Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nazi Philosophers

Yvonne Sherrat’s book, Hitler’s Philosophers is months away from publication, but the London Telegraph has already offered us a summary of its most salient, and frightening points.

In her book Sherrat examines the activities of German philosophers during the Hitler Era. She finds that, for the most part they believed in Hitler fervently and worked doggedly to implement his agenda.

Everyone knows that Martin Heidegger, best known now as the progenitor of deconstruction, was a true believing and unrepentant Nazi. Sherrat will show us that he was not alone.

Alasdair Palmer summarizes her observations:

This forthcoming book by Yvonne Sherratt, to be published by Yale, looks at the way some academics in Germany reacted to the coming of Adolf Hitler. And what an intensely depressing story it is. Most of them, including Martin Heidegger, one of the greatest names in 20th-century philosophy, did not merely reconcile themselves to Hitler. They enthusiastically espoused Nazi ideology, and came up with all sorts of elaborate reasons to justify the purging of Jews, the persecution of dissidents, and the conquest and oppression of other nations. They went out of their way to flaunt their loyalty to the Nazi cause. Heidegger used to lecture in military uniform, in a hall that he arranged to be decked out with swastikas and other Nazi flags. He got rid of Jewish academics with relish, even betraying his own teacher, Edmund Husserl, who had kindly arranged Heidegger’s professorship for him.

The way academic philosophers embraced Nazism is shocking. You might try to excuse it on the basis that they were bullied into it by the Gestapo and the SS. But they were not. As Sherratt points out, when Hitler became chancellor in 1933, his plan to purge universities of Jews “required the wholesale collaboration of a mass of academics”. No doubt it could and would eventually have been achieved by force – but, in the event, Hitler did not need to use force. The academics, particularly the philosophers, cleared out their Jewish colleagues voluntarily.

Palmer questions how these philosophers, supposedly men and women who valued the faculty of reason could have gotten caught up in such an irrational enterprise.

Perhaps, he opines, they were ambitious and sought power. He continues:

That, of course, would be bad enough – indeed it would be morally despicable, particularly given the betrayal of friends that it necessarily involved. But it would, I suppose, keep the philosophers’ much-vaunted “rationality” intact. Then you come up against the startling fact that these supposed apostles of reason went far further in endorsing Hitler than was necessary to advance their careers. They bent over backwards to praise Hitler as “a great philosopher” – a judgment which, given the crudity and stupidity of the Führer’s ravings in Mein Kampf, was utterly ridiculous. They claimed his rule, which had been established by fraud and was maintained by force, represented the highest German ideal. They even went so far as to insist that making Hitler’s word law represented the supreme rational principle for Germany.

Palmer goes on to suggest that when these philosophers stood behind the Third Reich they were betraying both their principles and their love of reason.

He ignores the fact that that Martin Heidegger explained, more than once, that Hitler’s Third Reich was the earthly manifestation of his philosophy.

And he ignores the possibility that if these philosophers were exercising their will-to-power, they might have been applying a lesson learned from Nietzsche.

Palmer is wrong to believe that these philosophers were “apostles of reason.” More often than not, they promoted irrationality over rationality. They loved blood and soil, not rational argument. In Hitler they saw a way to get back in touch with the vital instincts that had, to their minds, been repressed by too much rationality.

Philosophers who hopped on the Hitler bandwagon should not be excused on the ground that they did not know what they were doing.

Hypocrisy was the least of their problems.

Unfortunately, most of us do not take philosophers very seriously. We glibly assume that they are high-minded thinkers who adhere to the highest human values.

Those who advance the Heideggerian practice of deconstruction are surely not racist or anti-Semitic. If anything they are true-believing multiculturalists.

Well and good.

But, if you have the opportunity to meet one, I recommend that you ask his opinion of Israel. You will discover a thinly veiled prejudice against the Jewish state, coupled with a boundless sympathy for the Palestinian people.

He will probably not tell you that the Grand Mufti of Palestine supported Hitler during World War II, largely because he approved of the Final Solution. He will not mention that the Mufti’s nephew was named Yassir Arafat.

All practitioners of deconstruction will profess their philo-Semitism. They might even tell you that it is because they love Israel that they denounce its Neo-Nazi policies. But, doesn't this imply that its citizens deserve to be exterminated.

In nearly all cases they will rationalize Palestinian terrorism and support efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.

It’s nice to think that they don’t know what they are doing. It’s nice to believe that they are not living the high-minded principles that they profess.

It’s truer to say that their rational faculties have degenerated to the point that they no longer know who is sharing their bed.


Anonymous said...

I recognise the name Husserl (if you'll permit a tangent) - he was a Phenomenologist, whose writings influenced Edith Stein (a Jewish student). Edith Stein later converted and became a Carmelite nun (one of the more austere flavours). She was shipped off to Auschwitz in the aftermath of the Dutch bishops' denounciation of the Nazis.

I wonder how much of the dog's breakfast that philosophy became was due to (or aggravated by) the field being depopulated in wartime Europe?

Sam L. said...

Stuart, I kept seeing our liberal/leftist/progressive establishment depicted in your discussion.