prisoners. Shortly before the end of the war, parts of the OUN were even reinstated in the Waffen SS. In short, Bandera’s vest is so bloodstained that no change of perspective can wash it clean.

Even after the end of the war, Bandera remained the chairman of the OUN in his Munich exile until he was assassinated in October 1959 by KGB agent Bogdan Staschinski, right on his doorstep with hydrogen cyanide gas.

While reading about Bandera’s death, I got the idea to visit his former residence on Kreittmayrstrasse in Munich’s Maxvorstadt to see if it had also been transformed into a pilgrimage site. Once there, I found that nothing reminded me of Bandera. All around the multi-story building, there are hip cafés and restaurants; there are no flowers on the doorstep; there are no Ukrainian flags anywhere to be seen. The only noticeable thing I took note of was that the facade of the house at number 7—quite as if to mock the anti-communist post-mortem—was the only one in the whole street with a red coat of paint.

No Peace for the Dead at Bandera’s Grave

Even before the Ukraine war, Bandera’s grave kept finding its way into the public eye.

Desecration of the grave in 2014
Shortly after the start of the Maidan coup in 2014—if today’s Ukraine flag-wavers can still remember it?—the gravestone was knocked over and the grave vandalized. The perpetrators were never caught.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk visits Bandera’s grave
In 2015, Melnyk laid flowers at Bandera’s grave. Sevim Dağdelen, a member of the Left Party, then asked the German government whether it was aware of this. The federal government answered in the affirmative and condemned the acts of the OUN in its response.

2018 sees the arrival of the “cemetery fact checker”
British blogger Graham Phillips visited the grave in 2018, removed the flag of Ukraine—as well as that of Ukrainian nationalists—and attached a sign to the gravestone reading, “Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera lies buried here.” On the net, he was partly celebrated as a true anti-fascist, others accused him of desecrating the grave.

2021 State security investigates after repeated desecration of grave
A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the grave was desecrated again when it was doused with red liquid. In the course of this, the State Security Service began an investigation, so far without results.

Parallel World

It really is bizarre. While in this country everything and everyone is pushed into a right-wing corner if they say one wrong word—at the same time in the middle of Germany the grave of a Nazi collaborator is decorated, adorned and visited with devout looks of the visitors. Meanwhile, police patrol by at regular intervals to check for further possible grave desecrations. It is even rumored that a hidden camera is installed in the grave light vending machine directly opposite.

In a sense, Bandera’s tombstone is a monument to double standards, showing us that all destructive forces are fine with the rulers as long as they serve their purposes. While local demonstrators with peaceful intentions are defamed as Nazis—in Ukraine unmistakable Nazis are equipped with heavy weapons.

How much more blood must be senselessly spilled before history is learned?

Nicolas Riedl is a student of political science, theater and media studies in Erlangen. He got to know almost every type of school in the German education system from the inside and, during a commercial apprenticeship, also the interpersonal coldness of the working world. The media and Ukraine crisis in 2014 was a caesura for his world view and perception. Since then, he has been dealing in depth and self-critically with political, socio-economic, ecological as well as psychological topics. As far as his technical skills allow, he produces films and music videos. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of Rubikon.

Ernst von Salomon: Revolutionary, Conservative, Lover

In The Outlaws (1930), Ernst von Salomon recounts his mad political adventure in the aftermath of the Great War. His literary character became emblematic of the German Conservative Revolution and the work a prophecy for the lost generations. His lesson: nihilism can be defeated by a passion more vivid than the torments of history. The ostracized (outlaw) then finds his salvation in the experience of war to which the elevation of the spirit follows.

The Outlaws opens with a quotation from Franz Schauweker: “In life, blood and knowledge must coincide. Then the spirit arises.” Therein lies the lesson of the work, which opposes knowledge and experience and eventually discovers that these two opposites inevitably attract each other. A question then arises: should we let these two attractions cancel each other out, collide, destroy each other and with them the one who experiences them; or should we resolve the tension in creation and reflection.

In love with a Germany in tatters, spurned by History in the latter days of the First World War, in which his youth prevented him from participating, Ernst von Salomon embodied the conservative revolutionary passion in action when he chose to join the Corps Francs to continue the struggle. But if Dominique Venner was able to describe this mythical epic as a nihilistic adventure, Salomon’s unreasonable obstinacy appears as an authentic quest for meaning that continues throughout his journey as a warrior and then as a militant. Despite the prevailing disarray and aimlessness from which some hotheads seem to suffer, the marginalized Salomon yet expressed the instinct to reclaim a beloved nation. In his eyes, only revolution could restore Germany to its former splendor; the one for which it had been taught to die.

