Friday, 17 January 2020

Interview with Armin Mohler (1994)


My translation of an interview with Armin Mohler in Éléments 80 (1994). Of particular interest to the history ideas must be his comments on the applicability of the category “conservative revolution” to France. Mohler’s best known work is his history of the Conservative Revolution in Germany, recently translated into English by F. R. Devlin (2018), which began as a doctoral dissertation in 1949 supervised by Karl Jaspers, and went through many editions over the years.

The French original is available at


And a PDF of this version at




Éléments


Some dispute the “revolutionary” character of the Conservative Revolution and just see it as a contemporary kind of counter-revolution. Others, more numerous, characterise it as an attempt to overthrow modernity using its own weapons. In seeking to beat modernity on its own ground, is the Conservative Revolution more efficient, or does it paradoxically help to maintain what it seeks to supplant?

Armin Mohler


The Conservative Revolution is a counter-revolution in that sense that it primarily attacks the liberal ideology which has totally destroyed society. But it’s also revolutionary, because it doesn’t believe in the possibility of restoring the past. At the same time, one mustn’t forget that it has never been a mass movement, which was at once its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It’s furthermore, in effect, a critique of modernity with the weapons of modernity, even of postmodernity (the “postmoderns” are children—illegitimate, unpredictable but indubitable—of the Conservative Revolution!). Every thesis Jünger develops in The Worker relies on this idea. So for my part, I stick to the optimist interpretation: a modern critique of modernity is more efficient, even if it carries risks. Heidegger said himself: Salvation comes from danger.

É.


Among the three main families of the Conservative Revolution, might we say that the Völkischen were those who most approximated the Nazi ideology?

A.M.


The Völkischen were even further removed from politics than the Young Conservatives or the national-revolutionaries. They were utopians who lived in the past, and sometimes even in prehistory. A characteristic trait of most völkisch works is that they might just as well have been written in 1890 as in 1930. The only strength of the Völkischen came from their using a language not overly intellectual, that everyone might understand. Besides, it’s difficult to speak of a “Nazi ideology” in the straightforward sense of the term, because it quite simply hadn’t the time to take shape. What’s certain is that Hitler detested the Völkischen, because he considered them irredeemable. He had them penned in “reserves,” where their activities went more or less unnoticed. I lived a few months in Berlin during the Third Reich. I didn’t get the impression of living in a völkisch universe! The Nazi regime aimed for efficiency above all. Post-War Germany, that of the “economic miracle,” was rebuilt by the engineers, industrialists and technicians which it had trained.

É.


One question which is often asked is whether the great political families which composed the Conservative Revolution are to be found outside Germany. What about France, for instance?

A.M.


When I arrived in France, I thought I’d found a politico-intellectual landscape utterly different from what I knew. Very quickly I realised that the different was smaller than I’d thought. That difference stems above all from the great continuum of French national history. One might say that the French have too much nation state in their history, while the Germans haven’t had enough! One must also take into account the thorough impregnation of French society by feminine values. This explains, for example, the success Jünger has had with you. Joseph Breitbach didn’t hesitate to speak in this connection of an “erotic phenomenon”!

The principle classifications that I introduced in my work on the Conservative Revolution are entirely applicable to France. The Young Conservatives correspond to the traditional right, from Rivarol to Maurras, via De Maistre, Bonald, Chateaubriand, Lamennais, Veuillot, Le Play, Gustave Thibon and the majority of the writers of Action Française. As equivalent to the national-revolutionaries we should first of all mention the national-Jacobins, who might just as well include Boulanger, Déroulède and Clemenceau as Péguy, Valois, Hugues Rebell, Gustave Hervé, Bernanos, Déat, Drieu La Rochelle, de Gaulle and Malraux. As to the Völkischen, which we often consider a purely “Germanic” type, I would include Gobineau and Boulainvilliers, but also Toussenel, Drumont, and without a doubt Céline as well. Saint-Yves d’Alveydre is a good example of a mix of völkisch ideology and religious esotericism. The artisans of the “Celtic renaissance” inaugurated in the nineteenth century still come under the same category, as well as “regional” authors like Frédéric Hoffet, Mistral, La Varende or Giono. For his part, Robert Brasillach seems to me a good representative of the bündisch spirit. Naturally there should still be some supplementary categories to create, to make room for the inheritors of Proudhon, the federalists, the “nonconformists” of the ’30s. Finally, as I did in Germany for such men as Jünger, Schmitt, Spengler and Thomas Mann, one must consider certain great authors unclassifiable. I’m thinking especially of Sorel, Barrès or Montherlant.

É.


Kurt Sontheimer has written that under the Weimar Republic, liberalism was the “scapegoat” (Prügelknabe) of the right as of the left. While the principal enemy of Nazism was communism (always associated with Jews), the enemy number one of the Conservative Revolution was precisely represented by liberals. Contrary to many men of the right, you yourself take liberalism to be the principal enemy. Of what, in a few words, do you accuse liberals?

A.M.


Of being hypocrites. Liberals want us to approve of them because they display “good intentions.” Besides, they are adepts of wishful thinking: they believe that words are things, and that it suffices to declare good intentions for them to become realities. Liberal homily is the price on the door to society: what counts is that one harbour good intentions, after which one might as well become a Mafioso.

É.


Let’s turn to your “nominalism.” You have always critiqued “general ideas.” What is the basis of this critique?

A.M.


