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Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, R.I.P.

2,842 words

On Wednesday, August 29, 2012, the British scholar of esotericism, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, passed away from cancer at the age of 59. Professor Goodrick-Clarke must have dealt with his illness quite well, as he was at work until only a few hours before his death, according to the testimony of some of his students. This is yet another great blow to our community, following hard on the heels of the loss of two other Englishmen, Jonathan Bowden and Anthony Hancock, earlier this year.

I must admit that I don’t know a great deal about Professor Goodrick-Clarke’s life. My personal contact with him was limited to a few e-mails, although I can attest that he was always a well-wisher to my company, Arktos, and its predecessor, Integral Tradition Publishing. He was always cordial and offered words of support to my own endeavors in the realm of the esoteric. According to his obituaries, he left behind a wife, Clare, who is a Professor of History at the University of Exeter, where he himself taught.

In 2005, Goodrick-Clarke was one of the founding members of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) (http://www.esswe.org/), an organization which promotes the academic study of Western esotericism and supervises the studies of a number of graduate-level students at several European universities. He was also Professor of Esotericism at the University of Exeter and the Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism, which is the British branch of the ESSWE. I have known a number of students, some of whom travel in our circles, who went through this program and who have spoken highly of it. As such, Professor Goodrick-Clarke was actively engaged in the preservation and promotion of the traditions which form the eternal core of our civilization.

In addition to the program he founded and the students he taught, however, Goodrick-Clarke’s greatest legacy will be the books that he wrote. Most prominent among these is his 1985 study, The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology,[1] which remains the definitive work on the subject in any language (it has even been translated into German).

As anyone who has studied National Socialism or the Third Reich in detail will know, tales of secret occult conspiracies at the highest levels of the NSDAP have abounded since at least the 1930s. Prominent among these works are Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians and Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny, the former of which claimed that National Socialism was little more than “Guénonism plus tanks”[2] run by occultists of the Vril and Thule societies who convinced the NS leadership that they needed to establish contact with a lost theocratic  civilization in the interior of the Earth, while the latter claimed that the entire history of the Third Reich was nothing more than a prolonged effort by Hitler, inspired by a mushroom trip he had had in his youth in Austria, to obtain the Spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Christ at the crucifixion.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of literature on the relationship between National Socialism and mysticism, both before and since Goodrick-Clarke’s study, has relied upon these and similar sources for their inspiration (or upon even more fantastic claims, such as that Hitler was working with Aleister Crowley).

Occult Roots is unique in that it is one of the few books to be written on this topic in a serious way, and not for the purposes of sensationalism. It is also unique in that it relies largely on primary sources from the German – one is loath to find a single German work referenced in many of the popular books on Nazi occultism. Indeed, entire shelves of other works on the subject could be thrown into the garbage in favor of this book.

Goodrick-Clarke traces the origins and development of Ariosophy, a type of theosophical mysticism infused with myths about the history and destiny of Aryan humanity and a great deal of “Orientalist” and Nordicist philosophies, in late 19th-century Germany. He follows its path through the anti-Semitic Germanenorden and other groups, to the origins of the Thule Society in Munich, which in turn sponsored the founding of the German Workers’ Party in 1919, which was transformed the following year into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party by Hitler.

Goodrick-Clarke’s ultimate conclusion is that, while there was indeed an organizational connection between the NSDAP and Ariosophy in its earliest days, and that some members of the NS leadership evinced interest in Ariosophy at some point in their lives, that “Ariosophy is a symptom rather than an influence in the way that it anticipated Nazism.”[3] The fact is that there is no evidence to support the claim that there was a hidden, mystical agenda behind the politics and strategies of the Third Reich.

As such, Goodrick-Clarke’s book provided a much-needed corrective to the oceans of ink that have been spilled attempting to link the Third Reich to wacky ideas, further consigning what is useful in its legacy to the gutter in the popular imagination. Regrettably, however, works which continue to foster this notion will doubtless continue to be written and published for many years to come, and will sometimes be cited with approval even by those who claim to be on our side.

