9. The New Right: how important?
While I cannot agree with Prof. Poewe's explicit claim that the New Right is a continuation of the Nazi movement, I must reject her implicit thesis even more forcefully: viz. that the New Right is an important phenomenon. It was never more than a small group without any impact. And it has even been getting smaller and smaller for quite some time now.
From the 1980s onwards, prominent ideologues started leaving the GRECE because of its intellectualistic focus estranged from political activism, and especially because of its leftward drift towards multiculturalism. Indeed, identity discourse logically led to an acceptance of the separate identities of all communities in France, not just the autochthonous Bretons and Basques, but the immigrant Arabs and Berbers as well. Moreover, Alain de Benoist discarded the idea of ever removing the immigrant communities from France as a delusion. For most rightists, the immigrant question had by then become the central political issue: all the clever distinctions and comparative references elaborated by the brainy de Benoist paled into insignificance next to this urgent problem.
If "Nouvelle Droite" is used in a broad sense as including all those who once belonged to GRECE, then its current point of gravity is divided in two overlapping yet distinct tendencies, (1) around Guillaume Faye, simply anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic, neutral on the Middle East conflict but tactically pro-Israel, and anti-American only in so far as the US is perceived as pro-Muslim (cfr. the pro-Muslim interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo), neutral on religion as being a matter on which we can have our convivial quarrels only after we have undone the "colonization" of Europe by Muslim immigrants; and (2) around Pierre Vial with his movement Terre et Peuple ("Earth and People"), explicitly neo-Pagan as well as racialist, not anti-Islamic yet anti-immigration and hence in practice anti-Muslim, and solidly anti-American.
Vial once transferred from GRECE to the political party Front National, but later followed Bruno Mégret when the party split, leaving Jean-Marie Le Pen with his core support base of old-style nationalists and rightist Catholics. When this split occurred, it was predictable that people tinged with Nouvelle Droite influence would quit Le Pen, a plump incarnation of the Old Right. Now, under pressure from the young militants who find all these internal quarrels an unforgivable waste of energy in the face of the fast-increasing immigrant presence, the differences between the various rightist factions are being patched up. Religious differences have always been tactically disregarded within contemporary rightist parties, which in Belgium, France and Northern Italy typically include traditionalist Catholics along with religious post-Christians (a more appropriate descriptive term than "neo-Pagans") and a majority of secularized agnostics.
At any rate, the old GRECE stands outside these political developments. Shrinking in membership and resources, this year it didn't even have the means to organize its annual conference. Today, Alain de Benoist is the leader, not of some political campaign or intrigue, but of an intellectual forum (I wouldn't even call it a movement anymore) counting few noteworthy members except himself. He is simply a capable editor of a few periodicals, in which he ably reports and comments on current societal trends and ongoing debates in history, philosophy and religion. The others have shed most of the elements that made the New Right "new"; they have either quit the scene for a better career elsewhere or have joined the Old Right. In Belgium, on the Flemish side, the Nouvelle Droite organization has been reabsorbed into the right wing of the Flemish movement, placing itself in the mainstream conservative tradition of Edmund Burke. On the Walloon side, leading GRECE apostate Robert Steuckers has become another well-informed commentator without political influence. He is better known in Russia than in his homeland, but there again, his Russian contacts sound like the old school of narrow nationalism, "New-Rightist" only in their affectation of a bit of intellectual jargon.
So, as a distinct intellectual movement, the Nouvelle Droite is practically a thing of the past. Even the term is up for grabs: a new Dutch anti-immigrant party calls itself Nieuw Rechts, "New Right", but has nothing to do with GRECE thought, being e.g. very pro-American. When we survey the movement's history and its impact on politics, we must unambiguously evaluate it as a failure. When I see meticulous scholars like Prof. Poewe describe it as some kind of threat, it makes me wonder. As I have witnessed it, the New Right was only a mouse that roared.
The early Nouvelle Droite used to toy with the notion of "Gramscism of the Right", after the Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci who taught the importance of capturing the cultural sphere in preparation of seizing political power. This notion has only been taken seriously by the leftists, who know the power of the Gramscian approach from their own experience. With their "long march through the institutions", the leftists of May 1968 have indeed captured the cultural power and used it to change the polity beyond recognition. Their hold on the institutions is firm and secure, with absolutely no chance for any known rightist to pass the entrance screening, like a discreet but highly effective McCarthyism. By logical contrast, the Right has only lost ground in all ideologically consequential sectors of society, and this continuously throughout the decades when a few Paris intellectuals were playing at "Gramscism of the Right".
