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Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing, RIP

Summer/Fall 2009 - Vol. 51, Nos. 3 - 4

PAUL GOTTFRIED is the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

The death of Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing on January 25, 2009, broughtan end to the career of one of the mostinsightful German political thinkers of hisgeneration. Although perhaps not as wellknown as other figures associated withthe postwar intellectual Right, Schrenck-Notzing displayed a critical honesty, combinedwith an elegant prose style, whichmade him stand out among his contemporaries.A descendant of Bavarian Protestantnobility who had been knights of the HolyRoman Empire, Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing was preceded by an illustriousgrandfather, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing,who had been a close friend of theauthor Thomas Mann. While that grandfatherbecame famous as an exponent ofparapsychology, and the other grandfather,Ludwig Ganghofer, as a novelist, Casparturned his inherited flair for languagetoward political analysis.

Perhaps he will best be remembered asthe editor of the journal Criticón, whichhe founded in 1970, and which was destinedto become the most widely read andrespected theoretical organ of the GermanRight in the 1970s and 1980s. In the pagesof Criticón an entire generation of non-leftistGerman intellectuals found an outletfor their ideas; and such academic figuresas Robert Spämann, Günter Rohrmöser,and Odo Marquard became public voicesbeyond the closed world of philosophicaltheory. In his signature editorials, Criticón'seditor raked over the coals the center-conservativecoalition of the Christian Democratic(CDU) and the Christian Social(CSU) parties, which for long periodsformed the postwar governments of WestGermany.

Despite the CDU/CSU promise of a"turn toward the traditional Right," thehoped-for "Wende nach rechts" never seemedto occur, and Helmut Kohl's ascent topower in the 1980s convinced Schrenck-Notzing that not much good could comefrom the party governments of the FederalRepublic for those with his own politicalleanings. In 1998 the aging theoristgave up the editorship of Criticón, and hehanded over the helm of the publication toadvocates of a market economy. AlthoughSchrenck-Notzing did not entirely opposethis new direction, as a German traditionalisthe was certainly less hostile to thestate as an institution than were Criticón'snew editors.

But clearly, during the last ten years ofhis life, Schrenck-Notzing had lost a senseof urgency about the need for a magazinestressing current events. He decidedto devote his remaining energy to a moretheoretical task—that of understandingthe defective nature of postwar Germanconservatism. The title of an anthology towhich he contributed his own study andalso edited, Die kupierte Alternative (TheTruncated Alternative), indicated whereSchrenck-Notzing saw the deficiencies ofthe postwar German Right. As a youngerGerman conservative historian, Karl-Heinz Weissmann, echoing Schrenck-Notzing, has observed, one cannot createa sustainable and authentic Right on thebasis of "democratic values." One needs aliving past to do so. An encyclopedia ofconservatism edited by Schrenck-Notzingthat appeared in 1996 provides portraits ofGerman statesmen and thinkers whom theeditor clearly admired. Needless to say, noteven one of those subjects was alive at thetime of the encyclopedia's publication.

What allows a significant force againstthe Left to become effective, accordingto Schrenck-Notzing, is the continuity ofnations and inherited social authorities. Inthe German case, devotion to a Basic Lawpromulgated in 1947 and really imposedon a defeated and demoralized country byits conquerors could not replace historicalstructures and national cohesion. AlthoughSchrenck-Notzing published opinionsin his journal that were more enthusiasticthan his own about the reconstructedGermany of the postwar years, he nevershared such "constitutional patriotism."He never deviated from his understandingof why the post-war German Right hadbecome an increasingly empty oppositionto the German Left: it had arisen ina confused and humiliated society, and itdrew its strength from the values that itsoccupiers had given it and from its prolongedsubmission to American politicalinterests. Schrenck-Notzing continuallycalled attention to the need for respect forone's own nation as the necessary basis fora viable traditionalism. Long before it wasevident to most, he predicted that the worshipof the postwar German Basic Law andits "democratic" values would not only failto produce a "conservative" philosophy inGermany; he also fully grasped that thisorientation would be a mere transition toan anti-national, leftist political culture.What happened to Germany after 1968was for him already implicit in the "constitutionalpatriotism" that treated Germanhistory as an unrelieved horror up until themoment of the Allied occupation.

For many years Schrenck-Notzing hadpublished books highlighting the specialproblems of post-war German societyand its inability to configure a Right thatcould contain these problems. In 2000 headded to his already daunting publishingtasks the creation and maintenance of aninstitute, the Förderstiftung KonservativeBildung und Forschung, which was establishedto examine theoretical conservativethemes. With his able assistant Dr. HaraldBergbauer and the promotional workof the chairman of the institute's board,Dieter Stein, who also edits the Germanweekly, Junge Freiheit, Schrenck-Notzingapplied himself to studies that neitherhere nor in Germany have elicited muchsupport. As Schrenck-Notzing pointedout, the study of the opposite of whateverthe Left mutates into is never particularlyprofitable, because those whom he called"the future-makers" are invariably in seatsof power. And nowhere was this truerthan in Germany, whose postwar governmentwas imposed precisely to dismantlethe traditional Right, understood as the"source" of Nazism and "Prussianism."The Allies not only demonized the ThirdReich, according to Schrenck-Notzing,but went out of their way, until the onsetof the Cold War, to marginalize anythingin German history and culture that wasnot associated with the Left, if not withoutright communism.

