Hitler, Hicks, Nietzsche and Nazism

Nietzsche and the Nazis: A Personal View by Stephen Hicks (Ockham’s Razor Publishing 2010) 

Scholarly (and not so scholarly) interpretations of Nietzsche always remind me somewhat of biblical interpretation

In both cases, the interpretations always seem to say at least as much about the philosophy, worldview and politics of the person doing the interpretation as they do about the content of the work ostensibly being interpreted. 

Just as Christians can, depending on preference, choose between, say, Exodus 21:23–25 (an eye for an eye) or Matthew 5:39 (turn the other cheek), so authors of diametrically opposed political and philosophical worldviews can almost always claim to find something in Nietzsche’s corpus of writing to support their own perspective. 

Thus, whereas German National Socialists selectively quoted passages from Nietzsche that appear critical of Jews, so modern apologists cite passages that profess great admiration for the Jewish people, and other passages undoubtedly highly critical both of Germans and anti-Semites.  

Similarly, in HL Mencken’s The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Nietzsche appears as an aristocratic elitist, opposed to Christianity, Christian ethics, egalitarianism and herd morality, but also as a scientific materialist—much like, well, HL Mencken himself. 

Yet, among leftist postmodernists, Nietzsche’s moral philosophy is largely ignored, and he is cited instead as an opponent of scientific materialism who rejects the very concept of objective truth, including scientific truth—in short, a philosophical precursor to postmodernism. 

There are indeed passages in Nietzsche’s work that, at least when quoted in isolation, can be interpreted as supporting any of these mutually contradictory notions. 

In his book Nietzsche and the Nazis, professor of philosophy Stephen Hicks discusses the association between the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche and the most controversial of the many twentieth century movements to claim Nietzsche as their philosophical precursor, namely the National Socialist movement and regime in early- to mid-twentieth century Germany. 

Since he is a professor of philosophy rather than a historian, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hicks demonstrates a rather better understanding of the philosophy of Nietzsche than he does of the ideology of Hitler and the German National Socialist movement. 

Thus, if the Nazis stand accused of misinterpreting, misappropriating or misrepresenting the philosophy of Nietzsche, Hicks can claim to have outdone even them—for he has managed to misrepresent, not only the philosophy of Nietzsche, but also that of the Nazis as well. 

Philosophy as a Driving Force in History 

Hicks begins his book by making a powerful case for the importance of philosophy as a force in history and as a factor in the rise of German National Socialism in particular. 

Thus, he argues: 

The primary cause of Nazism lies in philosophy… The legacy of World War I, persistent economic troubles, modern communication technologies, and the personal psychologies of the Nazi leadership did play a role. But the most significant factor was the power of a set of abstract, philosophical ideas. National Socialism was a philosophy-intensive movement” (p10-1). 

This claim—namely, that “National Socialism was a philosophy-intensive movement”—may seem an odd one, especially since German National Socialism is usually regarded, not entirely unjustifiably, as a profoundly anti-intellectual movement. 

Moreover, to achieve any degree of success and longevity, all political movements, and political regimes, must inevitably make ideological compromises in the face of practical necessity, such that their actual policies are dictated at least as much pragmatic considerations of circumstance, opportunity and realpolitik as it is by pure ideological dictate.[1]

Yet, up to a point, Hicks is right. 

Indeed, Hitler even saw himself as, in some ways, a philosopher in his own right. Thus,  historian Ian Kershaw, in his celebrated biography of the German Führer, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris, observes: 

“In Mein Kampf, Hitler pictured himself as a rare genius who combined the qualities of the ‘programmatist’ and the ‘politician’. The ‘programmatist’ of a movement was the theoretician who did not concern himself with practical realities, but with ‘eternal truth’, as the great religious leaders had done. The ‘greatness’ of the ‘politician’ lay in the successful practical implementation of the ‘idea’ advanced by the ‘programmatist’. ‘Over long periods of humanity,’ he wrote, ‘it can once happen that the politician is wedded to the programmatist.’ His work did not concern short-term demands that any petty bourgeois could grasp, but looked to the future, with ‘aims which only the fewest grasp’… Seldom was it the case, in his view, that ‘a great theoretician’ was also ‘a great leader’… He concluded: ‘the combination of theoretician, organizer, and leader in one person is the rarest thing that can be found on this earth; this combination makes the great man.’ Unmistakably, Hitler meant himself” (Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris: p251–2). 

Moreover, philosophical ideas have undoubtedly had a major impact on history in other times and places. 

Thus, for example, the French revolution and Bolshevik Revolution may have been triggered and made possible by social and economic conditions then prevailing. But the regimes established in their aftermath were, at least in theory, based on the ideas of philosophers and political theorists.  

Thus, if the French revolution was modelled on the ideas of thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire, and the Bolshevik Revolution on those of Marx, who then were the key thinkers, if any, behind the National Socialist movement in Germany? 

Hicks, for his part, tentatively ventures several leading candidates: 

Georg Hegel, Johann Fichte, even elements from Karl Marx” (p49).[2]

In an earlier chapter, as part of his attempt to argue against the notion that German National Socialism had no intellectual credibility, he also mentions several contemporaneous thinkers who, he claims, “supported the Nazis long before they came to power” and who could perhaps be themselves be considered intellectual forerunners for National Socialism, including Oswald Spengler, Martin Heidegger, and legal theorist Carl Schmitt (p9).[3]

Besides Hitler himself, and Rosenberg, each of whom considered themselves philosophical thinkers in their own right, other candidates who might merit honourable (or perhaps dishonourable) mention in this context include Hitler’s own early mentor Dietrich Eckart, racial theorists Arthur De Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the American Madison Grant, biologist Ernst Haeckel, geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer, and, of course, the composer Richard Wagner – though most of these are not, of course, philosophers in the narrow sense.

Yet, at least according to Hicks, the best known and most controversial name atop any such list is almost inevitably going to be Friedrich Nietzsche (p49). 

Nietzsche’s Philosophy 

Although the association between Nietzsche with the Nazis continues to linger large in the popular imagination, mainstream Nietzsche scholarship in the years since World War II, especially the work of the influential homosexual Jewish philosopher and poet, Walter Kaufmann, has done much rehabilitate the reputation of Nietzsche, sanitize his philosophy and absolve him of any association with, let alone responsibility for, Fascism or National Socialism. 

Hick’s own treatment is rather more balanced. 

Before directly comparing and contrasting the various commonalities and differences between Nietzsche’s philosophy and that of the National Socialist movement and regime, Hick devotes one chapter to discussing the political philosophy and ideology of the Nazis, another to discussing their policies once in power, and a third to discussion of Nietzsche’s own philosophy, especially his views on morality and religion. 

As I have already mentioned, although Nietzche’s philosophy is the subject of many divergent interpretations, Hicks, in my view, mostly gets Nietzsche’s philosophy right. There are, however, a few problems.

Some are relatively trivial, perhaps even purely semantic. For example, Hicks equates Nietzsche’s Übermensch with Zarathustra himself, writing:

Nietzsche gives a name to his anticipated overman: He calls him Zarathustra, and he names his greatest literary and philosophical work in his honor” (p74)

Actually, as I understood Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (which is to say, not very much at all, since it is a notoriously incomprehensible work, and, in my view, far from Nietzsche’s “greatest literary and philosophical work”, as Hicks describes it), Nietzsche envisaged his fictional Zarathustra, not as himself the Übermensch, but rather as its herald and prophet.

Indeed, to my recollection, not only does Zarathustra never himself even claim to embody the Übermensch, but he also repeatedly asserts that the most contemporary man, Zarathustra himself presumably included, can ever even aspire to be is a ‘bridge’ to the Übermensch, rather than the Übermensch himself.

A perhaps more substantial problem relates to Hick’s understanding of Nietzsche’s contrasting master’ and ‘slave moralities. Hicks associates the former with various traits, including:  

Pride, Self-esteem; Wealth; Ambition, boldness; Vengeance; Justice… Pleasure, Sensuality… Indulgence” (p60). 

Most of these associations are indeed unproblematically associated with Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’, but a few require further elaboration. 

For example, it may be true that Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ is associated with the idea of “vengeance” as a virtue. However, associating the related, but distinct concept of “justice” exclusively with Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ as Hicks does (p60; p62) strikes me as altogether more questionable. 

After all, the ‘slave morality’ of Christianity also concerns itself a great deal with “justice”. It just has a different conception of what constitutes justice, and also sometimes defers the achievement of “justice” to the afterlife, or to the Last Judgement and coming Kingdom of God (or, in pseudo-secular modern leftist versions, the coming communist utopia). 

Similarly problematic is Hicks’s characterization of Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’ as championing “indulgence”, as well as “pleasure [and] sensuality”, over “self-restraint” (p62; p60). 

This strikes me as, at best, an oversimplification of Nietzsche’s philosophy 

On the one hand, it is true that Nietzsche disparages and associates with ‘slave morality’ what Hume termed ‘the monkish values’, namely ideals of self-denial and asceticism. He sees them as both a sign of weakness and a denial of life itself, writing in Twilight of the Idols

To attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life… The same means, castration and extirpation, are instinctively chosen for waging war against a passion, by those who are too weak of will, too degenerate, to impose some sort of moderation upon it” (Twilight of the Idols: iv:2.). 

The saint in whom God is well pleased, is the ideal eunuch. Life terminates where the ‘Kingdom of God’ begins” (Twilight of the Idols: ii:4). 

Yet it is clear that Nietzsche does not advocate complete surrender to indulgence, pleasure and sensuality either. 

Thus, in the first of the two passages quoted above, he envisages the strong as also imposing “some sort of moderation” without the need for complete abstinence. 

Indeed, in The Antichrist, Nietzsche goes further still, extolling: 

The most intelligent men, like the strongest [who] find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct” (The Antichrist: 57) 

Indeed, advocating complete and unrestrained surrender to indulgence, sensuality and pleasure is an obviously self-defeating philosophy. If someone really completely surrendered himself to indulgence, he would do presumably nothing all day except masturbate, shoot up heroin and eat cake. He would therefore achieve nothing of value. 

Thus, throughout his corpus of writing, Nietzsche repeatedly champions what he calls self-overcoming, which, though it goes well beyond this, clearly entails self-control

In short, to be effectively put into practice, the Nietzschean Will to Power necessarily requires willpower

Individualism vs Collectivism (and Authoritarianism) 

Another matter upon which Hicks arguably misreads Nietzsche is the question the extent to which Nietzsche’s philosophy is to be regarded as either individualist or a collectivist in ethos/orientation. 

This topic is, Hicks acknowledges, a controversial one upon which Nietzsche scholars disagree. It is, however, a topic of direct relevance to the extent of relationship between Nietzsche’s philosophy and the ideology of the Nazis, since the Nazis themselves were indisputably extremely collectivist in ethos, the collective to which they subordinated all other concerns, including individual rights and wants, being that of the nation, Volk or race. 

Hicks himself concludes that Nietzsche was much more of a collectivist than an individualist

“[Although] Nietzsche has a reputation for being an individualist [and] there certainly are individualist elements in Nietzsche’s philosophy… in my judgment his reputation for individualism is often much overstated (p87). 

Yet, elsewhere, Hicks comes close to contradicting himself, for, among the qualities that he associates with Nietzsche’s ‘master morality’, which Nietzsche himself clearly favours over the ‘slave morality’ of Christianity, are “Independence”, “Autonomy” and indeed “Individualism” (p60; p62). Yet these are all clearly individualist virtues.[4]

In reaching his conclusion that Nietzsche is primarily to be considered a collectivist rather than a true individualist, Hicks distinguishes three separate questions and, in the process, three different forms of individualism, namely: 

  1. Do individuals shape their own identities—or are their identities created by forces beyond their control?”; 
  1. Are individuals ends in themselves, with their own lives and purposes to pursue—or do individuals exist for the sake of something beyond themselves to which they are expected to subordinate their interests?”; and 
  1. Do the decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen—or are the decisive events of history a matter of collective action or larger forces at work?” (p88). 

With regard to the first of these questions, Nietzsche, according to Hicks, denies that men are masters of their own fate. Instead, Hicks contends that Nietzsche believes: 

Individuals are a product of their biological heritage” (p88). 

This may be correct, and certainly there is much in Nietzsche’s writing to support this conclusion. 

However, even if human behaviour, and human decisions, are indeed a product of heredity, this does not in fact, strictly speaking, deny that individuals are nevertheless the authors of their own destiny. It merely asserts that the way in which we do indeed shape our own destiny is itself a product of our heredity. 

In other words, our actions and decisions may indeed be predetermined by hereditary factors, but they are still our decisions, simply because we ourselves are a product of these same biological forces. 

However, it is not at all clear that Nietzsche believes that all men determine their own fate. Rather, the great mass of mankind, whom he dismisses as ‘herd animals’, are, for Nietzsche, quite incapable of true individualism of this kind, and it is only men of a superior type who are truly free, membership of this superior caste itself being largely determined by heredity. 

Indeed, for Nietzsche, the superior type of man determines not only his own fate, but also often that of the society in which he lives and of mankind as a whole. 

This leads to the third of Hicks’s three types of individualism, namely the question of whether the “decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen”, or whether they are the consequence of factors outside of individual control such as economic factors, or perhaps the unfolding of some divine plan. 

On this topic, I suspect Nietzsche would side with Thomas Carlyle, and Hegel, that history is indeed shaped, in large part, by the actions of so-called ‘great men, or, in Hegelian terms, world historical figures’. This is among the reasons he places such importance on the emerging Übermensch.

Admittedly, Nietzsche repeatedly disparages Carlyle in many of his writings, and, in Ecce Homo, repudiates any notion of equating of his Übermensch with what he dismisses as Carlyle’s “hero cult” (Ecce Homo (iii, 1).

However, as Will Durant writes in The Story of Philosophy, Nietzsche often reserved his greatest scorn for those contemporaries, or near-contemporaries (e.g. the Darwinians and Social Darwinists), who had independently developed ideas that, in some respects, paralleled or anticipated his own, if only as a means of emphasizing his own originality and claim to priority, or, as Durant puts it, of “covering up his debts” (The Story of Philosophy: p373).

Hitler, on the other hand, would indeed surely have agreed with Carlyle regarding the importance of great men, and indeed saw himself as just such a ‘world historical figure’.

Indeed, for better or worse, given Hitler’s gargantuan impact on world history from his coming to power in Germany in the 1930s arguably right up to the present day, we might even find ourselves reluctantly forced to agree with him.[5]

As I have written previously, it is ironic that the so-called great man theory of history seemingly became perennially unfashionable at almost precisely the same time that, in the persons of first Lenin and then Hitler, it was proven so terribly true.

Just as the October revolution would surely never have occurred without Lenin as driving force and instigator, so the Nazis, though they may have existed, would surely never have come to power, let alone achieved the early diplomatic and military successes that briefly conferred upon them mastery over Europe, without Hitler as leader.

Yet, for Nietzsche, individual freedom is restricted, or at least should be restricted, only to such ‘great men’, or at least to a wider, but still narrow, class of superior types, and not at all extended at all to the great mass of humanity. 

Thus, I believe that we can reconcile Nietzsche’s apparently conflicting statements regarding the merits of, on the one hand, individualism, and, on the other, collectivism, by recognizing that he endorsed individualism only for a small elite cadre of superior men. 

Indeed, for Nietzsche, the vast majority of mankind, namely those whom he disparages as ‘herd animals’, were incapably of such individualism and should hence be subject to a strict authoritarian control in the service of the superior caste of man. They were certainly not ‘ends in themselves as contended by Kant.

Indeed, Nietzsche’s prescription for the majority of mankind is not so much collectivist, as it is authoritarian, since Nietzsche regards the lives of such people, even as a collective, as essentially worthless. 

The mass of men must be controlled and denied freedom, not for the benefit of such men themselves even as a collective, but rather for the benefit of the superior type of man.[6]

Yet Hicks reaches almost the opposite conclusion, namely, rather than the lives of the mass of mankind serving the interests of the higher man, even the individualism accorded the higher type of man, and even the Übermensch himself, ultimately serves the interest of the collective – namely, the human species as a whole.

National Socialist Ideology 

As I have already said, however, Hicks’s understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy is rather better than his understanding of the ideology of German National Socialism. 

This is not altogether surprising. Hicks is, after all, a professor of philosophy by background, not an historian.

Hicks lack of background in history his especially apparent in his handling of sources, which leaves a great deal to be desired.

For example, several quotations attributed to Hitler by Hicks are sourced, in their associated footnotes, to one of two works – namely Unmasked: Two Confidential Interviews with Hitler in 1931 and The Voice of Destruction (aka Hitler Speaks) by Hermann Rauschning – that are both now widely considered by historians to have been fraudulent, and to contain no authentic or reliable quotations from Hitler whatsoever.[7]

Other quotations are sourced to secondary sources, such as websites and biographies of Hitler, which makes it difficult to determine both the primary source from which the quotation is drawn, and in what context and to whom the remark was originally said or written.

This is an especially important point, not only because some sources (e.g. Rauschning) are very untrustworthy, but also because Hitler often carefully tailored his message to the specific audience he was addressing, and was certainly not above concealing or misrepresenting his real views and long-term objectives, especially when addressing the general public, foreign statesmen and political rivals.

Perhaps for this reason, Hicks seemingly misunderstands the true nature of the National Socialist ideology, and Hitler’s own Weltanschauung in particular.

However, in Hicks’s defence, the core tenets of Nazism are almost as difficult to pin down are those of Nietzsche. 

Unlike in the case of Nietzsche, this is not so much because of either the inherent complexity of the ideas, or the impenetrability of its presentation—though admittedly, while Nazi propaganda, and Hitler’s speeches, tend to be very straightforward, even crude, both Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century both make for a difficult read. 

Rather the problem is that German National Socialist thinking, or what passed for thinking among National Socialists, never really constituted a coherent ideology in the first place. 

After all, like any political party that achieves even a modicum of electoral success, let alone actually seriously aspires to win power, the Nazis necessarily represented a broad church.  

Members and supporters included people of many divergent and mutually contradictory opinions on various political, economic and social matters, not to mention ethical, philosophical and religious views and affiliations. 

If they had not done so, then the Party could never have attracted enough votes in order to win power in the first place. 

Indeed, the NSDAP was especially successful in presenting itself as ‘all things to all people’ and in adapting its message to whatever audience was being addressed at a given time. 

Therefore, it is quite difficult to pin down what exactly were the core tenets of German National Socialism, if indeed they had any. 

However, we can simplify our task somewhat by restricting ourselves to an altogether simpler question: namely what were the key tenets of Hitler’s own political philosophy? 

After all, one key tenet of German National Socialism that can surely be agreed upon is the so-called Führerprinzip’, whereby Hitler himself was to be the ultimate authority for all political decisions and policy. 

Therefore, rather than concerning ourselves with the political and philosophical views of the entire Nazi leadership, let alone the whole party, or everyone who voted for them, we can instead restrict ourselves to a much simpler task – namely, determining the views of a single individual, namely the infamous Führer himself. 

This, of course, makes our task substantially easier.

Yet we then encounter yet another problem: namely, it is often quite difficult to determine what Hitler’s real views actually were. 

Thus, as I have already noted, like all the best politicians, Hitler tailored and adapted his message to the audience that he was addressing at any given time. 

Thus, for example, when he delivered speeches before assembled business leaders and industrialists, his message was quite different from the one he would deliver before audiences composed predominantly of working-class socialists, and his message to foreign dignitaries, statesmen and the international community was quite different to the hawkish and militaristic one presented in Mein Kampf, to his leading generals  and before audiences of fanatical German nationalists

In short, like all successful politicians, Hitler was an adept liar, and what he said in public and actually believed in private were often two very different things. 

National Socialism and Religion 

Perhaps the area of greatest contrast between Hitler’s public pronouncements and his private views, as well as Hicks’ own most egregious misunderstanding of Nazi ideology, concerns religion. 

According to Hicks, Hitler and the Nazis were believing Christians. Thus, he reports: 

“[Hitler] himself sounded Christian themes explicitly in public pronouncements” (p84). 

However, the key words here are “in public pronouncements”. Hitler’s real views, as expressed in private among conversations among confidents, seem to have been very different. 

Thus, Hitler was all too well aware that publicly attacking Christianity would be an unpopular stance with the public, and would not only alienate much of his erstwhile support but also provoke opposition from powerful figures in the churches whom he could ill afford to alienate. 

Hitler therefore postponed his eagerly envisaged kirchenkampf, or settling of accounts with the churches, until after the war, if only because he wished to avoid fighting a war on multiple fronts. 

Thus, Speer, in his post-war memoirs, noting that “in Berlin, surrounded by male cohorts, [Hitler] spoke more coarsely and bluntly than he ever did elsewhere”, quotes Hitler as declaring in such company more than once: 

Once I have settled my other problems… I’ll have my reckoning with the church. I’ll have it reeling on the ropes” (Inside the Third Reich: p123). 

Hicks also asserts: 

The Nazis took great pains to distinguish the Jews and the Christians, condemning Judaism and embracing a generic type of Christianity” (p83).  

In fact, the form of Christianity that was, at least in public, espoused by the Nazis, namely what they called Positive Christianity was far from “a generic type of Christianity” but rather a very idiosyncratic, indeed quite heretical, take on the Christian faith, which attempted to divest Christianity of its Jewish influences and portray Jesus as an Aryan hero fighting against Jewish power, while even incorporating elements of Gnosticism and Germanic paganism

Moreover, far from attempting to deny the connection between Christianity and Judaism, there is some evidence that Hitler actually followed Nietzsche in directly linking Christianity to Jewish influence. Thus, in his diary, Goebbels quotes Hitler directly linking Christianity and Judaism:  

“[Hitler] views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. This can be seen in the similarity of religious rites. Both (Judaism and Christianity) have no point of contact to the animal element” (The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941: p77). 

Likewise, in his Table Talk, carefully recorded by Bormann and others, Hitler declares on the night of the 11th July: 

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew” (Table Talk: p7). 

Here, in linking Christianity and Judaism, and attributing Jewish origins to Christianity, Hitler is, of course, following Nietzsche, since a central theme of the latter’s The Antichrist is that Christianity is indeed very much a Jewish invention. 

Indeed, the whole thrust of this quotation will immediately be familiar to anyone who has read Nietzsche’s The Antichrist. Thus, just as Hitler describes Christianity as “the heaviest blow that ever struck humanity”, so Nietzsche himself declared: 

Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity” (The Antichrist: 51). 

Similarly, just as Hitler describes “Bolshevism” as “Christianity’s illegitimate child”, so Nietzsche anticipates him in detecting this family resemblance, in The Antichrist declaring: 

The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry” (The Antichrist: 57). 

Thus, in this single quoted passage, Hitler aptly summarizes the central themes of The Antichrist in a single paragraph, the only difference being that, in Hitler’s rendering, the implicit anti-Semitic subtext of Nietzsche’s work is made explicit. 

