The Emergence of the Concept of Abendland in Romanticism
The term "Abendland"1 emerged in the 16th century in the context of the Renaissance, humanism and the Reformation as the opposing term to the ideal of the Orient and to Martin Luther's (1483–1546) concept of the Morgenland (New Testament 1522). The term "Abendland" appeared first in German in 1529 as a calque ("Abendlender") of the term "Occident" in Caspar Hedio's (1494–1552) Chronica. While the term was initially a purely geographical term referring to western Europe, it acquired an increasing amount of cultural connotations.
The present-day understanding of the term developed during the period of romanticism.2 A specifically German tradition emerged during this period, in which the topos of Abendland – which has been described in academic literature as a "Kampfbegriff"3 (combative term) with some justification – at times became very ideologically loaded. From that point on, Abendland referred to the community of European peoples which had emerged from classical antiquity and was formed by Christianity during the medieval period. This cultural definition of Abendland gave the term a static aspect – it is a "durch die Geschichte festgelegter, deshalb nicht wie Europa zum Wachsen befähigter Raum".4
The term implies a conscious differentiation with regard to the non-Christian "East", a theme which runs through the entire history of the term Abendland up to the 20th century. The reference to the medieval period as the "golden age" of the Occident and as a "Vorbild für die eigene Gegenwart"5 (model for the present) was also a central aspect. This reference to the period before the Reformation explains why the Abendland concept was closely connected with calls for a re-Catholicization during the 19th and 20th century, and why it consequently remained an almost exclusively Catholic project.6
The Abendland Idea after the First World War
The First World War and its conclusion led to the second great wave of discussion about the Abendland after the period of romanticism. Heinz Gollwitzer (1917–1999) even refers to this wave as the actual "breakthrough" of the concept.7 The enormous influence of Oswald Spengler's (1880–1936) Untergang des Abendlandes, which became one of the central interpretative frameworks of the young Weimar Republic, clearly contributed to this.8 However, it was specifically the strongly culturally pessimistic tone of the work that challenged critics.
These included Catholics who laid claim to the concept of Abendland. They interpreted the outcome of the war as the collapse of Prussian Protestant society and its principles of order, and as an opportunity "Katholizismus als Vision einer besseren Zukunft vorzuführen".9 It was felt that the concept of Abendland could become a central principle in efforts towards political, social and cultural renewal.
Thus, a core group can be identified around the publication Abendland, who represented the idea of the Abendland in an exemplary way and on whom the "Abendländische Bewegung" (Abendland movement) could draw – both in terms of personnel and content – after the end of the Second World War. The publication Abendland. Deutsche Monatshefte für europäische Kultur, Politik und Wirtschaft – to give it its full title – was established in October 1925 by Hermann Platz (1880–1945), a Romance scholar and France expert at Bonn University. In the context of the French occupation of the Rhineland, he developed the concept of Occidental cooperation, which he argued should take its origins from the Rhineland10 as the historical "core of the Abendland".11
Under its editor Friedrich Schreyvogl (1899–1976), the publication Abendland was directed at an academic Catholic readership. A whole host of prominent Catholics in Weimar Germany participated in its development either as members of the editorial board or contributors. A number of French authors also became involved subsequently.12 In the early years, the publication primarily devoted itself to exploring the meanings of the Abendland concept, which was intended to signify much more than a political and economic rapprochement between the European states. "Das Abendland ist nicht ein beliebiger politischer Einfall, sondern die letzte reife Frucht, die vom Baume der christlichen Erkenntnis als endgültige Formel für das Leben in der Gemeinschaft fällt."13 The glorification of the medieval period as "der von Gott gewollten Verwirklichung des großen Gedankens der civitas Dei" played a central role.14 According to this thinking, it was the dissolution of this "organic", "God-ordained" order through the Reformation, the Enlightenment and nationalism which had made the First World War possible in the first place – a mode of explanation which emerged in identical form after the Second World War. The aim should therefore be to go beyond nationalistic prejudices to another "Geist" (spirit), which would ultimately make other political realities possible. The fact that this repeatedly evoked "Occidental spirit" would be the spirit of Catholic Christianity – which implied a need for a re-Christianization or re-Catholicization – gave the publication Abendland a highly idealistic and romantic tone.
