I’m still reading Peter F. Hamilton’s latest for review, so I’m continuing with the Hollow Earth theme. This review doesn’t mention it, but I believe it shows up here with other Nazi occult beliefs, and it makes a nice follow up to The Nazis and the Occult.
This is something of a libertarian novel, and libertarianism is a philosophy I’m less sympathetic to 25 years later.
This fine novel came as a very pleasant surprise. I picked it up without hearing anything about it, expecting an alternate history utilizing the Nazis’ bizarre occult notions. There’s some of that, but it’s mainly an excellent alternate history, character study, and novel of political philosophy.
There is not, as far the alternate history goes, a really “sharp agate point” (as Winston Churchill put it) on which history turns. The turning point seems to be Franklin Roosevelt’s impeachment over Pearl Harbor. Dewey becomes President then Robert Taft. America becomes a libertarian state that defeats Japan through sea attacks with atom bombs (no civilian targets are hit with nuclear weapons), but the invasion of Europe is repelled by Nazi atom bombs. A Cold War, nuclear stalemate ensues between authoritarian, socialist Nazi Europe and the libertarian, chaotic, America.
The novel takes between 1975 (in a hotel hosting a science fiction convention) and 2000 (and another sf convention). Linaweaver does a good job of weaving exposition of this world into the narrative. Most of the novel is the diary of Dr. Joseph Goebbels and his rebellious daughter Hilda’s diary. Linaweaver nicely defines these characters as individuals and symbols of political philosophy. Joseph Goebbels voice seems quite authentic as he honestly bares himself in his diary. The hypocrisy and cynicism of his beliefs — with the sincere exception of genuine anti-Semitism — is fascinating. At one point, he says “Civilization cannot survive without hypocrisy, and … murder and kidnapping … must be a monopoly of the state.” He amuses people at parties by spontaneously framing arguments for different political orders.
Hitler, the object of Goebbels’ worship, the star his life is guided by, appears briefly. Goebbels fawns over him in their last conversation before Hitler’s death. (They discuss the uncomfortable similarities between FDR and Hitler: moving their countries toward socialism, assuming dictatorial powers — including concentration camps, and embarking on aggression — FDR’s not so subtle breaking of U.S. neutrality.) Hitler, as interpreted in this novel, is more cynical than usually shown. His main concern is being a cultural fuehrer to a Nazi world and universe — the Nazi space program is not doing as well as America’s — and not the more bizarre notions of Heinrich Himmler’s occult-obsessed SS.
To Hitler, the enemy of fascism, more than Jews or Christians, is the “love of the individual”, the sacrifice of the state to the individual. Hitler dreams of a state used by a few superior individuals. This the man Goebbels loves more than his family. There is one scene of terror, truth, and poignancy when Goebbels’ son thrusts him onto Hitler’s funeral pyre. The son says, “Now you can serve Adolf Hitler for eternity. You always loved him best.”
The cynicism, hate, and repressive order Goebbels loves and serves is turned against him in the character of the megalomaniac scientist Richard Dietrich, described as looking like the sinister villain, and mad scientist Dr. Mabuse — character in a series of popular pre-World War II German films. Dietrich, a brilliant scientist not only in genetics — it is implied he finds a magnetic way of manipulating the bases of DNA — but also the discoverer of a unified theory, is a former Jew turned anti-Semite turned destroyer of the world. He plans on wiping out humanity with a virus, a new Flood for the twentieth century, sparing those he immunizes, creating a new race via genetic engineering.
Goebbels, in Dietrich’s clutches, is horrified. But Dietrich tells Goebbels his plan is merely a logical extension of the Nazis cynical, hateful regime. The SS, in their occult-permeated Burgundy — hypocritically devoted to restoring the medieval purity of Aryan life but funded by Himmler’s technological businesses — have decided another purge is in order. Germany (and Goebbels) just aren’t living up to Aryan ideals and, with Dietrich’s help (he plans on a double cross), will kill them off.
