Alexander Jacob: Introduction to Contributions to the History of European Liberalism by Kurt Hancke

Contributions to the History of European Liberalism
Kurt Hancke
Uthwita Press, 2024

Amazon Blurb by TOO contributor Prof. Ricardo Duchesne who founded the Council of Euro-Canadians, interviewed here: This translation of Dr. Kurt Hancke’s book (Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte des europäischen Liberalismus, 1942) should be welcomed as a major, original addition to the growing scepticism in the Anglo world about the merits of Western liberalism.

Hancke’s historical reflections on the history of Western liberalism and the Enlightenment notion of an “undifferentiated” humanity with equal rights, take us beyond a traditionalist perspective to propose instead a German nationalist conception of humanity and individualism.

This emphasis on the importance of a nationalist position that values the highest in human nature, expressed from the perspective of a particular people rather than a rootless cosmopolitan humanity, is one reason to take this book by Hancke seriously, irrespective of what our views may be about his political actions as a supporter of German National-Socialism.

— Dr. Ricardo Duchesne


Kurt Hancke was born in 1911 in Hagen to Maria (née  Redhardt) and the engineer Otto Hancke. As a precocious youth he attended the local Albrecht-Dürer-Gymnasium. His propensity for German poetry led him to German studies and the history of literature at the universities of Tübingen, Munich and Berlin. In 1935 he presented the first result of his extensive studies in his doctoral dissertation on The View of Fate in Eighteenth-Century German Irrationalism. He began post-doctoral work at the Universität Freiburg but did not complete his post-doctoral dissertation. Instead, he joined the SS in 1937. In 1939 he became a Hauptsturmführer of the SS and worked as an advisor in the Sicherheitsdienst Hauptamt led by Franz Alfred Six. In 1940, as Chief Assistant to Six in the department of International Studies at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Hancke published a work entitled German Revolt against the West. Around the time of its publication, he was called to the Wehrmacht as lieutenant. It was during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 that Hancke died fighting at the small village of Sobotniki. After his untimely death, Six published Hancke’s manuscripts on liberalism as the present work, Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte des europäischen Liberalismus.

The recent literature on the defects of liberal ideologies is too extensive to be enumerated here. There have been several works detailing the defects of Western liberalism by members of Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement based in France, for instance. However, the Nouvelle Droite is an avowedly apolitical movement and is necessarily handicapped by the fact that liberalism, originating in England, pushed its roots into the continent first in France and achieved its most dramatic success in the Revolution of 1789. As for Britain and its American colony, it is needless to add that these are quite worthless in the fight against liberalism when they were indeed the founders not only of liberalism and Deism but also of Freemasonry. The value of the present work by Kurt Hancke lies in its focus on the special philosophical and religious virtue of the German ideology — or German Movement, as he calls it — as the most effective counter to the Enlightenment ideas that had infiltrated Germany from England and France. Though Hancke is aware that the German ideology had not been very successful initially in its fight against liberalism, he is confident that it has finally found a firm political backing in the National-Socialist regime.†

Hancke considers liberalism as an ideology of the primacy of the individual and locates its rise in the breakdown of the mediaeval world-order of the Holy Roman Empire and the subsequent emergence of nation states in Europe. Economically, this seismic shift in the social ethos of the continent was later helped by the growing phenomena of industrialisation and capitalism. The turning point of the end of the mediaeval order was the Renaissance in the south and the Reformation in the north. Thus, we glimpse liberalistic views emerging in Machiavelli and Jean Bodin and reinforced by Johannes Althusius and Hugo Grotius. The tendency now was to have recourse to Natural Law rather than Ecclesiastical as the basis of society. This reliance on natural law naturally led to the formation of Deism in England, especially in the works of Herbert of Cherbury and Viscount Bolingbroke. Adam Smith then consolidated the system with his economic liberalism.