Goodrick-Clarke later expanded his studies into the realm of post-war Nazi occultism, the first of which, Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism[4] was published in 1998. This book holds a special place in my heart, as I came across the book by chance in a bookstore shortly after it was published, and it was the first time that I had come across such figures and movements as Savitri Devi, Julius Evola, and the Traditionalists; the connection between Indian politics and culture and Aryan thought; and the European New Right.

At the time, the book hit me like a bolt of lightning. I had no idea that over in Europe (little was happening in America at that time) an entire intellectual tradition had arisen to defend and propagate the ideas of the “true Right”! So the book allowed me to discover ideas which have come to play a central role in my life ever since, and for that, I must always be grateful to Goodrick-Clarke. I know from others that the book had a similar impact upon them at the time – one must remember that 1998 was in the days before one could learn very much about these subjects on the Internet, as is the case today.

In retrospect, I can see that the book has many flaws, as Goodrick-Clarke based his biography largely on Savitri Devi’s taped autobiographical interviews, and his depiction of the other movements and figures he discusses is shallow, to say the least. Still, until someone willing to delve deeper writes a more definitive biography of Savitri Devi, it is the only resource available, and it remains a good introduction to her life and work.

The next book Goodrick-Clarke wrote on this theme was Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity,[5] published in 2002. This is by far the least satisfactory of the three books. Goodrick-Clarke abandoned the scholarly rigor he had employed in Occult Roots, instead compiling a compendium of information derived almost entirely from secondary sources and the Internet. The chapter on Savitri Devi is little more than a summary of Hitler’s Priestess. And, inevitably I suppose given the time it was published, we are dutifully warned that such dangerous ideas could lead to another 9/11, and he continually attempts to link his subjects to terrorism, Islamic and otherwise.

And yet one cannot escape the feeling that Goodrick-Clarke vastly overestimates the power and influence that the groups he discusses actually had or have. As a review of the book at the Vanguard News Network put it at the time, “Want to be a threat to Western civilization? All you need is a post office box and a copy machine. Goodrick-Clarke will do the rest.”[6] I suppose Black Sun could be useful for someone who has never heard of such figures as Miguel  Serrano, James Mason, David Myatt, James Madole or Wilhelm Landig before to serve as an introduction, but as an attempt at a comprehensive study, even from a hostile perspective, it is a dismal failure. (A book which came closer to fulfilling that need, albeit with its own problems and deficiencies, is Kevin Coogan’s Dreamer of the Day[7] about Francis Parker Yockey and his milieu, and for which Goodrick-Clarke provided an Introduction).

Goodrick-Clarke also authored, edited, and translated a few other books unrelated to Nazi esotericism. The most important, in my view, is his 2008 book The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction,[8] which is a solid, if far from comprehensive, introduction to some of the most important figures in the tradition for newcomers. The others include a selection from the writings of the German alchemist Paracelsus; another from H. P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, as well as a volume of selections from G. R. S. Mead, another Theosophist; and translations of books about the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.

The question which often arises in our circles regarding Goodrick-Clarke is whether or not he was “one of us.” Certainly, to judge by his writings, he comes across as yet another of those career academics, such as Roger Griffin or Stanley Payne, who build their careers on writing book after book about “fascinating fascism” (to borrow Susan Sontag’s term) and yet claim to feel nothing but the obligatory liberal revulsion for it. Since I never had the good fortune of knowing Goodrick-Clarke in person, I cannot say with any certainty, but there do seem to be interesting hints in his Conclusion to Black Sun, that he was more than just an academic critic of the far Right.

The concluding chapter of Black Sun seems to be the author’s attempt to provide at least a minimum of balance against his exaggerated efforts to link the Right with absolute evil in the rest of the book.  Goodrick-Clarke attributes the rise of White racialism to the introduction of racial preferences in Western societies. He writes:

The discriminatory effects of these policies on whites, both potential and actual, has understandably caused some resentment among whites. . . . But liberal support for affirmative action has gone further in producing a climate of white guilt. The causes of black crime, drug involvement and welfare dependence are often sought in white racism. Black on white crime in terms of murder, rape and robbery with violence is many times greater than white on black crime. However, the national media typically highlight instances of white racial attacks, while many reports of black crime are ‘colorblind’ and mostly confined to the local press. The massive overrepresentation of blacks in the penal system, evident testimony of black crime, violence and underperformance are largely ignored by the liberal media, or otherwise invoked as further evidence of black disadvantage and white racism.[9]

