The present essay constitutes only an introductory outline of the major themes and motifs in the life and work of Janko Janeff, a figure whom I initially discovered by pure accident but who has since grown into a particular interest of mine, a supplement, if you will, to my focus on the German radical Right. What follows is at best a rough sketch, and I will probably revisit this post every now and then to edit and expand, especially once I acquire a better grasp on Bulgarian.
I see in the distance. That which has already begun to take shape will have the same historical significance as Christianity. It was conceived of many years ago. It was bound to come. It is a consequence of the past centuries; it is a revenge on civilization. The age of revenge is upon us. I foresee that we are about to enter the age of apocalyptic wars which will engulf the whole planet. The Old Testament will repeat itself. The great political movements animating peoples today are the first steps toward a reconstruction of the world. We will come to believe in new powers. Fire will issue forth from the center of the earth. For this very reason we should be proud: with us a new world begins. The new age will commence before our very eyes. Let he who does not believe this take a look at himself: what he will see is himself ugly and old. The great Spirit of the World rises from the abyss and returns back into it.1
Janko Janeff (German spelling of Janko Janev [Янко Янев]) was a Bulgarian interwar intellectual who aligned himself closely with the Nazi regime, from the perspective of the neo-Romantic and anti-civilizational mode of social critique, which initially drew on fin-de-siècle currents but flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. By way of background, Janko Janeff was born on December 13, 1900 in the remote Bulgarian town of Peshtera. Upon graduating from a gymnasium in Plovdiv, he embarked to Germany with the intention of studying dramaturgy, but his interest in philosophy prevailed. In Leipzig he studied with Ernst Bergmann and Johannes Volkelt, in Freiburg im Breisgau with Edmund Husserl and Joseph Geyser—before defending his doctoral thesis on Nietzsche, entitled “Zhivot i svurkhchovek” [Life and the Superman] before Heinrich Rickert. After his return to Bulgaria, he worked as a librarian at the University of Sofia, during which time he contributed essays to various cultural and literary journals. Starting with the 1926 publication of Antikhrist [Antichrist] his intense, abiding interest in Hegel, Goethe, Heidegger, Spengler and, above all, Nietzsche culminated in 1934 with the publication of Geroichniiat chovek [The Heroic Man]. Janeff was heavily immersed in the German cultural canon from an early age and this arguably remained the primary frame of reference for his critical interventions into the Bulgarian debate over national identity. After establishing his reputation in Bulgarian circles, he progressively divested himself the local referents and concerns of the official nationalist discourse, whose premises he apparently quite often turned on their heads.2 By the turn of the decade, Janeff, who was publishing in various cultural periodicals, acquired a reputation of being one of the most promising young intellectuals of the country, engaging deeply in the legacy of Bulgarian modernism and European vitalism.3 Promethean individualism and neo-Romantic pathos however, were far from adequate to the ensuing political crisis, which acquired awesome and terrible dimensions in Janeff’s apocalyptic imagination. Beginning in the early 1930s Janeff reinscribed his notion of heroic man onto the plane of collective destiny. Indeed, many of the ideas which he subsequently developed in his German-language output already appeared in adumbrated form in an article expounding on the “The Spirit of the Nation”:
We live in an age of national revolutions when nations no longer want to remain mute spectators; they want to take part in history, asserting themselves as national organisms, with their own earth and sky, with their own spiritual and political style. We must also become part of this age.4
This more explicitly political orientation was not unanticipated. Already in the 1920s Fascism made a deep impression on him and like-minded radical conservatives of his generation,5 but shortly after the publication of the above-cited article in 1935 he took the logical next step and, upon invitation to join the faculty at Universität Berlin’s Slavic department as a visiting lecturer (Dozent), settled permanently in Germany, whereafter he continued to published at a prodigiously and exclusively in German. His life came to an abrupt, bombastic conclusion in the Allied destruction of Dresden in 1945.
Janeff’s particular cultural and political priorities implicate him comfortably within their discursive orbit of the interwar Conservative Revolution, whose participants specialized in contextualizing the contemporary political crisis within a wider critique of liberal modernity and its attendant ills contained in the epidemic of individualism, consumerism and egalitarianism. In this context Janeff’s case is a paradigmatic one. Like other radical conservatives of his generation, he discerned in Nazism a movement of the masses that in essence served as a temporary carrier of a more fundamental philosophical revolution. Janeff is a difficult figure, to say the least. His trajectory carried him to the margins of Bulgarian intellectual discussion before finally removing him to the German scene. There is relatively little in his main corpus that translates neatly to an actionable political programme; his writing style in general operates within an obscure, poetic register. However, if we were to keep his tenure in Germany at the forefront of our inquiry, situating his output within the wider context of Nazi intellectual currents lends it a greater degree of coherence, as he clearly outlined an ambitious meta-historical justification for Southeastern Europe’s incorporation into the Nazi imperium.
