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Political Religion

The Relevance of a Concept* PHILIPPE BURRIN

When a phenomenon arises for which existing notions are no longer adequate, a new concept may simultaneously emerge from several sources. It also happens, albeit less frequently, that several concepts emerge to represent the same phenomenon. This occurred, in the period between the two world wars, when the concepts of totalitarianism and political religion came to be applied to the regimes of the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, regimes to which previous notions of dictatorship and tyranny no longer seemed appropriate.1 These concepts, which referred to the same historical reality, had different fates. While the term totalitarianism ourished in everyday language as well as in academic research, that of political religion had little impact, even though it was used by distinguished scholars. The former term seemed more attractive due to its inclusive character, while the latter, with its paradoxical formulation, most likely suffered from the lack of interest in religion in the largely secular academic milieu. During the last few decades, it has been mostly employed by scholars in the history of religion and the history of ideas (J. L. Talmon, Uriel Tal, Karl Dietrich Bracher) as well as by historians working on the cultural, ritual and symbolic aspects of political phenomena (such as, in the case of Nazism and fascism, George L. Mosse, Klaus Vondung and Emilio Gentile). Is this persistent mistrust toward the concept of political religion justied?2 True, its casual use does not do it any justice, such as when it


Philippe Burrin is applied without any other form of explanation, or when it is justied only by a supercial comparison. Even when simply charting the territory, it is important to determine what a certain concept stands for and to locate the directions in which research may be protably carried out. We shall therefore commence by choosing two of the most detailed interpretations in order to clarify the contents of this concept and to distinguish between its advantages and its limitations. Secondly, we shall attempt to show its signicance to the study of Nazism, which more than any other political phenomenon resorted to forms and discourse of a religious tinge. We shall further consider whether this concept can provide a means to enriching our understanding of Nazisms nature, mental universe, actions and its crimes.

I A short genealogy of the term political religion not surprisingly takes us back to the French Revolution on both sides of the Rhine. In 1793, Christoph Martin Wieland used the term to describe the indoctrination of the revolutionary armies.3 Two years earlier, Condorcet had denounced the idea of teaching children the constitution by arousing in them blind enthusiasm: if we tell them: here is what you should worship and believe in, we are attempting to create a kind of political religion; this is a chain that we are preparing for the minds, and we are violating libertys most sacred rights, under the pretext of learning how to cherish it. The objective of teaching is not to make men admire an already established legislation, but to make them capable of evaluating and correcting it.4 After 1917, the establishment of regimes in Russia, Italy and Germany whose novelty struck many contemporaries engendered once again the comparison with religion. Until the mid-1930s such remarks were rather sparse, mostly made without further elaboration in the context of political or polemical judgments, and restricted to affirming the religious character of a particular doctrine or regime. The reference point was usually Christianity, occasionally Islam.5 Then, from the 1930s, this comparison entered academic thought, and the expression political religion began to circulate as shown by its almost simultaneous


Political Religion appearance in the writings of the young French sociologist Raymond Aron, the German theologist Hans-Joachim Schoeps and the Austrian historian Lucie Varga.6 Although the term political religion was usually applied to a specic regime, most often Nazism, its increasing use revealed that contemporaries felt the limits of conventional approaches with regard to the new phenomena. When Eric Voegelin published Die politischen Religionen in Vienna in 1938, on the eve of the Anschluss, he condensed an entire Zeitgeist in the title of his book and established a term which he applied equally to communism, fascism and Nazism. His approach is, at rst sight, disconcerting because he included in his subject both the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaton, as well as the development of the European states since the Renaissance. At one end he placed the Egyptian case as an example of political religion of a traditional type: a theocracy in which the political and the religious merge in the person of the pharaoh, who is at one and the same the same time king, god and high priest of an exclusive cult, and thus the sole mediator between the supernatural order and human society. At the other end, he placed the evolution of Europe over the last few centuries, which was marked by the separation of the political and the religious and the rejection of the divine basis of secular power, but which also witnessed the emergence of a sacralization of the collectivity that culminated in the modern political religions.7 Voegelin located the origin of modern political religions in the breakdown of the Christian community at the end of the Middle Ages and in the emergence, on its ruins, of political communities that ceased referring to the divinity and gradually centered on their own sovereignty, a development marked by mans claim to nd meaning in the earthly world alone and to conquer unlimited knowledge through science. But he stressed that while these intramundane collectivities rejected divine right and elevated themselves to the rank of absolute reference, they also adopted the symbolic tools of Christian culture and applied them to themselves: for example, notions of order and hierarchy, of the political community conceived as an ecclesia, of a sense of mission, the struggle between good and evil, the vocabulary of the apocalypse. Political religion thus designated a sacralization of the political community, which was accomplished through appropriating Christianitys symbolic forms


Philippe Burrin and resulted in the foundation of collective life on the belief in a higher reality, whether humanity, a people, a class, a race or the state. For Voegelin, communism, fascism and National-Socialism were the peak of this plurisecular development. In a certain way, the gure of Akhenaton was resurrected by the leaders of these regimes when they saw themselves as the incarnation of a political community, imposed an exclusive faith and acted as interpreters of the collective destinythe only difference being that they adorned themselves with the language of science (natural, historical or social). This concept of political religion is closely linked to a philosophy of history. According to Voegelin, modern political religions constitute the inevitable end result of a secularization which he considers to be a decadence. The idea of Man and Humanity, he writes, created the soil on which anti-Christian religious movements such as National Socialism were able to emerge and grow.8 This hostility to the Enlightenment should not deter us from an interest in his analysis and certainly does not invalidate it. As the case of Raymond Aron demonstrates, the concept of political religion does not belong to a single philosophy or politics, even if it was far from being universally accepted. Some forty years later, the concept of political religion was taken up in a study in political sociology, which focused only on communism and Nazism.9 Instead of Voegelins genetic and philosophical approach, JeanPierre Sironneaus approach is systematic and typological. According to the denition he proposes, political religion is a revolutionary phenomenon of a millenarian nature which appears at moments of upheaval in an era of secularization and which is characterized by a transfer of the sacred from the established religions to politics. According to Sironneau, the reference to religion is justied since it can be argued that both communism and Nazism have an affinity with the traditional dimensions of religious experience: the existence of mythical structures (even if they are concealed by ideological discourse), ritualized behavior, a communion-like sociability, and nally forms of affiliation akin to religious faith. Furthermore, there is also a functional affinity, as political religions assume most of the functions of traditional religions: social integration and legitimization, as well as functions of a cognitive, affective and normative nature.


