The Godwin Temptation is real, and not everything pertains to Nazis.
When it comes to the latest iteration of Christian Nationalism, however, the Nazi comparison applies. Why? Not because of the Kinist tendencies of the people floating around the movement. Not even because of the historical connection reference by reviews, “The world between the great wars was a petri dish incubating versions of “blood and soil” by the dozen.”
No, the simplest reason why the current Christian Nationalism movement, inasmuch as it is represented by Stephen Wolfe’s The Case For Christian Nationalism, is actually a Nazi-Adjacent-Thing, is because the political philosophy and theology expressed in it is actually that of the Nazis. Like, one: one ratio, cannot-be-missed, the very same deal kind of thing. That is to say, erudite and seemingly-godly men wrote very long and important and well-researched books leading up to the Nazi takeover and then used their theology and philosophy to undergird Nazism, and Wolfe’s book would’ve gone up there with them.
A few anticipated objections:
1. You are overstating the case! A: Read on.
2. But I am not a Nazi! A: I did not say you are a Nazi. I am saying you wrote/published/have taken seriously a work of Nazi theology.
3. But this was all self-generated! A: Well you self-generated a work of Nazi theology. I would be surprised at that given Wolfe’s PhD in Political Science and his specific contention, “I do not appeal to historical examples of nationalism, nor do I waste time repudiating ‘fascist nationalism’” (26). I mean, certainly a PhD in Political Sciencefrom LSU would know about the German Evangelical Church and Ludwig Muller, as well has his theological antecedents in neo-Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology via Emanuel Hirsch, but who knows?
I digress. On to the Nazis. Well, one in particular.
I. Introducing Emanuel Hirsch
Described by one reviewer as a “very impressive writer” who was the “transition from the dialectical theology to the theology of the German Christians,” Emanuel Hirsch was a professor at Göttingen University and a leading theologian of unrivaled thoroughness for his day. He was “more intellectually facile, more historically and philosophically minded, more familiar with the full range of intellectual developments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more aware of the intellectual crisis of the twentieth century, and more rooted in the existentialism that marked the best theologians of his generation” than his contemporaries. He tried to thoroughly answer the question “in the light of the crisis of reason in this century, can the Western, Christian heritage be expected to lead and intelligent person to an acceptable political stance?”
“Emanuel Hirsch was one of the most brilliant persons in the field of theology of his or any other generation. During the twenty-seven years between the end of the second world war and his death, blind and in poor health, he published a massive, five-volume history of modern Protestant theology, translations of Kierkegaard from the Danish with historical commentary, eleven novels and collections of stories, and eight theological books. In addition to his brilliance, he was a rigorously moral person, and the question of social ethics was a cardinal feature of his work.”
His works are lengthy, extremely well researched, detailed, and of incredible worth for people studying the development of Protestant thought. He compiled a source-text reader of Protestant writers for students to read in German. He mastered Luther’s theology and encouraged a German revival in Lutheranism. But, as for his works: they are also almost totally unavailable in English and mostly out of print everywhere. Why?
“He not only hailed the assumption of power by the Nazis in 1933, he also continued to believe in Hitler’s mission for Germany throughout the years of the Third Reich and afterwards — so far as we know, as long as he lived.”
Hitler and Nazism were not accidental to Hirsch: they were the absolute highest good of his political theology, and his political theology was the highest good of his theological study. Hirsch described himself as a political theologian above all, and his entire life project was dedicated to the benefit and growth of the German Christian nation and the establishment of the idea of the German Volk.
“Hirsch experienced the disintegration and collapse of Imperial Germany as an unmitigated disaster for his German Volk. He had witnessed and shared the sacrifices of the home front, and he believed in the German cause to the end. When Germany surrendered, Hirsch was devastated, certainly because of the bitter pill of defeat but especially because of what happened afterward — the institutions of the Weimar Republic and the dominance of the Allied Powers, particularly England.
“The Weimar Republic was a parliamentary democracy, and Hirsch thought that this form of government, with its parties and principle of majority rule, would intensify the disunity of the people by emphasizing factionalism. He did not see how it could evoke a common mind, and he was certain it would feed the self-destructive tendencies of individuals and groups toward narrow self-interest. On the other hand, the victorious powers, he thought, were motivated by self-righteousness and acrimonious rancor. With respect to the values he treasured most, he viewed the situation of Germany as all but hopeless.”