Janeff’s significance for the study of interwar European history derives less from his capacity to influence debate within either Germany or Bulgaria than from his confirmation of the true reach of already prevalent cultural and intellectual trends. First it will be necessary to establish the context in which Janeff and his intellectual cohort was intervening, delineating continuities as well as ruptures in discussions of Southeastern Europe. Janeff drew from, and synthesized, more specific sources to synthesize his philosophy of history and national character. In his intellectual omnivorousness, Janeff matched his moment in history when, outside the liberal-bourgeois purview, the interchange of porous social, religious, cultural, ideological and political categories during this period was so diverse as to almost defy generalization. Such eclecticism was indicative of the post-Hegelian crisis in which Nietzsche’s virile existentialism, Dilthey’s neo-idealism and Heidegger’s mystical hermeneutics, among other contributions, stepped into the vacancy left by positivist epistemology. Even though he was very much a synthetic thinker, the collective sensibility to which Janeff attuned himself must be shown to be the result not so much of mutual influences (important as they might be), but rather of a series of confluences, the simultaneous joining or coming together of ideas, values and convictions independently voiced.
Whole dimensions of Janeff’s thought will thus remain inaccessible to comprehension without, firstly, a foundational understanding of the “crisis of values” which had beset Europe of the Long Nineteenth Century in its advanced years—which broke out in a mounting deconstruction of the accumulated shibboleths of positivism, materialism, empiricism and rationalism. In völkischer Geschichtsphilosophie, the categorical rejection of linear models of temporal causality, coupled with the inadmissibility of predetermined natural laws, cohere closely with the neo-idealist current in the historical discipline, for which Wilhelm Dilthey in particular was a leading protagonist. From Dilthey, Janeff took the idea of radical empiricism, which rejects any rational standard for what counts as evidence apart from experience itself, not just bare sense data but also the complex products of culture and spirituality; from Heidegger, Janeff took the idea that one’s historical culture matters more than objective reality.7 As opposed to the Enlightenment belief that time and space are uniform and measurable in some objective way, Heidegger claimed that each Volk subjectively wills and shapes its own world and destiny. No common universe belongs to all; there is only a plurality of conflicting worldviews and forces. Janeff accepted this Heideggerian “war of worlds” and also embraced the philosopher’s belief that National Socialism possessed an inner profundity; even here, Janeff found a way to challenge Heidegger’s narrow perspective on Germany’s fate, arguing that the various European Völker were all embedded in a cosmic unity or Weltgeist.
Ivan Elenkov, Keith Hitchins and Balázs Trencsényi have all situated Janeff in the Bulgarian context,8 but in what follows I shall attempt to historicize and move with Janeff as he incorporated critical völkisch categories of German provenance into his thought as he progressed towards a conception of the Balkans’ world-historical importance. As a result, this article seeks illustrate that, though recuperated into the new forms of right-wing politics, völkisch ideology became necessarily infused with radically new content, thereby rendering the emergent repertoire of the völkisch Right’s thought specifically post-conservative.
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Janeff fully embraced the anti-statist, even anti-political, implications of the völkisch view of historical destiny. Unlike in most völkisch literature, however, Janeff did not stake the fate of humanity exclusively on the Wiedergeburt of the German Volk. Rather one can discern Janeff adopting a special, neo-romantic minority strand of völkisch semantics, which upended older nineteenth-century platitudes invoking oriental stagnation. It drew on a “vitalist orientalism” which, stimulated by folkloric studies and archaeological discoveries, extended the conventional oppositional pair of Kultur and Zivilisation to embrace not only romanticized traditional, non-Western cultures but even went so far as to reverse the conventional hierarchy of values, undermining the “normativity” of classical antiquity as the progenitor of European identity.9 Adapting a fin-de-siècle primitivist aesthetic, a decadent, restless West was contrasted unfavorably against Eastern Europe, which conversely was the strong, pure and timeless repository of a revitalizing Geist, having withstood the degenerative effects of civilization.10 Consistent with the idea outlined in Der Mythos auf dem Balkan on “rested peoples,” Janeff allowed for the reinvigoration of Europe through Southeast Europe, wherein “there resides perhaps unforeseen energies, the untapped depth of Being, in which nature and soul, thought and life are united.”11 In a 1937 review of Wenelin Ganeff’s book, Die organologie in der Soziologie und die Theorie der kollektiven Einheiten, Janeff credited the Bulgarian author’s insight that society constituted an organic and conscious organism, was possessed of an inner psychology which preceded its historical expression in various political and legal frameworks.12 Turning to the primitivist idiom that formed a key part of the völkisch nationalist discourse, he conceded that the Balkans were, indeed, “young” or “belated nations” [verspätete Nationen], but subverted the evolutionary discourse by affirming that precisely this backwardness guaranteed their purity as archaic Urvölker.13
