skip to Main Content

Reconsidering the Nazi Era

Reconsidering The Nazi Era

The address which I am to deliver to you today was originally not planned as part of this series of lectures on “The German Univer­sity and the Third Reich.” His Magnificence1 was so gracious as to invite me personally to give this address that out of respect for the office of rector I couldn’t decline such an invitation. Had I, how­ever, been requested to participate in the lecture series at the time the series was first organized, I probably would have refused, since, in the first place, during the summer semester of 1964 I gave a lec­ture course on “Hitler and the Germans” in which things were also said about the universities, and believe thereby to have fulfilled my obligation to speak out on this most disagreeable of topics.

But sec­ondly, I would have had serious misgivings about the very idea of the series. These misgivings do not concern the lectures which you have so far heard in their specifics, but rather the underlying idea of trying to come to terms with the so-called failure (Versagen) of the German university, as well as with the crisis of confidence in the wake of this failure, through an historical description of the events that occurred during the period of the Third Reich. And once again, these misgivings do not concern the specific case of the German university, but rather the more general attempt to try to come to terms with the National Socialist past through an historical description of events. These misgivings thus go back to a broader complex of questions which we know of under the title Of the Uses and Abuses of History for Life.2

And with this we come to our topic.

Descriptive vs Critical History

A certain uneasiness has taken hold of the student body.

A new generation is growing up which knows of National Socialism only through trial proceedings and newspaper reports, through the words of dramatists and historians, and through stories told by the older generation. What is learned is for the youth of today of unimagina­ble frightfulness, and since they themselves have grown up in a happier time, the youth are perhaps more sensitive to the horror of the events than their elders, who often boast of having experienced the events firsthand (miterleben), and from this firsthand experi­ence claim the special privilege of judgment.

But you shouldn’t let yourself be influenced by such claims, you young people. Rather, you should follow your instincts which tell you that something dreadful has occurred, for from the fact that someone is the con­temporary of an event it does not follow that such a person has truly experienced it. To experience an event in the fullest sense (Miterleben) means to understand what has happened, yet under­standing requires qualities of knowledge and of intellectual devel­opment, of character and of intelligence, which one doesn’t neces­sarily acquire by virtue of the fact that one has lived through an event, whether actively or passively.

The statement, “You can only judge such a thing when you have experienced it firsthand,” is the great alibi used by those who are incapable of experiencing any­thing, and are thus co-responsible for what has happened. This ar­gument is the great shield which the older generation uses when the protesting glance of the youth is aimed in its direction.

There is good reason for the uneasiness in the student body. From the distance of a generation you see yourself entangled, by virtue of historical continuity, in the results of events for which you were in no way responsible. You would like to know how that which you find so horrible could possibly have come about. You would also like to know what has been done in the meantime so as to make a repetition of the events impossible.

Since, however, al­most nothing has been done, you would like to know if today in a crisis situation, the exact same thing couldn’t happen again. And since in all probability the same thing would occur, you would like to know what you can do in order to prevent the impending disaster.

In the face of questions such as these, grave doubts will arise as to the value of descriptive history. For you do not wish to know all the gory details of the events, but why they occurred in the first place, and how they are to be avoided in the future. Yet how is de­scriptive history to break the continuity in which you live and make a repetition of the events impossible?

I have already quoted Nietzsche. Let us take a look at his classifi­cation of the three types of history:

If a man who wants to create something great needs the past at all, he seizes it by means of monumental history; he who, by contrast, wants to abide in custom and revered tradition, preserves the past as an anti­quarian historian; and only one who in a present emergency is in im­minent danger of being crushed, and who seeks relief at any cost, has the need for critical, that is, evaluative and judgmental history.

For the first two types of history we have in our present situation little use, for you will hardly want to learn about the National Socialist period in order to be inspired by its deeds, nor will you want to abide in it as the custom and revered tradition in which you con­tinue to live. There remains therefore, critical-evaluative history.

Here, however, confusion may arise. For critical history is not to be understood as the investigation of the events of the past in the modern academic sense of critical research. Nor is it to be under­stood in the sense that the historian hangs his “value judgments” on the results of his investigations: “That is terrible.” Anyone can say this today, just as people back then said, “That is wonderful.” Critical history, however, does not deal with the banality of so-called value judgments–which today are just as much the expres­sions of intellectual provincialism as they were back then–but with the judgment of a past epoch that arises from a new spirit.

In order to write critical history, therefore, it is not enough to al­ter what one says; one must alter one’s very being. Altering one’s being, however, is not something which is brought about by forag­ing in the horrors of the past; rather, in reverse manner, it is the revolution of the spirit which is the precondition for being able to judge the past critically.

The history of a spiritually forsaken epoch can only be written in a critical manner when one places the events of the epoch under the judgment of the spirit. An understanding of the events through spirit and intellect, whose absence has brought about the events in the first place, must be regained today by all who stand within the continuity of spiritual desolation and who suffer under its burdens. Without the revolution of the spirit we cannot overcome our present distress, which has caused you such uneasiness.

The Spiritual in Germany: the 1920s

Well, how does the relation between spirit and history stand in Germany? Let us take a look first of all at the situation at the be­ginning of the 1920s in the scholarly and intellectual milieu of Munich as it is described by an author who experienced it firsthand:

“It was very strongly felt and objectively confirmed: the tremendous value-loss that the individual suffered as a result of the war, the indif­ference with which life today seems to pass over the individual  . . . . This indifference . . . could appear to be the result of the preceding four year blood bath. But one should not deceive oneself; as in many other instances the war here too had only completed . . . what had begun long before.”

What was eerie about these talks in this milieu was not their subject matter but “the passionless knowing of the real,” for in the satisfaction of knowing there lies “always something of ap­proval.” What was missing was just that understanding through which spirit as a critical force becomes a factor in breaking the apparently unbreakable chain of historical causation. The writer then continues:

“They might have said: ‘Unfortunately it appears that things will take such and such a course. It follows, therefore, that one must take ac­tion and do one’s part to prevent it from happening.'”

“What people, however, in effect said was: ‘It is coming, it is coming, and when it is here, we’ll be right up to the minute on what is happening. It is inter­esting, even good, simply because it is what is coming, and to recog­nize it is enough of an achievement and a pleasure. It’s not our affair, and still less to do anything against it.'”

And finally:

“It was a fraud on the satisfaction of knowing; they sympathized with that which they knew and which, without this sympathy, they doubt­less would not have known at all.”

Pay attention to this statement and impress it on your mind: the objectivity of historical knowledge is a fraud when the historian limits his object to the causal chain of passions and interests; for to the reality of history there belongs also the spirit, and when the spirit as a critical factor is excluded from the perception of events, then the objectivity of description becomes a blameworthy sym­pathizing with the condition of spiritual desolation and a com­plicity in its results.