Hirsch’s writings in the 1920’s were influential, especially among the young men following him, in forming the basis of a national socialist state and a Volk built around the Fuhrer who would build the fatherland for which Hirsch longed. He was a patron member of the Schutzstafel (SS) “protection squad” — the inner core of the Nazi regime and the group most responsible for the Nazi reign of control and terror within the country. He signed on to the “Vow of allegiance of the Professors of the German Universities and Colleges to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialistic State” ending the idea of academic freedom.
We know the history, of course, of what followed, of soil tilled by bombs and blood and the ash from concentration camps. Hirsch left his post right after the war to avoid de-Nazification. He remained influential amongst former students and led student groups in his home until his health failed.
II. Christian Nationalism
The term is, of course, under much debate. Nevertheless, interest in the idea is clearly on the rise:
Some of that interest is sociologists trying to give language to a nexus of populist beliefs that are on the rise on the right side of the American political spectrum: the idea that there should be prayer in school, anti-abortionism, a view that companies and universities have “gone woke,” a belief that the government should use more muscular means to end whatever folks perceive wokeism is doing in schools or universities, etc. Some have stabbed at more precise definitions.
Stephen Wolfe’s book on Christian Nationalism is a blessing in this way only: it provides a clear and distinctive vision for Christian Nationalism with very clear intended outcomes. That is to say, anyone wrestling with the idea of Christian Nationalism now has to either say “not like Wolfe” or “yes, Wolfe exactly,” which I hope will be enormously clarifying as I draw some threads together.
Doug Wilson of Moscow, Idaho fame, whose press, Canon, published this tome, pushed the book, and even said “If you want to attack Christian Nationalism from now on, and do so seriously, you’re going to have to contend with Stephen Wolfe’s book.”
So, inasmuch as there is something called Christian Nationalism from a magisterial Reformed tradition, and inasmuch as that Christian Nationalism found a publisher with deep connections to significant “mainstream” Evangelical nexuses like Desiring God and, thereby, The Gospel Coalition, etc., it can well be said that this IS the exemplar of Christian Nationalism, and, thus I argue, a renewal of National Socialistic Theology for Evangelicals in America.
I am not writing a book review. I am drawing out the primary threads of the book as identified by many who have read it and some who have promoted it and comparing those directly to the thinking of Emanuel Hirsch. That is to say, the clear central thesis of this essay is that to accept Wolfe’s book is to accept Nazi Theology, to publish Wolfe’s book is to publish Nazi theology, and to incorporate Wolfe’s thoughts into your writing is to incorporate Nazi theological underpinning into your theological and political underpinnings. He may well have arrived at this thought independently, but the point will firmly remain: this is Nazi thinking. Period.
I am going to leave out the broader points of connection that others might say “well now those are simply historical or historically conservative Christianity.” For example, “The religious-ethical values which Hirsch has in mind include monogamy, the place of the man as head of the family, the obedience of children to parents, the personal submission of the subservient to those who command, the linking of marriage and virginity, the sanctity of marital life, the sanctity of embryonic life, the sanctity of the freedom of conscience, and above all the duty to be obedient to the commands of God.” (Reimer 158)
I will also leave out the general reliance on “Reformed Tradition” wherein Wolfe plants his theological flag. Others have pointed out (rightly) that the “Reformed Tradition” is all over the map on political theology, and that the pre-Fall theology in which Wolfe does root his entire enterprise is but one portion of the Reformed movement.
Finally, I will leave out the broad contour of anti-Liberalism which marks a broad segment of post-liberal thinking. Even though, “Both Lutheranism and National Socialism, according to Hirsch, stood against the liberal concept of freedom in the unbound life” (Koop 127). Not all post-liberals espouse Nazi theological presuppositions and Kinist argumentation. Just so happens this book does.
