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Thursday, 15 April 2021

Blavatsky Book Review: Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, part 2

Not all neo-pagans are extreme right wingers
In my piece on The Morning of the Magicians in June 2018, I wrote: ‘’As covered fairly extensively in our May 2018 posts, due probably to the current socio-political realities (i.e. the rise of right-wing nationalistic politics with xenophobic agendas due to refugee problems), there has been a recent upswing in interest in the relation of politics and the occult, including the influence of the theosophical movement on Nazism.’’ 
At the time, I noted the above-average media coverage of the Kurlander book and was consternated by the widespread uncritical acceptance, with a solitary exception. Fortunately there has been more critical responses since then, as more reviews from academic journals have come out. Below is a selection that has many perceptive and knowledgeable observations of great interest, in response to a work that can be said to have a perspective of an anti-esoteric modern materialist rationalism in the vein of The Greeks and the Irrational (1951) by E. R. Dodds, (empirical logic=rational=good vs. supernatural=irrational=bad).

Hitler’s Monsters? A Look at German “Scientific Occultism” and Fascism
Andreas Sommer March 4, 2019

I can only suppose Eric Kurlander’s work on his book Hitler’s Monster’s. A Supernatural History of the Third Reich (Yale University Press, 2017) has been motivated by similar feelings of anxiety  and helplessness. At least this might explain (though by no means excuse) this unhelpful historical scapegoating exercise. Because impartial, rigorously researched historical scholarship the book is not. Yale University Press advertises Hitler’s Monsters as the “definitive history of the supernatural in Nazi Germany”, but the most detailed review of the book, by a historian of religion and politics at Heidelberg University, begs to differ (Strube, 2017).

Anti-Fascist Holism and Jewish Parapsychology: Another Look at Hitler’s Monsters
Andreas Sommer October 13, 2019 

Interestingly, Kurlander himself states that “Given occultism’s broad impact on Weimar culture, including a number of left-wing and Jewish artists, it would be inaccurate to suggest that occultism was inherently racist or fascist” (Kurlander, 2017, p. 76). Yet, as we have already seen, his book as a whole tells a rather different story: It lumps together all sorts of sometimes competing ‘esoteric’ ideas and Eastern philosophies in his shorthand of ‘occultism’ as a pastime of anti-Semites and other villains, only to contrast it with an equally absurd depiction of ‘mainstream science’ as an aggregate of self-evident anti-fascism.

This alternative spirituality group is peaceful
Scholarship as Simulacrum: The Case of Hitler's Monsters

Eva Kingsepp  Ariès - Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, 2019

Instead, after a brief accountof the book’s narrative content, regarded as part of contemporary occulture, the rest of this article discusses its form as part of scientific discourse, with focus on the author’s treatment of his referenced sources being misinterpreted and/or distorted in order to support the narrative.

Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich 
Lisa Pine January 11, 2018

Hitler’s Monsters leaves open the question of how to integrate the supernatural into the mainstream of scholarship on Nazi Germany, where it continues to play a secondary role. While demonstrating the ubiquity of supernatural thinking at the highest levels of the regime, Kurlander recognizes that occultism constitutes only one of multiple factors necessary to explain Nazi atrocities. “The Third Reich’s crimes took on monumental dimensions because the Nazis drew both on border scientific theories peculiar to the Austro-German supernatural imaginary as well asa broader European mix of eugenics, racism, and colonialism” (232).

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