The only "rightist-Gramscian" success I can think of, is when Alain de Benoist and a few companions briefly held jobs at the centre-rightist newspaper Le Figaro, ca. 1980, but that is long ago now. Today, de Benoist may be one of the most erudite and eloquent French intellectuals, but you will never see him on any of France's numerous TV debating shows. His only recent appearance in the general media was a guest column in the liberal weekly Marianne during the presidential election campaign of 2002, when he advised the voters not to vote for either of the "rightist" candidates, Le Pen and president Jacques Chirac. See, only when he says something anti-rightist is he allowed to get a hearing. Incidentally, the final round of the election was between precisely those two candidates, an extra illustration of his irrelevance.
The only rightward move in Europe's public sphere in the last twenty years has taken place within the hegemonic Left, viz. leftists abandoning their commitment to socialist economics under pressure from economic realities and the implosion of the Soviet Union, and now also leftist politicians cherry-picking a few proposals originally made by anti-immigrant rightist-populists under pressure from mounting ethnic tensions in working-class neighbourhoods. But in all these developments, the Left remains firmly in control of the public sphere and decides for itself where and when it may make some rightist-looking gestures.
It is a different matter that on the ground, a certain Right in several degrees of extremeness is making gains, as the British National Party has done in the recent municipal elections. But there's little ideologically "New" about that Right, and its gains are not the result of some "rightist-Gramscian" strategy, but of the escalating polarization in our society. Parties without ideology except the most basic anti-immigrant instincts now make gains simply because tensions are growing. There may be a threat from the Right, but it is not the so-called New Right.
10. The New Right: what religion?
This is how Prof. Poewe summarizes the religious worldview of the New Right: "European neo-paganism sees itself as the restorer of all that it claims Christianity removed from European life and thought, that is, human godliness, the seamless unity of religion and science, and the harmony of human beings with the environment." (p.173) Well, at first sight, who could argue with that? Yes, Christianity did create a conflict between science and religion that had not existed in the Greco-Roman world. And yes, Christianity reduced man to his property of being fallible and a sinner, denying any godliness (howsoever this may be defined) to him, and making the struggle against sin the central theme of existence.
The allegation that Christianity broke "the harmony of human beings with the environment" is a different matter. Long before Christianity, human societies have destroyed forests, engineered soil erosion and exterminated species. Australia was a bit greener and much richer in large mammal species when the Aboriginals with their Dreamtime religion appeared on the scene to make it their own. The West-Europeans were Christian when they exterminated wolves and bears in their part of the world, but there is no indication that they would have refrained from doing so if they had remained Pagan: it was Pagan Europeans who already had exterminated the lions from their continent. The ancient Pagans were not against industry: Thor's lightning was represented by a hammer, both a product and an instrument of technology. So this use of environmentalism in religious apologetics is but an instance of how neo-Pagans, exactly like Christians, try to appropriate politically or otherwise fashionable ideas.
According to Poewe, the neo-Paganism of Mathilde Ludendorff and Sigrid Hunke, which she claims is continued by the New Right, "rejects Christianity for its imperialism, its radical judgments, its totalitarianism, its privileging of the sense of incurred injury, its linear history, its denigration of woman and humanity, and its source in the culture of the Hurriter (Jews)." (p.172) What a mess that is.
Some of the objections are valid, but wrongly taken to be typical of Christianity: denigration of women is pretty universal, vide e.g. ancient Greek society, which was Pagan enough but treated women as a household commodity. The appropriation of feminism is another typical case of "political correctness" in neo-Pagan self-advertisement.
Some are obnoxiously bad history, such as the equation of Jews with Hurrians, a polytheistic nation of unaffiliated linguistic identity (non-Semitic, non-Indo-European) in upper Mesopotamia, mid-2nd millennium BC. Incidentally, they gained their place in Indo-European studies by employing an Indo-Aryan clan of horse-trainers who left their tell-tale Indo-Aryan terminology in a much-cited equitation manual. This scholarly sloppiness spurning the findings of contemporary research is common in the outer orbit of the New Right, and sometimes even taints the work of the core ideologues, e.g. the talk of Indo-European culture often harks back to the state of Indo-European studies not just before World War 2 but even before World War 1.
Some objections to Christianity are valid but odd when coming from people supposedly in the Nazi orbit, such as "imperialism". Didn't the Nazis aspire to building a new empire? And it would be an odd Nazi who objects to "totalitarianism", wouldn't it? Yet, it's not so odd anymore when coming from post-Nazi New-Rightists who had interiorized the accomplished facts of decolonization and democratization, but that's where Poewe's claim of continuity from Nazis to New Right breaks down.