The summaries of Hirsch are taken from Jeremy Koop’s dissertation “The Political Ramifications of the Two Kingdoms Doctrine in the Nazi Period: A Comparative Study of the German Christians, The Confessing Church, and the Mennonites” (York University, Toronto, 2011) and from “The Emanuel Hirsch and Paul Tillich Debate: A Study in the Political Ramifications of Theology” (Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter, Wales, 1989)
III. Alignments of Wolfe and Hirsch
Below are two kinds of writings. The first is WOLFE’s direct quotations, as noted, with a few summary exceptions noted as well. The second are summaries of HIRSCH’s thinking, as presented by two authors. I don’t speak German, so getting the source text on these would’ve taken a few years. I did begin to inquire about translations to a German-speaking friend who said “I’m not translating that racist #$^#$%.”
I have added some highlights to capture the themes under each section, but also provided longer sections which you are free to read or skip over for brevity’s sake.
1. A Very Strong Two Kingdoms Theology
From Case for CN:
The Christian nation is not the spiritual kingdom of Christ or the immanentized eschaton; it is not founded in principles of grace or the Gospel (186)
An earthly kingdom is a Christian kingdom when it orders the people to the kingdom of heaven (195)
For in addition to being a worshipping people, the Christian nation has submitted to magistrates and constitutes a people whose cultural practices and self-conception provide a foretaste of heaven (223)
…the doctrine of the two kingdoms, a standard doctrine of the Reformed theological tradition…The two-kingdoms doctrine refers to the two ways that Christ exercises kingship over men. The two are often distinguished with language such as civil/spiritual, natural/gracious, earthly/heavenly, power/grace, or outward/inward (299–300)
The visible church and the people of God are co-extensive–both are predicated of the same people–but ‘people of God’ refers to Christians as they are redeemed and sanctified for a complete life, and the ‘visible church’ refers to the same people as under Christ the mediator pursuing the highest good of that complete life (307)
Christian spirituality and worship are, properly speaking, about eternal life, not political struggle… Thus, pastors should not in their official capacities at least, be social activists or political coordinators, especially from the pulpit (104).
While the natural order, which includes the fundamentals of social and political order, is immutable (viz., the gospel cannot alter it), the gospel can shape those aspects of society that admit legitimate difference and variety. Put differently, there can be a Christianization of those accidental elements of society, such as public and civic symbols, public art, manners, greetings, civic rituals, festivals, certain laws, and religious worship. Hence, this middle position affirms that while Christians are not called to replace the essence of the natural order with the spiritual one, given the right conditions, they still ought to seek the transformation of those features of human society that work to complete, perfect, and adorn it. In this way, the two kingdoms are kept separate, the eschaton is not immanentized, yet society is truly Christian.
…my political theology assumes classical two-kingdom (C2K) theology, while being modified in its approach through selected works by T. S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, and Roger Scruton. C2K affirms that the two kingdoms are the invisible, internal, and spiritual kingdom and the visible, outward, natural kingdom. Both the ecclesiastic and civil administrations, being visible and temporal, belong to the outward kingdom. The ecclesiastical (i.e., the institutional church) is not spiritual per se, but it exclusively has the role of ministering to the spiritual.
This view of two-kingdom theology ensures that the spiritual and the civil kingdoms are in their proper places. The principal accomplishment of Christ — the securing of a spiritual kingdom for the elect — remains in heaven, while the natural order, following its own principles, is completed by adorning itself with symbols of that accomplishment. Cultural Christianity is the completion of civil society.
