The Long View: Dreamer of the Day

Francis Parker YockeyI am astonished that men like Francis Parker Yockey actually exist. Yockey is a reminder that truth is always stranger than fiction. The closest literary analogue that I have read is Tim Power's Declare. Of course, that is a secret history, based on the very real life of Kim Philby. You can't make this stuff up.

For example, Yockey supported himself as a gigolo. I suppose in way he was the dark shadow of James Bond. Yockey really was an international man of mystery. He was certainly a spy, and traveled all over the world in the pursuit of secret goals. Unlike Bond, he was also a man of letters. He had a law degree from Notre Dame and wrote a book that is more cited than read. In the end, Yockey was unmade by a very prosaic method: the airline lost his luggage containing all his fake passports.

Yockey was primarily of interest to John because he was a posthumous prophet of the one twentieth century ideology that never ran a state: Tradition. Tradition is thankfully rather obscure. I had never heard of it until I started reading John's website. You should be glad you've never heard of it, because that means it has not been successful.

It would be easy to paint Yockey as a tool of fascists, but in truth he was a fellow traveler with the communists as well. The movement with which he was associated also influenced the Third World. There are interesting connections between Yockey and his ilk and the modern Islamists that plague the Middle East. He was after something quite different than most of the Nazis, which is why he is so interesting.

John finishes up this review with an aside about Spengler that is most illuminating. John felt that Yockey mis-interpreted Spengler's ideas, but that very mis-interpretation demonstrated a clear flaw in Spengler himself. Toynbee probably understood the nature of universal states better than Spengler, but you had to read a lot more to get there.

Dreamer of the Day:
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
By Kevin Coogan
Autonomedia, 1999
644 Pages, $16.95
ISBN: 1-57027-039-2

 

Francis Parker Yockey was born in Chicago in 1917 and committed suicide in 1960, when the FBI finally caught him. He dedicated his life to reversing the outcome of the Second World War, a project he believed could be accomplished by 2050. From an early age, he identified anti-Americanism with antisemitism and supported both. He opposed early steps toward economic globalization and gave covert assistance to Muslim enemies of the West. He speculated hopefully that an enemy to whom it would be impossible to surrender would eventually attack Americas' cities. He worked to create a pan-European superstate, indeed a Eurasian superstate including Russia, that would displace America's global influence. He expected that the world would someday be ruled by elites for whom hermeticism had replaced Christianity. On the whole, he probably would have been pleased by the state of the world today.

One should not exaggerate the degree to which the recent prominence of Yockey's constellation of enthusiasms is due to his influence. His great ideological tome, "Imperium," has had some currency in fascist and occult circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, though extremists from American Satanists to Russian revanchists may sometimes invoke his name today, they generally do so without much knowledge of his ideas. A few references to Yockey himself turned up in the popular press in the 1950s, as a mystery man somehow linked to both Soviet espionage and the world's neofascist network, but Yockey never even rose to the level of infamy. He remained a denizen of the fringe of the fringe. This does not make Kevin Coogan's treatment of Yockey's life and times any less valuable. Yockey's life intersected with 20th century forces and ideas that were often obscure. That is not to say they were not also powerful, and may be more so in the 21st century.

"Dreamer of the Day" wanders amiably back and forth between high theory and very informed rumor mongering. We get useful pocket summaries of the ideas of some of the chief ideologues of the "Conservative Revolution" of the first half of the 20th century, a "movement" that ranged from Martin Heidegger to Ezra Pound. The book continues through the tangle of small organizations and petty conspiracies that maintained this tradition in the second half of the century, after it was eclipsed by the overthrow of openly fascist governments. You have to read the book to appreciate the full sweep of history between the Thule Society of Munich and the Ancient and Noble Order of the Blue Lamoo of Leonia, New Jersey. The book also treats of matters such as Yockey's posthumous effect on Satanism, as well as the sexual ideologies that percolated among Right and Left in the postwar era. Coogan usually manages to relate all this fascinating material to Yockey, but the connections are often tenuous. This is not the author's fault. Even after exhaustive research, we still know little more about Yockey's life than a disturbing outline.

Yockey's family was of the professional classes, though in somewhat straitened circumstances after the coming of the Depression. His people were German, Irish and French Canadian. Coogan does dangle the rumor of a Jewish grandfather, just for the sake of completeness. In any case, the family was Catholic. Yockey himself later drifted into the theosophical Nietzscheanism that characterized his underground milieu.

He was a small man, about five feet, seven inches. There is one picture of him, on the book's cover. Readers may be reminded of Rod Serling, the somewhat funeral creator and master-of-ceremonies of the original "Twilight Zone" television series. All sources agree that Yockey was highly intelligent. He was a concert-level pianist, though he could only rarely be persuaded to play. All sources also agree that he had a difficult personality. Nonetheless, he was able to support his political interests in part as a gigolo and occasional bigamist. He seems to have appealed to slightly older women who liked to talk about Hitler and to be whipped.

Francis Parker Yockey was involved with organizations of the radical right in the 1930s. This included such groups as William Dudley Perry's Silver Shirts and the various incarnations of the German American Bund. Such connections, however, did not exclude other links, with Stalinists and Trotskyites. His Chicago-area home was a time and place when the semi-fascist followers of Father Coughlin might make common cause with the most radical Progressives. This common front against capitalism was, for radicals like Yockey, also part of the struggle against the Jews.