Elsewhere in Table Talk, Hitler echoes other distinctly Nietzschean themes with regard to Christianity.  

Thus, just as Nietzsche famously condemned Christianity as a expression of slave morality and ‘ressentiment’, so Hitler declares: 

Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilisation by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society” (Table Talk: p75-6). 

This theme is classically Nietzschean.

Another common theme is the notion of Christianity as rejection of life itself. Thus, in a passage that I have already quoted above, Nietzsche declares: 

To attack the passions at their roots, means attacking life itself at its source: the method of the Church is hostile to life… The saint in whom God is well pleased, is the ideal eunuch. Life terminates where the ‘Kingdom of God’ begins” (Twilight of the Idols: iv:1) 

Hitler echoes a similar theme, himself declaring in one passage where he elucidates a social Darwinism ethic

Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure” (Table Talk: p51). 

In short, in his various condemnations of Christianity from Table Talk, Hitler is clearly drawing on his own reading of Nietzsche. Indeed, in some passages (e.g.Table Talk: p7; p75-6), he could almost be accused of plagiarism. 

Historians like to belittle the idea that Hitler was at all erudite or well-read, suggesting that, although famously an avid reader, his reading material was likely largely limited to such material Streicher’s Der Stürmer and a few similarly crude antisemitic pamphlets circulating in the dosshouses of pre-War Vienna. 

Hicks rightly rejects this view. From these quotations from Hitler’s Table Talk alone, I would submit that it is clear that Hitler had read Nietzsche.[8]

National Socialism and Socialism 

Another area where Hicks misinterprets Nazi ideology, upon which many other reviewers have rather predictably fixated, is the vexed and perennial question of the extent to which the National Socialist regime, which, of course, in name at least, purported to be socialist, is indeed accurately described as such. 

Mainstream historians generally reject the view that the Nazis were in any sense truly socialist

Partly this rejection of the notion that the Nazis were at all socialist may reflect the fact that many of the historians writing about this period of history are themselves socialist, or at least sympathetic to socialism, and hence wish to absolve socialism of any association with, let alone responsibility for, National Socialism.[9]

Hicks, who, for his part, seems to be something of a libertarian as far as I can make out, has a very different conclusion: namely that the National Socialists were indeed socialists and that socialism was in fact a central plank of their political programme. 

Thus, Hicks asserts: 

The Nazis stood for socialism and the principal of the central direction of the economy for the common good” (p106). 

Certainly, Hicks is correct that the Nazis stood for “the central direction of the economy”, albeit not so much “for the common good” of humanity, nor even of all German citizens, as for the “for the common good” only of ethnic Germans, with this “common good” being defined in Hitler’s own idiosyncratic terms and involving many of these ethnic Germans dying in his pointless wars of conquest. 

Thus, Hayek, who equates socialism with big government and a planned economy, argues in The Road to Serfdom that the Nazis, and the Fascists of Italy, were indeed socialist

However, I would argue that socialism is most usefully defined as entailing, not just the central direction of the economy, but also economic redistribution and the promotion of socio-economic equality.[10]

Yet, in Nazi Germany, the central direction of the economy was primarily geared, not towards promoting socioeconomic equality, but rather towards preparing the nation for war, in addition to various proposed vanity architectural projects.[11]

To prove the Nazis were socialist, Hicks relies extensively on the party’s 25-point programme

Yet this document was issued in 1920, when Hitler had yet to establish full control over the nascent movement, and still reflected the socialist ethos of many of the movement’s founders, whom Hitler was later to displace. 

Thus, German National Socialism, like Italian Fascism, did indeed very much begin on the left, attempting to combine socialism with nationalism, and thereby provide an alternative to the internationalist ethos of orthodox Marxism.  

However, long before either movement had ever even come within distant sight of power, each had already toned down, if not abandoned, much of their earlier socialist rhetoric. 

Certainly, although he declared the party programme as inviolable and immutable and blocked any attempt to amend or repudiate it, Hitler also took few steps whatever to actually implement most of the socialist provisions in the 25-point programme.[12]

Hicks also reports: 

So strong was the Nazi party’s commitment to socialism that in 1921 the party entered into negotiations to merge with another socialist party, the German Socialist Party” (p17). 

Hicks admits “the negotiations fell through”, but what he does not mention is that the deal was scuppered precisely because Hitler himself, then not yet the movement’s leader but already the NSDAP’s most dynamic organizer and speaker, specifically vetoed any notion of a merger, threatening to resign if he did not have his way, and thereby established control over the nascent party. 

To further buttress his claim that the Nazis were indeed socialist, Hicks also quotes extensively from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda (p18). 

Goebbels was indeed among the most powerful figures in the Nazi leadership besides Hitler himself, and the quotations attributed to him by Hicks do indeed suggest leftist socialist sympathies

However, Goebbels was, in this respect, something of an exception and outlier among the National Socialist leadership, since he had defected from the Strasserist wing of the Party, which was indeed socialist in orientation, but which was first marginalized then suppressed under Hitler’s leadership long before the Nazis came to power, with most remaining sympathizers, Goebbels excepted, purged or fleeing during the Night of the Long Knives

Goebbels may have retained some socialist sympathies thereafter. However, despite his power and prominence in the Nazi regime, he does not seem to have had any great success at steering the regime towards socialist redistribution or other leftist policies

In short, while National Socialism may have begun on the left, by the time the regime attained power, and certainly while they were in power, their policies were not especially socialist, at least in the sense of being economically redistributive or egalitarian. 

Nevertheless, it is indeed true that, with their centrally-planned economy and large government-funded public works projects, the National Socialist regime probably had more in common with the contemporary left, at least in a purely economic sense, than it would with the neoconservative, neoliberal free market ideology that has long been the dominant force in Anglo-American conservatism. 

Thus, whether the Nazis were indeed ‘socialist’, ultimately depends on precisely how we define the wordsocialist’. 

Nazi Antisemitism 

Yet one aspect of National Socialist ideology was indeed, in my view, left-wing and socialist in origin—namely their anti-Semitism

Of course, anti-Semitism is usually associated with the political right, more especially the so-called ‘far right’. 

However, in my view, anti-Semitism is always fundamentally leftist in nature. 

Thus, Marxists claim that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else. 

Nazis and anti-Semites, on the other hand, claim that society is controlled by a conspiracy of wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and exploit and oppress everyone else. 

The distinction between Nazism and Marxism is, then, largely tangential.

Antisemites and Nazis believe that our capitalist oppressors are all, or mostly, Jewish. Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on the matter either way and generally prefer not to talk about it. 

As a famous German political slogan had it: 

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.’ 

Indeed, anti-Semites who blame all the problems of the world on the Jews always remind me of Marxists who blame all the problems of the world on capitalism and capitalists, feminists who blame their problems on men, and black people who blame all their problems on ‘the White Man’. 

Interestingly, Nietzsche himself recognized this same parallel, writing of what he calls “ressentiment”, an important concept in his philosophy, connotations of repressed or sublimated envy and inferiority complex, that: 

This plant blooms its prettiest at present among Anarchists and anti-Semites” (On the Genealogy of Morals: ii: 11). 

In other words, Nietzsche seems to be recognizing that both socialism and anti-Semitism reflect what modern conservatives often term ‘the politics of envy’. 

Thus, in The Will to Power, Nietzsche observes: 

The anti-Semites do not forgive the Jews for having both intellectand money’” (The Will to Power: IV:864). 

Nietzschean Antisemitism

Yet Jews themselves are, in Nietzsche’s thinking, by no means immune from the “ressentiment” that he also diagnoses in socialists and antisemites

On the contrary, it is Jewish ressentiment vis a vis successive waves of conquerors—especially the Romans—that, in Nietzsche’s thinking, birthed Christianity, slave morality and the original transvaluation of values that he so deplores. 

Thus, Nietzsche relates in Beyond Good and Evil that: 

The Jews performed the miracle of the inversion of valuations, by means of which life on earth obtained a new and dangerous charm for a couple of millenniums. Their prophets fused into one the expressions ‘rich,’ ‘godless,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘violent,’ ‘sensual,’ and for the first time coined the word ‘world’ as a term of reproach. In this inversion of valuations (in which is also included the use of the word ‘poor’ as synonymous with ‘saint’ and ‘friend’) the significance of the Jewish people is to be found; it is with them that the slave-insurrection in morals commences” (Beyond Good and Evil: V: 195).[13]

Thus, in The Antichrist, Nietzsche talks of “the Christian” as “simply a Jew of the ‘reformed’ confession”, and “the Jew all over again—the threefold Jew” (The Antichrist: 44), concluding: 

Christianity is to be understood only by examining the soil from which it sprung—it is not a reaction against Jewish instincts; it is their inevitable product” (The Antichrist: 24). 

All of this, it is clear from the tone and context, is not at all intended as a complement—either to Jews or Christians

Thus, lest we have any doubts on this matter, Nietzsche declares in Twilight of the Idols

Christianity as sprung from Jewish roots and comprehensible only as grown upon this soil, represents the counter-movement against that morality of breeding, of race and of privilege:—it is essentially an anti-Aryan religion: Christianity is the transvaluation of all Aryan values, the triumph of Chandala values, the proclaimed gospel of the poor and of the low, the general insurrection of all the down-trodden, the wretched, the bungled and the botched, against the ‘race,’—the immortal revenge of the Chandala as the religion of love” (Twilight of the Idols: VI:4). 

Thus, if Nietzsche rejected the anti-Semitism of his sister, brother-in-law and former idol, Wagner, he nevertheless constructed in its place a new anti-Semitism all of his own, which, far from blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, instead blamed them for the genesis of Christianity itself—a theme that is, as we have seen, directly echoed by Hitler in his Table Talk

Thus, Nietzsche remarks in The Antichrist

“[Jewish] influence has so falsified the reasoning of mankind in this matter that today the Christian can cherish anti-Semitism without realizing that it is no more than the final consequence of Judaism” (The Antichrist: 24). 

An even more interesting passage regarding the Jewish people appears just a paragraph later, where Nietzsche observes: 

The Jews are the very opposite of décadents: they have simply been forced into appearing in that guise, and with a degree of skill approaching the non plus ultra of histrionic genius they have managed to put themselves at the head of all décadent movements (for example, the Christianity of Paul), and so make of them something stronger than any party… To the sort of men who reach out for power under Judaism and Christianity,—that is to say, to the priestly class—décadence is no more than a means to an end. Men of this sort have a vital interest in making mankind sick” (The Antichrist: 24). 

Here, Nietzsche echoes, or perhaps even originates, what is today a familiar theme in anti-Semitic discourse—namely, that Jews champion subversive and destructive ideologies (Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, mass migration of unassimilable minorities) only to weaken the Gentile power structure and thereby enhance their own power.[14]

This idea finds its most sophisticated (but still flawed) contemporary exposition in the work of evolutionary psychologist and contemporary anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald, who, in his book, The Culture of Critique (reviewed here), conceptualizes a range of twentieth century intellectual movements such as psychoanalysis, Boasian anthropology and immigration reform as what he calls ‘group evolutionary strategies’ that function to promote the survival and success of the Jews in diaspora. 

Nietzsche, however, goes further and extends this idea to the genesis of Christianity itself. 

Thus, in Nietzsche’s view, Christianity, as an outgrowth of Judaism and an invention of Paul and the Jewish ‘priestly class’, is itself a part of what Macdonald would call a ‘Jewish group evolutionary strategy’ designed in order to undermine the goyish Roman civilization under whose yoke Jews had been subjugated. 

Nietzsche, a professed anti-Christian but an admirer of the ancient Greeks (or at least of some of them), and even more so of the Romans, would likely agree with Tertullian that Jerusalem has little to do with Athens – or indeed with Rome. However, Hicks observes: 

As evidence of whether Rome or Judea is winning, [Nietzsche] invites us to consider to whom one kneels down before in Rome today” (p70). 

Racialism and the Germans 

Yet, with regard to their racial views, Nietzsche and the Nazis differ, not only in their attitude towards Jews, but also in their attitude towards Germans. 

Thus, according to Hicks: 

The Nazis believe the German Aryan to be racially superior—while Nietzsche believes that the superior types can be manifested in any racial type” (p85). 

Yet, here, Hicks is only half right. While it certainly true that the Nazis extolled the German people, and the so-called ‘Aryan race’, as a master race, it is not at all clear that Nietzsche indeed believed that the superior type of man can be found among all races. 

Actually, besides a few comments about Jews, mostly favourable, and a few more about the Germans and the English, almost always disparaging, Nietzsche actually says surprisingly little about race

However, on reflection, this is not at all surprising, since, being resident throughout his life in a Europe that was then very much monoracial, Nietzsche probably little if any direct contact with nonwhite races or peoples. 

Moreover, living as he did in the nineteenth century, when European power was at its apex, and much of the world controlled by European colonial empires, Nietzsche, like most of his European contemporaries, probably took white European racial superiority very much for granted. 

It is therefore only natural that his primary concern was the relative superiority and status of the various European subtypes – hence his occasional comments regarding Jews, English, Germans and occasionally other groups such as the French. 

Hicks asserts: 

The Nazis believe contemporary German culture to be the highest and the best hope for the world—while Nietzsche holds contemporary German culture to be degenerate and to be infecting the rest of the world” (p85). 

Yet this is something of a simplification of National Socialist ideology. 

In fact, the Nazis too believed that the Germany of their own time – namely the Weimar Republic – was decadent and corrupt. 

Indeed, a belief in both national degeneration and in the need for national spiritual rebirth and awakening has been identified as a key defining element in fascism.[15]

Thus, Nietzsche’s own belief in the decadence of contemporary western civilization, and arguably also his belief in the coming Übermensch promising spiritual revitalization, is, in many respects, a paradigmatically and prototypically fascist model. [16]

Of course, the Nazis only believed that German culture was corrupt and decadent before they had themselves come to power and hence supposedly remedied this situation.  

In contrast, Nietzsche never had the chance to rejuvenate the German culture and civilization of his own time – and nor did he live to see the coming Übermensch.[17]

The Blond Beast’  

Hicks contends that Nietzsche’s employment of the phrase “the blond beast” in The Genealogy of Morals is not a racial reference to the characteristically blond hair of Nordic Germans, as it has sometimes been interpreted, but rather a reference to the blond mane of the lion. 

Actually, I suspect Nietzsche may have intended a double-meaning or metaphor, referring to both the stereotypically blond complexion of the Germanic warrior and to the mane of the lion. 

Indeed, the use of such a double-meaning or metaphor would be typical of Nietzsche’s poetic, literary and distinctly non-philosophical (or at least not traditionally philosophical) style of writing. 

Thus, even in one of the passages from The Genealogy of Morals employing this metaphor that is quoted by Hicks himself, Nietzsche explicitly refers to the “the blond Germanic beast [emphasis added]” (quoted: p78).[18]

It is true that, in another passage from the same work, Nietzche contends that “the splendid blond beast” lies at “the bottom of all these noble races”, among whom he includes, not just the Germanic, but also such distinctly non-Nordic races as “the Roman, Arabian… [and] Japanese nobility” among others (quoted: p79). 

Here, the reference to the Japanese “nobility”, rather than the Japanese people as a whole, is, I suspect, key, since, as we have seen, Nietzsche clearly regards the superior type of man, if present at all, as always necessarily a minority among all races. 

However, in referring to “noble races”, Nietzsche necessarily implies that certain other races are not so “noble”. Just as to say that certain men are ‘superior’ necessarily implies that others are inferior, since superiority is a relative concept, so to talk of “noble races” necessarily supposes the existence of ignoble races too. 

Thus, if the superior type of man, in Nietzsche’s view, only ever represents a small minority of the population among any race, it does not necessarily follow that, in his view, such types are to be found among all races. 

Hicks is therefore wrong to conclude that: 

Nietzsche believes that the superior types can be manifested in any racial type” (p85). 

In short, just because Nietzsche believed that vast majority of contemporary Germans were poltroons, Chandala, ‘beer drinkers’ and ‘herd animals’, it does not necessarily follow that he also believes that an Australian Aboriginal can be an Übermensch

A Nordicist, Aryanist, Völkisch Milieu? 

Thus, for all his condemnation of Germans and German nationalism, one cannot help forming the impression on reading Nietzsche that he very much existed within, if not a German nationalist milieu, then at least a broader Nordicist, Aryanist and Völkisch intellectual milieu – the same milieu that birthed certain key strands in the National Socialist Weltanschauung

This is apparent in the very opening lines of The Antichrist, where Nietzsche declares himself, and his envisaged readership, as “Hyperboreans”, a term popular among proto-Nazi occultists, such as some members of the Thule Society, the group which itself birthed what was to become the NSDAP, and which had named itself after the supposed capital of the mythical Hyperborea.[19]

It is also apparent when, in Twilight of the Idols, he disparages Christianity as specifically an “anti-Aryan religion… [and] the transvaluation of all Aryan values” (Twilight of the Idols: VI:4). 

Apologists sometimes insist that Nietzsche, as a philologist by training, was only using the word Aryan in the linguistic sense, i.e. where we would today say ‘Indo-European

However, Nietzsche was writing at a time and place, namely Germany in the nineteenth century, when Aryanist ideas were very much in vogue, and it would be naïve to think that Nietzsche was not all too aware of the full connotations of this word. 

Moreover, his references to “Aryan values” and “anti-Aryan religion”, referring, as they do, to values and religion, clearly go beyond merely linguistic descriptors, and, though they may envisage a mere cultural inheritance from the proto-Indo-Europeans, nevertheless seem, in my reading, to envisage, not so much a scientific biological conception of race, including race differences in behaviour and psychology, as much as they anticipate the mystical, quasi-religious and slightly bonkers ‘spiritual racialism’ of Nietzsche’s self-professed disciples, Spengler and Evola

Less obviously, this affinity for Nazi-style ‘Aryanism’ is also apparent in Nietzsche’s extolment for the Law of Manu and Indian caste system, and his adoption of the Sanskrit term Chandala for the ‘herd animals’ he so disparages, since, although South Asians are obviously far from racially Nordic, proto-Nazi Völkisch esotericists (and their post-war successors) nevertheless had a curious obsession with Hindu religion and caste, and it is from India that the Nazis seemingly took both the swastika symbol and the very word ‘Aryan’. 

Indeed, even Nietzsche’s odd decision to name his prophet of the coming Übermensch, and mouthpiece for his own philosophy, after the Iranian religious figure, Zarathustra, despite the fact that the philosophy of the historical Zoroaster, at least as it is remembered today, had little in common with Nietzsche’s own philosophy, but rather represented almost its opposite (which may have been Nietzsche’s point), may have reflected the fact that the historical Zoroaster was, of course, Iranian, and hence quintessentially ‘Aryan’.

Will Durant, in The Story of Philosophy, writes: 

Nietzsche was the child of Darwin and the brother of Bismarck. It does not matter that he ridiculed the English evolutionists and the German nationalists: he was accustomed to denounce those who had most influenced him; it was his unconscious way of covering up his debts” (The Story of Philosophy: p373).[20]

This perhaps goes some way to making sense of Nietzsche’s ambiguous relationship to Darwin, whose theory he so often singles out for criticism. 

Perhaps something similar can be said of Nietzsche’s relationship, not only to German nationalism, but also to anti-Semitism, since, as a former disciple of Wagner, he existed within a German nationalist and anti-Semitic intellectual milieu, from which he sought to distinguish himself but which he never wholly relinquished. 

Thus, if Nietzsche condemned the crude antiSemitism of Wagner, his sister and brother-in-law, he nevertheless constructed in its place a new antiSemitism that blamed the Jews, not merely for the crucifixion of Christ, but rather for the very invention of Christianity, Christian ethics and the entire edifice of what he called ‘slave morality’ and the ‘transvaluation of values’. 

Nietzschean Philosemitism?

Thus, even Nietzsche’s many apparently favorable comments regarding the Jews can often be interpreted as backhanded complements

As a character from a Michel Houellebecq novel observes: 

All anti-Semites agree that the Jews have a certain superiority. If you read anti-Semitic literature, you’re struck by the fact that the Jew is considered to be more intelligent, more cunning, that he is credited with having singular financial talents – and, moreover, greater communal solidarity. Result: six million dead” (Platform: p113). 

Indeed, Nazi propaganda provides a good illustration of this. 

Thus, in claiming that Jews, who only ever represented only a tiny minority of the Weimar-era German population, nevertheless dominated the media, banking, commerce and the professions, Nazi propaganda often came close to inadvertently implicitly conceding Jewish superiority – since to dominate the economy of a mighty power like Germany, despite only ever representing a tiny minority of the population, is hardly a feat indicative of inferiority. 

Indeed, Nazi propaganda came close to self-contradiction, since, if Jews did indeed dominate the Weimar-era economy to the extent claimed in Nazi propaganda, this not only suggests that the Jews themselves are far from inferior to the German Gentile Goyim whom they had ostensibly oppressed and subjugated, but also that the Germans themselves, in allowing themselves to be so dominated by this tiny minority of Jews in their midst, were something rather less than the Aryan Übermensch and master race of  Hitler’s own demented imagining. 

Many antisemites have praised the Jews for their tenacity, resilience, survival, alleged clannishness and ethnocentrism, and, perhaps most ominously, their supposed racial purity

For example, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a major influence on Nazi race theory and mentor to Hitler himself, nevertheless insisted:

The Jews deserve admiration, for they have acted with absolute consistency according to the logic and truth of their own individuality and never for a moment have they allowed themselves to forget the sacredness of physical laws because of foolish humanitarian day-dreams which they shared only when such a policy was to their advantage” (Foundations of the Nineteenth Century: p531).[21]

Similarly, contemporary antisemite Kevin MacDonald, arguing that Jews might serve as a model for less ethnocentric white westerners to emulate, professes to:

Greatly admire Jews as a group that has pursued its interests over thousands of years, while retaining its ethnic coherence and intensity of group commitment (Macdonald 2004). 

Indeed, even Hitler himself came close to philosemitism in one passage of Mein Kampf, where he declares: 

“The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew. In hardly any people in the world is the instinct of self-preservation developed more strongly than in the so-called ‘chosen’. Of this, the mere fact of the survival of this race may be considered the best proof” (Mein Kampf).[22]

Many of Nietzsche’s own apparently complementary remarks regarding the Jewish people can be interpreted in much the same vein. 

Thus, Hicks himself credits Nietzsche with deploring the slave morality that was their legacy, but nevertheless recognizing that this slave morality was a highly successful strategy in enabling them to survive and prosper in diaspora as a defeated and banished people. Thus, Nietzsche admires them as: 

Inheritors of a cultural tradition that has enabled them to survive and even flourish despite great adversity… [and] would at the very least have to grant, however grudgingly, that the Jews have hit upon a survival strategy and kept their cultural identity for well over two thousand years” (p82). 

