Caspar Von Schrenck-Notzing, RIP

By Gottfried, Paul | Modern Age, Summer-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Caspar Von Schrenck-Notzing, RIP


Gottfried, Paul, Modern Age


The death of Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing on January 25, 2009, brought an end to the career of one of the most insightful German political thinkers of his generation. Although perhaps not as well known as other figures associated with the postwar intellectual Right, Schrenck-Notzing displayed a critical honesty, combined with an elegant prose style, which made him stand out among his contemporaries. A descendant of Bavarian Protestant nobility who had been knights of the Holy Roman Empire, Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing was preceded by an illustrious grandfather, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, who had been a close friend of the author Thomas Mann. While that grandfather became famous as an exponent of parapsychology, and the other grandfather, Ludwig Ganghofer, as a novelist, Caspar turned his inherited flair for language toward political analysis.

Perhaps he will best be remembered as the editor of the journal Criticon, which be founded m 1970, and which was destined to become the most widely read and respected theoretical organ of the German Right m the 1970s and 1980s. In the pages of Criticon an entire generation of non-leftist German intellectuals found an outlet for their ideas; and such academic figures as Robert Spamann, Gunter Rohrmoser, and Odo Marquard became public voices beyond the closed world of philosophical theory. In his signature editorials, Criticon's editor raked over the coals the center-conservative coalition of the Christian Democratic (CDU) and the Christian Social (CSU) parties, which for long periods formed the postwar governments of West Germany.

Despite the CDU/CSU promise of a "turn toward the traditional Right," the hoped-for " Wende nach rechts" never seemed to occur, and Helmut Kohl's ascent to power m the 1980s convinced Schrenck-Notzing that not much good could come from the party governments of the Federal Republic for those with his own political leanings. In 1998 the aging theorist gave up the editorship of Criticon, and he handed over the helm of the publication to advocates of a market economy. Although Schrenck-Notzing did not entirely oppose this new direction, as a German traditionalist he was certainly less hostile to the state as an institution than were Criticon's new editors.

But clearly, during the last ten years of his life, Schrenck-Notzing had lost a sense of urgency about the need for a magazine stressing current events. He decided to devote his remaining energy to a more theoretical task--that of understanding the defective nature of postwar German conservatism. The title of an anthology to which he contributed his own study and also edited, Die kupierte Alternative (The Truncated Alternative), indicated where Schrenck-Notzing saw the deficiencies of the postwar German Right. As a younger German conservative historian, Karl-Heinz Weissmann, echoing Schrenck-Notzing, has observed, one cannot create a sustainable and authentic Right on the basis of "democratic values." One needs a living past to do so. An encyclopedia of conservatism edited by Schrenck-Notzing that appeared in 1996 provides portraits of German statesmen and thinkers whom the editor clearly admired. Needless to say, not even one of those subjects was alive at the time of the encyclopedia's publication.

What allows a significant force against the Left to become effective, according to Schrenck-Notzing, is the continuity of nations and inherited social authorities. In the German case, devotion to a Basic Law promulgated in 1947 and really imposed on a defeated and demoralized country by its conquerors could not replace historical structures and national cohesion. Although Schrenck-Notzing published opinions in his journal that were more enthusiastic than his own about the reconstructed Germany of the postwar years, he never shared such "constitutional patriotism." He never deviated from his understanding of why the post-war German Right had become an increasingly empty opposition to the German Left: it had arisen in a confused and humiliated society, and it drew its strength from the values that its occupiers had given it and from its prolonged submission to American political interests. …

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