A Passionate Revolutionary

Ernst von Salomon was just 16 years old when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918; the age of madness, of ideas to be cut to the bone and of passions that prevent resignation. If confusion is the first feeling that the author confesses at the opening of The Outlaws, hope immediately follows and it is this permanent tension between two contrary tendencies that makes the relentless struggle his reason for living. For the author’s life, at the beginning of his work, seems to be based solely on the pursuit of his ideal, which he undoubtedly already foresees as a mirage, but which he nevertheless refuses to abandon. Thus he confesses: “Also we were ready to act under the only impulse of our feelings; and it did not matter much that one could show thereafter the rightness of our acts. What mattered was that in those days acts were done.” It is not the reason, it is not the idea which guides the aspirant in love with Germany and vexed by a humiliating peace, but a sentimental rage which he does not control. From there, the revolutionary instinct is born; a destructive instinct by essence, which has as its sole objective the overthrow of the established order, including the inner order, spiritual and moral, of the one it animates. It is a question of experiencing the world by experiencing oneself, of experimenting before claiming to know.

Movement before anything else; all-out action appears to be the only way to salvation; the only conviction of this frustrated generation being that nothing good can emerge from the era of parliamentarism and the reigning bourgeoisie. Perhaps he does not understand it yet, but it is against the immobility of systematic thought, whether liberal or Marxist, that it is important to fight. And if we speak of salvation, it is not only a collective salvation in the restoration of German greatness. The war, then the defeat, and the conditions of peace have morally destroyed the individual. The movement is thus the condition of the survival of each one, a vital attempt to find meaning: “In the attack we hoped to find a deliverance, a supreme exaltation of our forces; we hoped to be confirmed in the conviction of being equal to any destiny, we hoped to feel in us the true values of the world. We walked, nourished by other certainties than those that could be valid for our country.” Lines that join those of Ernst Jünger’s War as an inner experience and show to what extent the spirit of revenge animates individuals and creates warriors rather than soldiers; emancipated men rather than removable functionaries.

This is the expression of an impatient madness, of a madness in love. To refuse to stand still, to constantly put oneself at risk as one questions oneself, is the sign that the nationalist revolution rejects the platonic love of an idea. Because the beloved nation has been lost, it is necessary to conquer it anew, to occupy its borders as one marries its folds, and not to seduce it. Yet there comes a time when the act is no longer enough to nourish hope. Violence exalts perhaps as much as it destroys the one who undergoes it, as well as the one who exercises it. The author admits: “We had lit a pyre where not only inanimate objects were burning: our hopes, our aspirations were also burning; the laws of the bourgeoisie, the values of the civilized world, everything was burning, the last remnants of the vocabulary and belief in the things and ideas of that time, all that dusty junk that was still lying around in our hearts.” The ideal is annihilated; the idealist tends towards nihilism. The fatality, more and more evident, compels the warrior to consider again his aspirations, or to die of having consumed all that lived in his heart. In order to survive, it is necessary to project an ideal again, to carve an alternative in the tarnished banner that is still being waved without believing in it. The movement becomes an empty shell that only asks to be filled by a generation of the mind; the experience is vain without knowledge. It is no longer just a matter of moving to survive, but of knowing in what direction to move, and for what purpose. Then, the revolutionary passion, remembering that it was born from the reaction, offers itself a daring conservative goal.

Intellectual and Violent: The Outpouring of the Spirit

The permanent interweaving of collective and individual considerations in the work makes it a perfect psychological portrait of the revolutionary, the militant in the strict sense (i.e., with military methods). But in the political struggle of the immediate post-war period, it was first of all the young Ernst von Salomon who revealed himself to himself; intellectual and violent, rather than an idea that progresses. At the beginning, the political will of the author and his accomplices is at best a quest, a desire to find reference points in the fog of the prevailing crisis, more than a real desire. But if simple reflection is not the starting point of this quest, it is a symptom of the fact that the German ideal of the nascent Conservative Revolution is not purely philosophical. It is more encompassing, more total: it is a “worldview” (Weltanschauung) that is certainly impregnated with philosophy, digested by the intellect, but also concretely experienced, visceral. This vision of the world feeds as much on thought as on will, and is delivered under the features of feeling in lyrical, dreamlike, suggestive or allegorical terms which defy the jargon and rationalist conceptual divisions. This is an emblematic style of the German conservative revolution, which can be found in the writings of Ernst Jünger and Carl Schmitt, and which aims to suggest, touch, and project rather than simply to expose. For the outlaw, embodied by Salomon, is not a man of the salon. He does not experience knowledge either; for him, experience comes first. The feeling of the young man precedes his intellectual formation and his metapolitical conscience. It is only by writing that he searches for the truth of eternal values in the extremity of lived experiences, in order to transform experience into knowledge. To elevate it, to erect it to the rank of the useful and the accessible to all, only then does the work take its meaning.

We find here a magnificent expression of the paradox of conservative revolutionary thought—modern among the anti-moderns, in that it seeks to turn modernity against itself; but also, and above all, in that it can seem to give priority to action, the impulse arising from the realm of the sensible and not from that of ideas. What is not experienced is only bourgeois procrastination, as one of Ernst von Salomon’s comrades seems to suggest, to whom the work of Walter Ratheneau—assassinated with our author’s complicity by the Consul Organization—entitled, Die neue Gesellschaft (The New Society) inspires only this terse comment: “So many sparks and so little dynamite.” Privilege, whose wreckage is acknowledged by Salomon himself, when he admits with spite that the considerations of high politics made the Freikorps useful idiots in the service of foreign interests. And the will to act against all odds, in a permanent flight forward seems to spare only those who, like him, find themselves capable of sublimating action through thought and extracting from it a little truth, clarifying a vision of the world, proposing a goal. The revolutionary madness, anarchic and unreasonable impulse, is as if channeled, balanced by the conservative instinct that calls for greater wisdom and an indispensable effort of conceptualization.