Yockey for most purposes was a "National Bolshevik," a tendency that in the German Nazi Party was represented by the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor. As the term implies, National Bolsheviks supported radical socialism, but for the preservation of the "Volk," the ethnic and cultural unit of the People, rather than for the proletariat. They also supported a policy of alliance with Russia against the West. "Strasserism," as this tendency was also called, was disfavored: after the Nazis came to power, Gregor was assassinated and Otto escaped to Latin America. Still, it continued to appeal to some leading Nazis, notably Joseph Goebbels. He actually took the opportunity to implement some of the Strasserist program right at the end of the regime, in the WerwolfMovement

Rather like the young Goebbels, Yockey pursued an academic career at so many universities that it is hard to settle on a final count. We know that he finished a law degree at Notre Dame and that he qualified to practice. The most important part of his undergraduate career was probably his stint at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. That was, perhaps, the only place in America where he could have been introduced to the ideas of two leading lights of the Conservative Revolution, Karl Haushofer the proponent of geopolitics and Carl Schmitt the jurist.

Haushofer is best known for the propositions that the key to world dominion is the control of Central Asia and that, as the Strasserists said, the proper role for Germany was as the western wing of a great Eurasian power. Furthermore, he argued that Germany was essentially a "have-not" nation. Its proper allies were not in the liberal West, but among the anti-colonial resistance movements of what would later be called the Third World. In Europe, he hoped, Germany would eventually be the center of a hegemonic system that was not quite an empire, but no longer a system of truly sovereign states.

Schmitt is a famous "anticonstitutionalist," whose ideas are somewhat reminiscent of the pragmatic Legal Realists in America during the 1930s. In his view, the real law was what happened at the "Ernstfall," the point of decision where one party succeeds and another fails. He is best known, perhaps, for his definition of "the sovereign" as the entity that can designate who is an enemy.

Between them, Haushofer and Schmitt disposed of the notion of the rule of law both domestically and internationally. There were no principled norms, but simply the exercise of power, which could be more or less predictable. One may note that the Jesuits of Georgetown studied the theories of these two men chiefly in order to refute them; in those days, the Jesuits were less susceptible to intellectual fashions.

By far the greatest intellectual influence on Yockey, however, was Oswald Spengler. Yockey spent his adult life believing that he was implementing the ideas about the future implied by "The Decline of the West." Yockey was also heavily influenced by "The Hour of Decision," a tract Spengler published at the beginning of the Nazi regime. As we will see, Yockey's interpretation of Spengler was somewhat idiosyncratic.

During World War II, Yockey secured an Army commission. Soon afterward, he briefly deserted. Coogan notes that Yockey had many connections with the German sympathizers who probably aided the famous infiltration of German saboteurs into the United States, and that this happened at just the time that Yockey was missing. Coogan makes a plausible case that Yockey was part of a German-American espionage network that lead to the German Embassy in Mexico City. Plausibility is not proof, however. All we know is that Yockey returned to duty after some weeks. He persuaded the Army that he was suffering from a mental breakdown; he received a medical discharge with little trouble.

Through some appalling oversight in the vetting process for federal employees, Yockey landed a job after the war as an attorney with the war crimes tribunal in Germany charged with prosecuting lesser Nazis. He seems never to have actually function in that position; he was eventually discharged for abandoning his post. He would later do the same thing with a job with the American Red Cross, using it to finance another trip to Europe and then simply deserting. Yockey used these opportunities to make contacts with the growing pan-European fascist network.

In a way, the loss of the war liberated international fascism. As we have noted, it was only when the Nazi regime no longer had much of a country to govern that Goebbels was able to give effect to his revolutionary impulses. The same thing happened in Italy. After the Allied invasion in 1943, the Germans rescued Benito Mussolini. He briefly ruled the "Social Republic" of Salò, a rump state in the north of Italy that finally carried out the radical fascist ambition of nationalizing most of the economy. Fascism after 1945 was entirely free of the responsibility for government, and so could pursue the most radical agenda.

It is really as an ideologue that Yockey's chief significance lies. In 1948, working at Brittas Bay on the Irish coast, Yockey produced his masterpiece, Imperium. The book tried to update "The Decline of the West," but in many ways it stood Spengler on his bald head. Spengler, who died in 1936, had not wanted a war with Russia, but neither was he a Strasserist. He feared that Russia and the "Colored World" would make alliance against the West, in collusion with the radical Left of the Western nations. Spengler believed that the West was headed into a period like the Roman Empire, and that the elites of the West needed to cultivate Nietzschean virtues in order to make the transition. Yockey, in contrast, spoke of the need to create what in effect would be a new race to govern the coming Imperium. This notion, as Coogan points out, has more in common with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's prophecy of the coming Sixth Root Race than with Spengler's concept of "race" as the lineages of cultivated families.

The biggest difference is that anti-Semitism as a major historical force is wholly absent from Spengler's philosophy. For Yockey, modern history was about little more than the cultural distortion caused by the Jews. So great was their effect on the United States in particular, Yockey counseled, that the temporary domination of Europe by the healthy barbarians of Russia was the best short-term goal.