Thus, in one of his many backhanded complements, Nietzsche declares:  

The Jews are the most remarkable people in the history of the world, for when they were confronted with the question, to be or not to be, they chose, with perfectly unearthly deliberation, to be at any price: this price involved a radical falsification of all nature, of all naturalness, of all reality, of the whole inner world, as well as of the outer” (The Antichrist: 24). 

Defeating Nazism 

In Hicks’s final chapter, he discusses how best Nazism can be defeated. In doing so, he seemingly presupposes that Nazism is, not only an evil that must be defeated, but moreover the ultimate evil that must be defeated at all costs and that we must therefore structure our entire economic and political system in order to achieve this goal and prevent any possibility of Nazism’s reemergence. 

In doing so, he identifies what he sees as “the direct opposite of what the Nazis stood for” as necessarily “the best antidote to National Socialism we have” (p106-7). 

Yet, to assume that there is a “direct opposite” to each of the Nazis’ central tenets assumes that all political positions can be conceptualized on a single dimensional axis, with the Nazis at one end and Hicks’s own rational free market utopia at the other. 

In reality, the political spectrum is multidimensional and there are many alternatives to each of the tenets identified by Hicks as integral to Nazism, not just a single opposite. 

More importantly, it is not at all clear that the best way to defeat any ideology is necessarily to embrace its polar opposite. 

On the contrary, embracing an opposite form of extremism often only provokes a counter-reaction and is hence counterproductuve. In contrast, often the best way to defeat extremism is to actually address some of the legitimate issues raised by the extremists and offer practical, realistic solutions and compromise – i.e. moderation rather than extremism. 

Thus, in the UK, the two main post-war electoral manifestations of what was arguably a resurgent Nazi-style racial nationalism were the National Front in the 1970s and the British National Party (BNP) in the 2000s, each of whom achieved some rather modest electoral successes, and inspired a great deal of media-led moral-panic, in their respective heydays before quickly fading into obscurity and electoral irrelevance. 

Yet each were defeated, not by the emergence of an opposite extremism of either left or right, nor by the often violent agitation and activism of self-styled ‘anti-fascists’, but rather by the emergence of political figures or movements that addressed some of the legitimate issues raised by the extremist groups, especially regarding immigration, but cloaked them in more moderate language. 

Thus, in the 2000s, the BNP was largely outflanked by the rise of the UKIP, which increasingly echoed many of the BNP’s rhetoric regarding mass immigration, but largely avoided any association with racism, white supremacism or neo-Nazism. In short, UKIP outflanked the BNP by being precisely what the BNP had long pretended to be – namely, a non-racist, anti-immigration civic nationalist party – only, in the case of UKIP, the act actually appeared to be genuine.

Meanwhile, in the 1970s, the collapse and implosion of the National Front was largely credited to the rise of Margaret Thatcher, who, in one infamous interview, empathized with the fear of many British people that their country being “swamped by people with a different culture”, though, in truth, once in power, she did little to arrest or even slow, let alone reverse, this ongoing and now surely irreversible process of demographic transformation

Misreading Nietzsche 

Why, then, has Nietzsche come to be so misunderstood? How is it that this nineteenth-century German philosopher has come to be claimed as a precursor by everyone from Fascists and libertarians to leftist postmodernists. 

The fault, in my view, lies largely with Nietzsche himself, in particular his obscure, esoteric writing style, especially in his infamously indecipherable, Thus Spake Zarathustra, but to some extent throughout his entire body of writing. 

Indeed, Nietzsche, perhaps to his credit, even admits to adopting a deliberately impenetrable prose style, not so much admitting as proudly declaring as much in one parenthesis from Beyond Good and Evil that has been variously translated as: 

I obviously do everything to be ‘hard to understand’ myself


I do everything to be difficultly understood myself”  (Beyond Good and Evil: II, 27).

Admittedly, here, the wording, or at least the various English renderings, is itself not entirely clear in its meaning. However, the fact that even this single seemingly simple sentence lends itself to somewhat different interpretations only illustrates the scale of the problem. 

In my view, as I have written previously, philosophers who adopt an aphoristic style of writing generally substitute bad poetry for good arguments. 

Thus, in one sense at least leftist postmodernists are right to claim Nietzsche as a philosophical precursor: He, like them, delights in pretentious obfuscation and obscurantism

The best writers, in my view, generally present their ideas in the clearest and simplest language that the complexity of their ideas permit. 

Indeed, the most profound thinkers generally have no need increase the complexity of ideas that are already inherently complex through deliberately obscure or impenetrable language. 

In contrast, it is only those with only banal and unoriginal ideas who adopt deliberately complex and confusing language in order to conceal the banality and unoriginality of their ideas. 

Thus, Richard DawkinsFirst Law of the Conservation of Difficulty states: 

Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.”  

What applies to an academic subject applies equally to individual writers – namely. as a general rule, the greater the obscurantism, the less the substance and insight. 

Yet, unlike the postmodernists, poststucturalists, deconstructionalists, contemporary continental philosophers and other assorted ‘professional damned fools’ who so often claim him as a precursor, Nietzsche is indeed, in my view, an important, profound and original thinker. 

Moreover, far from replacing good philosophy with bad poetry, Nietzsche is, besides being a profound and original thinker, also a magnificent prose stylist, the brilliance of whose writing shines through even in translation. 

Conclusion – Was Nietzsche a Nazi? 

The Nazis, we are repeatedly reassured by leftists, misunderstood Nietzsche. Either that or they deliberated misrepresented and misappropriated him. At any rate, one thing is clear – they were wrong. 

This argument is largely correct – as far as it goes. 

The Nazis did indeed engage in a disingenuous and highly selective reading of Nietzsche’s work, selectively quoting his words out of context, and conveniently ignoring, or even suppressing, those passages of his writing where he explicitly condemns both antiSemitism and German nationalism

The problem with this view is not that it is wrong – but rather with what it leaves out. 

Nietzsche may not have been a Nazi, but he was certainly an elitist and anti-egalitarian, opposed to socialism, liberalism, democracy and pretty much the entire liberal democratic political and social worldview of the contemporary west.

Indeed, although, today, in America at least, atheism tends to be associated with leftist, or at least liberal views, and Christianity with conservatism and the right, Nietzsche opposed socialism precisely because he saw it as an inheritance of the very JudeoChristianslave morality’ to which his philosophy stood in opposition, albeit divested of the very religious foundation which provided this moral system with its original justification and basis.

Thus, in The Will to Power, he observes that “socialists appeal to the Christian instincts” and bewails “the socialistic ideal” as merely “the residue of Christianity and of Rousseau in the de-Christianised world” (The Will to Power: III, 765; IV, 1017). Likewise, he laments of the English in Twilight of the Idols:

They are rid of the Christian God and therefore think it all the more incumbent upon them to hold tight to Christian morality” (Twilight of the Idols: IX, 5).

While Nietzsche would certainly have disapproved of many aspects of Nazi ideology, it is not at all clear that he would have considered our own twenty-first century western culture as any better. Indeed he may well have considered it considerably worse. 

Thus, it is indeed true that Nietzsche was no National Socialist, but he was also far from a leftist or a liberal, and was far from politically correct by modern standards in his views regarding the Jews, for example. 

Indeed, the worldview of this most elitist and anti-egalitarian of thinkers is arguably even less reconcilable with contemporary left-liberal notions of social justice than is that of the Nazis themselves.  

Thus, if the Nazis did indeed misappropriate Nietzsche’s philosophy, then this misappropriation was as nothing compared to that of those leftists, post-modernists, post-structuralists and other such ‘professional damned fools’ who have vainly, and dishonestly, attempted to claim this most anti-egalitarian and elitist of thinkers on behalf of the left


[1] The claim that the foreign policies of governmental regimes of all ideological persuasions are governed less by their ideology than by power politics, is, of course, a central tenet, indeed perhaps the central tenet of the realist school of international relations theory. Indeed, Hitler himself provided a good example of this when, despite his ideological opposition to Judeo-Bolshevism and desire for lebensraum in the East, not to mention disparaging racial attitude to the Slavic peoples, nevertheless, rebuffed in his efforts to come to an understanding with Britain and France, or form an alliance with Poland, instead sent Ribbentrop to negotiate a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. It can even be argued that it was Hitler’s abandonment of pragmatic realpolitik in favour of ideological imperative, when he later invaded the Soviet Union that led to his own, and his regime’s, demise.

[2] Curiously missing from all such lists is Nietzsche’s own early idol, Arthur Schopenhauer. Yet it was Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, that Hitler claimed to have carried with him in the trenches in his knapsack throughout the First World War, and Schopenhauer even has the dubious distinction of having his antisemitic comments regarding Jews favourably quoted by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Indeed, according to the recollections of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler professed to prefer Schopenhauer over Nietzsche, Hitler being quoted as asserting: 

I can’t really do much with Nietzsche… He is more an artist than a philosopher; he doesn’t have the crystal-clear understanding of Schopenhauer. Of course, I value Nietzsche as a genius. He writes possibly the most beautiful language that German literature has to offer us today, but he is not my guide” (quoted: Hitler’s Private Library: p107). 

Somewhat disconcertingly, this assessment of Nietzsche – namely as “more… artist than philosopher” and far from “crystal-clear” in his writing style, but nevertheless a brilliant prose stylist, the beauty of whose writing shines through even in English translation – actually rather reflects my own assessment. Moreover, I too am an admirer of Schopenhauer’s writings, albeit not so much his philosophy, let alone his metaphysics, but more his theory of human behaviour and psychology.
Yet, on reflection, Schopenhauer is surely rightly omitted from lists of the philosophical influences on Nazism. Save for the antisemitic remarks quoted in Mein Kampf, which are hardly an integral part of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, there is little in Schopenhauer’s body of writing, let alone in his philosophical writings, that can be seen to jibe with National Socialism policy or ideology.
Indeed, Schopenhauer’s philosophy, to the extent it is prescriptive at all, advocates an ascetic withdrawal from worldly temptation, and championed art as a form of escapism.
Hitler did indeed, in some respects, even as dictator, live a frugal, spartan life. He was, in later lifereportedly, a vegetarian, who also abstained from alcohol, and also an art lover who found escapism in both movies and the operas of Wagner (the latter himself a disciple of Schopenhauer), and seems, for most of his adult life, to have had little active sex life. However, the NSDAP programme, like all political programmes, necessarily involved active engagement with the world, something Schopenhauer would have dismissed as largely futile.
Indeed, Hitler himself aptly summarized why Schopenhauer’s philosophy could never be a basis for any type of active political programme, let alone that of the NSDAP, in a comment quoted by Hanfstaengl, where he bemoans Schopenhauer’s influence on his former mentor Eckart, remarking: 

Schopenhauer has done Eckart no good. He has made him a doubting Thomas, who only looks forward to a Nirvana. Where would I get if I listened to all his [Schopenhauer’s] transcendental talk? A nice ultimate wisdom that: To reduce on[e]self to a minimum of desire and will. Once will is gone all is gone. This life is War” (quoted in: Hitler’s Philosophers: p24). 

Modern left-liberal apologists for Nietzsche often attempt to characterize Nietzsche as a largely apolitical thinker. This is, of course, deluded apologetics. However, as applied to Schopenhauer, the claim is indeed largely valid. 

[3] Hicks does not mention the figure who was, in my perhaps eccentric view, the greatest thinker associated with the NSDAP, namely Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz, perhaps because, unlike the other thinkers whom he does discuss, Lorenz only joined the NSDAP several years after they had come to power, and his association with the NSDAP could therefore be dismissed as purely opportunistic. Alternatively, Hicks may have overlooked Lorenz simply because Lorenz was a biologist rather than a philosopher, though it should be noted that Lorenz also made important contributions to philosophy as well, in particular his pioneering work in evolutionary epistemology.

[4] It is true that Nietzsche does not actually envisage or advocate a return to the ‘master morality’ of an earlier age, but rather the construction of a new morality, the outline of which could, at the time he wrote, only be foreseen in rough outline. Nevertheless, it is clear he favoured this ‘master morality’ over the ‘slave morality’ that he associated with Christianity and our own post-Christian ethics, and also that he viewed the coming morality of the Übermensch as having much more in common with the ‘master morality’ of old than with the Christian ‘slave morality’ he so disparages. 

[5] Hitler exerted a direct impact on world history from 1933 until his death in 1945. Yet Hitler, or at least the spectre of Hitler, continues to exert an indirect but not insubstantial impact on contemporary world politics to this day, as a kind of ‘bogeyman’, whom we define our views in opposition to, and invoke as a kind of threat or form of guilt-by-association. This is most obvious in the familiar ‘reductio ad Hitlerum’. Of course, in considering the question of whether Hitler may indeed qualify as a ‘great man’, we are not using the word ‘great’ in a moral sense. Rather, we are employing the term in the older sense, meaning ‘large in size’. This exculpatory clarificiation we might aptly term the Farrakhan proviso

[6] Collectivists are, almost by definition, authoritarian, since collectivism necessarily demands that individual rights and freedoms be curtailed, restricted or abrogated for the benefit of the collective, and this invariably requires coercion because people have evolved to selfishly promote their own inclusive fitness at the expense of that of rivals and competitors. However, authoritarianism can also be justified on non-collectivist grounds. Nietzsche’s proposed restrictions of the individual liberty of the ‘herd animal’ and ‘Chandala’ seem to me to be justified, not by reference to the individual or collective interests of such ‘Chandala’, but rather by reference to the interests of the superior man and of the higher evolution of mankind.

[7] The first of these is a pair of interviews that were supposedly conducted with Hitler by German journalist Richard Breiting in 1931, to which Hicks sources several supposed quotations from Hitler (p117; p122; p124; p125; p133). Unfortunately, however, the interviews, only published in 1968 by Yugoslavian journalist Edouard Calic several decades after they were supposedly conducted, contain anachronistic material and are hence almost certainly post-war forgeries. Richard Evans, for example, described them as having obviously been in large part, if not completely, made up by Calic himself (Evans 2014).
The other is Hermann Rauschning’s The Voice of Destruction, published in Britain under the title Hitler Speaks, to which Hicks sources several quotations from Hitler (p120; p125; 126; p134). This is now widely recognised as a fraudulent work of wartime propaganda. Historians now believe that Rauschning actually only met with Hitler on a few occasions, was certainly not a close confident and that most, if not all, of the conversations with Hitler recounted in The Voice of Destruction are pure inventions.
Thus, for example, Ian Kershaw in the first volume of his Hitler biography, Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris, makes sure to emphasize in his preface: 

I have on no single occasion cited Hermann Rauschning’s Hitler Speaks [the title under which The Voice of Destruction was published in Britain], a work now regarded to have so little authenticity that it is best to disregard it altogether” (Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris: pxvi). 

Similarly, Richard Evans definitively concludes:

Nothing was genuine in Rauschning’s book: his ‘conversations with Hitler’ had no more taken place than his conversations with Göring. He had been put up to writing the book by Winston Churchill’s literary agent, Emery Reeves, who was also responsible for another highly dubious set of memoirs, the industrialist Fritz Thyssen’s I Paid Hitler” (Evans 2014).

Admittedly, Rauschning’s work was once taken seriously by mainstream historians, and The Voice of Destruction is cited repeatedly in such early and still-celebrated works as Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler, first published in 1947, and Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, first published in 1952.  However, Hicks’s own book was published in 2006, by which time Rauschning’s work had already long previously been exposed as a hoax. 
Indeed, it is something of an indictment of the standards, not to mention the politicized and moralistic tenor, of what we might call ‘Hitler historiography’ that this work was ever taken seriously by historians in the first place. First published in the USA in 1940, it was clearly a work of anti-Nazi wartime propaganda and much of the material is quite fantastic in content.
For example, there are bizarre passages about Hitler having been “long been in bondage to a magic which might well have been described, not only in metaphor but in literal fact, as that of evil spirits” and of Hitler “wak[ing] at night with convulsive shrieks”, and one such passage describes how Hitler: 

Stood swaying in his room, looking wildly about him. “He! He! He’s been here!” he gasped. His lips were blue. Sweat streamed down his face. Suddenly he began to reel off figures, and odd words and broken phrases, entirely devoid of sense. It sounded horrible. He used strangely composed and entirely un-German word-formations. Then he stood quite still, only his lips moving. He was massaged and offered something to drink. Then he suddenly broke out — “There, there! In the comer! Who’s that.?” He stamped and shrieked in the familiar way. He was shown that there was nothing out of the ordinary in the room, and then he gradually grew calm” (The Voice of Destruction: p256) 

Yet, oddy, the first doubts regarding the authenticity of the conversations reported in The Voice of Destruction were raised, not by mainstream historians studying the Third Reich, but rather by an obscure Swiss researcher, Wolfgang Haenel, who first presented his thesis at a conference organized by a research institute widely associated with so-called ‘holocaust denial’. Moreover, other self-styled ‘holocaust revisionists’ were among the first to endorse Haenel’s critique of Rauschning’s work. Yet his conclusions are now belatedly accepted by virtually all mainstream scholars in the field. This perhaps suggests that such ‘revisionist’ research is not always without value.

[8] It must be acknowledged here that the question of the religious views of Hitler is a matter of some controversy. It is sometimes suggested that the hostile view of Christianity expressed in Hitler’s Table Talk reflect less the opinion of Hitler, and more those of of Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, who was responsible for transcribing much of this material. Bormann is indeed known to have been hostile to Christianity, and Speer, who disliked Bormann, indeed remarks in his memoirs that:

If in the course of such a monologue Hitler had pronounced a more negative judgment upon the church, Bormann would undoubtedly have taken from his jacket pocket one of the white cards he always carried with him. For he noted down all Hitler’s remarks that seemed to him important; and there was hardly anything he wrote down more eagerly than deprecating comments on the church” (Inside the Third Reich: p95). 

However, it is important to note that Speer does not deny that Hitler himself did indeed make such remarks. Indeed, it is hardly likely that Bormann, a faithful, if not obsequious, acolyte of the Fürher, would ever dare to falsely attribute to Hitler remarks which the latter had never uttered or views to which he did not subscribe. At any rate, the views attributed to Hitler in Table Talk are amply corroborated in other sources, such as in Goebbels’s diaries and indeed in Speer’s memoirs, both of which I have also quoted above.
It is also true that, elsewhere in Table Talk, Hitler talks approvingly of Jesus as “most certainly not a Jew”, and as fighting “against the materialism of His age, and, therefore, against the Jews”. This is, of course, a very odd and eccentric, not to mention historically unsupported, perspective on the historical Jesus.
However, it is interesting to note that, despite his disdain for Christianity, Nietzsche too, despite his more orthodox view of the historical Jesus, nevertheless professes to admire Jesus in The Antichrist. Indeed, in repeatedly placing the blame for Christianity not on Jesus himself, but rather on Paul of Tarsus, whom he accuses, again echoing Nietzsche, of transforming Christianity into “a rallying point for slaves of all kinds against the élite, the masters and those in dominant authority” (Table Talk: p722), Hitler is therefore again following Nietzsche, who, in The Antichrist, similarly condemns Paul as the true founder of modern Christianity and of the Christian slave morality that infected western man.
Just to clarify, I am not here suggesting that Hitler’s views with respect to Christianity are identical to those of Nietzsche. On the contrary, they clearly differ in several respects, not least in their differing historical perspectives on the historial Jesus.
Nevertheless, Hitler’s religious views, as expressed in his Table Talk, clearly mirror those of Nietzsche in certain key respects, not least in seeing Christianity as the greatest tragedy to befall humanity, as inimical to life itself, and as a malign invention of or inheritance from Jews and Judaism. Given these parallels, it seems almost certain that the German Führer had read the works of Nietzsche and, to some extent, been influenced by his ideas.
Interestingly, elsewhere in his Table Talk, Hitler also condemns atheism, describing it as “a return to the state of the animal” and argues that “the notion of divinity gives most men the opportunity to concretise the feeling they have of supernatural” (Table Talk: p123; p61). Hitler also often referred to God, and especially providence, in a metaphoric sense. Indeed, he even himself professes a belief in a God, albeit of a decidedly non-Chrisitian Pantheistic form, defining God as “the dominion of natural laws throughout the whole universe” (Table Talk: p6).
However, this only demonstrates that there are other forms of theism, and deism, besides Christianity, and that one can be opposed to Christianity without being opposed to all religion. Thus, Goebbels declares in his Diary: 

The Fuhrer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian” (The Goebbels diaries, 1939-1941: p77). 

The general impression from Table Talk is that Hitler sees himself, perhaps surprisingly, as a scientific materialist, albeit one who, like, it must be said, no few modern scientific materialists, actually often knows embarrassingly little about science. (For example, in Table Talk, Hitler repeatedly endorses Hörbiger’s World Ice Theory, comparing Hörbiger to Copernicus in his impact on cosmology, and even proposing opposing the “pseudo-science of the Catholic Church” with the ‘science’ of PtolemyCopernicus, and, yes, Hörbiger: Table Talk: p249; p324; p445.)

[9] After all, socialists already have the horrors of Mau, Stalin, Pol Pot and communist North Korea among many others on their hands. To be associated also with National Socialism in Germany as well would effectively make socialism responsible for, or at least associated with, virtually all of the great atrocities of the twentieth century, rather than merely the vast majority of them. 

[10] Interestingly, although dictionary definitions available on the internet vary considerably, most definitions of ‘socialism tend to be much narrower than my definition, emphasizing, in particular, common or public ownership of the means of production. Partly, this reflects, I suspect, the different connotations of the word in British- and American-English. Thus, in America, where, until recently, socialism was widely seen as anathema, the term was associated with, and indeed barely distinguished from, communism or Marxism. In Britain, however, where the Labour Party, one of the two main parties of the post-war era, traditionally styled itself ‘socialist’, despite generally advocating and pursuing policies that would be closer to what would be called, on continental Europe, ‘social democracy’, the word has much less radical connotations.

[11] Admittedly, reducing unemployment also seems to have been a further objective of some of the large public works projects undertaken under the Nazis (e.g. the construction of the autobahns), and this can indeed be seen as a socialist objective. However, socialists are, of course, not alone in seeing job creation as desirable and high rates of unemployment as undesirable. On the contrary, the desirability of job creation and of reducing unemployment is widely accepted across the political spectrum. Politicians differ primarily on the best way to achieve this goal. Those on the left are more likely to favour increasing public sector employment, including through the sorts of public works projects employed by the Nazis. Neo-liberals are more likely to favour cutting taxes, in order to increase spending and investment, which they theorize will increase private sector employment.

