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Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, "The Third Empire" (1923)

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, one of the most important authors of the Conservative Revolution, originally wanted to name his best-known work “The Third Party” (“The Third Standpoint” was another suggestion). The title that he ultimately chose, “The Third Empire” (also translated as “The Third Reich”) made reference to the chiliastic view of history put forth by medieval theologian Joachim von Fiore. By linking this vision to a specific nation, Moeller arrived at the idea of a “Third Rome,” a concept that he had encountered in the works of Russian writers Fyodor Dostoevsky and Dmitri Merezhkovsky. Moelller considered the Holy Roman Empire the first empire; the second was the Kaiserreich founded in 1871 (on account of the exclusion of Austria, however, he only regarded this as a “transitional empire”). The greater German “Third Empire” – the “final empire” – was supposed to represent the fulfillment of German history and the harmonious incorporation of all oppositional social and political tendencies, which would thereupon cease to exist. Furthermore, Moeller argued against Marxism as well as distorted liberalism, which he especially hated; and set himself apart from reactionary liberalism while at the same time advocating a synthesis of “German” socialism and revolutionary conservatism.

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The attempt this book makes was not possible from any party standpoint; it ranges over all our political problems, from the extreme Left to the extreme Right. It is written from the standpoint of a third party, which is already in being. Only such an attempt could address itself to the nation while attacking all the parties; could reveal the disorder and discord into which the parties have long since fatefully fallen and which has spread from them through our whole political life; could reach that lofty spiritual plane of political philosophy that the parties have forsaken, but which must for the nation’s sake be maintained, which the conservative must preserve and which the revolutionary must take by storm.

Instead of government by party we offer the ideal of the third empire. It is an old German conception and a great one. It arose when our first empire fell; it was early quickened by the thought of a millennium; but its underlying thought has always been a future that should be not the end of all things but the dawn of a German age in which the German people would for the first time fulfill their destiny on earth.

In the years that followed the collapse of our second empire we have had experience of Germans; we have seen that the nation’s worst enemy is herself: her trustfulness, her casualness, her credulity, her inborn, fate-fraught, apparently unshakable optimism. The German people were scarcely defeated—as never a people was defeated before in history—when the mood asserted itself: “We shall arise again all right!” We heard German fools saying: “We have no fears for Germany!” We saw German dreamers nod their heads in assent: “Nothing can happen to me!”

We must be careful to remember that the thought of the third empire is a philosophical idea; that the conceptions which the words third empire arouse—and the book that bears the title—are misty, indeterminate, charged with feeling; not of this world but of the next. Germans are only too prone to abandon themselves to self-deception. The thought of a third empire might well be the most fatal of all the illusions to which they have ever yielded; it would be thoroughly German if they contented themselves with daydreaming about it. Germany might perish from her third-empire dream.

Let us be perfectly explicit: the thought of the third empire—to which we must cling as our last and highest philosophy—can only bear fruit if it is translated into concrete reality. It must quit the world of dreams and step into the political world. It must be as realist as the problems of our constitutional and national life; it must be as skeptical and pessimistic as befits the times.

There are Germans who assure us that the empire that rose out of the ruins on the ninth of November is already the third empire: democratic, republican, logically complete. These are our opportunists and eudaemonists. There are other Germans who confess their disappointment but trust to the “reasonableness” of history. These are our rationalists and pacifists. They all draw their conclusions from the premises of their party–political or utopian wishes, but not from the premises of the reality that surrounds us. They will not realize that we are a fettered and maltreated nation, perhaps on the very verge of dissolution. Our reality connotes the triumph of all the nations of the earth over the German nation; the primacy in our country of parliamentarism after the Western model—and party rule. If the third empire is ever to come it will not beneficently fall from heaven. If the third empire is to put an end to strife it will not be born in a peace of philosophic dreaming. The third empire will be an empire of organization in the midst of European chaos. The occupation of the Ruhr and its consequences worked a change in the minds of people. It was the first thing that made the nation think. It opened up the possibility of liberation for a betrayed people. It seemed about to put an end to the “policy of fulfillment” that had been merely party politics disguised as foreign policy. It threw us back on our own power of decision. It restored our will. Parliamentarism has become an institution of our public life, whose chief function would appear to be—in the name of the people—to enfeeble all political demands and all national passions.

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