Christoph Steding (1903–1938) was born in the village of Waltringhausen in Lower Saxony to a peasant family that had been settled in the region for several centuries. Much like Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia — which lost political animation ever since the Thirty Years’ War was concluded with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 — the area in which Steding grew up was more or less politically neutral since the decline of the Hanseatic League at the end of the seventeenth century. Only its incorporation into the North German Confederation of 1867, after Prussia’s victory in the Austro-Prussian War, granted it some continued political significance. This fact may have influenced Steding’s later decision to write his magnum opus on the contest between neutral states and imperial ones like Bismarck’s Reich and the Third Reich.
Steding attended the universities of Freiburg, Marburg, Munich and, again, Marburg. For his doctoral thesis he first wished to present a study of mediaeval Javanese culture but later had to change the subject of his dissertation to the bourgeois liberalism of sociologist Max Weber. He obtained his doctorate in 1931 and, at the end of 1932, he won a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation that enabled him to undertake extensive travels in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia that lasted for two years. The subject of his researches during this period was the role played by these neutral states in the Bismarckian Reich.
In 1935, Steding returned to Germany and worked on the long study which was called Das Reich und die Krankheit der europäischen Kultur (The Reich and the Disease of European Culture). It found the support of Walter Frank, director of the Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands (Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany) whom Steding met in November 1935, and, in the summer of 1937, he was invited to deliver a talk at Frank’s institute titled “Kulturgeschichtsschreibung und politische Gesichtsschreibung” (Cultural and Political History).
Although Steding never joined the NSDAP, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler. He first heard Hitler speak at meetings in October 1935 and, in 1937, following a meeting he attended at which Hitler and Mussolini were speakers, Steding noted in his diary that the Führer reminded him immediately of Hegel’s words in 1806 about Napoleon — that the latter seemed to Hegel like the “world-soul” on horseback. In January 1938, however, Steding died of a renal illness.
Since he had strongly supported Steding’s project, Frank worked on Steding’s manuscript from June to September 1938 and published it in the form in which it now exists, unfinished in spite of its extraordinary length (around 760 pages), but with a completed Introduction by Steding himself (written in the autumn of 1937), and a Foreword by Frank. The publication of the book was a success since it was reprinted five times during the Reich, until 1944, while a short extract from it called Das Reich und die Neutralen (The Reich and the Neutrals) was also published in 1942 as an encouragement to the front soldiers. However, Alfred Rosenberg was opposed to Steding’s work and his collaborators criticized it sharply in their various reviews of it.
Steding’s work is, in Frank’s edition, divided into two parts, the first dealing with the ideological consequences of the political neutralisation of the border states and the second with the diverse cultural attacks conducted by these neutral states against the Reich. The aim of Steding’s work is to reverse what Steding himself describes in the opening lines of his Introduction as “a withdrawal of the Germanic peoples from world history” ever since the French Revolution. Already the decline of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from the end of the Thirty Years’ War signalled the end of the dominance of the Germans as the organizing force of the Holy Roman Empire:
The victory of the Western powers, of the Swedes and the French, was at that time (in 1648) as much the beginning of the disintegration of their kingdoms as the so-called victory of 1918. The liquidation of the ancient Frankish empire in the French Revolution, the withdrawal of Sweden, the decomposition of Austria, the destruction of the Germanically infused Russia of Peter the Great, and the modern destruction, issuing from within, of the Anglo-Saxon world — of the Empire, are only consequences of that process of the crippling of Central Europe that emerged most visibly with the Thirty Years’ War.
Not only did Switzerland withdraw into a sterile neutrality but the English and the Dutch too turned away from the Germanic core in Central Europe through their wide-ranging colonial enterprises. France, meanwhile, sought to steadfastly reduce the European influence of Germany from the time of Louis XIV up to the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. Bismarck’s Second Reich was the first attempt to reverse the process of Germanic decline and, when Bismarck’s efforts were undermined by the Westernising Kaiser Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler arose to restore Germany to its rightful role as the authentic anti-liberal leader of Europe.
Whereas the Western European states, including Scandinavia, may rejoice at the growing prosperity that they experienced in relation to the Germanic centre, Steding points out that economic considerations cannot obscure the fact that the Germans remain the most highly developed politically since they have been prepared and matured “by God in a quite special way through endless suffering in order to be able to cast the deepest glance into the structure of our world.” The Bismarckian Reich and the Prussian state were thus the most potent sources of the political renewal of Europe and Hitler’s Reich must be considered a continuation of the Prussian insofar as it had the same political discipline and expansionist impulse.