[12] It is possible Hitler’s own views evolved over time, and he too may initially have been more sympathetic to socialist policies. Thus, still largely unexplained is the full story of Hitler’s apparent involvement with the short-lived revolutionary communist regime in Munich in 1919, led by the Jewish communist Kurt Eisner. Ron Rosenbaum writes:

One piece of evidence adduced for this view documents Hitler’s successful candidacy for a position on the soldier’s council in a regiment that remained loyal to the short-lived Bolshevik regime that ruled Munich for a few weeks in April 1919. Another is a piece of faded, scratchy newsreel footage showing the February 1919 funeral procession for Kurt Eisner, the assassinated Jewish leader of the socialist regime then in power. Slowed down and studied, the funeral footage shows a figure who looks remarkably like Hitler marching in a detachment of soldiers, all wearing armbands on their uniforms in tribute to Eisner and the socialist regime that preceded the Bolshevik one” (Explaining Hitler: pxxxvii). 

If Hitler was indeed briefly a supporter of the Peoples’ State of Bavaria, which remains far from proven, and this supported reflected more than mere opportunism, then it remains to be proven when his later antiSemitic and anti-Marxist views became crystalized. It is clear that, by the time he joined the nascent DAP, Hitler was already a confirmed anti-Semite. However, perhaps he still remained something of a socialist at this time. Indeed, this might explain why he ever joined the German Workers’ Party, which, at that early time, indeed seems to have had a broadly socialist, as well as nationalist, orientation. 

[13] In fact, Nietzsche is wrong to credit the Jews as the first to perform this transvaluation of values that elevated asceticism, poverty and abstinence from worldly pleasures into a positive value. On the contrary, similar and analogous notions of asceticism seem to have had an entirely independent, and apparently prior, origin in the Indian subcontinent, in the form of both Buddhism and especially Jainism

[14] The supposed proof of this theory in to be found in the state of Israel, where Jews find themselves as a majority, and where, far from embodying the sort of ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance that Jews have typically been associated with championing in the west, there is an apartheid state, the persecution of the country’s Palestinian minority, an immigration policy that overtly discriminates against non-Jews, not to mention increasing levels of conservatism and religiosity, proving that Jewish subversive iconoclasm is intended only for external Gentile consumption. 

[15] This is, for example, an integral part of the influential definition of fascism espoused by historian and political theorist Roger Griffin in his book, The Nature of Fascism.

[16] In fact, whether Nietzsche indeed envisaged the Übermensch in this way – namely as a real-world coming savior promising a new transvaluation of values and revitablization of society and civilization that would restore the warrior ethos of the ancients – is not at all clear. In fact, the concept of the Übermensch is mentioned quite infrequently in his writings, largely in Thus Spake Zarathustra and Ecce Homo, and is neither fully developed nor clearly explained. It has even been suggested that the importance of this concept in Nietzsche’s thought has been exaggerated, partly on account of its use in use in the title of George Bernard Shaw’s famous play, Man and Superman, which explores Nietzschean themes.
Elsewhere in his writing, Nietzsche is seemingly resolutely ‘blackpilled’ regarding the inevitability of moral and spiritual decline and the impossibility of any recovery. Thus, in Twilight of the Idols, he reproaches the conservatives for attempting to turn back the clock, declaring that an arrest, let alone a reverse, in the degeneration of mankind and civilization is an impossibility:

It cannot be helped: we must go forward,—that is to say step by step further and further into decadence (—this is my definition of modern ‘progress’). We can hinder this development, and by so doing dam up and accumulate degeneration itself and render it more convulsive, more volcanic: we cannot do more” (Twilight of the Idols: VIII, 43).

In other words, not only is God indeed dead (as are Zeus, Jupiter, Thor and Wotan), but, unlike Jesus in the Gospels, he can never be resurrected.

[17] Of course, another difference between Nietzsche and the Nazis is that the contemporary German culture that each regarded as decadent were separated from each other by several decades. Thus, while Hitler may have despised the German culture of the 1920s as, in many respects, decadent, he nevertheless admired in many respects the German culture of Nietzsche’s time and certainly regarded this Germany as superior to the Weimar-era Germany in which he found himself after the First World War. 
Nevertheless, Hitler did not regard the Germany of Nietzsche’s own time as any kind of ‘golden age’ or ‘lost Eden’. On the contrary, he would have deplored the Germany of Nietzsche’s day both for its alleged domination by Jews and the fact that, even after Bismarck’s supposed unification of Germany, Hitler’s own native Austria remained outside the German Reich.
Thus, neither Nietzsche nor Hitler were mere reactionaries nostalgically looking to turn back the clock. On the contrary, Nietzsche considers this an imposibility, writing:

It cannot be helped: we must go forward,—that is to say step by step further and further into decadence (—this is my definition of modern ‘progress’). We can hinder this development, and by so doing dam up and accumulate degeneration itself and render it more convulsive, more volcanic: we cannot do more” (Twilight of the Idols: VIII, 43).

Thus, just as Nietzsche does not yearn for a return to the master morality or paganism of pre-Christian Europe and classical antiquity, but rather for the coming Übermensch and new transvaluation of values that he would deliver, so Hitler’s own ‘golden age’ was to be found, not in the nineteenth century, nor even in classical antiquity, but rather in the new thousand year Reich he envisaged and sought to construct.

[18] Other English translations render the German as the “blond Teutonic beast [emphasis added]”. At any rate, regardless of the precise translation, it is clear that a reference to the ancient Germanic peoples is intended. 

[19] The influence of such occult ideas on the Nazi leadership is much exaggeraged in some popular, sensationalist histories (or pseudohistory) of the Nazi period. However, the influence of Völkisch occultism on the development of the National Socialist movement is not entirely a myth, and is evident, not only in the name of the Thule Society, which birthed the NSDAP, but also, for example, in the adoption by the movement of the swastika symbol as an emblem and later a flag. Indeed, although generally regarded as dismissive of such bizarre esoteric notions, and wary of their influence on some of his followers (notably Himmler and Hess) who did not share his skepticism, even Hitler himself professed belief in World Ice Theory in his Table Talk (p249; p324; p445).

[20] Nietzsche has an odd attitude to Darwinism and social Darwinism. On the one hand, he frequently disparages Darwin and Darwinism. On the other hand, his moral philosophy directly parallels that of the social Darwinists, albeit bereft of the Darwinian theory that provides the ostensible justification and basis for this moral philosophy
Interestingly, Hitler too has an ambiguous, and, in some respects, similar, relationship with both Darwinism and social Darwinism. On the one hand, Hitler, like Nietzsche, frequently espouses views that read very much like social Darwinism. For example, in Mein Kampf, Hitler writes:

Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live” (Mein Kampf).

Similarly, in his Table Talk, Hitler is quoted as declaring:

By means of the struggle, the elites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies this incessant struggle, by allowing the survival of the fittest” (Hitler’s Table Talk).

Both these quotations definitely sound like social Darwinism. Yet, interestingly, Hitler never actually mentions Darwin or Darwinism, his reference to the law of selection” being the closest he comes to referencing the theory of evolution, and even this is ambiguous, at least in the English rendering. Moreover, in a different passage from Table Talk, Hitler seemingly emphatically rejects the theory of evolution, demanding: 

Where do we acquire the right to believe that man has not always been what he is now? The study of nature teaches us that, in the animal kingdom just as much as in the vegetable kingdom, variations have occurred. They’ve occurred within the species, but none of these variations has an importance comparable with that which separates man from the monkey — assuming that this transformation really took place” (Hitler’s Table Talk: p248). 

What are we to make of this? Clearly, Hitler often contradicted himself and seemingly expressed contradictory and inconsistent views.
Moreover, both Hitler and Nietzsche didn’t really understand Darwin’s theory of evolution. Thus, Nietzsche suggested that the struggle between individuals concerns, not mere survival, but rather power. In fact, it concerns neither survival nor power as such – but rather reproductive success (which tends to correlate with power, especially among men,which is why men, in particular, are known to seek power). Spencer’s phrase, survival of the fittest, is useful only once we recognise that the ‘survival’ promoted by selection is the survival of genes rather than of individual organisms themsevles.
But we must recognize that it is possible, and quite logically consistent, to espouse something very similar in content to a social Darwinist moral framework without actually justifying this moral framework by reference to Darwinism.
In short, both Nietzsche and Hitler seem to be advocating something akin to ‘social Darwinism without the Darwinism’.

[21] If Hitler was influenced by Chamberlain, then Chamberlain himself was a disciple of Arthur de Gobineau. The latter, though considered by many as the ultimate progenitor of Nazi race theory, was, far from anti-Semitic, actually positively effusive in his praise for and admiration of the Jewish people. Even Chamberlain, though widely regarded as an anti-Semite, at least with respect to the Ashkenazim, nevertheless professed to admire Sephardi Jews, not least on account of their supposed ‘racial purity’, in particular their refusal to intermingle and intermarry with the Ashkenazim.

[22] The exact connotations of this passage may depend on the translation. The version I have quoted comes from the Manheim edition. However, a different translation renders the passage, not as The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew, but rather The Jew offers the most striking contrast to the Aryan”. This alternative translation has rather different, and less flattering, connotations, given that Hitler famously extolled Aryans as the master race. 


Mussolini and the Meaning of Fascism 

Nicholas Farrell, Mussolini: A New Life (London: Phoenix, 2003) 

Nicholas Farrell, author of ‘Mussolini: A New Life’, his controversial revisionist biography of Il Duce, is a journalist, born in England but now resident in Italy. 

Indeed, at the time he wrote this biography, he was living in Predappio, Mussolini’s birthplace and a mecca for neo-fascists, which, though long a communist stronghold, had, at that time (the authorities have since clamped down), a booming cottage industry selling what can only be described as ‘Mussolini Memorabilia’ to visiting tourists, fascist pilgrims and the merely curious. 

Mussolini: A New Life’ is not the definitive Mussolini biography. Indeed, it does not purport to be. Instead, in Farrell’s own view, this honour goes to Italian historian Renzo De Felice’s four-volume magnus opus.

Unfortunately, however, De Felice’s biography stretches to around 6,000 pages, spread over four volumes and published as eight separate books, has never been translated into English, and remained unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 1996. This makes it a heavy read even for someone fluent in Italian, a daunting work to translate, and one likely to be read in full only by professional historians. 

Farrell seems to view his own biography as primarily an abridgement, translation and popularization of De Felice’s work, written in order to bring De Felice’s new revelations, and new perspective, to a wider English-speaking audience. 

In contrast to De Felice’s work, Farrell’s biography is highly readable, and indeed written in a strangely colloquial, conversational style. 


Yet, be forewarned, Farrell’s biography of Mussolini is not only highly readable, it is also highly revisionist, and attracted no little controversy and criticism when first published in 2003, being variously dismissed as everything from fascist apologetics and whitewash to a hagiographic paean to Il Duce

Why then the controversy? How then was Farrell’s work revisionist and why did it attract so much controversy? 

There seem to be two main elements where Farrell departs from the mainstream historical narrative regarding fascism in Italy. 

First, Farrell argues that Mussolini was not so bad, and even was a relatively successful Italian ruler compared to those who came both before and after him, his posthumous reputation being damaged primarily by his association with Hitler and National Socialism.

Second, Farrell claims that Mussolini, far from being ‘right-wing’, remained, until his dying day, very much a socialist

Given that Farrell himself is himself far from socialist, these claims come close to being contradictory. After all, if Mussolini was a leftist, then what is a conservative like Farrell doing defending him? If he was a socialist than surely he was indeed bad, at least from the perspective of a conservative like Farrell. 

Of course, it is possible for conservatives to admire some leftists. (An old aphorism, often attributed to Leo Rosten, has it that conservatives only admire radicals some several centuries after the latter are dead). 

However, Farrell perhaps lays himself open to the charge of wanting to both have his cake and eat it too. 

A cynic might interpret his thesis thus: Mussolini was not so bad, and, even if he was, he was a socialist anyway so he’s not our problem. 


Is Farrell, then, successful in rehabilitating Il Duce

Well, yes, up to a point – the point in question being the latter’s disastrous decision to ally with Germany during World War Two. 

Up until that point, Mussolini had been, at least by twentieth century Italian standards, a relatively successful ruler and, by contemporary international standards, a not especially repressive one. 

Of course, he had, with the aid of his infamous Blackshirt militia, more or less bullied his way into power. Indeed, contrary to popular perception, his rise to power had actually been rather more violent than that of Hitler in Germany, albeit with violence on all sides not just on the part of the Fascists. 

Yet, after he had come to power, Mussolini was not especially repressive or draconian. There were no Gulags or concentration camps in Italy (at least prior to World War II), nor any Night of the Long Knifes or Stalinist purges

Of course, Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia was indeed brutal. Here, indeed, concentration camps were employed, among other brutal and draconian measures. 

However, Italian rule in Ethiopia was surely no worse than what preceded it, namely the rule of Haile Selassie, under whom slavery was still both lawful and widely practiced, despite repeated promises by successive Ethiopian rulers to prohibit and eradicate the practice.[1]

Moreover, Mussolini had a point when he charged Britain and France with hypocrisy for opposing Italian expansion in Africa despite their own vastly greater African colonial possessions, acquired only a few years earlier, sometimes with comparable brutality. 

For example, during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902, which was fought by the British for transparently self-interested economic reasons, namely to gain control over the Boer Republics’ lucrative and newly-discovered gold and diamond reserves, was similarly brutal in nature. Here, the British themselves employed concentration camps, and indeed are even sometimes credited with having invented the concept.

Suppressing the Mafia

Today, there is a tendency to deny that the fascist regime had any positive impact on Italy, an implausible conclusion given both the popularity and endurance of the regime in Italy. 

Take, for example, Mussolini’s suppression of the Mafia in Sicily, an achievement to which Farrell himself devotes only a few paragraphs (p182-3). 

In most recent histories of the Sicilian Mafia, Mussolini and his regime are denied any credit whatever for this achievement. 

For example, historian John Dickie, in his books Blood Brotherhoods and Cosa Nostra, takes great pains to emphasize that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not, in fact, finally defeated, but merely went underground and became inactive. Moreover, he insists, most of those mafiosi who were arrested and imprisoned or sent into internal exile during Cesare Mori’s clampdown on the Mafia were not Mafia bosses, but rather, at best, low-level soldiers and underlings. 

It is, of course, true that, under Mussolini, the Mafia was not finally defeated. Indeed, this was amply proven by the resurgence of the Mafia during the post-War period under the Allied occupation. 

Yet this view neglects to credit that merely forcing the Mafia to go underground and become inactive was an achievement in and of itself, and seemingly resulted in a massive decrease in serious violent crime, including homicide, in the Mafia’s traditional heartland of Palermo. 

For example, another historian of the Sicilian Mafia reports that, in the traditional Mafia stronghold of Palmermo:

Between 1924 and 1928 murders… dropped from 278 per year to 25, which, by any standard of crime prevention is impressive” (Mafia: Inside the Dark Heart: p92). 

Moreover, while leaving (some of) the mafia bosses untouched and focusing law enforcement attention on low-level soldiers may seem both unfair and inefficient, arresting and taking out of circulation a sufficiently large number of low-level soldiers is likely a highly effective method of suppressing a group such as the Mafia, since it is low-level soldiers who, on orders from above, are responsible for most of the day-to-day operation, crimes and violence of the group.[2]

Indeed, if the Mafia had indeed been made inactive in this way on a long-term, indefinite basis, then ultimately it would surely have died away and ceased to exist as a criminal network. 

Thus, it was only the overthrow of the Fascist regime and Allied occupation that permitted the resurgence of the Mafia in the post-War period, not least because imprisoned and exiled Mafiosi were, on their return to Sicily, able to use the fact of their imprisonment or exile under the fascist regime as proof of their supposed anti-fascist credentials, in order to pose as anti-fascists and hence secure appointment to high office under the Allied occupation.[3]

The Fascist campaign against the Mafia seems then, on balance, to have been quite successful.

Of course, methods employed by Mori and the Fascists to achieve this result were not always in accord with contemporary western notions of due process. On the contrary, they were often quite brutal and the Fascists been accused as employing to Mafiastyle intimidation against the Mafia – to out-mafia the Mafia, if you like.

One may then justifiably question whether the ends justified the means.

Indeed, on one view, Mussolini himself was a gangster whose thuggish blackshirts essentially used Mafiastyle violence and intimidation to bully their way into power. On this view, the cure was rather worse than the disease and, while the Sicilian Mafia was in abeyance, a rather worse Mafia now in power in Rome itself.

However, Mussolini’s, and Mori’s, achievement in, at least temporarily, defeating the scourge of the Sicilian Mafia, howsoever achieved, surely cannot be denied.

A Benevolent Dictator? 

The very endurance of the Fascist regime is, in one sense, a measure of its success. On this pragmatic definition, a politician or party are to be regarded as ‘successful’ if they successfully gain power, and successfully hold onto it.

Yet the endurance of Mussolini’s regime is also indirect evidence that, in terms of satisfying the demands of the Italian public with his policies and governance of the state, he was clearly doing something right.

Mussoini was not only popular at home, he was also widely respected abroad, and counted among his fawning admirers such politically diverse figures as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and, of course, Hitler.

Mussolini is famously credited with making the trains run on time, a popular perception that surely had at least some basis in reality.

Certainly, the period of his rule up until the beginning of World War II constituted the most stable period of governance in Italy’s turbulent 20th century history, arguably right up to the present day. 

Moreover, in agreeing the Papal Accords and thereby resolving Roman Question which had dogged the Italian state from its birth, Mussolini produced a legacy that outlived both Fascism and Mussolini himself, since this agreement continues to govern the relationship between Church and State in Italy to this day.[4]

Thus, just as Hitler, with his annexation of Austria, could justifiably claim to have completed the unification of Germany that had begun under Bismark, so Farrell asserts: 

Garibaldi had begun the process of the creation of Italy. Mussolini would complete it” (p199). 

Mussolini and Hitler: A Match Made in Hell?

Mussolini’s undoing ultimately came with the rise of the Naional Socialist regime in Germany, the coming of the Second World War and Mussolini’s disastrous decision to ally his regime with that of Hitler in Germany and hence tie its own fate, and that of Mussolini himself, with that of Hitler and Germany. 

While today we might think of Hiter and Mussolini as natural allies, the alliance between Germany and Italy was actually far from a foregone conclusion. 

Indeed, to his credit, Mussolini was initially wary of German National Socialism and indeed of Hitler himself, despite the latter’s professed admiration for, and ardent courtship of, the Italian dictator upon whom he had (partly) modelled himself. 

Fascism,” he famously declared, “is not for export” (p240). 

I should be pleased, I suppose, that Hitler has carried out a revolution on our lines. But they are Germans. So they will end by ruining our idea.” 

This notion, namely that Germans, by virtue of being German, would inevitably ruin the idea of fascism, even if it ultimately proved prophetic, is obviously crudely jingoistic. Yet such jingoism was entirely consistent with fascist ideology. 

After all, fascism was a nationalist ideology, and nationalist ideologies are intrinsically jingoistic.

Nationalist movements are also, by their very nature, necessarily limited in their appeal to members of a single nation or ethnicity.

A nationalist of one nation is no necessary or natural ally for the nationalist of another, especially if the nations in question share a border. On the contrary, nationalists of neighbouring nations are natural enemies.[5]

Moreover, the fact Italy was the chief ally and protector of the Federal State of Austria, whose annexation was a major priority of Hitler’s foreign policy, and had herself annexed German-speaking South Tyrol at the end of World War I, certainly did not help matters.[6]

Hitler, however, was to prove an ardent suitor. 

Mussolini would have preferred, Farrell reports, an understanding with the British. (So incidentally would Hitler himself.)

Moreover, initially the British political establishment was surprisingly favourably disposed.

Indeed, Mussolini even counted among his most ardent British admirers one Winston Churchill, who, though then out of office, had in 1933 extolled fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Il Duce himself as “the Roman genius” and “greatest law-giver among living men” (p225). 

Indeed, Farrell reveals that, given his staunch anti-communist credentials, oratorical ability and personal charisma, Churchill was was even touted by some contemporaries as a potential fascist dictator in his own right, his cousin the journalist Clare Sheridan, writing in one contemporary piece that:

Churchill… is talked of as the likely leader of a fascisti party in England” (quoted: p130). 

Yet three factors, Farrell reports, ultimately led to Mussolini’s estrangement from Britain. These were: 

  1. The Spanish civil war
  1. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden
  1. Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia

Each of these factors strained Mussolini’s relationship with Britain, and precluded any possibility of an alliance, or even an understanding, between the two powers. Ultimately, this led Mussolini, reluctantly at first, into the German Führer’s fatal embrace. 


Hitler is also likely to blame for Italy’s anti-Semitic laws, introduced in 1938. 

True, Hitler, it seems, exerted no direct pressure on Mussolini with regard to this issue. However, given that Mussolini had been in power a decade and a half without feeling any need to enact such laws on his own initiative, and evidently changed his mind only after he had begun to allign with the Hitler’s newly-established National Socialist regime in Germany, it seems likely that this was the decisive factor. 

However, Farrell claims that the rapprochement with Germany was “not the reason”, only “the catalyst” for this decision (p304). 

The real reason, he claims, was that: 

Jews had come to epitomise Mussolini’s three enemies: Communism, the bourgeoisie and anti-fascism [since] Jews were prominent in all three” (p304). 

This may be true. However, Jews, it should also be noted, were also prominent among Fascists themselves. Indeed, Farrell himself reports: 

More than 10,000 Jews, about one-third of adult Italian Jews, were members of the PNF in 1938” (p303).

Thus, relative to overall population size, Jews were in fact overrepresented among members of the PNF by a factor of three (Italy’s Jews: From Emancipation to Fascism: p44).[7]

Perhaps most prominent and influential among Jewish Italian fascists was Mussolini’s long-term mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, a leading Italian intellectual in her own right, who had followed, or perhaps even led, Mussolini from socialism to fascism, and who plays a prominent role in the first half of Farrell’s biography.

In addition to being Mussolini’s mistress (or rather one of his many mistresses) and a confidante of Il Duce for almost thirty years, she is thought to have been a key and influential figure in the Fascist regime, helping shape policy and decision-making from behind the scenes. 

She was also, Farrell surmises, the only of Mussolini’s many mistresses whom his semi-literate peasant wife (who was also, Farrell reveals, possibly his illegitimate half-sister: p40) truly “hated” and regarded as a serious threat to her marriage (p73-4). 

However, as Sarfatti aged, Mussolini’s ardour seemingly faded in parallel to her looks, suggesting that her hold over him had always been primarily sexual rather than intellectual. The breakdown of this relationship was likely a key factor in paving the way for both the Pact of Steel and Italy’s race laws. 

Mussolini also, Farrell reports, saw the Jews as harbouring “secret loyalties that conflicted with Fascism”, much like the Freemasons, themselves less fashionable victims of persecution under both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism (p304). 

Farrell attempts to play down the extent of persecution to which Jews were subject in Fascist Italy and absolve Mussolini of any culpability in the holocaust. 

Thus, he insists, Italy’s anti-Semitic laws “did not involve violence at all” (p310), and he concludes: 

Although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly anti-Jewish” (p304). 

