Monday, January 7, 2013

Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity

Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity
by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
New York University Press

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has a theory, a theory that a certain mythic reconcpetualization of Nazism was diffused after the conclusion of the Second World War and permeates in our contemporary culture. This is not your typical brute skinhead running amok (although they do factor into this book). Rather, this is about the transmutation of Nazism into a form of post-modern mysticism.

Of course all things have roots. Goodrick-Clarke's previous entry in this subject matter, The Occult Roots of Nazism, demonstrated the intersection of occult and esoteric movements and beliefs in the formation of German nationalism and, eventually, the formation of Nazism. This was part of a response to concrete socio-economic challenges or threats that faced Germany in the aftermath of World War I. Similarly, the reconceptualization of Nazism is part of an immediate response to perceived socio-economic threats. Goodrick-Clarke identifies these threats as globalization (bringing with it the migration of people and culture) and the diffusion of democratic and capitalist societies (concrete agents of cultural revision). The response comes from individuals fearing the epoch of change in which we appear to be in the midst of. Watching cultures take on new multi-ethnic identities or the sight of previous social taboos vanishing as the workforce and economic opportunity initiate broader social and political change, or being excluded from new economic opportunities, has ignited an interest among white Americans and Europeans the last front of militant ethnic and multi-cultural resistance in the West. Everything has origins. Goodrick-Clarke identifies the origins of today's mystical Nazism with scholarship of the 19th century. The work of Christian Lassen in 1845 argued, on academic grounds, for the historical proof of Indo-Ayran supremacy and Semetic inferiority. The Indo-Ayran motif turned attention toward India itself. Therein, the early politics of Indian independence from England and early responses to Charles Darwin came into play. Theosophists like Blatavatsky appealed to their understanding of Hinduism while still processing Lassen's work. Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists capitalized on themes of Indo Aryan superiority to foster resistance to England. These currents were popular among continental occultists and even became popular themes. It was this vast cultural theme, a widely known form of racially based esoteric spirituality, that swirled around the rise of the third reich and provided fodder for later day neo-Nazi revisionists.

Goodrick-Clarke attempts to document the diffusion of this race based mysticism among Nazi apologists and  contemporary occult movements. He does this remarkably well to a great extent and teases some interesting and typically unconsidered correlations. The chic status of Buddhist and Hindu derived motifs among New Agers, Baby Boomers and others seeking alternative spiritualities ultimately derives from the efforts of Aryan supremacists in the 1800s to define the "Aryan" as a mystical super human race - Christianity having been rejected because it was inherently Semitic and rejected the concept of a mighty warrior god. Consequently, much of the vitriolic rhetoric towards Christianity among subsequent esoteric groups is largely a residual idea from a larger body of material that sought to prove white supremacy and racial inferiority. Goodrick-Clarke provides substantial documentation of the ideological make-up of immediate post World War II Nazi mysticism and the pathological fixation with which writers such as Savitri Devi and Miguel Serrano had with disestablishing Christianity and replacing it with a revived paganism which, in their interpretation, divinized the human impulses towards war and conquest. Goodrick-Clarke demonstrates that the ideal of paganism as most complementary to a modern warrior society (as well as the ambition to institute paganism) was firmly subscribed to by SS head Heinrich Himmler. This ideology surfaces during the occult revival of the 60s and 70s - Nazi aesthetics and occasional Aryan philosophy coming in vogue among various occult groups, including the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set. This ideology develops a popular cultural expression in the form of contemporary "white noise" and Norwegian Black Metal.

On the other side of the spectrum, mystical Nazism eventual meshes with Christian theology, largely in the United States. Early us Nazism starts of as a Christian conservative backlash against the rising ethnic diversity of the country and changing economic fortunes. However, the European model of Nazi mysticism makes it Stateside and American neo-Nazism undergoes some unique transformations as it tries to accommodate the anti-Christian orientation of its old world counterpart. The end result is, suffice it to say, some "interesting" re-interpretations of Christian theology - think Marcionism and Gnostic dualism and you're getting there. Which leads to another teased correlation: today's  cultural interest in Gnosticism, and the empowerment Gnostic Christianity gives on over traditional Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, cannot be divorced from the attempts of Nazi apologists to create a palatable form of Christian theology amicable to theories of Ayran supremacy.

It is impossible to do any just account to the content of Black Sun in this space. It is, to be sure, a rich text. Be that as it may, it is not flawless. Goodrick-Clarke is clear in his terms and rather rigid in his definitions. Modernity (and post-modernity) is synonymous with freedom and the general positive progression of Western Society. Goodrick-Clarke correctly points out the common theme of rejecting the modern world found in "Nazi esotericism." However, he presents any critique of the modern world as somehow synonymous with Nazism or race based mysticism. Any criticism of modernity is rendered impossible unless one secretly subscribes to the philosophical principles of fascism. One is then forced, in Goodrick-Clarke's paradigm, to reject scores of intellectuals who questioned the merits of modernism or capitalism and who could not be confused with any of the ideologues discussed in this book. Perhaps it was an editorial decision to make the title more accessible to an audience who would likely not invest the time to do much background reading. Whatever the case may be, Goodrick-Clarke's somewhat dismissive analysis to the critique of modernity is intellectually dishonest and the reader needs to exercise some caution when the author makes such interpretative brush strokes.