I almost forgot to say: the writer whom I have just quoted is Thomas Mann.3

A Spiritually Forsaken Epoch

And thus it was in the beginning of the 1920s. And how is it to­day? One thing has changed–the consequences of spiritual desola­tion have become reality. And:

Woe, woe to the murderer, woe,

Who sowed the deadly seed!

Another countenance, before it happened,

Another shows the completed act.4

The countenance of the completed act stares at us. We stare back, our eyes wide open with horror. But do we see with our opened eyes? Do we see with the spirit?

Descriptive history is not critical history, and the disapproving “value judgments” we can set aside, explicitly or implicitly, as irrelevant. What is new in contrast to the Weimar period is the con­sciousness of guilt, which is supposed to be alleviated by an objectively scrupulous admission of what has happened.

It is just this sense of guilt, however, which is suspicious, for it is contrary to the condemnation that proceeds from a genuine alteration in one’s being. Within the context of objectivity the sympathy preceding the events has been replaced by the guilt consciousness that fol­lows them. How, though, through even the most exact reconstruc­tion of the past–which may bring to light much that is of impor­tance for other reasons–is a past guilt to be eliminated?

In our own particular case, can the trust in the German universities be reestablished through a description of the behavior of the pro­fessors and students in the Third Reich? Obviously not, since with each new detail our trust in the universities will be shaken still further.

If, however, the universities cannot be rehabilitated through the methods of descriptive history, who or what then is supposed to be rehabilitated? Perhaps the historian who makes the description? But the historian isn’t responsible for the past which he describes–or at least he doesn’t have to be if the revolution of the spirit has taken place in him so that from his altered being con­demnation becomes possible.

The attempt to come to terms with the past through descriptive history is thus a highly dubious undertaking. To be sure the con­sciousness of guilt following the completed act is not the same thing as the sympathizing “before it happened.” But sympathy and guilt are intimately related to one another as expressions of com­plicity in the desolation of the spirit. The guilt is genuine: the estrangement from the spirit, the not-wanting-one’s-being-to-be-altered, is the guilt which depresses.

From the guilt of estrangement comes the peculiar irrationality on the plane of means-ends relations which we have made clear through our questioning. The attempt to eliminate a past guilt through descriptive history is not a typical mistake in the choice of the proper means for the purpose, but an expression of genuine pathology. Not a pathology in the sense of psychopathology, but in the sense of pneumopathology as Schelling has described this realm of phenomena. We are dealing with a disease of the spirit.

The attempt to rehabilitate the present by scrubbing away at the spots of the past reminds us of Lady Macbeth in the last act of Shakespeare’s tragedy. A gentleman has summoned the doctor to observe the Lady’s strange nocturnal behavior:

Doctor: What is it she does now? Look how she rubs her hands.

Gentleman: It is an accustomed action with her to seem thus wash­ing her hands.

[Diagnosis of the] Doctor: Foul whisperings are abroad; unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds to their deaf pil­lows will discharge their secrets. More need she the divine [the priest] than the physician. Good God, forgive us all!

Germany’s Spiritual Disorientation: Three Cases

We have spoken of the spirit which is needed to write critical his­tory. By spirit we understand the openness of man to the divine ground of his existence: by estrangement from the spirit, the clo­sure and the revolt against the ground. Through spirit man actu­alizes his potential to partake of the divine. He rises thereby to the imago Dei which it is his destiny to be. Spirit in this classical sense of nous, is that which all men have in common, the xynon as Heraclitus has called it.

Through the life of the spirit, which is common to all, the existence of man becomes existence in commu­nity. In the openness of the common spirit there develops the pub­lic life of society. He, however, who closes himself against what is common, or who revolts against it, removes himself from the pub­lic life of human community. He becomes thereby a private man, or in the language of Heraclitus, an idiotes.

Now it is possible, however, and it occurs all the time, that the idiotes–that is, the man estranged from the spirit–becomes the socially dominant figure. The public life of society is thus character­ized not only by the spirit, but also through the possibility of es­trangement from it.

Between the extremes of the spiritually genuine public life and the disintegration of a society through the radical privatization of its members, lie the actual concrete societies with their complex field of tensions between spirit and estrangement. Every concrete society, therefore, has its own particular character of public life through which the genuineness or sickness of its spirit can be recognized.

Let us try to comprehend the why of the German catastrophe through reflecting on the character of German public life as far as such an analysis is possible within the confines of a lecture. For this purpose we shall take a look at three people who are public figures in the sense of social dominance–a philosopher, a pastor, and an historian.

Heidegger: Language with a Life of its Own

The first case is that of the famous philosopher who had great linguistic and linguistic-philosophical ambitions, but in the matter of language had such little sensitivity that he was taken in by the author of Mein Kampf.

Let us therefore take a look at his language. I will choose deliberately not one of his pronouncements from the National Socialist period, but a selection from Being and Time. It deals with the nature of a sign:

“As an example of a Zeichen (sign) we will choose one that will be used in another manner in a later analysis.”

“Automobiles have re­cently been equipped with moveable red arrows whose position, such as at an intersection (Wegkreuzung), shows which way (Weg) the au­tomobile (Wagen) will go. The direction of the arrow is controlled by the driver of the automobile . . . . This Zeichen (sign) is ready-to-hand within-the-world, within the whole Zeugzusammenhang (implement context) of vehicle and traffic regulation.”

“As a Zeug (implement) this Zeigzeug (pointing implement) is constituted by reference. It has the character of in-order-to, that is, its own particular usefulness, which is to Zeigen (point). This Zeigen des Zeichens (pointing of the sign) can be grasped as ‘referring.’ But here one should take note of the fact that this ‘referring’ as Zeigen (pointing) is not the ontological structure of the Zeichen (sign) as Zeug (implement) . . . . The Zeig­zeug (pointing implement) has in our concerned activities a pre­eminent use.”

We will all have the feeling when we read this text that as far as linguistic expression is concerned, something is not in order, even if we can’t immediately put our finger on what is wrong. For it is certainly possible to express the meaning of a directional device which shows the direction of a turn in a factually precise and lin­guistically simple manner.

The text concerning the sign [Zeichen], however, transposes factual relationships of our everyday world into a linguistic medium that begins to take on an alliterative life of its own, and thus loses contact with the thing itself. Language and fact have somehow separated from one another, and thought has correspondingly become estranged from reality.

This estrangement now, which is visible in our text, charac­terizes throughout the language of the philosopher. We might, in fact, construct something of a philosophical dictionary, from A to Z; and proceeding through it, from the Anwesen des Answesenden, to the Dingen des Dings and the Nichten des Nichts, and on over finally to the zeigenden Zeichen des Zeigzeugs, we could whip ourselves up into a reality-withdrawing state of linguistic delirium.5

Richard Wagner: The Pressure of Alliterative Language

States of this kind are not foreign to us. We have encountered them on other occasions when exposed for many hours to the pres­sure of alliterative language. But where was that now?

