"Blood and Homeland": Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe, 1900-1940

By Marius Turda; Paul J. Weindling | Go to book overview

Tunnel Visions and Mysterious Trees:
Modernist Projects of National and Racial
Regeneration, 1880–1939

Roger Griffin

The No could not be so powerful if there were not simultaneously in
our midst a Yes worth fighting for that is lethal to it;
if beneath the
veils separating us from life, below the nihilism of the new age, there
did not stir all the time a force unknown to our morality or imagina-
tion, one which has been constantly thwarted by every sort of fear
and obstacle. It is via this hazardous path that almost everything has
reached us, fleeing a world inhospitable to life so as to find refuge in
us as gardeners of the most mysterious tree, a tree which has yet to
grow. In us alone the light still burns while earth and heaven collapse
all around: the supreme creative, philosophical moment has arrived.

Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, 19161

With these words Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), later to become famous as one of the most original thinkers in the history of Marxism, articulated a paradoxical, defiant optimism just as the First World War and the fate of the entire Western world seemed to be reaching an apocalyptic climax. Anticipating the theme of his monumental Principle of Hope (1954–1959), written in exile from Nazism two decades later, The Spirit of Utopia, couched in an abstruse metaphysical register, presents the Marxist project to create a just social order not as the product of material factors, but as a palingenetic, Nietzschean leap beyond the void of contemporary nihilism.2 However, its immediate relevance to contextualizing the variants of European eugenics and racial nationalism that are the subject of this book lies in Bloch's visionary sense of belonging to an elite whose mission is not just to usher in an era of certainty and light where there is now chaos and darkness, but to act as gardeners; that is arrogating the power to decide what shall be planted and encouraged to thrive, and what shall be cut back or rooted out on behalf of a society otherwise doomed to self-annihilation. This conclusive chapter probes into the deeper historical substrata underlying these metaphors in the context of early-twentieth-century European moder-

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