But this balance, Salomon would not find it, although he had the intuition of it, before his release from prison. Still too fiery, too extreme in his will to act at all costs, to the point of crime, to a damnation he did not even seem to fear. The outlaws are the rejected ones that the slap of history has thrown into the arms of the demon; the marginalized ones that exclusion will destroy for the weakest, will comfort in a besieged citadel for the others. Shortly before his death, more than 40 years after the publication of The Outlaws, he confessed that he had really questioned the meaning of his action during his second imprisonment, after which he fully embraced the movement of the conservative revolution by initiating for good the “revolution of the spirit,” previously mentioned and present in germ in his work. That is to say, a work of redefinition of concepts, like that of the French encyclopedists of the 18th century, presumed precursors of the French Revolution. But as if the tension between knowledge and experience was fundamentally unsurpassable, history confronted this work, this knowledge, with the experience of politics and would make it wither away by the ideological and political detour of National Socialism.

Valentin Fontan-Moret, a conservative mellowed by reaction. This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

Featured: Portrait of Ernst von Salomon in 1932.

Herder’s Concept of Intellectual Biography

On the completion of his studies at Königsberg in 1764, Johann Gottfried Herder accepted a position as a tutor in Riga, and was a preacher to local congregations in the vicinity of the Baltic city beginning in 1765. His time in Riga gave Herder the leisure and opportunity to involve himself in contemporary debates on literature and philosophy. It was in this way that he became familiar with the philosopher and author Thomas Abbt. Abbt was part of the Friedrich Nicolai circle, and wrote articles for the Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend, which Nicolai edited together with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn between 1759 and 1765. Abbt was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Rinteln in 1761, and held various administrative posts at the court of Count Wilhelm zu Schaumburg-Lippe from 1765 onwards. Herder’s engagement with Abbt’s philosophical views occupies a central position in the fragmentary treatise on contemporary German literature, Ueber die neuere deutsche Literatur (1766-67) [On Recent German Literature], which made Herder a household name among the German reading public. When he learned of the sudden death of Abbt, only six years his senior, in 1766, Herder wrote to Nicolai, “Abbt’s death is an irreplaceable loss for Germany. If there were ever an author who could consume me with his mood and way of thinking: it was Abbt and his writings.”

In the course of the following year, Herder came up with a plan to erect a “written memorial” to Thomas Abbt. The idea was not merely to pen an appreciation of a single individual, but to extend his reflections on Abbt to include two other recently deceased writers whose works had influenced Herder and whose thinking he wished to develop further: Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten and Johann David Heilmann. Herder decided to write a three-part obituary, devoted in equal measure to the memories of Abbt, Baumgarten and Heilmann as thinkers whose loss was untimely yet whose work could be continued and completed by others.

Throughout 1767, Herder worked on the portrait of Abbt and also produced some drafts for this more comprehensive concept, as well as some fragments of the memorial to Baumgarten. However, he was
dissatisfied with the piece on Baumgarten and soon turned to other projects. Only the first part of the Thomas Abbt obituary was published, under the title Ueber Thomas Abbts Schriften, der Torso von einem Denkmal, an seinem Grabe errichtet, Erstes Stuck [On the Writings of Thomas Abbt, the Torso of a Memorial Erected at his Graveside, Part the First], in early 1768.

Herder prefaced the reflections on Thomas Abbt with an extensive prologue and introduction. In the prologue, he referred to the original idea of a threefold memorial and discussed the necessity of engaging with the minds of the dead, as they lived on in their works. The introduction outlines the method of the treatise, and as such constitutes a statement of Herder’s biographical concept. He refers to the “art of portraying the soul of another,” an art which underlies any authentic depiction of the biographical subject. Only in the third part of the Torso does Herder come to deal in detail with Thomas Abbt, his works and his style. The priority he gives to theoretical questions surrounding biography, over and above the specific discussion of Abbt’s life and works, can be understood as an effect of the original plan to include Baumgarten and Heilmann—the tripartite obituary would have called for more generally applicable reflections on biographical portrayal. The prologue and introduction however stem from a desire to review critically the traditions of obituary and appreciation, and to reflect afresh on the conditions and possibilities of biographical writing.