In the 1930s, very many people right and left doubted the virtues of democracy and cited the successes of Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union as proof that the authoritarian system was superior. After the latter's defeats in 1943-45 and 1989-91, few people would maintain that same position. In this respect, talk of "reviving Nazism" belongs more to nostalgic-leftist rhetoric than to serious social science, for one of the defining elements of Nazi doctrine, viz. the Leader principle, is quite dead. (This is not to deny that democracy is threatened today, yet the main threat does not come from the rightist opposition but from the establishment, e.g. the growth of transnational institutions not subject to serious democratic controls, such as the European Union; or security-oriented legislation neutralizing civic freedoms, such as the USA's post-9/11 Patriot Act; or the proliferation of Orwellian laws punishing "opinion crimes".)
And now for a really serious allegation. Anti-Semitism in Europe "cannot disappear so long as the New Right and its pagan base choose, in rehabilitated form, to play off against one another two irreconcilable worldviews, namely, Western representative democracy rooted in Christianity against European national democracy rooted in paganism. According to Hunke, the latter would not be a Hitler state. It would, however, be a Europe that acknowledged its roots in the notion of Reich." (p.174)
Note again the exaggerated importance attributed to the New Right: this marginal tendency is not going to decide the future of anti-Semitism or of anything else. Moreover, if there is one point on which the GRECE has radically broken with the past of a certain Right, it is definitely anti-Semitism. I can of course not claim to have read its whole output, but then it is up to the accusers to do so and dig up the evidence for their allegations. What I do know, at any rate, is that de Benoist and company are frequently lambasted by genuine anti-Jewish authors for "ignoring the Jewish problem".
Thus, holocaust revisionist Prof. Robert Faurisson wrote on his website in April 2004: "On y trouve tout un tas d'articles fort instructifs, mais on remarque aussi une chose, en parcourant ces centaines de titres: la Nouvelle Droite a ignoré entièrement le révisionnisme, et ne dit jamais un mot qui pourrait fâcher les juifs. On fait le totor, on paganise, on heideggerise, on démondialise, on celtise, on synergise, on suroccidentalise, mais quand il s'agit des juifs et des crimes du sionisme, c'est le point aveugle grand comme la place de la Concorde, il n'y a plus personne. Ils ont tous la tête dans le sable.» (on the New Right websites, "one finds many interesting articles, but one also notices one thing while browsing through these hundreds of writings: the New Right totally ignores revisionism and never says a word that could anger the Jews* When it comes to the Jews and the crimes of Zionism, there's a giant blind spot, no one shows up. They all have their heads in the sand.")
As for the notion of "Reich", I don't know what Sigrid Hunke wrote about it, but I surmise from Poewe's citation that her view of it evolved away from the Nazi view. Leftists find it hard to conceive of the possibility of change in people, stagnant as they themselves are in their own triumphalist confidence of being on the right side of History. But people on the defeated side were forced to rethink their commitments, and some of them actually changed their views, e.g. from belief in the uptight Nazi uniformity towards a more relaxed and tolerant view of political organization.
The Nouvelle Droite view of "empire", at any rate, is almost the opposite of the Nazi view. Whereas the so-called Third Reich (1933-45), and to a lesser extent already the Second Reich (1870-1918), had been a homogenizing national state, the original Reich, the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), and its partial successor state, the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire (1806-1918), had been pluralistic and decentralized constructions. As Belgian Nouvelle Droite ideologue Robert Steuckers likes to remind us, the Austrian emperors in the 18th century were very popular among their Belgian subjects because they respected local autonomies and largely left the Belgians to rule themselves all while being sufficiently powerful to guarantee them military safety against French expansionism. During the Vienna Conference reorganizing Europe in 1814-15, a Belgian delegation came pleading for the reinclusion of their country into the Habsburg Empire. If that is what is meant by "Reich", I wouldn't worry too much about it; but the Nouvelle Droite's choice of terminology remains ambiguous and therefore unfortunate.
As for Poewe's notion of "Western representative democracy rooted in Christianity", I fear that this betrays a certain bias. Western representative democracy may have many roots, but Christianity is not among them. When the Christian religion seized power in the Roman empire, it took on an imperial form of organization and started suppressing what much of internal democracy had so far existed within its own communities. European kings who converted to Christianity (Clovis of Belgium and France, Olaf II of Norway, Vladimir of Kiev Russia) and imposed their new religion on the people, typically also strengthened their central authority at the expense of local autonomies and the rights of nobles and cities, or promoted their dynastic power over the older practice of elective kingship. Until well after 1945, the Catholic Church opposed democracy in principle and associated it with the godless French Revolution. At most, one might say that the Christian notion of the human person as a unique creature made in God's image has indirectly contributed to the notion of the Rights of Man, a notion abhorred by the Church when deist and atheist revolutionaries proclaimed it.
