Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Between word and deed

Letter 13


Dear Hilmar,

I assume yesterday’s letter offended you. Although you’ve never read Wittgenstein, you worship him. Although you didn’t understand Hegel, you worship him too. The same goes for Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. You owe this not only to your status as an academic, but also to your conviction that Ideas, especially philosophical ones, are a necessary corrective to the disgusting lives we are sometimes forced to lead. The idea that philosophy could inspire one such life, organize it, and defend it as ideal, seems blasphemous to you. I assure you however that something just like that is what’s going on. If philosophy doesn’t produce history, then it comes in afterward to explain and justify it. The fact that the majority of philosophical ideas aren’t fallacious but nonsensical, if one considers the crippled logic and clumsy language of their formulations, doesn’t sever the genetic link between Ideas and Reality. Fortunately, it limits the link occasionally. Regardless of whether they consider this world the best or the worst of all possible worlds, whether they accept it in its ordinariness and mediocrity, whether they refuse to think about it in terms of human values, whether they deny or acknowledge its purposelessness, whether they explain it or merely describe it – Ideas act, Ideas change things, Ideas create. Your naïve conviction (we’ll see how naïve it really is) that thinking philosophically means secluding oneself from reality and absolving oneself of all responsibility in connection with it – and that such seclusion is the conditio sine qua non of every unbiased philosophical view -- stems from an insidious wish, camouflaged in a general independence of the intellect, to disavow any responsibility for this world, whereby your harmlessness acquires a completely different meaning. It represents Ideas’ renunciation of their own deeds, the spirit in which the discoverers of atomic energy renounced the atomic bomb.

You refuse to believe in the existence and effectiveness of the Wittgenstein-Steinbrecher System. Fine. Maybe its principles were demonstrated on a reality as bloody and filthy as that of the Gestapo. The thought that logical speculation could be connected in any way with beatings and the mutilation of people’s souls seems to you to be a monstrous injustice – not against the people, but against the speculations. An injustice against Wittgenstein, not against Fröhlich. (The explanation that the Intellect, even when it leads to crimes, can’t be called to account for those crimes because they were unintentional cannot be accepted. Otherwise, all who kill out of negligence and recklessness would have to be excused from responsibility for their crimes). But you see Hilmar, as an historian you ought to know much more about the genetic relationship between Ideas and History. The Wittgenstein-Steinbrecher System isn’t the only one to demonstrate this relationship successfully. I won’t smother you with examples. I suggest you think about a single one, because it belongs in your area of expertise and many of its aspects are the historical dates you study.

Give Hegel a little more thought, Hilmar. Give yourself time to understand him. And then take a look at some of the states that have made the history of our century colourful. Think about Nietzsche, Hilmar (you can forget third-rate thinkers like Giovanni Gentile and Houston Stewart Chamberlain) and think about how much of Zarathustra there is in the Führer’s thought. (Devoid of the poetry of course that makes it easier for us to accept Zarathustra’s words as magical images of thought instead of calls to action.) In your work on the Third Reich, which was considered by some to be seminal, you very pedantically cite what Hitler read at various points in his career, without once pointing out the logical correspondence between those writings and his policies. Between Ideas and History. Between the Spirit and Reality. Thoughts and Deeds.

The detonator of the hatred for the Jews, along with the instructions for its use, was implanted into Hitler by philosophers (you don’t have to call them that if it makes it easier for you to swallow the painful truth): Otto Hauser in his Geschichte des Judentums (A History of the Jews); Werner Sombart in his Die Juden und das Wirtshaftsleben (The Jews and Economic Life); Gougenout des Mousseaux in his Le Juif, le judaisme et la judaïsation des peoples chrétiens (The Jews, Judaism, and the Judaization of the Christian Peoples); Theodor Fritsch in his Handbuch der Judenfrage (Handbook of the Jewish Question); and others. In addition to the aforementioned Chamberlain, his racial theories were based on such ghastly works as L’Aryen, son role social (The Aryans and Their Social Role). And in its context, a disdain for the weak, sick and unfortunate, disgraced and ignominious, was sparked by an academic monstrosity such as Die Tüchtigkeit unserer Rasse un der Schutz der Schachen (The Fitness of Our Race and the Protection of the Weak) by Alfred Plötz, M.D. The theories of Lebensraum were taken from Ratzel, Haushofer and Mackinder. Plato’s The State inspired the thousand-year aristocratic SS Empire. But the wise old Schopenhauer taught him the gloomy and hopeless pessimism that enabled the products of two other minds – Darwin’s struggle for survival, Malthus’ spectre of overpopulation – to be happily joined in a brutal settling of accounts with the human race. His love of the Will was in the Nietzschean mold, and his hatred for Christianity was borrowed from Nietzsche and Gibbon’s primitive idea that Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire. And let me put the icing on the cake. When you were in the Hitler-Jugend and you got carried away to the point of delirium during the Führer’s speeches, sinking deeper and deeper into a nightmare of fanaticism, you didn’t know he was simply applying Le Bon’s and McDougall’s philosophy of propaganda. (The Crowd and The Group Mind).
Found at Le Colonel Chabert's blog. The passage is from Borislav Pekić's book, How to Quiet a Vampire. When I think of the monstrous occurrences of the present decade, it seems necessary to note the influence of Leo Strauss, William Kristol, Milton Friedman, Francis Fukuyama, and a host of others. Whatever we may say about Bush's intellectual capacity, he certainly had the knack for applying the words of those authors, or at least surround himself with those with the capacity to do so. Le Bon's and McDougall's work on propaganda has also been used to good effect in the present decade; the technology might have changed, but the ghost of Goebbels can be felt. McCain is part of that same heritage, and himself has drawn (wittingly or unwittingly) on the Dolchstoßlegende since the Vietnam War. Obama is certainly a disciple of Friedman's neoliberal economic philosophy, which as I've noted before, has had genocidal consequences wherever it has been applied. Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind has influenced US military leaders, the current presidential regime, and no doubt plenty in Congress and in think tanks. The notion that we can divorce the words written in the ivory towers of academe or think tanks from the rest of human existence is folly. Words are meant to incite action.

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