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Koop, 2011)
No doubt Hirsch’s environment and familial influences played an important role in his decision to support Hitler; but it appears equally important that whereas Hirsch — as a theologian — enthusiastically appropriated the doctrine of the two kingdoms, Bonhoeffer — also a theologian, but despite his own Prussian Lutheran influences — followed Barth in rejecting it. (18)
The interaction between the doctrine of the two kingdoms and a belief in God’s continued revelation through the natural world is most evident in Emanuel Hirsch. The Volk as an interpretive category became central to Hirsch’s theology and consequent political thought. For Hirsch, nationality and the German Volk were instruments of divine revelation; national history was a record of God’s interaction with the German people. When coupled with the conviction that an individual’s personal-spiritual sphere was parallel to, and therefore not antagonistic towards, the broader human-political sphere, there remained no incongruence between the ethical claims of Christianity on an individual and full participation within political society. (20)
In an article published in the Wingolfs-Bldttern in January 1917, Hirsch attempted to work through a number of the theological issues pertaining to Germany’s involvement in the war through a reading of Luther. Hirsch began his interpretation of the political implications of Luther’s theology with an explication of Luther’s concept of the two kingdoms. According to Hirsch’s understanding of Luther, it is through the power of the gospel that sinful people are transformed into Christians with new convictions. While still subject to earthly authority, these Christians belong to the invisible kingdom of God, where no coercive force is needed. Christians are bound to one another freely through love, and therefore need no earthly law. They freely do what a just state would require of them of their own volition. (82)
Even though Christians need no earthly government, this fact does not negate the necessity of temporal authority, for without it the world would quickly degenerate. Christians recognize the need for government and the reality that the state does not wield the sword in vain. God has instituted the worldly authorities, placing the responsibility for keeping peace and order in human hands. Accordingly, those who are placed in positions of authority are bound under a set of ethical guidelines specific to their calling, in which it would be wrong for them not to engage coercive force to keep the peace. As Hirsch understood Luther, the call to use force extends beyond princes, to the point where Luther concluded that being a bailiff or hangman are not just acceptable occupations for a Christian, but that Christians are obligated to fill these roles if they remain vacant (82)
2. The Anti-Democratic Move to a Christian Monarch Who Brings Order
From Case for CN:
Having the highest office on earth, the good prince resembles God to the people. Indeed, he is the closest image of God on earth. This divine presence in the prince speaks to his role beyond civil administration. Through him, as the mediator of divine rule, the prince brings God near to the people. The prince is a sort of national god, not in the sense of being divine himself, or in materially transcending common humanity, or as an object of prayer or spiritual worship, or as a means of salvific grace, but as the mediator of divine rule for this nation and as one with divinely granted power to direct them in their national completeness.” (287–288)
Raise up from among us: one who would suppress the enemies of God and elevate his people; recover a worshiping people; restore masculine prominence in the land and a spirit of dominion; affirm and conserve his people and place, not permitting their dissolution or capture; and inspire a love of one’s Christian country. (323)
Our time calls for a man who can wield formal civil power to great effect and shape the public Imagination by means of charisma, gravitas, and personality (31)
A magistrate… whom the people look upon as father or protectorate of the country, . . . a man of dignity and greatness of soul who will lead a people to liberty, virtue, and godliness — to greatness (279).
His military or militia, which defends a Christian people and their church, can be designated ‘soldiers of Christ‘ (296–297)
The prince is an image of Christ to his people (309)
The Christian prince…has the power to call synods in order to resolve doctrinal conflicts and to moderate the proceedings, can confirm or deny their theological judgments; and in confirming them, they become the settled doctrine of the land. But he considers the pastors’ doctrinal articulations as a father might look to his medically trained son for medical advice. He still retains his superiority (313)
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Reimer, 1989)
Two things can be said about the nature of the state… For one, the state stands above us in the sense that it is an ordinance of God without which an ordered human community would be impossible, and through which God intends to actualize his intentions for human history. The state is much more than the sum of its present citizens. It belongs not only to the present but also to the past and to the future…. The error of democracy lies in its assumption that the political institutions represent the majority of the present citizens.
The second thing that can be said on the basis of the commandment of love is that state is debtor to every one of its citizens… above all, the state must see to it that people can lead healthy family lives and rear their children in modest but healthy homes.
Christian love therefore demands strong resistance against a democratic form of government. The more democratic a state the more it tends to be dependent upon the great economic powers and the less one can expect social justice from it. True freedom goes beyond the freedom to vote. Christian freedom is an invisible spiritual good — the power of a free heart to interact with the living God and to serve worldly orders out of a loving conscience. Evangelical Christians ought to commit themselves willingly to the state, honoring it as a divine ordinance and not simply as a human creation. Therefore Hirsch believes “that a serious Christian should enter the present dispute on the side of the king and officialdom and against a democratic government. (149–150)
3. Natural Theology as Definitional for the Civil Kingdom
From Case for CN:
It is also evident, from both instinct and reason, that we ought to prefer our own nation and countrymen over others. This instinct is not from the fall or due to sin; it is natural and, therefore, good (150)
One of the conclusions from the previous chapter is that neither the fall nor grace destroyed or abrogated human natural relations. The fall did not introduce the natural instinct to love one’s own, and grace does not ‘critique’ or subvert our natural inclinations to love and prefer those nearest and most bound to us. The fall introduced the abuse of social relations and malice towards ethnic difference. Grace corrects this abuse and malice, but it does not introduce new principles of human relations. The instinct to love the familiar more than the foreign is good and remains operative in all spiritual states of man. (117–18)
[Really all of page 21–22: Wolfe’s entire enterprise rests on an imaginary pre-Fall understanding of filling the earth, having natural relationships, forming communities that are “Distinct” “bounded by geography, arability, and other factors.” Having “developed their own way of life and culture, though without any sin.” “Thus the formation of nations is part of God’s design and intention for man.”]
