Rolf Gardiner: An Honorary Nazi?

  • Dan Stone


Rolf Gardiner (1902–71) excites deep affection and instinctive dissent in equal measure. An inspirational man of boundless ‘energy and enthusiasm and tenacity’,1 he devoted himself unswervingly for 50 years to his cause of rescuing Western civilisation from soulless mechanisation. In their assessments of him, most scholars tend to be less provocative than the local man mentioned by Patrick Wright who, on making a delivery to Springhead, Gardiner’s old farm and the centre of his enterprises, asked ‘Is that where the Nazi lived?’2 but many have nevertheless readily pointed out aspects of Gardiner’s activities that supposedly tend towards fascism. Richard Griffiths, most importantly, included him among his collection of ‘fellow travellers of the right’, and Mike Tyldesley shows how despite Gardiner’s post-war claim to the contrary, before World War II he had proudly asserted the strong connections between the youth movement and National Socialism.3 Others disagree, claiming that Gardiner’s initial enthusiasm for the National Socialist revolution was born of political naivety and rapidly waned when he realised the true nature of the regime, or suggesting that Gardiner’s ‘pro-Nazism’ only appears as such when his claims are taken out of context. Such ‘defenders’ include not just former colleagues such as Andrew Best, whose position among the apologists one might not find surprising, but more recent scholars such as Gardiner’s biographer David Fowler.4


