Friday, April 12, 2024

Continuities and Discontinuities


“It doesn’t matter what we believe in, as long as we believe.”

-          From the diary of Joseph Goebbels

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

In this chapter, Strickland moves from the Communism of the Soviet Union to the National Socialism of Germany (next will come a look into the Liberalism of the West).  Just as in the chapter on Communism, there is much here that will sound, unfortunately, as if it is being written about today’s western democracies.  This chapter adds another dimension: a striking mirror to Israel’s actions regarding Palestinians in Gaza.

National Socialism was the most bestial vision of the West ever concocted.  More even than Communism, it promised to replace decrepit humanism and moralistic Christianity with a totally new moral order unrestrained by reason or mercy.

I struggle with this statement.  Was National Socialism somehow worse in this regard than Communism?  It is the story we are supposed to believe: Hitler, not Stalin, has become the stand-in for Satan.  But regarding this “totally new moral order unrestrained by reason or mercy,” one could argue that National Socialism at least held some mercy toward Germans. 

This mercy toward Germans can be seen in the three nihilistic convictions that lay at the heart of National Socialism:

“…the existence of a master race, the inferiority of other races, and the need for a war of racial annihilation.”

By the way, is this not inarguably the view of Israel when it comes to their position and against the position of Palestinians? 

In any case, for whom did Communism, under Stalin, hold any mercy?  He purged those even in his inner circles, let alone Russian, Ukrainian, or Georgian commoners.  In the battle of “most bestial,” Stalin killed far more civilians before the first shot was fired in Europe in World War Two than did Hitler.

As to the first conviction, the existence of a master race, Strickland sees this as necessary within Hitler’s framework as a defense of “Christendom in general and Germany in particular.”  This is a second statement which is baffling to me. 

There is nothing in Hitler’s actions that were a defense of Christendom.  Worship was of Hitler; allegiance was sworn to Hitler.  Strickland offers many examples that counter his own assertion:

·         Mixing Wagnerian nationalism with Nietzschean worship of the will…

·         …the West was built by a master race called the Aryans.

·         …preserved Aryan supremacy through morally unflinching expansion and conquest.

·         …racist nationalism…

·         …the racial transformation of the world…

·         …evolutionary ideas about an Aryan master race…

·         …individual human beings have no innate value.

·         “A stronger generation will drive out the weaklings,” Hitler claimed.

There is no defense of Christendom here, not in any sense to understand the word.  And this points to one of the problems I have had with Strickland’s entire narrative arc (as valuable as I have found his work in many ways).  His narrative depends on hinging the problems of the West to the schism of 1054.

Now, there is nothing wrong with taking such an approach.  For example, I lean into the Enlightenment as the key turning point: men have forgotten God, replacing Him with science and man’s will.  But it is easy enough to point to events either before or after the Enlightenment as one’s fulcrum.  The Renaissance before or the French Revolution after, as examples.

The problem with this approach (and, again, everyone views historical events through such lenses) is that not everything fits.  Trying to make everything fit does nothing but cause confusion and call into question the narrative.  Which, as you can see, is evident here: I have written over six-hundred words thus far, and have only commented on how this narrative is being forced to fit where it doesn’t.

Now…back to Strickland’s work:

It is interesting to note that the nationalism on which Hitler drew reworked the secular myth of progress in a racial form rather as Marx reworked it in economic form.

This is an example where Strickland’s narrative arc rings true: in both cases (and as will also apply to Liberalism), heavenly immanence is replaced with a secular counterfeit.  Once something above and outside of man is removed as the ideal, all things are possible.  It is merely a matter of competing ideologies, which is just a polite way of saying it is a matter of the strong man and his will to power over others.

The “death of God” in the nineteenth century gave science dominion over life.

And, absent the transcendent, the strong man was free to direct science toward his will.

Strickland notes the well-understood animosity against Jews.  But, unlike many, he recognizes that Hitler and Nazi animosity did not end there.  The Slavs were equally in view, as were those deemed inferior in physical or mental capacities.  It goes to the foundation of Hitler’s ideology: there is a master race, and although there might be differences among the others, from the Aryan summit it’s all downhill.

“The soil and territory on which a race of German peasants will some day be able to beget sons,” [Hitler] declared, “sanction the investment of the sons of today, and will one day acquit the responsible statesmen of blood and guilt and national sacrifice” that racial warfare demands.

Sadly, a very true statement throughout history.  It is equally applicable to Palestine today, albeit it will be interesting to see if Israel will be acquitted in the future, or if their actions today will bring on Israel’s demise.  I lean toward the latter as more likely….

Germans were not always this.  It took the economic depravities after the Great War to give room for a strongman with a plan.  But it took more: a propaganda machine as capable and effective as any to that time (the United States has since taken over that title).

All forms of communication were coordinated to advance Nazi version of progress.  Professors and newspaper editors were driven out, Hitler’s image was everywhere, the swastika was placed on every government building, and children were separated from their traditionally-minded parents and their traditional morality.

This included driving out Christianity; it could not coexist with National Socialism.  The gospel taught exactly the opposite of the will to power; it taught mercy and the love for one’s enemies. 

“The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity,” Hitler asserted, “was the coming of Christianity.”

Neopagan beliefs and rituals would enhance the Nazi myth.  There will always be something at the top, and without Christianity and the Christian God, something would have to be invented – something invented by the strongman that would serve the purposes of the strongman.

Unlike the Moscow patriarchate toward Stalin, the pope did present a challenge to Hitler.  While this is noteworthy, it should not go unnoticed that the pope did not reside in Germany, while the bishop did reside within the Soviet Union. 

As to the Christians within Germany, Luther was a national hero.  Hitler dealt with the Protestants more carefully because of this, but many did go along.  Not all.  Men like Karl Barth rejected any notion that the clergy should submit to the Nazis.  Such men would pay – by banishment, imprisonment, or execution.

The rest of the chapter covers the key events leading up to and including the war: the Munich Agreement, the division of Poland, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the turn at Stalingrad, etc.  These are all well known, so I will not elaborate further here.


Defeat was on the doorstep.  Cyanide tablets were passed out, their children killed, and the remaining leadership of the Nazi party and war machine committed suicide.

At least as far as we know….


One new tidbit (for me), and also applicable in Palestine today: the Barbarossa Directive would give blanket immunity to German soldiers who committed atrocities against unarmed Soviet citizens.

…the Nazi plan to inflict “hate-inspired, cruel, and inhumane treatment” on the Slavs was blamed on the enemy.

It is their fault:

“When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

-          Golda Meir

Of course, this was not said regarding today.  This quote comes from one of the previous wars against Palestinians and Arabs. 

Golda Meir emigrated to Palestine in 1921, and died some forty-five years ago; during this time, she held positions of meaningful authority in Israel, including a period as prime minister. 

However, even today, the Palestinians in Gaza are all fair game because…Hamas.  It’s their fault; that’s why Israel is forced to kill the Palestinians.


  1. I think Strickland is seriously wrong on his assertions in this section. The Soviets were way worse. Heck the French Revolution was way worse and the Spanish Communists were too.

    It also ignores the fact that the Nazis came to power as a direct result of the Bolshevik revolution and then followed their example on many subjects. They merely shifted the protected vs victimized classes from economic to racial. Both are wrong.

  2. Yes. Israel is doing to the Palestinians exactly what Germany did to the Jews. Almost down to every detail.

    1. Indeed. Israel's behavior toward Palestinians not so subtly gives imprimatur to Nazi Germany's treatment of its Jewish population. Disheartening to say the least. Peg