The Myth of the Twentieth Century

Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts. 1939 edition

The Myth of the Twentieth Century (German: Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts) is a 1930 book by Alfred Rosenberg, one of the principal ideologues of the Nazi Party and editor of the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter. The titular "myth" (in the special Sorelian sense) is "the myth of blood, which under the sign of the swastika unchains the racial world-revolution. It is the awakening of the race soul, which after long sleep victoriously ends the race chaos."[1]

The book has been described as "one of the two great unread bestsellers of the Third Reich" (the other being Mein Kampf).[2] In private Adolf Hitler said: "I must insist that Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century is not to be regarded as an expression of the official doctrine of the party."[3] Hitler objected to Rosenberg's paganism.[4]

Hitler awarded the first State Prize for Art and Science to the author of "The Myth of the Twentieth Century". The official document accompanying the prize "expressly praises Rosenberg as 'person who has, in a scientific and penetrating manner, laid the firm foundation for an understanding of the ideological bases of National Socialism.'"[5]

Rosenberg's influences

Rosenberg was inspired by the racist theories of Arthur de Gobineau, in his 1853–1855 book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races[6] and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century was conceived as a sequel to Chamberlain's 1899 book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.[7] Rosenberg believed that God created mankind as separate, differentiated races in a cascading hierarchy of nobility of virtue, not as separate individuals or as entities with "blank slate" natures. Rosenberg harshly rejected the idea of a "globular" mankind of homogeneity of nature as counter-factual, and asserted each biological race possesses a discrete, unique soul, claiming the Caucasoid Aryan race, with Germanic Nordics supposedly composing its vanguard elite, as qualitatively superior, in a vaguely "ontological" way, in comparison to all other ethnic and racial groupings: the Germanic Nordic Aryan as Platonic ideal of humankind.

Other influences included the anti-modernist, "revolutionary" ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner's Holy Grail romanticism inspired by the neo-Buddhist thesis of Arthur Schopenhauer, Haeckelian mystical vitalism, the medieval German philosopher Meister Eckhart and the heirs of his mysticism and Nordicist Aryanism in general.

Outline of contents of the book

Rosenberg's racial interpretation of history concentrates on the negative influence of the Jewish race in contrast to the Aryan race. He equates the latter with the Nordic peoples of northern Europe and also includes the Berbers from North Africa and the upper classes of Ancient Egypt.[8] According to Rosenberg, modern culture has been corrupted by Semitic influences (cf. anti-Semitism), which have produced degenerate modern art, along with moral and social degeneration. In contrast, Aryan culture is defined by innate moral sensibility and an energetic will to power. Rosenberg believed that the higher races must rule over the lower and not interbreed with them, because cross-breeding destroys the divine combination of physical heredity and spirit. He uses an organic metaphor of the race and the State and argues that the Nazis must purify the race soul by eliminating non-Aryan elements in much the same ruthless and uncompromising way in which a surgeon would cut a cancer from a diseased body.

In Rosenberg's view of world history, migrating Aryans founded various ancient civilizations which later declined and fell due to inter-marriage with lesser races. These civilizations included the Indo-Aryan civilization, ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome. He saw the ancient Germanic invasions of the Roman empire as "saving" its civilization, which had been corrupted both by race mixing and by "Judaized-cosmopolitan" Christianity. Furthermore, he noted that the persecutions of Protestants in France and other areas represented the wiping out of the last remnants of the Aryan element in those areas, a process completed by the French revolution. In contemporary Europe, he saw the northern areas that embraced Protestantism as closest to the Aryan racial and spiritual ideal.

Following H. S. Chamberlain and other völkisch theorists, he believed that Jesus was an Aryan (specifically an Amorite or Hurrian Hittite) and that original Christianity was an "Aryan" (Iranian) religion, but had been corrupted by the followers of Paul of Tarsus. The "Mythus" is very anti-Catholic, seeing the Church's cosmopolitanism and "Judaized" version of Christianity as one of the factors in Germany's spiritual bondage. Rosenberg particularly emphasizes the anti-Judaic teachings of the heresies Marcionism and "Aryo-Persian" Manicheanism as more representative of the true, "anti-Judaic" Jesus Christ and more suited to the Nordic world-view. Rosenberg saw Martin Luther and the Reformation as an important step forward toward reasserting the "Aryan spirit", but ultimately ambiguous in not having gone far enough in its founding of just another dogmatic church.

When he discussed the future of religion in the future Reich, he suggested that a multiplicity of forms be tolerated, including "positive Christianity", neo-paganism, and a form of "purified" Aryan Hinduism. He saw all these religious systems as allegorical after the manner of Schopenhauer's teaching of religion as "folk-metaphysics", and was skeptical that the Nordic gods, of which the keys of interpretation had been largely lost in involutive time, could gain a foothold in modern times, and not even conceding the desirability of the possibility.

