Metapolitics revisited.

Author:Viereck, Peter Robert Edwin

There are now three changed editions of my Metapolitics, with varying subtitles. Written between 1936 and 1941, while the author was an undergraduate and graduate at Harvard and Oxford, the first edition appeared with Knopf in mid 1941 (before Pearl Harbor and written--or overwritten--in the anguished emotional context of Hitler seemingly winning). This first edition was accepted as my Harvard Ph.D. thesis in January 1942. The second edition, a Putnam Capricorn paperback, appeared in 1961 and 1965, the original text unchanged but with several key appendices (Wagner, Jahn, Alfred Rosenberg, etc.) and with a new (1961) preface (in the calmer context of Hitler's defeat).

The present third edition, prepared in 2002 and released in 2004 by Transaction Publishers, is--in effect--a new book. It leaves unchanged the 1941 original (whose mood of crisis cannot be recaptured or rewritten now), its index, and the 1961-65 appendices and preface. But it adds well over a hundred completely new pages as part 2, headed "Discoveries in German Culture." The latter comprises essays on Albert Speer, Claus von Stauffenberg, Georg Heym, and Stefan George, culminating in a brief assessment of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The publisher's suggestion was to supply the contexts (and contradictions?) of my thoughts ranging from 1936-41 (late teen-age, early twenties) to 2004 (at age eighty-eight)--a sixty-eight year palimpsest.

My bibliographies aim not at completeness nor up-to-dateness (anybody can copy off a library list). They aim to show the books on which (aside from my many interviews with Germans) I based my research. Not listed are the hundreds of books and articles on Wagner and on Hitler that have appeared thereafter and are thus irrelevant to my argument. The 1941 edition has its share of prophecies (e.g., of Hitler's later use specifically of gas chambers, cf. "The Rooted German," page 317). Tampering with first editions can lead, among other things, to a seeming precognition.

Too late for inclusion in my earlier editions were Cosima Wagner's diaries about her husband Richard, long suppressed by the family. The quotations that follow are all from volume II of Cosima Wagner's Diaries, 1878-1882 (English translation published by Harcourt Brace, New York 1980; German edition, Munich 1977). Here are random examples from the American edition. In 1879 (p. 302), Wagner praises a German writer as "another true German" for calling Jews "beasts of prey," a phrase that "pleases him greatly." February 19, 1881 (p. 627): "He enlarges upon the subject of how terrible it is to have this foreign Jewish element in our midst, and how we have lost everything." February 15, 1881 (p. 622): Discussing his friendship with Count Gobineau, the French apostle of Nordic superiority, Richard "adds jokingly, 'If our civilization comes to an end, what does it matter? But if it comes to an end through the Jews, that is a disgrace.'" December 27, 1878 (p. 240): "Very animated discussion of the evils the Jews have brought on us Germans. Richard says that he personally has had some very good friends among the Jews, but their emancipation and equality ... has been ruinous. He considers Germany finished.... The Germans have been exploited and ridiculed by the Jews...." September 6, 1880 (p. 534): "Richard is amused by Rothschild's request for an audience with the Emperor in order to explain to him to what extent the Jews in Germany are endangered, and he says with a certain satisfaction, 'I have played some part in that.'"

Well, the nineteenth century is full of such "philosophers" of anti-Semitism in Germany (and anti-Dreyfusard France). But none talked of physical mass murder of Jews, not one, not Treitschke, not Lagarde, with the lone exception of Wagner. December 19, 1881 (p. 773): "He makes a drastic joke to the effect that all Jews should be burned at a performance of Nathan." To decode this, we must recall two facts: Lessing's play Nathan Der Weise warned against persecution of Jews, attracting many German Jews and enraging Wagner. And Wagner was reacting with glee to the actual burning alive of over 400 Jews in 1881 in Vienna when the Ring Theater caught fire. His remark has been defended as merely a "joke." Some joke. Nowhere else in the long range of racism has mass murder been praised (prophesied?) even as a joke.

In the diaries, Wagner objected to Nietzsche's anti-anti-Semitism. This Nietzsche became the basis for Stefan George's defense of his many Jewish disciples in 1904 against proto-Nazis (cf. my George essays in part 2) and perhaps indirectly led to Stauffenberg's bomb against Hitler and Werner Best's saving of the Jews of Denmark.