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The social condition of Europe after 1918, sealed by the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, was one of corruption and degeneracy that served as a preparation for the Bolshevist invasion from the East:
And to this degeneration of European man, this threat to all of Europe from within, there corresponded a threat from outside, through Tartar-Jewish Bolshevism, such as did not exist up to now. For, this external threat receives its character of extreme dangerousness only through the fact that European man, as a result of his corruption, becomes the condition of the possibility of the self-consciousness of the Tartar steppe against Europe and at the same time encourages the latter covertly to advance to an attack. … Material well-being seems to have been lent by fate only to anesthetize Western Europe via the sensuality of material pleasure and to then conduct it so much more surely to perdition.
We see that what Steding is describing here is the cancerous corruption of European society that is today called “Modernism” and “Cultural Marxism.” And it is one of the merits of Steding’s work that he pinpoints the cultural centers where this movement of degeneracy was initially located, in Basel, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and the other metropolises of Western Europe. Basel is, in Steding’s synoptic view of European history, the center most responsible for the dissemination of cultural historiography that revolted against the manly spirit of the Prussian Reich. This influence of Basel spread to German academic centers, primarily Heidelberg:
For that reason, Heidelberg — which not wrongly was considered the city of Max Weber — had with an inevitable necessity to become a “cultural centre” of the first rank. Here, especially in the field of the sciences, the division and fragmentation characteristic of modern culture into disciplines that became autonomous was realized in a quite exemplary manner.
German emigrants like writer Thomas Mann (1929 Nobel Laureate for Literature) and Hugo Ball (the founder of the Dadaist movement in Zürich) as well as the numerous other literary and philosophical figures based in Basel and Zürich discussed in Steding’s work, represent a stage that is incommensurate with the living Reich of Bismarck or that of Hitler, since they belong to a past that the Reich has “banished” from its domain and that is naturally opposed in its decadence to the Reich. For Steding, the Western states are in a state of degeneration since they have become apolitical, neutral, and the Reich is the only source of political as well as cultural health within Europe, for politics precedes culture and the latter cannot become independent of the former as it has in the Western states.
Steding considered Thomas Mann and Max Weber as particularly pronounced embodiments of bourgeois decadence, the latter especially for his Puritanism and Protestantism and his Neo-Kantian rationalism:
Puritanism was the religion suited to the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois culture which was especially classically realized in the neutral intermediate states at the mouth of the Rhine and at the source of the Rhine; and even in Denmark, Lutheranism since the nineteenth century stands closer to the spirit of Dutch Puritanism than to that of German Lutheranism. Further, Puritanism and Neo-Kantianism stand especially close to each other, because in Kant himself the classical sources continue to have an effect, and indeed, in a passionate Neo-Kantian such as Max Weber, was the close connection of this philosophical orientation to the spirit of the Puritan Protestant ethic is palpable.
Another reason for Steding’s opposition to Weber is the fact that his circle was often frequented by Jewish Bolshevist writers like Georg Lukács and Ernst Bloch.
In fact, Steding’s targets are all the intellectuals emergent from the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Wilhelmine Reich who encouraged the “Helvetization” and “Hollandization” of Germany and Europe. The decadence of the neighboring Western states is represented not only by the cultural historian Burckhardt in Switzerland and his disciple Huizinga in Holland but by intellectuals like philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in Denmark, who exerted a major influence on what is called Existentialist philosophy, and the Jews Husserl and Freud in Vienna, while through the influence of the Jewish literary critic Georg Brandes, the alien worlds of Zola and Dostoevsky were imported in translations into Germany. Even Norwegian writers like Knut Hamsun who are celebrated as champions of the Reich do not really represent the political substance of the Reich since their works are marked by an irony and hopelessness that are alien to the positive impulses of the Reich.
The Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga in particular exemplifies the Romantic obsession with the decline of Germanic culture, with the “autumn of culture” as he called it in the title of his famous book Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (Autumn of the Middle Ages). The end result of the spreading liberal culture of the bourgeois and Judaized intelligentsia is the withdrawal into a Romantic world of historical reflections that no longer has any political vitality in it:
[T]he “culture” protesting against Bismarck and Hitler is essentially characterized by the fact that it looks backwards and lives on the political past, which is so distant that one no longer understands it, so that life has become literary, interpretative, collecting and conserving, and is able to bring forth only ornamental squiggly forms or unimaginative photography as its type of productivity (cf. Thomas Mann, [Swedish playwright August] Strindberg, [Norwegian writer Knut] Hamsun), one therefore considers Goethe and Schiller only in a “literary” way and therefore one hates in Bismarck and Hitler precisely that they act as such because it cannot be misinterpreted so easily as Goethe and Schiller and because its efficient reality is too real for it to be understood — like the efficient reality of Schiller and Goethe or Hegel — only as “culture” in the sense of a literary culture of words.
The opposition between the moribund aesthetic culture of Western Europe and the rising political vitality of the Third Reich is evident even in the lack of depth that characterises the Western European cultural historical writing:
It is extremely significant that there is, in this world of neutral culture, nothing corresponding to the German word “destiny.” Neither in Holland nor in the North. And no doubt even German Switzerland knows nothing of the meaning that every political man associates with this word. There is therefore nothing corresponding to this word in the domain of the states of neutral aesthetic culture because, [in those states] there has for a long time been no more history, which as such is always destiny and fate, and because, consequently, these states, like the old Western European states in general, can no longer represent any genuine destiny that engraves new features into the face of Europe. That is why the aesthetic culture, which also sees itself as a pioneer fighter for “justice,” opposes “power” because it must, being history-less and aesthetic, that is, moribund and impotent, fight to the death against the new creative principle that arose with the consolidation of the Reich in the center, in the heart of Europe.
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The major defects of liberalist culture, according to Steding, are indeed its aestheticism and feminism. Two major objects of Steding’s critique in the initial chapter of the cultural historical section of his study are Jacob Burckhardt and Johann Bachofen. While Burckhardt adheres to the Greek version of the irrationalism promoted by Nietzsche, Bachofen rather sympathises with the Asiatic and African peoples:
To be sure, Bachofen fights with extreme fierceness against the modern democratizing of the world since he sees its consequences. But he is one of its chief pathfinders since he has, according to his essence and attitudinal constitution, reached “materialistically” — and with his Basel and his Switzerland — such a stage of maturity that he has been able to give up his naïve peasant innocence of materialism and matriarchal naturalness, his voluntary self-restriction, and now assert matter as matter in an unrestricted manner.
The danger of the preoccupation with these exotic cultures is that it leads to an increasingly materialistic worldview:
That is indeed why Switzerland became ever “freer,” ever more democratic, that is, ever more materialistic in the sense of Marxism. That is why it had to, precisely with the foundation of the Reich, represent the rights of matter, that is, of “culture,” especially harshly. It could not do that more unequivocally than when it answered the overcoming of Marxism in the Reich with a special victory of Marxism within its own borders, naturally especially in the cities like Basel, Zurich and Geneva, whose present spirit is the linear continuation of the Bachofen “culture” and Dionysian-democratic-liberal spirit of freedom.
Bachofen’s focus on the matriarchal and the feminine in Nature is inextricably tied to the desire to develop a country in an industrial and capitalistic manner:
Not by accident does Bachofen explain to us that among matriarchal peoples, industrial activity is especially developed. The capitalistic “character” of a culture that necessarily behaves in a way hostile to the Reich is even more especially supported by the matriarchal, gynecocratic quality of these areas, if indeed there is not in general an inner connection between the public and the secret world-rule and capitalism, which can be concluded from Bachofen’s remarks. And nobody will maintain that the Western European world, which was realized in a more classical manner in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark than in actual Western Europe — especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries — is an objection to the theses of Bachofen. Rather, the mores existing there as regards the position of the woman impels the search for as many connections between this phenomenon and the total urbanization and industrialization of all of life. For the two determine the public and private life of this world.