Political Religion The perspective opened up by the works of Voegelin and Sironneau is interesting because it takes the world of representations seriously as constructing reality, and not merely as reecting another level of reality that is regarded as the only real or true one. It offers a long-term perspective by examining the relationship of modern phenomena with the world of representations that preceded them, and in particular the heritage of Christian culture. It draws attention to the symbolic tools of the nation-state and political organizations, from the workers movement to fascist parties, as well as to the anthropological substructure of politics. Still, does the interest of this perspective dispel the incertitude, and perhaps also the malaise, which are attached to the word religion? As is shown by the recurring debate in the sociology of religions, especially regarding the modern forms of religion, the crux of the problem is how religion itself is dened.10 It is clear that if this denition is based on substantial criteria such as the supernatural and the hereafter, which are at the heart of the salvation religions, the comparison with political phenomena that are more or less overtly anti-Christian is soon exhausted. What remains is to adopt either a phenomenological denition, which relates to the religious rather than to a specic religion, or a functional denition, in the wake of Durkheim. A phenomenological denition brings together attitudes or behaviors considered as characteristic of religious experience in general (the fascinans and the tremendum, the penetration into the private sphere, festivals and rituals, the ctional construction of reality, etc.).11 This is the approach that Voegelin implicitly adheres to. He regards the religious as an anthropological constant, rooted in the desire for completion innate in human beings, despite or because of their nite condition, a desire that can be expressed in all spheres of reality. It is this denition that enables him to call Nazism an anti-Christian religious movement. In the second case, the reference to religion is justied in terms of functions. Thus, Raymond Aron wrote in 1944: I propose to call secular religions the doctrines that in the souls of our contemporaries take the place of a vanished faith, and that locate humanitys salvation in this world, in the distant future, in the form of a social order that has to be created.12 This approach is part of a tradition: from the end of the nineteenth century, sociologists such as Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca


Philippe Burrin and Gustave Le Bon compared political-ideological beliefs, and in particular socialism, to religious beliefs. It is this approach that Sironneau adopts when, at the end of his analysis, he concludes that one should not speak so much of religion as of a functional equivalent of religion.13 Both approaches lay themselves open to criticism. The latter because it must postulate the nonspecicity of religious belief and its objects14 and because it deduces an identity in nature from a similarity in function, so that religion is identied with everything that produces meaning and connection. In this case, there is no social fact, including sports, that is not of a religious nature or that does not have at least a religious dimension.15 The rst approach denes its subject more precisely, but is also problematic because it has to take into consideration the entire range of humanitys religious experiences, although the historical breeding-ground of the political phenomena that interest us was Christianity. A wide denition may extend the scope beyond the sphere of a specic religion, but also fails to do justice to the contemporaries perception, however vague, that their political involvement was not of a religious nature. The question whether political religion can be dened as a functional equivalent to religion (Sironneau) or as a full religion in a phenomenological sense, even though this would be idolatry in terms of Christian theology (Voegelin), could lead to endless debate. However, it seems to me that the interest of the concept does not depend on our capacity to determine, according to phenomenological or functional criteria, the existence of something that could be qualied as religion or religious.16 It would be better to start with the metaphorical nature of the term political religion and to recognize that the adjective is more important than the noun. Fascism, Nazism and communism are pure products of that secularization process which turned the political into a sphere of human action that recognizes no legitimate criteria of validation other than its own. Given the profoundly political character of these phenomena, it seems to be much less interesting to know whether they can be qualied as religion than to identify their relationship with the religious culture that shaped their society.17 As we have seen, both Voegelin and Sironneau emphasize the link with the secularization process. Following Thomas Luckmann, one could even argue that political religions are typical of the rst period of


Political Religion secularization. In the trajectory leading from the religion that is at the heart of traditional societies (the great transcendencies) to the present situation of invisible religion, characterized by the dissemination of the religious and the construction by individuals of a universe of meanings without the mediation of an institution (mini-transcendencies), they mark an intermediary stage (that of medium-range transcendencies) that paralleled the separation of church and state.18 Contrary to what this outline may suggest, political religions are obviously only one possible construction of the relationship between politics and religion during that intermediary stage.19 In addition to the manifold ways in which religion was instrumentalized by the ruling power, and the intervention of religious institutions in the eld of politics, that period saw the emergence of another phenomenon that was at least as important as political religion: civil religion. In its classic form, which can be seen in countries such as the United States where the separation of church and state was carried out amicably, this term designates the process by which a minimal religious reference was incorporated into the political culture, without the exclusive patronage of the state or a particular religion. In a wider denition, which is better suited to the kind of separation of church and state based on rivalry that occurred in France, the term refers to a civil ideology, in this case Republicanism, that seeks to shape the collective identity by totally excluding any participation or even any contribution on the part of the church. If political religions are only one modality in the intermediary stage referred to by Luckmann, they nevertheless constitute a signicant aspect of it. The rationalization of social life which brought about the demise of religion was accompanied by the achievement of autonomy by various spheres of social life (art, hedonism, politics, science). However, even though it was waning, religion still wielded a strong inuence on attitudes, behavior and forms of thought. And even if they were breaking free from its hold, the other spheres of social life were no less subject to an intoxication of the absolute, which could seek satisfaction in imitating religion and by appropriating fragments of its culture.20 The wave of philosophical and political systems throughout the nineteenth century, from Comtism to Marxism, is evidence of how, in the midst of the void left by the decline of religion, the latters totalizing ambition was


Philippe Burrin arrogated, and feelings and attitudes of exaltation, fascination and reverence, typical of the religious experience, were transposed to secular objects.21 The fact that politics was particularly subject to this intoxication of the absolute is hardly surprising since politics and religion share many common features. Both are concerned with providing an identity and a goal for the collectivity and for the individuals who compose it, and both encounter the problem of death.22 Hence the resort to beliefs and emotions, to ritual and symbolic translations of togetherness, which are particularly important in conditions of change, instability and crisis. In this regard it is hardly necessary to recall that the rst era of secularization coincided with the advent of the masses. As George Mosse has emphasized, the encounter between democracy and nationalism engendered a new politics, in which rituals held an important place, irrespective of whether we are speaking of nationalism or socialism.23 By comparison with civil religion and other modalities of the relationship between politics and religion in the era of secularization, the specic nature of political religions lies in the fact that they utterly deny the legitimacy of the liberal idea of separate spheres in social life and that they replace the liberal distrust of politics with an absolutization of the latter. Their goal is not to return to a state religion, much less to a theocracy or Caesar-Papism, but to realize the historically new will to encompass the entire life of society in the political. This goal can only be achieved by using forms and means reminiscent of those employed by religion in order to ensure its hold over traditional societies. The rejection of liberal culture leads logically to the organization of enthusiasm, to the supervision of the economy, to the prescription of artistic norms, even to the control of sexuality. Tightening the communal bond requires suppressing as much as possible the free display of tastes, preferences and behavior. At the same time, this omni-politics, whether guided by the idea of the nation or of the revolutionthe two driving ideas of political modernityattempts to suppress religion itself, which under the pressure of liberal culture has become one autonomous sphere amongst others and is now threatened with disappearing not only from the public space, but also from the private one. In this sense, it would not be false to speak, as does Herman Lbbe, of anti-religion rather than of political religion, although the