Later in the same chapter, he also writes:

The question of whether the United States can actually assimilate such immigrants is begged by policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism in the education system. Assimilation is further undermined by the expansion of affirmative action, originally intended to benefit blacks as a result of civil rights legislation, into a government-mandated discrimination against white Americans (but also blacks in practice) in favor of Third World immigrants. The ascendancy of international human rights over notions of national sovereignty has also led to a progressive erosion of citizenship, whereby illegal aliens are granted welfare, education, government subsidies and even voting rights. These issues are a matter of deep concern to conservative groups in the United States, who see no particular reason to transform the demography of the United States, given its wholly unforeseeable consequences. The conversion of the United States into a ‘colony of the world’ or a ‘universal nation’ is without precedent in the modern world. Similar forces are at work in Europe, especially Britain, where multiculturalism is promoted by left-wing and liberal political agendas in the quest for the electoral support of the growing ethnic minorities. A recent report on the future of multi-ethnic Britain has even questioned whether the national epithet ‘British’ carries a racist taint.[10]

Such comments would certainly not be out-of-place at Counter-Currents or other “New Right” publications, but are surprising coming from the keyboard of an esteemed university professor. Even more shocking, in the passages quoted above, Goodrick-Clarke cites Jared Taylor (specifically, his book Paved with Good Intentions) and Peter Brimelow (Alien Nation) for support in his footnotes – sources which would surely mean professional death if quoted with approval in the work of less established academics.

He concludes the chapter as follows:

We cannot know what the future holds for Western multicultural societies, but the experiment did not fare well in Austria-Hungary, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The multiracial challenges in liberal Western states are much greater, and it is evident that affirmative action and multiculturalism are even leading to a more diffuse hostility toward liberalism. From the retrospective viewpoint of a potential authoritarian future in 2020 or 2030, these Aryan cults and esoteric Nazism may be documented as early symptoms of major divisive changes in our present-day Western democracies.[11]

Goodrick-Clarke is careful to couch his prophecy of a catastrophic failure of liberal democracy only as a possibility, and not necessarily a positive one, but nevertheless, the fact that he even discusses the possibility is greatly at variance with the usual platitudes from the academy about the absolute need for ever-more diversity and multiculturalism in the Western nations.

Whether or not Goodrick-Clarke actually held more sympathy for the milieu he studied than he let on has now become irrelevant, since the Conclusion to Black Sun represents the totality of what he had to say on the matter publicly.  I would hazard to guess that, while he may have seen value in efforts to protect the cultures of the West from foreign influence, he probably had little regard for its more ridiculous and extreme elements, particularly those who make the world of Right-wing politics a playground for their own private obsessions and fantasies.  And, in that, I find little with which to disagree. Efforts to wed the philosophy and politics of the true Right to tales of Nazi UFOs and sinister pseudo-occult orders do more harm than good to those seriously engaged in the dialogues and struggles of our time.

Clearly, Goodrick-Clarke recognized that genuine esotericism was valuable, since he spent his life studying it, but at the same time, he must have made a distinction between genuine esotericism and those who ape its forms in the pursuit of their goals in some dark role-playing game, acted out using real people and very real problems. But genuine esotericism does exist, and it can be a force for good. The Traditionalists have taught us that.

Goodrick-Clarke’s understanding of the real issues at stake was further reinforced for me in our correspondence. When he first contacted me regarding some of Integral Tradition Publishing’s books in 2009, I felt compelled to tell him about how his Occult Roots and Hitler’s Priestess had led me to eventually become involved with ITP. He responded by writing, “Thank you for your appreciative comments regarding the inspiration of my own books.  They were written to give a voice to the excluded discourse of liberal modernity and its neglect of order and truth.”[12] This confirms for me that he was certainly no uncritical citizen of the world that has been produced by liberalism. Although regrettably, I never attempted to get him to discuss his views on this any further, fearing that he might think I was attempting to trick him into saying or writing something that might later come back to haunt him. In retrospect, perhaps I should not have been so cautious.