Indeed, cultural historiography in general exhibits a feminine character:
Cultural history is the actual feminine approach to the historical world. Its essential art is the art of the exclusion of the essential by discarding the event, destiny, deeds, from history and, instead of these, the cultural historian gathers together a colourful “tapestry of life” from the private, as it were, “beautiful,” side of the past, the arts, sciences, cosmetic arts. And it is further significant that the representation of these subjects that should be treated especially in salons is determined by intuitions, feelings, sympathies and antipathies, in short, by moods. The selection of the material results from a mood, the representation in itself is moody, playful, alinear, even “painterly,” so that coherence in this sort of historical writing must be sought especially in its lack of coherence, just as fine chats with beautiful women are necessarily distinguished by inconsequential zigzag courses, anecdotes and games. The perfect woman is able to realise herself primarily especially in the arts, stringing together with nimble, clever fingers that which has no intrinsic connection and making an apparent whole with ideas that diverge one from the other.
While it may be true that Steding is excessively prejudiced against whatever cultural merits the literary movements that militated against the Bismarckian as well as the Hitlerian Reich may have possessed, the central argument of his work remains sound: no organizational power can emerge from emotional expressiveness and feminine sentimentality. This political energy is characteristic only of the German Reich and, without it, there will no longer be any real politics but only diffuse individualism and nihilism.
It is true also that Steding does not dwell at any length on the fine arts and the excellence of non-Germanic Italy in this regard. However, in his discussion of the monumental style, he rightly points to the fact that the latter could be developed only in states that did not encourage individualism — as Julius Langbehn had contrarily maintained in his Rembrandt als Erzieher [Rembrandt as Educator](1890) — but rather the overarching architectonic of empire. He cites as examples the case of Egypt and Rome as creators of the monumental style:
The most blatant example of a disciplined state system was the Egyptian empire. And if one scrutinises Burckhardt carefully one will discover that the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian art is not culture, that culture in the proper sense is characteristic of Athens, Venice, the Renaissance, and naturally of Switzerland, especially Basel, insofar as it also, deviating from the Confederation, sets itself up independently. If Bachofen is enthusiastic about the Egyptian world, this is not the world of Egyptian state socialism but the chthonic world of the dark, materialistic, orgiastic religions that sprouted from the swamp and the miry religion of the Nile as growths of the swamps and rushes as it were and are still very closely allied to matter.
When [Abraham] Kuyper understands the great world empires of the East, of Rome, the Middle Ages as embodiments of Satanic aspirations of the men belonging to them, even the “culture” belonging to these empires cannot be considered by him as “culture” in the characteristic sense of aesthetically beautiful flower-bulb small businesses, even if he has not expressly stated that.
Thus Steding concludes that “Everything monumental is essentially anti-subjective, just as it signifies also the overcoming of all purely aesthetic culture.”
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The danger of the aesthetic view of the world, on the other hand, is that it reduces culture to mere play, sexuality and economic materialism:
The secret sense of all these efforts is indeed to “reduce” life in its highest cultural stage itself to such an extent that of it, only a shadow-play, or the pure matter of the sexual, erotic, economic, etc., remains.
It is this general atmosphere of frivolity that is exploited with great success by the Jews:
It also becomes understandable that the Jews exhibit a special talent for “culture” in its aesthetic-playful aspect. For, among them, often through the excess of endogamy and inbreeding, that de-naturalisation is achieved which is the precondition for the delight in mere deft game-playing and which, as such, naturally requires a quite special neutral talent for nimbleness that the doubtless often clumsy fundamental seriousness of the hard, grounded, political Germans does not dispose of. It does not because, typical of the Reich as the European center and point of gravity, is solidity and tenacity, which a political organism requires in order to be able to be respected as the “foundation” of the European political system.
Unfortunately, the degeneracy of “frivolity, cynicism, overindulgence, pretence, irony, wastefulness, unrestricted sexuality” spawned in the Western states has not only manifested itself in the West but it has spread to the Central European German lands too, sometimes through symptoms that may seem to be the reverse of the above traits, thus in “rigid morality … prudery and austerity” that betoken an internal emptiness. Whereas the imperial Austrian elites were marked by the former sort of degeneracy, the Prussian bureaucratic ones were characterised by rigidity and a tendency to ossification. The degeneration of politics to aesthetics is evident also in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s adoption of Dutch fashions and his penchant for theatrical play-acting.
