The Redemption of Democracy
By Alliance, $3.00.
THE climactic selling point of some of the ‘four-minute men’ who raced about America aiding Liberty Loan drives in the last war was to cry dramatically, ‘ I’d compare those Huns to snakes,’and then to add with calculated scorn, ‘only it would be insulting the snakes.’ The snakes have remained in their holes or cages during the present war; but the word ‘gangster’ has been much in use among people who envisage the conflict as a simple struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. Yet one suspects that the historian of the year 2000 will make a sparing use of such epithets as ‘snakes’ and ‘gangsters’ when he sets out to analyze the cycle of interrelated wars and revolutions that bulks so large in the history of the first half of the twentieth century. In order to obtain a fairly plausible idea of how our own age will appear to the future we should take a retrospective view of some of the turbulent eras of the past.
There is strong reason to believe that we are now experiencing the third great crisis of postmediæval civilization. The first was ushered in by the Reformation, the second by the French Revolution. Both these movements tore up by the roots much of the existing social orders. Both set in motion a long chain of conflicts, international and civil, in which economic, nationalist, and other considerations were inextricably blended with the ideologies of these movements.
Hermann Rauschning, whose Revolution of Nibilism is one of the most thoughtful and most profound interpretations of Nazi Germany, is one of the few men who possess the gift of writing about the present in terms that are likely to be acceptable to the future. His new book possesses the qualities of its predecessor — clear and vigorous thought, a style distinguished, sometimes almost apocalyptic in its force, the capacity to see contemporary phenomena sub specie œternitatis.
What he offers is not a blueprint of a new order, which would almost certainly be written on shifting sands under present circumstances, but a philosophical and psychological evaluation of the forces which are at work in the world. He emphasizes very strongly a point that must already be clear to every European, but is still concealed from many sheltered Americans: that old conceptions of security have been shattered beyond the possibility of reconstruction. ‘We are only at the beginning of the world revolution, not at the end.’
The dramatic appeal of the book is enhanced because the author, now a resident of England, intersperses impressions and scenes of bombardment with his intellectual reflections. The physical sense of shaking and destroyed buildings is correlated with the mental consciousness of crumbling moorings and foundations.
Toward Hitler’s Third Reich the author, an oldfashioned German nationalist who was once a member of the Nazi Party in Danzig, is uncompromising. He thunders against it as an incarnation of evil in the tone of a Luther or a Karl Barth. There is no common element, as he warns, that could join a Western European traditionalist order and an absolutist world revolution.
Yet Rauschning, although the roots of his thinking are imbedded in German classical conservative thought, is no nostalgic wish-thinker, dreaming of a past that has gone with the wind. While he is emphatic on the dangers of moral and spiritual nihilism and asks whether ‘it is not the very nature of civilization to create a system of universally valid obligations,’ he recognizes that there must be accommodation with some aspects of the new revolution. ‘ No return to the system of small completely sovereign nations is possible,’ as he believes, and he foresees In broad outline an Anglo-American Atlantic civilization rising on the ruins of the old Europe.
Among the many stimulating conjectures in the book is the possibility of a ‘Union Now’ scheme which would bring Germany and the Soviet Union into close and perhaps permanent association. And one of the few points in which Rauschning seems to miss the mark rather widely is his suggestion that the Soviet régime ‘is alive with the creative impulses of our civilization, with all the possibilities of regeneration and adaptation.’ It is doubtful whether he would have written these lines if he had known Stalin’s Russia as well as he knows Hitler’s Germany.
In a stormy age like the present, the ‘wave of the future’ is a fascinating and yet a dangerous subject. Speculation on it is too easily influenced by a distorted view of contemporary developments. Rauschning is one of the few modern thinkers who seem to have a message not only for our own time but also for the future.
WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLIN
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