However, Farrell never really explains what exactly is the difference between these two surely synonymous terms.

Farrell also emphasizes that Mussolini’s racism was not biological but “spiritual” in nature (p305). In other words, it was not Hitlerian, but rather Spenglerian and Evolian.

If this is intended as a defence of Mussolini, then it rings decidedly hollow.

That the Italian dictator’s dislike of them reflected not biological but purely cultural factors was presumably scant consolation those Jews expelled from their jobs on account of their Jewishness, even if the criteria for qualifying as a Jew was less inclusive, and more open to exemptions and corrupt interpretation, than in Germany. 

Indeed, personally, as long-term readers of this blog, or my amazon and goodreads book reviews (assuming any such people exist) may be aware, I am actually not, as such, entirely unsympathetic to biological theories of race and of race differences.

Of course, National Socialist racial theories were indeed nonsense. However, in purporting to be biological, and hence scientific (even if this claim was disingenuous), they at least had one benefit over so-called ‘spiritual’ theories of race, namely that they could, at least in principle, be the subject or testing and hence falsification.

Indeed, National Socialist claims regarding the inferiority of the Jews are not only in principle falsifiable, but have indeed been falsified, at least with respect to intelligence differences.

In contrast, the so-called ‘spiritual racism’ of Spengler, Evola and, it seems, Mussoini, which admits exceptions whereby an ethnic Jew can be ‘spiritually’ Aryan, and vice versa, seems to me to be wholly unfalsifiable mysticism.[8]

In conclusion, Farrell quotes historian De Felice, himself, incidentally, of Jewish ancestry, as observing: 

Mussolini’s campaign against the Jews ‘was more against the Italians than against the Jews’” (p304). 

This may be true. However, I doubt either Farrell or De Felice could ever deny that it was surely the latter who ended up paying the greater price.  

The Holocaust 

On the other hand, Farrell does a good job of absolving Italians as a whole from any culpability in the holocaust. 

Italian government officials, ordered to round up Jews for deportation, often refused to comply and were deliberately obstructive. Many Italians, including the Vatican, hid and protected Jews. 

Mussolini himself, however, emerges rather less unscathed. 

On the one hand, Mussolini did indeed order the rounding up and deportation of Jews in accordance with German orders in the last years of the war.

However, by this stage, he was little more than a nominal puppet leader, with little power to act independently of, let alone in defiance of, his German backers. Moreover, Mussolini also overlooked the refusal of many officials to comply with these orders. 

Thus, reading between the lines, Mussolini seems to have been largely indifferent to the fate of the Jews

Certainly, even on the evidence presented by Farrell himself, his claim that “Mussolini did much to save Jews from Hitler” seems unwarranted (p363). 

The most Farrell manages to prove is that Mussolini was far less anti-Semitic than Hitler himself – faint praise indeed. 

World War II 

It is perhaps from World War II that the popular image of Mussolini as an inept and buffoonish figure emerged. Partly, this reflected allied propaganda. However, despite Farrell’s attempted rehabilitation of Il Duce, Mussolini’s conduct of the war does indeed seem inept from the start. 

Thus, before the War began, Mussolini made, arguably, his first mistake, agreeing the Pact of Steel with Germany, which obliged him to come to Germany’s aid even in the event of an aggressive war initiated by Germany herself (p317). 

Then, after the War had indeed begun in just this way, Mussolini conspicuously failed to come to Germany’s aid, in direct contravention of her newly acquired treaty obligations. 

Mussolini justified this decision on the grounds that Italy was not yet ready for war. In this assessment, he was right, as was proven tragically true when Italy did enter the war, with disastrous consequences, both for Mussolini’s own Fascist regime, and, arguably, for National Socialist Germany as well. 

To his credit, then, Mussolini had not, it seems, made the classic error of ‘falling for his own publicity’. He knew that his own militaristic braggadocio and podium strutting were mere empty bluff, and that war with Britain and France was the last thing that the Italian armed forces, or the Italian state, needed at this time.[9]

However, on witnessing Germany’s dramatic defeat of France, Mussolini suddenly decided he wanted to get in on the action – or rather in on the spoils.

Greedily and rather transparently anticipating a share of the territory of the conquered French, he suddenly and belatedly signed up for the war, albeit right about the same time that Hitler had already (seemingly) won it and hence had no further need of him. 

As a result, he got none of the territorial gains he so eagerly anticipated, the relevant parts of French territory having already been promised to the new French Vichy regime as part of the German-French peace accord of 1940 which brought an end to the fighting. 

Now, however, for better or worse, Mussolini had thrown in his lot with Hitler. Italy was now in for the long-haul and Mussolini’s own fate directly tied to that of the German war machine. Henceforth, Mussolini’s Italy would find itself relegated to the role of junior partner to the German behemoth, increasingly surrendering any capacity for independent decision-making. 

Mussolini did, however, make one last attempt to assert independence from the German war machine. Chagrined that Hitler kept invading foreign powers without consulting his ostensible ally, Mussolini decided to do the same for himself, aspiring to emulate his ally by invading Greece, and thereby shift the focus of the war towards the Mediterranean, where his own territorial ambitions were naturally, and quite sensibly, focused. 

The attempt to assert independence backfired disastously. His invasion easily rebuffed, Mussolini was forced to call in for help from the very Germans whose military successes he had so envied and sought to emulate.

Moreover, the delay to the proposed invasion of the USSR that Germany’s intervention on Italy’s behalf in Greece necessitated, has been implicated as a key factor that ultimately doomed Operation Barbarossa, and hence led, ultimately, to the fall of both both dictators.

Farrell does convincingly establish that, in his disagreements with Hitler regarding the conduct, strategy and overall direction of the war, Mussolini was, perhaps surprisingly, often more strategically astute than the Führer, who, despite his remarkable early military successes (or indeed because of them), had become increasingly detached from reality and inflexible in his strategic thinking.

Thus, most military historians would agree that shifting the focus of the war effort towards the Mediterranean, as Mussolini advocated, was a sound strategic policy, not only in Italy’s own strategic interests, but also that of Germany and the Axis as a whole. 

But, alas, it was to no avail. Hitler was no more willing to listen to the wise counsel of his Italian counterpart than he was to listen to that of his own senior generals and commanders.

Instead, Hitler had his sights firmly fixed on the invasion and conquest of the detested Soviet regime in Russia, and the perceived German geopolitical imperative of living space in the East, and would brook no delay or postponement, let alone cancelation, of these plans in order to secure his southern flank (which Churchill was later to identify as Europe’s vulnerable ‘soft underbelly’) and establish complete control of the Mediterranean. 

Ultimately, Farrell is successful in explaining why Mussolini did what he did in World War Two given the limited information available to him at the time and the difficult predicament in which he increasingly found himself. 

However, he fails to revise the established view that these decisions were, in the long-term, ultimately anything other than disastrous miscalculations. 

Ciano – Diarist and Dilettante

Not only was Mussolini more often more strategically astute than the Führer, he was also, Farrell shows, far more strategically adept than his foreign minister and son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.

The latter plays a prominent role in the second half of Farrell’s biography, probably sue to the value of his famous diaries as an historical source regarding Mussolini’s thinking, and that of his inner-circle, during this critical time period.

From initially hero-worshiping his famous father-in-law, Ciano gradually became a firm critic of Mussolini, criticising the latter’s decision-making repeatedly in his diaries and ultimately betraying him.

Yet, in Farrell’s account, Ciano emerges as a political dilitante, a playboy, and a hypocrite – “the spoilt child of the regime” – who was always unpopular with the public (p322).

Thus, while, in his diaries, he criticizes Mussolini for his decision to ally with Germany, and, in the post-War period, according to Farrell, “a whole industry sprouted up on the basis of his famous diaries which would have us believe… that Ciano tried to srop the Pact of Steel”, the truth was that Ciano was no more than “the Duce’s yes man, however much whinging he did in private” (p316-7).

Moreover, though he was indeed often critical of the alliance with Germany, his views changed by the day. Thus, Farrell reports, despite his earlier criticisms, “as soon as Germany started winning easily in the west in the spring of 1940 he was all in favour of Germany again” (p322). He was also a main champion and proponent of Italy’s disastrous invasion of Greece (p340).

Indeed, Farrell does a far better job of showing that Ciano was even more incompetent, and inconsistent, in his strategic pronouncements than was Mussolini, than he does showing that Mussoini was himself in any way competent. 

History is written, it seems, not so much by the victors, or, at any rate, not only by the victors, but also by those with sufficient time on their hands, and sufficient inclination, to put across their own side of things in diaries or other writings that ultimately outlive them. As Churchill was to put it:

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.

Was Mussolini a Socialist? 

What then of Farrell’s second claim: Did Mussolini really always remain a man of the Left until his dying day?

Certainly, both Fascism and Mussolini seem to have begun on the Left

Mussolini’s own journey from the Left began when he advocated Italian involvement in the First World War, contrary to the doctrine of the Second International. 

Yet, in this, Mussolini was merely following in the path trodden by socialists across Europe, who, caught up in the prevailing mood of nationalism and war-fever, abandoned the internationalism and pan-proletarian solidarity of the Second International en masse, to come out in support of, and march to their deaths in the service of, their respective nation’s war-efforts.[10]

Thus, as had occurred so often before, and would occur so many more times in the future, idealism and internationalism came crashing down in the face of nationalism, ethnocentrism and war fever. 

Mussolini himself thus came to believe in the power of nationalism to move men’s souls in a way that appeals to mere economic class interests never could. He came to believe that:

Nation had a stronger grip on men than class” (p61). 

As sociologist-turned-sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe was later to put it in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which i have reviewed here): 

Blood runs thicker than money” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p243)

Thus, Mussolini and the early Fascists, like the pre-Hitler German Workers’ Party in Germany, sought to combine socialism with nationalism

In addition, Mussolini also came to believe that, just as the Bolshevik revolution in Russia would never have been brought about without Lenin, so socialist revolution in Italy would require an elite revolutionary vanguard.

Yet this was contrary to Marxist doctrine, and indeed ironically Leninist doctrine too, whereby the coming revolution was envisaged as both historically inevitable and as being brought about by the proletariat as a whole. 

In this assessment, Mussolini was surely right. The Bolshevik revolution would indeed surely never have occurred without Lenin as its catalyst and driving force.

Thus, when, in 1917, Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd, courtesy of the German government, even the vast majority of fellow Bolsheviks were resigned to a policy of support for the newly-established provisional government, as were the Mensheviks, who despite their name, probably outnumbered the Bolsheviks, not to mention the Socialist Revolutionaries, who surely outnumbered either. Lenin was, at first, almost alone in advocating armed revolution. Yet this policy was ultimately to prove a success. 

Ironically, then, the much-maligned Great Man Theory of History’, as famously espoused by Thomas Carlyle, became perennially unfashionable among historians at almost precisely the moment that, in the persons of first Lenin and later Hitler, it was proven so tragically true.[11]

However, recognizing the need for an elite revolutionary vanguard also led Mussolini to question another key tenet of Leftism, namely belief in the equality of man

In other words, if an elite revolutionary vanguard was indeed necessary to bring about socialism, then this suggested that this elite vanguard represented a superior caste of men. This, ironically, undermined the entire basis for socialism, which presupposed human equality.

This led Mussolini to Nietzsche and ultimately to Fascism, Mussolini himself being quoted by Farrell as explaining to a visiting American journalist during the 1920s that: 

Nietzsche had ‘cured me of my socialism” (p30). 

Yet Farrell insists that Mussolini nevertheless remained, in some sense, a socialist even thereafter, and indeed throughout his political career. Thus, he writes:

Mussolini was never a democrat. But much of him was and remained a Socialist” (p39).

However, in making this claim, Farrell is not entirely consistent. Thus, explaining the adoption of the black Arditi flag by the fascist faithful, he explains:

Red was the colour of the enemy – Socialism” (p80).

However, on the very next page he claims:

Fascism was anything but a right-wing movement. The first Fascist programme… reflected the preponderance of the futurists and was very left-wing” (p81). 

These different claims, only a page apart, are difficult to reconcile with one another.

Perhaps, in referring to socialism as “the enemy”, Farrell has in mind ‘Socialism’ with a capital ‘S’ – i.e. the programme of the Italian Socialist party. On this view, the Socialists might be the enemy of Fascism precisely because both movements were left-wing and hence competed in the same political space for the same constituency of support.[12]

However, Farrell does not employ capitalization in any such consistent manner and also capitalizes ‘socialism’ when referring to Mussolini’s own beliefs (e.g. p39: quoted above).

Mussolini’s eventual return to his leftist roots, Farrell reports, comes only much later, after his overthrow and dramatic rescue by the Germans, with the establishment of the short-lived Italian Social Republic in Northern Italy under German patronage.

By then, however, Mussolini was a mere German puppet, and any socialist pretentions, or indeed pretentions to any sort of action independent of, let alone in defiance to, his German National Socialist patrons, were wholly ineffectual.

Defining Fascism

To decide whether Fascism was a left-wing movement, we must first define we mean by ‘fascism’. Unfortunately, however, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ changed a great deal over time.

The word ‘fascism’ derives from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning ‘a bundle of sticks’, in particular the fasces, a symbol of power and authority in ancient Rome.

Amusingly, it seems to be cognate with the word faggot, now chiefly employed as a pejorative Americanism for a homosexual male, but which also originally meant a bundle of sticks

The political usage seems to derive from the notion that several sticks bound together are stronger than one stick alone, hence emphasizing the importance of collectivism and national solidarity. 

With regard to situating fascism on the left-right political spectrum, it is certainly the case that, like Mussolini himself, Fascism began on the left

Thus, among the first political groups to style themselves ‘fascist’ was the peasant Fasci Siciliani, who unsuccessfully fought for peasant land rights in Sicily in the late-nineteenth century.

Indeed, even the first incarnation of Mussolini’s own brand of fascism, namely the Fasces of Revolutionary Action, founded by Mussolini in 1914, was very much left-wing and revolutionary in orientation, being composed, in large part, of syndicalists and other disgruntled leftists estranged from the mainstream Italian left (i.e. the Italian Socialist Party).

Most left-wing parties are less radical in power than they promise to be while still in opposition. However, Mussolini’s (and Fascism’s) own move from the left began long before they ever even came within distant sight of power.

Thus, even as early as 1920, after humiliation at the polls during national elections the previous year, Farrell himself acknowledges:

Most of the Fascists of the first hour – especially those of left-wing origin – had gone… [and] fascism… moved right” (p95).

Thus, while fascism was initially anti-clericalist and associated with revolutionary Syndicalism and the Futurist movement, it ultimately came to be associated with Catholicism and traditionalism.

Thus, the meaning of the word ‘fascism’ evolved and changed with the regime itself. 

Fascism’ ultimately came to mean whatever the regime stood for at any particular point in time, something that both changed over time and never represented a coherent ideology as much as it did pragmatic realpolitik.

Defining the Left

To determine if fascism was truly leftist, we must also define, not only what ‘fascism’ means, but also what we mean by leftist. This is only marginally less problematic than defining ‘fascism’.

Hayek, in his celebrated The Road to Serfdom, equates the Left with big government and a planned economy. On this basis, he therefore classes both German National Socialism and Italian Fascism as leftist.

However, leftism is usually associated, not only with big government and a planned economy, but also with redistribution and egalitarianism. In this sense, fascism was not especially leftist.

On the other hand, anti-Semitism has always seemed to me fundamentally leftist.

Thus, Marxists believe that society is controlled by wealthy capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else. Anti-Semites, on the other hand, believe society is controlled by wealthy Jewish capitalists who control the mass media and oppress and exploit everyone else.

The distinction between Marxism and anti-Semitism is therefore racial and largely tangential. Anti-Semites insist that our capitalist oppressors are largely or wholly Jewish in ethnicity. Orthodox Marxists, on the other hand, take no stance on this matter either way.

Hence the famous aphorism that states:

Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.[13]

In short, National socialism is a form of socialism. The clue’s in the name.

Defining the Right

If fascism cannot then unproblematically be described as a phenomenon of the left, can we then instead characterize it as a phenomenon of the right?

This, of course, requires a definition of ‘the right’. Unfortunately, however, defining the right is even more difficult than defining the Left. 

For example, Christian fundamentalist who wants to ban pornography and abortion has little in common with, on the one hand, a libertarian who wants to decriminalise prostitution and child pornography, nor, on the other, with a eugenicist who wants to make abortion, for certain classes of person, compulsory. Yet all three are classified as together as ‘right-wing’, even though they have no more in common with one another than any does with a raving, unreconstructed Marxist

The Right, then, is defined as, in effect, anything that is not the Left.

As Steven Pinker puts it, the Left is like the South Pole. Just as, at the South Pole, all directions lead north, so, at the Left Pole, all directions lead right.

Therefore, right-wing is itself a left-wing term – because it defines all political positions by reference to the extent to which they diverge from a perceived leftist ideal.

Therefore, debating whether Fascism was really an ideology of left or right simply exposes the inadequacy of this one-dimensional conception of the political spectrum, whereby all political positions are situated on a single left-right axis.

A Third Way?

Rather than self-identifying as of ‘the Right’, Fascists themselves often affect to reject any simplistic situation of their views as either being of the left or the right. Instead, they insist that they have moved beyond left and right, transcended the left-right political divide, and represent instead a Third Position or Third Way.

This leads Farrell to propose an even more provocative analogy in his Preface, where he writes:

Whereas communist ideas appear terminally ill, the Fascist idea of the Third Way lives on and is championed by the standard bearers of the modern Left such as New Labour in Britain” (pxviii).

Unfortunately, however, Farrell never really gets around to expanding on this single throwaway sentence in his Preface.

On its face, it at first appears to rest on little more than a curious convergence of slogans – namely, both Fascism and New Labour claimed to represent a Third Way.

However, each meant something quite different by this term.

Thus, for Mussolini the Third Way (or ‘terza via’), namely fascism itself, entailed nationalism, abrogation of individual rights to the needs of the nation, and totalitarian dictatorship.

In contrast, much though the notion of totalitarian dictatorship might have appealed to Tony Blair, the objectives of New Labour were altogether more modest in scale.

Indeed, the two regimes differed not only in what their respective ‘Third Ways’ were to involve, but also in their conception of the ‘First’ and ‘Second Ways’ to which they represented themselves as an alternative.

Thus, for Mussolini, the ‘Third Way’ represented an alternative to, on the one hand, Soviet-style communism, and, on the other, western liberal democracy.

For Blair, on the other hand, it was an alternative to, on the one hand, Thatcherite neo-liberalism and, on the other, the sort of unreconstructed socialism that the Blairites dismissed as Old Labour.

Defining that Blairism or New Labour itself actually entailed is, however, much more difficult, and even more difficult, perhaps, than defining ‘fascism’.

This, then, perhaps points to a deeper affinity between the two movements. Both were not so much coherent ideologies as glorified marketing campaigns – triumphs of spin over substance.

Defining what either actually stood for, as opposed to merely against, is almost impossible.

Fascism’ and New Labour represented, then, little more than catchy political slogans that tapped into the zeitgeister of the respective ages, new words for not especially new ideas.

Indeed, Mussolini, himself a former journalist (and a very successful one at that), can perhaps lay claim to being the first politician to successfully manipulate modern media to manage his own public image – the first truly modern politician.

As for Farrell’s comparison between Fascism and New Labour, this, one suspects, reflected little more than a marketing campaign of Farrell’s own.

Farrell, also a journalist, was using a provocative quote to attract media attention, publicity and hence, so he hoped, sales for his new book in Blair-era Britain.

Today, less than twenty years later, it already seems strangely anachronistic, as New Labour has itself gone the way of fascism, into the dustbin of history (at least for now), to be replaced, in the Labour Party at least, with a return to unreconstructed ‘Old Laboursocialism, albeit now buttressed with a new, even more moronic, cultural Marxist ‘wokeism’ and deranged feminism.

Indeed, on the evidence of some recent Labour Party leaders, even “communist ideals” may no longer be as “terminally ill” as Farrell once so confidently predicted.

This, however, merely reinforces my suspicion that any attempt to draw analogies between fascism and contemporary political movements or regimes is ultimately unhelpful and reflects little more than a version of guilt-by-association or what Leo Strauss aptly termed the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Fascism certainly has little in common with the contemporary Left, despite the efforts of some conservatives to prove the contrary. However, as a nationalist and fundamentally anti-individualist ideology, it arguably has even less in common with the individualist and globalist ethos of contemporary neoliberalism and neoconservatism, let alone libertarianism.

As George Orwell wrote only a year or so after the defeat of both National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy:

The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”

So let’s stop using the word ‘fascist’ as a slur against our political opponents and restrict its use to an historical context.[14]



[1] The continued practice of slavery in Ethiopia was indeed among the justifications employed by the Italians to justify their invasion and conquest. Moreover, the Italians did indeed pass the first laws formally abolishing the practice of slavery in Ethiopia, though the extent to which these laws were enforced, or represented a mere propaganda exercise, seems to be in some dispute.

[2] Imprisoning or exiling large numbers of low-level mafia soldiers and associates will not only have taken those individuals themselves out of operation but also likely have deterred others from taking their places. In contrast, arresting only a few leading bosses may only result in others eagerly taking their place.

[3] Other, more genuine, Italian anti-fascists, who had indeed fought against the fascist regime, tended to be communists, who the American (and British) occupying forces were hence loathe to promote to high office. In addition, whereas the stronghold of the Mafia has always been Sicily, and other powerful Italian criminal syndicates (e.g. the ’Ndrangheta and Cammora) are likewise each based in regions of the Southern Italian Mezzogiorno, the Italian communists were always strongest in heavily industrialized Northern Italy. This ‘unholy alliance’ between the Americans, the Mafia, and, later, the Catholic Church and conservative Christian Democratic Party soon came to be almost institutionalized in post-war Italian politics, as during the Cold War, the American government, together with Italian conservatives opted to ally with the Mafia as the ‘lesser of two evils’ against Italy’s powerful Communist Party.

[4] Interestingly, Hitler’s Nazi regime too signed a concordat with the Catholic Church, which, like the Lateran Treaty in Italy, continues to govern relations between the Catholic Church and the state in Germany to this day, with German bishops taking an oath of loyalty to the German state on assuming office and agreeing not to participate in party politics.

[5] Thus, for example, Irish nationalists and British nationalists are natural enemies, as are Pakistani and Indian nationalists, and Turkish and Greek nationalists. Indeed, as far back as the third century BCE, Arthashastra, the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, observed that next-door neighbours, by virtue of sharing a border, are natural enemies, whereas a state’s next-door neighbours but one, by virtue of sharing a border with one’s immediate neighbours, and hence one’s enemies, but not with oneself, are natural allies. Thus, France and Scotland combined against their common neighbour England in the Auld Alliance which lasted two and a half centuries, while in the First World War Russia and France allied against their common neighbour Germany. Arthashastra’s observation is sometimes cited as the origin of the famous aphorism, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

[6] It is interesting to note that, even when Mussolini did belatedly embrace the idea of a ‘fascist international’, he initially excluded National Socialist Germany from this alliance. Thus, at the 1934 Montreux Fascist International Congress, representatives of the German National Socialist government were conspicuous by their absence. Yet, in contrast, representatives of what was then Hitler’s principal enemy, the Federal State of Austria, then governed by the ‘AustrofascistFatherland Front, were invited and did indeed attend.