When I made his acquaintance in 1948, Carl Schmitt often told me: “Every word is an answer. Every answer comes from a question. Every question comes from a situation.” To declare a theory in abstraction from the situations in which we find ourselves it so speak in a vacuum. It’s in this sense that there are no pure ideas and that it’s impossible, once the situation has changed, to stick to a discourse reflecting the preceding situation. A great many men of the right, unfortunately, haven’t managed to grasp this. To acknowledge it, I think one must be a little anarchic! Today, nonetheless, many of the disillusioned from right and left have renounced the struggle for abstract ideas and begun to recognise that the answers to prescribe vary according to the situation. Take immigration for example. To be for or against immigration in itself makes no sense. It’s only once one knows whether there are 40,000, 400,000 or 4,000,000 immigrants in Germany that on can settle on an adequate position. The answer, to put it another way, depends on the realities of the moment. All my “nominalism” follows from this attitude: I don’t want to refer to general ideas, but to respond to problems which arise concretely.

É.


You are not only an historian of the Conservative Revolution but also the author of many works dedicated to the Vergangenheitsbewältigung, that is, to the way in which the Germans have been charged with “overcoming” their past. Did this controversy find itself a new relevance after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

A.M.


Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a farce today. It’s a motif one employs to delegitimise certain opinions, suppress debate and entrench political taboo, which has come to replace sexual taboo. Germans have been compelled for decades to perform this exercise, in order to perpetuate the effect of the “re-education” imposed after 1945 by the Allies. We have thus foisted guilt on a whole generation. After the downfall of communism, the Vergangenheitsbewältigung motif has indeed returned to relevance. But my position hasn’t changed. With Golo Mann I am even one of the few men of the right who have declared in favour of a general amnesty for former leaders of the German Democratic Republic. Some say it’s unjust because there are (undeniable) crimes which will never be punished. My response is that to resume the inexorable grind of prosecutions and trials would lead to a still greater injustice: the casting of suspicion on a whole part of a people by other part of the same people. Moreover, at the present moment a great many of the main Stasi chiefs are already back to business!

É.


Might one say that since 1989, Germany has entered a new period of its history?

A.M.


Certainly. The reunification has been the starting-point of a great “turn.” Germans suddenly discovered that they’d been living under a cloche for forty years, and they still haven’t returned! They now enjoy a recovered unity, that is, a greater liberty; but they don’t yet know what to make of it. It’s partly a generational problem. The post-War generation has shown itself to be politically irresponsible. It was a generation of spoilt children, brought up by parents exhausted by the trials they’d known and who couldn’t dedicate to them the time they ought. At once guilt-ridden and apolitical, these youths quickly forgot the sacrifice of their mothers who, in the East, were violated en masse by the Russians while, in the West, they had to whore themselves to American soldiers to allow their family to eat. But now there appears a new generation, that of the sons and daughters of post-War children. This generation is wilfully cynical. It mocks everything it’s been taught. It mocks, sometimes even in cruel terms, the guilty feelings its parents had long interiorised. When this generation replaces the previous, there will be a new Germany.

É.


For the moment, there’s very little political debate in Germany. Extremists of right and left square up with more brutality than ever. Where does this violence come from?

A.M.


There has always been violence in German political life, quite simply because Germans take seriously, perhaps too seriously, what they believe to be true. There are also the effects of an education more moral than political, which serve as alibi and good conscience.

É.


Last May–June, the educational programming of Norddeutscher Rundfunk presented a series of three shows on the Conservative Revolution. Might one say that the Conservative Revolution is still relevant?

A.M.


And how! Not long ago, some were saying: The Conservative Revolution, it’s a story for grandfathers. But the very same who said that were referring themselves to liberalism and to Marxism, that is, to the ideologies of their great-grandfathers! The truth is that the Conservative Revolution has always remained a source of inspiration for neoconservatives (les néoconservateurs), in just the same way that the culture of Weimar has never ceased to speak to the post-War left. Today, even if the more serious work is done abroad, the Conservative Revolution is the object of permanent rediscovery. Friedbert Pflüger very recently published, with Econ, a book called Deutschland driftet: Die Konservative Revolution entdeckt ihre Kinder. A journal like Junge Freiheit, which is the first weekly of its kind to reach such a large audience (it has a circulation of more than 100,000), is in many respects part of a direct continuation of the Conservative Revolution. Indeed, there are today in Germany two types of person on the left: on the one hand, the idiots that proliferate acts of violence under the cover of “antifa vigilance” and, on the other, serious, intelligent people who target the Conservative Revolution because they know it represents for them a real threat. And conversely, there are on the right more and more people who understand that the Conservative Revolution is more than ever the way to be a modern conservative.

É.


What sentiments might have moved the author of The Conservative Revolution in Germany, seeing Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand go to visit Ernst Jünger together?

A.M.


Amusement, first of all, given the surprise that Germans on the left, and sometimes even on the right, displayed at such a “scandal.” Germans discovered at that moment that a good many Frenchmen, beginning with your head of state, saw in Jünger the greatest living German author, which they were themselves still rarely able to admit! I have in fact a certain respect for Kohl. I like his direct, peasant side. At the moment of reunification, he carried himself like a real statesman. If he’d died after the fall of the Wall, one might have regarded him as the father of the fatherland! Mitterand is different. He has an undeniable talent, but he lacks historic stature. The first time he made a visit to Jünger, I said to this last: “Now no-one can do anything against you! You must address your people!” Jünger only answered me: “Leave me in peace.”

É.


What is the term, do you think, that best describes you?

A.M.


Anarchist of the right.

No comments:

Post a comment