Des Blinden Auge

leuchtet ein Blitz:

lustig lacht da der Blick.

The eye of the blind,

illuminates a lightning flash,

merrily laughs there the look.

We’ve got it–we move in the operatic language of Richard Wagner.

In a state of alliterative ecstasy now, many may lose sight of the reality of being. At the swastika-intersection6 the Zeigzeug spins wildly about and the car steers the driver (Führer) into unholy ac­tivities. With a slight variation on a Wagner text:

Dort, wo die Brünste brennen,

zum Bücherbrand muss ich jetzt hin!

There, with lusts afire,

to the book burning now must I go!

When thousands of voices are raised in an alliterative Heil Hitler! those shouting may believe, lost in the operatic language, that the scales have fallen from their eyes. They may take the estrangement from being that was concealed in the structure of language to be the now unconcealed truth of human existence (Dasein). The char­acter of the language thus stamps the character of the public scene.

The forms of both language and public scene are closely related to one another–indeed, too closely related. And they know one another. Siegmund speaks to Sieglinde: “You are the image / that I conceal in myself”–an incestuous kind of knowing.

We live in an age of linguistic corruption. The symptoms of spirit­ual disorder, therefore, are not generally recognized or understood. Even those with a good deal of experience in traveling the wrong roads were hardly aware of the path that leads from Wigala-Wagala-Weia7 to the Zeigzeugs zeigendum Zeichen, and from there gets lost in the Thousand Year Reich.

Richard Wagner, however, prophetically knew of such things. For he has Siegfried tell Mime: “For you I forged a toy / and a sounding horn”–a text that can be excellently applied to our present case. For first of all, Wagner has actually forged a sounding horn, and it still continues to sound–in the language of the philosopher and his imitators. Secondly, however–”and merrily laughs there the look”–the toy and the sounding horn seem to direct attention to the automobile whose directional device seduces the thinker to grab it playfully.

Pastor Martin Niemöller Upholds Scripture

The second case is that of the famous pastor, who found it offen­sive that God should choose a Jew of all people for the Incarnation.

At the Niemöller trial in the year 1938 an observer was present who was assigned the task of reporting the proceedings to Reich’s Chief Rosenberg.8 The report has been preserved and was published in 1956.9 We take the following from it: Statements attesting to his character by Admirals Luezow and von Scholz were read out loud.

Pastor [Martin] Niemöller, it was said, had been an outstanding officer and treason against the fatherland is something one couldn’t possibly imagine of him. “In addition, it was said that he has al­ways been an enemy of every form of republic. Niemöller then added to this, and described how since 1924 he had always voted for the Nazi party.”

The report continues:

“He is not concerned, he says, with small matters, but with Christian­ity according to Scripture and creed. As a National Socialist he thus has a good conscience. At this point Niemöller read aloud two pages from Mein Kampf, then a chapter from the New Testament, and fi­nally a sermon from the year 1932 on the leader question (Führer­frage). He showed himself to be anything but an otherworldly pastor.”

And finally:

“In this connection he addressed himself in detail to the Aryan ques­tion in the church. The Jews he finds foreign and distasteful. As the scion of an old Westphalian family of farmers and theologians, and a former imperial naval officer, one would naturally expect such of him, he says. But we are not, according to Scripture, to replace bap­tism with a family tree. We are not, he says, to form God in our own image, the image of the Aryan, but must take him as he is, having revealed himself in the Jew Jesus of Nazareth. This very painful and vexing state of affairs, he believes, must be accepted for the sake of the gospel.”

Once again we must say, as in the case of the philosopher, that something is not in order here even if we can’t immediately articu­late the defect.

Above all we should perish the thought that might readily come to mind in this context that we are dealing here with a case of sacrilege or blasphemy. Such a thing from a former impe­rial naval officer one simply can’t imagine. No, the pastor is a good German and he never meant it in such a way.

Estrangement from the Spirit

The key to understanding the report we find in the sequence: two pages from Mein Kampf–a chapter out of the New Testament–a sermon on the leader question. The word of the leader (Führer) and the word of God stand opposed to one another as rival authorities, while the word of the sermon must decide the matter.

In the case of a contradiction between literary sources, Scripture and creed must take precedence. This argument now, however honorable it may sound, is of questionable character, for Christianity is not con­cerned with belief in a literary text, but with man’s confrontation with God through faith.

When Christianity is transformed from the reality of faith into a belief in Scripture, there will emerge the strange conflict between images in which we are or are not to con­ceive God. To be sure, it is comforting to learn that God at least is not an Aryan. Much less comforting, however, is that we must take him as he is, i.e., as having revealed himself in the Jew Jesus of Nazareth. For God has not revealed himself in a Jew, but–and don’t be shocked by the extravagance–in a human being.

That the human being should retreat behind the Jew; that the Aryan question in the church only becomes a question because baptism has now taken the place of the family tree; and that the authorities in the sense of Romans 13 may deal with Jews as they like as long as they are not through baptism as Christians elevated to the same level as Aryans–these are the symptoms of the es­trangement from the spirit through which man becomes fully human.

Father Alfred Delp

This estrangement from the spirit and the dehumanization of man which results is by no means the special privilege of Protes­tants.

Listen, for example, to the protest of a Catholic who as a member of the Kreisauer Circle became a victim of the twentieth of July.10 Father Alfred Delp, S.J., asks: “Has the church forgotten man and his fundamental rights? How will the church be able to save Christians when they abandon the creature who is supposed to be Christian?” For “with man dies the Christian.”

And later in prison, he writes: “Most of the people in the church and the official church itself must realize that for the present and its people the church is not only a misunderstood and incomprehensible reality, but in many ways a disquieting, threatening, and dangerous fact.”11

Why is this so? Because the German churches are corrupted by that estrangement from the spirit which equates man with the member of the church. It is forgotten that Christ came not to the Christians but to man, and that members of the church are not ab­solved from the obligation to be human.

We Know How to Describe Hitler

The third case [after considering Heidegger and Niemöller] is that of the famous historian, who is so erudite that he can apply a Goethe quote to Hitler.

In 1963 there appeared a critical edition of Hitler’s Table Talks. In the foreword to the work the historian attempted to characterize the person of Hitler. The task seemed to him difficult, “since one can’t grasp this totally unique occurrence with traditional concepts and moral categories.” He defers, therefore, to the section on the demonic in Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit. Goethe speaks there of those extraordinary men who exert an “unbelievable power over all creatures.”

“Rarely if ever do contemporaries view themselves as their equals and they are not to be overcome by anything except the universe itself with which they began the struggle: and from such observations may well have originated that strange but co­lossal aphorism ‘Nemo contra deum nisi deus ipse’. “

–No one can do anything against God except God himself.12

Against the doubts of the historian it must above all be stated that the categories for grasping the person of Hitler are by no means lacking.