Political Religion term wrongly suggests that the aim of these political phenomena can be reduced to the struggle against religion.24 Nonetheless, it is true that they inevitably collide with religion and that the antagonism, declared or veiled, engendered by their politics by far exceeds the classic disputes over the distribution of the respective powers of God and Caesar. In fact, they can only regard institutionalized religion as a disturbing force, not only because it obstructs their goal of conquering minds, but also, and especially, because, unlike political parties, which were so easily swept aside in Russia, Italy and Germany, religion is an internalized tradition that engages the human being more profoundly than political opinions. Christianity, which was one of the most formidable forces for reducing heterogeneity that has been known in Western history, now emerged as an element of heterogeneity intolerable to political phenomena that were no less obsessed than itself with unity and homogeneity. In the end, the value of a concept is determined rst and foremost by its ability to stimulate research. Indeed, the concept we are concerned with here turns our attention in at least three directions that can be followed separately or simultaneously. One direction is the link between the emergence and institutionalization of the so-called political religions, and the religious culture and process of secularization of the society within which they operated.25 For instance, the fact that the process of secularization was relatively weak in Germany, Italy and Russia entailed a lesser degree of tolerance for pluralism and thus a preference for authoritarian options. On the other hand, the fact that these societies possessed a vital religious culture presented a challenge to the new regimes which may have induced them to stress their political religion dimension. Such a development depended, in turn, on the interaction between the regimes will for transformation, the nature of its antagonism to the religious institution, and societys receptivity to change and to the authorities style of communication. Another direction of research suggested by the notion of political religion is the study of political phenomena from the perspective of religious phenomena chosen on the basis of analogy or homology. The most frequent comparison, and often the most supercial, relates to the similarity between the functioning of a political party or regime and that of a clerical institution, usually the Catholic churcha comparison that has been used and abused in the case of communism, to which terms


Philippe Burrin such as priesthood, proselytism, catechism and inquisition have been generously applied. Other studies have explored the affinity between totalitarian regimes and millenarian and Gnostic movements, which, because of their dissident or heretic nature, seemed to lend themselves more easily to a comparison with political phenomena that had themselves broken away from Christianity. The comparative approach deserves attention so long as it remains a methodological device aware of its limitations. But most of the existing studies, however stimulating, give rise to reservations. On the one hand, they do not convincingly explain the asserted affinity between phenomena that are so far apart in time, since tradition is hardly an adequate explanation. In fact, they are reduced to postulating an imaginary continuity (Norman Cohn) or similar psychological tendencies (Alain Besanon on Leninism and Gnosis), or even more boldly an identity of essence (Eric Voegelin).26 On the other hand, these studies do not question to what extent these comparisons are valid and ignore whatever does not t them or contradicts them. Nor do they examine the way in which the elements that justify such comparisons are themselves integrated into a largely new conguration. Not to mention the substantial changes that occurred in the structure and the functioning of these societies, the comparison with religious phenomenon of the old regime should at least make room for a constitutive element of modern politicsthe tension between belief and manipulation. This tension was noted by Voegelin when he wrote, in regard to the militancy so typical of the political religions, that although he was willing to acknowledge the psychological technique of the generation, propagation and social affirmation of myths, [he] does not allow this knowledge to interfere with his faith.27 The third direction of research suggested by the notion of political religion, which will be followed below with regard to Nazism, is the way in which political movements and regimes of that type use the religious culture of their society in order to elevate the political to a supreme and all-encompassing sphere, thereby establishing an abolute mission and authority. In this respect, the most promising path was opened by Voegelin when he placed political religions at the crossroads of a dual process of the sacralization of the political on the one hand and the politicization of elements inherited from the Christian culture on the


Political Religion other. As we have seen, he himself described the product of this dual process as religion, but it seems more relevant to view the notion of political religion as a limit-concept or an ideal type and to consider Voegelins approach as a heuristic proposition. Rather than claiming to uncover an essence shared by diverse historical phenomena, we should approach them from a common perspective that will also enable us to understand the differences between them.28 This perspective is the way in which political phenomena attempt to form a link of exclusive, total belonging and to raise themselves above contestation by mobilizing, either consciously or unconsciously, but in any case in a fragmentary and perverted way, patterns, symbols, rituals, attitudes and kinds of behavior molded by their societys religious culture.29 These elements are particularly prominent along three axes where the proximity between the political and the religious is, not fortuitously, the greatest.30 The rst axis is the construction of a tradition, a system of affiliation that binds together the past and the present by authenticating a narrative of foundation and tribulations, by honoring heroes and martyrs and by placing the communitys dead at the center of a remembrance designed to perpetuate the collective identity. The second is the attribution of exceptional value to a person or group of people embodying a world view that offers a system of nal causes, denes good and evil, and contains the promise of a better society. The third is an invasive ritualization that seeks to enclose the members of the community in a network of gestures and signs, intended to create a complete and exclusive membership, thereby making the group a kind of emotional community in the Weberian sense and surrounding it with a halo of transcendence or an aura of the sacred. This process of sacralizing a mission or an authority by recuperating and amalgamating fragments of the religious culture in the melting pot of a political syncretism can be discerned to one or another degree in all modern political phenomena, if not earlier in history to the point of dening a kind of relationship between power and religion that is characteristic of the West, and which Claude Lefort proposed to call theological-political.31 Republicanism in France, nationalism and the workers movement throughout Europe are some of the numerous examples of this attempt to absolutize the political by recycling the


Philippe Burrin residues, or imitating facets, of traditional religious culture. In this respect, a political religion dimension tends to increase in a political group along with its propensity to form a kind of counter-society. But it is only with the conquest and monopolization of power that it nds its fullest expression, when coercion and intimidation are coupled with the organization of enthusiasm.

II From the outset Nazism elicited religious comparisons, especially with Islam, because of its glorication of war.32 Nevertheless, the notion of political religion was rarely accepted in the historiography, even though a few researchers showed the contribution it could make.33 When considering Nazisms relation to religion, it is useful to dene its differences from communism and fascism because the notion of political religion is of interest only insofar as it sheds light, not only on a dimension existing in a number of political phenomena, but also on the specic tinge it takes in each of them. This requires understanding the way in which each phenomenon conceives of the religious dimension of life and the religious institution, determining what it selects from the religious culture and how it incorporates these residues and, nally, paying attention to the syncretism resulting from the amalgam of these residues with elements originating from other sources. Even communism, whose rejection of religion is radical and takes the form of militant atheism, incorporated fragments of Christian culture. These fragments however, were mainly selected from the universal dimension of Christianity, whether in regard to ecclesiastic structure or eschatology. Moreover, they exist in what can be called a coded form and have to be decoded, since they are used in a discourse that claims to be scientic and avoids all religious references. They are also counterbalanced, at least potentially, by the rationalism and materialism on which communisms world of values is based and which can provide the inspiration for a critique from within. Finally, ritualization emerged, historically speaking, after the accession of communism to power and increased in accordance with the intensifying confrontation with an obdurate society,