Christianity has a long record of appropriating others' merits. In the colonial period, missionaries fooled the natives of non-Christian countries into believing that Europe's technological progress was the fruit of Christianity. In fact, the four inventions that changed Europe in the Renaissance and propelled it as a naval power were paper, printing, the compass and gunpowder,-- all four invented by the Pagan Chinese. Every educated Christian knew that the birth of modern scholarship and science was due to the rediscovery of pre-Christian Greece and Rome. Heliocentrism was introduced against the opposition of the Church. Yet, when the Jesuits in China impressed the Chinese with the simplicity and accuracy of heliocentric calculations (in fact they used Tycho Brahe's hybrid system, with the sun revolving around the earth and the other planets around the sun, thus keeping the earth in the middle yet simplifying the kinetic relations between the sun and the planets), they falsely presented these as a proof of the superiority of the Christian religion. And today, we find that even democracy is claimed as a contribution of Christianity.
11. Hitler and Krishna
Karla Poewe's thesis brings to mind another recent effort to give a specific religious dimension to the Nazi regime. In that book too, the case made ought to provoke the questions: "Were the people presented as propagating this religion (in casu two religions) really of any importance to Nazi thought and Nazi power?" And: "If they believed in a connection between National-Socialism and the religions concerned, were they right or wrong in holding this belief?" If the answer to this last question is yes, it implies a terrible indictment against those religions. And this much is effectively assumed by anti-cult activists who use the book as a warning against "cults" belonging to these religions.
In 2002, the former Maoist author and publisher Herbert Röttgen and his wife Mariana, a violinist and art historian, using the double pseudonym Victor & Victoria Trimondi, came out with a book titled Hitler, Buddha, Krishna. They have started a very professional website (www.trimondi.de) collecting all the related previous and subsequent papers, the reviews and translations, the feedback and correspondence about their provocative thesis.
I first heard of the book on a now-defunct Hindu internet forum which carried an article from the press agency Hindu Press International, itself based on a despatch of the Deutsche Presse-Agentur: "Book Tries to Link Hitler with Buddhism and Hinduism. Hamburg, Germany, 19 September, 2002: Adolf Hitler was fascinated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and many of his henchmen viewed him as a Krishna-like divine warrior who would cleanse the Earth of 'vermin' in a baptism of fire, according to a headline-making new book." The Trimondi couple are further reported to draw attention "with a number of books exploring what they call the 'violence- prone' side of Buddhism and Hinduism. It was this side of those Eastern philosophies -- the image of the vengeful demigod annihilating enemies without mercy to create a new earthly order -- which fascinated Hitler as a young man and which continues to fascinate impressionable young neo-Nazis, say the authors."
A quick web search in neo-Nazi sites reveals no particular interest in Krishna or the Buddha. But there must be many such websites, including a few maintained by agents provocateurs (a recent court case before Germany's Supreme Court in Karlsruhe fell apart when the neo-Nazis who had engineered violent incidents turned out to be infiltrators of the secret service), so I suppose anything can be found in at least a few of them, upon request if need be. Still, there are many newspaper reports and TV documentaries about neo-Nazis and I have never seen any references to Krishna or the Buddha in them. But never mind the neo-Nazis, what about the Nazis themselves?
An office-bearer of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP) commented on the first news of this alleged Hindu-Buddhist link with the Nazis: "In fact, there is little new in the book by Herbert and Mariana Roettgen, who write under the pseudonym Victor and Victoria Trimondi. Beyond linking the swastika with Hindu symbolism, the authors fail to prove that Hitler himself actually had more than a brief flirtation with Eastern philosophy in pre-World War I Vienna."
I might add that even the swastika is very weak as proof of a Nazi connection with Hinduism and Buddhism. To the Nazis, the swastika was not an exotic import product from India or Tibet but an age-old heritage of the Aryans, i.e. of their own ancestors. Some wayward Aryans had taken it to the Orient, where Hindus and Buddhists were to embrace this exotic Occidental import product, but it was and remained first of all an Aryan symbol, at home in their European homeland. In Mein Kampf and in conversations, Hitler had clearly expressed his contempt for Hindus and Buddhists, so it is unlikely that he would have adopted the swastika as national flag if he had considered it as a Hindu-Buddhist symbol.