For the combination of strong personality and ener­getic intelligence with a deficiency in moral and spiritual stature; of messianic consciousness with the cultural attainment of a citi­zen out of the Haeckel era;13 of intellectual narrowness with the self-consciousness of a provincial potentate; as well as for the fas­cination which such a personality can exert at a critical juncture over spiritual provincials with subjectlike mentalities, we do not at all lack the terms.

The chapter on the “Dictator” in Alan Bul­lock’s book on Hitler shows that the categories are in fact avail­able.14 When the historian, nevertheless, contests their existence, the suspicion lies near at hand that their use would have made the phenomenon of moral and spiritual corruption, and the German disorder which it produced, all too clear. By deferring to the de­monic the events would be removed from the critique of the spirit.

This suspicion, however, seems to me to be just as unfounded as the similar one in the case of the famous pastor. Indeed the catego­ries are not lacking–but they are lacking in point of fact from the work of the famous historian. We would be dealing once again with a case of estrangement from reality, and again of estrangement from the reality of man.

That we are dealing with a case of estrangement is confirmed by the interpretation which the historian gives to the Goethean “Nemo contra deum nisi deus ipse.” The passage on the demonic doesn’t perhaps belong to the clearest things of which Goethe has written, but there can be little doubt that the statement seeks to recognize in wordly affairs, in pantheistic-Spinozistic fashion, the dynamic of the divine in conflict with itself.

The historian, how­ever, translates the statement as follows: “No one can do anything against God who not himself is God.”15 Aside from the question­able grammar, the translation seems to betray an inability to grasp the spiritual content of the statement.

The Historian in a State of Estrangement

How though do the results look when history is written in a state of estrangement?

We have the right to ask this question be­cause the historian specifically stresses the fact that he has sought to give a documented account “which will retain its value for many years to come.”16 Let us, therefore, take a look at a statement which will retain its value for a long time to come. It is taken from the description of Hitler’s external appearance: “Hitler had his eyes so under his control that in jest he could make himself look cross-eyed.”17

Yes, indeed, people like us can’t do that. Hitler, however, could do a lot more. For he had under his control not only his eyes, but other things as well–for instance, human beings. And human be­ings he could get not only to cross their eyes, but to throw people into gas chambers. Only in jest, of course. He really didn’t cross his eyes. God forbid! After all, the man was himself God.

The famous historian is the chancellor of the order pour le mérite.18

Germany’s Syndrome of Illiteracy

We have analyzed the three cases in order to learn something about the nature of German public consciousness.

For this purpose we had to (1 ) choose three figures who are public in the sense of being socially dominant; and we had to (2) concentrate the analysis on the problems of a substantial public, i.e., on the problems of the spirit.19

In all three cases the analysis came across characteristic symptoms of estrangement. With regard to the realms of the di­vine, the human, and the inner-worldly, we can detect at the very least a loosening, if not a complete loss, of reality contact.

In par­ticular, the disturbances in the tension towards the divine ground of being are so severe, that one would have to speak of noteworthy contributions to a Theologia Germanica. Closely related to these are the disturbances in the clarity of consciousness concerning man as imago Dei, and as a result, the disturbances in relationship to our fellow men.

From both types of disturbances then, there fol­low the distortions concerning relevance in the area of historical reality–distortions which can range all the way up to the gro­tesque. To the loosening of reality contact there corresponds in the realm of language the various disease symptoms which you have had the opportunity to observe. Taken together, they form a syn­drome of illiteracy.

Such a diagnosis, however, should by no means be taken as the last word on the state of German public consciousness.

Ignoring the Spiritual Substantive German Literature

For besides that aspect of the public consciousness which is characterized by the cases that have been analyzed, there also exists the public realm of German literature.

The German literature produced over the last half century is equal in spiritual rank to that of any other Western literature, though it is distinguished from these other literatures by virtue of the fact that it is not socially dominant. The spiritual achievement of German literature has had no recogniz­able influence. For the education and character development of men, and particularly of the young men in Germany, it has virtu­ally been ignored.

To the extent that the works of literature now concern themselves with the same phenomenon of estrangement that occupies us here, the fact that they have had no influence constitutes part of the character of the German public scene. The phenomenon of a substantial public that cannot gain official ac­ceptance within the context of the larger social public is another feature of the total disease picture.

Robert Musil’s Substance and Form

I will mention a few of the high points of insight into the prob­lem of estrangement.

In his Man Without Qualities Robert Musil takes up the problem of the separation between substance and form.

From the center of man outward–or rather, from that place in which the substantial center of man is supposed to be found, though in actual fact only an incomprehensible vacuum is discov­ered–human qualities, which can only be expressions of spiritual substance, cannot be developed.

When nevertheless, they are de­veloped through external activity, what emerges is the phenome­non of qualities without man. With the development of qualities without man, however, we touch upon the general problem of the “second reality,” which has been developed further by Albert Paris Gütersloh and Heimito von Doderer.

Van Doderer and the Refusal to Apperceive

When the first reality, which is the expression of spiritual substance, cannot be developed be­cause of the absence of such substance, in its place there will de­velop an artificial reality–that is, a reality that has the external form of reality but which is not substantially supported by the spirit. We enter here upon a realm of spirit-like non-spirit or anti­spirit, which finds its representation on the plane of politics in the ideological mass movements.

Doderer in particular, in his book The Demons, has been concerned with the second reality as a phe­nomenon of social and political disorder. Doderer has furthermore located the origin of the second reality in the refusal of appercep­tion. The “world view” as a characteristic case of a second reality he defines as “a refusal of apperception elevated to a system.”20 When the refusal to apperceive becomes radical, it leads to the phe­nomenon of total self-and world-annihilation, which Doderer has treated in the grotesque of his Merowinger.

And finally, Elias Canetti’s Auto da fé should be mentioned in this context. The titles for the three parts of the novel summarize the phases of estrange­ment: A Head Without a World–Headless World–The World in One’s Head.

Thomas Mann’s Lamentation

Among these brilliant works there stands with high rank Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, the great lamentation of a German over Germany.

The expression lamentation which I have just used is not to be understood in any conventional sense, but as a technical term for a specific literary genre. Thomas Mann has consciously written a lamentatio, a threnody, in the sense of the Biblical Lam­entations of Jeremiah.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah, however, are not just any old complaints about the atrocities of lesser evils of a period, but lamentations about man and his falling away from God. The defection of the spirit is the object of the lamentation, its only legitimate object, if it is not to veer off into the banal and anti­-spiritual.

The heart of the lamentation has been captured by Thomas Mann through a quotation from the biblical work:

Why should a living man complain . . . about the punishment of his sins?

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.

We have transgressed and rebelled, and thou hast not forgiven.

Thou has wrapped thyself with anger and pursued us, slaying without pity.