Political Religion in distinction to fascist phenomena, where it was prominent almost from their inception as political movements.34 Fascism and Nazism indeed demonstrated a great proximity to the religious, as revealed by their leaders frequent invocations of God or Providence, by Mussolinis religious practice and Hitlers decision to remain within the Catholic church, along with their constant denunciation of atheism, which evidently involved the desire to distinguish themselves from communism, and their insistence upon the religious character of their movements and their ideology. Fascism, for instance, used from the 1920s on the expressions fascist religion, political and civilian religion, and Italys religion.35 The Nazi leaders also referred to themselves in religious terms, even appealing to Christianity, a positive Christianity, in the 1920s. In Mein Kampf, Hitler praised the Catholic church, offering it as a model for his party; and in 1926, he called the NSDAPs program the founding text of our religion.36 This religious self-designation deserves to be emphasized, even if it was accompanied by an overt rivalry with institutionalized religion and a veiled rejection of the principal Christian dogmasthe God of love, the equality of all men and the belief in the hereafter and the immortality of the soul. Four elements can hence be distinguished: mistrust and even hostility toward institutionalized religion, perceived as a rival and an obstacle; a break with the dogmas of Christianity; the incorporation of substantial fragments of Christian culture into discourse and practice; and nally, a recognition of the benecial character of a religious attitude to the world, religion being understood not as a dogma or an institution but rather as a universe of experience and sensibility. The tactical reason for this proximity to the religious obviously lies in the plebiscite nature of fascist regimes and their alliance with conservative forces which made it necessary to deal gently with the churches and to make themselves more acceptable to a public imbued with Christian culture. This is a typical problem for fascist-type regimes: the need to rely upon a traditional base such as Christian culture in order to bring about an anticlerical and anti-Christian change of values. However, the ideological kinship with religion is no less obvious and goes beyond the recognition of having the same enemies, rst and foremost communism. We know how Hitler and Mussolini admired the ecclesiastical institution, the organization that had enabled it to survive


Philippe Burrin for centuries, the rigidity of its dogmas, the effectiveness of its rituals and symbols. But even stronger affinities can be discerned in their aspiration to dene a political faith that would not be inferior to religious faith in its capacity to mobilize hearts and minds and in their glorication of values and attitudes typical of the Christian religion such as obedience and sacrice. Detached from Christian dogma, these latter were to serve the fascist regimes ideology combined with values taken from the military sphere of combat and force. It is therefore hardly surprising that an appreciation for the religious as a universe of feelings and experience is constantly projected in Hitlers and Mussolinis discourse; it was an integral part of the deep irrationalism of their world view. Basically, this proximity is connected with the palingenetic vision of fascist-type movements,37 the transposition of the Christian idea of resurrection to a certain nation. Moreover, as Danile Hervieu-Lger stresses, there is a privileged attraction between the ethnic and the religious because both of them create a social bond on the basis of a postulated genealogy: on the one hand, a naturalized genealogy (related to blood and soil), and on the other, a symbolic genealogy (consisting in a belief in a founding myth or narrative).38 By referring to fascism and Nazism, as opposed to communism, as radically intramundane ecclesiae, Voegelin described precisely these phenomena in which the absolutization of the nationwhether dened in terms of race or cultureended in overthrowing the idea of humanity and enthroning the law of the survival of the ttest.39 Nazism, however, differed from fascism in its much more complex and profound relation to religion, as demonstrated by the unequaled challenge that it presented for German Christians. That challenge was not like the frontal assault made by communism, since there was not enough time for that, nor was it like the modus vivendi agreed to by fascism. The challenge of Nazism consisted in its enormous but deceptive intimacy with Christianity, which only a minority of lucid minds perceived as concealing an irreducible hostility. In their critique of Nazism, these people made frequent and striking use of Old Testament references, especially to the gure of Antichrist and the Apocalypse.40 The Protestant theologian, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, spoke of a return to Baal, the god of fertility and of vital forces, and Moloch, the god of power, who had to be placated by human sacrice,


Political Religion both of whom, as symbols of a popular community founded on blood and oriented to power, rejected the Tablets of the Law.41 Even a socialdemocrat like Franz Neumann felt the need to appeal to the Bible (admittedly via Hobbes). He used the gure of Behemoth, the monster of Jewish apocalyptic tradition, born of chaos and spreading terror on the eve of the end of time, in his attempt to symbolize the reign of anarchy and lawlessness that he saw the Nazi regime leading toward. He thereby came close to dening what was so deeply excessive and destructive in this phenomenon, without fully developing his intuition, as attested by the difficulty he experienced in grasping the radical nature of Nazi antiSemitism.42 Two components can be discerned in Nazisms attitude toward religion. While attempting to inculcate a racist and anti-Semitic world view as an exclusive and all-embracing faith,43 the Nazi leaders, especially Hitler, elaborated in public a kind of civil religion that may have been supercial and manipulative but was certainly attractive: the invocation of Gods protection, the representation of Hitler as a man of providence, and of the German people as the bearers of a divine mission.44 In Italy by contrast, the preponderance of the Catholic church and the presence of the Vatican induced Mussolini to refrain from stressing this dimension of civil religion in which fascism risked losing its identity. Hitler, however, saw an advantage in emphasizing it, precisely because of Germanys denominational divisions. Behind the ornaments of this civil religion, Nazismin distinction to fascism, let alone communismaspired to found an ethno-religion intended to ll the vacuum that the disappearance of Christianity would eventually create and to serve as the basis for its political religion. It should be emphasized that the idea of an ethno-religion follows the tradition of the vlkisch movement, with its twin ambition of political renewal and religious reform, the latter taking the form of either Germanic Christianity, that is purged of its Judaic elements, or Germanic pantheism.45 At the time of writing Mein Kampf, Hitler publicly rejected the role of religious reformer. Aware of the fate of the small vlkisch groups and fearing to arouse the wrath of the churches, he gave priority to building a political organization capable of victory. Nonetheless, his mentality and sensibility like that of most of his lieutenantsHess, Rosenberg,


Philippe Burrin Bormann, Himmlercontinued to be marked by the vlkisch tradition. In this respect Hitler was very different from Mussolini, with his skepticism and his instrumental vision, since he appreciated religion not only for its social utility but also for its intrinsic value, adhering, as revealed by statements he made in private, to a belief that blended the two versions of the vlkisch religious reformGermanic pantheism and Germanic Christianity. The divinity to which he referred was not the personal god of Christians, but an impersonal god that had been present at the creation of the world and determined the eternal laws of naturethe struggle for life, the law of the survival of the ttest, the danger of racial crossbreedinglaws that each people was free to observe or not, at its own risk. For him, this divinity represented the unknown in a universe where man, no longer created in the image of a Christian God, had lost his individual dignity. Subject to the laws of nature like all living creatures, all man had was a promise of immortality, which he assured through his descendants and the survival of his race.46 Hitler added elements of Germanic Christianity to this naturalist pantheism, without much concern for coherence, and in particular the idea of an Aryan Christ killed by the Jews. His familiarity with this notion can explain his hope, until about 1937, that the churches would progressively dejudaize their doctrine.47 At least it explains the ease with which he spoke Christian and assumed roles bequeathed by Christian tradition. Thus, on several occasions he presented himself as a prophet, and we know what solemnity he attributed to this role when, on 30 January 1939, he announced to the Reichstag the possible extermination of the Jews. However his attitude to the churches evolved, what is important is that, throughout his life, Hitler remained devoted to the idea of a religious reform of the Germans.48 And if he himself abstained from preaching this in public, it was Himmler who undertook this task by making the SS the force that was to add religious reform to political renewal. Indeed, Hitler occasionally kept his distance from the antiChristianity of the SS and the development of its rituals, which were largely copied from Christian rituals. But this can be principally explained by his caution with regard to the churches, as well as by his antipathy