Cosima certainly and Wagner (through Ludwig Geyer) possibly were of partly Jewish origin. Since racial determinism is nonsense to start with, what matters is not whether Wagner (as Nietzsche implied) was half Jewish. What matters is whether he may have feared he was and hence protested too much his Aryanism. Add to Wagner's fear the fact that his work was frequently called "Jewish music" by contemporaries and was promoted by many Jewish names. Here we may be getting into psychobabble. But note Wagner's complaint of April 5, 1882 (p. 639) in the diaries that "support for his music comes only from Jews and young people." Here he had a good point. His music was supported by an overwhelming count of prominent Jews (listed by Elaine Brody in an issue of Opera Quarterly). He especially needed and wooed the support of the conductor Hermann Levi and the pianist Carl Tausig.

Yet in the 1869 edition of his 1850 polemic Judaism In Music he added that his work was being persecuted by Jews. The Nazis never mentioned how much this Wagner essay owed to Karl Marx, who had attacked Jews as bankers and for turning creations into commodities. The difference: Marx attacked Jews on economic grounds, Wagner increasingly on racial grounds. Thus Wagner's Heldentum and Christentum, 1881, called all races capable of salvation through Christ with the single exception of Jews.

Could Hitler have been shown, privately, some of the unpublished Cosima diaries? Notably, the item about "burning all Jews"? Unlikely. Unprovable conjecture. Rather, his frequent visits were saturated in the whole metapolitical atmosphere of the Wagner circle. Introduced in 1923 by Alfred Rosenberg and Dietrich Eckart, he became not only a political hero to the Wagner family but a close personal friend. He was, so to speak, Cosima's and Winifred's darling boy. With the important exception of Gottfried Wagner, the family doted on Hitler, especially the children, who called him "Uncle Wolf."

Most public lives need some kind of private life as refuge. Hitler, the resentful lone wolf, had no real personal friend, no real home, no real family. Without his Bayreuth refuge, perhaps he could not have continued functioning. Way back in 1923, Wagner's son-in-law and apostle, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, called Hitler the Messiah for whom Chamberlain, as John the Baptist, had been waiting. After the fall of the Third Reich, I received a curious letter in 1947 from Winifred (wife of Wagner's son Siegfried) exculpating herself. It was unconvincing. While director of Bayreuth, she was a fanatic Hitlerite for which she was convicted after the war by a German denazification court. Like Chamberlain, husband of Wagner's daughter Eva, she was British-born. The self-invented Hitler called Wagner "my only ancestor," meant not politically but as an artist struggling against the odds. Full circle: On May 1, 1945, the Nazi radio played Wagner music to announce Hitler's death.

In one sense, I was mistaken to call Hitler an artiste manque. For several years in Vienna before 1914, his paintings and sketches did quite well, far more successful than, say, Gauguin or Van Gogh at that young age. At times, Hitler's work was commissioned for wider distribution by the Jewish art dealer Morgenstern, whom Hitler cultivated as his patron. Even so, I still stick to "manque" in the traumatizing sense, the passionate, unachieved artistic ambitions crushed (actually thrice) by the Vienna academy.

Hitler's wound as rejected painter never healed. In the 1930s, he put enormous emphasis on the Munich exhibit of "degenerate art," that crusade against many of the most successful avant-garde painters. Throughout his life he continued buying the kind of academic paintings he did like. This is the theme of Peter Cohen's indispensable film Die Architectur des Untergangs. A curious trait: just when political or military danger most threatened Hitler, he took time out to buy still more paintings.

The disciplined militarist and the arty bohemian coexisted in Hitler. The mix enhanced his sadistic brutality. The mix also enhanced the air of mystery needed for his charisma. The mix explains something else: Corporal Hitler received a medal for military bravery, yet never was promoted to the rank of officer, this future Fuehrer (and withdrawn brooder) being found lacking in "leadership qualities."

Already then and right till his 1945 suicide, Hitler was acting out his model Rienzi. Once in power, Hitler had seized from the Bayreuth archive (and refused to return) the original text of Rienzi. He desperately clung to it as a sacred talisman, right through the final bunker days.

In interpreting Wagner, pro or con, nuance matters more than dogmatism because of his ambivalences. For example, the dwarf Alberich, in the Nibelungen cycle, lusts for gold and hence, for the Nazis, symbolizes Judaism. But, for the socialist Bernard Shaw, Alberich symbolizes capitalism. And for the Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg, both: "Wagner, beside Lagarde, fought alone against the whole bourgeois capitalist world of the Alberichs, especially Jews but not only Jews." Cosima quotes Wagner as saying that he meant Alberich to be a Mongol. Whom to believe?

Many critics today see not only Alberich but Mime and (in Parsifal) Klingsor as Jewish...

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