That said, Professor Goodrick-Clarke is not destined to be remembered as a political figure. He will be remembered for his scholarship – for setting the record straight regarding the relationship between the occult and National Socialism, and also for his efforts to preserve the genuine esoteric strivings of our people which have been sidelined by science, technology, and modernity. For that we should remain forever grateful.

Notes

1. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (New York: New York University Press, 1992).

2. Pauwels and Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (New York: Stein & Day, 1964), p. 180.

3. The Occult Roots of Nazism, p. 202.

4. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

5. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

6. The Cat Lady, “Nutty Nazis,” at Vanguard News Network (http://www.vanguardnewsnetwork.com/v1/books8.htm).

7. Kevin Coogan, Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1999).

8. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

9. Black Sun, pp. 303-304.

10. Black Sun, p. 313.

11. Black Sun, p. 313.

12. Personal correspondence, September 16, 2009.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Izak
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I was very impressed by this thoughtful obituary, and it even made me rethink my opinion of the guy. I had only read some chapters from the Black Sun book, and I felt that it was vapid tabloid-level nonsense. It’s good to know that there was more to this guy than I had assumed.

    A lesser man would have said something like, “He was a leftist, I’m glad he’s dead!!!” or whatever, but you did a good job by taking a more balanced and respectful approach.

    There certainly are more than enough trashy and disgusting obituaries being written and published on mainstream-level magazines and newspapers. But I’m sure everyone knows that.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Izak. It’s not clear from his books whether or not Goodrick-Clarke was a Leftist or not. The worst that could be said is that in “Black Sun” he was guilty of pandering to popular prejudices, but then undermines that somewhat in his Conclusion.

  2. GB
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    For all the shortcomings of his subsequent works, Goodrick-Clarke should be rightfully remembered for The Occult Roots of Nazism and its effective rebuttal of harebrained Nazi UFO lore.

    Having said that, harsher criticism would not have been out of place in an obituary of G-C, even though the author of this one chose to focus on the positive aspects of his work. As a former acquaintance of Miguel Serrano, I know first-hand how G-C sweet talked his way into an interview with the Chilean writer and, just as he did with the author of this review, exchanged letters with Serrano in which G-C was far more candid about his own political leanings. In the end, he acted friendly towards Serrano only to later publish an inordinate amount of rubbish, malicious misinterpretation and downright disparaging remarks towards the writer and his work.

    I imagine he did the same to other persons he interviewed. This shoddy behavior is reflected in the shoddy scholarship behind Black Sun. Regardless of his personal position on the topics he dealt with, the bottom line is that G-C wrote a sensationalistic, clumsily padded and outrageously exaggerated account of the “esoteric Nazi threat” that fits right in with what the SPLC and the UK’s Searchlight usually publish, if only for the fact that the latter two organizations occasionally have inside sources and do not just rely on Internet gossip. I remember VNN published a pretty funny yet accurate review of the book under the title of “Nutty Nazis” which touched on some of this.

    G-C’s attempt to incorporate 9-11 paranoia to Black Sun always seemed to me like the direction a commercially-minded editor would suggest taking. Still, whatever G-C’s reasons were for writing the book and taking it in said direction, his actions indicate to me that he was more concerned with academic credentialism than with academic rigor. At least scholars like Griffin, Payne and even former fascist A. James Gregor are never ambiguous about their sentiments towards their subject matter and they are unquestionably knowledgeable about what they write. You cant’s say the same for Black Sun which is, incidentally, the only book by G-C I couldn’t finish. Perhaps this is the reason why I’d never read the chapter that is repeatedly quoted in this review. While some of the excerpts are interesting and revealing of G-C’s innermost convictions, they still read like the observations of a liberal academic who is conceding that something is wrong with multiculturalism and yet urges corrective action to be taken in order to save Western democracy. This is hardly a Traditionalist position and yet one that is in synch with G-C’s malicious characterization of Julius Evola.