The original two-volume edition of Imperium ran to just 200 copies. There would have been more, but Yockey aliened the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had once expressed an interest in promoting the work. Still, it was not without early admirers. The military historian, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote a favorable review. The hermetic Italian ideologue, Julius Evola, also praised it, though he observed that Yockey had misread Spengler. Yockey's book was more a rumor than a source for the fascist revival in the 1950s. It was not until after Yockey's death, when the radical-right publisher Willis Carto brought out a paperback edition of Imperium that the book began to reach a sizeable readership. Still, Imperiumdoes provide some guide to what important fascists were thinking in those days.

Acting in large part under the inspiration of Evola, postwar fascists cultivated ideas that had existed for decades, but that had become muted during the time of fascism in power. Evola was the chief inspiration for a Swiss-based umbrella-organization called the New European Order, or NEO. The group cultivated his favorite themes. These included government by a Platonic, "solar" hierarchy, the notion of sacred kingship, and myths of Aryan origin in the hyperborean north and in Atlantis. On a more practical level, these people were no longer constrained by Hitler's foreign policy. They could deal with the Soviets to oppose Western interests; they could and did deal with the CIA to give radical-right organizations some breathing room, particularly in Italy. (Carl Gustav Jung, also widely considered a Conservative Revolutionary, was CIA chief Allen Dulles's family psychiatrist.)

They were also able to do business with the Third World. A number of exiled Nazis moved through the Muslim capitals, organizing anti-Zionist propaganda. Notable among them was the Strasserist exile, Johann von Leers, who was an important figure in Nasser's Egypt. The network did not neglect Latin America, where the Red and the Brown made common cause on the question of anti-Americanism. Indeed, Coogan makes a good argument that the original post-revolutionary model for Fidel Castro was the Social Republic of Salò.

Amidst all this devilry, Yockey was a jobbing imp. He may well have acted as a courier for Czech intelligence. He may have spent a substantial blank space during the 1950s behind the Iron Curtain. He did work with Leers in Egypt. He even tried to sell the Egyptian government some bogus Argentine nuclear technology. Back in the United States, he worked briefly as a speechwriter for Senator Joseph McCarthy. He lived in New York City for some time, consorting with a strange section of New York's political bohemia. At least one host among his acquaintances kept a frame with a picture of Hitler on one side and of Stalin on the other, the better to accommodate the tastes of his guests. He attended the salon of the right-wing poet, George Sylvester Viereck, who had worked with Aleister Crowley when Crowley was a propagandist for Germany during the First World War. In that set, Yockey may also have met the sexologist, Alfred Kinsey. We know Yockey spent time in New Orleans, writing propaganda for use in Latin America. Coogan takes care to squelch the rumors of a link between Yockey and Lee Harvey Oswald, whose history was not altogether dissimilar.

As Yockey moved across borders, he acquired a bewildering number of identities. The American authorities realized early in the 1950s that whatever this man was doing, it probably was not good. In 1952 they stopped renewing his passport and the FBI started looking for him. His accumulation of false passports was his downfall. Some of his luggage went astray when he flew into San Francisco; his embarrassment of documents came to light in a lost-and-found center in Texas.

The FBI confronted him in Oakland, California, originally planning to arrest him for failure to register under the Selective Service Act. Yockey had in fact registered and served in the military, but the false identity he was using had no such record. The FBI was spared the embarrassment of using this perfunctory device when Yockey tried to run away, injuring an agent in the process.

Yockey was detained while participating in a series of ever less satisfactory immigration hearings. More of his identities surfaced. The list lengthened of things the FBI wanted to talk to him about. In some way that has never been explained, he obtained potassium cyanide. Like the Nazi leadership he so admired, he died by self-administered poison on June 17, 1960.

For me, "The Dreamer of the Day" clarified the Conservative Revolution as a form of existentialism. It began by valuing the clarity afforded by those situations where existence is at stake; it ended with the determination to wager the world's existence. Schmitt's "Ernstfall," Hitler's death-or-glory foreign policy, Evola's faith in lethal violence as the means to individuation, all of this is part of the same cultural moment as Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. For existentialists of all political persuasions, we can experience reality only at the limit, on the edge of the abyss.

This is a terribly distorting way to think. Now that I can recognize the pattern, I see that it is the chief flaw in Spengler's philososphy of history. I would still argue that his insight about a common morphology of cultural evolution is basically correct. The problem was that his existentialism caused him to read history, and particularly Classical history, through a Nietzschean lens. Spengler came to confuse realism with desperation, political skill with ruthlessness. He extolled the improvident genius of Caesar and belittled Augustus's respect for tradition, though in fact Augustus was arguably the most successful statesman who ever lived. Spengler's taste for politics on the edge made him dismiss constitutional forms and the principles of legitimacy as mere "literature."

This, perhaps, is why Spengler paid relatively little attention to the Roman Empire itself, or to any of the final societies that Toynbee later called "Universal States." Spengler's existentialism required him to view those late civilizations as essentially historyless. For Spengler, the Roman Empire was a paradise of will, where unfettered supermen did as they would. In reality, the history of the Universal States displays a morphology as clear as that of any period in a Culture's life. Except in their final decay, they are marked by piety and convention rather than by the antics of supermen. Artist politicians, the high-stakes gamblers, are creatures of modernity. It is a mistake to project them into the future.