Another myth, to which he gave "allegorical" and esoteric credence, was the hermetical idea of Atlantis, which he felt might preserve a memory of an ancient Aryan homeland:

And so today the long derived hypothesis becomes a probability, namely that from a northern centre of creation which, without postulating an actual submerged Atlantic continent, we may call Atlantis, swarms of warriors once fanned out in obedience to the ever renewed and incarnate Nordic longing for distance to conquer and space to shape.

This account of world history is used to support his dualistic model of human experience, as are ideas co-opted from Nietzsche and Social Darwinist writers of the era.

Influence of the book

Thanks to Nazi support, the book had sold more than one million copies by 1944. However, Adolf Hitler is said never to have read the book,[9] and declared that it wasn't to be considered the official ideology of the Nazi Party:

I must insist that Rosenberg's "The Myth of the Twentieth Century" is not to be regarded as an expression of the official doctrine of the party. The moment the book appeared, I deliberately refrained from recognizing it as any such thing. In the first place, its title gives a completely false impression... a National Socialist should affirm that to the myth of the nineteenth century he opposes the faith and science of our times... I have myself merely glanced cursorily at it.[3]

According to Konrad Heiden, Rosenberg had given the manuscript to Hitler to vet before its publication. After a year Hitler still had nothing to say. Hitler gave the still-unread work back to him saying, "I feel sure that it's all right."[10] In his diary Joseph Goebbels called the book "very good" when he first read it.[11] Albert Speer however remembered that Goebbels mocked Alfred Rosenberg.[12] Goebbels also called the book a "philosophical belch".[13][14]

Hermann Göring said, that "if Rosenberg was to decide ... we would only have rite, thing, myth and such kind of swindle."[15] Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychologist during the Nuremberg Trials, reported that none of Nazi leaders he interviewed had read Rosenberg's writings.[16]

Its overt statement of anti-Christian sentiment made it difficult to give Rosenberg any position of prominence when the Nazis ascended to power.[17] Even in their stronghold Hamburg only 0.49% of the inhabitants identified as belonging to the anti-Christian neopagan faith movement (in 1937),[18] whereas the German Christians and their Positive Christianity had a strong standing. Many of the attacks on the book after its 1930 publication came from its explicit anti-Christian message. Rosenberg wrote two supplements to the work, replying to Catholic and Protestant critics. The first, On the Dark Men of Our Times: A Reply to Critics of the Myth of the Twentieth Century, in which he accused Catholics of attempting to destroy the national character by promoting separatism within Catholic parts of the country.[19] His second reply. Protestant Pilgrims to Rome: The Treason Against Luther and the Myth of the Twentieth Century, argued that modern Lutheranism was becoming too close to Catholicism.[19]

See also


  1. Quoted in Viereck, 2003, p. 229.
  2. Robert E. Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983, p. 216.
  3. 1 2 Hitler, Adolf; Hugh-Trevor Roper. Adolf Hitler's Secret Conversations 1941-1944, p. 400.
  4. Roger Griffin. Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion. Oxon, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2005. p. 85.
  5. The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich: Facts and Documents
  6. Snyder, Louis L. (1939). "Gobinism: The 'Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races'," in Race: A History of Ethnic Theories. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., pp. 114-130.
  7. Yahil, 1991, p. 41.
  8. "The Berbers, among whom even today one finds light skins and blue eyes, do not go back to the Vandal invasions of the fifth century A.D., but to the prehistoric Atlantic Nordic human wave. The Kabyle huntsmen, for example, are to no small degree still wholly Nordic, thus the blond Berbers in the region of Constantine form 10% of the population; at Djebel Sheshor they are even more numerous", Alfred Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), Hrp, 2004, p. 6
  9. Lukacs, 1998, p. xix.
  10. Feliks Gross, European Ideologies: A Survey of 20th Century Political Ideas, Philosophical Library, New York, 1948, p.773.
  11. Irving Hexham, "Inventing ‘Paganists’: a Close Reading of Richard Steigmann-Gall's the Holy Reich", Journal of Contemporary History, January 2007 42: 59-78
  12. Albert Speer, Erinnerungen, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin / Wien 1969, p. 139
  13. Goebbels, Ralf Georg Reuth; Piper; ISBN 3-492-03183-8, p. 304; Original: "philosophischer Rülpser".
  14. Eatwell, 1995, p. 119.
  15. Goebbels, Ralf Georg Reuth; Piper; ISBN 3-492-03183-8, p. 304; Original: "... [wenn Rosenberg das Sagen hätte] ... gäbe es nur noch Kult, Thing, Mythos und ähnlichen Schwindel".
  16. Michael, Robert. Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 177. ISBN 0230601987
  17. Robert Cecil, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology p.105 ISBN 0-396-06577-5
  18. Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Volume 8. Page 556. Gruyter Verlag, 1993. ISBN 978-3-11-013898-6
  19. 1 2 Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945, p.128.


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