Political Religion toward any structure of an ecclesiastical nature, even within the Nazi Party itself. It is difficult to refrain from giving the name religion to the belief of Hitler and his lieutenants. The existence of this ethno-religion, insofar as it served as an extremely favorable basis for recuperating and recycling fragments of the traditional religious culture, only reinforced Nazisms dimension of political religion, as shown by its glorication of the political. The Israeli historian Uriel Tal has even spoken of a consecration of politics when describing the way in which the Nazis raised this sphere to the level of a superior and all-encompassing reality.49 This mechanism of consecration applied equally to the notions of race and blood, which it endowed with an aura of transcendence: the individual had to let himself be absorbed into a community whose survival promised him immortality. This cultural and symbolic dimensionwhether with regard to party rituals or Hitlers elevation to the level of a demigodhas been amply studied.50 It is nevertheless important to emphasize the fact that Nazism not only recycled symbols and disparate themes, but also whole patterns of thought of a religious origin. One such pattern, which can be called cosmological, fashioned a tradition for Nazism in the sense referred to abovethe Nazis themselves attached the greatest value to creating a tradition.51 Fascism created its own tradition by referring to a historical precedent, the Roman Empire, and communism did so by retracing the class struggle throughout history. For its part, Nazism appropriated a tradition for itself by plagiarizing the biblical model: the creation, divine law, sin, fall and redemption were all copied, and each element was perverted in order to be recycled in Nazi ideology.52 This tradition, which obviously had neither the substance nor the density of the biblical narrative, was articulated by the Nazi leaders and in the educational plans of the SS.53 It asserted Nazisms kinship with a race that had existed since the beginning of the world, the tribulations of that race, its epochs of grandeur and decadence, measured by the degree to which the purity of blood had been respected, and nally the promise of redemption heralded by Hitler, by our Fhrer who has nally been granted to us, after two thousand years, as Himmler was fond of saying.54 A vision that embraces the millennia, the idea of a nal


Philippe Burrin reckoning with a Christianity that had perverted the Germanic raceall this shows to what extent Nazism invented its tradition through a kind of destructive mimesis of Christianity. In comparison with the biblical model, what is worth noting is the importance attributed to the cosmos. Hitler and his men were utterly fascinated by the history of the universe, and they satised their fascination through speculative theories that they considered scientic such as the glaciation cosmogony (Welteislehre), which explained the origins and the development of the universe and established the superiority of the Germanic race.55 The primacy of nature, the insignicance of man, the sense of mystery shifted from creator to creation: this amalgam of speculative scientism and biblical reminiscence reect the aspiration of certain occult and esoteric movements of the end of the nineteenth century to unite science and religion.56 The second pattern derives from demonology. Totalitarian regimes (but not only theselet us recall the French Revolution) believe in the ubiquity of malecent adversaries. It is often said that they persecute groups or individuals for what they are rather than for what they do. But this distinction, which is valid from the point of view of the persecuted, has no meaning for the persecutors. In their view, the adversaries cannot simply be but must inevitably act, if not in broad daylight, then at least in the shadows, and any lack of evidence for such action is merely additional proof of the menace they represent. It is for this reason that these regimes, in their search for an objective enemy, replace, as Hannah Arendt said, the suspected offense by the possible crime.57 Nor is it surprising that they believe in one form or another of universal conspiracy.58 Arendt has also compared communism and Nazism, especially their political police, to secret societies established in broad daylight.59 This may be more valid with regard to Nazism than Stalinism. On the one hand, the gure of the adversary, who inltrates in order to destroy and who therefore has to be recognized and exposed, possesses fantastic traits derived from the diabolic imagery of Christianity, especially with regard to the Jew. On the other hand, the SS seems to resemble a secret society far more clearly than the NKVD, if only because it dened itself as such: as a sworn society (eine beschwrene Gemeinschaft), which could only have, as in a mirror image, sworn enemies. When in 1943


Political Religion Himmler referred to the extermination of the Jews in a speech to the highest ranks of the Nazi Party and spoke of taking our secret with us to our grave, what was he doing if not tightening the ranks of a secret society whose acts were justied by a superior morality that could not include ordinary Germans?60 A third pattern can be dubbed apocalyptic. Klaus Vondung has emphasized the place held by the theme of the apocalypse in German culture throughout the last two centuries (a rarely evoked Sonderweg), both on the left and, especially, on the right wing of German politics.61 This theme is particularly striking in Nazism: the vision of an era of decadence and catastrophe, the nal struggle between good and evil, the promise of complete renewal. The apocalyptic theme is so evident that it has long attracted the attention of historians, in particular those who are interested in the notion of political religion.62 While Mussolini regarded the world as a relentless struggle for power and domination between peoples, and while communists linked the idea of a nal struggle with capitalism to the conviction that the movement of history was on their side, the Nazis were simply fascinated by the apocalypse as a cosmic, relentless, ultimateand undecidedordeal. They adopted this pattern of thought from Christianity because it symbolized their state of mind and their vision of themselves and their struggle. However, in doing so, they remodeled it in a way that far exceeded a mere process of secularization. Not only was there no longer a God to vanquish the Antichrist, but, more critically, this was an apocalypse without a guarantee that the righteous would be victorious at the end of time. Indeed, in Nazism, and certainly for Hitler, there was a clear awareness of the possibility of ultimate defeat.63 Mein Kampf provides a gloomy vision of a planet where life has been destroyed following the victory of the Jews. The result of the combat could therefore be disastrous: but is this not what the lurid Germanic mythology of the twilight of the gods and the conagration of the world has been preparing for? Even if the Nazi leaders took pleasure in a vocabulary suggesting a millenarian future, they were fundamentally attached to a cyclical conception of time, which corresponded to their conviction that a perpetual struggle would be necessary to maintain the purity of blood and the greatness of the Volk against the constantly reborn powers of


Philippe Burrin decadence.64 The fact that Hitler was keenly aware that he was growing older and that he invoked this fact to justify increasing the pace of his projects is well known and implies a romantic conception of the hero, very far from the millenarian universe. He also manifested this awareness to Albert Speer when he envisaged the disappearance of the thousandyear Reich and worried whether his monuments would be able to leave behind beautiful ruins.65 There are numerous indications that Nazism was a will for power undermined by a sense of its own fragility, or according to J. P. Sterns elegant formulation: the death wish at the center of the will for power.66 At the intersection of these three patterns is anti-Semitism. Nazism was engaged in an apocalyptic struggle with the Jew, the gure of evil in which the whole of Christian demonology is condensedfalsehood, seduction, power concealed behind a set of masksa struggle that was to determine the future once and for all. Here again, we can discern its continuity with the vlkisch movement, with the idea of a struggle unto death between a positive principlethe Aryan raceand a negative principlethe Jewwhose elimination was a condition of both religious reform as well as of political revival.67 Unlike fascism, Nazism saw in the gure of the Jew an embodiment of the heterogeneity of the world: everything that endangered the Aryan race and had to be eliminated in order to ensure its future, including, once the Jew had disappeared, Christianity, his posthumous poison. Other political religions provide no equivalent to this attribution of a purely metaphysical value to a particular group of human beings. But if this is the case, could it not be said that Nazism, for all its anti-Christianity, was in certain respects at least an authentic kind of Christianity? This is a position adopted by historians such as Claus-E. Brsch and Michael Ley. Ley, for instance, links the genocide to the central importance attached to sacrice in Christianity, unlike in the other monotheistic religions. On the basis of the apocalyptic vision of the Nazis, he suggests that the extermination of the Jews was equivalent to a holy sacrice which was to pave the way toward the thousand-year Reich. The notion of redemption through the death of the Jews implies that Nazism was profoundly structured by Christianity.68 However, if Nazi anti-Semitism cannot be explained without the long tradition of Christian anti-Judaism, and if the genocide cannot be


