Clifton Ganyard. Artur Mahraun and the Young German Order: An Alternative to National Socialism in Weimar Political Culture. With a foreword by Larry Eugene Jones. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. ix + 302 pp. $119.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7734-5051-6.
Reviewed by Stefan Vogt (Center for German Studies, Ben-Gurion-University of the Negev)
Published on H-German (September, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Young German Peculiarities
The vast literature on the German Right during the Weimar Republic notwithstanding, the paramilitary group Jungdeutsche Orden has been virtually ignored by historical scholarship. Until recently, only one academic monograph, published in 1958, treated the subject. In addition to its rather dated methodological approach, it lacked critical distance from its subject. Most other literature on the group was published by the Wolfgang Lohmüller Verlag, which was owned by a former member of the organization. Not surprisingly, the resulting body of work is bluntly apologetic. Despite some problems, Clifton Greer Ganyard's new monograph on the group represents a meaningful advance in the state of scholarship on this neglected group.
The Jungdeutscher Orden's obscurity may be due to the fact that it failed to produce a genuine ideology and that its leader, Artur Mahraun, was not an intellectual. His writings could not compare with those of Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, or Oswald Spengler. Still, the absence of critical study is regrettable, not only because the order was one of the biggest right-wing organizations of the Weimar Republic (second in size only to the Stahlhelm), but also because it occupies a quite peculiar place among the German radical Right. As a group that almost paradigmatically merged the pre- and postwar youth movement with the experience of the so-called front generation, it was representative of significant intellectual and cultural tendencies of the time. Moreover, and most importantly, the order overall, and Mahraun in particular, attempted to reconcile neoconservative and radical nationalist ideology with parts of the democratic spectrum in Weimar politics, an approach that culminated in the merger with the Deutsche Demokratische Partei and the creation of the Deutsche Staatspartei in 1930. The order provides, therefore, an ideal historical platform for analyzing the complex and not necessarily antagonistic relationship between democratic and anti-democratic forces in Weimar Germany.
Against this backdrop, this new book makes a welcome addition. Ganyard presents an in-depth study of the Young German ideology and the ideas of its leader, Mahraun. He analyzes this ideology in the context of the development of the Jungdeutsche Orden from its beginnings as a Freikorps in 1919 through its dissolution in 1933 and beyond to the activities of its members during the Third Reich. Ganyard is able to show that while the order developed very specific features that separated it from tendencies like National Socialism, it nonetheless remained part and parcel of the Weimar-era radical Right.
Ganyard refrains from idealizing the order as a positive force that undertook a centrist path to attempt to protect the Weimar Republic from the right and left extremes of its party politics, as Larry Eugene Jones claims in his foreword to the text. Ganyard portrays the order more correctly as a nationalist, anti-liberal organization that nevertheless developed a more complex approach towards Weimar democracy than did other right-wing organizations. It was Mahraun's peculiar take on German idealism and nationalism, Ganyard argues, that led him and the order to oppose National Socialism.
The book is organized in part thematically and in part chronologically. The introduction and the first chapter outline the ideological background from which the Jungdeutsche Orden emerged. Inspired by the classical Sonderweg thesis, Ganyard draws a rough line from German idealism through "Germanic Critics" such as Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn up to the völkisch movement and, ultimately, to National Socialism. He claims, however, that National Socialism was not the only possible endpoint of this development. In his reading, Mahraun and the order represent an alternative outcome because they were able to refer to German idealism without adopting the distortions of the "Germanic Critics."
Chapter 2 turns to the immediate background of the founding of Jungdeutsche Orden. Ganyard focuses on two crucial elements: the bourgeois youth movement of the late German Empire and the First World War. Mahraun, who was born in 1890, was active in the youth movement, where he absorbed the prevalent neo-romantic and nationalist ideology. He joined the army in 1908 and fought as an active officer in the war. In January 1919, he founded the Offiziers-Kompanie Cassel, which, like other Freikorps of this type, sought to fight the revolution. It did engage in battles against the Spartacists and the Polish incursions into Upper Silesia and West Prussia. The Offiziers-Kompanie Cassel was transformed into the Jungdeutsche Orden in March 1920, with Mahraun becoming its Hochmeister. Ganyard rightly highlights the importance of Mahraun's experiences as a front officer as well as a Freikorps leader for his further political career. Regrettably, however, we do not learn very much about Mahraun's activities during this period. In this case, Ganyard was hampered by a lack of contemporary sources; he could only draw on later accounts by Mahraun and his followers.
Chapter 3 is devoted to the structure of the order in its early years and its basic ideological convictions. Ganyard makes the convincing point that the order was initially a paramilitary organization and that it remained firmly anchored in its Freikorps roots later on. Even though it was involved in neither the Kapp putsch nor the Hitler putsch--Mahraun expelled a chapter of the order that participated inHitler's abortive coup--it was connected to militant right-wing organizations such as the Organisation Escherich. The order was also involved in violent resistance to the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in 1923.
Contradicting Mahraun's own claims, Ganyard concludes that at least until 1923 the order was primarily a paramilitary and not a political organization. However, even in these early years, Mahraun's ideas deviated quite considerably from the radical Right mainstream. In particular, he criticized the aggressive anti-French revanchism of the Right. France, he argued, should be an ally to Germany rather than an enemy; he saw the Bolshevik Soviet Union as the real enemy of both Germany and France. With this position, Mahraun provoked a storm of protest from the radical Right and even from within his own organization. Reconciliation with France was indeed a heretical idea within the German radical Right. Ganyard emphasizes that Mahraun's position did not constitute an abandonment of his general right-wing orientation. Rather, reconciliation with France was embedded in what Ganyard identifies as a nationalist/militarist program to annul the Versailles Treaty.
