Revolution from the Right

An excerpt from Hans Freyer’s 1931 booklet ‘Revolution from the Right’


Born in Leipzig in 1887, Hans Freyer earned his doctorate in Sociology at the University of Leipzig in 1911, becoming something now rarely seen in today’s modern world – a right-wing sociologist. Freyer’s inclinations were towards conservatism, nationalism, and traditionalism, his philosophical ideals arguing for a historical worldview in which hierarchy, elitism, the leader-state, and collectivism were the inevitable highest stage of man’s social development. Freyer’s work in German academia proved influential – his ideas inspired not only sections of the romantic, nationalist-inclined Jugendbewegung (youth movement), but also the growing circle of writers and philosophers extolling the  revolutionary ‘new nationalism’ of the time – the Conservative Revolutionaries.

Freyer’s pamphlet Revolution von Rechts, a brief extract of which is reproduced below, in fact came to be one of the most important and influential contributions to the cause of the Conservative Revolutionaries. In Revolution Freyer describes the concept of the “revolution of the right”, a new revolutionary dialectic in which the Volk as a whole – rather than the bourgeoisie or the proletariat – would, under direction from an elite, sweep away the old order and build a new Total State which would harmonize technology with society and end the primacy of commercial interests over politics. Interestingly, despite the overlap of his ideas with those of the NSDAP, Hans Freyer was never a card-carrying National Socialist, although at the time Revolution was written he was not unsympathetic. Freyer in fact saw the growing influence and strength of the NSDAP and hoped with Revolution to direct it, to provide the movement with clarity about its historical purpose and to guide it away from being co-opted either by “the masses” (like many in conservative intellectual circles, Freyer regarded the NSDAP as too vulgarly violent, too populist, too plebeian) or by the bourgeois reactionaries of the “old right” (monarchists, industrialists, the petite bourgeoisie, etc.). Such elitist purism is typical of the members of the Conservative Revolutionary intellectual tradition. 

A new front is taking shape on the battlefields of bourgeois society: the revolution from the right. With the magnetic force inherent in a watchword of the future before it is pronounced, it draws from all camps the hardest, the most alert, the most contemporary of people into its ranks. It is still gathering its forces, but it will strike. Its movement is still a mere assembly of minds, without consciousness, without symbols, without leadership. But overnight the front will be established. It will undermine the old parties, their stagnated programs and their antiquated ideologies. It will successfully dispute not the reality of the tangled class contradictions of a society become everywhere petit-bourgeois but the arrogance of the claim that they can be politically productive. It will clear away the remnants of the nineteenth century where they persist and free the way for the history of the twentieth.

Those who think in the day-before-yesterday terms of bourgeoisie and proletariat, of class struggle and economic peace, of progress and reaction, who see nothing in the world but problems of distribution and insurance premiums for the have-nots, nothing but opposing interests and a state that mediates among them, they naturally fail to see that since yesterday there has been a regrouping of goals and forces underway. They confuse the revolution from the right with all sorts of honest but harmless troublemakers and eccentrics from the old world: with nationalist romantics, with counterrevolutionary activism, with an idealistically embellished juste milieu, or with the splendid notion of a state above the parties. They think that fascism is being imitated here, bottled Action Française in Germany, or a Soviet Germany, made enticing to romantics too through the assistance of certain reminiscences from German legal history. That which unites us with these is that, despite their confusions, they themselves have a troubled conscience. In the end they sense merely that something incomprehensible is drumming on their blinders from outside. In this, insofar as they are involved, they have hit upon the truth.

But even those in whom the new will is vital are mostly only semiconscious of what is happening. When they want to explain themselves they speak in the cramped language of a bygone radicalism. Or they do not dare to acknowledge that, with their eyes pointed forward, things look different than they have for a century. As promising as it is that the revolution from the right, without attempting to prove, legitimate, or promote itself has, within the old society, silently given form to a new one, so has the time arrived for the new reality to gain an initial conception of itself.

It is not a matter of persuading the doubtful, encouraging the hesitant, attracting the resistant, or disengaging the complacent. And it is certainly not a matter of offering the kind of proof that no movement believes it can do without today: that world history has simply been waiting for it and everything before it has aimed in its direction. It is solely a matter of establishing a few facts, of lifting into consciousness a few future-oriented developments, and of laying before those concerned the decisions implicit in them.

Otherwise all has been long since underway. The movement needs no stimulus and no awakening. However, it quite likely will eventually require a consciousness of what is at issue and how far we have come. Opportunities can always be missed, forces misdirected. At a certain moment autonomous development must be transformed into willed action, events into resolve, and readiness raised to the potency of a front. Only the most pitiless clear-sightedness toward the self will rescue the revolution, already underway, from the political forces of the old right, which continue to burden it in so many ways, and free it from the danger of using some sort of monarchical, big capitalist, or petit-bourgeois cart for the lead team. Only the most pitiless clear-sightedness toward the self will protect it from confusing itself, that is, identifying itself with one of the waves that it had produced on the surface of the present.

Social reality – before our eyes, beneath our hands, indeed even in our heads – has reshuffled itself, unnoticed but unmistakably. Let us therefore open our eyes, reach with our hands, make order in our heads, and also reshuffle our ideas concerning social reality. We are still thinking as if we were of the nineteenth century, but the major thoughts, the key thoughts of that century have long since run aground, and the rocks of its faith have drifted away like sand. The idealists of its progress are the true reactionaries of today. That century’s ideas of history, the present, and fulfilment have themselves become history overnight. Let us accept them as such; let us keep them from turning our heads, instead mummifying them as the classical testaments of a bygone epoch.

Meanwhile, the new reality is working in thousands and many more thousands of senses. It cuts right through us, for who is wholly of the present? But all of us are in its grasp. What it needs in the way of ideals, values, illusions, it will itself produce as part of its actuality. To anticipate its ideas would be an empty indulgence of prophecy. Historical movements cannot be prepared like theatrical performances, for there is no text according to which it should play; only in that it transpires does it find its language.

But one thing can be done: inscribe the front that is presently taking shape into the map of time; without undue anticipation but with a feel for the dynamic of the present; without pronunziamento but with confidence; without a belief in historical miracles but merely establishing what is.


Article sourced from A. Kaes’s, M. Jay’s, & E. Dimendberg’s The Weimar Republic Sourcebook  (1995), University of California Press


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