In the following pages, I wish to demonstrate with reference to the Torso that biography serves Herder not only as a means of affirming a successfully completed life-course, but also as a medium of intellectual engagement with a variety of political, historical, theological, anthropological and aesthetic issues. Herder expands the thematic and discursive scope of the genre beyond the recounting of the life story, thus setting the course for the development of biographical writing in German throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

1. Re-animation

“[T]he desire to speak with the dead” has long been a central motivation of both literary studies and historical research, from Herder’s time to that of the New Historicists. This notion of literature and history as an act of communication between the living and the dead, a kind of mediation, is particularly relevant to the modern conception of biography. The re-animation of the souls of the dead through the act of remembrance was a key motivation in Herder’s understanding of biographical writing. In his Briefe zu Beförderung der Humanität [Letters for the Advancement of Humanity], Herder writes:

Lass Tote ihre Toten begraben; wir wollen die Gestorbnen als Lebende betrachten, uns ihres Lebens, ihres auch nach dem Hingange noch fortwirkenden Lebens freuen, und eben deshalb ihr bleibendes Verdienst dankbar fur die Nachwelt aufzeichnen. Hiermit verwandelt sich auf einmal das Nekrologium in ein Athanasium, in ein Mnemeion; sie sind nicht gestorben, unsre Wohltäter und Freunde: denn ihre Seelen, ihre Verdienste urns Menschengeschlecht, ihr Andenken lebet.

[Let the dead bury their dead; we will consider the departed as living, will rejoice in their life, which continues to affect us after their departure. With gratitude will we set down for posterity their lasting achievement. Thus shall the Necrology become an Athanasium, a Mnemeion; they are not dead, our benefactors and friends: for their souls, their achievements and contributions to humanity, their memory lives on.]

For Herder, biography involves more than the mere description of a life. It is rather a medium which carries life within it and, more importantly, transmits living knowledge, serving in this way to enliven the minds of its readers. The biography of Thomas Abbt claims to present the reader with his spirit, which lives on after the death of his body. Herder characterises the process of transmission from the biographical subject through the biographer to the reader by means of an eloquent metaphor of animation, wherein the dead author’s mind is not only re-animated by the biographer but where the encounter with Abbt’s spirit also breathes new life into the reader. Here Herder has recourse to a vein of metaphor that can be traced to the creation story of the Old Testament, as well as to the Homeric epics: the soul as the breath of life, which can be inhaled or exhaled. In the Old Testament, it is the breath of God which gives life to all creatures. By contrast, Homer uses the idea of pneuma, which later comes to stand for the soul, to refer exclusively to that power which departs from humans when they faint or die. The thinking, feeling soul is not originally encompassed by this concept. Herder uses soul in the archaic sense of “breath of life” in his study of Thomas Abbt. Abbt’s mind (Geist) can survive the death of his body and continue to exist in the “spirit world,” ultimately exerting an animating influence, like the “breath of life” in the Old Testament.

To illustrate this animation process, Herder uses two further metaphors, magnetism and anointment. Human souls—here Herder alludes to Plato’s dialogue Ion—can exert “power” over each other, much as magnets do. Plato used this comparison to explain poetic inspiration, and for Herder, too, the ideas of “power” and “force” (Kraft) are particularly relevant to the aesthetic sphere. The animating spirit of the deceased is a creative force that does not ebb away after death, but can be transferred to others, to the living. For this transfer to occur, however, the spirit (Geist) of Thomas Abbt must be located in his written legacy, in the corpus of writings he has left to posterity, and liberated from the “husk” of “dead words.” An “ointment” with which to anoint the writer’s intellectual successors can, and should, be distilled from the writings—the implication being that this is the biographer’s main task. Before the animating influence of the deceased’s spirit can exert itself, it must first be extracted from the writings by a capable hand. The metaphor points to the biographer’s hermeneutic role, which consists in the selection, interpretation and explanation of the subject’s writings with the aim of distilling that person’s thought and transmitting its essence to the reader; this is undoubtedly how Herder conceived his own task with regard to the legacy of Thomas Abbt.

Throughout the treatise on Abbt, Herder’s reflections on the performative aspect of biographical practise are closely connected to the questions of life and death. Abbt’s death is, according to Herder, not so much the culmination of his life as the starting point for a fruitful engagement with the scholar and his writings. Herder draws on the traditions of graveside oration and written obituary, but he also departs from these traditions in significant ways.

In the opening words—”Ich trete an das Grabmal eines Mannes” [“I approach the tomb of a man”]—Herder evokes the tradition of the funeral oration, imaginatively situating his own text at the graveside of the deceased, he recalls a rich and extensive literature on death and mourning. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, funeral addresses or funeral sermons in printed form enjoyed widespread popularity in Germany.

The structure and content of these texts was strictly determined by established rhetorical norms. In contrast with later customs, the funeral oration of this period was not intended to express emotions of loss and grief, but rather to generate these affects by means of a concerted use of rhetoric. The emotion of grief was seen as a deliberate consequence of the oration; as such, it lay within the control of the speaker.

Furthermore, just as the oration was supposed to generate grief, so too was it intended to bestow consolation; the offer of comfort and hope as a way of overcoming grief was built into the performative concept of the speech. Thus, Grief, as a state of emotional excitation, is considered to be less an affective reaction to the death of another than an effect produced by language and rhetoric. While the funeral sermon of the Baroque period emphasised the affective, consolation bringing elements of speech—movere—by the time of the Enlightenment, the didactic aspects of the eulogy—docere—were considered to be of foremost importance. During the latter period, remembrance of the dead serves above all as an appeal or admonition to the living.