The fall of man placed man in a state of sin. The state of sin, or total depravity, is misunderstood, even in Reformed circles. The fall’s principal effect concerned man’s relationship to God and the promised heavenly life, for it removed man’s highest gifts (those that drew him to heavenly life). Man retains his earthly gifts, those that lead him to the fundamental things of earthly life, such as family formation and civil society. Thus, man still has his original instincts and still knows the principles of right action, which incline him to what is good (22)
The Gospel did not inaugurate a social program that rejects the basic structure of pre-Gospel social life. But the gospel did inaugurate a new means to eternal life; and thus all social structures, which were originally designed to support man in his pursuit of eternal life, should point to and be formed to support this new means to it. (103–104)
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Koop, 2011)
Natural revelation reveals the nature of the relationship between God and people, that is, how humans measure up against the divine. Supernatural — or specifically Christian revelation — alone reveals insight into the nature of God. If revelation is understood in the sense put forward by the Reformation, God’s revelation reveals the gulf between humanity and God. Revelation demonstrates that humans are sinners, in that God speaks through universal natural law, convicting people of their imperfection. Through the gospel, people learn that they are loved by God and forgiven. Thus, there is a further distinction in addition to the difference between natural and supernatural, or general and specific revelation — the revelation in law and the revelation in gospel. (108)
Hirsch considered ‘nation’ to be an order of creation; that is, Hirsch understood the nation to be one of the original institutions God has given from the beginning to structure human life. As an order of creation, humans have knowledge of God through the nation without the need for specific divine revelation. Thus, Hirsch’s understanding of the orders of creation is not Christological. For Hirsch, the orders of creation are outside of Christ. Law is separated from gospel. We can know God through creation; we can understand the orders apart from Christ.309 Most importantly for our purposes, Hirsch argued that salvation only comes through Christ, but it is possible to have total allegiance to the state and to Christ simultaneously. (109)
God is the Lord of history, and continually speaks into the human historical situation. Therefore Hirsch maintained that he had “sensed” God in the particular history of the German Volk, “in the call of war, in the curse of the defeat and the betrayal, in the storm of the present movement, in the joy of the new awakening”. Building on his volkisch understanding of revelation, Hirsch argued that it is a “Jewish-legalistic misunderstanding” to think that obedience to Christ is incompatible with a God-given earthly loyalty. Christians who were fearful and weak in the faith questioned the possibility of having two loyalties concurrently; they were fearful of National Socialism and could not see the divine mandate (109)
4. Distinct Ethnic Nations formed by Natural Relations as Foundational for Right Order
— WOLFE (Quotations)
From Case for CN:
No nation (properly conceived) is composed of two or more ethnicities (135)
The instinct to love the familiar more than the foreign is good and remains operative in all spiritual states of man (118)
My goal is to provide reflections on lived experience such that one’s own people-group is brought into conscious articulation (p. 134).
People of different ethnic groups can exercise respect for difference, conduct some routine business with each other, join in inter-ethnic alliances for mutual good, and exercise common humanity (e.g., the good Samaritan), but they cannot have a life together that goes beyond mutual alliance. (148)
Neil Shenvi’s Concise Summary of Wolfe’s Understanding of Ethnicity and Nation:
Wolfe uses the words “ethnicity” and “nation” “roughly synonymously” (p. 135) to refer to groups of people bound together based on “common language, manners, customs, stories, taboos, rituals, calendars, social expectations, duties, loves, and religion” (p. 136). Because the formation of nations is natural to man as man, it is therefore good: “Your instinct to conduct everyday life among similar people is natural, and being natural, it is good for you” (p. 142). Thus, he states that although he does not “call for ethno-states in he modern sense” he does “affirm that each nation ought to seek and have sufficient political and social autonomy to order and secure themselves according to their particularities” (p. 164).