The distortions of twentieth-century existentialism are not confined to political history. Those exhortations we have been hearing all these years to turn our attention to marginal people and liminal situations begin to look like a lethal misdirection. This is the nonsense that anarchism, fascism, and every avant-garde for 150 years have had in common. Let us beware of living on the edge. Francis Parker Yockey could still reach up to drag us over it.

 

 


 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

 


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The Long View: Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clarivoyant

This is exactly the kind of story everyone loves. Nazis. Magic. Glimpses of an alternative future that might have been. But there are hints of something more. A secret Jew who was prominent in Nazi Germany. A stage magician and entertainer who seemed to make uncannily accurate predictions, at least some of the time. An finally, the character behind all of these things was first murdered, and then surreptitiously dropped from history. Makes you go "hmm..."

Erik Jan Hanussen:
Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant
By Mel Gordon
Feral House, 2001
273 Pages, $24.95
ISBN: 0-922915-68-7

 

The subject of this biography is scarcely obscure. He was a major figure in the European magic-show circuit in the 1920s, and the subject of sensational accounts in the American pulp magazines of the 1930s. Tales of his mysterious relationship to Hitler, capped by his brutal assassination in March of 1933, reached a more respectable audience as war approached. Articles about him appeared in the better magazines, and he figured in several novels. A contract was actually signed to do a major Hollywood biopic about him. Then silence about Erik Jan Hanussen descended quite suddenly, in September of 1942. There were no more major treatments in print, and the plans for a movie were shelved. Much later, interest in Hanussen revived in Europe. Some minor films were even made about him. Nonetheless, he dropped out of the popular memory of the English-speaking world.

This biography may help to end that anomaly. The author is Mel Gordon, a professor of theater at the University of California at Berkeley. He has written on the culture of the Weimar period before, in "Voluptuous Panic." Readers who have fond memories of Otto Friedrich's "Before the Deluge" are in for too much fun.

"Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant" is sprinkled with small, apt photos and graphics from the Weimar era, as well as from the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Hanussen was born and raised. There are also short articles by Hanussen and his contemporaries, in translation, about stage-show magic and psychic phenomena. Most of all, though, there is the improbable tale of Hanussen himself, the secret Jew whose life is a cautionary tale about what happens to boys who run away to join the circus.

The subject of all this mystification was born Herschmann-Chaim Steinschneider on June 2, 1889, less than two months after Hitler and not so far away, in the cell of a police precinct in Vienna. (Why there? It's a long story.) His parents were marginal theater-people. Herschmann (usually "Hermann" or, later, "Harry") left home at an early age, to seek his own career in small-town theaters and circuses. The term for such a person is "Jenischmann," the Middle European equivalent of "carney."

Harry's talents extended beyond the carnival. As a young man, he worked in Vienna as a songwriter and tabloid journalist; the latter activity seems to have involved some polite extortion of prominent people who did not want their private lives exposed. Still, he was essentially an entertainer, a function he continued to perform in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War.

It was because of the more upscale audiences that he encountered during the war that he adopted the stage-name "Erik Jan Hanussen." He took that identity with varying levels of seriousness, sometimes billing himself as "Hanussen-Steinschneider." On the other hand, there was a time when he claimed to be a Danish aristocrat. Usually he was content to be thought of as an ordinary Dane, though he spoke no Danish. He managed to diddle his Nazi admirers for a while with the story that he was a Danish orphan who had been raised by Bohemian Jews. In any case, the Hanussen name is how history knows him.

Even before the war, Hanussen had begun to specialize in mind reading, hypnotism and fortune telling. He was good at these things, in the several ways of it. One of the merits of this book is the explanations it gives, some of them provided by Hanussen himself, about how mind-reading acts work. This involved such things as information discretely gathered from the audience before the performance, or verbal and body-language codes used between the psychic and his aides. Some of the art is no more than the skilful playing of the game of "20 Questions." However, especially when the psychic was using an audience member to lead him to a hidden object, it also involved "muscle reading." This is essentially a hands-on form of the anxiety-detection that polygraphs do. Supposedly, it can be done without physical contact, simply by closely observing the subject. The effect would look like telepathy. If the technique works as described, it would be rather like the wiles of the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's "Dune."

On the other hand, though Hanussen was, for the most part, clearly just a stage magician doing stage-magician tricks, there were times when he himself thought there was more to it. There are gray areas in the work of a magician that require intuition, and at these he was unusually convincing. He described strangers and their history with an accuracy that was hard to account for. He was also good with the future, at least if you look at his prophecies selectively. His accurate predictions of public things, like the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the timing of World War II, might have been no more than keen political insight. On the other hand, there is a great treasury of anecdotes about correct forecasts of events in the lives of private persons, from auto accidents to murders, that he should not have been able to foresee and that he, probably, could not have caused himself.