Biographical narration in German takes on a new significance insofar as it can contribute to an Enlightenment program of Bildung: in the vita of the Enlightenment eulogy it is not death, but rather the exemplary life that occupies centre stage. The notion of biography as a kind of practical guide to living becomes, in the Enlightenment period, a way of legitimising the genre for the rising middle class. At the level of performance, the perlocutionary intention of the obituary shifts from the regulation of the affects to the affirmation of a bourgeois ideal; the aim of the memorial speech is no longer emotional consolation, but instruction, guided by reason. In the system of Baroque rhetoric, the event of death, mediated by the rhetoric of the eulogy, generated an affective impact; by contrast, during the Enlightenment, the life of the deceased itself becomes a didactic text. Among other things, the changes in the genre of the obituary from the Baroque to the Enlightenment make manifest the transition from a “rhetorical” to a “hermeneutic” culture in Europe.

Herder realises the full import of this ongoing transition in biographical discourse. The praise of rulers dominated biographical writing in the Baroque period, but the bourgeois career becomes the paradigm for the Enlightenment; accordingly, Herder focusses primarily on the biographies of writers and scholars. He develops principles of biographical reading that allow for an integrated approach to life and work, so that a “living” portrait of the writer can be drawn from both, thus providing a model for future lives and writings. In this way, Herder’s program of Bildung departs not only from the Baroque but also from the rationalist model of the early Enlightenment, which was determined by abstract scientific and aesthetic concepts. For Herder, the life and individuality of exemplary figures provide crucial orientation for the process of Bildung.

Another way in which Herder breaks with the early Enlightenment is through the greater significance he accords to emotions in biographical discourse, revealing his debt to key concepts of sensibility or Empfindsamkeit, concepts such as the ‘language of the heart” or “sympathetic communication.” Underlying these concepts is the idea that the emotional and mental world of the individual person could flow without rupture into the text and be authentically contained by it. The paradigmatic expression of this idea can be found in Christian Fürchtegott Gellert’s instructions to letter writers. Influenced by English epistolary novels, Gellert calls for a Herzenssprache which could facilitate the sympathetic rapport between two individuals through the communicative medium of the letter. This idea, so central in the German context not only to the Empfindsamkeit movement but also to the cult of genius in the late 18th century, occupied a decisive position in Herder’s understanding of biography. The Baroque regime of the affects is reversed: it is no longer intended that the text should induce mourning. Rather, Herder follows a modern understanding of the affects, in that he locates the necessity for biographical memorialisation in the mourning for the dead. The sentiment itself is taken as read, and not subjected to critical scrutiny. In this sense, emotions form the basis of communication in Herder’s biographical concept: the mourning of the dead unites biographer and reader in a community of loss.

The biographer sees his work as a “gift of love” only through “loving enthusiasm” can he fulfil the expectation that the biography provide a faithful portrait of the deceased. He describes this approach in erotically charged language which draws on numerous topoi of love poetry while pointing to a key problem of modern biography, namely its inherent voyeurism. He writes of the necessity to “watch for those moments in which the soul disrobes and reveals itself in its enchanting nudity, like a beautiful woman: so that we may nestle against the other’s way of thinking and learn wisdom as if through a kiss.” Emotion is in these terms no longer an effect of speech, but rather the fundamental condition for communication and understanding. What we are dealing with here—as Herder emphasises—is an encounter mediated through the printed word. The works of an individual—in the case of Thomas Abbt, the man’s philosophical and political writings—bear authentic witness to his soul; attentive and intelligent reading provides access to the “naked,” thus “authentic” soul of the author. The biographer is first and foremost a reader, in keeping with the Herderian concept of authorship, which is indissociable from readership. His own authorship is secondary and serves as a vehicle for transmitting the biographical subject’s spirit to a broader public.

As in all of his writings, Herder emphasises in his biographies the significance of living insight, which derives both from contemplation and sense impression. It is the combination of the author’s creativity with the imaginative powers of the reader that breathes life into dead documents and allows them to speak. Herder’s biographical writing reveals the influence not only of the paradigm shift in the area of rhetoric but also of the secularising tendencies of the Enlightenment. In the 17th century, the understanding of death was still embedded in a system of Christian anthropology and religious practice; death was seen as a passage from one world to the next. The anthropology of the Enlightenment, with its focus on this world rather than on the world to come, undermines this traditional concept of death. Fundamental questions arise: is there life after death? What vanishes when the life of the body comes to an end—and what remains? Can an “Enlightened” Christianity continue to insist on the immortality of the soul? These questions were hotly debated by German intellectuals in the 1760s. Thomas Abbt himself had commented extensively on these issues in a debate with Moses Mendelssohn and it thus comes as no surprise that Herder’s obituary on Abbt positions itself within this discourse.

In response to the influential German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s Gedanken iiber die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst [Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture] (1755), Gotthold Lessing published his Laokoon oder iiber die Grenzen der Malerei und Poésie [Laocoon, or the Limits of Art and Poetry] in 1766, initiating a controversial dispute on the representation of emotions in visual arts and literature. Lessing’s publication of Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet [How the Ancients Represented Death] (1769) combined the issue of representation in the arts with the question of immortality. Herder published an essay with the same title in 1774, in which he comments extensively on Lessing and in which his understanding of immortality undergoes several transformations. Herder’s Torso developed in the midst of this aesthetic debate, and must be seen as a predecessor of Herder’s Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet. In the memorial for Thomas Abbt, only one form of life after death is considered: the secular form of immortality guaranteed by the lasting reputation or fame that the dead enjoy among future generations.

