The work of German “völkisch” philosopher Mathilde Ludendorff (October 4, 1877– May 12, 1966), wife and soulmate of General Erich Ludendorff (who led the victory against the Russians at Tannenberg in WW1), remains obscure to this day, even in right-wing circles. Although this is probably not a coincidence, it is high time to shed light on her writings: there is too much in them that deserves attention for its potential to complement and correct current philosophical trends of the alternative right. In honor of her impressive achievements and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of her death, some of her most interesting ideas shall be revisited here.
The Question of Women’s Skills
Already in her youth, Mathilde Ludendorff, née Spiess rebelled against the idea that women were intellectually inferior, which was a widespread attitude at the time, especially among her devout Christian (Protestant) relatives. Endowed with an unusually independent mind, strong willpower, and imagination, she became one of the first women in pre-war Germany to study medicine. After obtaining her doctorate degree in 1913, she went on to work as an assistant of renowned psychiatrist Emil Kräpelin in Munich. Her personal experiences as a woman, the rise of the international feminist movement (which refused to cooperate with her), and her “völkisch” orientation led to her work Das Weib und seine Bestimmung (Woman and Her Purpose, 1917). Here, she develops a theory of femininity that reads like a highly relevant, contemporary critique of feminism and anti-feminism at the same time, animated by the idea of an original Germanic understanding of womanhood.
In brief, she argues that pushing women into jobs designed by and for men (a common attitude among feminists) is not the appropriate way to make use of the specific skills of women. On the contrary, it comes close to abuse. However, preventing women access to education and the professional world for reasons of alleged inferiority and limiting their social function to raising children (anti-feminism, Christian traditionalism) is not going to make anyone happy either. Mathilde proposed a third way, a different kind of traditionalism: for a strong “folk”, women must be given the opportunity to develop their personalities and creative skills properly so as to contribute to society in their own, uniquely feminine way. There should be a female contribution beyond motherhood, but it should be in harmony with a woman’s nature and her physical and mental make-up. Ludendorff counts intuitive cognition — i.e., psychological and holistic thinking — as among the most valuable skills of women that would complement the rationalistic, schematic tendency of the male intellect in a meaningful way.
As the final chapter of Das Weib und seine Bestimmung reveals, the high regard of women among the ancient Germanic peoples, our “ancestors”, as described by Roman ethnographer Tacitus and various other sources, was a key inspiration. Tacitus writes: “The German even believes women to have a certain sanctity and prescience. He respects her counsel. He follows her advice. In Vespasian’s days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries or with sham deification.” (Tacitus, Germania, 98 AD).
According to Ludendorff, St. Paul’s “mulier in ecclesiam taceat” (woman shall be silent in Church) led to the exclusion and debasement of this kind of female wisdom, which was crucially responsible for the (deliberate) weakening of the Germanic peoples. The targeting of knowledgeable women and healers during the witch hunts of the early modern period seemed to confirm her theory. She further concluded that there were hostile, foreign powers at work seeking to destroy the independent and benign, freedom- and nature-loving Germanic spirit. From this point of view, Christian misogyny was an “oriental” philosophy that was forced onto the Germans so as to debilitate and subdue them. Like Heinrich Himmler, who conducted a secret research project on the witch hunts for the SS-Ahnenerbe, she suspected that an internationalist, imperialistic clique of Jews (along with Freemasons and Jesuits) had been responsible for the oppression of Germanic tribes for more than 1500 years, and that the cruelties against women in the early modern period must have been designed by them — especially since the whole episode looked supremely “un-Germanic.”
