The Pagan-Fascist Controversy
I think I have found the answer to the similarities as well as the profound dissimilarities between the interwar German interest in Paganism and nature and that of the 60s and all that has followed. If I am right it is very interesting, but not in the way our critics think. What follows compresses elements of English, German, and French cultural history over about a century into a few paragraphs. It paints with a broad brush. But I think it paints broadly accurately, although I look forward to any constructive (or critical but on topic) comments any of my readers might wish to provide.
America and Europe: Different but similar
When modern industrialism began to arise, a great many penetrating observers in Europe and America alike saw and wrote about its shadow side. But they saw and wrote about it from within very different contexts.
Americans wrote from within a culture profoundly shaped by the ideals of the American Revolution and the liberal sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, sentiments that had let most of the original states to abolish slavery peacefully and for some even to give women the vote. America's loyalists had fled to Canada or to England, and most never returned. For a few decades, the South also remained within this liberal zone before the growing profitability of slavery led its leaders to reject the liberal principles of the Declaration. And so our critics of industrial modernity, men like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and the homegrown critics of mass wage labor, such as Henry George, all wrote from within a liberal framework. The first flowering of an alternative spirituality under conditions of religious liberty and the growing spiritual leadership of women also occurred during this time, as Sarah Pike explains in her book New Age and Pagan Religions.
Europeans with similar sensibilities towards spirit and the world lived in a very different world. They confronted a liberalism that for the most part no longer spoke the language of human rights. After the French Revolution, for various reasons good and bad, European liberals had narrowed their appeal to the bourgeoisie and the new industrialists. Much of Europe remained rural, conservative, religious, and wedded to the old aristocracy even as the new working class eventually allied with various socialist movements. The socialists generally shared the nature-is-nothing-but-resources outlook of the industrialists.
European conservatives were disproportionately hospitable to the romantic critiques of the new industrial mentality. Of these men and women, some were traditionally Christian, and often Catholic. Others had accepted the Enlightenment critique of the ancien regime, but believed that order and hierarchy were necessary to prevent chaos. Here is where the later fateful seeds that distinguished European conservatism from fascists and Nazis were planted. While one saw itself as traditional and the other as revolutionary, both hated liberalism and extolled hierarchy and authority.
It was within these broad anti-liberal groups that the romantic critiques of the new industrial and liberal orders rising in Europe were most avidly accepted. While the conservatives employed conservative Christian frameworks, those who were no longer Christian often blamed Christianity for the evils of the modern world, especially its egalitarianism. Many of them cultivated an interest in Pagan traditions as an alternative. (Here I would disagree with the European secular right and give far more credit to classical civilization than to Christian, but that's another argument.)
Gus diZerega is a Gardnerian Elder with over 25 years practice, including six years close study with a Brazilian shaman. He has been active in interfaith work off and on for most of those 25 years as well. He has conducted workshops and given presentations on healing, shamanism, ecology and politics at Pagan gatherings in the United States and Canada. Follow Gus on Facebook.
Gus blogs at Pointedly Pagan.