Skip to main content

Jacobin - November 19, 2021

Nazi supernaturalism appealed to a similar demographic to those who enjoy watching shows about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or lost relics or Himmler’s undead soldiers on the History Channel nowadays.

Interview -
OB: I suppose that after the lost war in 1918 and the Great Depression these supernatural ideas must have spread throughout the German population. Can we say what sort of people tended to support these ideas?

EK: History, sociology, and political science has shown us that while the Nazis did appeal to substantial numbers of Germans from all demographics, Catholics and workers tended not to vote for Nazis in high numbers. Conversely, Protestants of lower-middle class or rural sociological background voted disproportionately for Hitler’s party. What you find, looking at the way that the supernatural imaginary functions, is that it doesn’t appear as prominent in the urban socialist and worker milieu.

It’s not that the German working classes were immune to supernatural ideas — whether the occult, border science, or alternative religion. Certainly, some members of the working class read their horoscopes or believed in aspects of the paranormal. But for various reasons, the working classes were generally more insulated from the political consequences of such ideas due to the powerfully leftist, indeed often overtly Marxist, character of the urban, proletarian milieu.

Beyond the strength of this proletarian culture, the workers’ own socioeconomic interest, and their typical party affiliation with the Social-Democrats or Communists, we have Marxist theory’s intellectual emphasis on materialist explanations of sociopolitical reality. For these reasons, it was very difficult for non-Marxist parties and non-materialist ideologies to make inroads among the German working classes, especially among skilled workers in urban areas, who proved remarkably resilient to conservative, clerical, and to a lesser extent fascist politics throughout the interwar period.

Indeed, even among constituencies with a greater proclivity for non-materialist, faith-based thinking, such as rural and small-town Catholics, the strength of the Catholic social and religious milieu — reinforced by decades of Protestant persecution — insulated devout Catholics from alternative forms of supernatural thinking as well as radical-nationalist, disproportionately Protestant parties such as the German Nationalist People’s Party and the Nazis.

These ideas seem to have been most popular among middle-class Germans who perhaps weren’t devout Catholics or Protestants anymore, but who may have still been interested in alternative religious, quasi-Christian/quasi-pagan esoteric, and other supernatural ideas. These esoteric tendencies also seem to be noticeably gendered in Germany, especially where politics is concerned — which appears to be another difference between the way these doctrines spread and the “supernatural imaginary” functioned in France, Great Britain, the United States, for example, in comparison to Germany and Austria.

In the former countries it seems that women were nearly as likely to participate in these movements as men, certainly as followers, but also sometimes as leaders. In Germany and Austria, propagating esotericism, border science, and folkish paganism seemed to be an almost exclusively masculine enterprise.

You see that also in the Nazi movement, which was also very masculine. It’s mainly white males who were not particularly educated in terms of scientific training, but had some university education. White-collar workers, small businessmen, engineers, these are the kind of people that found these ideas most interesting. A similar demographic to those who enjoy watching shows about “Ancient Aliens” or lost relics or Himmler’s undead soldiers on the History Channel nowadays. It’s the people who have some kind of education, some background in history, but are open to pseudoscientific and faith-based arguments. ...
Read full interview at Jacobin