In France, Mandeville reinforced these liberalistic trends with an amoralistic liberalism. Montesquieu’s lasting contribution to the movement was his doctrine of the separation of powers in the state, while Rousseau consummated the liberalistic impulse with his thesis that the people must eventually determine their own constitution. It was only Germany that seriously sought to resist the English and French liberalistic inroads into old Europe. This it did through the nationalistic writings of Fichte, Herder and Novalis. However, in Germany, even under the Second Reich, there was not a clear demarcation between the new German Idealism and the rising economic liberalism or the new socialism — which indeed represented a radical form of liberalism that would turn into Bolshevist Communism in the east. Liberalism is thus seen to be a versatile ideology that was able to accommodate itself to several different forms of state constitution — thus to absolutism, democracy, republicanism and socialist government in turn. Freemasonry, which followed in the steps of liberalism, evinced the same versatility.

The origin of the liberalistic idea of man may be traced back to the ‘humanitas’ of the Renaissance which represented a liberation of man from Christian otherworldly teleology that had forced him to rest his hopes on Faith. Gradually Reason was substituted for Faith and moralism replaced religion. This transformation was even more acutely associated with the Protestant Reformation of Luther and Calvin, Melanchthon and the educator Comenius.

Yet the resistance to the new liberalistic movements was also crystallised in Germany especially through the mystical tradition of Pietism. The monadology of Leibnitz was also a philosophical refutation of the Enlightenment principles since it was not atomistic and mechanistic like the Western empirical systems but more organic in conception. Nationalism was, besides, encouraged in Germany through the focus on the nation as a larger organic entity than the human in Fichte and Schiller and Herder. As Hancke puts it:

The centre of this circle, however, is the concrete German people and the threat it faces from the West. The resort to the inimitable uniqueness of the individual turned one folk among many into the single folk, the historical folk par excellence. The idea of humanity as an abstract universal model of man became the metaphysical justification of a German self-consciousness: This is the meaning of German humanity and its contrast to the Western ideology of humanity.

Unfortunately, however, Germany was not able to fully resist the Westernising influences:

The German movement’s idea of humanity was overwhelmed by the industrial levelling of Europe, by the dominant economic rationalism, by the international powers that allied themselves with the West and, as a whole, imposed a realism on the Second Reich that left no room for the German idea of ​​humanity.

It is interesting to recall that German nationalists like Fichte were also often Freemasons, but what they contributed to German philosophy and politics was distinct from the Masonic ideal of global liberalism. Thus, the philosophical and literary ‘German movement’, though ineffective through the period of the Second Reich, maintained itself in spite of Western Masonic pressures on Germany and found its fullest champion, according to Hancke, in National-Socialism, which reasserts German independence against liberalistic and Masonic universalism:

The German worldview conceives of man as the bodily-mental unity founded in race, rooted in nationality and viable only in national community, as it has always revealed itself in the genuine history of the folk. This is the National-Socialist idea of humanity.

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The Enlightenment, Deism and Freemasonry are the principal intellectual movements that ushered into Europe the universalist worldview. The Humanism of the Renaissance was transformed by these movements into a fully optimistic view of man as no longer burdened with notions of original sin. The theocratic state was also replaced by a humanitarian universalism. It is not surprising that the first proposals for an international association such as the later League of Nations and the United Nations were made by Deist thinkers of French extraction like Abbé de Saint-Pierre and his friend Marquis d’Argenson.

However, the baneful results of the Enlightenment ideology were the increasing mechanisation and mathematisation of the world as exemplified in the works of Descartes, Newton and Boyle. Hobbes’ political views were also mechanical in that he viewed the state as a huge machine. The Protestant ‘Glorious’ Revolution in England that marked the accession of King William of Orange to the English throne in 1688 fostered the works of the Puritan thinker John Locke, who is generally considered the father of liberal democracy.  Interestingly, Locke also vigorously championed ‘toleration’, even though he meant thereby the toleration of Catholics.

