The neo-conservative movement in the Weimar Republic was an elitist political enterprise that sought to restore Germany to her original spiritual and worldly standing as leader of the mediaeval Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Constituted of such intellectuals as Oswald Spengler, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Edgar Julius Jung, the neo-conservatives aimed at destroying the foreign socio-political ethos of the Liberal Weimar Republic which had been forced on Germany by her foes. Most of the neo-conservatives were members of the elitist clubs of the time, the Juniklub, founded by Moeller van den Bruck, and its successor, the Herrenklub, and were thus opposed to all populist liberal democratic systems.
Of the neo-conservatives, perhaps the most influential theorist and political activist was undoubtedly the Munich lawyer, Edgar Julius Jung. Jung was not only a political thinker and propagandist but also an active politician in the Weimar Republic, having begun his political career simultaneously with his legal practice soon after the first World War. Jung was born in 1894 in the Bavarian Palatinate and served as a volunteer in the war. After the war, he joined a Free Corps unit and participated in the liberation of Munich from the Bavarian Soviet Republic in the spring of 1919. Before the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr (1923-25), Jung had completed his doctorate in law and began practice in ZweibrÃ¼cken. His political activities during this time included organizing terrorist resistance activities against the Ruhr occupation and serving on the directory of the Deutsche Volkspartei.
After the Ruhr crisis, Jung established himself as an attorney in Munich where he lived until his death. Jung acquired renown through his several political writings in the Deutsche Rundschau, and his major political treatise, Die Herrschaft der Minderwertigen(second edition, 1929, 30), which, according to Jean Neuhrohr, was considered as a sort of “bible of neo-conservatism”.
In January 1930, Jung joined the Volkskonservative Vereinigung, a right-wing party formed initially by twelve Reichstag deputies who had seceded from the Deutschnationale Volkspartei led by Alfred Hugenberg. Jung’s attitude to the rising National Socialist party of Hitler was lukewarm, in spite of his admiration of the “positive energies” of the movement. The “nation” was being raised by Hitler as an idol to hypnotise the unenlightened masses, whereas a true Conservative movement would have sought to elevate the masses by invoking the sanctification of its leadership by a strongly established Church. In other words, the National Socialists were not sufficiently free of the individualism which clings to every person so long as he does not derive his inspiration from the supra-sensual, meta-physical and religious sphere. The right-wing parties however were too divided to form a solid alternative to the Nationalist forces, especially after a second secession from the DNV created another splinter party, the Konservative Volkspartei. Jung’s attempt to impose his own brand of `revolutionary’ conservatism on the VKV met with little success, and when the DNV and the KVP joined forces in December 1930 the leadership of the new coalition was handed not to Jung but to Paul Lejeune-Jung. In the January of the following year, Jung and a few Bavarian conservatives formed the `Volkskonservative Bewegung zu deutscher Bewegung‘ as a “political home for all those who, untouched by the slogans and magic formulas of partisan political life, were prepared to look at contemporary political problems from the sole perspective of the historical mission of the German people”.
However, Jung’s refusal to co-operate with the more moderate Conservatives like Heinrich BrÃ¼ning and G.R. Treviranus, in order to promote his own brand of revolutionary conservatism, did not help his movement, which had lost virtually all political force by the Spring of 1931.
Jung’s lack of enthusiasm for the BrÃ¼ning chancellorship was explained by him in a draft of a letter to BrÃ¼ning appended to a letter to Pechel dated 14 August 1931:
“Only when the government is well on its way to returning to the concept of authority and to freeing itself from the sterility of German parliamentarianism can these forces be placed in the service of the nation as a whole. In reorganizing the cabinet the goal should be the complete abandonment of its party basis. Not the approval of parties, but professional and practical competence should determine the selection of those whom you, respected chancellor, will need to help you in the mastery of these difficult tasks.”
