The Racial Myth

The Racial Myth. This idea of the Volk and the leader was supported by a general theory of race and-of the relationship between race and culture, or more specifically by the myth of the Aryan or Nordic race and its place in the history of Western Civilization.

Hence the racial theory and the parallel and supporting theory of Lebensraum formed the central elements of national socialist ideology. The race problem was held to be the fundamental social problem and also the key to history.

Hitler in Mein Kampf attributed the collapse of the Second German Empire to its failure to realize the importance of race, and Alfred Rosenberg, who became the official philosopher of national socialism, made the struggle between races and their characteristic cultural ideas into a principle for explaining the evolution of European civilization.

Upon this philosophy of history, alleged to be supported by scientific biological and anthropological evidence, the policy of national socialism as a political or social movement was supposed to be based. In point of fact the theory of race as it was developed by national socialism had little dependence on any scientific study of genetics or of race as a biological phenomenon. It was pseudo-scientific throughout. For the most part it was a myth invented to support political chauvinism, and it depended for its effect on race prejudice especially anti-Semitism.

Like other parts of national socialist ideology its version of the racial myth was put together from ideas that had long been current. The word race, used without any precise biological meaning, and a claim of descent from an alleged Aryan master race had been used to bolster the national pride of Frenchmen and Americans as well as Germans.

Possibly it may be said to have originated with the Frenchman Gobineau at about the middle of the nineteenth century, who used it however not to support the claims of nationalism but of aristocracy against democracy. At the turn of the century a Germanized Englishman, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and his father-in-law Richard Wagner, popularized the Aryan myth in Germany.

The important difference between Gobineau and Chamberlain was that the latter made Germanism into a claim of national superiority. In the period that followed World War I, it was a ready salve for national humiliation. This literature of racism, though it supported widely different movements in many countries, was in general anti-liberal, imperialist, and anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism had been vociferous in Germany since the time of Martin Luther; the standard charges that national socialism brought against the Jews-that capitalism and Marxism are Jewish and that a Jewish conspiracy exists to gain world-power had been current for decades. The national socialist notion of the racial folk, therefore, capitalized a vast amount of familiar dogma backed by violent prejudice and the inclination that every nation has to believe in its own superiority.

The basic postulates of the race theory were stated clearly though not very systematically in Mein Kampf. They can be summarized briefly as follows.

First, all social progress takes place by a struggle for survival in which the fittest are selected and the weak are exterminated. This struggle occurs within the race, thus giving rise to a natural elite, and also between races and the cultures that express the inherent natures of different races.

Second, hybridization by the inter mixture of two races results in the degeneration of the higher race. Such racial mixtures are the cause of cultural, social, and political decay, but a race can purify itself because hybrids tend to die off.

Third, though culture and social institutions directly express the inherent creative powers of race, all high civilizations or important cultures are the creation of one race, or at most of a few. Specifically races may be divided into three types the culture-creating or Aryan race; the culture-bearing races which can borrow and adapt but cannot create; and the culture-destroying race, namely, the Jews.

The culture-creating race requires auxiliaries in the form of labor and services performed by subject-races of inferior quality. Fourth, in the culture-creating Ary2n self-preservation is transmuted from egoism into care for the community.

Dutifulness and idealism (honor) rather than intelligence are the Aryan’s outstanding moral qualities. These propositions merely express in generalized form the characteristics which national socialism attributed to the Volk, the elite, and the Leader.

The race theory was elaborated by Alfred Rosenberg into a philosophy of history in Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930), which was the principal statement of national socialist ideology. All history, according to Rosenberg, must be rewritten and reinterpreted in terms of the struggle between races and their characteristic ideals, or more specifically as a struggle between the Aryan or culture-creating race and all the lower breeds of mankind. Rosenberg supposed that this race had spread from some point of dispersion in the north, had migrated to Egypt, India, Persia, Greece, and Rome, and had become the creator of all these ancient civilizations.

All the ancient cultures declined because the Aryans interbred with lower races. The Teutonic branches of the Aryan race, engaged in an age-long struggle against the racial chaos in which Rome ended, have produced all that has moral or cultural value in the modern European states.

All science and all art, all philosophy as well as all great political institutions, have been created by Aryans. In contrast with them stands the parasitic anti-race, the Jews, who have created the modern race-poisons, Marxism and democracy, capitalism and finance, barren intellectualism, the effeminate ideals of love and humility.

All that is worth saving in Christianity reflects Aryan ideals, and Jesus himself was an Aryan, but Christianity in general was corrupted by the Etruscan-Jewish-Roman system of the church. A true Germanic religion, without dogma or magic, Rosenberg believed he could find in the German mysticism of the Middle Ages, especially that of Eckhart. The great need of the twentieth century is for a new reformation, a renewed belief in honor as the supreme virtue of the person, the family, the nation, and the race.

The philosophy upon which this imposing reconstruction of history was based might be called a kind of racial or biological pragmatism. All mental and moral faculties are race-bound (rassengebunden). Soul is race seen from within. They depend upon insights or forms of thought that are innate, and whatever is a problem or a solution for a race depends upon its racial cast of thought.

The questions posed by a Nordic are without meaning for a Jew. The most completely developed knowledge possible to a race is implicit in its first religious myth. Hence there are neither general standards of moral and esthetic value nor general principles of scientific truth. The very idea of a truth, a goodness, and a beauty that is open to understanding and appreciation by men of different races is a part of the degeneracy of intellectualism.

Every race is under an iron necessity to suppress what is foreign, because it does violence to the mental structure of the racial type. Since truth is organic-a realization, that is, of innate racial faculties-its test is the power of science or art or religion to enhance the form (Gestalt), the inner values, the vital power of the race.