As he extrapolated the world-historical importance of the Balkans, geography and history became increasingly abstracted from his ontology of the nation. By transmuting the ideal of Southeast Europe onto a symbolic register, he could relocate the region from the spatial periphery of the continent to its spiritual center, mediated by its deep communion with the German spirit.14 He first rendered explicit this ontological shift in 1936 in Der Mythos auf dem Balkan when he emphasized that “the Balkans are not a geographical concept…[but rather] a space that becomes destiny,”15 and in subsequent publications one consistently finds Janeff rendering Southeast Europe’s political role in highly metaphorical terms. In a 1943 issue of the pan-European cultural-political review Junges Europa, to which he was a frequent contributor, he reiterated that the Southeast, having remained for eons isolated and suspended from the historical ascendancy of the West, nevertheless retained its centrality to European unity, in the context of which the concept was essentially borderless.16
Perhaps the best way to clarify what he meant by “destiny” is to adopt, as did Janeff himself, a dialectical approach to those very dichotomies which most of his radical right-wing contemporaries were content to leave unresolved. Alternately formulated as Modernity versus Tradition, Culture versus Civilization, Individualism versus Collectivism—Janeff’s preferred formula for reconciling these radical antinomies was as follows: the decadent modern West as thesis, the vital, archaic Balkans as antithesis, and the German national revolution then underway as synthesis. Germany, as one of the two “metaphysical” nations, was assigned a quasi-eschatological mission to deliver Europe from degeneration, but Janeff maintained that the Balkans, as the last reserve of a pristine ethnic soul, bore an equal part in fostering the continent’s rebirth.17
Russia was the other so-called metaphysical nation, albeit infected with the oriental spirit and thus doomed to perpetual decomposition.18 Trencsenyi detects here a radical negation of Janeff’s juxtaposition of the Balkans and the West:
Breaking out of the south-east European framework, Janev’s ambition became to rewrite the European ‘meta-history’ in view of the ‘titanic fight’ between West and East….The Hegelian model of a synthesis out of opposing elements is thus completely supplemented by the ‘Manichean’ vision of an irreconcilable conflict between two metaphysical principles. Once again, this shows that rather than autochtonist self-orientalization Janev’s position was that of ‘radical Occidentalism,’ albeit the Occident he constructed was that of totalitarian modernity.19
“Radical Occidentalism” is a very fitting summation of Janeff’s ideological priorities. But here too Janeff’s two-sided appropriation of the German cultural canon could at once justify Germany’s cultural hegemony over the Balkans20 while also, in a characteristic twist, foregrounding the historical agency of the region’s Völker, such as in a tribute to Herder, “the first to comprehend, in terms of world history and philosophy, the Slavs in relation to the intellectual history of Europe as a whole.”21 This native Aryan heritage was revisited by Romantics like Goethe and Grimm, but Herder remained the pioneering archaeologist of the “elementary human” in European folk cultures.22
It was an irony of history that these conceptions were misappropriated by pan-Slavic ideologists for their imperialist designs.23 In an article that same year he also singled out for ridicule academic theories that categorized the Balkan Völker as merely Slavs or as the descendants of Eastern barbarians.24
What bears particular emphasis in connection with our present study is the unifying principle of the völkisch historical imagination—the postulate of a metaphysical constant which simultaneously inheres outside the contours of history and is itself a dynamic operative agent in the historical process. This preference for phenomena that allegedly are not subject to contingencies of historical time was characteristic for many other völkisch writers. The Volk, in this rendering, set the preconditions for its own internal development. Such a cosmology was framed in spite of, even in opposition to, the apparently axiomatic fact of linear temporal progress, something völkisch theorists refused to accept unconditionally. To give our subjects sufficient credit, this did not imply, from their perspective, the romantic escape into an irretrievable past; instead, historical change as such was only a surface phenomenon overlaying a substrate of a more substantial and permanent reality.