Whatever we may think of this conspiratorial approach to European history, which was shared by her third husband, General Ludendorff, the idea of acknowledging the unique nature of women and remembering pre-Christian attitudes to femininity could be an effective antidote to both the imbecility that is leftist feminism and the chauvinist pick-up mentality posing as traditionalism, which is currently making its presence felt in the male-dominated alternative right. Apart from the idea of woman’s different access to knowledge and ways of processing it (the role of women in Germanic mythology provided further evidence), Ludendorff thought it was important to encourage girls to be brave and courageous like their ancestors, who carried weapons and joined their husbands on the battlefield in case of emergency. She writes:
We consider it of vital importance to awaken girls to self-control, courage and bravery in dangerous situations, as it was common with our ancestors. We need not fear that such an education would generate manly women: with the female sex, too, typically female directions of will are always going to hold the upper hand! But the mutual understanding of the sexes and the mutual respect is more likely to grow …. A woman who anxiously cries out at any unexpected peril, instead of helping with a calm and steady hand, who shivers for her life at every occasion, will only arouse a man’s contempt for her sex. In the same way, the antisocial, brutal, and selfish behavior of a man will appear despicable to a woman. (Das Weib und seine Bestimmung)
The Last Great German Mystic?
In the 1960s, post-war Germany’s news magazine Der Spiegel infamously labelled Mathilde Ludendorff the “The Great-Grandmother of German Antisemitism.” A less narrow-minded observer might call her the last great German mystic. Apart from thinking about worldly issues such as “völkisch” feminism, Ludendorff’s philosophy has a definite metaphysical bent. Her very own God-song “Triumph des Unsterblichkeitswillens” (Triumph of the Will for Immortality) was penned in verse and conceived in a state of visionary otherworldliness. Even the General was awed when watching his wife at her desk during her creative states of rapture.
It would be beyond the scope of this article to summarize her metaphysics in a way that would do justice to it. Another problem is her terminology: despite her unique clarity (especially in comparison to other well-known, male German philosophers), she frequently creates her own concepts, most of which are almost impossible to render adequately in English. It may be one of the reasons why so little of her work has been translated.
And yet, it is probably fair to say that her worldview rests on a very German and uniquely sober combination of mysticism and radical reason. Ludendorff’s god-consciousness (Gottesbewusstsein) does not oppose technical inventions and the natural sciences. On the contrary, they just need to be approached in the right spirit, as an individual’s act of worship that seeks to enrich the world with his or her unique skills and creativity, his or her individual “God-song”.
Like most mystics around the world, she sees the universe as “animated” in the literal sense of the word: it has a soul, it is permeated by a living, constantly transforming yet eternal, divine soul (“gottdurchseelt”). What may surprise a Hollywood-educated reader especially is that her understanding of a truly German religious expression (“Deutscher Gottglaube”, 1927) is totally undogmatic, and strictly opposed to the herd mentality, which she perceives as “un-German,” a result of Christian brainwashing.
This particular idea fermented over a long period of time, but in the end, she had no doubt about it: her experiences with nasty, hypocritical Christian aunts who were, on top of it, addicted to suffering (“leidsüchtig”); her experiences as a 19-year-old schoolteacher, who was at a loss to provide logical answers to children’s questions regarding the Christian faith; and her later experiences as a psychiatrist treating cases of “induced madness” cemented her negative impression of Christianity as an imported tool of mental enslavement: apart from teaching things that did not make any sense or were downright harmful (she was particularly horrified by Luke 12:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division”), it seemed to promote a worldview that prevented people from living their lives fully and developing and expressing their true, divine potential. The key term here is “self-creation” (“Selbstschöpfung”), which is perhaps somewhat comparable to Carl Jung’s idea of “individuation,” and which entails a creative and proactive approach to one’s life. Bad experiences and good ones alike; there was a lesson to be learned from all of them.
Not surprisingly then, Ludendorff rejects the idea of divine providence. Instead, she draws on the Nordic/Germanic idea of destiny and the original trinity (“der dreieine Gott”) who created man: Wotan (soul) and his brothers Wille (the will, responsible for movement) and Weh (giving emotion and external appearance). The Nordic concept of fate implies that man has a chance to actively interfere with and change his destiny any time if he consciously decides to do so — within the framework of possibilities, and his innate traits and talents, naturally.