Political Religion understood without considering the purifying, restorative and expiatory value it had in the Nazis mental universeall of these elements originating in Christianityit seems dubious to argue for such a strong relationship between Christian sacrice and Nazi genocide. On the one hand, the argument contains a contradiction: if the Jew is the Antichrist, he cannot be the victim of a sacrice; he is the mortal enemy who has to be exterminated.69 On the other hand, this would be to ignore the plurality of Nazisms sources of inspiration, and in particular two sources that merge with these fragments of Christian culture. The rst is the neo-Germanism of the vlkisch movement, accompanied by an archaic type of morality, of which Hitler gave us a striking example when he invoked, as he did on several occasions, the law of retaliationan eye for an eye, a tooth for a toothin order to justify the extermination of the Jews.70 He had a no less archaic conception of war: the enemy had to be destroyed, its population reduced to slavery, transferred, exterminated. The second source is the biological naturalism that served as the substructure for Nazi racism, a scientic racism, according to the Nazis, including Hitler, who held science in high esteem.71 Nazi syncretism thus brought together several elements designed to achieve both political and religious reform: an apocalyptic anti-Semitism, a radical racism and an archaic morality, to which we should add the complex of resentment generated by the defeat of 1918. In this syncretism, the Christian source of inspiration, in the sense of perverted residues of that culture, seems to take pride of place. But we should not underestimate the dynamism provided by the other sources. The discourse of Nazi leaders concerning the genocide is laden with apocalyptic prophetism, but it also includes the vocabulary of getting rid of parasites and performing a surgical operation.72 In conclusion, it seems difficult to agree with Voegelins approach, according to which Nazism was the offspring of humanism. Nazism was the child of the secularization process through its glorication of the political and its quasi-scientic vision of nature and the human species. But at the same time, Nazism was the desire to reenchant a world subjected to a process of rationalization that brings with it not only science but also the values of reason, free enquiry and individualism. Compared with the other phenomena of its type, Nazism took the absolutization of the political to the extreme by basing its political


Philippe Burrin religion on an ethno-religion.73 Its rejection not only of the Enlightenment but also of the entire Judeo-Christian heritage led it, quite logically, to commit the worst mass crimes of the modern era. But was it really possible to reenchant a society in the clutches of modernity? Beyond the issue of Nazism, which was engulfed by the storm it unleashed, sweeping away along with it millions of innocent people, the frailty of political religions should be considered. The type of political, moral and spiritual unity that they aim to create can only be thwarted by the massive movement toward rationalization of society, by the institutional segmentation and the technical specialization that continuously engender the splitting of social life into autonomous spheres. Even on their own privileged level of beliefs, symbols and rituals, the limits of political religions are soon evident, whether this is because of the necessity to yield to the incessant adjustments modernity demands, or because of their inability to give adequate answers to ultimate questions, which is what traditional religions do, at least providing consolation in the form of a promise of individual immortality. This frailty, which became an obvious truth as the decades passed, was already perceived by a contemporary. In 1939, in response to a survey on the return of tribal religions (the term referred to communism, fascism and Nazism), the French Hellenist Ren Guastalla estimated that this renewal of social myths seems likely to last only for a very short period of time, if we measure it through the eyes of history. The rst reason was that unlike the natural myths of the past, todays myths are myths of novelists, in the sense that each of them could name its author. In other words, they are threatened by other stories and by the refusal to believe, while the natural myths were beyond discussion for the members of a given political community, who had no interest in their neighbors myths. The second reason was that, for centuries, the European had little by little taken to the habit of being an individual, of thinking about his own salvationtemporal or spiritual, it hardly matters!while myth can only exist in the unanimous agreement of undifferentiated beings.74


Political Religion NOTES

* This article elaborates and enlarges upon a rst and very tentative reection on the theme of political religion which has been published in Michael Ley and Julius H. Schoeps, eds., Der Nationalsozializmus als politische Religion (Bodenheim b. Mainz, 1997), 16885. 1. See Hans Maier, Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen: Konzepte des Diktaturvergleichs, Vierteljahrshefte fr Zeitgeschichte 43, no. 3 (July 1995): 387405; reprinted in Maier, Politische Religionen: Die totalitren Regime und das Christentum (Freiburg i. Breisgau, 1995). Neither the notion of tyranny proposed by Elie Halvy, Lre des tyrannies (Paris, 1938) nor the term Caesarism, proposed by Calvin Hoover, Dictatorships and Democracies (New York, 1937) became prevalent. 2. For a recent discussion of political religions, see Hermann Lbbe, ed., Heilserwartung und Terror: Politische Religionen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Dsseldorf, 1995); Hans Maier, ed., Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen: Konzepte des Diktaturvergleichs (Paderborn, 1996). 3. Christoph Martin Wieland, Betrachtungen ber die gegenwrtige Lage des Vaterlandes, Politische Schriften (Nrdlingen), 3 (1988): 59, quoted by Maier, Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen, 396 n. 44. 4. Condorcet, Cinq mmoires sur linstruction publique (Paris, 1994), 93. (I am indebted to Bronislaw Baczko for this valuable reference). Tocqueville, of course, was one of the rst to attempt to apply a religious analogy to the French Revolution. How the French Revolution was a political revolution which proceeded in the manner of religious revolutions and why is the title of chapter three of the rst book of LAncien Rgime et la Rvolution (Paris, 1952), where Tocqueville also outlines a comparison to Islam (89). 5. Jules Monnerot was one of the few earlier researchers to take Islam as a pole of comparison: Totalitarianisms originality in comparison with tyranny, is its sacralization of the political; it presents itself as a secular and conquering religion of the Islamic type: lack of distinction between the political, religious and economic, concentrated and, above all, undened power.... Sociologie du communisme (Paris, 1949), 380. 6. Anon. [Hans-Joachim Schoeps], Der Nationalsozialismus als verkappte Religion, Eltheto (1939): 9398; Raymond Aron, Une rvolution antiproltarienne, lecture delivered in the winter of 19341935 and published in Elie Halvy, ed., Inventaires: La crise sociale et les idologies nationales (Paris, 1936), reprinted in Aron, Machiavel et les tyrannies modernes (Paris, 1993), 298; Lre des tyrannies dE. Halvy, Revue de mtaphysique et de morale (May 1939), reprinted in ibid. under the title Le socialisme et la guerre, 330; Lucie