Referring again to the rich texture of German idealism underlying these assumptions, we can clarify the opposition between Volk and history. The chronological flux of past, present and future was merely a convenient construct suggesting a more substantial continuity of völkisch existence. The völkische Geschichtphilosophie, therefore, was regressive not simply in the emotive sense, but more importantly as an existential necessity. From an immanently völkisch viewpoint, the absolute dichotomy between progressive and regressive history was not necessarily a valid proposition. The distinctive value of the völkisch contribution to right-wing discourse, in fact, obtained to the extent that they confronted modernity directly; in a departure from the traditional nostalgic conservatives, völkisch agitators and reformers sought not to categorically reject the present society for a mythologized past, but rather to harness the vital impulses of the Volk to the challenges of modernity, to forcefully intervene into and mold the present state in conformity with a pre-determined set of values. The Volk, in this understanding, obeyed no law of history but its own eternal struggle for self-realization and thus could not be consigned to a superannuated past; under ideal conditions, the eternal Volk essence could reconstitute itself in the present. Felix Wiedemann sums up the eminently paradoxical implications of “eternal recurrence” as mandated in völkisch history, which was integrally backward- and forward-looking: “Become what you once were and fundamentally what you ever always are.”25 In terms anticipating his Romanian contemporary Mircea Eliade’s distinction between “sacred” and “profane” time,26 Janeff subsumed—in fact negated—the very concept of normative historicity (which legitimized the appropriation of Western models and development schemes in order to facilitate modernization) within a mythical space where the “eternal present” could finally displace the ravages of linear progress.27 From this perspective Janeff arguably appropriated the full ideological repertoire of what labor historian Tom Brass describes as the renascent agrarian myth. Fusing populism, indigenism and an undifferentiated, explicitly non-materialist mode of anti-capitalism, this narrative also drew symbolic power from a distinction between progressive and cyclical history. Suspension in time, escape from the “terror of history,” served as powerful a redemptive metaphor as did rootedness in space.28
The corollary of this utopian impulse was the insistence that a mystical pantheism was thus the true road to national liberation; the realization of genuine human community was not dependent on the socio-political dialectics of history. Janeff thus joined a common refrain when he opened his 1943 tract Zwischen Abend und Morgen with an extended diatribe against the entire field of mainstream “Volkswissenschaften,” which in confining itself to superficial distinctions of ethnology, philology, folklore, remains unable to comprehend in a holistic way the eternal, mysterious blood force which runs through the Völker and shapes their collective race consciousness and emotional being. Only poets and romantics (among whom he would undoubtedly count himself) possess the insight into the underlying processes which, operating independently of the geopolitical dialectic, amount to a historic reawakening of the Weltgeist, of which each Volk constitutes an organic part.29 The collective conscious was a psychic reservoir of the developmental phases of an individual as well as mankind. He proposed a theory of psycho-somatic palingenesis, according to which spiritual and physiological heredity, asserted through “historical reawakening” constituted and actively influenced the distinct Völker in such a way as to contradict the notion of the unique, singular personality—compared to which the intrinsic indivisibility of individual and communal consciousness was a more substantial phenomenon.30
This appeal to historical teleology, predicated on the primacy of cultural and/or racial purity, had an overriding purpose in the völkisch arsenal. If “rootedness” constituted the prime condition of the Volk, then the resort to tradition carried an existential imperative—the further back in time one could extend the Germans as a cohesive ethnic and cultural unit, the more binding, rhetorically speaking, was its preservation, or rather resurrection. It is with such reasoning that Janeff faced with equanimity the machinations of the Great Powers, because, after all, as long as the Balkan Völker preserved their own traditions and continued to draw on their elemental strengths, they would persevere just as they had in the past against a host of foreign influences, Turkish, Greek or Roman.31 In this vein, besides pan-Slavism Janeff proved similarly unmatched in his vitriol in excoriating the corrupting influence of Christianity on Europe. At its roots a foreign import from the oriental world, it was fundamentally hostile to life in its vital, dynamic expression, and its universalist, supranational alienated people from their inherited Volk feeling, their instinct to confront the mysteries of existence within a collective existence.32 The Balkan racial soul remained essentially pagan, more impervious to the imposition of church doctrine than arguably even Germans. Much as with the pan-Germanism which informed these interpretations, völkisch historical myth did not depend exclusively on the claims of race, but the topos of a deterministic, paradigmatic racial struggle very quickly entrenched itself and gave the history of the Volk a compelling narrative structure.
Herein lay the persistent structural tension between the simultaneously static and dynamic qualities of the Volk. Janeff, even as he consistently gestured to an idealized past, was conversely compelled by a sense of crisis to translate the apocalypse of long-term decline into a program of immediate action, projecting the mythos of “rebirth” into the future.33 The apocalyptic proposition of “titanic struggle,” promising as it did to purge Europe of its impurities, inevitably attracted Janeff, who reveled in the fusion of destructive Nietzschean nihilism with an eschatology of primeval nations rising anew from the ashes of the old international order.34 Technology itself transforms into the agent of change, offering itself as “an instrument of the gods of Rage” and completing the process whereby “it must become perfectly inhuman until the mobilization of the machine of change is attained.” Hence the final fictory over technology. In the forthcoming Great War, motors will destroy motorized consciousness, and
the victory of machine steel will be a victory over technology itself. The fiendish nature of iron necessity and the monotony of insatiability will overcome themselves. The last engineer of the West must die in the future Great War…the last man of worldly fear must perish; the last man of of worldly fear must perish; the last master of dead matter must extinguish himself.35
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Janeff, as we can gather from our foregoing exposition, eluded conventional approaches to the study of the region and quite explicitly privileged an anti-historicist and essentialist philosophy of history that openly invited the mystical and irrational. Opposed to abstract reason, he grounded his epistemology instead within a subjective, phenomenological approach—the eternal wisdom of the Volk. This arguably made him a poor fit for the conservative milieu that was the German university system.