Ironically, as Hancke points out, the so-called emphasis on tolerance that was common to the Enlightenment and Masonry bore in itself the potential of intolerance when it came to defending their own position. This is the explanation of the transformation of liberalism into Bolshevism too, since the defence of the liberal ideology requires, finally, the establishment of a tyrannical totalitarian state.

In France, the Catholic regime of Louis XIV did not permit the flourishing of free-thought and it was under his successor, Louis XV, that the French Enlightenment came to the fore in the writings of Voltaire and Diderot. Rousseau, though a child of the Enlightenment in his humanitarianism, represented also the ‘irrational’ or sentimental compensatory aspect of Enlightenment rationalism. His calls for a return to Nature indeed constitute the more dangerous side of Enlightenment ideology that projects not merely a mechanisation of the world but also a reduction of it to its primitive natural constitution.

The Enlightenment’s focus on secularisation helped the Masonic ideology just as the mechanistic worldview of the age, including that of Deism, encouraged the Masons’ view of the universe as ruled by a world-architect. The Deism of Hebert Cherbury in England replaced conscience and faith with innate ideas wherewith it sought to secularise Christianity. As Hancke points out:

The reduction of faith to the innate ideas of the individual demands not only rationalism and individualism but, at the same time, a universal claim to validity: Since the ideas are equally innate in every human being without distinction, they must be equally valid for all human beings.

Another branch of the Enlightenment that differed slightly from Deism is Pantheism, which was represented especially by the Irish thinker John Toland in his Pantheisticon. This strand was derived from Spinoza’s rationalistic divinisation of Nature.

Both Deism and the Enlightenment were motivating forces in the rise of Masonic Lodges in France. The first major Lodge was established between 1728 and 1738 with Philip, Duke of Wharton who had been the grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of London, presiding as its grandmaster.

It should be noted, however, that the Enlightenment focus on rationalism also produced several irrationalist compensations that sought to emphasise the feelings or the deeper life powers, which were not tangible to the rational mind: The moral sense, which functions uninfluenced by the mind as a hidden common organ for beauty and morality, is the most successful of these life powers.

But this emphasis on feelings was inevitably perverted into a love of symbolical frauds:

Especially the dialectic of the Enlightenment counter-image led to the most strange excesses of mysticism, artificial darkness and symbolic fraud in Freemasonry: No other organisation of that time reveals the described surrogate-character of secret activity so strikingly as the Lodge, and nowhere could the primitive fantasies of the “enlightened” unfold more unrestrainedly than here.

Thus the irrationalism noticed in Rousseau was manifested in Masonry in its fake esotericism and rituals.

Freemasonry is throughout its history marked by its secretive nature and Hancke pauses to study the development of secret societies within Enlightenment Europe. Religious mysteries as the earliest forms of esoteric groupings are noticeable already in the pre-Cretan Mediterranean and they were followed in Hellenistic times by the Platonic Academy (which was dissolved by Justinian) and in the Renaissance by the Florentine Academy of the Medicis. The mediaeval era had also encouraged the formation of social groupings such as the guilds and these were followed in the modern era by various workers’ unions and political clubs, both socialist and aristocratic. The rapid interest in science promoted academic societies devoted to scientific learning such as the Royal Society and the incipient nationalism of European lands resulted in the formation of societies devoted to the promotion of national languages. Catholicism, however, succeeded in absorbing such groupings into its large organisation by making the Franciscans, for example, an Order within the Church.

Germany was characterised in the mediaeval age by associations that worked independently of the Church and the State. Protestantism itself was not conducive to the formation of secret societies since it was an essentially tolerant movement. Yet, in the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment and its Deist religious reformations encouraged the growth of various Masonic Lodges. The anti-Napoleonic societies in Germany were also formed in secret groupings.

The Enlightenment proper entered into Germany particularly through the literary circles prevalent in Prussia: Thus through figures like Wieland, Lessing, Engel, Mendelssohn and Nicolai. Many of these thinkers were Jewish emancipationists as well. Thus, after Christian Wolff, the real representatives of the German Enlightenment were the Jews Moses Mendelssohn and Lessing.[1] Consequently the Enlightenment in general became synonymous with the emancipation of the Jews.