Wenn überdem solche Manner aus unvollendeten Planen gerissen warden… alsdenn sollte auf ihrem Grabe die himmlische Stimme schallen, die andere aufriefe, zu vollenden diese verlassne Entwürfe, und da in die Laufbahn einzutreten, wo sie dem andern abgekürzt wurde, um mit einem mal näher dem Ziele zu sein…. Denn das, glaube ich, ist die wahre Metempsychosis und Wanderung der Seele, von der die Alten in so angenehmen Bildern traumen… wenn uns, wie dort Agammemnon ein Traum vom Jupiter in Gestalt des weisen Nestors erscheint; noch wachend seine Stimme in unserm Ohr tonet, und uns aufruft, in ihre Fussstapfen zu treten: wenn alsdenn unser Herz schlägt, und in unsern Adern ein Feuerfunken spruhet, wie sie zu sein! Dies, glaube ich, ist das einzige Mittel, dem Tode zu trotzen, wenn er die Blüten eines Landes abschlägt, damit stets neue hervorkeimen, und er doch endlich sagen musse… siehe! der ist mir doch entronnen.

[When such men are torn from unfinished plans… then the divine voice should echo from their tomb, calling upon others to complete these abandoned projects and thus to join the path at the point where the departed quit it, taking up where they left off…. For this, I believe, is the true metempsychosis and transmigration of souls, that the ancients dreamed of in such pleasant pictures … when to us, as to Agamemnon, a dream of Jupiter in the form of the wise Nestor appears; as we awake his voice still sounds in our ear, calling upon us to follow in the footsteps of these men; when then our heart beats and our blood runs like fire in our veins, to be like them! This, I believe, is the only means of defying death, when it cuts down the flowers of a nation so that others can bud forth and blossom in their stead, so that Death is forced to say: behold! these have escaped me.]

The individual—in the case of Thomas Abbt, the scholar or writer—lives on after the death of his physical body in his intellectual corpus, his works; and not only does the author’s spirit live on in his works, it also becomes capable of animating or enlivening his readers. This is the role of biography in this context, according to Herder. The biography is the voice that calls us to follow the paths trodden by the dead while they lived; the biography is Jupiter appearing to Agamemnon in the guise of Nestor. More prosaically, biography is a means of mediation between author, text and reader. Biography is called upon here to do much more than merely reiterate the external details of a person’s life. The scope of biography is expanded by Herder beyond the traditional practices of eulogy, obituary and funeral oratory, to become the “art of representing the soul of the other.” It is no longer merely the life story of the individual that interests Herder, but rather the story of his mental life, or more accurately, the story of his intellectual development. The biography thus has the double task of portraying the Bildung which formed the soul of the subject during his lifetime, and of exerting a formative influence on the reader.

Eine Menschenseele ist ein Individuum im Reiche der Geister: sie empfindet nach einzelner Bildung, und denket nach der Stärke ihrer geistigen Organen. Durch die Erziehung haben diese eine gewisse eigne, entweder gute oder widrige Denkart geformt, zu einem ganzen Körper, in welchem die Naturkräfte gleichsam die spezifische Masse sind, welche die Erziehung der Menschen gestaltet…. Meine lange Allegorie ist gelungen, wenn sie es erreicht, den Geist eines Menschen, wie ein einzelnes Phänomen, wie eine Seltenheit darzustellen, die wùrdig ist, unser Auge zu beschäftigen; noch besser aber ware es, wenn ich durch sie, wie durch eine Zauberformel, auch unser Auge auftun konnte, Geister, wie körperliche Erscheinungen zu betrachten.

[A human soul is an individual in the realm of minds (Geister): it senses in accordance with an individual formation (Bildung), and thinks in accordance with the strength of its mental organs. Through education these have received a certain either positive or negative direction of their own, according to the circumstances which formed or deformed in the individual in question. In this way our manner of thought is formed, and becomes a whole body in which the natural forces are, so to speak, the specific mass which the education of human beings shapes…. My long allegory has succeeded if it achieves the representation of the mind of a human being as an individual phenomenon, as a rarity which deserves to occupy our eyes. But it would be even better if, through this allegory, as through a magical spell, I were also able to open our eyes to see, to observe, minds as if they were a form of corporeal phenomena.]

2. Biography, the Author and the Soul

The biographical concept sketched here by Herder could well be described as intellectual biography, a concept differentiated from mere literary criticism by the emphasis it places on the soul. In his text Uebers Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele [On the Cognition and Sensation of the Human Soul] (1774), Herder shows that the human mind and human reason cannot be separated from the world of the senses and thus do not transcend time; rather, in the form of each individual soul, it undergoes a specific development, being shaped and influenced in crucial ways by the world in which the individual lives. Herder’s explicit intention is to sketch Abbt’s character and to draw on his writings to create a unique portrait of his soul and its development, since within Abbt’s works lies his creative power, the genius of his soul. This genius precedes the works and generates them.