Thou has made us filth and refuse among nations.21

Lament is not the return itself, but the insight into the defection and thus the beginning of the return. It is, furthermore, an act in which language restores itself through insight into its own charac­ter as expression of reality. Thomas Mann formulates the matter explicitly:

The lament–and here we deal with a constant, inex­haustibly accentuated lament of the most painful Ecce-Homo vari­ety22–the lament is the expressive act itself.

Suffering as the Essence of Man

Lament is not the language of defection, lament is the language of suffering from es­trangement–the Ecce-Homo stance. This suffering, however, be­longs to the essence of man, for though it is man’s destiny to be imago Dei, the possibility is also present not to live up to it–to fall away from it and to close oneself off. The dignity of the imago Dei encompasses the suffering of the Ecce-Homo.

Language, there­fore, has a double meaning as an expression of both suffering and joy. Even in the exultation of joy there can be heard the lament of the human which is at a distance from the divine, and therefore capable of estrangement from it. Even in the lament there lives the dignity of the hope to be delivered from one’s estrangement.

Thomas Mann, therefore, builds into his Doctor Faustus the “wail­ing lament” of his Leverkuehn as the reverse of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”; and the “wailing lament” once again fades off into the tone of hope. The accent of lament, however, remains dominant–the statement that lament is expressive act he turns around into the statement “that all expressive act really is lament.” With the in­sight into lament as the expression also of joy, the author has reached, with a shift in the accents of the tension, the height of Plato’s insight into human life as “serious play.”23

There is, therefore, in Germany no lack of a public character to the spirit. Why then can’t the substantial public represented by German literature become the socially dominant public? What keeps the public of the spirit and the public of estrangement sepa­rated from one another? Why can a representative of the spirit be­come at best the Resch Galutha–the king of the exile–but not the representative of German society (a situation from which Thomas Mann suffered very greatly)? Why can’t the substantial public, which clearly exists, be more effective in molding society and in setting the pattern by which Germans act towards their fel­low human beings?

A Narcissistic Theory of Education

Why has there developed alongside the lan­guage of the spirit, the characteristically German affliction of a so­cially dominant language of illiteracy, and why does this affliction persist? How has the gap between private culture and public failure come about? Where has the social transmission been lacking that is needed to translate the life of the spirit into the life of society?

The Iron Curtain which separates the two publics from one an­other is the German university as it has been conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt as the transmitter of education.24 Humboldt’s conception of education (Bildung) rests upon an his­torical philosophy according to which the organization of human society has progressed from the ancient republic to the modern monarchy.

In his Ideas to Determine the Limits of the Effective­ness of the State, written in 1792, he contrasts the ancient with the modern:

“The ancients concerned themselves with the strength and development of man as man; the moderns with his material well-being, his property, and his earning capacity. The ancients sought virtue, the moderns happiness. Ancient education and socialization, however, involve dangerous interventions in that ‘which constitutes man’s unique essence, his inner being (inneres Dasein),’ and they are contrary to reason.”25

“For the true goal of man–not that which his shifting inclinations set forth, but that prescribed to him by eternal, unchanging reason–is the highest and best-proportioned development of his powers into a unified whole. For this type of development, freedom is the first and indis­pensable condition.”26

“Originality, and that, therefore, upon which the whole greatness of man finally rests, and after which the indi­vidual man must eternally strive . . . is the uniqueness of human strength and educational development (Bildung)”.27

The order of society would seem to result in an anarchic coexistence: “The highest ideal of human beings living together, I believe, would be that in which each develops out of himself and for his own sake.”28

Avoiding Demands on the Individual

The exuberance, however, will be tempered by the insight that the “state” in the end cannot be dispensed with. Humboldt still con­siders it desirable that “the conditions of man and citizen coincide with one another as much as possible.” But man must not be sacri­ficed for the citizen, and for this reason “the freest educational de­velopment (Bildung) of man, one which is concerned with the rela­tions of citizenship as little as possible, must everywhere take precedence.”29

Such an education, which is not to be public in character, is only possible when the society does not have a public form like that of the ancient republics where demands must be made upon the citizens. “Only in our monarchic constitutions is such a [public] form entirely absent–and to be sure, to no small benefit for the educational development of man.”

Among its ad­vantages are the fact “that the state is only viewed as a means, [and that] there doesn’t have to be as much effort on the part of the indi­vidual to support this means as in republics. As long as the subject obeys the laws, and keeps himself and his dependents well pro­vided for in an occupation that is not harmful to others, the state is not concerned about the exact manner of his existence.”30

One cannot let the text of a Wilhelm von Humboldt speak for itself, for it already speaks the language of estrangement from the spirit. I will suggest, therefore, a few lines of interpretation.

Expressions such as inner being, individuality, originality, uniqueness of human strength and development, developing for his own sake, etc. indicate a closure against the ground of being.31 The picture of man that is formed from these symbols constitutes part of the line of divinization that runs from Rousseau’s lonely ego in the Reveries du promeneur solitaire to the Superman in the early writings of Karl Marx.

Most revealing is the formula for great­ness “after which the individual man must eternally strive”; for one need not, of course, strive “eternally,” but at most for a human lifetime. The formula only makes sense when man is inclined to set his “development” in place of “eternity.”

Achieving Self-Sufficiency without Religious Props

That Humboldt is moving along the line of human divinization is confirmed by his conception of “religion” as a complex of pictures that appeals to the emotions and serves to strengthen those of weaker character for the task of perfection out of the “inner being.”

Our search after truth, our striving after perfection, achieves greater firmness and security when there exists for us a being that is the source of all truth, the embodiment of all perfection. For such security, how­ever, men of earlier ages, and those of weaker character in the present, had to pay the price of dispensing with that elevated feel­ing of “thanking oneself exclusively for everything. Helpful as “religious ideas” may be, they are not indispensable to educational development.

The very idea of spiritual perfection is great enough, fulfilling enough, lofty enough so as not to need another mantle or form. The “religious idea” of a perfect being is “an ideal,” a type of sensory representation within which the “idea” of human perfec­tion is recapitulated. The man of Humboldt’s conception, however, feels himself “independent through self-sufficiency.”

When he looks back into his past now, searches each step of the way to find out how he has used each event, sometimes in this manner, some­times in that, how he gradually has become what he now is; when, therefore, he sees cause and effect, the end and the means, all uni­fied together, and then full of the most noble pride of which finite beings are capable, exclaims:

–”Have you not completed everything yourself, O sacred glowing heart?”

–”How must then all his ideas of loneliness, of helplessness, of a lack of protection, consolement, and aid which one would normally think present when a personal, ordering, rational cause of the chain of finite events is lacking, how must then all this disappear?”32

–”The anamnesis of a narcissist.”33

Spirit is the openness of man to the divine ground of his exist­ence; for Aristotle the yearning questioning after the ground is the beginning of all philosophizing. With the rejection of the question concerning the ground beyond the chain of finite causes and ends, and more still, with the anesthesia against the question as the cri­terion of human perfection, Wilhelm von Humboldt has found the perfect formula for the estrangement from the spirit.

