Martyn Bond. Hitler's Cosmopolitan Bastard. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2021. 464 pp. $45.95 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-228-00702-9; $45.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-228-00545-2.
Reviewed by Laura Almagor (University of Sheffield)
Published on H-Biography (January, 2023)
Commissioned by Daniel R. Meister (University of New Brunswick)
In June 1931, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi (1894–1972) delivered a speech at Chatham House on the invitation of his friend, the British Conservative politician Leo Amery. At one point in his speech the count stated: “Between the national period of humanity and the period, that will come one day, of the organization of the whole world as a single federation of states, we must pass through a continental period, a time when narrow national patriotism changes into patriotism for large parts of the world” (p. 156).
The speech was one of various attempts by Coudenhove-Kalergi—or RCK, as Martyn Bond refers to him in his recent biography—to interest an influential British audience in his vision for a federal Europe, which was to counteract both the forces of Soviet communism and the rise of fascism. RCK was acutely aware of Britain’s ambivalence regarding the Continent—indeed, Winston Churchill, supportive of RCK’s work, declared about his own country in early 1930: “We are with Europe but not of it” (p. 154). The “continental period” that RCK prescribed in his speech was therefore to be exactly that: a continental European political union, albeit ideally with strong British backing.
The aristocratic son of a Habsburg diplomat and a Japanese geisha, born in Tokyo but raised in a Bohemian castle, RCK was once aptly termed “the cosmopolitan incarnation of Europeanism” (p. 132). Like many others of his generation, he was deeply shaken by the First World War and its aftereffects and subsequently dedicated his life to what he believed would be the cure to all Europe’s ills: a political federation that would transcend the negative effects of ever-hardening nationalism. To that end, in 1923 RCK published his best-selling Pan-Europa, which would lay the intellectual foundation for a movement established the following year under the same name. Never an openly partisan organization, the Pan-Europa movement and its postwar successor, the European Parliamentary Union, managed to garner active support from celebrities such as Amery, Churchill, and French politician Aristide Briand. Personally, RCK underheld relationships of varying intensity with Czech president Edvard Beneš; Russian revolutionary leader Alexander Kerensky; the Austrian chancellors Ignaz Seipel, Engelbert Dollfuss, and Kurt Schuschnigg; the first West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer; Pope Pius XII; and, perhaps most significantly, French president Charles de Gaulle.
When Briand suggested the establishment of a European Federation to the League of Nations in 1929, it was RCK who had provided him with the idea and intellectual ammunition. Already in the early years of his decades-long activism on behalf of a federally united Europe, the count suggested the creation of a European flag, an anthem, a shared currency, and customs union. He published vigorously and partly successfully on his proposed project and organized various well-attended conferences. All these efforts led to his first (of several) nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1932 (p. 157). After the Second World War, Churchill explicitly credited RCK in his 1946 Zurich speech in which the statesman solemnly declared that “we must build a kind of United States of Europe” (pp. 250-251).
Churchill and especially his son-in-law, Duncan Sandys, however, increasingly sidelined RCK with their own movements for European cooperation and integration. But it was the French politician Jean Monnet who eventually stole the limelight by facilitating the 1950 Schuman Plan and taking credit for what was the practical foundation of the EU in the shape of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Such a pragmatic economic approach to European integration was far too limited for RCK, who had by that point already for decades labored for a much more encompassing ideological-political union, serving as the basis for a Europe that could function as an “arbiter between the Soviet and the Anglo-Saxon camps” (p. 234). As such, after 1950, RCK continued his activities on behalf of his European ideals and supported De Gaulle’s ill-fated Fouchet Plan in 1962. However, the Schuman Declaration and its legacies ended up paving the way for European integration, and RCK’s pioneering role, if not exactly forgotten, was certainly downplayed in the historical record.
Martyn Bond’s rather hefty biography goes a long way in offering a corrective to RCK’s relative obscurity. Steeped in deep analysis of the count’s extensive publication record, as well as in thorough research of his archival paper trail, the book reveals not only the man but also the early intellectual history of European integration. There is no doubt that RCK’s life warrants such a biography and that his travails make for a fascinating read, here written in lively prose: for instance, the section describing RCK and his wife’s escape from the Gestapo reads like a detective novel. However, in other parts of the book the thick descriptions of the many travels of RCK and his wife, Ida “Idel” Roland, the locations and furnishings of the various offices of the Pan-Europa movement (e.g., p. 303), or the reflections on RCK’s dress style (p. 305) become perhaps a little tedious. It might indeed be fascinating to learn that one of the characters in the influential Hollywood movie Casablanca (1942) was likely modeled on RCK, but do we really need to know about Idel’s attempts to smuggle a Siamese kitten abroad (p. 268)?