Against the French classical doctrines of the German thinker Johann Gottsched there arose a Swiss school led by Johann Breitinger and Johann Bodmer that propagated English Romanticism. A peculiarity of the return to Nature was its appeal to antiquity as well, but not to Roman antiquity so much as to Greek. Thus, for example, the art historian and archaeologist Johann Winckelmann constantly praised Greek inventiveness as the model to be imitated in modern Germany. The Romantic movement also manifested itself in darker aspects such as the love of horror and suicide as means of escaping the world. This resulted in the German movement called Sturm und Drang (‘storm and stress’). Again, the literary models sought here were not the figures of French classicism but Shakespearean heroes.

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The major German reaction against this Western sentimentality is to be found in the works of the Pietist Johann Hamann, who pointed to the organic nature of the human being and the need to acquire an intense self-knowledge that transcends the passions by which the Romantics are so easily distracted.

The revolt of German philosophy against the Western Enlightenment was generally crystallised around the religious movement of Pietism that drew on the earlier mystical tendencies of such religious thinkers as Meister Eckhart and Jakob Böhme. The two towering philosophical figures that emerged in eighteenth century Germany to combat the Western intellectual invasions were Leibnitz and Kant. The German reaction against the Enlightenment was indeed spearheaded by Kant, who defeated rationalism and empiricism in his critiques of pure and practical reason.

Fichte too, though a Mason himself, broke away from the universalist ideology of Masonry by positing the metaphysical significance of the notion of Humanity,

which becomes the given essential character which can be achieved for individuals and for peoples only through the highest exertion of all forces; history becomes a process of the self-discovery of these characters of individuals and peoples; morality has its sole standard in these tasks and achievements. Such an overall process … is no longer “good for something” like Western Freemasonry, no longer a path to the realisation of enlightening goals, but “it is good in and for itself, not a means to any end” [quoting Fichte]. This is the specifically and unmistakably German step away from all utility thinking to an “in and for itself …

Unfortunately, however, the Western forces of the Enlightenment and its concomitant Masonry eventually triumphed over the German spirit until the time of National-Socialism. As Hancke points out:

It cannot be mistaken that the Enlightenment as an epochal process united the European-American “West” and secured its historical leadership for the time being. But this is the circumstance from which a present-day German view must primarily judge: Since the Enlightenment, Germanic-German continuity has been sick from Westernization.

Politically this brought about the opposition of the democratic West to the autarkic German National-Socialist state:

The “great democracies”, in this form already self-confident since the World War, still represent that old union of the West which had been formed at the height of the Enlightenment (with the foundation of the USA) between France, England and America. It is the spirit of the old Enlightenment which is mobilised today against National-Socialism: The spirit of rationalism, calculation and security (against German “unpredictability”), of individual liberalism (against German “despotism”), of tolerance (against German “radicalism”), of humanitarian brotherhood (against German “racial mania”), of secularised rational Christianity and its “morality” (against German “neo-paganism”), all in the name of civilization and progress.

The fight that National-Socialist Germany has undertaken against liberalism and its many forms should therefore, according to Hancke, be considered as a vital philosophical mission:

It is, however, once again the spirit of the old Enlightenment which today rules the world in the form of over-technology, rational standardisation, accelerated idling and total kitschification. Here it is necessary to deepen the outer fronts and, in radical self-contemplation, to make the overcoming of the Enlightenment through itself a conscious one again — as a German mission. From this arises the radical front, above all, against the international bearers of the bad Enlightenment spirit: Against intellectual Judaism and against the mischief of Freemasonry.

[1] Eugen Dühring considered Lessing to be a crypto-Jew and classified him, along with Ludwig Börne and Heinrich Heine, as a ‘Jewish group’ of writers (see my edition of Dühring’s Die Judenfrage, Eugen Dühring on the Jews, 1997, p.120.).