In place of the divine ground of being man emerges as the ground of himself. The narcissistic closure has many consequences for language and thinking, which today in the socially dominant public of Germany are so self-evident that there hardly exists anymore a conscious­ness of their significance.

I’ll only point out that the existential tension towards the divine ground of being doesn’t disappear when man refuses to recognize it as his reality. Its problems continue to exist and in order to express them the language of philosophy must be replaced by a new idiom of estrangement. The symbols for the divinization of man have already been mentioned. Beyond these, there emerges in place of the existential questioning, seeking, and yearning, the symbol of “moral perfection”; in place of the ground (aition, arche), the “idea of perfection”; in place of the reality of faith, the “religious ideas;” in place of God, “an ideal;” and so forth.

Since thinking [is nevertheless still] based on the ratio, and this then is bound up with the question of the ground, in the language of Hum­boldt it is impossible to think. One who himself is not living in a condition of estrangement obsessively prattling its dream symbol­isms, will have a very difficult time trying to understand a Humboldtean text, since to do this one must first characterize the phe­nomenon of estrangement in order to compile a sort of dictionary with whose aid one can then relate the language of reality loss to the language of reality.

Disappearance of the Problem of Education

With the disappearance of the reality of the tension towards the ground there also disappears from Humboldt’s conception of man the problem of his education.

By education is to be understood the Platonic art of periagoge–that is, the art which moves man to turn away from the spiritual desolation of his existence in the world, and leads him back in the direction of the ground. In the place of education (Erziehung) there appears in Humboldt the ominous “development” (Bildung) by virtue of which individuality is to un­fold itself to its full uniqueness.

And finally, along with the open­ness of man to the ground there disappears the possibility of build­ing up the substantial public of society through the openness of individual existence. In place of the substantial public there ap­pears “the citizen-form of society.” This, however, is objectively superfluous since under the conditions of the “modern” state pub­lic affairs have been taken over by the monarchy.

On this point the question will be raised whether in the language of estrangement not only the reader, but Humboldt as well, is incapable of thinking; for the perfect man, as Humboldt has conceived him, appears only to be able to attain his perfection when he remains a subject.

How though is the status of a subject compatible with the perfection of man? And what happens to the men of the “state,”i.e., to the personnel of the Prussian monarchy and its official establishment? Do they remain imperfect men who are supposed to rule over the perfect? Or do they have a secret formula for a still higher type of per­fection?

Or has Humboldt only invented the perfect man so as to make the monarchy more palatable to the Prussian subject? Why should the historical development of a society of perfect men not lead to the withering away of the “state” or, when it doesn’t wither away voluntarily, to its revolutionary abolition? To questions of this sort one finds no answers in Humboldt.

For the man of antispirit, antiphilosophy, and antipublic, for the type of countersociety to all societies of human beings, Wilhelm von Humboldt has drawn up his plan for a university as it is to be found in his memorandum of 1810, Concerning the Inner and Outer Organization of the Institutions of Higher Scientific Learn­ing. We can be brief in our treatment of this work, since the lan­guage of estrangement is expanded by only a few terms, though they are not unimportant.

The institutions of higher scientific learning have as their first obligation to care for “the moral culture of the nation.” They fulfill their task by promoting “science in the deepest and widest sense of the term,” so that it can serve as appropriate preparatory material “for moral and spiritual development.”

Again, this task the institu­tions fulfill by confronting “the pure idea of science”; and this they can only do when “isolation and freedom” (an often quoted phrase) prevail in their surroundings–though this state of affairs may be tempered by uncoerced and unintentional efforts at cooperation.

“Science,” furthermore, is not to be taught in the institutions of higher learning as a collection of finished knowledge, but “always [treated] as a problem not yet completely solved.” The teachers, therefore, are not there for the students, but both of them for “sci­ence.”

Man’s Spiritual Life is Found in University Science

Why though, one may ask, should this remarkable cult of “science” be carried on and even supported materially by the state, especially since it must remain separated “from all forms of the state?” The answer: the institutions of higher scientific learning are “nothing more than the spiritual life of man that directs exter­nal leisure time and inner aspiration to the task of science.” 34

Of course, the principle of science must be kept alive in the institu­tions as “something not yet entirely discovered and never wholly found”; for only a science “which originated from the inner being and can be cultivated in the inner being” builds the type of charac­ter needed for the advancement of the state.

At this point in the memorandum, where the talk is about “inwardness,” something approaching a thought begins to flash forth: scientific institutions run the risk of “not really pursuing science,” or “not [creating it] from the depth of the spirit,” but falling prey rather to the illusion that science “can be extensively expanded by a process of collect­ing and gathering up.”

Humboldt, therefore, has foreseen the possibility of a positivistic Stoffhuberei.35 Should this happen, he says, then as far as science and the state are concerned, “everything would be irretrievably and eternally lost” (why always the same eternally!). Indeed, Humboldt even foresees that when the “exten­sive collecting and gathering up, continues for a long time, science will disappear and “will leave even its language behind as an empty shell.”

In order to prevent this from happening, Humboldt offers a formula–and it appears for a moment that we will finally learn what the “spirit” is whose life science constitutes. We are, how­ever, disappointed, for in order to keep the spirit alive, we must, according to Humboldt, (a) “derive everything from one original principle,” (b) “build everything up to one ideal,” and finally, (c) “join together that principle and this ideal into one idea.” The thought–if it really was one–is once again buried under the shift­ing sand of estrangement symbols.36

In its time, Humboldt’s plan was an act of liberation, for on the one hand it broke the power of the state and of orthodoxy over the institutions of research and learning, while on the other hand it set free the human forces to which we are indebted for the great flowering of the German universities in the nineteenth century. It was an unfortunate twist of fate that the reform fell within the pe­riod of romantic narcissism, for this narcissism was to fit in only too well with the political model of a subject’s existence within the national-authoritarian monarchy. From the spirit of the times comes Humboldt’s demand–which was to have momentous con­sequences–that the university should unite “objective science” with “subjective education.” 37

The expression objective in this symbol complex is not to be understood in any philosophical sense–be it a scholastic, Cartesian, or Kantian one–but as an ad­jective referring to a science which, by virtue of its “objectivity,” balances the “subjective” forces within individuality. “Objective science” and “subjective education” are an integrated complex of estrangement symbols that obstruct the reality of man and his openness to the ground of being. “Objective science,” in particular, has taken over the place of noetic ordering knowledge in the classi­cal sense.

The Failure of “Objective-Subjective”

This replacement of human reality through the estrangement symbols “objective-subjective” is destructive in two ways, since it (1) obscures the reality of man, and (2) destroys the sciences of man, society, and history whose origins lie in man’s real knowledge about himself and his existential tension toward the ground of being.

