Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Stefan George Circle

Recent discussions of the concept of the Deep State have evoked curiosity about forerunners. One such precursor, or so its would seem, was the Stefan George Circle, an elite secret society that formed around the German poet. Their aim was a conservative reshaping of the country based on the concept of Geheimes Deutschland or Secret Germany. It has been regarded as either a forerunner of Nazism or a conservative bulwark against it. (George himself resettled in Switzerland so as to avoid any contact with Hitler's emergent regime.). 
The members of the seemingly homophile fellowship were attracted by the aesthetic experience of discovering George's poetry, together with their veneration of his life and work. The ritual meetings were held by a conclave of the elect: in the first reunion after World War I, at Pentecost 1919, George assembled twelve disciples in Heidelberg, where the future historian Ernst Kantorowicz was solemnly inducted as a member of the community.
Stefan George aimed at creating a mystical, anti-modernist society, distinguished by its aesthetic superiority and within the framework of clear hierarchies. He fostered the cult of an idealistic Secret Germany (Geheimes Deutschland), a vision of an inner entity or mystical core as outlined by the cultural philosophers Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn. Geheimes Deutschland was also the title of a poem published in George's late work Das Neue Reich ("The New Empire") in 1928, in which he proclaimed a new form of an intellectual and spiritual aristocracy, to some extent indebted to Friedrich Schiller's essay "On the Aesthetic Education of Man."
The transfiguration of a "German mind" below the surface of the actually-existing, profane German nation state has later been described as a model for the conservative German resistance to Nazism, culminating in the July 20 plot against Hitler's life. Indeed Alexander and Berthold von Stauffenberg had become acquainted with the Circle in 1923, shortly afterwards also their brother Claus who became a great admirer of George's work. According to some sources, at his execution the leader spoke his last words, "Es lebe das Geheime Deutschland!" ("Long live Secret Germany!").

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Monday, March 06, 2017

LGBT leaders

The current miniseries on ABC, When We Rise, is based on the work of the San Francisco activist Cleve Jones.  The following are some more general ideas that the series stimulated.

To the best of my knowledge, I never met Jones, so that the following composite character sketch is based on other LGBT leaders I have known. First, they were by and large "unemployable," conducting free-floating lives as best they could. A few like Legg and Hay had partners to support them; many did not. This indifference to worldly success was complemented by a fierce (and understandable) wish to have their contributions recognized when the time came. (Rare were individuals like Arthur Warner who eschewed any limelight; the success of the cause being all that mattered.). 

Then there was lifestyle asceticism. Kameny was famous for subsisting on Chef Boyardee, consumed straight from the can without heating. Morris Kight would wear a tattered old suit until it fell off him. 

They were also inclined to factionalism. The first case I encountered was Don Slater's notorious heist of ONE in 1965. Later I learned that this sort of thing was common even in the early days of the German movement. 

Our leaders were quick to take offense, and little given to acknowledging any earlier sources. I narrowly escaped assault when I suggested to Harry Hay that he and his friends had purloined the term "homophile" from European usage (it was first introduced In German in 1925).