In the latter years of the publication, articles providing more concrete information became more prevalent. By reporting on political events in Germany, France and the rest of Europe, the Abendland circle attempted to participate in a positive way in debates about reconciliation efforts and to support the policies of Gustav Stresemann (1878–1929). Of course, this did not include ideas about the future political configuration of Europe. The central focus was not on political integration, but on reconciliation between nations which viewed each other as equals. In this way, the Abendland publication generally propounded a concept of reconciliation which was typical for the 1920s. Reconciliation was understood primarily as a cultural encounter between national elites. The Abendland circle wanted to educate its readers about Germany's western neighbour and in the process to also "Trennende[s] bewusst werden als Zweck und Ziel von Völkerverständigung".15
However, this central focus on promoting reconciliation by the proponents of the Abendland concept became increasingly shaky in the late 1920s, particularly in view of the fact that the Rhineland issue remained unresolved. Scepticism spread and an increasing number of Abendland contributors came to view the differences between Germany and its neighbour as insoluble. The enthusiasm for Occidental reconciliation was on the wane. Economic problems also contributed to this trend, and Abendland ceased publication in 1930.
The Abendland Idea between 1930 and 1945
The "seizure of power" in 1933 brought a definitive end to the first great blossoming of the Abendland idea. A second wave of enthusiasm for the idea did not emerge until after the end of the Second World War. It is harder to identify traces of the Abendland idea in the period between 1930 and 1945. While the "Abendland" topos became less common in public discourse in the years of National Socialism, the term did not disappear completely. It became a buzzword in National Socialist propaganda particularly in the latter years of the war, but it also featured in the conservative resistance movement and was pushed out into the literary "margins". It is thus difficult to make general statements about the history of the concept in this period.
A look at the carrier groups and protagonists of the Abendland idea who we encounter (again) in the "Abendland movement" after 1945 shows that the spectrum of behaviour under National Socialism was broad even among proponents of the Abendland idea. Exile, "inner emigration", resistance, but also in numerous cases collaboration and ideological closeness to the regime – all of these responses to the National Socialist dictatorship were represented.16
The ground was prepared for a possible convergence with National Socialism in the years between 1930 and 1933. After Abendland had ceased publication, many of its former contributors increasingly turned to publications aligned with the so-called "conservative revolution" and employed "Mitteleuropa" and the "Reich" as central ideological concepts.17 These two concepts exerted an increasing attraction – also among proponents of the Abendland idea. In the early 1930s, these concepts became something of a "Plattform grundsätzlichen Einverständnisses" (basis of fundamental consensus) among conservatives.18 The terms "Abendland" and "Reich" were increasingly used synonymously. In their Catholic variants, both of these concepts referred to a romanticized past; both were associated with "organic" societies; and both concepts were supra-national in scope, envisaging order being imposed on (Central) Europe by Germany and the Germans. Through the influence of Othmar Spann (1878–1950), topics such as "Volk" (nation) and "Rasse" (race) entered the thinking of these "abendländischen Reichsvisionäre" (Abendland visionaries of the Reich). Thus a path was entered, on which gradually "der universalistische Reichs-Gedanke des Mittealters … neben einen ebenso universalistischen Reichs-Gedanken trat, der jedoch seiner christlichen Normierung beraubt war und an ihre Stelle die Idee des deutschen Volkes gesetzt hatte."19
However, the trend from the beginning of the 1930s, beginning with the demise of the Abendland publication, was not only a shift in ideas. There were also organizational changes in the "Abendland movement". In particular, there was a shift in the geographical centre of the movement. The Abendland idea lost its strong roots in the Rhineland, and proponents of the idea became more numerous in other regions with substantial Catholic populations. From the early 1930s, it enjoyed increasing support in Austria, where vibrant Abendland discussions occurred, and not only in the "greater German" (großdeutsch) sense. Developing the idea of an Austria Christian, estate-based model of state, there were increasing attempts under the government of Engelbert Dollfuß (1892–1934) to depict Austria as a "Zelle zur Gesundung für das ganze Abendland" (cell for the recuperation of the entire Occident). Clearly distancing themselves from National Socialism and "greater German" ambitions in Germany, Abendland circles in Austria sought to strengthen an independent Austrian identity distinct from Germany, claiming that Austria was "[von der] Vorsehung zum christlichen Bollwerk gegen den Bolschewismus und Nationalsozialismus, zur Rettung des wahren Deutschtums und der ganzen abendländischen Kultur ausersehen".20 In this context, both the Mitteleuropa concept and ideas which sought to legitimize a restoration of the Habsburg monarchy assumed greater significance in Abendland thought. Both of these elements were to play a large role in Abendland thought in West Germany after 1945 – due in no small part to the contributions of many of the same people.21