But playing devil's advocate, I proposed to the Hindus on the web forum that we all do a bit of mental effort and try to imagine how someone in the Nazi era with a little knowledge (a dangerous thing!) about Hindu-Buddhist teachings, or conversely an Asian with only a little knowledge of Hitler, could have seen him as a Hindu or Buddhist sage. According to his international reputation, the swastika-wielding Hitler was a vegetarian, teetotaller and celibate. It was even said that unlike most conquerors, he punished rape committed by his soldiers on subject populations. He lived soberly and shunned the fruits of plunder, unlike some of his generals who collected stolen art. He extolled truth to the given word ("my honour is loyalty") and was a self-proclaimed crusader for truth against the Big Lie. You could say that he also crusaded against theft, viz. the theft of German lands by the Versailles powers in violation of their given word, having first assured compliance with Woodrow Wilson's principle of popular self-determination (which would have allowed German-speaking populations to get Austria, Sudetenland and parts of Poland allotted to Germany) and then going back on their promise.
As for World War 2, didn't people back then agree that he was forced into it against his will when Britain and France declared war on him for his little incursion into Poland? Look at Communist writings from 1940: they present the "bourgeois" states as the war-mongers who have forced war upon Soviet ally Nazi Germany. The Allies also encouraged armed resistance by civilians, in contravention of prevailing war conventions, and this included acts of sabotage and murder, or what we now call "terrorism". So, a case could very well be made, with the information then selectively available, that Germany was up against the forces of Adharma (unrighteousness, disorder). And even then, Hitler did not abandon the rules of Dharma Yuddha (righteous warfare) altogether, e.g. he never resorted to the use of poison gas in battle.
So, if you permit the wry irony, Hitler was arguably a votary of Indian systems of morality such as the Pancha Shila, the basic five rules of the Buddha: non-violence, non-stealing, truthfulness, chastity and non-intoxication. This much for the irony, but was that the real Hitler? It is not because a few exalted spirits in 1940 have believed certain things, that we now should take their beliefs at face value. They may have been mistaken.
The VHP spokesman also argued that this kind of allegation was yet another arrow in the plentiful quiver of the Christian missionaries. I responded that the Trimondis don't seem to be Christians at all, that this kind of rhetoric is not confined to Christian propagandists and that it was certainly not invented by them. Associating people with Nazism is such a tremendous shortcut to publicity and blackmail power that the Left has been at it for decades. Casting the net of "Nazism" ever wider, blackening ever new groups of people, provides such a windfall of moral superiority that it forms a permanent temptation to worthless people eager to become somebody overnight. Conversely, some of their dupes see Hitler references wherever they look. Think for example of the idiot who told the French swimming team at the Olympic Games of 1996 to walk to the pool in SS goosestep as an "anti-Nazi gesture of memory"; the girls were only saved this ignominy at the last moment by Jewish protests. Given this craze for seeing ever more Hitler references, everyone should now expect to get his turn to be exposed as the "secret accomplice" or "ultimate inspiration" of Hitler, so it was about time that Krishna and the Buddha got their share of the blame for the Nazi crimes.
The VHP man cited a headline from the German paper Bild, "Hitler was a Buddhist", and wondered: "To what depths of malignancy can people stoop?" Well, not so quick, let us first give them a fair hearing. Maybe they didn't mean to be malignant, maybe they issued a timely warning against religious figures whose teachings had to lead to tyranny and mass murder? Is it not kind of them to protect us against such a terrible outcome?
Let us start with Krishna, believed by his devotees to be the incarnation of the solar deity Vishnu. Apparently, some intellectuals close to Nazi leaders like Himmler taught their sponsors what the latter would be pleased to hear, viz. that Hitler was a divine incarnation, similar to Krishna in role and radiance. Assuming that the Trimondi citations to this effect are correct (their job is less thorough than Poewe's), my first question would be: was this only the pastime of a handful of people, or did it influence top Nazi decisions such as, say, the invasion of Poland?
There are neither Jews nor anti-Semitism in the Bhagavad Gita, so that's not what any Nazi could have gotten out of it. But what about a doctrine of war? No indication is given that Hitler and his generals, more down-to-earth men than Himmler, ever cited any except purely secular reasons for annexing Austria, Sudetenland and Bohemia-Moravia and then invading Poland. The Gita does not figure there. I guess we are expected to believe that hearing of the Gita somehow turned their minds sufficiently to condition them subconsciously into pursuing war-mongering policies.
Moreover, I would venture the second question: even if any Gita-wielder in the Nazi orbit had recommended these steps towards war on the basis of the Gita, would he have been right in proposing such a conclusion from reading the Gita? Here the answer is definitely negative. Correctly interpreting the Gita requires a certain amount of background knowledge, which was clearly lacking in these Nazi amateurs. True, Krishna tells Arjuna that it is his duty to fight the war against his cousins. But this is not a glorification of war for war's sake, as sometimes imputed to the Nazi mind, nor a war justified by an amoral principle of "might is right", as definitely accepted in the Nazi worldview. Instead it is a war necessitated by the existence of a conflict of claims and by the failure of all Krishna's attempts to solve the conflict peacefully. Indeed, it is the enemy side that lives by the "might is right" principle, and Krishna condemns this as utterly evil. Hitler and Krishna were on opposing sides of the battlefield.