On the level of academic institutions contributing to the field of Südostforschung, the methodological division between linguistics and racial science meant that, in practical terms, the majority of German Slavists maintained a professional distance from National Socialist ideology,36 though this did not prevent them from attempting to popularize their findings through various channels, academic or otherwise.37 Despite the prevailing impression in the historiography, the German or “Nordic” race was not interchangeable with Aryans writ large; by the time of the Third Reich, racial scientists had decisively abandoned crude somatic typologies in favor of those proofs furnished by modern genetics and Völkerpsychologie. And as Christopher Hutton has documented, Nazi theorists unanimously maintained a distinction between linguistic and racial categories, classing “Aryan” exclusively with the former; if a basic congruency between lineages of language and race had once obtained in the past, because of intervening phenomena like migration, conquest, miscegenation and assimilation, this point of origin was less relevant from the standpoint of Nazi policy.38 However, the status of the term became confused in various public contexts, where a looser application competed with the strict academic definition, and this ambiguity carried over to the Slavic-speaking peoples—a question on which there was little consensus, much less a uniformly hostile or exterminationist position.39 The elaboration and evaluation of the “Adriatic/Dinaric” type, as related to the Germanic or Nordic race,40 for example, allowed for the elevation of Goth-descended Croats above, say, “oriental” Serbs or Russians.41 In addition, Stefan Troebst has provided useful sketches of the Bulgarien-Bild in German society from the initial stereotype of a benighted, docile (even bovine) peasant folk to the wartime image of heroic “brothers-in-arms” [Waffenbrüder].42 Within the Balkans itself, racial scientists, internalizing the colonial approach articulated by Western and Central European scholars, “had to abandon the point of view that a given nation was represented by a single race” and compensated for the irreducible fact of the region’s diversity by documenting “that elements of those ‘races’ that were most prestigious in the European context—especially the ‘Nordic Race’—were present in their own nation” while simultaneously resisting the imposition of the hierarchy embedded in foreign theories. The overall lack of coordinated thinking on the “Slavic question” left openings which authors like Janeff were able to exploit.
In any case, the Bulgarian import’s ambiguous position within the academic milieu cast into relief some of the potential limits of Nazi “coordination” [Gleichshaltung]. When the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM), through the SS folklorist Heinrich Harmjanz, recommended Janeff for a permanent teaching position at the Slavic Institute, the head of the Institute since its founding in 1925, Max Vasmer, who had already in 1937 made known to Harmjanz his disapproval of Janeff, reiterated his opposition to hiring Janeff on the basis of his underwhelming resumé. In a letter to the Dean of the Philosophical Faculty, he emphasized, in addition to Janeff’s weak background in philology and history, that “his lectures are avoided by serious students, lacking as he does the competence to bring together the common cultural heritage of the neighboring peoples.” Furthermore, his published work constituted an awkward and transparent attempt “to apply National Socialist maxims to the Balkan peoples at the complete neglect of the historical development of the Balkan nations”—such material lent itself more to the purposes of propaganda than as examples of serious scholarship. The historian Hans Uebersberger affirmed Vasmer’s position in his own communication with the dean, expounding on the numerous shortcomings of Janeff’s two most recent books. In consideration of these facts, Vasmer strongly advised against promoting Janeff any further. Accordingly the Dean rebuffed official advances, yet the REM broached the subject of an honorary professorship on two more occasions, again to no avail. When the subject was raised a second time in 1941, Vasmer again petitioned the Dean (now the Egyptologist Hermann Grapow), this time stressing that the universities staked their reputation and cultural mission on resisting such overtly political appointments. Finally, in 1943 Grapow reported to the Ministry representative that Janeff, in his evaluation, was not qualified to fulfill the duties of a full-time professor. Vasmer repeated his charges of dilettantism and superficiality, concluding darkly that such a title, if extended to the likes of Janeff, would suffer permanent devaluation in his estimation. Janeff was denied tenure and further pursued his niche in cultural propaganda.43
Not that Janeff did not have his supporters from other corners, which may attest to the impact he exercised outside the halls of academia on the German cult of Balkan authenticity, filtered through the vocabulary of Blut und Boden. While the Berlin University’s Slavic Institute fought to maintain its academic integrity by repeatedly refusing Janeff and honorary professorship, philologists like Franz Thierfelder, who was closely affiliated with the Deutsche Akademie in Münich and its “Southeast Committee,” wrote extensively on the possibilities for cultural, political and economic cooperation between Germany and the Balkan Völker. Janeff could count on his endorsement. This well-respected philologist credited Janeff with pioneering a new symbolic geography of the region and readily concurred with his autarkic vision of Southeast Europe:
in this area of the continent alone does a natural, ethnic way of life prevail, one which had largely disappeared from Central and Western Europe yet persists as the object of a secret yearning and anticipates its reemergence in National Socialism….For Europe to reclaim the Balkans, nothing else is required than to help defend its ethnic order…not to civilize it, nor to develop the small town into cities or to urbanize the village; all efforts in this direction amount to a violation of the spirit of perhaps the single region of our continent where the West’s renewal can tap into a living tradition.44
The intersection between, on one side, Janeff’s role as a propagandist for Southeastern Europe’s incorporation into the Fascist Neuordnung Europas, and, on the other side, his simultaneous effort to relativize the Nazis’ “racial” rendition of the traditional civilizational value hierarchy starting from the Nordic peoples and descending to the more inferior “Southern” races, placing the Balkan nations well below the average, constitutes the axis around which this essay is organized.