The next two chapters of the study address the development of Mahraun's ideas for reorganizing German society (chapter 4) and the German state (chapter 5). These notions developed mostly in the "ideological" second phase of the order's history, which succeeded the "paramilitary" first phase and culminated in the publication of the "Jungdeutsches Manifest" (1927). Mahraun's ideas were similar to those of the radical Right in their call to overcome the atomization of mass society, as well as the dominance of "special interests." Like his right-wing brethren, he wanted to create a Volksgemeinschaft. Also unexceptional was his conception of the state as the political incarnation of the community. More unusual, however, was that Mahraun envisioned the Volksstaat as a synthesis of the old authoritarian state of the German Empire and the new democratic state of the Weimar Republic--a synthesis of "Potsdam" and "Weimar." Although the constitutional features of this state remained unclear, it is obvious that Mahraun envisioned a higher degree of political participation and more individual freedom than most other right-wing ideologues. This peculiarity not only strengthened his opposition to Nazism but also made it possible to engage in a strategic partnership with democratic forces in Weimar politics.
Ganyard is right to devote a large section of this chapter to the problem of antisemitism. Here, an ambivalence also present in Mahraun's attitudes towards the state becomes apparent. Ganyard points out that antisemitism was part of the order's ideology from its beginnings to its end. Especially in the early years, its journal, Der Jungdeutsche, published many antisemitic articles, and its constitution contained an "Aryan paragraph" that excluded Jews from membership. The precise role of antisemitism in the group's ideology, however, remains unclear. Ganyard quotes statements that depict the Jews as a foreign people, as well as statements that describe them as another special-interest group within the society. Ganyard misses, however, the problem that either notion could work well with the traditional antisemitic notion that the Jews undermined the creation of a homogeneous community, which was the order's ostensible goal. From this perspective, the combination of being both outside and inside this community makes the Jews particularly dangerous. Ganyard's conclusion that antisemitism was insignificant for Mahraun must, therefore, be doubted. The fact that, on the occasion of the foundation of the Deutsche Staatspartei, Mahraun claimed that the order would accept civil equality for Germany's Jews may be seen as a strategic move, as Jews were a major source of electoral support for the Deutsche Demokratische Partei, the other partner in the Deutsche Staatspartei.
The last chapter of the book analyzes the "political" third phase of the order's history, as well as the activities of Mahraun and others after its dissolution in 1933. The opposition of the former members of the Jungdeutsche Orden to the Nazi regime was unspectacular and passive; it certainly could not compare to the activities of the socialists and communists. It does, however, testify to the differences between the ideology of the order and that of National Socialism--as do the order's activities before the Nazi seizure of power.
A short but significant episode in this phase was the participation of the order in the Deutsche Staatspartei. Ganyard shows how this move was largely motivated by instrumental considerations. Mahraun hoped that it would help to strengthen the order in the competition with other right-wing organizations, especially the NSDAP. He did not alter his negative views of party politics or abandon his demands to reorganize the German state. When his hopes did not materialize, Mahraun quickly abandoned the Deutsche Staatspartei. The move did, however, require a certain flexibility that was not shared by most of the radical Right. Unfortunately, Ganyard only briefly deals with the Deutsche Staatspartei, and its broader significance remains unexplored. The founding of this party sheds an interesting light on the dissolution of German liberalism and demonstrates the significant common ground between liberal and völkisch forces in Weimar Germany. Unfortunately, Ganyard does not try to draw any conclusions from this episode.
These last points reflect a basic problem with this study. Connecting the German ideology of the Weimar period to its prehistory in the nineteenth century is, indeed, necessary and instructive. Ganyard's interpretation of this prehistory, however, is often quite simplistic, which makes some aspects of his study problematic. While the book thoroughly analyzes the relationship between the Jungdeutsche Orden and other right-wing organizations and ideologies, its relationship to the liberal spectrum and its longer trajectory remains obscure. This silence is regrettable, as the order offers a unique possibility to study this relationship. Ganyard's presentation of the intellectual context from which the Jungdeutsche Orden emerged limits his ability to analyze the order's position from the outset, however. The description of the nineteenth-century currents that underlay its development is limited to two traditions that Ganyard describes shallowly and separates rather artificially: German idealism and "Germanic Criticism." The Germanic Critics, Ganyard argues, adopted distorted versions of some aspects of German idealism. In his view, National Socialism was the heir of Germanic Criticism, while Mahraun and the Jungdeutsche Orden stood in the tradition of German idealism, Germanic Criticism having had only "superficial" influence on their ideas. This view blends rather different ideologies into homogeneous lines of thought and, at the same time, creates dichotomies that did not exist in reality. Ganyard's oversimplifying account does not lead us to ask why radical nationalist ideology developed in the liberal bourgeois segment of the society. As a result, the Jungdeutsche Orden is presented as a curiosity with no genuine relationship to either the radical Right or liberalism. What makes the Jungdeutsche Orden so interesting, however, is the fact that it was actually intimately connected to both.
Despite these conceptual problems and the limits of explanatory power they impose on Ganyard's study, this book is an improvement in the scholarship on the Jungdeutsche Orden. Further studies will have to build on the insights it provides, so that we may understand more fully the peculiar role that the order played in both the history of Weimar political culture and of the German radical Right.
. Klaus Hornung, Der Jungdeutsche Orden (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1958).
. This is also the argument made in Jones's otherwise brilliant account of the history of the Deutsche Staatspartei; Larry E. Jones, German Liberalism and the Dissolution of the Weimar Party System, 1918-1933 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 391.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Stefan Vogt. Review of Ganyard, Clifton, Artur Mahraun and the Young German Order: An Alternative to National Socialism in Weimar Political Culture.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|