Fascism and Nazism are often construed as ultra-right-wing political movements, and certainly there are some strong affinities between fascism and the political right. However, when the historian Zeev Sternhell published his important study about early 20th-century French fascism, he entitled his book, Neither Right Nor Left, because he recognized that fascism did not fit nicely into the left-right political spectrum. Stanley Payne, in his magisterial History of Fascism, largely agrees, arguing that fascism was not only anti-socialist, but it was also anti-conservative.
One of the key differences that Payne identifies between fascism and conservatism is their attitudes toward religion and secular modernity. Payne argues that “fascism basically presupposed a post-Christian, post-religious, secular, and immanent frame of reference.” My own recent book, Hitler’s Religion, demonstrates that Hitler’s own ideology was largely secular and anti-Christian, though he often disguised his views in public.
The alt-right is often accused of having Nazi tendencies — and some self-proclaimed alt-right figures, such as Andrew Anglin, editor of The Daily Stormer website, overtly identify themselves as neo-Nazi. Certain white nationalist and neo-Nazi sites, including Anglin’s, have lost their Internet hosting recently, and may no longer be accessible on the web. Nevertheless, it is instructive to examine their views on religion and secularism, as previously published, to see if they correspond to the “neither right nor left” narrative.
One feature that emerges clearly from various alt-right writers is that many of them are enamored of secular, anti-Christian thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, who was famous for his dictum that “God is dead.” As noted here recently (see “Evolution and the Alt-Right, Continued”), they also embrace Darwinism with alacrity, since they see it as the foundation for their “scientific racism.” In addition to rejecting human equality, they tend to cast doubt on human freedom by espousing biological determinism, the idea that human traits — including moral characteristics — are primarily hereditary. Some in the alt-right even laud the Conservative Revolution, a movement in early 20th-century Germany that wedded a secular worldview (often Nietzschean) with authoritarian politics.
The alt-right is a disparate movement with a variety of religious perspectives. However, one point on which almost all alt-right proponents agree is that — in their view — most forms of contemporary Christianity are corrupt, since they promote a universalistic, egalitarian vision of humanity spurned by the alt-right. However, there is no consensus in the alt-right about what should replace present forms of Christianity.
Some leading figures of the alt-right, such as Richard Spencer, are sympathetic with paganism. Others hope to reconstruct Christianity as a religion for the “white race.” Yet others promote pantheism; a 2015 article in the alt-right Radix Journal, for example, endorsed the “evolutionary pantheism” of the Polish intellectual, Jan Stachniuk.
Interestingly, like the alt-right, the religious views of the Nazi hierarchy were also varied. Hitler told his associates that he did not care what they believed about the after-life, as long as they gave him their full allegiance and obeisance in this world. Nonetheless, “evolutionary pantheism” is an apt description of the religious views of Hitler and his personal assistant, Martin Bormann, both of whom deified nature. Hitler considered the laws of nature, especially the Darwinian struggle for existence, the arbiter of morality, no matter how cruel that struggle might be.
Other Nazi leaders, such as Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler, wanted to resurrect ancient German paganism. Yet other Nazi officials adhered to the “German Christian” movement, which was an anti-Semitic, Nazified version of Protestantism.
When one examines some of the moral positions taken by figures in the alt-right, some of them seem consistent with religious morality. However, this is only superficial, because for the alt-right white racism trumps all other moral standards. Anglin states, “We must win by any means necessary,” so for him, the end — promoting the white race — justifies the means.
Some on the alt-right are pro-abortion, because they believe that abortion often eliminates the weak, the sick, and those of races they deem inferior. This is very similar to the Nazi position, which rejected abortions for healthy German women, but encouraged and sometimes even required abortions for women with disabilities or women who were non-German.
Alt-right discussions of religion also reflect a secularizing tendency, often adopting an instrumentalist view of religion. This means that they are not trying to discover which religion is true (probably because they do not think there is a true religion). Rather, they think that religion should be judged, not by its correspondence to reality, but by its usefulness (in advancing the cause of white racism).
In an article on “Identitarian Religion” in Radix Journal, Alfred Clark (some authors appear to be pseudonyms) argues that religion emerged because it has adaptive value in the evolutionary process. Christianity, he argues, has become maladaptive, so it should be replaced by a religion that reinforces racial identity. He admits that this could be an altered form of Christianity, but he also thinks it could be paganism. He even encourages atheists and agnostics to coexist with identitarian religion: “Since,” he informs us, “identitarian religion is not at odds with nature, and thus not at odds with evolutionary science, it does not threaten secular knowledge but offers itself as an additional societal glue.”
Clark is not alone. Spencer, who edited Radix Journal before it lost web hosting, also judges religion by its ability to advance his racist agenda. He admires Greco-Roman religion and paganism, though he admits that he does not practice these religions. Clearly for many in the alt-right religion is subservient to their white racist ideology, and apparently any religion will do, as long as white racism is paramount in it.
Though the alt-right does not have any unified religious position, they generally seem to be more influenced by secular ideologies, such as Nietzscheism, social Darwinism, biological determinism, and collectivism, than by any particular religion. While some disdain Christianity, at least in most of its manifestations, others warn against expressing out-and-out hostility to Christianity per se, lest they alienate people unnecessarily. In their attitudes toward religion — just as in many other areas of their ideology — it does seem to me that the alt-right is “neither right nor left.”
Dr. Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and the author of three books on Hitler: From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s Ethic, and Hitler’s Religion. For more visit www.darwintohitler.com.