This was the theme of Schrenck-Notzing'smost famous book, Charakterwäsche:Die Politik der amerikanischen Umerziehungin Deutschland, a study of the intent andeffects of American re-education policiesduring the occupation of Germany. Thisprovocative book appeared in three separateeditions. While the first edition, in1965, was widely reviewed and criticallyacclaimed, by the time the third editionwas released by Leopold Stocker Verlagin 2004, its author seemed to be tiltingat windmills. Everything he castigated inhis book had come to pass in the currentGerman society—and in such a repressive,anti-German form that it is doubtful thatthe author thirty years earlier would havebeen able to conceive of his worst nightmarescoming to life to such a degree. Inhis book, Schrenck-Notzing documentsthe mixture of spiteful vengeance and leftistutopianism that had shaped the Allies'forced re-education of the Germans, andhe makes it clear that the only things thatslowed down this experiment were thevictories of the anticommunist Republicansin U.S. elections and the necessities ofthe Cold War. Neither development hadbeen foreseen when the plan was put intooperation immediately after the war.

Charakterwäsche documents the degreeto which social psychologists and "antifascist"social engineers were given a freehand in reconstructing postwar German"political culture." Although the first editionwas published before the anti-nationaland anti-anticommunist German Lefthad taken full power, the book shows thelikelihood that such elements would soonrise to political power, seeing that theyhad already ensconced themselves in themedia and the university. For anyone but ahardened German-hater, it is hard to finishthis book without snorting in disgust atany attempt to portray Germany's re-educationas a "necessary precondition" for afree society.

What might have happened withoutsuch a drastic, punitive intervention? It ishighly doubtful that the postwar Germanswould have placed rabid Nazis back inpower. The country had had a parliamentarytradition and a large, prosperous bourgeoisiesince the early nineteenth century,and the leaders of the Christian Democratsand the Social Democrats, who tookover after the occupation, all had ties tothe pre-Nazi German state. To the extentthat postwar Germany did not look like itspresent leftist version, it was only becauseit took about a generation before the workof the re-educators could bear its full fruit.In due course, their efforts did accomplishwhat Schrenck-Notzing claimedthey would—turning the Germans into amasochistic, self-hating people who wouldlose any capacity for collective self-respect.Germany's present pampering of Muslimterrorists, its utter lack of what we in theU.S. until recently would have recognizedas academic freedom, the compulsion feltby German leaders to denigrate all of Germanhistory before 1945, and the freedomwith which "antifascist" mobs close downinsufficiently leftist or anti-national lecturesand discussions are all directly relatedto the process of German re-educationunder Allied control.

Exposure to Schrenck-Notzing's magnumopus was, for me, a defining momentin understanding the present age. By thetime I wrote The Strange Death of Marxismin 2005, his image of postwar Germanyhad become my image of the post-MarxistLeft. The brain-snatchers we had setloose on a hated former enemy had comeback to subdue the entire Western world.The battle waged by American re-educatorsagainst "the surreptitious traces" offascist ideology among the German Christianbourgeoisie had become the openingshots in the crusade for political correctness.Except for the detention camps andthe beating of prisoners that were part ofthe occupation scene, the attempt to createa "prejudice-free" society by launderingbrains has continued down to the present.Schrenck-Notzing revealed the model thattherapeutic liberators would apply at home,once they had fi nished with Central Europeans.Significantly, their achievement inGermany was so great that it continues togain momentum in Western Europe (andnot only in Germany) with each passinggeneration.

The publication Unsere Agenda, whichSchrenck-Notzing's institute published(on a shoestring) between 2004 and 2008,devoted considerable space to the AmericanOld Right and especially to the paleoconservatives.One drew the sense from readingit that Schrenck-Notzing and his colleagueBergbauer felt an affinity for Americancritics of late modernity, an admirationthat vastly exceeded the political and mediasignificance of the groups they examined.At our meetings he spoke favorably aboutthe young thinkers from ISI whom he hadmet in Europe and at a particular gatheringof the Philadelphia Society. These were theAmericans with whom he resonated andwith whom he was hoping to establish along-term relationship. It is therefore fittingthat his accomplishments be noted inthe pages of Modern Age. Unfortunately, itis by no means clear that the critical analysishe provided will have any effect in today'sGerman society. The reasons are the onesthat Schrenck-Notzing gave in his monumentalwork on German re-education.The postwar re-educators did their worktoo well to allow the Germans to become anormal nation again.