It is nearly impossible, in retrospect, for one to write about Janko Janeff outside the long shadow cast by the concept of Balkanism as it has emerged from various academic discourses. One need only refer to Maria Todorova’s Imagining the Balkans to appreciate the importance of a precise definition. Writing in response to various appropriations of Edward Said’s thesis that Orientalism reproduced the colonialism and imperialism in discursive form, Todorova was the first to argue that Balkanism constituted a separate discourse and not merely a subspecies of Orientalism. Because of the region’s relative historical and geographic continuity, its ascribed proximity to Western models of political-economic development, our author questions the heuristic usefulness of eliding the legalistic distinction between formal colonialism and less historically specific modes of subordination and dominance. “Unlike orientalism, which is a discourse about an imputed opposition,” Todorova is led to the conclusion that “balkanism is a discourse about an imputed ambiguity”—that is to say, the Balkan subject is perceived not so much as the Other reinforcing a preexisting Western framework but as an anomalous internal category, only ever partially integrated into the narrative of European modernity.45 Hence the limited applicability, per Todorova, of postcolonial and subaltern theory to the region.
What makes Janeff especially relevant to the preceding discussion is not only the extent to which he anticipated and confirmed Todorova’s distinctions regarding the Balkans’ ambiguous but nevertheless ontologically predetermined relationship to Europe in his own time, but also the various discursive strategies by which he maintained the unique destiny of the Balkans while recuperating this difference within a higher unity. While he could refer himself back to predecessors for his autarkic position, he far exceeded his colleagues in stressing the radical alterity of the region as a cohesive entity.
As a number of scholars have already observed, it was paradoxically the local reception of Western, predominantly German, sources that critically shaped nativist and autocthonist ideologies in Southeastern Europe, whose anti-European or anti-Western posture was subsequently subsumed within the dominant National Socialist Weltanschauung.46 To the extent that Kulturpessismus and Zivilizationskritik critically informed his political orientation, Janeff can be counted among its members and (at the risk of homogenizing the intellectual history of the interwar right) one way to tell his story is as one the transmission and reception of the movement beyond Germany.
This inevitably begs the question as to how the subaltern voice insinuates and reasserts itself within a hegemonic space? Janeff’s intellectual biography invites the conclusion that there is no definitive discourse in which the authentic voice could come through fully and unmediated. With that condition in mind, however, Janeff was in a unique position to adapt an alternative völkisch discourse to suit his political priorities, in recognition of the fact that the (semi-)colonial subject could manipulate the discursive categories of the West to declare some measure of independence, or at least ambiguous distance, from them. In order to restore völkisch discourse to relevance, it arguably needed to first be “deprovincialized”—that is, divested from the particular cultural and historical referents that superimposed German culture on Europe and presupposed its political supremacy. When transplanted to a region with weaker political legacies, the latent counter-hegemonic, even anti-imperial, critique became much more pronounced, even though Janeff’s example suggests that even this position could easily be co-opted.
Janeff was undoubtedly a radical nationalist, but he was far from provincial in his outlook. This oxymoronic propensity to universalize auto- and hetero-stereotypes previously thought to correspond to a single country suggests, per Trencsényi, the value in studying Janeff:
although most interpretations stress the cleavage between autocthonists, some of the most intriguing cases are thinkers who cut across this opposition and sought to create a new discourse of authenticity by inserting their national autocthonism into a European framework.47
My case study yields some preliminary insights into the explanatory value of outliers like Janeff in testing the outer limits of the völkisch discourse, beyond which mutually constitutive references to the mythical telos of the Volk became less coherent. Janeff’s example might raise further questions the longer-term continuities and discontinuities in the transmission of the Volk’s diffuse subliminal appeal—with additional attention given to its normalization outside of the official channels.
