work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Antifascist globalisation – a message in a bottle from the dark

02.23.2013 · Posted in Uncategorized

70 years ago today, Nazi “judge” Roland Freisler sentenced to death three members of the Christian resistance group Weiße Rose: Hans and Sophie Scholl  and Christoph Probst. Together with the other members of the group (among them Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, and Alexander Schmorell who were murdered after trials later in the same year, 1943) they had authored, printed and distributed six leaflets, which called up their fellow Germans to put an end to the Nazi reign of terror, appealing to their national pride as civilised people with a humanist tradition, using lengthy quotes from classical German literature and philosophy.

Coming from provincial Lutheran and Catholic middle class homes, culturally they were miles away from more hands-on resistance groups like the Edelweißpiraten  that in many ways anticipated the youth subcultures of the 1950s and 60s. They were, as they were not even in their teens when the Nazis came to power, also not able to draw on any of the democratic, liberal or socialist traditions present in the Weimar Republic – so their political analysis would never reach the heights of, say the leftist Social Democrat groups Neu Beginnen or Revolutionäre Sozialisten Deutschlands, whose affiliate Rudolf Hilferding authored the 1934 Prague Manifesto. So given their insulation and cultural background, the intellectual capacity of the university students of the Weiße Rose to construct a discourse of resistance out of their engagement with classical literature and idealist philosophy is as impressive as is their courage. Emerging from the provinces, living under Fascism and locked into the fascisized institutions of the German university and  the German army (both reactionary forces already before 1933) they were thrown back to restart from the political consciousness of Germany at the time of the Napoleonic Wars when trying to get a handle on modern totalitarianism, genocide and total war. Stripping the intellectually more mature accomplices of the Third Reich (Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, Arnold Gehlen – to name only a few associated with my own discipline) of any excuse for their intellectual support for the regime, what the students of the White Rose come up with is a whole-hearted endorsement of what was to become the post-war European political order (emphasising federalism, de-centralisation, and liberal democracy), a commitment to democratic socialism and an embrace of egalitarian globalisation

‘The imperialistic idea of power, from which side it may come, must be forever discarded. One-sided Prussian militarism must not come to power ever again. Only the generous cooperation of the peoples of Europe can lay the ground on which reconstruction will be possible. All centralist power, such as that enacted by the Prussian state in Germany and Europe must be nipped in the bud. The Germany of the future can only be a federalist one. Only a federalist political order can reinvigorate Europe. The working class must be liberated from its state of lowest slavery through a reasonable socialism. The mirage of autarkic economy needs to disappear from Europe. Every people, every individual has a right to the goods of the world. Freedom of speech, freedom of faith, protection of the individual citizen from the despotism of criminal dictatorship – those are the foundations of the new Europe. ‘

The reference to and rejection of autarky in the name of globalisation is intriguing (especially against the background of the current turn to ideas of self-sufficiency and localism), and needs a bit of context. Nazism was, among other things, an anti-globalisation movement (and be it with aspirations to world domination). Acting on national and global level, its ideal of a good life was based on the self-sufficient village. The Nazi imagination of the global economy was, basically, one of a Jewish world conspiracy. The Nazi economic ideal was to turn the national economy into an ancient Greek oikos. And this is where the classical humanist education of these students comes in. One of the main proponents of the closed economy, Germanic autarky, was a grammar school professor of ancient Greek, Bernhard Laum. After having delivered a very clever and surprisingly plausible theory about the genealogy of coinage in the Greek temple economy in his book on “Holy Money”, sharing the anti-modernism of the academic middle classes of the Weimar Republic, 1933 he turned to reformulating what he found in Homer into an economic policy to combat what he saw as the deracination and alienation of modern civilisation (Geschlossene Wirtschaft, Tubingen: Mohr). For him a self-sufficient economy was the key to achieving the National Socialist goals of re-establishing a unity of blood, soil and faith. For the antifascist students of the Weiße Rose economic globalisation was the safeguard against murderous regimes ever getting near that vile aspiration.

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