Friday, August 28, 2020

Political religions and fascism


political religion Nazi secularization sacralization higher cause fascism fanaticism

‘I'm beginning to comprehend, I think, some of the reasons for Hitler’s astounding success. Borrowing a chapter from the Roman church, he is restoring pageantry and colour and mysticism to the drab lives of twentieth-century Germans.’ So wrote William Shirer in his famous Berlin Diary, commenting on the Nuremberg Rally of 1934.

He continued: ‘This morning’s opening meeting in the Luitpold Hall on the outskirts of Nuremberg was more than a gorgeous show; it also had something of the mysticism and religious fervour of an Easter or Christmas Mass in a great Gothic cathedral.’ Shirer went on to describe how the packed hall was electrified when the band played the Badenweiler March, music only used for Hitler’s entrances. As Hitler arrived, along with other leading Nazis, he was met by saluting followers. Kleig lamps were used to dazzle the stage where he then sat, surrounded by a hundred party officials and army and navy officers. As the music died down, Rudolf Hess read out the names of Nazi ‘martyrs’, those who had died fighting for the movement, while behind the assembled men was the ‘blood flag’ that had been paraded in the streets of Munich on the day of the failed putsch of 1923.

As Shirer concluded, ‘In such an atmosphere no wonder, then, that every word dropped by Hitler seemed like an inspired Word from on high. Man’s – or at least the German’s – critical faculty is swept away at such moments, and every lie pronounced is accepted as high truth itself.’

This powerful scene from the early days of the Third Reich makes us consider how faith and politics are blurred by fascism. The creation of new symbols and rituals to evoke belief in a higher cause are central to the critical concept familiar to many historians of fascism and communism, ‘political religion’. This term has been prevalent in fascism studies for at least two decades, and has a much longer history rooted in contemporary responses to interwar fascism itself.  (more...)

Political religions and fascism

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