Additionally, Janeff’s example, among others, would argue against overstating the völkisch Right’s legitimizing function for state power. The fact should be retained that the völkisch movement, broadly defined, emerged as an alternative to the existing socio-political order. Its relationship to the state was often ambiguous, but in essence they subordinated its a priori legitimacy to the eternal claims of the Volk, which in extreme circumstances could exercise a destabilizing effect. In just this way the Weimar radical right, suffused with völkisch ideas, gained in force as a dynamic opposition, eventually preempting the radical left in this capacity—a historical role it is prepared to reprise in new forms. What would become known as the postwar European New Right achieved this coup by claiming a new paradigm that represents mutual concerns over the homogenizing tendencies of global capitalism, liberalism, materialism and Western imperialism—systematically divesting itself of its leftist heritage in this process towards cultural pessimism and neo-populism. Janeff continues to fascinate not only because he came from the farthest corner of Europe (excluding Turkey), importing German philosophical models to . More importantly, he stands out for articulating, more clearly than anyone else I’ve encountered, a pure, unadulterated Ur-fascism—one that made no concessions to the state, capitalism, or bourgeois civilization. It may have taken an outsider like Janeff to expose the fusion of fanatical bloodlust and nihilistic death-drive driving the Nazi project, divested of Germany’s historical and cultural paticularities. As Ivan Elenkov grimly observes, this renders the descent into auto-annihilation, the eschatological drama of the Second World War, all the more predictable:
Yanev’s demons in general can be understood as an ecstatic antithesis of inter-war reality and represent a particular attitude toward freedom. Yet it remains a freedom which amounts to a suicidal orgiastic plunge into darkness….Enthusiasm in the destructive force of the future helps to transform the postwar collapse of value systems and the destruction of the self into a total liberation in irresponsibility….Yanev’s tragic optimism is then channeled into displays of “transforming” aggressiveness defined by Spengler as “heroic pessimism”: when confronted with “iron necessity,” the heroic act is to freely choose to serve the inevitable. In the ace of fate—which is more fascinating, the more ruthless it is—man achieves liberation by acting as its blind tool. This is how National Socialism proceeds.48
1. Janko Janev, Geroichniyat chovek (Sofia: Chipev, 1934), 70-71.↩
2. Balazs Trenscényi, The Politics of National Character: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (New York: Routledge, 2012), 159-161.↩
3. Keith Hitchins, “Balkan Identity and Europe Between the Two World Wars in the Thought of Yanko Yanev,” Revue des Études Sud-Est Europénnes 41.1-4 (2003), 67-68.↩
4. Janko Janeff, “Духът на нацията (The Spirit of the Nation),” in Anti-modernism—Radical Revisions of Collective Identity, edited by Diana Mishkova, Marius Turda and Balázs Trencsényi. Vol. 4 of Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945): Texts and Commentaries, edited by Ahmet Ersoy, Maciej Górny, Vangelis Kechriotis, Michal Kopeček, Boyan Manchev, Diana Mishkova, Balázs Trencsényi & Marius Turda (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2014), 339.↩
5. Sonja Kanikova, “A Bulgarian Biography of Mussolini,” in The Literature of Nationalism: Essays on East European Identity, ed. Robert B. Pynsent (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 183-184.↩
6. H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought 1890-1930 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958), 186-200; Roy Pascal, From Naturalism to Expressionism: German Literature and Society 1880-1918 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), 48-50; Jan T. Romein, The Watershed of Two Eras: Europe in 1900, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1978), 457-458, 470-471.↩
7. Dimitri Ginev, “Zwischen hermeneutischer Ontologie der Kultur und hermeneutischer Logik des Lebens. Zur Rezeptionsgeschichte von Diltheys Philosophie in Bulgarien,” Dilthey-Jahrbuch 10 (1996), 246-249.↩
8. Ivan Elenkov and Mila Koumpilova, “On the History of Rightist Thought in Inter-War Bulgaria: The Existential Dimensions of ‘Crisis’ in the Writings of Yanko Yanev,” Studies in East European Thought 53.1/2 (June 2001), 47-59; Keith Hitchins, “Balkan Identity and Europe Between the Two World Wars in the Thought of Yanko Yanev,” Revue des Études Sud-Est Europénnes 41.1-4 (2003), 65-74; Balázs Trencsényi, “Balkans Baedecker for Übermensch Tourists: Janko Janev’s Popular Historiosophy,” in Popularizing National Pasts: 1800 to the Present, ed Stefan Berger, Chris Lorenz and Billie Melman (New York: Routledge, 2012), 149-168; Politics of National Character, 121-171.↩
9. Suzanne Marchand, “German Orientalism and the Decline of the West,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145.4 (December 2001), 471-473.↩
10. See August K. Wiedemann, The German Quest for Primal Origins in Art, Culture, and Politics, 1900-1933: Die “Flucht in Urzustände,” Studies in German Thought and History 16 (New York: Lewiston, 1995).↩