[7] This statistic is perhaps misleading and probably reflects the higher levels of political engagement of Jews as compared to non-Jewish Italians, rather than any especial affinity towards Fascism. Jews were thus likely overrepresented among almost all political movements (other than those which are overtly anti-Semitic, of course), and may indeed have been overrepresented among communists and other opponents of the Fascist regime to an even greater degree than they were overrepresented among Fascists themselves.

[8] For my own thoughts on more realistic biological theories of race, see here, here and here.

[9] Although remembered as a disciple of his compatriot Niccolò Machiavelli, Mussolini, with his militaristic braggadocio and strutting, had perhaps here imbued, or, more likely, independently hit upon, the teaching of that other great guru of military strategy and statecraft, Sun Tzu, who famously advised military leaders:

The most powerful tool of a leader is deception. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

Thus, just as a powerful commander should fake weakness in order to lull his enemies into a false sense of security before attacking them, or even thereby provoking them to attack first, so a militarily-weak power like Mussolini’s Italy is advised to feign military strength and power in order to deter potential enemies from attacking.
However, it is likely that Mussolini’s own militaristic braggadocio and strutting was intended at least as much for internal consumption within Italy as on the international stage. Certainly, few foreign leaders seem to have been taken in, except perhaps Hitler, who indeed sought out an alliance with Fascist Italy despite its military weakness.

[10] In this respect, Italy was, Mussolini and the nascent Fascist movement excepted, something of an outlier and exception, since, here, the leading socialist party, Partito Socialista Italiano, did indeed stand true to the ideals of the Second International by opposing Italy’s entry into the War, even though there was, by this time, no Second International left to which to remain true.

[11] To be clear, I do not here endorse the strong version of great man theory, whereby the impact of so-called ‘great men’ is viewed as, if not the sole, then at least the most important factor in determining the fate of peoples, nations and civilizations. On the contrary, the impact of ‘great men’ is, I believe, much less important than that of social, economic, ecological, environmental and biological factors.
The overemphasis on the impact of ‘great men’ in some popular histories has, I suspect, more to do with literary conventions, which require narratives to focus on the adventures and travails of heroes and villians and other human interest factors, in order to attract an audience, than with an objective appraisal of history. Such a focus is indeed, in my view, quite unscientific.
However, as the undoubted impact of such figures as Lenin and Hitler, and many others, on history amply demonstrates, ‘great men’ do indeed, at least sometimes, have a major effect on human history, and such factors cannot be entirely ignored or ruled out by the serious historian.
Of course, in referring to both Lenin and Hitler as I am not ‘great men’ I am not using the word ‘great’ in a moral, acclamatory or approving sense, but rather in the older meaning of the word, referring to the ‘great’ (i.e. massive) impact that each had upon history. This exculpatory clarificiation we might helpfully term the Farrakhan proviso.

[12] Inevitably, it is parties of similar ideological persuasion who are most in competition with one another for support, since both will be attempting to attract the same core constituency of supporter. Relatedly, I am here reminded of a quotation attributed (possibly apocryphally) to Winston Churchill, who, when a newly elected MP, surveying for the first time the benches opposite, remarked ‘So, that’s the enemy’, was said to have replied, ‘No, that’s the oppostion. The enemy sits behind you’.

[13] Actually, as an avowed opponent of socialism and Marxism, I would think it would be more accurate to state:

Socialism is the socialism of fools. Anti-Semitism the socialism of other fools.

[14] I am here advocating that the word ‘fascism’ be confined in usage to the early- to mid-twentieth Italian political movement and ruling regime, and perhaps a few contemporaneous copycat movements that explicitly described themselves as ‘fascist’ (e.g. the BUF in the UK). Even describing the National Socialist movement and regime of Germany in the mid-twentieth century as ‘fascist’ seems to me unhelpful and potentially misleading, since, despite some commonalities, German National Socialism was, in many respects, a quite different and distinctively German phenomenon, and German National Socialist leaders such as Hitler, much as he may have admired and modelled himself on Mussolini, did not, to my knowledge, ever self-identify as ‘fascists’ (nor indeed did they self-identify as as ‘Nazis’).

The Decline of the Klan and of White (and Protestant) Identity in America

Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987

Given the infamy of the organization, it is surprising that there are so few books that cover the entire history of the Ku Klux Klan in America. 

Most seem to deal only with only one period (usually, but not always, either the Reconstructionera Klan or the Second Klan that reached its apotheosis during the twenties), one locality or indeed only a single time and place

On reflection, however, this is not really surprising. 

For, though we habitually refer to the Ku Klux Klan, or the Klan (emphasis on ‘the’), as if it were a single organization that has been in continuous existence since its first formation in the Reconstruction-era, there have in fact been many different groups calling themselves ‘the Ku Klux Klan’, or some slight variant upon this name (e.g. ‘Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’, ‘United Klans of America’), that have emerged and disappeared over the century and a half since the name was first coined in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Most of these groups had small memberships, recruited and were active in only a single locality and soon disappeared altogether. Yet even those incarnations of the Klan name that had at least some claim to a national, or at least a pan-Southern, membership invariably lacked effective centralized control over local klaverns.

Thus, Wade observes: 

After the Klan had spread outwards from Tennessee, there wasn’t the slightest chance of central control over it – a problem that would characterize the Klan throughout its long career” (p58). 

It is perhaps for this reason that most historians authoring books about the Klan have focussed on Klan activity in only a single time-frame and/or geographic locality.

Indeed, it is notable, besides Wynn Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’, the only other work of which I am aware that even purports to cover the entirety of the Klan’s history (apart from the recently published White Robes and Burning Crosses, which I have not yet read) is David Chambers’ Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan

Yet even this latter work (‘Hooded Americanism’), though it purports in its blurb to be “The only work that treats Ku Kluxism for the entire period of it’s [sic] existence”, actually devotes only a single, short, cursory chapter to the Reconstruction-era Klan, when the group was first founded, arguably at its strongest, and certainly at its most violent.

Moreover, ‘Hooded Americanism’ is composed of separate chapters recounting the history of the Klan in different states in each time period, such that the book lacks an overall narrative structure and is difficult to read. 

In contrast, for those with an interest in the topic, Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’ is both readable and informative, and somehow manages to weave the story of the various Klan groups in different parts of the country into a single overall narrative. 

A College Fraternity Turned Terrorist? 

If, today, the stereotypical Klansman is an illiterate redneck, it might come as some surprise that the group’s name actually bears an impressively classical etymology. It derives from the ancient Greek kuklos, meaning ‘circle’. To this was added ‘Klan’, both for alliterative purposes, and in reference to the ostensible Scottish ancestry of the group’s founders.[1]

This classical etymology reflected the social standing and educational background of its founders, who, far from being illiterate rednecks, were, Wade reports, “well educated for their day” (p32). 

Thus, he reports, of the six founder members, two would go on to become lawyers, another would become editor of a local newspaper, and yet another a state legislator (p32). 

Neither, seemingly, was the group formed with any terroristic, or even any discernible political, aspirations in mind. Instead, one of these six founder members, the, in retrospect, perhaps ironicallynamed James Crow, claimed their intention was initially: 

Purely social and for our amusement” (p34). 

Since, as a good white Southerner and Confederate veteran, Crow likely approved the politics with which the Klan later became associated, he had no obvious incentive to downplay a political motive. Certainly, Wade takes him at his word. 

Thus, if the various Klan titles – Grand GoblinImperial Wizard etc. – sound more like what one might expect in, say, a college fraternity than a serious political or terrorist group, then this perhaps reflects the fact that the organization was indeed conceived with just such adolescent tomfoolery in mind. 

Indeed, although it is not mentioned by Wade, it has even been suggested that a then-defunct nineteenth-century fraternity, Kuklos Adelphon, may even have provided a partial model for the group, including its name. Thus, Wade writes: 

It has been said that, if Pulaski had had an Elks Club, the Klan would never have been born” (p33). 

White Sheets and Black Victims 

However, from early on, the group’s practical jokes increasingly focussed on the newly-emancipated, and already much resented, black population of Giles County

Yet, even here, intentions were initially jocular, if mean-spirited. Thus, the white sheets famously worn by Klansmen were, Wade informs us, originally conceived in imitation of the stereotypical appearance of ghosts, the wearers ostensibly posing as: 

The ghosts of the Confederate dead, who had risen from their graves to wreak vengeance on [the blacks]” (p35). 

This accorded with the then prevalent stereotype of black population as being highly superstitious. 

However, it is likely that few black victims were taken in. Instead, the very real fear that the Klan came to inspire in its predominantly black victims reflected instead the also very real acts of terror and cruelty with which the group became increasingly associated. 

The sheets also functioned, of course, as a crude disguise.  

However, it was only when the Klan name was revived in the early twentieth century, and through the imagination of its reviver, William Joseph Simmons, that this crude disguise was transformed into a mysterious ceremonial regalia, the sale of which was jealously guarded, and an important source of revenue, for the Klan leadership. 

Indeed, in the Reconstruction-era Klan, the sheets, though a crude disguise, would not even qualify as a uniform, as there was no standardization whatsoever. Instead:  

Sheets, pillowcases, handkerchiefs, blankets, sacks… paper masks, blackened faces, and undershirts and drawers were all employed” (p60).  

Thus, Wade reports the irony whereby one: 

Black female victim of the Klan was able to recognise one of her assailants because he wore a dress she herself had sewed for his wife” (p60). 

Chivalry – or Reproductive Competition

Representing perhaps the original white knights, Klansmen claimed to be acting in order to protect the ostensible virtue and honour of white women. 

However, at least in Wade’s telling, the rapes of white women by black males, upon which white Southern propaganda so pruriently dwelt (as prominently featured, for example, in the movie, Birth of a Nation, and the book upon which the movie was based, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan) were actually very rare. 

Indeed, he even quotes a former Confederate General, and alleged Klansman, seemingly admitting as much when, on being asked whether such assaults were common, he acknowledged: 

Oh no sir, but one case of rape by a negro upon a white woman was enough to alarm the whole people of the state” (p20). 

Certainly, the Emmett Till case demonstrates that even quite innocuous acts could indeed invite grossly disproportionate responses in the Southern culture of honour, at least where the perceived malfeasors were black. Thus, Wade claims: 

“Sometimes a black smile or the tipping of a hat were sufficient grounds for prosecution for rape. As one southern judge put it, ‘I see a chicken cock drop his wings and take after a hen; my experience and observation assure me that his purpose is sexual intercourse, no other evidence is needed’” (p20). 

Likewise, such infamous cases as the Scottsboro boys and Groveland four illustrate that false allegations were certainly not unknown in the American South. Indeed, false rape allegations, directed against men of all races, remain disturbingly common to this day

However, I remain skeptical of Wade’s claim that black-on-white rape were quite as rare as he makes out. 

After all, American blacks have had high rates of violent crime ever since records began, and, as contemporary racists are fond of pointing out, today, black-on-white rape is actually quite common, at least as compared to other victim-offender dyads. 

Thus, in Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America, published in 1992, Jared Taylor reports: 

In a 1974 study in Denver, 40 percent of all rapes were of whites by blacks, and not one case of white-on-black-rape was found. In general, through the 1970s, black-on-white rape was at last ten times more common than white-on-black rape… In 1988 there were 9,406 cases of black-on-white rape and fewer than ten cases of white-on-black rape. Another researcher concludes that in 1989, blacks were three or four times more likely to commit rape than whites and that black men raped white women thirty times as often as white men raped black women” (Paved with Good Intentions: p93) 

Indeed, the authors of one recent textbook on criminology even claim that: 

Some researchers have suggested, because of the frequency with which African Americans select white victims (about 55 percent of the time), it [rape] could be considered an interracial crime” (Criminology: A Global Perspective: p544).[2] 

At any rate, Southern chivalry was rather selectively accorded, and certainly did not extend to black women.[3]

Indeed, Wade claims that Klansmen themselves, employing a blatant double-standard and rank hypocrisy, actually themselves regularly raped black women during their raids: 

The desire for group intercourse was sometimes sufficient reason for a den to go out on a raid…. Sometimes during a political raid, Klansmen would rape the female members of the household as a matter of course” (p76). 

As someone versed in sociobiological theory who has studied evolutionary psychology, I tempted to see these double-standards in sociobiological terms as a form of reproductive competition, designed to maximize the reproductive success of the white males involved, and indeed of the white race in general.

Thus, for white men, it was open season on black women, but white women were strictly off-limits to black men: 

In Southern white culture, the female was placed on a pedestal where she was inaccessible to blacks and a guarantee of purity of the white race. The black race, however, was completely vulnerable to miscegenation. White men soon learned that women placed on a pedestal acted like statues in bed, and they came to prefer the female slave whom they found open and uninhibited… The more white males turned to female slaves, the more they exalted their own women, who increasingly became a mere ornament and symbol of the Southern way of life” (p20).

Indeed, this pattern of double-standards, whereby men of a given ethnicity are only too happy to miscegenate with women of another ethnicity but are jealously protective of their own women, is cross-culturally recurrent, and eminently explicable in terms of reproductive competition.

Klan Success? 

The Klan came to stand for the reestablishment of white supremacy and the denial of voting rights to blacks. 

In the short-term, at least, these aims were to be achieved, with the establishment of segregation and effective disenfranchisement of blacks throughout much of the South. Wade, however, denies the Klan any part in this victory: 

The Ku-Klux Klan… didn’t weaken Radical Reconstruction nearly as much as they nurtured it. So long as an organized secret conspiracy swore oaths and used cloak and dagger methods in the South, Congress was willing to legislate against it… Not until the Klan was beaten and the former confederacy turned to more open methods of preserving the Southern way of life did Reconstruction and its Northern support decline” (p109-110). 

Thus, it was, Wade reports, not the Klan, but rather other groups, today largely forgotten, such as Louisiana’s White League and South Carolina’s Red Shirts, that were responsible for successfully scaring blacks away from the polls and ensuring the return of white supremacy in the South. Moreover, he reports that they were only able to do so only because the federal laws enacted to tackle the Klan had ceased to be enforced precisely because the Klan itself had ceased to represent a serious threat. 

On this telling, then, the First Klan was, politically, a failure. In this respect, it was to set the model for later Klans, which would fight a losing rearguard action against Catholic immigration and the civil rights movement. 


If the First Klan was a failure, why then was it remembered, celebrated and ultimately revived, while other groups, such as the White LeagueRed Shirts and Knights of the White Camelia, which employed similar terrorist tactics in pursuit of the same political objectives, are today largely forgotten? 

Wade does not address this, but one suspects the outlandishness of the group’s name and ceremonial titles contributed, as did the fact that the Klan seems to have been the only such group active throughout the entirety of the former Confederacy

The reborn Klan, founded in the early twentieth century, was the brainchild of William Joseph Simmons, a self-styled professional ‘fraternalist’, alumni of countless other fraternal organizations, Methodist preacher, strict prohibitionist and rumoured alcoholic. 

It is him to whom credit must go for inventing most of the ritualism (aka ‘Klancraft’) and terminology (including the very word ‘Klancraft’) that came to be associated with the Klan in the twentieth century. 

Birth of a Nation’ and the Rebirth of the Klan 

Two further factors contributed to the growth and success of the reborn Klan. First, was the spectacularly successful 1915 release of the movie, The Birth of a Nation

Both deplored for its message yet also grudgingly admired for its technical and artistic achievement, this film occupies a curious place in film history, roughly comparable to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. (Sergei Eisenstein’s Communist and Stalinist propaganda films curiously, but predictably, receive a free pass.) 

In this movie, pioneering filmmaker DW Griffith is credited with largely inventing much of the grammar of modern moviemaking. If, today, it seems distinctly unimpressive, if not borderline unwatchable, this is, not only because of the obvious technological limitations of the time period, but also precisely because it invented many of the moviemaking methods that modern cinema-goers, and television viewers, have long previously learnt to take for granted (e.g. cross-cutting). 

Yet, if its technical and artistic innovations have won the grudging respect of film historians, its message is, of course, wholly anathema to modern western sensibilities. 

Thus, portraying the antebellum American South with the same pair of rose-tinted spectacles as those donned by the author of Gone with the Wind, ‘Birth of a Nation’ went even further, portraying blacks during the Reconstruction period as rampant rapists salivating after the flesh of white women, and Klansmen as heroic white knights who saved white womanhood, and indeed the South itself, from the ravages of both reconstruction and of Southern blacks. 

Yet, though it achieved unprecedented box-office success, even being credited as the first modern blockbuster, the movie was controversial even for its time. 

It even became the first movie to be screened in the White House, when, as a favour to Thomas Dixon, the author of the novel upon which the movie was based, the film received an advance, pre-release screening for the benefit of the then-President, Woodrow Wilson, a college acquaintance of Dixon – though what the President thought of it is a matter of dispute.[4]

Indeed, such was the controversy that the movie was to provoke that the nascent NAACP, itself launched just a few years earlier, even launched a campaign to have the film banned outright (p127-8). 

This, of course, puts the lie to the notion that the political left was, until recent times, wholly in favour of freedom of speech and artistic expression

Actually, even then, the Left’s commitment to freedom of expression was, it seems, highly selective, just as it is today. Thus, it was one thing to defend the free speech rights of raving communists, quite another to apply the same principle to racists and Klansmen. 

The Murders of Mary Phagan and Leo Frank

Another factor in the successful resurrection of the Klan were two murders that galvanized popular opinion in the South, and indeed the nation. 

First was the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old factory girl in Atlanta, Georgia. Second was the lynching of Leo Frank, her boss and ostensible murderer, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death, only to have this sentence commuted to life-imprisonment, only to be lynched by outraged locals. 

His lynching was carried out by a group styling themselves ‘The Knights of Mary Phagan’, many of whom would go on to become founder members of the newly reformed Klan. 

It was actually this group, not the Klan itself, which would establish a famous Klan ritual, namely the ascent of Stone Mountain to burn a cross, a ritual Simmons would repeat to inaugurate his nascent Klan a few months later.[5]

Yet, in the history of alleged miscarriages of justice in the American South, the lynching of Leo Frank stands very much apart. 

For one thing, most victims of such alleged miscarriages of justice were, of course, black. Yet Leo Frank was a white man. 

Moreover, most of his apologists insist that the real perpetrator was, in fact, a black man. They are therefore in the unusual position of claiming racism caused white Southerners to falsely convict a white man when they should have pinned the blame on a black instead.

It is true, of course, that Frank was also Jewish. However, there was little history of anti-Semitism in the South. Indeed, I suspect there was more prejudice against him as a wealthy Northerner who had come south for business purposes, and hence as, in Southern eyes, a ‘Yankee carpetbagger’.

Moreover, although his lynching was certainly unjustified, and his conviction possibly unsafe, it is still not altogether clear that Frank was indeed innocent of the murder of which he stood accused.[6]

Wade himself admits that there was some doubt as to his innocence at the time. However, he refers to a deathbed statement by an elderly witness some seventy years later in 1982 as finally proving his innocence: 

Not until 1982 would Frank’s complete innocence come to light as a result of a witness’s deathbed statement” (p143). 

However, a claim made, not in court under oath, but rather to the press for a headline (albeit also in a signed affidavit under oath), by an elderly, dying man, regarding things he had supposedly witnessed some seventy years earlier when he was himself little more than a child, is obviously open to question.

Thus, the case is problematic on many levels. While it is unclear whether Frank was indeed guilty, it certainly seems that he was wrongly convicted, since his guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Yet, despite this, the grant of clemency and reduction of his sentence to life imprisonment rather than execution somehow almost seems more wrong still, since it reflected more the fact that Frank was a wealthy, well-connected Jew, backed by the powerful Northern Jewish community, and a campaign in the influential (and Jewish-owned) New York Times, than it did to the weakness of the case against him.

One suspects a poor Southern black, or indeed a poor Southern white, convicted of a similarly gruesome crime, on similarly ambiguous evidence, would have soon found himself summarily hanged with little attendent fanfare, and the case would be little known outside of Georgia, and little remembered today, save by members of the immediate family of the victim and accused.

Thus, while his Frank’s lynching was undoubtedly even more wrongful than either his conviction or his subsequent commutation of sentence, nevertheless one can well understand the anger and animosity that his commutation of sentence provoked among the local population.

At any rate, it is interesting to note that Frank’s lynching played an important role, not only in the founding of the Second Klan, but also in the genesis of another political pressure group whose influence on American social, cultural and political life has far outstripped that of the Klan and which, unlike the Second Klan, survives to this day – namely the Anti-Defamation League of of B’nai B’rith or ADL

The parallels abound. Just as the Second Klan was a fraternal organization for white protestants, so B’nai B’rith, the organization which birthed the ADL, was a fraternal order for Jews, and Frank himself, surely not uncoincidentally, was president of the Atlanta chapter of the group. 

The organizational efforts of B’nai B’rith to protect Frank, a local chapter president, from punishment can therefore be viewed as analogous to the way in which the Klan itself sought to protect its own members from successful prosecution through its own corrupt links in law enforcement and government and on juries. 

Moreover, just as the Klan was formed to defend and promote the interests of white Christian protestants, so the ADL was formed to protect the interests of Jews.

However, the ADL was to prove far more successful in this endeavour than the Klan had ever been, and, unlike the Second Klan, very much survives, and prospers, to this day.[7]

Klan Enemies 

Jews were not, however, the primary objects of Klan enmity during the twenties – and neither, perhaps surprisingly, were blacks. 

This was, after all, the period that later historians have termed ‘the nadir of American race relations’, when, throughout the South, blacks were largely disenfranchised, and segregation firmly entrenched. 

Yet, from a white racialist perspective, the era is misnamed.[8] Far from a nadir, for white racialists the period represented something like a utopia, lost Eden or Golden Age.[9]

White supremacy was firmly entrenched and not, it seemed, under any serious threat. The so-called civil rights movement had barely begun, and certainly had yet to achieve any major successes.

Of course, then as now, race riots did periodically puncture the apparent peace – at Wilmington in 1898Springfield in 1908Tulsa in 1912Rosewood in 1923, and throughout much of America in 1919

However, unlike contemporary American race riots, these typically took the form of whites attacking blacks rather than vice versa, and, even when the latter did occur, white solidarity was such that the whites invariably gave at least as good as they got.[10]

Thus, in early-twentieth century America, unlike during Reconstruction, there was no need for a Klan to reppress ‘uppity’ blacks. On the contrary, blacks were already adequately oppressed.  