Hanussen's career was not confined to the stage. Among his other pursuits, he had a lively and well-publicized practice as a "psychic detective." He seems to have been no worse than the police at finding lost people and things, even those that he had not stolen himself. In one famous case, he nabbed the culprit at the Austrian central bank who had been stealing freshly printed money. This secured him the public gratitude of respectable officials, who ever after attested to his uncanny gifts. Hanussen, in fact, managed to collect a long list of testimonials from businessmen, politicians and psychologists. The last group tested his psychic abilities repeatedly. Their conclusions were often along the lines of yes, he does cheat, but maybe not all the time.

All of this stood him in good stead during his prolonged trial in the Czechoslovakian town of Leitmeritz, were local officials charged him with fraud in such a way that they would have had to disprove the reality of psychic phenomena in order to win a conviction. Hanussen gained so much credit from his acquittal in what was called "the last witchcraft trial in Europe" that one wonders just why the prosecutor chose to pursue the case.

Other adventures include his work as a film producer, usually with himself playing Dr. Caligari-like roles. One long diversion, however, was a stint as an impresario. In that capacity, he was the long-time nemesis of the Zionist strongman, Sigmund Breitbart. Determined to show that anyone could do the feats of strength and invulnerability that Breitbart displayed on stage, Hanussen designed and promoted a Strong Woman act. The performer, "Marta Fara," bit through chains, lay down on a bed of nails and survived being run over by a wagon. The act played well in Europe, and even in America, though unscrupulous Yankees fleeced Hanussen there. The problem was that the premise of the act was wrong; "Marta Fara" suffered broken ribs and lost teeth. Three women played the role at various times, all departing to nurse their injuries and accuse Hanussen of tyranny and abuse.

Though he had had some experience of Berlin as young performer, it was only in the late Weimar period that Hanussen made the city the focus of his work. He appeared on stage, he did psychic consulting, he mixed with the wealthy and gullible. From about 1930, he became a fixture of Berlin life. Hanussen ran a considerable publishing business, specializing in newspapers and magazines that dealt with scandals and astrology. These were not partisan publications. Hanussen himself seems to have had no politics. However, in 1932, he began predicting that Hitler would soon become chancellor and that a rightwing dictatorship would ensue.

The amount of contact that Hanussen had with Hitler is a matter of dispute, as is the timing of any meetings they may have had. Hanussen, typically, bragged about his Nazi contacts; he almost certainly exaggerated them. Gordon cautiously says that we can be fairly sure that Hanussen and Hitler met more than once in 1932. This would be quite enough to make Hanussen an interesting figure, but I should point out that other accounts are willing to credit a very strong connection. According to John Toland in his biography, "Adolf Hitler," Hitler and Hanussen first met as early as 1926, at the home of a wealthy socialite:

 

"…Hanussen's first words were: 'If you are serious about entering politics, Herr Hitler, why don't you learn how to speak?' A master of body language, Hanussen explained that Hitler was not taking advantage of movement to emphasize his words. In the next few years, so Müllern-Schönhausen claimed, they continued to meet briefly and Hanussen not only taught him the tricks of elocution but also advised him on the selection of his associates."

As with so much about Hanussen, that's a good story that would be even better if we knew it were true. There are better stories yet, however. Consider this poem, which Toland says that Hanussen presented to Hitler on New Year's day, 1933, and which he assures us was "publicized and ridiculed":

The way to the goal is still blocked,
The right helpers have not yet gathered,
But in three days—from three countries,
Through the bank everything will change!
And then on the day before the end of the month,
You stand at your goal and a turning point!
No eagle could carry you on your path,
The termites had to gnaw your way!
To the ground falls what was rotten and withered.
It already creaks in the beams!

This poem correctly forecasts Hitler's accession to the chancellorship on January 30. The phrase "through the bank" is a literal translation of "Durch die Bank," but the phrase also means "completely, across the board." In any case, Hitler had already received an invitation for negotiations at the home of a prominent banker about the possibility of forming a government. It is not at all unlikely that Hanussen knew that. The interesting thing is that the Hitler chancellorship was not a done deal until late January. As Henry Ashby Turner emphasizes in Hitler's Thirty Days to Power, there was no sentiment in the German establishment for a Nazi government. Even on the Right, the consensus was that the influence of the Nazis had already peaked. However, at the beginning of 1933, there was a particularly intractable cabinet crisis. All the serious candidates cancelled each other out. Hitler was chosen by President Hindenburg's advisor, Franz von Papen, as part of a petty scheme that was supposed to bring Papen himself to power. (Actually back to power: Papen had led a brief and unsuccessful government in 1932.) All of this was purely hypothetical at the beginning of 1933, however, so Hanussen surely deserves credit for foresight, if not necessarily clairvoyance.

This brings us to an incident that could not have been foreseen by ordinary political analysis. On the evening of February 26, the day before the Reichstag Fire, Hanussen held a memorable séance at his Palace of the Occult. Gordon gives this account:

 

"Hanussen asked her what she saw. Maria closed her eyes. She saw red. The master Clairvoyant wanted to know more. Could the red be flames? Maria straightened up. Yes, the red shapes could be flames. Flames from a great house…The Dane filled in the girl's prophetic image. 'There are fires. I see a Great House is being consumed by flames."