The case of Austria in particular demonstrates how diverse the conclusions were that people drew from the similar ideological basis of Abendland Catholicism in the face of National Socialism. While the Abendländer (proponents of the Abendland idea) in Austria rejected National Socialism and numerous emigrants from Germany contributed to their publications, many "Reich visionaries" in Germany turned towards National Socialism. Due to a number of terminological similarities – such as "Reich" and "Mitteleuropa" – some right-wing Catholic associations (for example, the Association of Catholic Academics) sought to establish closer links with National Socialism.22 Up to 1939, the representatives of these associations were unable and unwilling to recognize that National Socialist expansionary ambitions went far beyond the ambitions which the idea of the "Reich" had implied during the Weimar Republic. The "transmission belt" of the "Reich" concept ultimately brought the Abendland idea into close discursive proximity with the concepts of Großraum (great space) and of the Neue Ordnung (new order) of Europe in the early years of the war, and thus close to the central ideas of order and hegemony of National Socialism. The military successes of the first years of the war caused some Abendländer to view Mitteleuropa as being no longer large enough as a German sphere of influence. The medieval period and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation again played a particularly significant role in these thought processes. German eastward migration during the medieval period helped to legitimize the invasion of Germany's eastern neighbours, and propagandistic discussions of Germany as a "bulwark" against the East also convinced some supporters of the Abendland idea.
In addition to the "Reich" concept, antipathy towards communism constituted the most important connection between the Abendland idea and National Socialism. From 1941 onward, anti-communism was a central aspect of National Socialist propaganda, a trend which also saw the Abendland concept playing an increasingly significant role in National Socialist propaganda. While the Abendland had previously been more or less synonymous with the "Reich", a conceptual connection now emerged with the idea of the "antikommunistische Abwehrfront" (defensive front against communism) which made the transition to the post-war period and adapting to the changed global political situation considerably easier for some conservatives that it would otherwise have been. Importantly, this model of thought was also acceptable to those who – unlike the many who had adapted to life under the National Socialists – had spent the period of the Third Reich in exile. Anti-communism was thus one of the most important integrative elements for the history of the Abendland idea after 1945.
The Abendland Idea after the Second World War
The subtle ideological links between the Abendland idea and the "Reich" and National Socialism were no longer mentioned after the Second World War. Instead, the second great blossoming of the Abendland idea occurred.23 In the context of the intellectual reorientation in the aftermath of the collapse of National Socialism, in the absence of suitable alternatives and due to generation-specific attitudes, German society reverted to concepts of order which came from the Weimar Republic and which were not suspected of having a "brown tinge".24 This also applies to ideas about Europe. Terms such as "Reich" and "Mitteleuropa" had finally lost their legitimacy. The Abendland presented itself as an alternative as it appeared to be "unverbraucht, nicht diskreditiert wie Nation und Vaterland".25 This reliance on a Catholic concept was further strengthened by a general need for a Christian orientation at a time in which the Catholic church in particular appeared as an institution which had supposedly not been tarnished by association with National Socialism, and thus enjoyed a high level of acceptance.26
The publication Neues Abendland: Zeitschrift für Politik, Kultur und Geschichte exemplifies the Abendland discourse which developed after 1945. Founded in 1946 by the Catholic publicist Johann Wilhelm Naumann (1897–1956),27 it was established in the context of the blossoming of the print-media landscape in the immediate postwar period. Many of the authors who had contributed to the Abendland publication of the Weimar Republic now wrote articles for the Neues Abendland.28 Particularly in the first two years of publication, they gave the new publication a profile similar to that of the Abendland of the mid-1920s.