In the last third of the nineteenth century, with the waning of the romantic-idealistic impetus, the phenomena of decline be­come noticeable; there is a loss of those insights into the nature of reality from which the material ramification of a science of man receives its meaning, and correspondingly, the enormous ex­pansion in material data without control through criteria of rele­vance.

As a result, then, there is the degradation of philosophy to epistemology, of philology in the Wolfian sense to linguistics, of historiography to historicism and historical relativism. It is the phase of decline against which Nietzsche revolted.

The resulting vacuum, however, did not motivate a return to reality; rather, in order to save the “objectivity” of science, the older estrangement idiom was replaced by a new one. Instead of “science in the deepest and widest sense of the term,” the “ideas” and the “ideals,” there appeared the “values,” the “value-related method,” the “legitimat­ing value-conceptions” and the “value-free science.”

This second estrangement idiom derived from the effort to obtain for the sci­ences of man, which have their origin in the tension towards the divine ground of being, an “objectivity” analogous to that in the sciences of nature which are peripheral to the person.

The effort employed the tactic of circumscribing the historical-philological stock of knowledge as “value-free” object, while shifting the ques­tion of scientific relevance to the “values,” the “values” them­selves, however, being left unquestioned as to their reality content.

In the period of nation-state stability–and correspondingly, of un- questioningly accepted “values”–the effect could achieve consid­erable social dominance. In the period since the end of the First World War, by contrast, the insight has grown that the Western ideological movements, as well as the non-Western political orders, require a specific analysis which cannot be dispensed with merely by declaring the various experiences of order to be “value positions” and then not bothering further about their structure.

The second estrangement idiom of “objectivity,” therefore, nears the end of its phase of obsolescence. The Humboldtean “education” (Bildung) is not education to openness of the spirit; it is rather, a work of closure against the spirit. The result of such an education through “objective science” is a condition of estrangement, and when the person affected is spiritually sensitive, of great suffering from this estrangement.

The work of estrangement that is carried on by the universities may not disturb the public order very much as long as the traditions of the substantial public and the authoritarian state monarchy endure; but a century of destructive effort doesn’t remain without conse­quences, and we are familiar with them: when the members of a society, and in particular its academic upper stratum are “edu­cated” to nonpublic existence, there arises then the social matrix out of which movements of estrangement of the National Socialist type can rise to power.

Not only do the movements spread, but in a society of nonpublic human beings they encounter no serious op­position–indeed, those who experience them “firsthand” (Miterle­benden) don’t understand in the least what is going on all around them. Even a generation later those living have not yet been able to understand the events, for if such an understanding existed, the universities today wouldn’t be able to continue their “education” to a narcissistic existence as if nothing had occurred.

Substituting “Conservatives” and “Liberals” for Public Existence

The problems of estrangement have not disappeared from Ger­man society merely because the National Socialist regime was de­stroyed from the outside by a world war. I would like to draw atten­tion in this regard to a structure of German politics that has too often been misunderstood.

Even when a man has been deformed to nonpublic existence–that is, not a subject through political status, but an idiotes through estrangement–he doesn’t cease to be a member of society and a politically willing person. When, however, the existentially nonpolitical “subject” is to function as a citizen in an industrial society with a democratic constitution, there exists for him vis-à-vis the ruling authority only the two alternatives of tradition-conscious subordination or antitraditional opposition.

The alternative of subordination leads to the attitude which today we call national conservative; that of opposition to the peculiar at­titude of the intellectuals who protest against the regime without themselves being able to develop viable political alternatives.

The political types of national conservative and left-intellectual, which date back to the nineteenth century, are still today of considerable social relevance–on the occasion of the Der Spiegel affair there oc­curred a memorable clash between them.38 A clear understanding of these two basic varieties of nonpolitical politics seems to me to be indispensable for an understanding of National Socialism and its rise to power.

You will often hear the view expressed that National Socialism was a national movement–or at least tried to pass itself off as a national movement–and could, therefore, engage the na­tional feeling of great masses of people. This view I believe to be false, since in order for a political nation to exist, there must be a substantial public of sufficient social dominance, and it was just this which was missing in the German case.

What Hitler brought to power was not the political nation (for had such existed, the phe­nomenon of Hitler would not have been possible) but the masses of existential subjects with national-conservative mentalities, who could turn with enthusiasm to a new, humanly so grotesque au­thority, when a regime [the Weimar Republic], which in a political sense tries to be na­tional, appears to fail at a moment of crisis.

University Education Seals off its Victims

The spirit moves where it will, and on German universities too it has caused much offense. In general, however, Humboldt’s plan was–and still remains–effective; for a university education seals off its victims in socially relevant numbers against the life of the spirit; it successfully maintains its estrangement in a position of social dominance; and it hinders the public of the spirit from estab­lishing itself in the society at large. Moreover, it affects the charac­ter of the substantial public itself insofar as the yearning for the spirit must inevitably assume the form of an opposition movement against the socially dominant estrangement.

The great works of literature are direct confrontations with the estrangement–they discover it as a phenomenon, they are expressions of suffering from it, they work through the problem meditatively in order to pene­trate to the freedom of the spirit. But they are not yet created out of freedom. The shadow of the socially dominant estrangement lies over the works of men whose life has been spent in an effort to work their way free from it.

Regarding the nature of the German public consciousness, therefore, there is an ambivalence in the ex­pressions emigration and revolution which has been made visible to everyone through the crisis of National Socialism. For a person of spiritual rank who is born a German must in any case enter the inner emigration in order to live, and the inner emigration can, under the pressure of events, eventually lead to the outer one.39

Here, however, the question arises as to who is really the emi­grant–the German who emigrates from the spirit, or the German who emigrates from the social dominance of estrangement?

And just as ambivalent becomes the expression revolution, when the revolutionaries emigrate–as they have done from Germany since 1848–while the ancien régime remains at home. It should give cause for reflection when in view of the behavior of those who remained at home–who naturally experienced everything “first­hand”–the phrase is forced upon us only too frequently today which in the wake of revolutionary events in the Western nations first struck the emigrants: nothing learned and nothing forgotten!

Over the lecture hall at the University of Heidelberg there stands the motto of its purpose as it has been framed by Friedrich Gun­dolf: “To the Living Spirit.” We have tried to characterize the na­ture of German public consciousness and have spoken of the uni­versity as the Iron Curtain which keeps the socially dominant public of estrangement apart from the substantial public of the spirit.

This judgment is a harsh one, but it is not inappropriate, since it is based on the university’s claim to translate the order of the spirit into the living order of society through the education of the younger generation. We can only back away from such a judg­ment if we are willing to renounce the claim itself. Then, however, another saying of Friedrich Gundolf would take effect: “He who in matters of the spirit doesn’t take things seriously (ernst), need not join in the discussion.”