Thus, if the Second Klan was to have an enemy worthy of its enmity, and a cause sufficient to justify its resurrection, and, more important, sufficient to persuade prospective inductees to hand over their membership dues, it would have to look elsewhere. 

To some extent the enemy selected varied on a regional basis, depending on the local concerns of the population. The Klan thus sought, like Hitler’s later NSDAP, to be ‘all things to all men’, and, for some time before it hit upon a winning strategy, the Klan flitted from one issue to another, never really finding its feet. 

However, to the extent the Second Klan, at the national level, was organized in opposition to a single threat or adversary, it was to be found neither in Jews nor blacks, but rather in Catholics. 


To modern readers, the anti-Catholicism of the Second Klan seems bizarre. Modern Americans may be racist and homophobic in ever decreasing numbers, but they at least understand racism and homophobia. However, anti-Catholicism of this type, especially in so relatively recent a time period, seems wholly incomprehensible.

Indeed, the anti-Catholicism of the Second Klan is now something of an embarrassment even to otherwise unreconstructed racists and indeed to contemporary Klansmen, and is something they very much disavow and try to play down. 

Thus, anti-Catholicism, at least of this kind, is now wholly obsolete in America, and indeed throughout the English-speaking world outside of Northern Ireland – and perhaps Ibrox Football stadium for ninety minutes on alternate Saturdays for the duration of the Scottish football season. 

It seems something more suited to cruel and barbaric times, such as England in the seventeenth century, or Northern Ireland in the 1970s… or, indeed, Northern Ireland today. But in twentieth century America? Surely not. 

How then can we make sense of this phenomenon? 

Partly, the Klan’s anti-Catholicism reflected the greater religiosity of the age. In particular, the rise of the Second Klan was, at least in Wade’s telling, intimately linked with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in opposition to reforming practices (the so-called Social Gospel) in the early twentieth century.

Indeed, under its first Imperial Wizard, William Joseph Simmons, a Methodist preacher, the new Klan was initially more of a religious organization than it was a political one, and Simmons himself was later to lament the Klan’s move into politics under his successor.[11]

There was, however, also a nativist dimension to the Klan’s rabid anti-Catholicism, since, although Catholics had been present among the first settlers of North America and numbered even among the founding fathers, Catholicism was still associated with recent immigrants to the USA, especially Italians, Irish and Poles, who had yet to fully assimilate into the American mainstream

Catholics were also seen as inherently disloyal, as the nature of their religious affiliation (supposedly) meant that they owed ultimate loyalty, not to America, but rather to the Pope in Rome.  

This idea seems to have been a cultural inheritance from the British Isles.[12] In England, Catholics had long been viewed as inherently disloyal, and as desirous to overthrow the monarchy and restore Britain to Catholicism, as, in an earlier age, many had indeed sought to do

This view is, of course, directly analogous to the claim of many contemporary Islamophobes and counter-Jihadists today that the ultimate consequence of Muslim immigration into Europe will be the imposition of Shariah law across Europe.

However, even in the twenties, during the Second Klan’s brief apotheosis, their anti-Catholicism already seemed, in Wade’s words, “strangely anachronistic”, to the point of being “almost astounding” (p179).

Thus, as anti-Catholicism waned as a serious organizing force in American social and political (or even religious) life, it soon became clear that the Klan had nailed their colours to a sinking ship. Thus, as anti-Catholic sentiments declined among the American population at large, so the Klan attempted to both jettison and disassociate itself from its earlier anti-Catholicism.[13]

First, anti-Catholicism was simply deemphasized by the Klan in favour of new enemies like communism, trade unionism and the burgeoning civil rights movement. 

Eventually, in the Sixties, the United Klans of America, the then dominant Klan faction in America, announced, during “an all-out crusade for new members”, that: 

Catholics were now welcome to join the Klan – the Communist conspiracy more than made up for the Klan’s former anti-Catholic fears of Americans loyal to a foreign power” (p328). 

Today, meanwhile, the Second Klan’s anti-Catholicism is seen as an embarrassment even by otherwise unreconstructed racists and Klansmen. 

The decline of anti-Catholicism in the Klan, and in American society at large, provides, then, an optimistic case-study of the remarkable speed with which (some) intergroup prejudices can be overcome.[14]

It also points to an ironic side-effect of the gradual move towards greater tolerance and inclusivity in American society – namely, even groups ostensibly opposed to this process have nevertheless been affected by it. 

In short, even the Klan has become more tolerant and inclusive

Losing Land and Territory

For many nationalists, racial and ethnic conflict is ultimately a matter of competition for territory and land.

It is therefore of interest that the decline of the Klan, and of white protestant identity in the USA, was itself presaged and foreshadowed by two land sales, one in the early-twenties, when Klan membership was at a peak, and a second just over a decade later, when the decline was already well underway.

First, in the early-twenties, the Klan’s boldly envisaged Klan University had gone bankrupt. The land was sold and a synagogue was constructed on the site. 

Then, under financial pressure in the 1930s as the Depression set in, the Klan was even forced to sell even its main headquarters in Atlanta. 

If selling a Klan university only to see a synagogue constructed on the same site was an embarrassment, then the eventual purchaser of the Klan headquarters was to be an even greater Klan enemy – the Catholic Church. 

Thus, the erstwhile site of the Klan’s grandly-titled Imperial Palace became a Catholic cathedral

Perhaps surprisingly, and presumably in an effort at rapprochement and reconciliation, the new cathedral’s hierarchy reached out to the Klan by inviting the then-Grand Wizard, Hiram Evans, who had outmanoeuvred Simmons for control of the then-lucrative cash-cow during the Klan’s twenties heyday, to the new Cathedral’s inaugural service. 

Perhaps even more surprisingly, Evans actually accepted the invitation. Afterwards, even more surprisingly still, he was quoted as observing: 

It was the most ornate ceremony and one of most beautiful services I ever saw” (p265). 

More beautiful even than a cross-burning!

Evans was forced to resign immediately afterwards. However, in deemphasizing anti-Catholicism, he correctly gaged the public mood and the Klan itself was later, if belatedly, to follow his lead. 

The Turn to Terror 

The Klan is seemingly preadapted to terror. However benign the intentions of its successive founders, each Klan descended into violence. 

If the First Klan was formed as a sort of college fraternity, the Second Klan seems to have been conceived primarily as a money-making venture, and hence, in principle, no more inherently violent than the Freemasons or the Elks

Yet the turn to terror was perhaps, in retrospect, inevitable. After all, this new Klan had been modelled on what had been, or at least become, a terrorist group (namely, the First Klan), employed masks, and, from the lynching of Leo Frank, had associated itself with vigilantism from the very onset. 

Interestingly, although precise data is not easy to come by, one gets the distinct impression that, during this era of Klan activity, most of the victims of its violence were, not blacks nor even Catholics, but rather the very white protestant Christians whom the Klan ostensibly existed to protect, or, more specifically, those among this community who had somehow offended against the values of the community, or simply offended Klansmen themselves. 

Of course, lynchings of blacks continued, at least in the South. But these were rarely conducted under the auspices of the Klan, since these were a longstanding tradition that long predated the Klan’s re-emergence, and the perpetrators of such acts rarely felt the need to wear masks to conceal their identities, let alone don the elaborate apparel, and pay the requisite membership dues, of the upstart Klan.[15]

But Klan violence per se did not always deter new members. On the contrary, some seem to have been attracted by it. Thus, Klan recruiters (‘Kleagles’) at first maintained that newspaper exposés amounted to free publicity and only helped them in their recruitment drive. 

Instead, Wade claims, more than violence, it was the perceived hypocrisy of Klan leaders which ultimately led to the group’s demise (p254).  

Thus, it purported to champion prohibition, temperance and Christian values, but had been founded by Simmons, a rumoured alcoholic, while its (hugely successful) marketing and recruitment campaign was headed by Edward Young Clarke and Mary Elizabeth Tyler of the Southern Publicity Association, who were openly engaged in an extra-marital affair with one another. 

However, the most damaging scandal to hit the Klan, which, as we have seen, purported to champion Prohibition and the protection of the sanctity of white womanhood, combined violence, drunkenness and hypocrisy, and occurred when DC ‘Steve’ Stephenson, a hugely successful Indianna Grand Dragon, was convicted of the rape, kidnap and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, herself a white protestant woman, during a drunken binge. 

In fact, by the time of the assault, Stephenson had already split from the national Klan to form his own rival, exclusively Northern, Klan group. However, his former prominence in the organization meant that, though they might disclaim him, the Klan could never wholly disassociate themselves from him.  

It seems to have been this scandal more than any other which finally discredited the Klan in the minds of most Americans. Thus, Wade concludes: 

The Klan in the twenties began and ended with the death of an innocent young girl. The Mary Phagan-Leo Frank case had been the spark that ignited the Klan. And the Oberholtzer-Stephenson case had put out the fire” (p247). 


Thenceforth, the Klan’s decline was as rapid and remarkable as its rise. Thus, Wade reports: 

In 1924 the Ku Klux Klan had boasted more than four million members. By 1930, that number had withered to about forty-five thousand… No other American movement has ever risen so high and fallen so low in such a short period” (p253). 

Indeed, in Wade’s telling, even its famous 1925 march on Washington “proved to be its most spectacular last gasp”, attracting, Wade reports, “only half of the sixty thousand expected” (p249) 

The National gathering of thirty thousand was less than what [DC Stephenson] could have mustered in Indiana alone during the Klan’s heyday” (p250). 

Not only did numbers decline, so did the membership profile. 

Thus, initially, the new group had attracted members from across the socioeconomic spectrum of white protestant America, or at least among all those who could afford the membership dues. Indeed, analyses of surviving membership rolls suggest that the Klan in this era was, at first, a predominantly middle-class group representing what was then the heart of Middle America

However, probably as a consequence of the revelations of violence, the respectable classes increasingly deserted the group.

Klan defections began with the prominent, the educated and the well-to-do, and proceeded down through the middle-class” (p252). 

Thus, the stereotype of the archetypal Klansman as an uneducated, semi-literate, tattooed, beer-swilling redneck gradually took hold. 

Indeed, from 1926 or so, the Klan even sought to reclaim this image as a positive attribute, portraying themselves as, in their own words, “a movement of plain people” (p252). 

But this marketing strategy, in Wade’s telling, badly backfired, since even less well-off, but ever aspirant, Americans hardly wanted to associate themselves with a group that admitted to being uneducated hicks (Ibid.). 

As well as the membership narrowing in its socioeconomic profile, Klan membership also retreated geographically. 

Thus, in its brief heyday, the Second Klan, unlike its Reconstruction-era predecessor, had had a truly national membership. 

Indeed, the state with the largest membership was said to be Indiana, where DC ‘Steve’ Stephenson, in the few years before his dramatic downfall, was said to have built up a one-man political machine that briefly came to dominate politics in the Hoosier State. 

However, in the aftermath of the fall of Stephenson and his Indiana Klan, the Klan was to haemorrhage members not just in Indiana, but throughout the North. The result was that: 

By 1930, the Klan’s little strength was concentrated in the South. Over the next half-century the Klan would gradually lose its Northern members, regressing more and more closely towards its Reconstruction ancestor until, by the 1960s, it would stand as a near-perfect replica” (p252) 

Thenceforth, the Klan was to remain, once again, a largely Southern phenomenon, with what little numerical strength it retained overwhelmingly concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy. 

Death and Taxes – The Only Certainties in Life 

The Second Klan was finally destroyed, however, not by declining membership, violent atrocities, bad publicity and inept brand-management, nor even by government prosecution, though all these factors did indeed play a part.  

Rather, the final nail in the Klan’s coffin was dealt by the taxman. 

In 1944, the Inland Revenue demanded restitution in respect of unpaid taxes due on the profits earnt from subscription dues during the Klan’s brief but lucrative 1920s membership boom (p275). 

The Klan, which had been haemorrhaging members even before the 1930s Depression, and, unlike the economy as a whole, had yet to recover, was already in a dire financial situation. Therefore, it could never hope to pay the monies demanded by the government, and instead was forced to declare bankruptcy (p275). 

Thenceforth, the Klan was no more. 

Ultimately, then, the government destroyed the Klan the same way had did Al Capone

The Klan and the Nazis – A Match Made in Hell? 

In between recounting the Klan’s decline, Wade also discusses its supposed courtship of, or by, the pro-Nazi German-American Bund

Actually, however, a careful reading of Wade’s account suggests that he exaggerates the extent of any such association. 

Thus, it is notable, if bizarre, that, in Wade’s own telling, the Bund’s leader, German-born Fritz Julius Kuhn, in seeking the “merging of the Bund with some native American organization who would shield it from charges of being a ‘foreign’ agency”, had first set his sights on that most native of “native American organizations” – namely, Native Americans (p269-70). 

When this quixotic venture inevitably ended in failure, if only due to “profound indifference on the Indians’ part”, only then did the rebuffed Kuhn turn his spurned attentions to the Klan (p270). 

Yet the Klan seemed to have been almost as resistant to Kuhn’s advances as the Native Americans had been. Thus, Wade quotes Kuhn as admitting, somewhat ambiguously:

The Southern Klans did not want to be known in it… So the negotiations were between representatives of the Klans in New Jersey and Michigan, but it was understood that the Southerners were in” (p270). 

Yet, by this time, in Wade’s own telling, the Klan was extremely weak in Northern states such as New Jersey and Michigan, and what little numerical strength it retained was concentrated in the Southern states of the former Confederacy. 

This suggests that it was only the already marginalized northern Klan groups who, bereft of other support, were willing to entertain the notion of an alliance with Bund. 

If the Southern Klan leadership was indeed aware of, and implicitly approved, the link, it was nevertheless clear that they wanted to keep any such association indirect and at an arm’s length, hence maintaining plausible deniability

This is perhaps the only way we can make sense of Kuhn’s acknowledgement, on the one hand, that “the Southern Klans did not want to be known in it”, while, on the other, that “it was understood that the Southerners were in” (p270). 

Thus, when negative publicity resulted from the joint Klan-Bund rally in New Jersey, the national (i.e. Southern) Klan leadership was quick to distance itself from and disavow any notion of an alliance, promptly relieving the New Jersey Grand Dragon of his office.

On reflection, however, this is little surprise.

For one thing, German-Americans, especially those who willing to flagrantly flaunt their ‘dual loyalty’ by joining a group like the German-American Bund, were themselves exactly the type of hyphenated-Americans that the 100% Americans of the Klan professed to despise.

Indeed, though they may have been white and (mostly) protestant, German-Americans own integration into the American mainstream was, especially after the anti-German sentiment aroused during the First World War, still very much incomplete

Today, of course, we might think of Nazis and the Klan as natural allies, both being, after all, that most reviled species of humanity – namely, white racists.

However, besides racialism, the Klan and the Nazis actually had surprisingly little in common. 

After all, the Klan was a Protestant fundamentalist group opposed to Darwinism and the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools.

Hitler, in contrast, was an reputed social Darwinist, who was reported by his confidents as harbouring a profound antipathy to the Christian faith, albeit one he kept out of his public pronouncements for reasons of political expediency, and some of whose followers even championed a return to Germanic paganism.[16]

Indeed, even their shared racialism was directed primarily towards different outgroups.

In Germany, blacks, though indeed persecuted by the Nazis, were few in number, and hence not a major target of Nazi propaganda, animosity or persecution – and nor were Catholics as such among the groups targeted for persecution by the Nazis, Hitler himself having been raised as a Catholic in his native Austria.[17]

Yet, if Catholics were not among the groups targeted for persecution by the Nazis, members of secret societies like the Klan very much were. 

Thus, among the less politically-fashionable targets for persecution by the Nazis were both the Freemasons and indeed the closest thing Germany itself ever had to a Ku Klux Klan. 

Thus, in 1923 a Klan-like group, “the German Order of the Fiery Cross”, had been founded in Germany in imitation of the Klan, by an expatriate German on his return to the Fatherland from America (p266). 

Yet, ironically, it was Hitler himself who ultimately banned and suppressed this German Klan imitator (p267). 

The Third Klan/s 

The so-called Third Klan was really not one Klan, but many different Klans, each not only independent of one another, but also often in fierce competition with one another for members and influence. 

They filled the vacuum left by the defunct Second Klan and competed to match its size, power and influence – though none were ever to succeed. 

From this point, it is no longer really proper to talk about the Klan, since there was not one Klan but rather many separate Klans, with little if any institutional connections with one another. 

Moreover, the different Klan groups varied more than ever in their ethos and activity. Thus, Wade reports: 

Some Klans were quietly ineffective, some were violent and some were borderline psychotic” (p302) 

With no one group maintaining a registered trademark over the Klan brand, inevitably the atrocities committed by one group ended up discrediting even other groups with no connection to them. The Klan ‘brand’ was irretrievably damaged, even among those who might otherwise be attracted to its ideology and ethos.[18] 

Indeed, the plethora of different groups was such that even Klansmen themselves were confused, one Dragon complaining: 

The old countersigns and passwords won’t work because all Klansmen are strangers to each other” (p302). 

Increasingly, opposition to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, rather than to Catholicism, now seems to have become the Klan’s chief preoccupation and the primary basis upon which Klaverns, and Kleagles, sought to attract recruits. 

However, respectable opposition to desegregation throughout the South was largely monopolized by the Citizens’ Councils.

Indeed, in Wade’s telling, “preventing a build-up of the Ku Klux Klan” was, quite as much as opposing desegregation, one of the principal objectives for which the Citizens Councils had been formed, since “violence was bad for business, and most of the council leaders were businessmen” (p299). 

If this is true, then perhaps the Citizens Councils were more successful in achieving their objectives than they are usually credited as having been. Segregation, of course, was gone and did not come back – but, then again, neither, to any substantial degree, did the Klan. 

However, in practice, Wade reports, the main impact of the Citizens Councils on the Klan was: 

Not so much eliminating the Klan as leaving it with nothing but nothing but the violence prone dregs of Southern white society” (p302). 

Thus, the Klan’s image, and the characteristic socioeconomic status of its membership profile, declined still further. 

The electoral campaigns of the notorious (sometime-)segregationist and governor of Alabama George Wallace also had a similar effect. Thus, Wade reports: 

Wallace’s campaigns… swallowed a lot of disaffected Klansmen. In fact, Wallace’s campaigns offered them the first really viable alternative to the Klan” (p364). 

Political Cameos and Reinventions 

Here in Wade’s narrative, the myriad of disparate Klan groups inevitably fade into the background, playing a largely reactive, and often violent but nevertheless largely ineffective, and often outright counterproductive, role in opposing desegregation. 

Instead, the starring role is usurped by, in Wade’s own words: 

Two men who were masters of the electronic media: an inspired black minister, Martin Luther King, and a pragmatic white politician, JFK, who would work in an uneasy but highly productive tandem” (p310). 

Actually, in my view, it would be more accurate to say that the centre state was taken by two figures who are today vastly overrated on account of their premature deaths at the hands of assassins, and consequent elevation to martyr status. 

In fact, however, while Wade’s portrait of King is predictably hagiographic, that of Kennedy is actually refreshingly revisionist. 

Far from the liberal martyr of contemporary left-liberal imagining, Kennedy was, in Wade’s telling, only a “pragmatic white politician”, and moreover only a rather late convert to the African-American civil rights movement

Indeed, before he first took office, Wade reports, Kennedy had actually endorsed the Dunning School of historiography regarding the Reconstruction-era, was critical of Eisenhower having sent the National guard into Arkansas to enforce desegregation, and only reluctantly, when his hand was forced, himself sent the National Guard into Alabama (p317-22). 

Meanwhile, another political figure making a significant cameo appearance in Wade’s narrative, ostensibly on the opposite side of the debate over desegregation, is the notorious segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace

Yet Wade’s take on Wallace is, in many respects, as revisionist as his take on Kennedy. Thus, far from a raving racist and staunch segregationist, Wade argues: 

In retrospect… no one used and manipulated the Klansmen more than Wallace. He gave them very few rewards for their efforts on his behalf: often his approval was enough. And in spite of his fiery cant and cries of ‘Never!’ that so thrilled Klansmen, Wallace was a former judge who well understood the law – especially how far he could bend it” (p322). 

Thus, Wade reports, while it is well-known that Wallace famously blocked the entrance to the University of Alabama preventing black students from entering, what is less well-known is that: 

When the marshals asked for the black students to be admitted in the afternoon, Wallace quietly stepped aside. Instead of being recognized, at best, as a practical politician or, at worst, a pompous coward, Wallace was instead hailed by Klansmen as a dauntless hero” (p322). 

Thus, if Kennedy was, in Wade’s telling, “a pragmatic white politician”, then Wallace emerges as an outright political chameleon and shameless opportunist. 

As further evidence for this interpretation, what Wade does not get around to mentioning is that, in his first run for the governorship of Alabama in 1958, Wallace had actually spoken against the Klan and had even been backed by the NAACP, only after his defeat vowing, as he was eloquently quoted as observing, ‘never to be outniggered again’ again, and hence reinventing himself as an (ostensible) arch-segregationist. 

Neither does Wade mention that, in his last run for governor in 1982, reinventing himself once again as a born-again Christian repentent for his past, Wallace actually managed to win over 90% of the black vote

Yet even Wallace’s capacity for political reinvention is outdone by that of one of his supporters and speech-writers, former Klan leader Asa ‘Ace’ Carter, a man so notorious for his racism that even the segregationist Wallace was to deny ever employing him, but who was supposedly responsible for penning the words to Wallace’s infamous segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech

Expelled from a Citizens’ Council for extremism, Carter had then founded and briefly reigned as tin pot führer of one of the most violent Klan outfits – “the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, which resembled a cell of Nazi storm troopers” (p303). 

This group was responsible for one of the worst Klan atrocities of the period, namely the literal castration of a black man, whom they: 

Castrated… with razor blades; and then tortured… with by pouring kerosene and turpentine over his wounds” (p303). 

This gruesome act was, according to a Klan informant, performed for no better reason than as a “test of one of the members’ mettle before being elected ‘captain of the lair” (p303). 

The group was also, it seems, too violent even for its own good. Thus, it subsequently broke up when, in a dispute over financing and his alleged misappropriation of funds, Carter was to shoot two fellow members, yet, for whatever reason, never stood trial (Ibid.).

Yet what Wade does not get around to mentioning is Asa ‘Ace’ Carter was also, like Wallace, to later successfully reinvent himself, and achieve fame once again, this time as Forrest Carter, an ostensibly half-Native American author who penned such hugely successful novels as The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales (subsequently made into the successful motion picture, The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood) and The Education of Little Tree, an ostensible autobiography of a growing up on an Indian reservation, and a book so sickeningly sentimental that it was even recommended and championed by none other than Oprah Winfrey! 