Again, the focus was on fundamental questions regarding the "abendländische Kultureinheit" (Abendland as a single cultural entity), the renewal of a Christian, supranational community, and the revival of, and reorientation towards, basis Christian (Catholic) values. The articles did not deal with concrete political concepts regarding the unification of Europe or the political reintegration of Germany into the community of European states. However, discussion of the "Abendland" and the attendant emphasis on the shared cultural values of the European peoples nonetheless offered justification for Germany's claim to a place in the "abendländische Gemeinschaft" (Abendland community).
As in the 1920s, reference was made in this argumentation to the medieval "Sacrum Imperium". The medieval Christian cultural unity of the Abendland constituted a retrospective utopia. As in the 1920s, this evocation of the medieval period was an attempt to conjure up a period in which a God-ordained order of state and society had supposedly been achieved.29
Just as in the aftermath of the First World War, the catastrophe of the Second World War was explained after 1945 solely in terms of a teleological argument, according to which the Enlightenment, secularisation and the French Revolution had destroyed30 the "wunderbar wohlgefügten Kosmos der abendländischen Universitas".31 According to this argumentation, all of the catastrophes of the 20th century were unavoidable because they were caused by humans turning away from God and from the divinely ordained social order, as well as by individualism and nationalism. Only a thorough re-Christianization, a reversion to the religious foundations of the "im Reiche Christi versammelten Völkerfamilien"32 could remedy this, it was argued. "Mit dem christlichen Glauben allein kann Europa wieder auferstehen" – this conviction was at the core of Abendland thought.33
In the late 1940s, the Neues Abendland did not discuss political arguments in the narrower sense. However, this changed around 1950 for two reasons. Firstly, the new editor-in-chief Emil Franzel (1901–1976) took the Neues Abendland in a new, more political direction – a development which subsequently continued under Gerhard Kroll.34 Around the same time, the organizational structure of the Abendland circle began to expand beyond the publication of a periodical. Various sub-organizations emerged, such as Abendländische Aktion, the Centre Européen de Documentation et Information/Europäisches Dokumentations- und Informationszentrum (CEDI) and the Abendländische Akademie. In the early 1950s, these organizations held numerous conferences and lectures which were attended primarily by members of the conservative, predominantly Catholic, politically-engaged public of the new Federal Republic.35 In some cases, these events were attended by several hundred people. The governing boards of these organizations featured a whole host of Christian Democratic (CDU and CSU) politicians, as well as a considerable number of titled aristocrats and clergy.36 Abendland thought also exerted influence beyond West Germany. Primarily in the context of the CEDI, the German Abendländer met a number of times each year with conservatives from other western European countries, primarily Austria, France and Spain, to develop with them a European idea of the Abendland.37
Secondly, the "outbreak" of the Cold War led to a marked politicization, including within the publication Neues Abendland. Clear positions were now adopted in relation to the Cold War, to the question of links with western countries, to European unification, and to the political system of West Germany. During this process, anti-communism became a more central aspect of the Abendland idea than it had ever previously been. Along with the reference to Christianity, anti-communism became the intellectual foundation of the "Abendland movement". Articles repeatedly stated that the Cold War presented a fundamental choice between freedom and enslavement, between the Occidental Christian approach to life and atheism. The contributors to the Neues Abendland viewed as dangerous the fact that the East acted as a unified ideological system, while the West had nothing with which to oppose this system because it had turned away Christian values. In this way, the perception of a "fight on two fronts" developed: the outward struggle against the threat of a totalitarian model of thought and the military threat of the Cold War, and the inner struggle against "liberal arbitrariness".38
This militant anti-communism meant that by the end of the 1940s the publication was already clearly arguing in favour of West Germany linking itself to the West, as "die Fortdauer des Kalten Krieges" represents "für Deutschland als Niemandsland zwischen den Fronten eine ungeheure Gefahr".39 This included a categorical call for military strength and a nuclear deterent40 as well as the early recognition of the "Unvermeidlichkeit der Teilung Deutschlands".41 Not surprisingly, this link with the West (Westbindung) did not preclude a traditional, conservative, critical attitude towards the American "lifestyle".42 For the Abendländer, both "East" and "West" represented "un-Christian ideas", and to them it was clear "dass der Christ … sich weder für den 'Westen' noch für den 'Osten' entscheiden kann".43 In academic research, this attitude has been aptly described as a "Drahtseilakt zwischen Westoption und Antiliberalismus".44