Yoga, Race and National Socialism
Apart from her striking intellectual independence, Mathilde had a great sense of humor, which helped her deal effectively with cases of induced madness through religious and occult teachings. In her book on the subject (Induziertes Irresein durch Occultlehren, 1933), she finishes them all off in one blow: Christians, Jesuits, Freemasons, and the occult movements that were flooding the scene in the Weimar Republic, including Yoga as transmitted to German audiences by Indologist Jakob Wilhelm Hauer. She skillfully quotes select passages from original writings and lets them speak for themselves — some leaked to her by patients — which glaringly reveal the level of (self-)deception and absurdity of these belief systems. As a reader, you seriously begin to wonder why you were ever attracted to some of these ideas.
Not everything she says about Yoga is accurate, but then again, she mainly refers to Hauer’s repackaging of Yoga for Western audiences. Elsewhere, she speaks highly of ancient Indian philosophy. Indeed, any kind of cultural chauvinism and contempt for other races is foreign to her: her racialism corresponds to what contemporaries perceived as an ideology that was needed for reviving a people’s will to survive. A review of her second book on the gender question, Der Minne Genesung. Eine Psychologie der Sexualität (The Reconvalescence of Love. A Psychology of Sexuality, 1919), illustrates that the German interest in race during the 1920s and 30s was crucially linked to a particular historical situation, brought about by the effects of modernization and industrialization:
Nordic man is guilty of his own social isolation and separation; he took this tendency so far (or allowed foreign tribesmen to take it so far) that the last remaining cells of organic community life, i.e. marriage and the family, are now in danger of breaking down. We owe the concept of race to this very danger that threatens the survival of our race. It helps create a new organic bond and sense of belonging (Nordische Stimmen, No. 2, 1930)
Indeed, Ludendorff’s understanding of other cultures corresponds to that of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), who referred to the peoples of the world as “thoughts of God.” Similarly, in Mathilde’s universe, every culture and ethnic group chant their very own “God-Song”, i.e., have a unique way of culturally and artistically expressing themselves. She dedicated an entire book to this idea, entitled Gottlied der Völker — Eine Philosophie der Kulturen (God-Song of the Peoples — A Philosophy of Cultures, 1935).
As far as I can see, this is a thoroughly and traditionally German approach, which, contrary to popular myth, revolts against imperialism, cultural arrogance, self-righteousness or intellectual cruelty against other peoples. Perhaps, it might be a good idea for the English-speaking Alternative Right and the German New Right to remember this.
At the same time, of course, the German “völkisch” approach radically opposes race-mixing and mass migration because it equals the destruction of something sacred: a people. The book might have saved Mathilde Ludendorff eventually, although she was initially found guilty during the Allies’ Denazification trials in 1949: when she presented her 80-page defense, she argued that she had always opposed the barbaric kind of anti-Semitism propagated by the Reich, that she and her husband had always warned against war and cruelties, and that she had always thought of every people as a unique expression of God-consciousness on this planet. At the same time, she stayed true to her “völkisch” position and her critique of Judaism, arguing that Jewish religious laws towards non-Jews presented a violation of the sacredness of non-Jewish peoples and their right to exist.
The relationship of the Ludendorffs with National Socialism had been strained indeed, despite their seemingly similar worldview. Already at an early stage, the General had warned against Hitler, prophesying that he would not be able to stop the blood-thirstiness of the SA, for which he himself was responsible. When the General died on December 20, 1937, Mathilde had a word with Hitler and insisted that her husband’s coffin be covered with the former Imperial War flag rather than the swastika flag during the state funeral. The Führer obeyed.
Earlier, when Mathilde had offered her cooperation with the NSDAP, the party had showed no interest. The most important service a woman could do for her country was to raise healthy children, Hitler explained in his speech to women in 1936 in what must be one of the most empathetic and convincing speeches defining womanhood as motherhood. He probably had not read Woman and her Purpose. Who knows? Had he created a position for the counsel of a wise woman in the NSDAP, with Mathilde Ludendorff serving as the Reich’s seeress, things might have turned out quite differently.
Lore Waldvogel holds a Ph.D. in Literature and an M.A. degree in Religious Studies. Her essay “Carl Gustav Jung and the German Soul” (in German) was published in Sezession. An expanded version will be published in the forthcoming issue of Neue Ordnung.