    Black Sun is to esoteric thought what Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust is to revisionism: a work that seems written in a haste, that never questions any opinion that is critical of its subject matter, and which borrows unashamedly from the work of others starting with the book’s very own cover, which was plagiarized from a design by Michael Lujan (who was eventually rightfully compensated by the publisher.) It is no coincidence that Christian Bouchet also wrote some scathing remarks about G-C this very morning.

    In the end, G-C was a good scholar when it came to “dead” sources but a lousy researcher when it came to apprehending more contemporary political trends. His Devi bio and Black Sun fall short of even downright hostile works like Coogan’s biography of Yockey (which at least draws heavily from Keith Stimely’s more sympathetic research) or Martin Lee’s The Beast Reawakens, which has some actual reporting behind it.

  3. Posted September 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    GB, I did write that “as an attempt at a comprehensive study, even from a hostile perspective, [Black Sun] is a dismal failure” and that “he continually attempts to link his subjects to terrorism.” I don’t know how much harsher I could have been. Since this was an obituary and not a review of Black Sun, I chose not to focus on that exclusively, especially since I do find some positive aspects to his other work. I also did reference the VNN review that you mentioned, although apparently you missed it.

    If Goodrick-Clarke did indeed sweet-talk his subjects into interviews only to do hatchet jobs on them later, as you allege, then that is certainly condemnable, although it wasn’t something of which I was aware.

  4. GB
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    John,

    I never said you should have been harsher or that your obituary was somehow at fault for this. All I stated was that harsher criticism is not necessarily unwarranted when it comes to Goodrick-Clarke, a remark I made in response to the first comment on this article saying that lesser men would have just dismissed him without a second thought. I should have been clearer on this and also stated that I enjoyed the obituary. I normally comment on articles I find worthwhile. I didn’t miss your reference to the VNN review either. I simply brought up its title.

    Let me just add, however, that coming to Serrano’s defense over Goodrick-Clarke’s malicious characterization of him is not “odd” in the slightest, nor is it contradictory that I also commend “The Occult Roots…” for its effective refutation of esoteric Nazi lore. I don’t have to agree with everything Serrano wrote to call a hatchet job a hatchet job. I also don’t know whether G-C had a modus operandi of befriending his interviewees and then disparaging them, but I do know that this is what he did in this particular case. Also, I do find a lot of what Serrano wrote and did, especially during World War Two, to be be politically worthwhile. Some of his works, including the post-Esoteric Hitlerist book NOS, are inspiring to me simply on aesthetic grounds even if they don’t deal with politically contingent issues or adhere to Traditionalist tenets. Just like there are others who like Ezra Pound simply on account of his political views but have never read his poetry, I think you don’t have to wholeheartedly agree with everything a writer says (let alone an artist) to find value in his work. Likewise, just as I don’t believe in unquestioningly accepting what a writer I happen to like is saying, I don’t believe in sweeping condemnations. That’s why I also gave G-C his due on “The Occult Roots…”.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Dear GB, thanks for clarifying. I also find Serrano’s books, including Nos, interesting, so we basically agree on everything.

  5. Petronius
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Glenn Danzig thinks, “every schoolchild should have this book”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weNO9k1TXS0

  6. T. J. McAllister
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Stanley Payne is a typical academic-establishment type. He was at an H. L. Mencken Club event.

    • GB
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      He wasn’t able to attend last time but apparently he will be there this year. I also draw a distinction between G-C and academics like Payne, Griffin or A. James Gregor. They might not be necessarily sympathetic towards their subject of study, but you always learn from their thoughtful works and they exhibit an intimate familiarity with fascism that is rare even among those who adhere to the ideology.

  7. Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke was a competent researcher and I read all three books mentioned in John’s obituary with profit, but I have to say that he did not get Serrano. The chapter he dedicates to the Chilean author in Black Sun showed a complete lack of understanding of what the latter was trying to do or where he was coming from; instead he painted a crude sensational picture based on semi-literalist readings. It is what one would have expected from an academic researcher incapable of escaping the confines of a rationalist mindset. It’s a pity. But hopefully my forthcoming annotated translation of The Golden Thread, out in the Autumn, and the other two volumes in the trilogy will help to rectify this.

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