As for Idel, one of the great accomplishments of Hitler’s Cosmopolitan Bastard is that it brings to center stage the woman behind the man. In fact, an image arises of an independent and successful woman who was much more than that: the practical and financial motor behind Pan-Europa and its successor organization. Ideologically, the well-known Austrian-Jewish actress was an equal partner to RCK in their shared European endeavors. Even though Roland died almost two decades before Coudenhove-Kalergi, one cannot help but feel that this biography focuses on two subjects, with one unacknowledged in the book’s rather sensational title.
Hitler, in a long-unpublished third volume of Mein Kampf, indeed referred to RCK as that “cosmopolitan bastard.” However, the two men were in the same building only once, without even meeting face-to-face (p. 165). Hence the book’s title does not do justice to the wide scope of Bond’s study. In addition to offering a detailed account of RCK’s own fascinating background and ideas, Bond convincingly demonstrates what RCK’s engagement with various prominent politicians and other public figures tells us about the shifting European geopolitical zeitgeist. The count’s story offers an excellent prism through which to better understand not only the basic ideas behind the European project but also the changing position of Europe in the world from 1918 onward. One of the later chapters of the book deals with RCK’s close relationship with De Gaulle and sheds interesting light on the French president’s wavering engagement with a potentially transnational European future. The general could never accept less than great-power decision-making rights for France, and RCK unequivocally supported De Gaulle’s ambitions at the expense of smaller states’ interests. Equally fascinating is the chapter dedicated to the lukewarm connection between RCK and Jean Monnet, who viewed RCK’s idealism with suspicion. Monnet and not Coudenhove-Kalergi became the household name in the early history of European integration, even though the latter had been the project’s main proponent for much longer. Perhaps this is why Monnet never publicly paid tribute to RCK’s legacy and made no mention of the count in his memoirs.
Despite the impressive breadth and depth of Bond’s biography, it is precisely its preoccupation with the colorful details of RCK’s life and work that prevents it from clearly articulating some of its major scholarly interventions. The view that RCK offers on the history of the European idea offsets the widely accepted popular understanding of European integration as a response to the experiences of the Second World War. In this dominant narrative, the various stations on the way to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty are directly connected to the history of human rights, humanitarianism, and international organizations, emerging as a direct outgrowth of the European experience of Nazi genocide within the framework of the Cold War. A focus on RCK puts forward an alternative interpretation that frames European integration as an intellectual project connected to the multinational experience of the older Habsburg imperial context. Even during his own lifetime, the cosmopolitan RCK became a relic of a bygone era, both in terms of his own biography and the political and intellectual worlds in which he was shaped. In this sense, the striking absence of any reference to Dina Gusejnova’s important work on RCK as part of a European imperial elite is a significant shortcoming of Bond’s work.. This omission fits the wider tendency in the book to keep engagement with existing scholarship to a minimum. Admittedly, Bond lists the existing German-language biographies of RCK’s in a “further reading” section toward the end (p. 417), but these do not seem to have significantly informed his own analysis.
Another—related—missed opportunity is the lack of a deeper engagement with RCK’s puzzling stance vis-à-vis race relations, especially in the context of empire and decolonization. His support for Benito Mussolini—whom he long considered the most preferred leader of a new Europe—and for the Italian fascist dictator’s Abyssinian adventures in the 1930s is mentioned, as are the count’s disturbing comments to De Gaulle in 1962 on the importance of preserving whiteness in the newly decolonized world (p. 329). These moments and connections are presented as anomalous curiosities, products of a certain fetish with strong leaders. However, RCK may have had much more complex ideas about race, a complexity that was not unique to him but indicative of the geopolitical balancing act that “off-white” individuals like himself were constantly engaged with. Another example of this phenomenon is RCK’s much less-known support for the Jewish Territorialist movement’s settlement projects on colonial lands, which he legitimized in purely racial terms. The fact that members of the so-called Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization advertised RCK’s backing of their movement, using his own racial justification, might indicate that these racial and even outright racist sentiments were more widely utilized by nontraditionally white political minority groups.
Finally, Brexit looms large in Hitler’s Cosmopolitan Bastard. Bond, a former British journalist and European civil servant, evidently has more than merely an academic ambition to introduce an English-speaking audience to the partially forgotten Coudenhove-Kalergi. A certain lachrymosity appears between the lines of the piecemeal reconstruction of the long history of British ambivalence regarding European integration. These sections of the book contain a heightened relevance, strengthened by the author’s background, and they add a sense of authenticity and urgency to the analysis. This then might be one of the more important contributions of this monumental biography of a fascinatingly exotic and quixotic European: perhaps Brexit was in the cards already before the ink on the Versailles Treaty had dried—a conclusion as revelatory as it is disheartening.
. Most notably Dina Gusejnova, European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-1957 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
. For a brief account of this connection, see Laura Almagor, Beyond Zion: The Jewish Territorialist Movement (Liverpool/Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2022), 220.
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