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Culture: The World According to Quisling
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 Written by Gisle Tangenes
The man whose name has come to mean 'traitor' in a number of European languages is about to have his treatise on philosophy published, reports the newspaper Aftenposten:

Arve Juritzen and his editor Anne-Kristin Strøm have prepared the volume from the mass of papers and handwritten notes the notorious Norwegian left behind. The book will be organized according to the chapter headings Quisling intended.

"This book is not about war and treason, but about what Quisling really wanted to be, philosopher, author. He really wanted to write, to be known as a thinker rather than a politician," Juritzen said. "The book can also explain why he did what he did. This is also a snapshot from the 20s, 30s and 40s. The thoughts and attitudes are striking and it is not so long ago, yet one thought incredibly differently."

Who was this modern-day Judas, the most despised Scandinavian who ever lived? The reality is even stranger than the myth.

Traitor, thy name is Quisling

Vikdun Quisling (1887-1945)
On April 9 1940, the boss of a marginal fascist party broke into the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation during the confusion of Nazi Germany's sneak attack, which he had personally requested in Berlin. Within minutes, he had become the first politician in history to announce a coup d'état on the airwaves, as well as the first puppet ruler of World War II. Within ten days, The Times of London had thanked him for his enrichment of the English language: "To writers, the word quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters." The Daily Mail agreed, and the BBC broadcasted the eponym to all the world.

By this time it had dawned on the invaders that supporting Quisling impeded a negotiated surrender. King Haakon VII, the world's only elected monarch, refused to recognize the coup-maker, evacuating north (and later to London) with the Norwegian government. In Bergen, the second largest city, thousands took the streets shouting "down with the traitor"; the Wehrmacht complained that the fury made its job more difficult. Thus Hitler sidelined Quisling, who found himself reduced to leading a party which, although now the only one allowed, had dwindled to 2,000 members. People joked that he was seizing control of the tramways in a desperate bid to get more hangers-on.

Quisling had founded his National Union party in 1933 after being sacked as Minister of Defense for using the army to quell a strike. Increasingly anti-semitic and anti-democratic, it never won a seat in Parliament or more than 2 percent of the vote in a general election. During the five years of occupation, membership peaked at those same paltry 2 percent; those who joined were shunned by the majority as "quislings." (The party tried to coopt the derogation with the slogan, "Yes I am a quisling, and proud to be a quisling!" This effort did not meet with much success.)

The original Quisling's luck picked up in February 1942, when the Germans, in an especially harebrained PR move, put him in charge of a figurehead government subordinate to the German Reichskommissariat. Presumably they reckoned that even he would prove more popular than Reichskommissar Josef Terboven -- the almost cartoon-like Nazi viceroy who reveled in mass executions and once proposed shooting 10,000 in reprisal for sabotage. They were wrong.

For his part, Quisling was increasingly dissatisfied with being a puppet. His tireless lobbying for independence made him Hitler's most frequent foreign guest, to no avail. In January 1944, he begged for Terboven's recall at the Wolfsschanze. The outcome could hardly have been more pitiful: Not only did he return empty-handed, but the Norwegian resistance intelligence service XU used a wheel on his Junker plane to smuggle top secret intel on the V-2 missile from Berlin to Oslo, whence it passed via Sweden to London.

-- I am Quisling.
-- And the name?

"Audience with Hitler" by the Norwegian editorial cartoonist Ragnvald Blix (1882-1958), published
in the liberal Swedish newspaper Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, January 29 1944

"A new light for humankind"

One might think Quisling wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but in fact he was exactly that. He had enormous flair for mathematics; a proof he discovered in high school found its way into an algebra textbook. Having graduated from the War Academy as the best cadet ever and the first in a century to earn a royal citation, he made it to army major without really trying. He was a walking encyclopedia, knowledgeable about everything from history and theology to Quantum Mechanics, fluent in Russian, and an expert on the Soviet Union, where he served as a diplomat and as an aide to Fritjof Nansen in his relief work during the Russian Famine. He also, alas, had some character flaws.

First, there was his penchant for, well, betrayal. In 1922, at 35, he married an Ukrainian 17-year old named Alexandra. When the next year he was seduced by the more appropriately aged Maria, he married her too, demoting Alexandra to their "adopted daughter." She was later spirited away to France. Second, in contrast to Hitler and Mussolini, Quisling was utterly void of charisma or people skills, being introvert, uptight, stiff, and socially inept. He was the type that gives nerds a bad name.

