Some considerations concerning Blavatsky and Nazism

Katinka Hesselink 2007

There are historical links between Nazism and Blavatsky's theosophy. I have gone into those briefly elsewhere. This article is an attempt at going at the issue from the ethical perspective. 

There is the fact that in Nazi Germany Jews and other people who were 'different' were killed and generally treated badly. This is a blight on the history of Western Europe. There is the historical question of 'how could this happen'. Factors mentioned in response to that are generally: the bad economic shape Germany was in following the first World War, the denial of most citizens of what was happening and the general wish of people to just keep on going as best they could. Hitler's many religiously inspired institutions and symbols were also instrumental in the power he held over the German people and his charisma. Some of these things had occult roots. There is no denying it. 

Does that mean though that occultism is in itself 'bad', evil or scary? Does it mean that any attempt to explain differences between people is in itself wrong? 

Though the link between Blavatskyan thought on the differences between people is part of the mix that eventually constituted Ariosophy, that does not mean her work is well understood as such. In other words: her thought is more then what eventually became the Nazi ideology. In the travel of ideas from theosophy to nazism, essential aspects of Blavatskyan thought were left out. What was mainly left out was Blavatsky's ethics. Blavatsky wasn't just a teacher of a theory of race, though race plays its part in her magnum opus: The Secret Doctrine (SD). I'll get that theory of race out of the way first, by explaining it:

Blavatsky's theory of race

The Secret Doctrine draws a picture of cosmic evolution. This evolution is described as ' the evolution of the Universe, spiritual and psychic, as well as physical ' (SD vol 1, p. 612). In this evolution every 'race' has it's place. Each race specialises in its own ideosyncracies, while also contributing to human evolution as a whole. Each monad (incarnated soul) will pass through several races - in order to learn or develop what needs to be learned or developed. From an ethical standpoint this already makes clear that each person, whatever their race, has its place in the divine order of things. In a school one cannot say that a first grader is bad and a second grader is good or better. Both are learning, but one is learning other things then the other. Neither is yet an adult, but the second grader is a bit closer to adulthood then the first grader. 

The following quote makes this aspect of 'everybody in its place, yet part of the divine order' even clearer:

I T is the Spiritual evolution of the inner , immortal man that forms the fundamental tenet in the Occult Sciences. To realize even distantly such a process, the student has to believe ( a ) in the ONE Universal Life, independent of matter (or what Science regards as matter); and ( b ) in the individual intelligences that animate the various manifestations of this Principle. (SD 1, p. 634)

In other words: it is the inner spirit that counts, and this inner spirit of all that lives is ultimately one. ONE UNIVERSAL LIFE. 

Blavatsky goes into many details to illustrate these principles. Read without reference to the above principles her examples can be seen as  racist. If however, in her words, the 'fundamental tenet in the occult sciences', is remembered - her words are merely a recognition of the different learning experiences a soul can have in different circumstances. If a soul is new to human life, it is burdened with less (bad) karma, but also more naive. Blavatsky says this is the state of 'savages'. This is a Victorian way of putting it - and jars on modern ears. But the basis isn't as offensive. It is clear that a person living in some far out jungle, as yet untouched by 'Western Civilisation' will have the naivite of not knowing about many modern aborations (like prostitutes, for instance). At the same time such a way of life will lack 'sophistication'. In other words, there are pros and cons to living isolated in the jungle. 

My example of children in school is especially abt if one remembers that to Blavatsky human evolution is far from over. Humans are only halfway through their 'school'. We are in the fourth round (of seven such rounds). Buddha was said to be 'a fifth rounder'.

The ethics of racism?

Nazi Germany showed the world to what evil people are capable when led by racist theories. With one blow all race-theories became suspect. The democratic impulse was strengthened. In the field of psychology - the nature or nurture debate sided with nurture for a while. 

The pendulum has (generally) swung the other way by now though. Developments in the science of genetics have brought race back in the medical sciences for instance. People of (genetically) African background, are more likely to develop diabetes. People of (again genetically) Western European background are more likely to develop skin cancer. Intelligence is seen to be genetic to a very large extent in countries with a good public education system. All this is hardly relevant to theosophy, as for theosophy all humans have their place in the evolutionary development of consciousness anyhow. For Nazi Germany it is relevant: there were experiments on people with less than average intelligence, for instance. This misuse of knowledge does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the knowledge itself is not worth pursuing. Research into the field of intelligence has lead to the conclusion that although intelligence is to a large extent hereditary, the brain can be trained to a very large extent. It is safe to assume the pendulum will come to rest between the two opposites: both nature AND nurture have an effect on the kind of person a child becomes. 

Theosophy (and Buddhism) ads a third factor: the karmic past of the child. Karma basicly means 'responsibility'. It means that what goes around, comes around. As I argued elsewhere, the doctrine of karma implies the responsibility of the Nazis for what they did to Jews and others

At the beginning of the 21st century no religion can be said to have clean hands. Whether we look at Judaism, Islam, Christianity or even Buddhisme - each of these religions has been used to legitimize violence. This doesn't make religion bad - it just shows that violence is one of the responses people have to the changing and threatening world we live in.