Savitri Devi And The Radical Right’s Fascination With Esoteric Nazism
Dr. Chamila Liyanage is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and a Researcher/Content Developer at Radical-R: Radicalisation Research, UK.
Why does the alt-right seems fascinated with Savitri Devi, a fascist devotee who made a strong contribution to the development of esoteric fascism? Esoteric fascism is a subject that has long been shunned by serious studies (except few). However, in light of the recent revival of spirituality among the alt-right – for example, esoteric Kekism, the Cult of Kek, Shadilay, and alt-right figures ( such as Greg Johnson) promoting the legends of Savitri Devi – esoteric fascism can no longer be considered trivial in terms of understanding the true depth of the contemporary radical right.
The key bastions of the radical right (such as the dark web Chan sites, conspiracy theories such as QAnon, and WWG1WGA) are clearly based on emotional dynamics that cannot be grasped through a cognitive-rational understanding of human experience. The reason for this is the unsolvable conflict which Taylor explains as ‘the objective metaphysical structure of the mind-independent world’. The conspiratorial dynamics of the radical right are being laid bare through the arcane fascinations of the alt-right with its newly created political spirituality; on a positive note, such spiritual fascinations allow empirical analysis of their belief systems and rational purposes.
Who is Savitri Devi?
Savitri Devi, often photographed wearing traditional Indian attire, is the pseudonym of Maximiani Portas, a woman born in France to an English mother and a French father of Greek descent. At the University of Lyon, she wrote a thesis on the ideas of Theophilos Kairis, a Greek revolutionary who fought against the Ottoman Empire. She was a gifted scholar but fell into what could be called an eccentric (and ultimately problematic) quest to find deeper meaning in life.
This led her to embrace Greek nationalism, and later national socialism. Savitri Devi found herself in a time leading up to the Second World War, where key European nations had to weather a great economic depression amid the rise of militant nationalism. Her devotion to national socialism came from this context, but her fascination with Hindu nationalism appears to be a coincidence. Savitri Devi found an ancient symbol, the “swastika”, in Anatolia, where early Neolithic traces of the symbol can be found. She may have followed the history of the symbol to India, where it is represented in Hinduism, one of the oldest religious traditions in the world.
Key ideas of Savitri Devi
Savitri Devi’s devotion to Nazism stemmed from an intense longing: a faithfulness to “tradition”. She wrote about “defenders of race”, who were national socialists, then preached her beliefs on race inequality using terms such as “superior individuals”, “naturally privileged races”, and “natural hierarchy of races”. These concepts are social constructs, but Savitri Devi believed them to be natural.
As she complained, since the inception of democratic ideals (such as individual freedom, equal opportunity, and universal literacy), the natural order – in her eyes – had been corrupted, making way for what she called “inferior individuals” to dominate the world. She blamed the French Revolution and Christianity for sowing important ideas, such as equal rights and progress. For her, these values threatened the “Aryan idea of superior humanity”. She stood by her beliefs in support of eugenics, condemning the “morbid love for the sick and the crippled”, and claimed that such people shouldn’t be allowed to live or be born in the first place. Showing a clear contradiction in her ethical consciousness, however, Savitri Devi was a fervent animal rights advocate and a vegan.
Savitri Devi devoted her life to giving national socialism spiritual roots, delving into Hinduism and ancient Egyptian religion. She linked Hinduism with national socialism by hijacking three ancient Hindu knowledge systems and social concepts: tradition, the caste system, and the Hindu belief regarding the cyclical evolution of time (or Yuga cycle). As she states, “The Hindus seem to be, to-day, the sole people who, by tradition, share our views”. (N.B.: This could be offensive to many Hindus who are not Nazi sympathisers). She believes Hindus retained the old tradition better than other people. She praised the Hindu caste system as a practical way to maintain a hierarchical society. She also took ancient Hindu beliefs regarding the cyclical ages of time and positioned national socialists as the harbingers, destined to usher in the mythical ‘Golden Age’ that would end the present age of Kali Uga.
Intriguingly, Savitri Devi was also fascinated with Ancient Egypt, especially with the short life and reign of Akhenaton. During a time when the high priests of gods wielded an immense power, Akhenaton – a benevolent child prince – briefly abolished polytheistic worship centred around the God Amun (Ammon, Amen) in Thebes, and replaced it with monotheistic Sun worship. This change didn’t last long; upon the death of Akhenaton, the seat of the Sun worship, Amarna, was left desolate and Thebes was restored to the worship of Amun. Savitri Devi, with her determination to find spiritual roots for national socialism, first hijacked Hinduism (which inspired her with its cyclical view of time) and then Akhenaton’s quest to seek the universal soul, the source of all life that – according to Devi – flows through the Sun.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Despite Devi’s problematic attempt to brand national socialism as ushering in the ‘New Golden Age’, which she called the ‘New Order decreed by the Sun’, it’s easy to see that the Sun or other forces of nature rarely adhere to dogma. Forces of nature (including the Coronavirus) see no race, royalty or poverty, but are neutral when it comes to sustaining or destroying life on earth. In her quest to find spiritual roots to justify national socialism, Devi used religious traditions in vain.
The assortment of esoteric ideas behind the QAnon conspiracy theory, as well as the beliefs espoused by the Hanau shooter, show that this quest for spiritual roots has not disappeared. There is an ongoing battle within the radical right to create a new political force destined to end the corrupt, dark, and (even satanic) liberal order to usher in a traditional and sacred ‘Golden Age’. Whether that ‘Golden Age’ will or ever existed still animates radical right activism and a large swathe of its ideological ecosystem.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.