Any creative philosophy is an affirmation or a creed (Bekenntnis) which expresses at once an intuition inherent in the racial type and an act of will directed toward the dominance of the type. Among the declarations issued in support of Hitler by the National Socialist Teachers Association was one by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In substance it was a paraphrase of Rosenberg.

Truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong in action and knowledge. From such a truth springs the real will to know, and this will to know circumscribes the claim to know. And it is by the latter finally that the limits are set within which genuine problems and genuine investigation must be established and certified. From such an origin we derive science, which is bound up in the necessity of self-responsible existence by the Folk. … We have rid ourselves of the idolatry of a baseless and impotent thought.

Rosenberg’s argument for the identity of his Aryan race ran in terms of vague resemblances between styles in art, moral ideals, and religious convictions which were largely fanciful and wholly subjective. Moreover, his philosophy was by profession a myth. Once national socialism established itself in Germany, however, the racial theory was developed as scientific anthropology, especially under the direction of Hans F. K. Gunther, who was made Professor of Social Anthropology at Jena.

In general no biologist or anthropologist not already committed to the theory was ever convinced either that there are biological criteria of racial superiority or that racial characters are correlated with culture, and these propositions have been refuted times without number.

Unfortunately scientific refutation is almost powerless against a theory that depends on the will to believe or an intuition that is rooted in the blood. Very often also the racial theory, in national socialism and elsewhere, lay in the region of what Thorstein Veblen called applied psychiatry, the art of exploiting a prejudice for an ulterior purpose.

This does not mean, of course, that it was not sincerely believed-anti-Semitics are sincere enough-but only that irrationalists make a virtue of wishful thinking. Even the notoriously fictitious Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion were sufficiently believed so that Goebbels could write in his diary. The nations that have been the first to see through the Jew are going to take his place in the domination of the world. The racial theory has to be judged not by its truth but by the consequences which it produced and the purposes which it served.

The practical effects of the racial theory on national socialist policy were threefold. In the first place it led to a general policy of encouraging increase of population, particularly of the supposed Aryan elements, by subsidizing marriage and large families, even though the need for territorial expansion was at the same time urged on the ground that Germany was already overpopulated.

Secondarily the policy eventuated in a virtual encouragement of illegitimate births. In the second place the racial theory produced the eugenic legislation of 1933. Ostensibly this was designed to prevent the transmission of hereditary disease but in practice it represented a general policy of sterilizing or exterminating physical and mental defectives.

Apparently this policy was pursued with barbarous severity. The eugenic gain, it must be supposed, was more than offset by the ethical and social demoralization produced, but the racial theory was of course based on the ethical postulate that humanity and mercy for the weak are not virtues. In the third place and most characteristically the racial theory produced the anti-Jewish legislation of 1935 and 1938.

This legislation also purported to aim at increasing or maintaining purity of race. By it marriages were outlawed between Germans and persons of one fourth (or more) Jewish ancestry, the property of Jews was expropriated, Jews were excluded from the professions and from business, and they were reduced to an inferior civil status as state subjects rather than citizens. These measures culminated in a policy of outright extermination, which Hitler predicted in 1939 would be the result of a new war, and of reducing Jews not exterminated to forced labor.

The anti-Jewish policy of national socialism can only be described as the acme of inhumanity in a century that has not been notably humane. Logically, however, the application of the racial theory to the Jews was incidental. It could be applied and, as Hitler’s policy developed of expanding German territory toward the east, it was applied to other peoples.

Thus in occupied Poland the Ukrainians were given preferential treatment as compared with the Poles though they were not given equal status with Germans; the Poles retained at least nominal freedom, and the Jews were reduced to virtual slavery. What the racial theory implied in general was a gradation of civil and political status, with power and privilege reserved for those counted as racial Germans and with various subject-peoples ranged in a descending series under them.

In short it meant, as Hitler had said in Mein Kampf, a master race with auxiliary races to serve it. But since race (as the theory used it) was fictitious, this meant in fact that a national socialist government could suppress and exploit on racial grounds any group that it chose. Logically the racial theory was merely a way of rationalizing dominance by the national socialist elite.

The ulterior purposes that the racial theory and anti-Semitism served in national socialist philosophy are more speculative since they fall within the cloudy region of mass-psychology. It seems clear, however, that they did in fact help to solidify national socialism in at least two ways.

First, anti-Semitism made it possible to transmute a variety of hatreds and fears and resentments and class antagonisms into the fear of a single tangible enemy. The fear of communism became fear of Jewish Marxism; resentment against employers became hatred of Jewish capitalism; national insecurity became fear of a Jewish plot to dominate the world economic insecurity became hatred for the Jewish control of big business. That all these allegations of Jewish dominance were exaggerated was irrelevant.

The Jews were in a position that fitted them ideally to play the part that the racial theory assigned to them. They were a minority against whom there was a long accumulation of prejudice; they were strong enough to be feared but weak enough to be attacked with impunity.

Considered in this light the racial theory was merely a psychological device to unify German society by redirecting all its antagonisms toward a single enemy that could be easily exterminated. To this must be added the fact that Jewish property supplied substantial rewards for the party and its supporters.

In the second place the racial theory supplied an excellent ideological support for the particular form of imperialism that Hitler’s policy contemplated, namely, expansion to the east and south at the expense of the Slavic peoples. It was only in this region that compact Jewish communities existed, and anti-Semitism as a psychological force was hardly distinguishable from a belief in the racial superiority of Germans to Poles, Czechs, and Russians.

The racial theory, which had often been allied to Pan-Germanism, could easily be used to foster the idea of a Germanic state in Central Europe surrounded by an expanding ring of non-Germanic satellite states. Thus the racial theory joined hands with the second element of national socialist ideology, the idea of soil which was the natural supplement to the idea of blood.
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