German Philosophy, Idealism and anti-Semitism. - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#13438516
I'm sure this is a topic that has been long discussed but I couldn't find a relavent thread.

I was reading this http://www.ellopos.com/blog/?p=1162 article earlier on today and it got me thinking, can philosophers really be held responsible for rise of such vigorous anti-intellectualism, Nazism has very little at the heart of it apart from destruction and very, very vague romantic myth(although only for a minority of the Nazis). Do you think German philosophy built up to Nazism?
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By Potemkin
#13438527
Do you think German philosophy built up to Nazism?

A case could be made that it did. Hitler carried only one book around with him in his knapsack when he was fighting in the trenches of World War I - Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea. It helped shape his view of the world, most significantly his valorisation of the human will above all other factors. Hitler took from Schopenhauer that what matters, what is most real in a human being, is not their intellect or even their consciousness, but their will. Schopenhauer even claimed that it is Will which is the ultimate reality behind the surface appearances of things, and that this Will struggles against itself, is in contradiction to itself, which manifests in the phenomenal world of appearances as conflict and eternal war. Hitler would only have to glance up from the book and look around himself at the trenches to see Schopenhauer's ideas apparently confirmed.
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By Vera Politica
#13439134
Looking at the German case in isolation may not be a convincing way of determining an answer to this question. Certainly, German philosophy was dominated by idealist and materialist systems of thought - both with important, mutual influence on each other. It is quite easy to see German nazism as arising from German idealism since German idealism was the dominant system of thought in German academia.

More importantly, we can bring up the rise of Italian fascism from the works of Giovanni Gentile (named by Mussolini as the 'philosopher of fascism'). Gentile was a neo-Hegelian idealist philosopher. In this sense, most fascism is rooted in the idea that the subject is concrete while objectification is abstract. And, following from Hegel, the realization of rationality in history is within the state and the subjugation of individual/civil society to the state. Thus, the two dominant fascisms of Europe arose from German idealism.

I am by no means well read in German idealism so please correct me if I'm completely off.
By anticlimacus
#13439191
It is wrong to give philosophy such weight--for good or for bad. Philosophers are codifiers of a variety of cultural facets. The good philosophers are not only good codifiers, but innovative ones--but even at that they are still building off a tradition and a world that is not of their making and is not wholly intellectual. German anti-semitism has a variety of roots in popular and political practice which influenced German philosophy, it's nationalism, ethnocentrism, and its strands of anti-semitism. Thus it is quite the other way around from the thesis offered in the OP: Philosophy is not leading the way, it is simply cought up in the coat tails of cultural practice--as is almost always the case. However, it would be romantic to think that philosophy by itself really does have the power to make not only a Hitler, but a nation of Nazis, which takes a world war to undo. Unfortunately, reality is not a battle between wizards of discourse. It has to do with real practice of everyday life and the material conditions and the cultural artifacts that constitute it, creating both unity and conflict in unpredictable places.
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By Vera Politica
#13439242
anticlimacus: what you say is true but it does ignores the real fact that ideology (or philosophy) does, indeed, have a reciprocal effect on socio-economic reality. I do not think that German idealism gave rise to nazism specifically but it does serve as a rubric for fascism and fascist discourse. In fact, I would go as far as to say that German idealism allows for the reproduction of certain socio-economic relations (by naturalizing those realizations) in a way that would make a fascist state possible, in the same way that liberalism and its leading ideological discourse naturalizes current western socio-economic realities and, by doing so, reciprocally effects that reality by ensuring its reproduction.

Thus, German idealism cannot be a simple, neutral codification but is an active participant in the reality in which it codifies and, by doing so, alters it. Bourgeois Capitalism would be impossible without Liberalism, even though Liberalism is an ideological reflection of the realities of Capitalism (then, the development of liberal discourse gave rise to the moral legitimation of a welfare state and other institution which were necessary for the survival of bourgeois capitalism). Similarly, a fascist state in which individuals are subjected in totality to the state would be impossible without an ideological discourse that makes this process seem not only morally good but natural. Hegel's idea of historical progression makes the subjection to the state synonymous with the natural realization of reason. Subjection to the state, then, is not only rational but the end-state of history. It is both good and natural/inevitable.

To think otherwise would be a retreat into vulgar materialism and determinism.
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By Ombrageux
#13439246
I have never understood the relationship between ideas (including philosophy) and reality. It often feels like there is no relationship at all. Certain writers do a disservice when they put the evils of Communism, Nazism or indeed tyranny in general on the shoulders of some poor long-dead White Man (Marx, Nietzsche, even Plato...).
By anticlimacus
#13439267
Thus, German idealism cannot be a simple, neutral codification but is an active participant in the reality in which it codifies and, by doing so, alters it. Bourgeois Capitalism would be impossible without Liberalism, even though Liberalism is an ideological reflection of the realities of Capitalism (then, the development of liberal discourse gave rise to the moral legitimation of a welfare state and other institution which were necessary for the survival of bourgeois capitalism). Similarly, a fascist state in which individuals are subjected in totality to the state would be impossible without an ideological discourse that makes this process seem not only morally good but natural. Hegel's idea of historical progression makes the subjection to the state synonymous with the natural realization of reason. Subjection to the state, then, is not only rational but the end-state of history. It is both good and natural/inevitable.