Dietrich, like Hitler, sees people as tools. For him, they must advance knowledge or die. And, like Goebbels, he despises the idea of natural rights: “What is a right? Can you weigh it, measure it, taste it?” Dietrich doesn’t believe anyone is the Chosen People. He will do the choosing. Man is a “killer ape”. He will play God and create and destroy life. Goebbels, shortly before his planned death, says of Dietrich and the Burgundian SS: “The kind of hatred motivating this Burgundian leader was no stranger to me. Never in my worst nightmares did it occur to me that I could be a victim of this kind of thinking.” Goebbels fanned the fires of hate and is almost consumed.
In another part of this book, it is speculated that the truly evil are innocent of what they’re truly doing. Goebbels seems truly ignorant of the consequences of what he’s done. Hilda, his daughter, is another well-done character. The novel is partly a depiction of her journey from party elite to anarchist rebel who helps bring down Dietrich and save the world. Her voice is humorous, grim, and thoughtful. Politically, the book might be summed up by Benjamin Franklin ‘s remark “Those who sacrifice liberty for the sake of security deserve neither.”
The narrative structure is dialectic, but it’s a much better job at sf political dialectic than say Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Here Nazi Europe is a repressive, tyrannical, socially-engineered order. Libertarian American is virtual chaos but a rich, free chaos. Hitler remarks to Goebbels that Keynes’ economic ideas were vindicated in Nazi Europe — war is needed to create employment and to consume goods. Goebbels wisely is silent though he knows America is rich because it is not economically isolationist nor imperialistic.
Alan Whitmore, editor of the Goebbels’ diaries, states this theme at the novel’s beginning when he says power is sought for security. Goebbels finds out, as many tyrants do, power is not security. The tyrant seeks order, security for his cultural, ideological, political, moral, racial, and religious ideas, an order and security preserved by power at others’ expense. Freedom is risky, chaotic but precious.
It is this notion concentration camp survivor Harold Baerwald acknowledges when he says of life “No one gets out here alive.” His books, under the pseudonym H. Freedman, celebrate the liberty of the U.S. When he sees poor immigrants sleeping in packing crates, he remarks on it to Alan Whitmore who says laissez-faire capitalism has not made everyone rich. Baerwald replies “… it hasn’t sent anyone to concentration camps either! There are worse fates than being a beggar.” Social engineering, forced altruism, forced morality (beyond basic sanctions against “force and fraud”) are shown to be worst than the imperfect libertarian alternative.
Yet, Linaweaver points out some flaws in libertarianism. Some of New York’s private roads are a nightmare while the Nazis have splendid autobahns (which they can’t afford). In defense of the libertarianism, the market is shown providing some solutions — including improved auto suspension. A more serious flaw in the book’s propagandizing is libertarian foreign policy and antipathy to intelligence agencies and “dirty tricks”. Violation of the rule of law and ignoring a natural rights principle for all men (as Dietrich does) can lead to tyranny. It can also be argued that (and this point is not addressed in the novel) America “lucks out” in having the German underground stop Dietrich. A so-called “imperialist policy” could have stopped the Nazis and maybe saved some people from death camps.
The novel’s end is reminiscent of recent events in the Soviet Union — it was only written in 1988. A tyrannical system begins to unravel economically. I would agree with libertarians that tyranny usually, through wasting resources and people, collapses. The trouble is that a lot of damage can be done in the meantime. Damage which can be prevented through some of the apparatus of the “security state”. In terms of the novel, FDR’s “imperialism” could have saved a lot of European misery despite its more unsavory elements.
Other things I liked about the novel: the references to H. L. Mencken, and the fictitious Nazi film Fufillment of Duty in the Light of the Holy Grail, a Nazi Raiders of the Lost Ark where the intrepid Grail Professor von Moltke must find the Aryan Stone, the Grail in Iceland before British soldiers do. The Aryan Stone wastes a bunch of Brits at film’s end while sparing the hero and heroine.