Finally, his megalomania stood out even by the standards of fascist usurpers. Once in "power," he set up office at the Royal Castle, using the exiled King Haakon's chair. He surrounded himself with the Hird, a party militia named for royal guards of the Viking Ages. As residence he chose Villa Grande, a 46-room mansion on a peninsula in the Oslo Fjord, stuffing it with stolen art from the National Gallery and renaming it after a godly dwelling in Norse mythology. (The villa, which he unwittingly shared with partisans and Jews, is now a Holocaust center.) For good measure, he claimed to be "of Northern Germanic chieftain lineage traceable right up to Odin himself."

The cover of Quisling`s magnum opus,
to be published in October 2006
As befits a descendant of a god of esoteric lore, Quisling aspired to be a prophet and visionary. In idle hours he would pursue the life project he adopted in his youth, and the bulk of which had been completed by 1929. "The task I have had a view to in this book," he wrote in the preface to his tome, "is the greatest which a human being can set himself; namely to ignite a new light for humankind." This would amount to "a unitary conception of existence that all will comprehend, and all gather around, so life can once again be lived with united forces." National Unity, then, was not enough.

Quisling named his ostensible theory of everything "Universism," a term borrowed from the sinologist Jan de Groot. Most of the rest is cribbed as well. According to an analysis by philosopher Else M. Barth, it is an amateurish hodgepodge of Taoism, Augustin, Luther, Nietzsche, de Maistre, Schopenhauer, and above all, Hegel. Quisling outlined his never completed treatise in four parts: (1) A metaphysics identifying ultimate reality with "infinite consciousness"; (2) a history of the cosmos as the unfolding of consciousness to encompass all the earth and finally the universe; (3) a theory of human nature with chapters such as Immortality, Man, Woman, Will, and Law; (4) application of the above to religion, politics, science, art, and race. The title of Barth's study translates roughly as God Is Me, and is a quote.

Unlike Hegel's dialectics, where thesis and anti-thesis invariably are transcended by synthesis, Universism sticks with the former two. Everything from gods through continents to "races" is presented in terms of a sacred war of good against evil (e.g. Nordic vs. Jewish). This dualistic edifice is adorned with obscurantist musings on favorite fascist themes such as the "mystic heritage of Blood"; the primacy of the masculine over the feminine; and the Individual finding personal salvation and true freedom by merging his will with that of Society. As a bonus, there is speculation about life on other planets and whether the human genome originated in space.

Up against the wall

Master and tool; but which is which?
Quisling was convinced that his philosophical system would supplant all others. Hegel called Napoleon "the World Spirit on horseback," and Quisling similarly regarded his patron in Berlin. "In power politics," he wrote at the end of his life, "I depended on Germany and Adolf Hitler, but in the politics of ideas I considered Hitler my subordinate and my tool." It must have been sobering for Major Quisling -- by far the better military mind of the two -- to see his "tool" go bust. In late January 1945, he became the last foreign visitor to Der Führer.

Soon after, on the lovely spring day of May 8, exultation from Oslo could be heard through the windows at the stately mansion. Quisling turned himself in. He envisioned a new life in his father's footsteps as a country vicar in his valley of birth; instead he was tried and convicted of high treason, illegal change of the constitution, and complicity in murder. The sentence was death by firing squad (his prison guards had sworn to kill him otherwise). While awaiting execution in his cell at Akershus fortress, he penned a summary of Universism. After all, according to the latter, it is the certainty of death that spurs man to engage in philosophy.

On a stormy October night, a blindfolded Quisling was placed up against a wall before the ten most envied men in Norway. He faced death with courage, confident that his "martyrdom" had "deeper meaning" and would make him "more dangerous dead than alive." Not for the first time, he overestimated his popular appeal: Even the relatively few Scandinavian Neo-Nazis tend to be lukewarm about him. Would he have settled for a modest intellectual influence on certain extreme strains of Norwegian black metal music? The odds are he would not.

Quisling was executed at Akershus fortress in Oslo, October 24 1945

His name lives in infamy as a synonym for traitor, but it might as well have meant 'delusional geek'. Perhaps an occupation joke most aptly sums up this fascinating, tragicomical figure. Quisling visits an insane asylum and strikes up conversation with one of the patients: "I am Vidkun Quisling, Norway's greatest son since King Harald Fairhair!" "Take it easy," says the patient reassuringly. "That`s how it began with me too."