The neutralisation of German man was thus present also in the Wilhelmine-Stresemann interim Reich and the defeat of Germany in the First World War was only the external culmination of an internal illness. This illness is concentrated in the aversion of the liberalized neighbouring states to the Prussian state as a political and military formation:
Perhaps one will be able to expect of an impartial observer that he would understand the phenomenon of Prussian militarism, the wonderful architectonic of the German army, as a very stylistic formation, as the product of a very high culture whose creation doubtless involves more intellectual work than the composition of a brilliant essay, of an artistic historical work when indeed the proviso is not stated — as in Langbehn, Pierson, Nietzsche, Burckhardt and all the men subject to him in the neutral zone around the Reich — that “culture” and “style” exist only where individualism prevails and that, further, “culture” is understood necessarily as aesthetic, indeed especially as only literary!
The neutrality of the Western states with regard to the fate of the whole of the European continent with its Central European center meant that the entire life of these states is neutralized, in internal as well as external politics, in the arts and in the sciences, to such an extent that these states are virtually moribund. As Steding summarises,
The old definition of man, that he is a “zoon politikon” [political animal] implies also that man is man only when he is political. The submergence into the apoliticization of neutralised life thus destroys the humanity of man itself.
The political concomitant of this process of the aestheticization of politics is Liberalism:
It too develops in its late, thus modern, forms an unmistakable tendency towards neutralization of all life relations, which again signifies the aestheticization of the same.
And this process of social disintegration is observed most acutely in the army, which in the Wilhelmine Reich loses its organizational and directive force by becoming a mere ornament of politics:
If, in Bismarck’s, Moltke’s and Roon’s times, the army was still in complete harmony with the entirety of the people, there entered very quickly, in the Wilhelmine age, a separation and a being-for-itself of one part of the officer corps away from the people that alienated this stratum of the substance of the nation and drove it increasingly into an artificial, groundless position. And in this way was developed that aesthetic playful instinct that let the army exist for its own sake. It was understood especially by the Kaiser as a mere cultural value in the sense of the aesthetic culture of the neutral neighbours so that it became a mere “glistening weapon.” It reached the point of the big gestures of that gesturing boastfulness characteristic of neutral culture – here in the form of saber rattling behind which there was no serious will to take drastic action.
Go to Part 2.
 His travels took him to Basel, Zürich, Bern, Geneva, Leiden, The Hague, Copenhagen, Oslo, Uppsala, Stockholm and Helsinki.
 Walter Frank (1905-1945) was a National Socialist historian who wrote studies on the anti-Semitic court chaplain Adolf Stoecker as well as on the Dreyfus Affair in France. His institute, established in 1935 by Bernhard Rust, Reichsminister für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung, cooperated with Alfred Rosenberg’s Institut für Forschung der Judenfrage, which was established in 1939.
 See Helmut Heiber, Walter Frank und sein Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands, Stuttgart, 1966, p.527.
 See, for instance, Theodor Heuss, ”Politische oder polemische Wissenschaft. Zu Christoph Stedings Werk,” in Das deutsche Wort, XV, 1939, pp. 257-260, and Heinrich Härtle, “Steding neutralisiert Nietzsche,” in Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, September, 1939.
 C. Steding, Das Reich, “Einleitung.” All quotes from Steding are from this Introduction as well as from the first chapter of the second part of the book entitled “Cultural Historiography.” All translations are mine.
 Other universities that Steding cites as having fallen to the foreign influences of the neutral states are those of Freiburg im Breisgau, Frankfurt am Main, Bonn and Cologne.
 Johan Huizinga (1872—1945) was a Dutch cultural historian and professor of history at the University of Leiden. His most famous work Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (The Autumn of the Middle Ages, 1919) stressed the importance of spectacle and ceremony in mediaeval French and Dutch society while his later work Homo Ludens (1938) maintained that play was the primary formative element in human culture.
 Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) was a Swiss art historian whose works on the Italian Renaissance, Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860) and Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien (1867) established his reputation as one of the earliest and most influential cultural historians in the West.
 Johann Jakob Bachofen 1815-1887) was a Swiss anthropologist and professor of Roman Law at the University of Basel. His work on prehistoric matriarchy Das Mutterrecht (1861) posited an initial “lunar” stage in human cultural evolution that was matriarchal. This was later superseded by a transitional Dionysian stage of societal masculinisation and by a final “solar,” or Apollonian, stage of patriarchy.
 Bachofen, Mutterrecht..
 See my English edition, Rembrandt as Educator, London: Wermod and Wermod, 2017.
 Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Calvinist theologian and served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905.
 Albrecht Emil, Graf von Roon (1803-1879) was a distinguished Prussian statesman and Minister of War from 1859 to 1873.