It may seem as if the works themselves are the sole means by which the reader can gain access to the soul of the author. However, one has to bear in mind that the image a biographer can generate in a biography is a fictional construct. Herder thus speaks of the “art” of depicting the soul, well aware that this portrait will only ever be one representation of the deceased. Concepts of authorship in late eighteenth-century Germany are rooted in the idea that the creative mind of the author shines through the literary text. This valorisation of the authorial figure, beginning in Germany with Klopstock and central to the poetics of Empfindsamkeit, Sturm und Drang and to Weimar classicism, proceeds through a projection—often deliberate—of textual and rhetorical phenomena onto the person of the author. A perfect love poem, under this view, could only be produced by a loving mind. Herder’s understanding of biography is founded on the same assumption. From the deeds of a man we can deduce his character, and an image of the writer’s soul can be deduced from his writings. The concept of biography underlying Herder’s text on Thomas Abbt thus stands in a relationship of tension to both author and work. It is an approach that goes beyond the more conventional biographies of writers, biographies which seek merely to interpret the literary work with reference to the author’s life. Herder’s understanding of the relationship between author and work is considerably more complex than that suggested by the biographical fallacy: that the genre of literary biography derives its legitimacy from the existence of the author’s writings.

In addition, for Herder, the biographer himself must experience some emotion for his subject: “Does it not take a small degree of loving enthusiasm to imprint one’s man in the imagination so deeply that one can afterwards bring forth his image, as if from one’s head?” Biography thus presupposes reception to a certain extent. In an inversion of the process of literary production, here the concern with the writings necessarily precedes the concern with the person of the writer. Admiration of literature relates in the first instance to the text and only indirectly to the person who produced it. However, Herder’s text on Abbt emphasises that the aim of engaging with the literary work is to “unlock” the specific “mind” [Geist] of the author. A constitutive assumption of Herder’s biography is that writing can be “made to disappear,” that texts can become transparent and render visible the “soul” of their author. The paradox of the “dead author” and the “transparent text” can only be resolved if the constructed character of that which Herder refers to as the author’s “soul” is acknowledged. The author’s soul, according to Herder, can be found in the textual traces left behind by the physical author after his death. This recalls Klopstock’s notion of the “Auctor,” which involves the projection of rhetorical phenomena onto the figure of the author. Herder introduces this concept into biographical discourse with reference to the author’s “soul.” The authorial soul, speaking through the text to the reader, binds the text to the real, physical Thomas Abbt. The narrative of the life-story thus serves as a thread of continuity through the work of the author. At the same time, the question of the soul’s immortality is resolved: the construct of the soul, conceived of as immortal, can survive the physical death of the author.

3. Biography as Dialogue

The part of the Torso intended to introduce Thomas Abbt begins with the familiar topos of describing his life, but does not offer a detailed account of Abbt’s background, childhood and education, turning instead to the subject’s role as scholar: “The birth of Thomas Abbt contributed without doubt to the fact that one can see him as a writer for humanity, a wise man for the common people.” Abbt was the son of a wig-maker, and as such not patently predestined for a career in letters. Herder thus sees him as a mediator between the academic sphere and the world of the common man. This vision of Abbt leads Herder to explore in more detail the relationship between a scholarly education and the more mundane spheres of everyday life. He considers whether the forces of education and academic learnedness might not in fact be detrimental to “sound common sense in the matters of common life.” He then proceeds to Thomas Abbt’s preoccupation with classical literature, introducing a motif that will later to develop into a key Herderian theme: the question of how historical knowledge is relevant to the present. Abbt, according to Herder, did not merely copy the model of the ancients, but rather learned from them, teaching himself according to their style but without disregarding the question of contemporary relevance:

Wenn ich gesagt habe, dass Tacitus und Sallust unserm Abbt den Geist der Geschichte eingehaucht: so meine ich ja nicht, dafi seine Welthistorie eine Sallustianische und noch minder eine Geschichte des Tacitus zu nennen sei: ich schreibe es ihnen bloss zu, dass sie Abbt Geschmack an der Historie und jenen Reflexionsgeist eingeflösset, der sich in alien seinen Schriften aüssert; denn wie Sallust und Tacitus über Begebenheiten und Personen philosophieren, um sie zu beschreiben und zu erklären; so philosophiert er iiber Wahrheiten und Erfahrungen, um sie zu erläutern und zu beweisen. Er wollte aber vom Tacitus und Sallust noch mehr lernen: wie sie zu schreiben.

[When I say that Tacitus and Sallust breathed the spirit of history into our Abbt, then I do not mean that his World History can be called Sallustian, less still a History of Tacitus: rather, I attribute to them the taste for history and reflective spirit imbued in Abbt, which expresses itself in all his writings; for in the same way as Sallust and Tacitus philosophise about events and personages in order to describe and explain them; so too does he philosophise about Truths and Experiences, in order to elucidate and demonstrate them. He wished to learn still more from Tacitus and Sallust: how to write as they do.]