The Mahabharata, which provides the context for the Gita, clearly lays down that "non-violence is the highest duty" and describes how Krishna tries several non-violent solutions. Only when these fail due to the stubborn selfishness of the other party, and when the justice of his party's cause is established and acknowledged even by elderly members of the opposite party, does Krishna gradually accept the second maxim, viz. that "violence is a duty against wilful evildoers". That's when he agrees at last to let the war begin.
I am not saying this because I perforce need to save the Gita from any negative comment. Personally, I have my doubts about the Gita too. My philosophy teacher Prof. Kedar Nath Mishra called it a "hodge-podge" juxtaposing all the Hindu philosophies chapter after chapter without a proper synthesis. I would add that a Krishna-worshipping editor managed to sneak a Krishna-deifying line into every one of those chapters, thus succeeding into his sectarian plan of subordinating all branches of Hinduism to his own favoured worship of Krishna. I don't like such typical devotee's behaviour, though I will grant that Krishna is presented as giving some valid teachings. At any rate, his conduct in the whole process leading up to the start of the war is neatly compatible with the European theory of Just War, and could even be read as the earliest attempt at formulating such a doctrine of the conditions for Just War.
The Trimondis pay a lot of attention to post-war cranks like Miguel Serrano who deified Hitler and dragged Vishnu into their fantasies by making Hitler an incarnation of Vishnu. Their beliefs obviously had no importance for the history of Nazism itself, but here again, the question must be answered: was their belief right? Or at least: did it make sense? Moreover, solar deities are supposed to spread light: is that what Hitler did?
I don't believe in divine incarnations, but if I did, I would at least expect to find certain positive qualities in them. If God cares to come down to earth, He should at least come in glory. Jesus went through great humiliations and an apparent final defeat, but then he rose from his grave and defeated death. Krishna died at a high age in a silly hunting accident, after having seen his family destroy itself in internecine fighting, but at least he was on the winning side in the war he was most famously involved in. Hitler, by contrast, was a loser, both in his youth in a more ordinary sense, and at the end in a world-shaking cataclysm. He was in many ways a pitiable figure, whereas Krishna was relaxed, successful in war and with the ladies, no stranger to persecution yet at all times enjoying the comforts of his noble birth. Krishna also remained lucid till the end, while Hitler went increasingly crazy due to the strain of a losing war and perhaps the side-effects of all the medicine he took.
If we assume that the philosophy expounded in the Gita was really Krishna's, we must admit that he was fluent in the higher reaches of human thought, while Hitler's only book is of a far cruder quality. And again, Hitler's defeat alone is reason enough to be sceptical of claims that he was a divine incarnation. Serrano and his ilk were wrong in recognizing Hitler as an incarnation of Vishnu, as most Hindus would agree, esp. with what is now known about the Nazi regime. Moreover, as a matter of good manners and respect for others' cultural property, Serrano as a non-Hindu ought to have felt inhibited from making such pronouncements about a Hindu deity. But crackpots think the whole world is theirs to manipulate in their fevered fantasies.
Another crank author to whom too much importance is given by the Trimondis, is Baron Julius Evola, a self-described "integral traditionalist" who had worked as an ideologue and researcher for Mussolini and for Himmler. Yes, it is true that he wrote about Tantric sexuality, but so what? First of all, he might as well have left those books unwritten, for it is unlikely that many readers of his writings on this abstruse subject have given any practical effect to the lessons learned. Moreover, like most of the dabblers in Orientalism on the Trimondi radar screen, he couldn't possibly bring Oriental doctrines to Nazi or neo-Nazi circles simply because he never mastered those doctrines in the first place and distorted what much he understood in terms of his European ideological agenda. Thus, as his contemporary A.K. Coomaraswamy already pointed out, he was wrong in assuming that the Kshatriya caste was ritually higher than the Brahmin caste, but it is obvious where this mistake came from: he glorified the warrior spirit and happened to be a member of Europe's own old warrior caste, the aristocracy.
But he was crazier than that, e.g. he derived a sacralization of sadism from his reading of Tantric literature, with the sacrifice of the female partner, at least "symbolically". I surmise that he never gained much of a following with that, for if he had set in motion of whole movement of applied Tantric sadism, we surely would have heard about it. The importance of such information is not that it has ever made any difference, but only that it shows the utter crankiness of the kind of people described here. And this crankiness is what made them ineffective and hence unimportant. Far too much attention has been paid to freaky characters like Evola and Serrano.
