restricted access 89 Dangerous Undertones of the New Nativism
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89 Dangerous Undertones of the New Nativism DANIEL KANSTROOM The Decline of the West In the late summer of 1918, with the final defeat of the German empire only a few months away, the first volume of The Decline of the West appeared in Germany and Austria. Written by a then unknown German historian named Oswald Spengler, the book soon became a sensation with a profound impact on intellectual debate and German politics for the following two decades. Though.originally conceived as a political critique of the folly and criminal and suicidal optimism of pre-First World War German foreign policy , the work grew substantially beyond that modest goal. According to Spengler, the book was begun with an assessment of both the imminence and the inevitability of the First World War, which he saw as an inevitable manifestation of the historical crisis. The basic character of The Decline of the West, as one leading critic has put it, is that of a "somber, murky vision of the doom of our civilization."1 At least as interesting as Spengler's historical work is the way that work was understood by non-specialists. As one observer noted, "Never had a thick philosophical work had such a success-and in all reading circles, learned and uneducated, serious and snobbish."2 Copies of the book were Widely disseminated, including one which made its way to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who described it as "a stimulating humbug of a book."3 The year 1919 has been called the "Spengler year" in the Gerrhanspeaking world, also witnessing the formation of a small, radical, and obscure political party called the German Workers' Party, which evolved into the German Nazi Party. Spengler was clearly not a Nazi. Indeed, he expressed a fairly consistent revulsion for many of the central tenets of Adolf Hitler's political philosophy. And yet it is more than Spengler's nationality that has caused some historians to consider him at least an inadvertent philosophical brush-clearer for the Third Reich. Part of the difficulty was that Spengler appreciated much of the message of Nazi doctrine, while expressing discomfort with certain attributes of the messengers. He had specifically opposed the National Socialists as early as 1924. His opposition, however, seems to have been as much tactical and pragmatic as principled. He found Hitler's followers to be rough and immature. Yet he had specifically lauded the Fascists of Italy for their emphasis on "results" rather than "programs and parades."4 This is an abridged version of an essay that appears in IMMIGRANTS OUT! THE NEW NATIVISM AND THE ANTIIMMIGRANT IMPULSE IN THE UNITED STATES, edited by Juan Perea. Copyright © 1996. Reprinted by permission of New York University Press. Copyrighted Material Dangerous Undertones of the New Nativism 539 Although decidedly not a racist in the biological, Hitlerian sense, Spengler was hardly a consistent anti-racist either. He had criticized the idea of a Volk ["people." Ed.] in The Decline , adopting instead a Nietzschean conception of race that was beyond blood ot genetics . Race, on this view, was more akin to what others might call character. It was linked more to geography and common history than to biology. It was not manifested in bodily characteristics but in intangible essences. Thus, in The Decline, Spengler viewed the socalled "Jewish question" mostly as a cultural clash, in sharp contrast to Hitler's views of Semitic versus"Aryan" blood. Spengler's racial theories, however, were not entirely consistent over time. In Man and Technics, a small book published in 1931, for example, Spengler asserted that "the group of nations of Nordic blood" was losing control of the world. Among the reasons he gave for this was that the"colored races" had been given access to technology which, Spengler believed, they would soon turn against Nordic peoples. Despite his reservations, Spengler served as an important precursor to the Nazi regime. Hitler himself adopted much of the apocalyptic tone of The Decline of the West, while adding a racist component: "On [Aryans] depends the existence of this whole culture. If they perish , the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them."s Citizenship and Deportation under National Socialism By the time of its ascendance to state power on January 20, 1933, the German Nationalist Socialist Party had a fairly well-developed theory of immigration and citizenship . In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote that the ideal, race-based "national State" should divide its inhabitants into three classes: "State citizens, State...