The David Duke Show” 

By the 1970s, open support for white supremacy and segregation was in decline, even among white Southerners. This, together with Klansmen’s involvement in such atrocities such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, might have made it seem that the Klan brand was irretrievably damaged and in terminal decline, never again to play a prominent role in American social or political life again. 

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the Klan brand did manage one last hurrah in the 1970s, this time through the singular talents of one David Duke

Duke was to turn the Klan’s infamy to his own advantage. Thus, his schtick was to use the provocative imagery of the Klan (white sheets, burning crosses) to attract media attention, but then, having attracted that attention, to come across as much more eloquent, reasonable, intelligent and clean-cut than anyone ever expected a Klansman to be – which, in truth, isn’t difficult! 

The result was a media circus that one disgruntled Klansmen aptly dismissed as “The David Duke Show” (p373). 

It was the same trick that George Lincoln Rockwell had used a generation before, though, whereas Rockwell used Nazi imagery (e.g. swastikas, Nazi salutes) to attract media attention, Duke instead used the imagery of the Klan (e.g. white sheets, burning crosses).

If Duke was successor to Rockwell, then Duke’s own contemporary equivalent, fulfilling a similar niche for the contemporary American media as the handsome, eloquent, go-to face of white nationalism, is surely Richard Spencer. Indeed, if rumours are to be believed, Spencer even has a similar penchant to Duke for seducing the wives and girlfriends of his colleagues and supporters. 

Such behaviour, along with his lack of organizational ability, were among the reasons that Duke alienated much of his erstwhile support, haemorrhaging members almost as fast as he attracted them. 

Many such defectors would go on to form rival groups, including Tom Metzger, a TV repairman, who split from Duke to form a more openly militant group calling itself White Aryan Resistance (known by the memorable backronym ‘WAR’), and who achieved some degree of media infamy by starring in multiple television documentaries and talk-shows, despite being bankrupted by a legal verdict in which he and his organization were held liable for involvement in a murder in which they seem to have had literally no involvement.

However, for Wade, the most important defector was, not Metzger, but rather Bill Wilkinson, perhaps because, unlike Metzger, who, on splitting from Duke, abandoned the Klan brand, Wilkinson was to set up a rival Klan group, successfully poaching members from Duke.

However, lacking Duke’s eloquence and good-looks, Wilkinson had instead to devise to another strategy in order to attract media attention and members. The strategy he hit upon was the opposite of Duke’s measured eloquence and moderation, namely “taking a public stance of unbridled violence” (p375).

This, together with the fact the fact that he was nevertheless able to evade prosecution, led to the allegation that he was a state agent and his Klan an FBI-sponsored honey trap, an allegation only reinforced by the recent revelation that he is now a multi-millionaire in the multiracial utopia of Belize

Besides openly advocating violence, Wilkinson also hit upon another means of attracting members. Thus, Wade reports, he “perfected a technique that other Klan leaders belittled as ‘ambulance chasing’” (p384): 

Wilkinson… traversed the nation seeking racial ‘hot spots’… where he can come into a community, collect a large amount of initiation fees, sell a few robes, sell some guns… collect his money and be on his way to another ‘hot spot’” (p384). 

This is, of course, ironically, the exact same tactic employed by contemporary black race-baiters like Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement

Owing partly to the violent activities of rival Klan groups such as Wilkinsons from whom he could never hope to wholly disassociate himself, Duke himself eventually came to see the Klan name, and associated baggage, as a liability. 

One by one, he jettisoned these elements, styling himself National Director rather than Imperial Wizard, wearing a suit rather than a white sheet and eventually giving up even the Klan name itself. Finally, in what was widely perceived as an act of betrayal, Duke was recorded offering to sell his membership rolls to Wilkinson, his erstwhile rival and enemy (p389-90). 

In place of the Klan, Duke sought to set up what he hoped would be a more mainstream and respectable group, namely the National Assocation for the Advancement of White People or NAAWP, one of the many short-lived organizations to adopt this this derivative and rather unimaginative name.[19]

Yet, on abandoning the provocative Klan imagery that had first brought him to the attention of the media, Duke suddenly found media attention much harder to come by. Wade concludes:

Duke had little chance at making a go of any Klan-like organization without the sheets and ‘illuminated crosses’. Without the mumbo-jumbo the lure of the Klan was considerably limited. Five years later the National Association for the Advancement of White People hadn’t got off the ground” (p390). 

Duke was eventually to re-achieve some degree of notoriety as a perennial candidate for elective office, initially with some success, even briefly holding a seat in the Louisiana state legislature and winning a majority of the white vote in his 1991 run for Governorship of Louisiana.

However, despite abandoning the Klan, Duke was never to escape its shadow. Thus, even forty years after abandoning the Klan name, Duke was to still find his name forever prefixed with the title former Klansman or former Grand Wizard David Duke, an image he was never able to jettison. 

Today, still railing against the Jews to anyone still bothering to listen, his former boyish good looks, augmented by cosmetic surgery, having long previously faded, Duke cuts a rather lonely figure, marginal even among the already marginal alt-right, and in his most recent electoral campaign, an unsuccessful run for a Senate seat, he managed to pick up only a miserly three percent of the vote, a far cry from his heyday. 

Un-American Americanism 

Where once Klansmen could unironically claim to stand for 100% Americanism, now, were not the very word ‘un-American’ so tainted by McCarthyism as to sound almost un-American in itself, the Klan could almost be described as a quintessentially un-American organization. 

Indeed, interestingly, Wade reports that there was pressure on the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the Klan from even before the committee was first formed. Thus, Wade laments: 

The creation of the Dies Committee had been urged and supported by liberals and Nazi haters who wanted it used as a congressional forum against fascism. But in the hands of chairman Martin Dies of Texas, an arch-segregationist and his reactionary colleagues… the committee instead had become an anachronistic pack of witch hunters who harassed labor leaders… and discovered ‘communists’ in every imaginable shape and place” (p272).

Thus, Wade’s chief objection to the House Un-American Activities Committee seems to be, not that they became witch hunters, but that they chose to hunt, to his mind, the wrong coven of witches. Instead of going after the commies, they should have targeted the Nazis, fascists and Klansmen instead, who, in his misguided mind, evidently represented the real threat.

Yet what Wade does not mention is that perhaps the most prominent of the heroic “liberals and nazi haters” who advocated for the formation of the HUAC in order persecute fascists and Klansmen, and who, as the joint-chairman of the ‘Special Committee on Un-American Activities’, the precursor to the HUAC, from 1934 to 1937, did indeed use the Committee to target fascists, albeit mostly imaginary ones, was Jewish congressman Samuel Dickstein, who is himself now known to have been a paid Soviet agent, hence proving that McCarthyist concerns regarding communist infiltration and subversion at the highest level of American public life were no mere delusion.

Ultimately, however, Wade was to have his wish. Thus, the Klan did indeed fall victim to the same illiberal and sometimes illegal FBI cointelpro programme of harassment as more fashionable victims on the left (or ostensibly on the left), such as Martin Luther King, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party (p361-3).

Indeed, according to Wade, it was actually the Klan who were the first victims of this campaign of FBI harassment, with more fashionable victims of the left being targeted only later. Thus, Wade writes:

After developing Cointelpro for the Klan, the FBI also used it against the Black Panthers, civil rights leaders, and antiwar demonstrators” (p363).[20]

Licence to Kill?

The Klan formerly enjoyed a reputation something like that of the the Mafia, namely as a violent dangerous group whom a person crossed at their peril, since, again like the Mafia, they had a proven track record of committing violent acts and getting away with it, largely through their corrupt links with local law enforcement in the South, and the unwillingness of all-white Southern juries to hand down convictions.[21]

Today, however, this reputation is long previously lost.

Indeed, if today a suspect in a racist murder were outed as a Klansman, this would likely unfairly prejudice a jury of any ethnic composition, anywhere in the country, against him, arguably to the point of denying him any chance of a fair trial. 

Thus, when aging Klansmen, such as Edgar Ray KillenThomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherrywere belatedly put on trial and convicted in the 2000s for killings committed in the early 1960s, some forty years previously, one rather suspects that they received no fairer a trial then than they did, or would have had, when put on trial before all-white juries in the 1960s American South. The only difference was that now the prejudice was against them rather than in their favour. 

Thus, today, we have gone full circle. Quite when the turning point was reached is a matter of conjecture.

Arguably, the last incident of Klansmen unfairly getting away with murder was the so-called Greensboro massacre in 1979, when Klansmen and other white nationalist activists shot up an anti-Klan rally organized by radical left Maoist labour agitators in North Carolina. 

Here, however, if the all-white jury was indeed prejudiced against the victims of this attack, it was not because they were blacks (all but one of the five people killed were actually white), but rather that they were ‘reds’ (i.e. communists).[22]

Today, then, the problem is not with all-white juries in the South refusing to convict Klansmen, but rather with majority-black juries in urban areas across America refusing to convict black defendants, especially on police evidence, no matter how strong the case against them, for example in the OJ case (see also Paved with Good Intentions: p43-4; p71-3). 

Klans Today 

Wade’s ‘The Fiery Cross’ was first published in 1987. It is therefore not, strictly speaking, a history of the Klan for the entirety of its existence right up to the present day, since Klan groups have continued to exist since this date, and indeed continue to exist in modern America even today. 

However, Wade’s book nevertheless seems complete, because such groups have long previously ceased to have any real significance in American political, social and cultural life save as a media bogeyman and folk devils

In its brief 1920s heyday, the Second Klan could claim to play a key role in politics, even at the national level. 

Wade even claims, dubiously as it happens, that Warren G Harding was inducted into the organization in a special and secret White House ceremony while in office as President (p165).

Certainly, they helped defeat the candidacy of Al Smith, on account of his Catholicism, in 1924 and again in 1928 (p197-99). 

Some half-century later, during the 1980 presidential election campaign, the Klan again made a brief cameo, when each candidate sought to associate the Klan with their opponent, and thereby discredit him. Thus, Reagan was accused of insensitivity for praising “states’ rights, to which Reagan retorted by accusing his opponent, inaccurately as it happens, of opening his campaign in the city that “gave birth to and is the parent body of the Ku Klux Klan”. 

This led Grand Dragon Bill Wilkinson to declare triumphantly: 

We’re not an issue in this Presidential race because we’re insignificant” (p388). 

Yet what Wilkinson failed to grasp, or at least refused to publicly acknowledge, was that the Klan’s role was now wholly negative. Neither candidate actually had any actual Klan links; each sought to link the Klan only with their opponent.

Whereas in the 1920s, candidates for elective office had actively and openly courted Klan support and endorsement, by the time of the 1980 Presidential election to have done so would have been electoral suicide.

The Klan’s role, then, was as bogeymen and folk devils – roughly analogous to that played by Willie Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign; the role NAMBLA plays in the debate over gay rights; or, indeed, the role communists played during the First and Second Red Scares.[23]

Indeed, although in modern America lynching has fallen into disfavour, one suspects that, if it were ever to re-emerge as a popular American pastime and application of participatory democracy to the judicial process, then, among the first contemporary folk devils to be hoisted from a tree, alongside paedophiles and other classes of sex offender, would surely be Klansmen and other unreconstructed white racists

Likewise, today, if a group of Klansmen are permitted to march in any major city in America, then a police presence is required, not to protect innocent blacks, Jews and Catholics from rampaging Klansmen, but rather to protect the Klansmen themselves from angry assailants of all ethnicities, but mostly white. 

Indeed, the latter, styling themselves Antifa (an abbreviation of anti-fascist), despite their positively fascist opposition to freedom of speech, expression and assembly, have even taken, like Klansmen of old, to wearing masks to disguise their identities

Perhaps anti-masking laws, first enacted to defeat the First Klan, and later resurrected to tackle later Klan revivals, must be revived once again, but this time employed, without prejudice, against the contemporary terror, and totalitarianism, of the militant left. 


[1] The only trace of possible illiteracy in the name is found in the misspelling of ‘clan’ as ‘klan’, presumably, again, for alliterative purposes, or perhaps reflecting a legitimate spelling in the nineteenth century when the group was founded.

[2] The popular alt-right meme that there are literally no white-on-black rapes is indeed untrue, and reflects the misreading of a table in a government report that actually involved only a small sample. In fact, the government does not currently release data on the prevalence of interracial rape. However, there is no doubt that black-on-white rape is much more common than white-on-black rape. Similarly, in the US prison system, where male-male rape is endemic, such assaults disproportionately involve non-white assaults on white inmates, as discussed by a Human Rights Watch report.

[3] If Klan chivalry did not extend to black women, neither did it extend even to severely handicapped black males. Thus, the most memorable and remarkable figure to emerge in this part of Wade’s narrative is not a Klansman, but rather a victim of Klan violence, namely black pastor and political leader, Elias Hill
The latter, born into slavery and having lost the use of both his arms and legs through childhood illness, had been freed by his owner, who saw little profit to be had from a handicapped slave. Yet, in adulthood, Hill overcame his disability to become an unlikely yet “influential and powerful leader” among the freedmen of York County, South Carolina (p74). 
As a consequence, Hill found himself visited by hooded Klan nightriders, who dragged him from his home by his withered limbs, beat him with a horse whip and threatened to throw him in a nearby river unless he agreed to renounce the Republican Party (p75). 
After this ordeal, Hill abandoned any hope for black social, political or economic advancement in America. Instead, he, along with other black families, departed for Liberia on the West African coast, with the aid of the American Colonization Society, which aimed to resettle black Americans in Africa, Hill declaring to a congressional committee before he left:

We do not believe it is possible from the past history and present aspect of affairs, for our people to live in this country peaceably and educate and elevate their children to any degree which they desire. They do not believe it is possible. Neither do I” (p75). 

In this assessment Hill and his fellow black emigrants may have been correct. However, they were not to find, or create, an egalitarian utopia in Liberia either. 
On the contrary, in a final proof that ethnic conflict, exploitation, prejudice and oppression know no colour, but rather are universal phenomena and no exclusive monopoly of the white race, the black American freedmen who colonized Liberia then proceeded to oppress, dispossess, exploit and enslave the native African blacks whom they encountered, just as white Americans had dispossessed Native Americans and enslaved black Africans in the Americas.

[4] The then-president Woodrow Wilson (who, in addition to being a politican, was also a noted historian of the reconstruction period, of Southern background, and sympathies, whose five-volume book, A History of the American People, on the reconstruction period is actually quoted in several of the movie’s title cards) was later quoted as describing the movie, in some accounts the first moving picture that he had ever seen, as: 

History [writ] with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true” (p126). 

However, during the controversy following the film’s release, Wilson himself later issued a denial that he had ever uttered any such words, insisting that he had only agreed to the viewing as a “courtesy extended to an old acquaintance” and that:

The President was entirely unaware of the character of the play before it was presented and has at no time expressed his approbation of it” (p137).

This claim is, however, doubtful given the notoriety of the novel and play upon which the film had been based, and of its author, Thomas Dixon.

[5] Like so many other aspects of what is today considered Klan ritual, there is no evidence that cross-burning, or cross-lighting as devout Christian Klansmen prefer to call it, was ever practised by the original Reconstruction-era Klan. However, unlike other aspects of Klan ritualism, it had been invented, not by Simmons, but by novelist Thomas Dixson (by way of Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake), in imitation of an ostensible Scottish tradition, for his book, The Clansman: A Historical romance of the Ku Klux Klan, upon which novel the movie Birth of a Nation was based. The new Klan was eventually granted an easement in perpetuity over Stone Mountain, allowing it to repeat this ritual.

[6] A conviction may be regarded as unsafe, and even as a wrongful conviction, even if we still believe the defendant might be guilty of the crime with which s/he is charged. After all, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If there remains reasonable doubt, then the defendant should not have been convicted. Steve Oney, who researched the case intensively for his book, And the Dead Shall Rise, concedes that “the case [against Frank] is not as feeble as most people say it is”, but nevertheless concludes that Frank was probably innocent, “but there is enough doubt to leave the door ajar” (Berger, Leo Frank Case Stirs Debate 100 Years After Jewish Lynch Victim’s Conviction, Forward, August 30, 2013).

[7] The ADL ’s role in Wade’s narrative does not end here, since the ADL would later play a key role in fighting later incarnations of the Klan.

[8] Indeed, even from a modern racial egalitarian perspective, the era is arguably misnamed. After all, from a racial egalitarian perspective, the plantation era, when slavery was still practised, was surely worse, as surely was the period of bloody conflict between Native Americans and European colonists.

[9] Even among extreme racists, support for slavery is today rare. Therefore, few American racists openly pine for a return to the plantation era. Segregation is, then, then next best thing, short of the actual expulsion of blacks back to Africa. Thus, it is common to hear white American racialists hold up early twentieth century America as lost Eden. For example, many blame the supposed decline of the US public education system on desegregation.

[10] It is thus a myth that oppressed peoples invariably revolt against their oppressors. In reality, truly oppressed peoples, like blacks in the South in this period, tend to maintain a low profile precisely so as to avoid incurring the animosity of their oppressors. It is only when they sense weakness in their oppressors, or their ostensible oppressors, that insurrections tend to occur. This then explains the paradox that black militancy in America seems to be inversely proportional to the actual extent of black oppression.
Thus, the preeminent black leader in America at the height of the Jim Crow era was Booker T Washington, by modern standards a conservative, if not an outright Uncle Tom. Yet, today, when blacks are the beneficiaries, not the victims of discrimination, in the form of what is euphemistically called affirmative action, and it is whites who are ‘walking on eggshells’ and in fear of losing their jobs if they say something offensive to certain protected groups, American blacks are seemingly more militant and belligerent than ever, as the recent BLM riots have shown only too well. 

[11] This disavowal may have been disingenuous and reflected the fact that, by this time, Simmons had lost control of the then-lucrative cash-cow.

[12] Thus, in Ireland, the Protestant minority opposed Home Rule’ for Ireland (a form of devolution, or self-government, that fell short of full independence) on the grounds that it would supposedly amount, in effect, to Rome Rule, due to the Catholic majority in Ireland.

[13] Interestingly, unlike the Klan, another formerly anti-Catholic American fraternal order, Junior Order of United American Mechanics, successfully jettisoned both its earlier anti-Catholicism, and a similar association with violence, to reinvent itself as a respectable, non-sectarian beneficent group. However, the Klan was ultimately unable to achieve the same feat. 

[14] Of course, other forms of intergroup prejudice have been altogether more intransigent, long-lasting and impervious to eradication. Indeed, even anti-Catholicism itself had a long history. Pierre van den Berghe, in his excellent The Ethnic Phenomenon (which I have reviewed here), argues that assimilation is possible on in specific circumstances, namely when the groups to be assimilated are: 

Similar in physical appearance and culture to the group to which it assimilates, small in proportion to the total population, of low status and territorially dispersed” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p219). 

Thus, those hoping other forms of intergroup conflit (e.g. black-white conflict in the USA, or indeed the continuing animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) can be similarly overcome in such a short period of time in coming years are well-advised not to hold their breaths.

[15] Thus, in the many often graphic images of lynchings of black victims accessible via the internet, I have yet to find one in which the lynch-mobs are dressed in the ceremonial regalia of the Klan. On the contrary, far from wearing masks, the perpetrators often proudly face the camera, evidently feeling no fear of retribution or legal repercussions for their vigilantism.

[16] The question of the religious beliefs, if any, of Hitler is one of some controversy. Certainly, many leading  figures in the National Socialist regime, including Martin Bormann and Alfred Rosenberg, were hostile to Christianity. Likewise, Hitler is reported as making antiChristian statements in private, in both Hitler’s Table Talk, and by such confidents as Speer in his memoirs. Hitler talked of postponing his Kirchenkampf, or settling of accounts with the churches, until after the War, not wishing to fight enemies on multiple fronts.

[17] To clarify, it has been claimed that the Catholic Church faced persecution in National Socialist Germany. However, this persecution did not extend to individual Catholics, save those, including some priests, who opposed the regime and its policies, in which case the persecution reflected their political activism rather than their religion as such. Although Hitler was indeed hostile to Christianity, Catholicism very much included, Nazi conflict with the Church seems to have reflected primarily the fact that the Nazis, as a totalitarian regime, sought to control all aspects of society and culture in Germany, including those over which the Church had formerly claimed hegemony (e.g. education).

[18] In a later era, this was among the reasons given by David Duke in his autobiography for his abandonment of the Klan brand, since his own supposedly largely non-violent Klan faction was, he complained, invariably confused with, and tarred with the same brush as, other violent Klan factions through guilt by association

[19] Duke later had a better idea for a name for his organization – namely, the National Organization For European American Rights, which he intended to be known by the memorable acronym, NO-FEAR. Unfortunately for him, however, the clothing company who had already registered this name as a trademark thought better of it and forced him to change the group’s name to the rather less memorable European-American Unity and Rights Organization (or EURO).

[20] Certainly, the Klan was henceforth a major target of the FBI. Indeed, the FBI were even accused, in a sting operation apparently funded by the ADL, of provoking one Klan bombing in which a woman, Kathy Ainsworth, herself one of the bombers and an active, militant Klanswoman, was killed (p363). The FBI was also implicated in another Klan killing, namely that of civil rights campaigner Viola Liuzzo, since an FBI agent was present with the killers in the car from which the fatal shots were fired (p347-54). Indeed, Wade reports that “about 6 percent of all Klansmen in the late 1960s worked for the FBI” (p362).

[21] Thus, former Klan leader David Duke, in his autobiographical My Awakening, reports that, when he and other arrestees were outed as Klansmen in a Louisiana prison, the black prisoners, far from attacking them, were initially cowed by the revelation: 

At first, it seemed my media reputation intimidated them. The Klan had a reputation, although undeserved, like that of the mafia. Some of the Black inmates obviously thought that if they did anything to harm me, a “Godfather” type of character, they might soon end up with their feet in cement at the bottom of the Mississippi.

[22] All but one of those killed, Wade reports, were leaders of the Maoist group responsible for the anti-Klan rally (p381). Wade uses this to show that the violence was premeditated, having been carefully planned and coordinated by the Klansmen and neo-Nazis. However, the fact that they were leading figures in this Maoist group would also likely mean that they were hardly innocent victims, at least in the eyes of conservative white jurors in North Carolina. 
In fact, the victims were indeed highly unsympathetic, not merely on account of their radical leftist politics, but also on account of the fact that they had seemingly deliberately provoked the Klan attack, openly challenging the Klan to attend their provocatively titled ‘Death to the Klan’ rally (p379), and, though ultimately heavily outgunned, they themselves seem to have first initiated the violence by attacking the cars carrying Klansmen with placards (p381).

[23] The Klan was recently to reprise this role to play once again during the recent Trump presidential campaigns, as journalists trawled the South in search of grizzled, self-appointed Grand Dragons willing, presumably in return for a few drinks, to offer their unsolicited endorsement of the Trump candidature and thereby, in the journalists’ own minds, discredit him through guilt-by-association.