Spiritual Politics: New Age and New Left in West Germany around 1980
(2021) European History Quarterly, 51 (2), pp. 239-261.
In the late 1970s, an increasing number of West German ‘alternative’ leftist authors and activists turned to spiritual ideas. A milieu that had once been characterized by what Timothy Scott Brown called a ‘scholarly-scientific imperative’ now turned to magic and mystics, fairy tales and stories about American Indians. The article explores this turn to spirituality within the ‘alternative left’ in West Germany around 1980. Drawing on a close reading of several books, mostly published by Munich’s famous left-wing publisher Trikont Dianus, the article argues that fairy tales, myths and accounts of American Indian shamans promised a deeper and more holistic understanding of the world that was beyond the grasp of rational scientific thinking, including Marxism. This holistic understanding of the world provided the basis for a form of politics focused on living in harmony: in harmony with oneself, not least in a bodily sense; in harmony with nature and the universe; and in harmony with the community and the past, which is why authors began to re-evaluate notions of Heimat (homeland), a notoriously right-wing concept. For leftists tired of the confrontational and often violent politics of the 1970s, such ideas proved appealing. The article suggests understanding the fascination with spiritualism as part and parcel of a moment when old, confrontational forms of politics were rapidly losing appeal and were replaced by a politics concerned with questions of self-hood. Spiritual politics were, to quote Michel Foucault, part of the struggles that attacked ‘not so much “such and such” an institution of power, or group, or elite, or class, but rather a technique, a form of power’, namely a power that determined ‘who one is’. © The Author(s) 2021.
New Age; New Left; religion; spirituality; West Germany