Philippe Burrin
Varga, La gense du national-socialisme, Annales dhistoire conomique et sociale 9 (1937): 52946; cf. Peter Schttler, Lucie Varga: Les Autorits invisibles: Une historienne autrichienne aux Annales dans les annes trente (Paris, 1991); and Das Konzept der politischen Religionen bei Lucie Varga und Franz Borkenau, in Ley and Schoeps, eds., Der Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion, 186205. An alternative concept that persisted was that of cryptoreligion. See Carl Christian Bry, Verkappte Religionen (Gotha and Stuttgart, 1924), who applied this term to Bolshevism, fascism and vlkisch anti-Semitism, along with theosophy, vegetarianism etc. Schoeps also used this expression along with that of political religion. 7. For Voegelin, this movement toward sacralization did not concern politics alone. In fact, he called intramundane religion any aspect of worldly reality to which the value of a superior reality, a Realissimum is attributed (he was probably thinking of the sacralization of other domains of social life such as science or art). Political religion is therefore just one case of its kind: a useful distinction that is overshadowed by the notion of temporal religion or secular religion preferred by Raymond Aron. See Dietmar Herz, Die politischen Religionen im Werk Eric Voegelins, in Maier, ed., Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen, 191210. 8. I quote from the French translation: Les religions politiques (Paris, 1994), 26. Before Voegelin, Carl Schmitt had expressed the idea that the concepts of modern politics were actually secularized theological concepts; see Politische Theologie: Vier Kapitel zur Lehre der Souvernitt (Berlin, 1922). 9. Jean-Pierre Sironneau, Scularisation et religions politiques (La Haye, 1982). 10. See Danile Hervieu-Lger, La religion pour mmoire (Paris, 1993), chaps. 1 and 2. 11. Some of these elements are mentioned by Maier, Totalitarismus und Politische Religionen, 398ff. 12. Lavenir des religions sculires, La France Libre, JulyAug. 1944, reprinted in Raymond Aron, Histoire et politique: Textes et tmoignages (Paris, 1985), 370. 13. Sironneau, Scularisation et religions politiques, 521. 14. As Raymond Aron indicates himself, Remarques sur la gnose lniniste, published in a collection in honor of Eric Voegelin, Peter J. Opitz, ed., The Philosophy of Order: Essays on History, Consciousness and Politics (Stuttgart, 1981), reprinted in Aron, Machiavel et les tyrannies modernes, 389. 15. See Claude Rivire and Albert Piette, eds., Nouvelles idoles, nouveaux cultes: Drives de la sacralit (Paris, 1990).


Political Religion
16. It is even more important to avoid speaking of a transfer or displacement of the sacred, as if the sacred were a xed substance that attaches itself to different objects in different epochs. 17. Between an approach that can be summed up as stating that all is religious or able to contain the religious, and another according to which religion is only what society considers as such, Hervieu-Lger proposes a third way which consists of dening the religious in an ideal-type fashion. This is an intellectually satisfying approach, but it is too general to be meaningful. If we can designate as religion all ideological, practical and symbolic disposition, by which the (individual and collective) consciousness of belonging to a specic line of belief is constituted, maintained, developed and controlled, would nationalism not then be a religion? See La religion pour mmoire, 119. 18. Thomas Luckmann, Shrinking Transcendence, Expanding Religion? Sociological Analysis 50, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 12738. 19. See Juan Linz, Der religise Gebrauch der Politik und/oder der politische Gebrauch der Religion: Ersatzideologie gegen Ersatzreligion, in Maier, ed., Totalitarismus und politische Religionen, 12954. 20. We know that for Max Weber the rationalization of the world can evoke a new demand for prophetic meaning. See Jean Sguy, Rationalisation, modernit et avenir de la religion chez Max Weber, Archives des Sciences sociales des Religions 61, no. 1 (Jan.Mar. 1986): 12738. 21. See in particular D. G. Charlton, Secular Religions in France, 18151870 (London, 1963). 22. Cf. David E. Apter, Political Religion in the New Nations, in Clifford Geertz, ed., Old Societies and New States (Glencoe, 1963), 87ff. 23. George Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York, 1975). 24. Maier, ed., Totalitarismus und politische Religionen, 16768. 25. For the Russian case see, for example, the vastly different studies of Nicolas Berdiaev, Les sources et le sens du communisme russe (Paris, 1951), and Moshe Lewin, La formation du systme sovitique (Paris, 1987). 26. See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London, 1957), 3078; cf. Yonina Talmon, Pursuit of the Millennium: The Relation between Religion and Social Change, Archives europennes de sociologie, 3 no. 1, (1962): 12548; Alain Besanon, Les origines intellectuelles du leninisme (Paris, 1977), esp. 1528; and Eric Voegelin, Religionsersatz: Die gnostischen Massenbewegungen unserer Zeit, Wort und Wahrheit, 15 no. 1, (1960): 518. 27. Voegelin, Les religions politiques, 92.


Philippe Burrin
28. This in no way implies having to choose between political religion and totalitarianism. Totalitarianism sheds light on the mechanisms of power and forms of domination, while political religion aims at the system of beliefs, rituals and symbols that establish and articulate this domination. Totalitarianism emphasizes the modernity of phenomena, particularly the techniques of power, while political religion draws attention to a long-term perspective and the historical sediment and modern reapplication of fragments of a religious culture for political purposes. 29. This discussion is limited to political phenomena in the realm of Christianity. For Maoist China, see Jiping Zuo, Political Religion: The Case of the Cultural Revolution in China, Sociological Analysis 52 (Spring 1991): 99110. 30. Cf. Marc Lazars stimulating article, Communisme et religion, in Stphane Courtois, Marc Lazar and Shmuel Trigano, eds., Rigueur et passion: Mlanges offerts en hommage Annie Kriegel (Paris, 1994), 13973. Whereas Lazar, following Hervieu-Lger, utilizes these axes to construct an ideal type of religion that will enable him to discern the religious dimension of communism, I consider them as elements that shape, quite independently, the political no less than the religious. 31. Claude Lefort, Permanence du thologico-politique? in Essais sur le politique (XIXeXXe sicles) (Paris, 1986), 251300. For Lefort, as opposed to Schmitt and Voegelin, the political-theological appears only in situations where democracy fails. For an example of borrowing and recycling, see Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Mourir pour la patrie (Pro Patrio Mori) dans la pense politique mdivale, in Mourir pour la patrie et autres textes (Paris, 1984) 10541. 32. As Carl Jung said in London in April 1939: We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. (He is already on the way; he is like Mohammed. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with a wild god.) The collected Works of C. G. Jung, vol. 10, Civilization in Transition (Princeton, 1970), 281. 33. Some of these researchers were Voegelins students (Klaus Vondung and Claus-E Brsch) or cite him (Uriel Tal, Michael Ley). 34. See Christel Lantes, The Rites of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society. The Soviet Case (Cambridge, 1981); and Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, MA, 1983). 35. Cf. Emilio Gentile, Fascism as Political Religion, Journal of Contemporary History (MayJune 1990): 23435; as well as, Il culto del littorio: La sacralizzazione della politica nell Italia fascista (Roma-Bari, 1993). 36. Vlkischer Beobachter, 25 Feb. 1926, quoted by Helmut Berding, Histoire de lantismitisme en Allemagne (Paris, 1991), 186.


