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Comparing Ghost Stories: Rhodes and Hitler

I don’t consider the former to be in the same villianous league as the latter, more ‘man of his times’ than monster, but, after seeing this striking statue

here in Company’s Garden, Capetown yesterday afternoon, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Both men had visions of world domination, both valued high culture and education. Both apparently had similar strange ghost-related experiences, both, judging from the statue, liked to salute people by sticking their arms straight out in the air. Here are some notes from a listserve the contents of which I think have some credibility, given that well known biographies are quoted:

Cecil Rhodes was one of the richest men in the world at the turn of the 19th century, the creator of De Beers, and founder of a new country. These achievements were, apparently, the result of a one single `great idea’ one which came to him at the age of 24 following initiation into the Masonic Order while at Oxford  University. This appears to have triggered something of an epiphany, as outlined in his `Confession of Faith’ which tells of his ambition to
establish a secret society to further the interests of the British Empire and the uniting of the entire Anglo-Saxon race, including America, into one single empire.

An event in Rhodes’ life, soon after this, apparently explains the fervour with which he followed his dream: He was back at the  diamond diggings in Kimberley,  South Africa. One night,  `His friends’, according to biographer Sir Lewis Michell, `found him in his room, blue with fright, his door barricaded with a chest of drawers and other furniture; he insisted that he had seen a ghost.’ Immediately after this ‘crisis,’ Rhodes had his  `Confession of Faith’ (which also contained  his last will and testament) legally formalised by an attorney. From then on, his star ascended.

Evidently the same thing happened to someone else – Adolf Hitler. In  `Hitler Speaks’, published in 1939, Hermann Rauschning recounts an identical event. Soon after, in 1933, Hitler seized power, and at the time reportedly remarked: `I will tell you a secret. I am founding an Order.’ Pretty well exactly what Rhodes had set out to do after his illumination.  Rhodes’ secret society dedicated to ruling the world ultimately, it is argued, became reality in Hitler’s SS (Schutzstaffel). 

Oswald Spengler, in his prescient work `Decline and Fall of Civilization in the West’, (1918) described the spirit of colonial expansion which possessed Rhodes as something, `daemonic and immense, which grips, forces into service and uses up mankind.’ Both Rhodes and Hitler it seems, encountered something clearly `daemonic’ at crucial times in their careers.

Spengler continues: ’Rhodes is to be regarded as the first precursor of a western type of Caesar. He stands midway between Napoleon and the force-men of the next centuries….in our Germanic world, the spirits of Alaric and Theodoric will come again – there is a first hint of them in Cecil Rhodes.’

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3 Responses to “Comparing Ghost Stories: Rhodes and Hitler”

  1. Ben Says:

    Hi Nigel – nice to meet you today. What Rhodes is doing in this statue is gesturing towards Egypt: it’s an exhortation to the British to inhabit/develop Africa from the Cape to Cairo. The statue’s inscription is “Your hinterland is there” – a call for the further extension of the British Empire.

    On the subject of imperial violence, for those wishing to know more about Rhodes’ lack of compunction when it came to sowing upheaval in Africa, I can recommend Olive Schreiner’s slim fable, Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland. Schreiner was a contemporary of Rhodes’ and abhorred what he became. Her book was a direct attack on him and his legacy.

  2. Nigel Beale Says:

    Jenny Hobbs says:

    Re your Rhodes/Hitler comparison: slaggers-off of the arch imperialist never seem to give him credit for his two great legacies. One was Groote Schuur, his beautiful Herbert Baker house and extensive estate that included most of the eastern flank of Table Mountain which he left to the nation. On it were established our spectacular national botanic garden Kirstenbosch (pride of one of the world’s richest ecosystems), the University of Cape Town, Newlands and Cecilia forests, and it’s because of this bequest that there’s more natural bush than posh houses climbing the slopes.

    The other legacy of course was the Rhodes Scholarships that have sent generations of the Commonwealth and USA young to Oxford. In Cape Town there’s now a Mandela Rhodes Trust that funds outstanding local graduates to go on studying at African universities. CEO of the Trust is The Native Commissioner novelist Shaun Johnson and it’s housed in one of Cape Town’s elegant old buildings at the corner of Wales Street and St Georges Mall. The building was donated by De Beers to the Trust and is worth a visit: stately offices and portraits of Cecil J and Mandela glaring at each other across the length of the boardroom table. On the wood-panelled side walls are photographs of all the scholars – an impressive array. Many of their forebears could well have toiled in the Kimberley mines or on Rhodes’s estates.

  3. rachael Says:

    Hey Jenny, what race are you? I’m guessing caucasion….

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