To think otherwise would be a retreat into vulgar materialism and determinism.


I agree...to an extent. I agree indeed 1) that German idealism cannot be a neutral codification. Rather it is a biased codification towards particular interests within culture. I also agree 2) that philosophy, in particular German idealism, is an active participant upon the socio-economic reality, just as all cultural production is; philosophy is simply a particular kind of discourse that garners a particular kind of legitimation towards a particular audience, but it alone is not carrying the weight of cultural production--not even close. The discourse that legitimizes the state is not just philosophical discourse, but religious discourse and, what is often overlooked, the discourse of popular culture. In all these places there is also space for critical reflection and digression from the dominant point of view. 3) I agree that economic determinism is both crass and vulgar, but this does not change that fact that philosophy is usually along the coat-tails of a historical situation. In other words, philosophy is not the sole producer of culture and neither is it the slave to mere economic reality. Philosophy is, as I mentioned above, a particular kind of discourse for a particular audience--and part of the built in asssumption of philosophical discourse is its assumed universal importance. It is this built in assumption that often causes philosophy to obscure political reality and the mult-faceted causes of certain historical conditions and events--such as German Nazism. If philosophy has anything to do with German anti-semitism, then I think the more intersting, and perhaps more important question is not whether philosophy caused this; but what were the conditions that made philosophy so conducive, attractive, and complicit to anti-semitism?
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By Vera Politica
#13439966
anticlimacus, I think we agree completely. It certainly was my intention to suggest that philosophy was the only or even the most important ideological discourse. (note: by 'neutral' codification, I was contrasting it with an 'active' codification rather than a 'biased' one).

However, I do think you are underestimating the extent of philosophical discourse. For this reason, it isn't as clear as one may think that philosophy necessarily codifies social realities. It could certainly be the case that this is true, but it is not that obvious for much philosophical discourse. It may be evident for social, moral and political philosophy but it is less evident for the more specialized, technical philosophy like the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mathematics, etc. Where it is even less obvious is when philosophy gives way to new disciplines which have profound effects on socio-economic reality: like the scientific method, formal logic and computation, etc.
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By killim
#13442552
I didn't read the discussion, however i like the approach by Dürrematt to this topic...
#15034616
http://marxistupdate.blogspot.com/2011/11/marxism-vs-irrationalism.html
Nevertheless, it can not be claimed unequivocally that whatever is enduring in Lukacs’ work belongs to certain minor details, while his general philosophical conception is completely outdated. As for The Destruction of Reason it is indisputable (and is echoed by many thinkers and writers from various intellectual traditions), that irrationalist philosophical currents had an important role to play in the emergence of fascism. The in-dept and detailed analysis of this role was and still is an important philosophical task. Even if there is no direct causal relation between fascism and the irrationalist tendencies starting from Schelling and Schopenhauer, even if it is nonsensical to blame Nietzsche for the barbarous nazi ideals, it is beyond question that nazism grew out of a culture saturated with irrationalism. This relationship, as all the explainable relationships in history, can only be determined retrospectively - as such a relationship in reality is established retrospectively only. As Susan Sontag puts it: “much of nineteenth-century German culture is, retroactively, haunted by Hitler.”[3] Actually, Lukacs also often depicts irrationalism as part of the prelude to fascism - a prerequisite, but not its exclusive cause. His main thesis is that the influence irrationalism previously had in German culture (both high and mass) was conducive to the gaining ground of fascism. The thesis can be generalized: if high and mass cultures are soaked by irrationalist ideals, fascist-type movements have a broader latitude, and the possibility of a fascist type seizure of power is higher. In this general form the thesis is feasible if we add that on the level of such an abstract historical generalization it makes more sense to speak about totalitarianism, or even totalitarianisms (in the plural) instead of fascism.
#15034875
Another persepective is that Germans, like other Europeans, had its philosophy destroyed by the forced Christianity of the Roman Empire.

This leads to five centuries of repression and destruction of other religions (philosophical angles), as well as the destruction of the written works of ancient Greeks and Romans.

This sets the stage for the Crusades, and a thousand years of killing "evil" in order to enrich oneself with glad tidings of pillage.

Most European philosophy since the the advent of forced conversion to Christianity has been stilted by restrictive thinking - the concept of thought crimes originates in the straight-jacket of Abrahamic religion, and not in Orwell's writings.

Pointing a finger at Germany in particular, is just more bullying of the Great Power that wasn't.
#15038606
After Nietszsche died, his sister rewrote a lot of his work, and the objectionable bits seem to have been added at that time.

Philosophy has very little influence. At the time he was alive, there was already virulent anti-Semitism in Germany. Sad, but true.

I haven't read other German philosophers of that era, at least not that I remember from a half century ago. But if there is causality it is that the philosophers reflected the culture, not the other way around.

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