When Hitler and the National Socialist party gained massive victories in the state and regional elections of 24 April, 1932, Jung actually welcomed the legal accession of the Nazis to power. For, although Jung was still apprehensive of the extremist tendencies of the Nazis, he hoped that this legal process would obviate a forced seizure which would be a greater political “debacle”. Besides, the tide of Nazi enthusiasm in the country was unstoppable and the Conservative alliance merely looked on helplessly as the NSDAP won a resounding victory in the Reichstag election of November 1932. Jung was naturally surprised when Hitler shrewdly joined forces with the conservative Papen to form a coalition government in January 1933. Jung always maintained a superior attitude to Hitler’s populism, and believed that, since the Conservatives were “responsible that this man came to power; now we have to get rid of him”. So, when Franz von Papen was appointed vice chancellor after BrÃ¼ning, in 1933, Jung wrote to Papen offering his services as a speech writer and intellectual adviser. On the advice of his close associate, Hans Haumann, Papen invited Jung to join his government in an advisory and organisational capacity. Jung’s intention in serving the Papen administration was “to surround [Papen] with a wall of conservatives” who would provide the vice-chancellor with the required moral fortification against Hitler’s rapid rise to power. Hoping to restrain the extremism of Hitler with his Conservative ideology, Jung served as speech writer for Papen when Papen, Hugenberg and Franz Seldte of the Stalhelm joined to form the conservative Kampfront Schwarz-Weiss-Rot. His speeches were all designed to impress the new coalition of right-wing forces with a Conservative stamp rather than an extremist Nazi one. Jung defended the Papen government against the Nazis’ accusations of reactionarism by stressing the revolutionary nature of the new Right and highlighting the spiritual and ideological defects of Hitler and his party.
While Papen endeavoured to combat the Nazi movement from a Conservative standpoint, Jung wrote a critique of the Nazi phenomenon in his Sinndeutung der deutschen Revolution(1933), which reiterated his accusations of Liberalism and democratism, while stressing that, “the aim of the national revolution must be the depoliticization of the masses and their exclusion from the leadership of the state”.
Jung called for a new state based on religion and a universalist world- view. Not the masses but a new nobility, or a self-conscious elite, should inform the new government, and Christianity must be the moral force behind the state. Society itself must be organized hierarchically and beyond the confines of nationalism even though it should be based on “an indestructible vÃ¶lkisch foundation from which the vÃ¶lkisch struggle can form”. The reference to going beyond the limits of Nationalism was of course prompted by his desire to reinstitute a federalistic pan-European Reich. Jung’s Conservatism was also distinguished by its call for the creation of an elective monarchy and the appointment of an imperial regent as the focus of the new Germanic European Reich. But both the project of the Reich and the emphasis on vÃ¶lkischfoundations were carried out more dramatically, if rashly, by Hitler than any Conservative leaders could do.
Jung’s opposition to Hitler took a more concerted form in early 1934 when he undertook extensive travels throughout Germany to develop a network of Conservative supporters who would assist in overthrowing the Hitler regime. Papen himself was unaware of Jung’s efforts in this direction and Jung’s chief assistance came from Herbert von Bose, GÃ¼nther von Tschirschky, and Ketteler. Jung even contemplated personally assassinating Hitler, though fears that this drastic action might disqualify him from assuming a leading role in the new leadership after the Nazi dictatorship caused him to adopt the academic alternative of writing another speech for Papen which the latter delivered at the University of Marburg on 17 June, 1934. The repeated attacks on the illegitimacy of the Hitler regime and the practical political failures of this regime in this speech forced Hitler, under counsel from GÃ¶ring, Himmler and his assistant Heydrich, to get rid of the menace posed by Jung. Thus, along with RÃ¶hm and the SA officers who had become rebellious, Jung too lost his life in the “Night of the long knives”, on 30 June, 1934.
In retrospect, we may consider Jung’s political career as an ambivalent one. Motivated on the one hand by his genuine philosophical vision of a neo-Mediaeval German Reich that would destroy the deleterious parliamentary system of the Liberals, Jung’s opposition to Hitler and refusal to compromise with his fellow conservatives of the Right were, clearly, partly prompted by personal ambition and perhaps even envy of the successes of Hitler’s schemes. Indeed, the Conservative project proposed by Jung differed from Hitler’s extremist one only in degree and not in kind. The community that Jung wished to turn the German people into was actually brought together in a major way by Hitler’s moulding of the Nazi movement as a gigantic mass-movement. Of course, this populism lacked the spiritual substance that Jung had stipulated for the community, but the Nazis could at least argue that it was they who laid the vÃ¶lkisch foundations necessary for a uniform spiritual culture. Besides, the dramatic foreign political moves made by Hitler after the death of Jung actually resembled the cultural imperialism propounded by Jung in almost every detail. As Joachim Petzold rightly observes, “In Wirklichkeit war die Nazibewegung nur eine Spielart des Fascismus, rangen auch in Deutschland verschiedene faschistische StrÃ¶mungen um die FÃ¼hrung, kritisierte Jung die Nazipartei durchaus von faschistischen Positionen aus“.
[The remainder of this essay, including a detailed analysis of Jung’s views, is available in the print version of of The Scorpion. For more from The Scorpion, see the main page.]