Right Thinkers #9: Othmar Spann (1878-1950)

by rightscholarship


Photo of a guild pole, by Herzi Pinki (not affiliated with Right Scholarship).

In my last post I imposed upon myself the masochistic task of translating Spann’s most influential work, Der wahre Staat (The True State), from German to English. The translation page is here. After some sober reflection, I have decided that I will only translate selections from Der wahre Staat. I also hope to provide translations of selected texts from other German-speaking advocates of Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic corporatism, such as Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, Karl Vogelsang, and Engelbert Dollfuss. My German language skills are not strong, but I am simply aiming to produce working translations.

I won’t provide an introduction to Spann, since readers may easily consult Lucian Tudor’s article, “Othmar Spann: A Catholic Radical Traditionalist,” on the Counter-Currents Publishing site. Tudor provides a well-researched overview of Spann’s thought, although he comes to the underwhelming conclusion that “Spann’s philosophy . . . despite its flaws and limitations, has not been entirely lacking in usefulness and interest.” That’s exactly what I would say of Julius Evola! Those wishing to dig a little deeper may wish to read “Othmar Spann and the Politics of ‘Totality’: Corporatism in Theory and Practice,” a 1969 PhD dissertation by John Haag. Although Haag’s understanding of corporatism is not very nuanced, his dissertation is engagingly written and contains some valuable information on the “Spann Circle.”

So why Spann? Spann was one of the most articulate and influential advocates of Catholic corporatism, a political and economic philosophy that was never given much of a chance in the twentieth century (apart from the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg era in Austria and Salazar’s Portugal), but which still holds promise. I feel it is the only form of government that can preserve all the things that the political Right holds sacred, while also addressing the social and economic problems that gave birth to the political Left. It is not fascism, and it is not socialism; it is a political philosophy that rests upon work and family. It is also not utopian, and so it does not seek to replace the greatest of all communities: the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

I hope that my readers will take the time to read my translation of selections from Der wahre Staat as it progresses. You may find it will provide some relief from the ongoing din of clashing rightisms in the age of Trump. At one time Spann’s lectures gripped the German-speaking youth of Europe to the extent that Spann was even considered a threat to the authority of Adolf Hitler. Although all of Spann’s political ambitions were destroyed by the Nazi tidal wave of the late 1930s, leaving his work seemingly doomed to obscurity, his ideas have become relevant once again in this new era of social crisis.