Political Religion
37. See Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (London, 1991). 38. Hervieu-Lger, Religion pour mmoire, 228. 39. Voegelin, Les religions politiques, 95. 40. See Wolfgang Phlmann, Beobachtungen zur jdisch-christlichen Apokalyptik und zur apokalyptischen Geschichtsdeutung im Dritten Reich, Kerygma und Dogma 37, no. 2 (Apr. 1991): 16072. 41. [Schoeps], Der Nationalsozialismus als verkappte Religion. 42. Estimating that the Jew served as an integrating element for the popular community of the Nazis, Neumann wrote in 1942: The internal political function will therefore always prohibit the total extermination of the Jews. The enemy cannot and should not disappear. Franz Neumann, Bhmoth: Structure et pratique du national-socialisme (Paris, 1987), 129. 43. As some Christian observers perceived: cf. Richard Karwehl, a disciple of Karl Barth, Politisches Messiastum: Zur Auseinandersetzung zwischen Kirche und Nationalsozialismus, Zwischen den Zeiten (1931): 256; and Romano Guardini, Der Heilbringer: In Mythos, Offenbarung und Politik (Zrich, 1946), 39. 44. With regard to Hitlers religiosity, see the small collection of quotations by Manfred Ach and Clemens Pentrop, Hitlers Religion: Pseudoreligise Elemente im nationalsozialistischen Sprachgebrauch (Munich, 1977); and Friedrich Heer, Der Glaube des Adolf Hitler: Anatomie einer politischen Religiositt (Munich, 1968). On the relationship between men of the church(es) and Nazism, see Gary Lease, Odd Fellows in the Politics of Religion, Modernism, National Socialism and German Judaism (Berlin and New York, 1995). 45. See Uriel Tal, Christians and Jews in Germany: Religion, Politics and Ideology in the Second Reich, 18701914 (Ithaca and London, 1975); Klaus Scholder, Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich, vol. 1, Vorgeschichte und Zeit der Illusionen 19181934 (Frankfurt/Main, 1977). 46. See Robert A. Pois, National Socialism and the Religion of Nature (London and Sydney, 1986); and Josef Ackermann, Heinrich Himmler als Ideologe (Gttingen, 1970). 47. See Klaus Scholder, Judaism and Christianity in the Ideology and Politics of National Socialism, in Otto Dov Kulka and Paul R. Mendes-Flohr, eds., Judaism and Christianity under the Impact of National Socialism, 19191945 (Jerusalem, 1987). 48. At the beginning of 1942, he spoke of writing a little gospel that would contain the sentences that Germans should pronounce in the great moments of their lives, Monologe im Fhrerhauptquartier (Munich, 1980), 166, entry of 1/2 Jan. 1942.


Philippe Burrin
49. See Uriel Tal, Aspects of Consecration of Politics in the Nazi Era, in Kulka and Mendes-Flor, eds., Judaism and Christianity under the Impact of National Socialism, 6365; and On Structures of Political Theology and Myth in Germany Prior to the Holocaust, in Yehuda Bauer and Nathan Rotenstreich eds., The Holocaust as Historical Experience (New York, 1981): 4374. 50. See in particular Klaus Vondung, Magie und Manipulation: Ideologischer Kult und politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus (Gttingen, 1971); and for an example of an analysis of Hitlers discourse, see Hubert Cancik, Wir sind jetzt eins: Rhetorik und Mystik in einer Rede Hitlers (Nrnberg, 11.9.1936), in Gnter Kehrer, ed., Zur Religionsgeschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Munich, 1980), 1348. 51. See, for example, the importance Himmler attributes to this in Discours secrets (Paris, 1978), 70, 142. 52. As noted by Richard Karwehl, Politisches Messiastum, 540. 53. See Himmlers guidelines for the education of the SS, in Ackermann, Heinrich Himmler als Ideologe, doc. 14, pp. 259ff. 54. For example, in the Posen speech of 6 Oct 1943 before the Reichsleiter and the Gauleiter, in Himmler, Discours secrets, 168. 55. See Brigitte Nagel, Die Welteislehre: Ihre Geschichte und ihre Rolle im Dritten Reich (Stuttgart, 1991). 56. See Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles, Hitlers Racial Ideology: Content and Occult Sources, Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 3 (1986): 22746. 57. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1958), 426. 58. See Raoul Girardet, Mythes et mythologies politiques (Paris, 1986). 59. Arendt, Origins, 376 (citing Alexandre Koyr), and 435ff. 60. Himmler, Discours secrets, 169. 61. Klaus Vondung, Die Apokalypse in Deutschland (Munich, 1988). 62. See in particular the works of Claus-E. Brsch, esp. his article Antijudaismus, Apokalyptik und Satanologie: Die religisen Elemente des nationalsozialistischen Antisemitismus, Zeitschrift fr Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, no. 2 (1988): 11333. See also Robert S. Wistrich, Hitlers Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy (London, 1985). 63. See Goebbels remark, Either he sends us to ruin or we make him harmless. Anything else is inconceivable. Quoted by Brsch, Antijudaismus, Apokalyptik und Satanologie, 119. 64. Vondung states on the contrary that Nazism believed in the end of time (Die Apokalypse in Deutschland, 451), as does Mirca Eliade, Aspects du mythe (Paris, 1963), 88, who even speaks of the heralding of an era of bounty and beatitude. For the interpretation of Nazism as a millenarian movement, see


Political Religion
James M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution (Palo Alto, 1980). 65. Albert Speer, Au coeur du Troisime Reich (Paris, 1971), 79. 66. Stern, Hitler, 34. 67. See Ekkehard Hieronimus, Dualismus und Gnosis in der vlkischen Bewegung, in Jacob Taubes, ed., Religionstheorie und politische Theologie, vol. 2, Gnosis und Politik (Munich, 1984), 8289. 68. Michael Ley, Genozid und Heilserwartung: Zum nationalsozialistischen Mord am europischen Judentum (Vienna, 1993). 69. Cf. Manfred Voigts, Hitler als Messias, Zeitschrift fr Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 48, no. 2 (1996): 17278. 70. See in particular the speech of 30 Jan. 1942, in Der grodeutsche Freiheitskampf: Reden Adolf Hitlers (Munich, 1943), 3:204. 71. See, for example, Monologe, 67 (23 Sept. 1941), and 84 (14 Oct. 1941). It is true that Hitler never praises science so much as when he evokes the future destruction of Christianity. However, the opposition he establishes between science and religion has to be integrated into the analysis. 72. See ibid., 22829 (25 Jan. 1942). 73. The high percentage of religious people in the SS, especially in the units that played a decisive role in the genocide, suggests the hypothesis of a dynamic link between political ideology and religious faith. 74. Reprinted in Denis Hollier, Le collge de sociologie (19371939) (Paris, 1979), 11819.


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Copyright of History & Memory is the property of Indiana University Press and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.