Later in the course of the text, Herder asks how a German author—he sees Abbt very much in these national terms—can best relate to language and culture in general. He maintains the importance of learning from other nations and their authors, whether historical or contemporary, while at the same time bearing in mind the particularity [das Eigensinnige] of each language, culture and epoch. In Herder’s view, Abbt died before he could achieve this synthesis of ancient and modern, old and new. Yet the path towards this goal, a path Herder would seek to travel in a lifetime of writings, was indicated by Abbt in his work. In the final part of the treatise, Herder deals with Abbt’s various philosophical positions, particularly the latter’s position regarding the integration of the national question with theological issues: “Abbt wishes to prove that love of the fatherland enjoins to a fear of death: he does so in a way that shews that only religion can raise us above the horror of the grave.” Here as elsewhere, Abbt’s style and method provide the starting point for Herder’s further reflections. Thomas Abbt frequently illustrated his political and philosophical commentaries with comparisons to Biblical narratives. Herder defends this method, emphasising again the contemporary relevance and usefulness of historical knowledge. Biblical motifs in particular, because of their vivid expressiveness and general familiarity, provide an effective backdrop for philosophical discussions.

Though Torso constitutes an attempt to present the primary elements of Thomas Abbt’s thinking, Herder nevertheless finds room therein to set forth his own convictions. In later texts, Herder uses the epistolary form as an appropriate medium for a “lively” or animated exchange of ideas; similarly, the appreciation of Thomas Abbt takes the form of a dialogue with the deceased. In the living portrait of Abbt which Herder seeks to convey, the biographer himself is also vividly present.

An examination of the life and work of the scholar Abbt becomes for Herder an occasion for exploring a broad range of topics: pedagogy, style, national identity, and religion, among them. The popularity of the biographical sketch in the eighteenth century results partly from this formal openness and thematic diversity. Herder openly concedes that the “spirit” [Geist] of Abbt, as he portrays it in the Torso, is a construct derived primarily from the works of the deceased, correlating only in certain ways with the real personality of Thomas Abbt. Herder’s biographical concept is thus far removed from a naive, affirmative realism which would aim for the greatest possible correspondence between the literary text and the lived reality; rather, his text and the referential claim he makes for it demonstrate a keen awareness of textual status and intertextual provenance. What might appear from the perspective of realism to be a flaw or shortcoming in the Torso text can be perceived at the literary and rhetorical level as an opening up of new biographical possibilities.

The biographical approach Herder chooses in the Torso allows him to reflect on the relationships between classical and modern languages, the meaning and purpose of literary criticism in scholarly journals, and the forms and conditions of biography. A biographical concept that would uphold a realist presentation of the biographical subject as the normative rule of the genre would judge such reflections as a deviation or digression.

In the Herderian biographical essay, in contrast, these reflections constitute an integral component of the biographer’s subjective response and a legitimate expression of the thinking mind. The key to understanding Herder’s biographical concept lies in the question of knowledge transfer. Current theories of memory, such as those advanced by Jan and Aleida Assmann, differentiate between knowledge stored in an archive, understood as a mere repository, and the functional or affective processes of cultural memory. Aleida Assmann designates these two forms of memory with the German terms “speichern” versus “erinnern.” As far as Herder was concerned, simply to store or archive the sum of human knowledge would result in dead, unused knowledge. Herder proposed an alternative approach to knowledge, one that would activate and even animate it, and this idea lies at the core of his understanding of intellectual biography.

Biography can succeed in personalizing abstract knowledge: it is no longer the dead cipher, but a living voice that speaks to us from Thomas Abbt’s works. As Gerhard Sauder has pointed out, the project of a “European literary history” and the related concept of “world literature” [Weltliteratur] is a key concern throughout Herder’s works. Herder’s invention of intellectual biography not only lays the foundations of a biographically-based literary historiography, but opens the prospect of a global history of the mind:

Eine Geschichte der Schriftsteller… welch ein Werk wäre sie! Die Grundlage zu einer Geschichte der Wissenschaften, und des menschlichen Verstandes.

[A history of writers… what a work that would be! The foundation of a history of sciences and of the human intellect.]

Biography becomes in this way a medium through which Herder can engage with a broad range of issues, as can be seen most clearly in the Briefe zu Beförderutig der Humanität and in his later polemic Adrastea. The biographical sketches that can be found throughout Herder’s work provide him with a framework for the exploration of a variety of philosophical, religious, anthropological, literary and art-historical issues. Herder’s concept of biography will go on to influence biographical practice throughout the 19th century. The scope of biography will expand to accommodate questions spanning the entire range and complexity of human culture, but with each individual work still being held together by the unity of the specific biographical subject.

Tobias Heinrich is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in German at the University of Kent. He is the author of Leben Lesen: Zur Theorie Der Biographie Um 1800 [Reading Life: On The Theory Of Biography Around 1800]. This article was first published in Lumen, 28 (2009), 51–67, and translated from the German by Professor Caitríona Ní Dhúill (University of Cork).

Featured: “Portrait of Johann Gottfried Herder,” by Gerhard von Kügelgen; painted in 1809.