As against these occultist approaches to Nazi history, I prefer hard-headed explanations, say Frantz Fanon's thesis that Hitler merely did to fellow Europeans what Europe had been doing to other continents. Or the Marxist explanation that "Fascism" was but an emergency attempt by the bourgeoisie to control the crisis of capitalism. They may be right or they may be wrong, but at least they place the Nazi phenomenon squarely inside history.
12. Hitler and the Buddha
The main attack of the Trimondis is directed against Buddhism, especially in its Tibetan variety. Maoists have eagerly used this book to embarrass the sympathizers of the Dalai Lama. In principle, I would agree that the corrective of an irreverent treatment of Buddhism is to be welcomed, given that Buddhism has been spared the waves of criticism to which Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have been subjected. However, this attack really goes too far.
Buddhism is usually praised, and sometimes denounced (e.g. by V.D. Savarkar in his analysis of India's weakened defences after the reign of Buddhist emperor Ashoka), as a non-violent religion. The Buddha could have fought all the wars he wanted if he had remained a prince, but instead he chose to become a wandering ascetic. He remained passive even when his Shakya castemen were slaughtered as punishment for their caste hubris: a neighbouring dynasty had wanted a Shakya princess for their own prince, but the proud Shakyas had given them a substitute bride, viz. a maidservant; they paid later with their own annihilation when her princely son Virudhaka discovered the ruse and took his revenge.
Admittedly, on this occasion the Buddha did something else that deserves criticism, viz. he justified the event by explaining that the Shakyas had collectively committed a sin in a past life, and that this massacre was merely their deserved punishment (in which he himself as a born Shakya also partook by having a headache). This is an instance of the karma doctrine at its worst, and the one reason why many Westerners abhor it, viz. its passive acceptance of injustice and misfortune as the just outcome of our actions in past lives. All the same, the Buddha did not advocate or commit violence.
Yet, the Trimondis manage to present a very different face of Buddhism. Indeed, Buddhism had been the religion of the Samurai warrior class in Japan, Nazi Germany's ally. German researchers Eugen Herrigel and Karlfried Graf von Dürckheim had favourably reported on Japanese Buddhism in their homeland. It could be argued that something of the Kshatriya (warrior caste) origin of the Buddha had somehow survived throughout Buddhist history, considering e.g. the development of martial arts in the Buddhist Shaolin monastery. Possibly, the Shramana-s or wandering ascetics whom the Buddha had joined upon leaving the world, had originated from the young men's groups living separately in the margins of society, described by scholars as an ancient feature of Indo-European culture. From challenging one another to self-surpassing feats of martial prowess, via exercises in hardening themselves, on to pure asceticism: it looks like a logical development. However, this hypothetic genealogy of Buddhism doesn't nullify the radical difference between the conquest of others, which is the goal of warriors, and the conquest of oneself, the goal of Buddhist ascetics.
The Trimondis' crowning piece of evidence for Buddhism's not-so-benevolent and Nazi-attracting nature, is the element of violence and conquest in the text of the Kalachakra Tantra, a 10th-century text used in an initiation rite regularly conducted by the ever-smiling Dalai Lama. This seems to be the central revelation of the Trimondis: the Kalachakra preaches a war of conquest against the demons until everyone will accept the truth of Buddhism. When I first heard of this, I thought it would be some metaphor for the fight against the demonic tendencies in ourselves, famously depicted as demons in Tibetan paintings. But it seems that the Kalachakra text is too explicit for such an innocuous interpretation.
It may be helpful first of all to explain the term. Chakra means "wheel"; Kâla means "time", "moment in time", and sometimes specifically "hour of death". It is in the latter sense that it is personified as a female deity, Kâlî (with long vowels; unrelated to Kali, "quarrel", with two short vowels, as in Kali Yuga, the last and lowest of the four world ages), the goddess of destruction. So, Kâlachakra is "the Wheel of Time" or, if you prefer to give it a sinister twist, "the Wheel of Destruction". To Buddhists, the two terms are ultimately equivalent, for the passing of time brings a continuous disintegration of composite entities.
What is the terrible secret of the Kalachakra that the Trimondis claim to have revealed? It announces an apocalyptic struggle and enlists the initiand as a "Shambhala warrior". It also specifies who the enemy is, by listing his prophets in chronological order: Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mani (the prophet of Manicheism, a Christian-Zoroastrian hybrid religion), Mohammed and the Mahdi, i.e. the expected one of the Shiites. The Trimondis claim that these represent "the three monotheistic or Semitic religions", and that the Kalachakra is consequently anti-Semitic, or at least open to anti-Semitic usage. This is highly unlikely. The Tibetans had never confronted the Jews and their encounters with Nestorian Christians are not known to have been hostile. Those two religions, at any rate, do not recognize all the prophets enumerated. Islam, by contrast, recognizes the Biblical religious figures of the Jews and Christians as its own. So the list simply describes the "pantheon" of Islam. The designated enemy is not "the Semitic religions" (an appallingly wrong term, given the non-monotheistic allegiance of most Semitic-speaking people before the imposition of Christianity and Islam), but Islam.