National Socialist State Nazi Regime Fellow Traveller English People Youth Movement 
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  1. 1.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘A Birthday Speech’ (1962), in Andrew Best (ed.), Water Springing from the Ground: An Anthology of the Writings of Rolf Gardiner (Fontmell Magna: Springhead, 1972), 249. Henceforth WSG.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Patrick Wright, The Village That Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), 156. My reproduction of this quotation should not obscure the fact that Wright presents a full and balanced portrayal of Gardiner, though to my mind it is overly sympathetic.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933–39 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983);Google Scholar
  4. Mike Tyldesley, ‘The German Youth Movement and National Socialism: Some Views from Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, 1 (2006), 21–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    See David Fowler, Youth Culture in Modern Britain, c.1920–c.1970: From Ivory Tower to Global Movement. A New History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Richard Moore-Colyer, ‘Back to Basics: Rolf Gardiner, H. J. Massingham and “A Kinship in Husbandry”’, Rural History, 12, 1 (2001), 85–108; idem., ‘Rolf Gardiner, English Patriot and the Council for the Church and Countryside’, Agricultural History Review, 49, 2 (2001), 187–209; idem., ‘A Northern Federation? Henry Rolf Gardiner and British and European Youth’, Paedagogica Historica, 39, 3 (2003), 305–24. I am grateful to Professor Moore-Colyer for a copy of the last-mentioned article. It should be noted that in a more recent, jointly-authored article, he writes: ‘That Wallop and Gardiner were personally close and sympathetic to aspects of fascism there can be no doubt.’CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  8. 6.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Meditations on the Future of Northern Europe’, in Rolf Gardiner and Heinz Rocholl (eds.), Britain and Germany: A Frank Discussion Instigated by Members of the Younger Generation (London: Williams and Norgate, 1928), 123.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Ibid., 127–28. See also Rolf Gardiner, ‘Englische Tradition und die Zukunft’, in Wilhelm Freiherr von Richtofen (ed.), Brito-Germania: Ein Weg zu Paneuropa? Warum wieder Weltkrieg? (Berlin: Verlag für aktuelle Politik, 1930), 20–38 for similar comments.Google Scholar
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    See W.J. Keith, ‘Spirit of Place and Genius Loci: D. H. Lawrence and Rolf Gardiner’, D. H. Lawrence Review, 7, 2 (1974), 127–38;Google Scholar
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    Walter Z. Laqueur, Young Germany: A History of the German Youth Movement (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), 243. It is a measure of Gardiner’s significance that a book entitled Young Germany devotes several pages to him.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, E.Y. Hartshorne, German Youth and the Nazi Dream of Victory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941)Google Scholar
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    Malcolm Chase, ‘“North Sea and Baltic”: Historical Conceptions in the Youth Movement and the Transfer of Ideas from Germany to England in the 1920s and 1930s’, in Stefan Berger, Peter Lambert and Peter Schumann (eds.), Historikerdialoge: Geschichte, Mythos und Gedächtnis im deutsch-britischen kulturellen Austausch 1750–2000 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), 309–30, here 327.Google Scholar
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    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Correspondence’, The Adelphi, 8, 1 (1934), 64. This was a response to Paul’s article ‘The Decline of the Youth Movement’, The Adelphi, 7, 5 (1934), 317–27.Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘The Outlook of Young Germany’ (1929), 3, Cambridge University Library, Rolf Gardiner Papers (henceforth RGP), A3/1/1. I am grateful to Mrs Rosalind Richards for permission to cite from her father’s papers, and to Cambridge University Library’s Special Collections Department for their help with accessing them.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Karl Marx and Young Germany’ (no date, c.1932), RGP A3/1/2(b); idem., ‘Die deutsche Revolution von England gesehen’, in Rolf Gardiner, Arvid Brodersen and Karl Wyser (eds.), Nationalsozialismus vom Ausland gesehen: an die Gebildeten unter seinen Gegnern (Berlin: Verlag die Runde, 1933), 15. Gardiner was here rather ill-informed about European history — Jews have been present in the lands now called ‘France’ and ‘Germany’ long before the states that bore those names came into being. But of course, this sort of fact-correcting is hardly the right way to combat antisemitism, as Hannah Arendt noted in the 1930s.Google Scholar
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  25. 29.
    Rolf Gardiner, England Herself: Ventures in Rural Restoration (London: Faber & Faber, 1943), 7.Google Scholar
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  27. 41.
    Rolf Gardiner, World Without End: British Politics and the Younger Generation (London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1932), 33–34. Gardiner used the same formulation elsewhere: ‘Every country needs a form of Fascism today in order to redeem the vital impulses of society from the muddle and formlessness into which scientific liberalism and homogeneous democracy have betrayed the human soul.’ ‘The Example of Kibbo Kift’, RGP A2/6.Google Scholar
  28. 42.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Germany: A Personal Confession’, To mo rrow [Dartington School magazine]’ (July 1933), 22. RGP A3/1/12. The phrase was of course Lenin’s before it was Macmurray’s. On Macmurray See Philip Conford, ‘“Saturated with Biological Metaphors”: Professor John Macmurray (1891–1976) and The Politics of the Organic Movement’, Contemporary British History, 22, 3 (2008), 317–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  30. 43.
    I use the word popularised by Roger Griffin in order to suggest that Gardiner was not so distant from fascism as he claimed. See Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge, 1991) and his many publications since.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Lekan, Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004);Google Scholar
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  36. Useful surveys are provided by Frank Uekötter, ‘Green Nazis?’, German Studies Review, 30, 2 (2007), 267–87,Google Scholar
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  38. 47.
    See, for example, Michael Hau, The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany: A Social History, 1890–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003);Google Scholar
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  40. Cf. Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, ‘Building a British Superman: Physical Culture in Interwar Britain’, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, 4 (2006), 595–610;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Bernhard Dietz, ‘Countryside-versus-City in European Thought: German and British Anti-Urbanism between the Wars’, The European Legacy, 13, 7 (2008), 801–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 48.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Correspondence’, The Adelphi, 8, 1 (1934), 65.Google Scholar
  43. 50.
    Clare and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, ‘The Kinship in Husbandry’, Salisbury Review, 15, 3 (1997), 36.Google Scholar
  44. 52.
    For more details on the Kinship in Husbandry — names of members, its relations with other bodies, and so on — see Moore-Colyer and Conford, ‘A “Secret Society”?’ and my Responses to Nazism in Britain, 153ff. For an earlier discussion see Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 112–22.Google Scholar
  45. 54.
    Rolf Gardiner, ‘Forestry and Husbandry’, in H.J. Massingham (ed.), The Natural Order: Essays in the Return to Husbandry (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1945), 130–31.Google Scholar
  46. See also Rolf Gardiner, ‘Rural Reconstruction’, in H.J. Massingham (ed.), England and the Farmer: A Symposium (London: B. T. Batsford, 1941), 91–107. Here he wrote of the need to focus on the local and argued (107) that ‘National-Socialist Germany set out to restore the experience of blood and soil to a rapidly urbanized nation. But the experience remained a doctrine and the blood and soil were sacrificed to the Baal of war.’Google Scholar
  47. 55.
    Peter J. Atkins, ‘The Pasteurisation of England: The Science, Culture and Health Implications of Milk Processing, 1900–1950’, in David F. Smith and Jim Phillips (eds.), Food, Science, Policy and Regulation in the Twentieth Century: International and Comparative Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2000), 37–51, esp. 45–46.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dan Stone 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan Stone
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal HollowayUniversity of LondonUK

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