Noting that Hanussen's papers had for months been forecasting "the destruction" of the Reichstag in connection with parliamentary elections, Gordon waxes incredulous. While not dismissing the possibility that Hanussen may have really foreseen the fire, he prefers two other possibilities: either Hanussen had learned from his Nazi contacts that arson was planned, or he set the fire himself. We are told that there was some evidence linking Hanussen to the fire, but it has been destroyed. At least one of those who might have been in the know committed murder-suicide in public. This happened under a chandelier, as Hanussen had predicted many years before. That was a conspiracy with style.

The Reichstag Fire was certainly convenient for the new Nazi government. It permitted the declaration of a state of emergency from which the country never really emerged until 1945. Still, Gordon ought to have pointed out that most historians today are persuaded that the fire really was set by a single arsonist, the young Dutchman and former Communist, Maurinus van der Lubbe. The story that the Nazis set the fire themselves was the Communist Party line all over the world; it was being promulgated before the details of the incident were known.

Taking note of old accounts of Lubbe's distracted demeanor at trial, Gordon plays with the hypothesis that Lubbe may have been suffering from post-hypnotic suggestion. Maybe Hanussen, in collaboration with the Nazis, had hypnotized the young man, either to set the fire, or to take the blame for it. Again, that's a good story. It's probably too good a story, even for Hanussen-Steinschneider.

Hanussen's assassination was "over determined," as historians say of an event that has so many sufficient causes that it is hard to pick just one. He had no lack of professional and personal enemies. He eventually made peace with Breitbart, but Berlin was also full of jealous husbands. In later years, he had acquired political enemies on the Left. At first they disliked him because they believed that magic was reactionary; his later association with the Nazis outraged them. They were chief among the ill wishers who made sure that information about Hanussen's Jewish background found its way into Nazi dossiers. Hanussen's lethal error, however, seems to have been lending money to senior members of the SA.

Here is the version of Hanussen's end that Gordon tells. A squad of SA picked up Hanussen from his apartment on the evening of March 24. They demanded all documentation related to the debts owed by important Nazis. Then he was taken away, interrogated for several hours, and released. Returning home, he made panicked calls to friends and family. He was arrested again early the next morning.

Hanussen's body was found two weeks later, beaten and shot and partially eaten by vermin. His enterprises quickly evaporated, including the astrology sheets. Indeed, the next year the government banned fortune telling and most aspects of the commercial occult. It is reasonably certain that the Nazis did this, not because they did not take such things seriously, but because they took them very seriously indeed. The horoscope for Hitler that had appeared in Hanussen's publications was banned; later astrologers during the Nazi era fudged the hour of birth in order to suggest a less catastrophic end.

Then, of course, there is the wizard's final prophecy. Gordon supplies the text of a note that Hanussen is supposed to have written on that final evening, to an alienated show-business partner. It appeared in the May 1942 issue of "Redbook Magazine":

"Let's be friends again at the end…I always thought that business about the Jews was just an election trick of theirs. It wasn't. Read carefully what my colleague Daniel has to say on the subject, in Chapters 11 and 12. Count the days, but only after they have destroyed a hundred temples in a single day—that's the time to start counting. The first date you get will mark the fall of the man who wants to become ruler of the world by brute force. And the second date will mark the day on which will occur the triumphal entry of the victors. This is my farewell to you."

The passage he was probably thinking of has been the hope of the persecuted for over 2000 years:

"From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is the man who has patience and perseverance until one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days."

Daniel 12: 11, 12.

The date that leaps to mind from the letter is November 9, 1938, known to history as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Since the date of publication of the letter is fairly late, 1942, it may well be that Hanussen did not write it, and that the real author was thinking of Kristallnacht, too. In 1942, that meant a comforting prophecy of a fairly short war. On the other hand, maybe Hanussen did write the letter, and, not altogether unreasonably, applied to Hitler the familiar prophecy of the downfall of the Man of Sin. Readers may entertain themselves by working out their own interpretation. Hanussen's shade can still keep people guessing, even after all these years.


Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View: The Man in the High Castle

Phil Dick was a friend of Tim Powers. Thus this book review is really favorite authors squared. John Reilly reviewed a seminal novel by a man who influenced one of my favorite fiction writers. I think I first read this review before Powers became one of my favorite writers, but I remembered it when that time came.

Tim Powers writes secret histories, which are a little different than alternative histories. Yet I think you can see Dick's influence in Three Days to Never. Powers often muses on the way things might have been. This is a theme that has often occupied John Reilly as well. They both take seriously the idea that our choices have consequences, even though the world around us seems to move in discernable patterns. We are neither wholly free nor wholly constrained, but seem to fall somewhere inbetween.

The Man in the High Castle
By Philip K. Dick
Quality Paperback Book Club 2001
Originally Published 1962
See Amazon link below
for ISBN and possible prices.

Was Philip Dick (1928-1982) a prophet who was tortured to death by searing insights into the posthuman condition, or was he just an amphetamine-addled hack who died of paranoia as his prose was about to decay into 100% psychotic drivel? Dick was actually a fairly successful science-fiction writer, but most of us know him from films loosely based on his work. He received enormous, though posthumous, critical attention, probably too much for his reputation's long-term good. This novel is where his extraordinary reputation starts.