11. Janko Janeff and Friedrich Grimm. Die Wende auf dem Balkan / Hitler und Europa. Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten 10. (Zürich: Albert Nauck, 1936), 13.↩
12. Janko Janeff, “Review: Die Organologie in der Soziologie und die Theorie der kollektiven Einheiten by Wenelin Ganeff,” Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 30 (1936/37): 160.↩
13. Janko Janeff, Der Mythos auf dem Balkan (Berlin: Verlag für Kulturpolitik, 1936), 9-10.↩
14. Janko Janeff, Südosteuropa und der deutsche Geist (Berlin: Theodor Fritsch Verlag, 1943), 39; Janko Janeff, Zwischen Abend und Morgen: Eine Balkanrhapsodie (Leipzig: Heling, 1943), 24-27.↩
15. Janko Janeff, Der Mythos auf dem Balkan, 7.↩
16. Janko Janeff, “Der Südostraum,” Junges Europa – Blätter der Studenten Europas 9/10 (1943), 21.↩
17. Janko Janeff, Dämonie des Jahrhunderts (Leipzig: Heling, 1939), 246-248; Der Mythos auf dem Balkan, 9.↩
18. Janko Janeff, Aufstand gegen Europa, 14.↩
19. Trencsényi, “Janko Janev’s Popular Historiosophy,” 151.↩
20. Janko Janeff, “Der Balkan und die deutsche Kultur,” Monatschrift für höhere Schulen Jg. 39, (1937), 114-120.↩
21. Janko Janeff “Herder und die Slawen,” Monatschrift für höhere Schulen Jg. 37 (1938), 91.↩
22. Janko Janeff, Aufstand gegen Europa, 81-82.↩
23. Janko Janeff “Herder und die Slawen,” Monatschrift für höhere Schulen Jg. 37 (1938), 96; Janko Janeff, Aufstand gegen Europa, 107.↩
24. Janko Janeff, “Der Südostraum,” 19-20.↩
25. Felix Wiedemann, “Von arischen Ursprüngen und rassischer Widergeburt: Themen und Figuren völkischer Geschichtskonstruktionen,” in Wege zur Geschichte: Knvergenzen – Divergenzen – Interdisziplinäre Dimensionen, eds. Hamid Reza Yousefi et al. (Nordhausen: Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2010), 132.↩
26. See The Myth of the Eternal Return (New York: Pantheon Books, 1954).↩
27. Janko Janeff, “Der Südostraum,” 20.↩
28. Tom Brass, Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism: The Return of the Agrarian Myth (London: Frank Cass, 2000), 173, 200-201, 225, 245.↩
29. Janko Janeff, Zwischen Abend und Morgen, 12-15.↩
30. Janko Janeff, “Von der Freiheit des neuen Menschen,” Junges Europa – Blätter der Studenten Europas 1 (1941), 51.↩
31. Janko Janeff and Friedrich Grimm. Die Wende auf dem Balkan / Hitler und Europa, 13.↩
32. Janko Janeff, Dämonie des Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, Heling, 1939), 204-205; Janko Janeff, Der Mythos auf dem Balkan, 9.↩
33. Janko Janeff, Der Mythos auf dem Balkan, 133-134.↩
34. Janko Janeff, Aufstand gegen Europa, 225-226. Janko Janeff, “Das Antlitz der titanischen Zeit,” Junges Europa – Blätter der Studenten Europas 6 (1942), 46-47↩
35. Janko Janeff, Dämonie des Jahrhunderts, 160-170.↩
36. Helmut Schaller, Der Nationalsozialismus und die slawische Welt (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 2002), 64-71.↩
37. Helmut Schaller, “Südosteuropaforschung,” in Kulturwissenschaften und Nationalsozialismus, eds. Jürgen Elvert and Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008), 312-336.↩
38. Christopher Hutton, Race and the Third Reich: Linguistics, Racial Anthropology and Genetics in the Dialectic of Volk (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 80-100.↩
39. John Connelly, “Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice,” Central European History 32.1 (1999), 1-33; Hutton, Race and the Third Reich, 157-160.↩
40. Hutton, Race and the Third Reich, 113-169; Nevenko Bartulin, The Racial Idea in the Independent State of Croatia: Origins and Theory (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 50-52, 83-89.↩
41. Bartulin, Racial Idea in the Independent State of Croatia, 194-199.↩
42. Stefan Troebst, “Von de ‘Preußen des Balkans’ zum ‘vergessenen Volk’: Das deutsche Bulgarien-Bild,” Europa Regional 11.3 (2003): 120-125; Stefan Troebst, “Getrübte Wahrnehmung: Das deutsche Bulgarien-Bild vom Kaiserreich bis heute,” Südosteuropa-Mitteilungen 39.4 (1999): 343-350.↩
43. Marie Luise-Bott, “‘Deutsche Slavistik’ in Berlin? Zum Slavischen Institut der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität 1933-1945,” in Die Berliner Universität in der NS-Zeit. Bd. 2, Fachbereiche und Fakultäten, eds. Rüdiger vom Bruch and Rebecca Schaarschmidt, (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2005), 288-291. ↩
44. Franz Thiefelder, Schicksalsstunden des Balkans (Wien: Wiener Verlagsgesellschaft, 1940), 8-9.↩
45. Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 10-19.↩
46. Roumen Daskalov and Diana Mishkova, “‘Forms without Substance’: Debates on the Transfer of Western Models to the Balkans,” in Entangled Histories of the Balkans, Vol. 2, Transfers of Political Ideologies and Institutions, eds. Roumen Daskalov and Diana Mishkova (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014), 93; Keith Hitchins, “Interwar Southeastern Europe Confronts the West. The New Generation: Cioran, Yanev, Popović,” Angelaki 15.3 (December 2010), 23.↩
47. Trencsényi, “Janko Janev’s Popular Historiosophy,” 151.↩
48. Elenkov, “On the History of Rightist Thought in Inter-War Bulgaria,” Studies in East European Thought 56-57.↩