Between occultism and fascism : anthroposophy and the politics of race and nation in Germany and Italy, 1900-1945 / by Peter Staudenmaier.
The relationship between Nazism and occultism has long been an object of popular speculation and scholarly controversy. This dissertation examines the interaction between occult groups and the Nazi regime as well as the Italian Fascist state, with central attention to the role of racial and ethnic theories in shaping these developments. The centerpiece of the dissertation is a case study of the anthroposophist movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, an esoteric tendency which gave rise to widely influential alternative cultural institutions including Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture, and holistic methods of health care and nutrition. A careful exploration of the tensions and affinities between anthroposophists and fascists reveals a complex and differentiated portrait of modern occult tendencies and their treatment by Nazi and Fascist officials.Two initial chapters analyze the emergence of anthroposophy’s racial doctrines, its self-conception as an ‘unpolitical’ spiritual movement, and its relations with the völkisch milieu and with Lebensreform movements. Four central chapters concern the fate of anthroposophy in Nazi Germany, with a detailed reconstruction of specific anthroposophical institutions and their interactions with various Nazi agencies. Two final chapters provide a comparative portrait of the Italian anthroposophical movement during the Fascist era, with particular concentration on the role of anthroposophists in influencing and administering Fascist racial policy.Based on a wide range of archival sources, the dissertation offers an empirically founded account of the neglected history of modern occult movements while shedding new light on the operations of the Nazi and Fascist regimes. The analysis focuses on the interplay of ideology and practice, the concrete ways in which contending worldviews attempted to establish institutional footholds within the organizational disarray of the Third Reich and the Fascist state, and shows that disagreements over racial ideology were embedded in power struggles between competing factions within the Nazi hierarchy and the Fascist apparatus. It delineates the ways in which early twentieth century efforts toward spiritual renewal, holism, cultural regeneration and redemption converged with deeply regressive political realities. Engaging critically with previous accounts, the dissertation raises challenging questions about the political implications of alternative spiritual currents and counter-cultural tendencies.
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