There are alternative-history stories much older than "The Man in the High Castle," even one or two novels, but this book established alternative history as a genre. The premise, which has since been done to death, is that the Axis won the Second World War. It is not at all clear how this happened. We know that Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in his first term as president of the United States, which had some effect on American preparedness. The US entered the war after a completely successful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, which lasted until 1947, New York and San Francisco were badly damaged. In the aftermath, the United States east of the Rockies became a German satellite, while the Pacific states constituted a federation that was part of the Japanese Co-Prosperity sphere. Only the strip of Rocky Mountain states was left independent, no doubt as a buffer zone.

The book has two chief plot lines. One involves an attempt by German dissidents to contact the Japanese military. This serves to demonstrate the nightmare state of the world, in which the worse villains prove to be the less dangerous. The other leads to a trip to see the author of a best-selling alternative-history novel, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy," which describes a world in which the Axis lost the Second World War. (That author is, of course, "the man in the high castle," though by the time we meet him he is living in a sensible stucco ranch house.) That plot line shows the way out of the nightmare.

Ingenious devices link these threads. There is a shop of Americana items: all are supposedly of historical interest, but many are of doubtful authenticity. There are vivid characters and many original ideas. There are also flashes of anomalous mentation, such as this:

 

"She said, speaking slowly and painstakingly, 'Hair creates bear who removes spots in nakedness.'"

Restrictions on the possession of some drugs are sound public policy.

The alternative history is, frankly, a little perfunctory. At no point does the historical context go beyond the knowledge of the average history buff. The story takes place at the time of a change of administration in Germany, when Chancellor Bormann dies and is replaced, after a time of uncertainty, by Chancellor Göbbels. The characters spend a fair amount of time speculating about which of the leading Nazis will finally take control. The candidates are the same crew we know from the actual Nazi regime of the war era. (The exceptions are that Himmler was assassinated long ago, but Heydrich is still alive.).

Some details are merely arbitrary. It is hard to see how the German rocket program could have progressed to the colonization of Mars by 1962. And why was television still just a prospect, except for a few hours a day in the Berlin area? I suppose it is possible that Bob Hope might have been a comedian in an Axis world, broadcasting by radio from oddly unmolested Canada. However, is it really likely that he would make jokes about Göring wanting to revive Christianity, so as to vary his lions' diet?

These improbabilities are not defects, however. I would go so a far as to say that anyone looking for historical verisimilitude in this book is missing the point. This is not an alternative-history novel, but an anti-history novel. The book suggests that any history is fundamentally unreal. This is not to say that all history is illusion, or that there is nothing to choose between one historical scenario and another, but that there is a truth that is true even if events contradict it.

In terms of background detail, the great merit of the book is cultural rather than historical. Most of the action takes place in and around San Francisco, in the Japanese-dominated Pacific States of America. Dick was knowledgeable about Japanese culture. In the 1980s, this increased the attraction of his work, since informed opinion back then claimed that the Japanese were going to take over the world economically. "The Man in the High Castle" is set in the sort of world that Japanophobes used to warn against, where white Americans are second-class citizens in a Japanese economic colony. The novel in no way supports that sentiment, however. The Japanese in this history are the defenders of humanity and civilization against the Nazis.

Having said such hard words against Dick's counter-historical imagination, now let me praise him for his "ideology fiction." Consider this assessment of Nazism triumphant:

 

"Their view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Güte, but not good men, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast, black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life…It is all temporary…They want to aid nature…They identify with God's power, and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate-confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man."

Fans of Jung will recognize the notion that the National Socialist movement was in some ways an instance of mass possession by an archetype. These lines also allude to Heidegger's idea that the Nazi phenomenon was an opportunity to return to authentic Being. Even the anti-individualism smacks of Rosenberg's preoccupation with the folk soul. Considered literally, all these ideas should be taken with a grain of salt. Taken all together, though, they are a prose poem of dark metaphysics.

The author's other metaphysical interests are soon apparent. Everyone in the book, except the Nazis, consults the "I Ching," "The Book of Changes," at every turn, and every time the oracle has something apt to say. The most sympathetic character, a quixotic Japanese trade official named Mr. Tagomi, explains that both the "I Ching" and the "Bible" are alive, along with certain other books. I am intrigued by this notion; certainly the canon of the "Bible" seems to have had certain powers of, well, self-assembly. In any case, in this book, the "I Ching" reveals the order behind the chaos.

How does one normally consult the oracle? With a question in mind, the user throws coins or yarrow sticks to select one of the 64 hexagrams of the "I Ching." Each hexagram represents a typical situation; the one you pick represents the current condition. Simple rules of transformation then indicate another hexagram, which represents what the situation will become. (There are exceptions; the current situation may be blocked.)

It is possible to use the "I Ching" as just another fortune-telling device. However, I gather that sophisticated users do not need to throw coins or sticks. The hexagrams are categories of possibility. Adepts can see well enough for themselves which one represents the present, as well as the hexagram of the future that is implied in the present. Sometimes the characters in "The Man in the High Castle" do just that: they don't need to consult the book. At other times, they ask the oracle to help them make the decisions that determine the plot. This is exactly how "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" was written, as the writer explains to a concerned fan. By Dick's own account, he did something very like this in writing "The Man in the High Castle," too. Sometimes it shows.