That the medieval Tibetan Buddhists considered Islam as their enemy is not due to some evil little idea of the Kalachakra author, but of Islam's own treatment of the Buddhists. As is well-known, the Buddhists monasteries and universities in the Gangetic plain had been utterly destroyed by the Muslim invaders in the late 12th century, putting the surviving monks and novices to flight, mostly to Tibet. The same scenario had already played itself out in the 10th century in Afghanistan, and that is when and why the Kalachakra Tantra was composed, complete with its tirade against Islam. The wholesale destruction of their presence in an entire country had perplexed the Buddhists, they had never experienced such an outburst of fanaticism and seem to have thought that this was the end of the world or something similar. This explains the apocalyptic tone of the Kalachakra Tantra sufficiently.
The text seems to have come about as a reaction to this trauma. In any case, calls for holy war are highly untypical of Buddhism. If an exception can be found here, that is a pity and a reminder that nothing human is alien to the Buddhists, but not an indictment against Buddhism itself. The Trimondis concede such corrective points here and there, but the overall thrust of their book is nonetheless to foster deep suspicions (some might call it "hate") against Hinduism and Buddhism. This is also how most reviewers have understood it, or how they have lapped it up, as will be clear from the review excerpts on the Trimondi website.
The Trimondis themselves probably don't understand many crucial terms, and they fail to clear up the misunderstandings about terminology that are likely to exist among lay readers. I wouldn't say that they deliberately mislead the reader, but the outcome will amount to the same. Thus, the Trimondis have Nazis and neo-Nazis praise Hitler as a Chakravartin, a universal ruler. The message conveyed to the non-specialist reader is that Buddhism contains a doctrine of rulership fit to underlie a Nazi-like regime (just as the Buddhist term Arya, "noble" as in "the four noble truths", is left giving the incorrect impression of being the Nazi racial term "Aryan", as indeed some Nazis misconstrued it). In reality, anyone describing Hitler as a Chakravartin simply shows he doesn't understand the meaning of the word.
In Hindu scriptures, the Chakravartin is described as a suzerain who receives tribute from subject rulers, but who respects the autonomy (swarajya) and local customs (swadharma) of his subject nations. Is that what Hitler did? The Buddhist ideal of the Chakravartin was emperor Ashoka, who had his regrets about his initial military conquest (needed to round off his predecessors' conquests upto India's natural borders, easy to defend) chiselled in stone pillars. He explicitly dropped the ambition of further military conquest and opted for "religious conquest" (Dharma-Vijaya) instead. And lest anyone start misquoting this, the meaning of "religious conquest" is not something like Jihad, Islamic war against the Infidels, but simply promoting morality and sending out Buddhist missionaries. Far from illustrating that Buddhism had its imperialists too, as the Trimondis present it, the story of Ashoka is one of pacifism.
So, like most Oriental religious doctrines, the notion of Chakravartin was seriously misunderstood by those in Nazi circles who extolled it. But even if Ashoka had been appropriate as a militaristic model for Hitler to emulate, it would still not follow that Hitler did what he did because he took inspiration from Ashoka. It is one thing to point out a few German scholars who knew about Ashoka and talked about him to their Nazi sponsors, but quite another to prove that these talks "led to" the atrocities for which the Nazi regime became notorious.
The most frequently repeated flaw in the Trimondi couple's thesis, then, is the fallacy of "cum hoc ergo propter hoc". Yes, there were some enthusiasts of certain half-understood Hindu or Buddhist doctrines, just as there were amateurs of many other things, but there is no proof that they had any measurable influence on Nazi policies. And the same criticism applies to Karla Poewe's thesis: she may have proven that a few people in the Nazi orbit felt drawn to Heretic and Pagan forms of spirituality, but not that this belief somehow had a causal relation with the crimes of the Nazi regime.
Both are likewise mistaken in leaving the reader with the impression of an even more consequential causal connection, viz. between those religions themselves and National-Socialism. They could be read as having proven that an interest in Meister Eckhart, in Krishna or the Buddha leads to an acceptance of National-Socialism. Unfortunately, it is to that effect that their books are being or will be used: to spread suspicions against Europe's minority religions, whether native or Asian.
© Dr. Koenraad Elst, 8 May 2006.