For the contributors to the Neues Abendland, European integration was another defensive measure against the eastern threat – just like all references to Christian, Catholic cultural unity. However, the concrete steps towards European integration elicited scepticism – in view of the "Formaldemokratie"45 (mechanical democracy) and the "Reißbrett-Union"46 (contrived union). The Abendländer increasingly presented their own concepts in opposition to it. Rejecting the social contract, parliamentarianism and supranational elements, they argued in favour of a hierarchical society with a recognisable authority. In doing this, they pointed to the political systems of the Iberian Peninsula as a model. The autocratic systems of Spain and Portugal appeared to represent exactly what the Abendland circle meant when they referred to a "natural" order: a hierarchical societal structure in which everyone had "his" place; no "mass democracy" but elitist leadership by a charismatic leader who would push back party interests and lobbyism; the church exerting large influence over the state and society. This enthusiasm was reflected by the organizational links which the Abendländer maintained with Spain from the early 1950s through the CEDI, through which Christian Democratic politicians tried to improve German-Spanish relations and to achieve the recognition of the regime of General Francisco Franco (1892–1975) by Germany.47
In addition to Spain and Portugal, there was another model for the German and European societies of the present which also established a clear link with the years around 1930: the old Austro-Hungarian model of "Mitteleuropa". References to the no longer extant Habsburg Empire served two aims. Firstly, efforts were made to depict the coexistence of different peoples under the Habsburg imperial crown as a model for the future of Europe. Secondly, there was a need for leaders – particularly Otto von Habsburg (1912–2011)  – who exuded the supposedly God-ordained authority which the Abendländer viewed as being absent in the new West Germany. The Abendländer were not devoted monarchists – authority was more important to them – but they greatly admired the son of the last Austrian emperor.
By adopting positions on such diverse topics, the "Abendland movement" succeeded in the first half of the 1950s in becoming something of a "hegemonic integrative ideology"48 for the new Federal Republic. It appealed to very diverse groups in West German conservatism. The anti-modern worldview appealed to Catholics. Displaced ethnic Germans from the East valued the references to "Mitteleuropa" and the memories that it evoked of their "old home". Monarchists valued the homage paid to the Habsburg monarchy and Otto von Habsburg. Critics of democracy were attracted by the praise of the authoritarian systems in the Iberian Peninsula. Southern Germans were attracted by the fundamental anti-Prussian attitude. Supporters of European reconciliation liked the reference to the supranational category of the Abendland. And all of these groups were united by an avowedly anti-communist attitude. Thus, the buzzword Abendland was better suited than any other in the years around 1950 to bringing together conservatives of different backgrounds and to mobilising them in support of an extensive restructuring of the state and society.
However, by the second half of the 1950s this was no longer the case. The "Abendland movement" came in for considerable criticism in 1955, after the Spiegel reported on its critical attitude towards constitutionalism.49 The Neues Abendland ceased publication in 1958. The "Abendland movement" reorganized and succeeded in remaining active, but on a much smaller scale than in the first half of the 1950s. Simultaneously, the increasing liberalization of West German society brought an end to the influence of the Abendland concept. It lost its function as a central concept for conservatives. As a topos, it now seemed too ideologically loaded, too Christian, too romantic or simply too reactionary. The need to orientate oneself towards traditional concepts of order receded. The term Abendland disappeared gradually but inexorably from public discourse.
This brought to an end a phase which spanned from the end of the First World War – and harked back to concepts of order from the period of romanticism – to the end of the 1950s. In this period, the Abendland played an important role in various different variants. The development of the Abendland idea between the 1920s and the 1950s fits exactly into the idea-historical interpretative model of a transformation phase, at the end of which "traditional" concepts are on the retreat and are increasingly being replaced by "new" models of thought. From this perspective, the 1950s appear as the "`Schwanzstück´ eines historischen Abschnitts" (tail end of a historical phase), which was defined overall by the "verzweifelten Ringen der Zeitgenossen um akzeptable und allgemein konsensfähige Ordnungsmodelle, aber auch von dem scharfen Konflikt entgegengesetzter Entwürfe der Gesellschaft".50 The Abendland idea was a variant of these models of order, which were an attempt to develop the future political and social structure of Germany and Europe, albeit – and this is decisive – always with reference to a glorified past and with deep-rooted scepticism towards modernity. From the late 1950s, this attitude no longer had a future.