We are also told that "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" is a biblical allusion. Having consulted all the grasshoppers in the Bible, I suggest this may be the passage Dick was thinking of. Most versions have "grasshopper" for "locust" below, but I find this old Confraternity translation otherwise clearer:

 

"[The evil days of old age come] and one fears heights, and perils in the street; when the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is destroyed, because man goes to his lasting home; and mourners go about the streets…" Ecclesiastes 12:5

Using a meta-narrative device of the sort that would become a menace to sanity during the reign of postmodernism, the alternative history novel, "The Man in the High Castle," gives a synopsis of the historical scenario in the fictional alternative-history novel, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy." Aside from the fact the Axis loses, the world of "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" does not greatly resemble our own. Franklin Roosevelt, though happily unassassinated, serves just two terms. The British win the Battle of Stalingrad and extend the British Empire to the Volga. There is apparently even an Anglo-American war. This is just the kind of scenario one would create by deciding among possible storylines by flipping a coin at every decisive event.

The message of this book is not very different from that of Ursula LeGuin's, "The Lathe of Heaven." Using the device of dreams that shape reality, that story suggests that history comes back into balance when events threaten to destroy the world; not just the future changes, but the past changes as well. Similarly, the author of "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" says he wrote it to show that the Germans and the Japanese did not win the war, even though history says they did. This leaves us to speculate whether the history we know, or that we think we know, might similarly be untrue, even if it is factual.

There are earlier examples of this kind of skepticism. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre was so annoyed at the prospect that nuclear annihilation might derail Marxist eschatology that he once famously remarked, "The hydrogen bomb does not exist." Amphetamines are also available in France.


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Burning Tower Book Review

by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
$7.99; 655 pages

I reviewed Burning Tower along with Burning City a year ago. I recently re-read them both, so this seemed like a good time to expand upon my rather cursory review of Burning Tower.

Burning Tower picks up a year after Burning City concludes, Yangin-Atep is myth, the Greenroad is open, and no one knows how Tep's Town will survive exposure to the outside world. The focus of the book is on the budding romance between Sandry, the finest young Lord of his generation, and Burning Tower, the youngest of Whandall Feathersnake's children. Whereas in Whandall's story, we saw an entire lifetime in one book, Burning Tower slows down time so that we can see Sandry and Tower begin to love one another, and overcome the obstacles that could keep them apart.

Sandry and Tower come from different worlds. Sandry is Lord Sandry, representative of the legalistic and militaristic Lords of Lordshills. We get to see much more of the Lords' society in Burning Tower, see what they do and why they do it. Tower's mother and father represent the other two factions of Tep's Town, the kinless and the Lordkin, but Tower is more a child of the Hemp Road.

Dynastic politics is both bane and boon to Sandry and Tower. Normally, Lords marry within their own kind, but Whandall's escape from Tep's Town and subsequent success as a merchant prince has both elevated his status and set in motion a chain of events that threaten to undermine the power of the Lords, and the stability of Tep's Town. The possibility of marrying into a trading empire allows Sandry the opportunity to follow his heart, and it leads him from Tep's Town, across the Mohave, up the Mogollon Rim, and past Meteor Crater to Aztlan.

As a secret history, Niven and Pournelle based this book upon existing art, legend, and archeology, with their own special twists. I greatly enjoyed their version of the foundation myth of the Aztecs. There is a little bit of fun metahistory, some unusual tidbits thrown in for color, and perhaps just a bit of snark towards bureaucracy. A really, really, fun book. Anyone who likes Niven and Pournelle will like this one, and fans of secret histories should as well.

My other book reviews

Hide Me Among the Graves

by Tim Powers
528 pages; $25.99

I was absolutely thrilled to receive a review copy of the newest book by one of my favorite authors. I probably squealed with glee! I have been a fan of Tim Powers' ever since I picked up a copy of Dinner at Deviant's Palace about 6 years ago at my local library. I have liked just about everything Tim Powers has ever written, which puts him ahead of Neil Gaiman, and closely tied with Jerry Pournelle. So far, the only work of Tim Powers that I haven't liked much was The Stress of Her Regard, the kind of prequel to Hide Me Among the Graves.

In interviews, Powers has said he didn't set out to create a sequel, he was simply fascinated by some strange events in the lives of the Rosettis, and when he did his usual digging into the subject, he found a surprising degree of overlap between the Rosettis and Lord Byron, John Keats, and other people who were the subject of the earlier book. Thus, it was only natural to write a book that continues the same secret history of the Nephilim.

It wasn't until I read Hide Me Among the Graves that I fully appreciated why I didn't like The Stress of Her Regard. Byron and Keats and the other characters spend nearly the entire book in thrall to the Nephilim. This fits, because the Nephilim are vastly more powerful than humans, and their patronage bestows enviable powers, yet I could never really wrap my mind around the unwillingness, or inability, of the poets to fully repudiate their vampiric masters. Intellectually, I can understand their plight, but emotionally I simply cannot connect with these men.

However, this made for a great setup in Hide Me Among the Graves, because the conflict between fighting the monsters, and literally embracing them was played out between, and in, each of the protagonists. This gave me something to cheer for, and something to hope against. For all that, I'm still not a vampire fan, or much of a fan of vampire stories. I like vanquishing vampires, but that exhausts my interest in the topic. Thus I enjoyed the book, but I won't be returning to it like I return to Last Call.

My other book reviews