Kevin DeYoung’s Concise Summary of Wolfe’s Understanding of Ethnicity and Nation:
Wolfe says a mark of nationalism is that “each people group has a right to be for itself” (118), and that our “instinct to conduct everyday life among similar people is natural, and being natural, it is for your good” (142), and that “to exclude an out-group is to recognize a universal good for man” (145), and that “spiritual unity is inadequate for formal ecclesial unity” (200), and that “the most suitable condition for a group of people to successfully pursue the complete good is one of cultural similarity” (201).
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Reimer, 1989)
Human individuals, he says, do not grow in an isolated fashion — wild and mixed-up like flowers — but are born into and grow up within a national community. This is an historical fact which powerfully shapes individuals and which they experience as a law that defines and binds them in a vital association. The individual receives his external fate and inner being from this inescapable fact. This is why any conversion from one nationality to another is a slow and painful process that can be completed only in succeeding generations. Many would rather die than change nationalities. The character of one’s nationality shapes one’s soul or personality, which means that to estrange oneself from one’s own nation is to experience estrangement from oneself (146)
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Koop, 2011)
Throughout his work, Hirsch used the concept of the boundary (die Grenze) both in terms of the human historical, and the divine. On the level of the divine, the boundary refers both to the spiritual limitations imposed on humanity through the sovereign will of God, and the function of the infinite itself as the limit to all temporal existence. Historically, the boundary refers to the natural-historical realities that shape all facets of human life, both physically and intellectually, manifested most clearly in the Volk (120)
Unity in the Volk, then, was not a question of the popular will. Rather, it is impossible for there to be a unity of state without a unity of nationality. Hirsch extended this volkisch understanding of national harmony to suggest that even in states within which there are numerous ethnicities and languages, a dominant Volk must take control of the others. (101)
In “Die Liebe zum Vaterlande” from 1924, Hirsch presented the love of the fatherland as something innate, in the blood. It does not come from reflection; otherwise it could not be spontaneously awakened. Germans are bound to the Volk with body and soul. Hirsch suggested that this bond is stronger than gravity, and like gravity, it is not a choice. (110)
Citing the segregation of black and white churches in the United States, the separate German speaking Lutheran churches outside of Germany, and segregated colonial churches, Hirsch argued that these divisions were not against the spirit of Christian unity so long as they were pragmatic, that is, if linguistic and racial divisions expedited the church’s smooth administration. The earthly church is necessarily bound by practical considerations. (112)
Practically speaking, affirming the regime’s orders would mean that the church would adopt similar measures within its own organization, albeit carried out in love, consistent with the church’s unique character as a community of faith. According to Hirsch, because the German Protestant churches had very few ministers of “Jewish or half-Jewish blood” at the time anyway, the problem would be relatively minimal. He later put forward that once the present generation of “half bloods” had died, the situation would be much easier, personal grievances gone. In terms of the future, Hirsch argued that the church would need a new selection process for pastors, and suggested the church only accept candidates who were members of the German fraternities. This way, the church would adopt the fraternities’ strict standards regarding race. (113)
Jews, according to Hirsch did in fact belong to a foreign Volk, but were not to be considered inferior or corrupted. At the same time, it needed to be maintained that integrating Jews into the German national community would be detrimental (115)
Hirsch could not comprehend why there were Christians voicing opposition to churches implementing a prerequisite for the pastorate based on race… Significantly, the church had not seized upon the opportunity to use the teachings on the orders of creation to rectify the situation by teaching the importance of the biological component of the national community. As important as it was, the issue of members of the church who were not Germans “according to blood” was only part of the question. The church needed to reconcile what it meant to be German and Christian so that one could influence the other (117)
At the same time, Hirsch repeatedly stressed that despite the fact that when conveying the gospel all human efforts are in vain unless Christ speaks through the individual, the speaker must make a human connection with the hearer. There is a “natural side” to the preaching of the gospel, grounded in temporal and historical context. In short, according to Hirsch, preaching is easiest where there is a connection through “blood and fate”. Thus, if the church wanted to maintain the connection to the Volk and the attending facility of preaching from a common basis and understanding, it needed to accommodate to the National Socialist state, and align itself with Germany’s new direction. Otherwise, it would become a foreign element itself (117)
5. The Will of the Christian People to Overcome the Secular State
From Case for CN:
A Christian society that is for itself will distrust atheists, decry blasphemy, correct any dishonoring of Christ, orient life around the Sabbath, frown on and suppress moral deviancy, and repudiate neo-Anabaptist attempts to subvert a durable Christian social order (214)
The question is whether a Christian magistrate, having civil rule over a civil society of Christians, may punish (with civil power) false teachers, heretics, blasphemers, and idolaters for their external expression of such things in order to prevent (1) any injury to the souls of the people of God, (2) the subversion of Christian government, Christian culture, or spiritual discipline, or (3) civil disruption or unrest. Modern religious liberty advocates deny this and I affirm it. (359)
Open blasphemy in our public square is shrugged off as ‘to be expected’ or part of the world’s ‘brokenness.’ We have settled into a posture of passive defense, bunkered behind the artificial walls of churches and the porous borders separating the family from society. A hostile and secularist ruling class roams free, and few Christians are willing to take the struggle to a higher level. But we do not have to live like this… Here I will justify violent revolution. (326)
Many want me to end with a word of caution, perhaps to reassure everyone that these are academic conclusions, that they are not serous. Instead, I’ll say this: It is to our shame that we sheepishly tolerate assaults against our Christian heritage, merely sighing or tweeting performative outrage over public blasphemy, impiety, irreverence, and perversity…We do not have to be like this (352)
There is no robust common ground here. There is no credibility we can establish with them. Unavoidably, we are threats to their regime. Christian nationalism is an existential threat to the secularist regime. They are enemies of the church and, as such, enemies of the human race. (456)
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Reimer, 1989)
The impact of the ‘community of conscience’ upon the ‘earthly organized community’ thus comes through the ethical decision making of individuals who have been awakened to a higher morality. Such individuals will devote their powers to improving the institutions and laws of the state, to approximating in the earthly realm the great ideas of justice, personal freedom, health, and naturalness of all relations without reducing the one realm to the other. The community of conscience will have an impact on external society indirectly through individuals who are members of that community of conscience. All ethical critiques of particular forms of law must honor the ‘once-established universal conditions of existence of right and morality upon this earth and… not undertake in some way to improve on God’s creation itself…. ‘One does not understand the historical, if one does not see it as a concrete inter-meshing of earthly-natural life with the ethical-religious.’ (152)
Hirsch is convinced the dominant spirit of the times stands in opposition to the spirit of Christianity. The state is presently being carried by this dominant spirit and it is Christianity’s task to struggle against this spirit, to struggle for a new spirit without the assistance of the state. The state cannot be expected to hold to ethical-religious obligations which have disappeared from general consciousness (158)
The Struggle for the conscience and the spirit, the fight against the power of sin begins in the heart of every individual Christian. Christianity must be committed to the re-formation and sanctification of earthly life, the guarding and deepening of nationality, understood from the spirit of Christianity. This is the responsibility of Christianity. Such a Christianity will be both a suffering and a fighting Christianity. (159)
The way forward toward freedom and life will demand a great price and depend on German pride in its God-given character. Two things are required: a) a clear view of humanity and history of nation and state, which would sharpen one’s sense of right and duty to do everything for one’s own nation and state without regard for one’s own person — together with the right concept of God and the gospel these truths could yet triumph over the many modern illusions; 2) something more personal: a faith in God which would awaken the qualities of the character and the soul that Germans now so badly need, and produce human beings with strong wills and warm, loving hearts. (156)
— HIRSCH (Summarized by Koop, 2011)
Hirsch placed the impetus on the church to come to an understanding about the relation between itself and the state, and on the Volk for determining the relevant new political structures. Not only did Hirsch consider the German Volk to have a task given it by God, he understood it to be a partner with God in “weaving his history, and in the struggle for a new space and new possibility and new form of state for our Volk’. (102)
Those who would be capable of leading the church in a new direction had to recognize the “greatness of the hour” and recognize their fellow Germans, the “brave fighters of the SA and SS” as their true brothers. That is, they had to recognize the historical moment and appreciate the importance of the Volk. (120–121)
Hirsch interpreted 1933 as a definitive God-given opportunity. Germany would be judged if it did not use its opportunity for renewal after “the long night of foolishness and sin”. (123)
A Few Notes of Comparison
A few strands of connection were too sparse to properly draw out, but one is significant: both Wolfe (200) and Hirsch (in Reimer 112 above) indicate that spiritual unity is insufficient for a unified church. Christians should exclude people from other nations, and limit immigration. Wolfe wrote much less on ecclesiology that Hirsch did, but I would wonder where they might differ.
