The Science of the Swastika

The Science of the Swastika

The Science of the Swastika

The Science of the Swastika


in intellectual history the cranks
and fools are important too

Martin Green

It is a cool Viennese evening. The trees of the Ringstraße are all green buds and white flowers, and the setting sun now daubs them in pinks and lilacs too. A young doctoral student makes his way to the University—he has been advised to leave behind the Heuriger this evening and take instead the opportunity to experience a literary event, one not to be missed. It is spring 1959 and the young Australian has been invited to a celebration of the latest work of the Viennese master of his field.

The student converses in the hall a while with a North German colleague. The Viennese welcome someone from the New World, but Prussians remain a plague. A hush eventually settles among the collection of students, instructors and professors: the Old Germanic master has arrived.

The event is managed like an opera; it begins with a sudden hush and an expectant silence. The work being launched is on Arminius, the hero who saved ancient Germany from enslavement by the Romans. The old master argues to an enraptured audience that the character Siegfried, the hero of the Song of the Nibelungs, is a symbolic refiguring, 1,000 years later, of the ancient savior of Germany. It is part of the master's thesis that German “cultural morphologies”—the symbolic expressions discernable in national literature—are essentially timeless.

The atmosphere in the auditorium is electric. It is so charged, the young man feels he can almost touch it. But suddenly he realizes that this is not a literary occasion; it is a religious event. Billy Graham is not here. Instead, as thunderous applause breaks out, the young man realizes he is in a place of the ancestors. He has joined the antiquarian worshippers at the Semnonian grove.

To a new scene. Now it is autumn, 1982, and a group of professors have retired to a watering hole in a small resort town in West . . .

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