I needn’t go into Wolfe’s ending diatribes on food, farming, gynocracy, and seed oils. Suffice to say it was hard to find comparisons in Hirsch’s deeply philosophical thinking, but there are comparisons in the broader streams of National Socialism.
Wolfe, it must be noted, spent much more time and attention talking about the concept of a Platonic despot, one who would bring in a pure Christian Nationalism. This was much more muscular and, frankly, violent a tone than Hirsch ever took, at least from the materials I read about him leading up to the second World War. Though he approved of Hitler and was part of the party, his theology was not one of an enlightened despot but rather in support of the government which best suited the volk and the needs of the moment. It was more of the pragmatic outcome of a two kingdoms theology than Wolfe’s idea.
One principal distinction that Wolfe could possibly argue is the extent of natural revelation. Hirsch argues that the natural kingdom remains not only as a source of activity for human engagement but is also a source of revelation. God speaks through the civil activity and works through the participation of mankind in the civil order. In other words, not only was a pre-Fall idea of a “sanctified society” acceptable to Hirsch, but also the idea that God continues to work in just as complete and important a manner through the civil Kingdom as He does through the church. Wolfe might deny the word “revelation” (I don’t know, given the lack of theological output here), but even if he did, the outcome of Hirsch and Wolfe in this area is not really all that different.
Consider Wolfe’s fundamental definition of Christian Nationalism:
a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ
The people of God operating through the nation to make it a “christian nation” is not really any different than Hirsch’s “community of conscience” working through the nation to make it a Christian nation, thereby procuring heavenly good in Christ. Wolfe would need to do some theological digging in natural revelation, particularly between Barth and Hirsch (and others), to really understand any nuanced differences.
Conclusion: The Need for Something
I remain convinced that Eric Voegelin is the best one to read to understand the role of religion in the National Socialist era. He rightly identified the tension within the Nazi movement between being anti-Christian and also a replacement religion dependent on religion:
“Voegelin, therefore, worked from the double assumption that National Socialist evil was not merely a privation — it was a thing in and of itself — and that National Socialism was an “anti-Christian religious movement”, an ersatz religion like fascism and communism which grew within the emptiness left by the secularization of western society (Koop 54)”
I mentioned in a recent podcast that Wolfe does one thing well — Jacob Honeycutt actually identified it — and that is identify that something is wrong with secularism, because something will need to take its place. Man is not religion less — Everybody worships, as David Foster Wallace said, the only choice we get is what to worship. In a vacuum of divine revelation, man creates meaning and ascribes values that will conflict with the religions dependent on divine revelation, and even within those religions there will be interminable conflict over the meaning of this jot or that tittle. Until that day, though, we have to consider which governmental form has actually defeated, in order, both Nationalist Socialism and Communism, which has provided and unyielding 100-year streak of actual religious freedom for people, and which allows for the breathing room of conflict without swords. I promise you this: it is nothing like Wolfe’s and Hirsch’s, both of which beg for a ruler with a sword purifying the people by blood. Such an approach has never worked, never lasted, and never stopped with merely a few bodies buried and burned. For a PhD political theorists, trying to do so without reference to the actual historical results of such a political theology is one egregious problem. Trying to redeem such violent tendencies by baptizing them in the name of the Son without reference to the actual Gospel or actual theology is even worse. Doing so based on a natural theology “what-if” is an ungodly appeal to the worst instincts of men who already need little more than a nudge to resort to violence.
Run away from this. Far away. Meaning is found elsewhere, in God and neighbor, who need your love, not your sword.