The Gundolfian dictum was intended as an imperative, but it can also be understood in an assertional sense. It might then be paraphrased: He who in matters of the spirit doesn’t take things se­riously will be shoved aside when he wants to join in the discus­sion; or, he will falter and collapse when someone else takes things seriously, and the antispirit will prevail.

Refusing to Accept the Universities’ Abdication

The correctness of the paraphrase is empirically confirmed by the situation of the univer­sity in the Third Reich. This experience [in particular] should have made clear that a lack of seriousness in spiritual matters is by no means harmless. For a society cannot renounce the order of the spirit without destroying itself, and when the institutions which are to serve the life of the spirit through their educational efforts cease to be serious, then their function will be taken over by men and institutions who do take their work seriously. Who these men and institutions are in our own time we are well aware: the ab­dicatio of the university is the translatio imperii of the spirit onto the ideological mass movements.

Against such a statement many will perhaps say that this is simply the course of history, that the universities have played out their historical role, that the authority of the spirit has been transferred to the Gnostic and apocalyptic movements of our time, and that the universities of the future will have to be content with their research and instruction for the prag­matic use of society in areas of knowledge that are peripheral to the person. In spiritualibus the universities must submit to the party line of this or that regime of ideological sectarians.

Now perhaps it may come to this, but to anticipate such a possible development as inevitable, and to use the prognosis as an argument for refusing to do anything, would be a symptom of that attitude toward history analyzed by Thomas Mann: “It is coming, it is coming, and when it is here, we’ll be right up to the minute on what is happening.” We have learned, however, just what is happening, if we didn’t already know before. Let us, therefore, renounce such an attitude.

But how, you will ask, have we arrived at these remarkable re­flections? The talk at first was about a German university, which according to the conception of Wilhelm von Humboldt, was to re­strict itself to the cult of individuality and have nothing to do with the “citizen-form” of society. But now it appears as if there is a German university which raises the claim to represent publicly the living spirit and isn’t permitted to renounce its claim. Isn’t there a contradiction here?

The contradiction is beyond dispute. The German university has, in point of fact–and more than once–contradicted the con­cept of Humboldt, especially in the period after the First World War. In any case, the Heidelberg of the 1920s, in which men such as Gothein, Gundolf, Jaspers, Salin, Alfred Weber, and Zimmer were active, was anything but a university conceived by Humboldt. An institution is not a structure that is established once and for all, but a process in time whose course of development under certain circumstances can deviate considerably from the intention of its founders.

The Heidelberg example should show that the narcis­sism of the existential subject is not a German fate to which we are condemned. The pneumopathological closure can be broken.

Mediocrities Left in Charge

When the monarchic-authoritarian state milieu is discredited and shaken, the spirit can not only open itself up and once again reestablish contact with reality; it can also assert itself in the realm of public consciousness. The example given, however, should also bring to mind just how seriously any hopeful beginnings are threatened by the dominant public consciousness in German society.

For of the possibilities that existed in the 1920s, almost nothing remains. The murders and expulsions of the Third Reich have affected above all the spiritual and intellectual upper stratum of the university [on] whose quality the maintenance of standards and the cultural level of the entire institution depends.

The inner German continu­ity of scientific development, which depends upon the successful transmission of experiences, schooling, and work ethic from one generation to the next, has been so seriously damaged by the deci­mation of the academic upper stratum, that to this day the damage hasn’t been repaired.

The academic lower stratum, which under the protective shadow of its own inconspicuousness and adaptabil­ity, unavoidably outlasts the times in which the best are crushed, determines to a disproportionate extent the complexion of the uni­versity and has shown itself not up to the task of reconstruction.

During the decades of German isolation and self-destruction, science outside of Germany has progressed along its own paths, so that a considerable cultural gap has developed between Germany and the West that even under favorable circumstances would be difficult to close.

The circumstances, however, are not favorable; for following the shift in proportions between the academic upper and lower strata, there has developed alongside the efforts to re­establish contact with Western science, an aggressive provincial­ism, which feels itself uncommonly at ease with the depressed level of culture in Germany and would gladly make Germany’s status as intellectual province into a permanent condition.

The de­struction of substance by the National Socialists was so extensive, that even today its results cannot be fully assessed, and the worst is perhaps yet to come. The problems of the German university, there­fore, are today much more difficult to overcome than they were in the 1920s. The decade following the First World War was a Golden Age of the spirit in comparison to the marasmus of the present.

But the problems must be overcome if Germany is not to remain an intellectual province. The exact details of what must be done cannot be set forth in a lecture. Let me just say that the solutions to the problems are not unknown. If they are not pursued, what is missing is not the knowledge but the will.

The will, however, really is missing, for at the heart of the evil is a pneumopatho­logical condition that has given rise to the Humboldtean concep­tion of man, science, and university. In conclusion, therefore, I would like to outline more precisely, in part recapitulating, the es­sence of the pneumopathological problem.

The Pneumopathological Obstacle to Reform

The formative years of Wilhelm von Humboldt fell in the period of Romantic narcissism. The political status of subject and the existential status of narcissistic individuality appeared to harmo­nize well with one another, and the university was to be the in­stitution which was to contribute to the perfection of the harmo­nized type.

I will make explicit in rational language the most important features of Humboldt’s conception as well as its implica­tions and results.

1. The narcissistically harmonized subject need not occupy himself with public affairs. The university, therefore, doesn’t have to transmit the stock of knowledge needed for the rational discus­sion and transaction of public business.

2. Humboldt’s demand would not be so dubious if it intended no more than to withhold this stock of knowledge from the political subject, since the curriculum of the university could be easily ex­panded once the state monarchy collapsed. The demand becomes dangerous, however, because it makes political renunciation not only an obligation of the subject, but a virtue of man, who can only develop his individuality and his essence at the price of such renunciation.

3. Humboldt could raise such a demand with the good con­science of immanent logic, because he had reduced man to his “originality” and “individuality.” The existential tension towards the ground was rejected, and the symbolic expressions of the ground were degraded to “ideas,” which were seen as necessary for the psychological comfort of weaker spirits in earlier times, though not for the self-sufficient spirits of the type who now attend the universities.

4. With the rejection of the existential tension toward the ground, the ordering center of man is destroyed. Without the order­ing center, however, there is no science of order of man in society and history, and as a result, no rational appeal against phenomena of disorder.

5. By declaring the ground, as well as the existential tension to­ward it, to be nonrealities, the reality of the spirit, through which the public life of a society is constituted, is denied. Since, however, man cannot cease to be man, and must live on in a manner that has at least the external form of reality, there appears in place of the negated reality the ersatz realities of the ideologies up to and in­cluding National Socialism.

6. With the destruction of reality the public language is de­stroyed. In place of language symbols which relate to the reality of the tension towards the ground, there appear the various idioms of estrangement. The idiom of “ideals” and “ideas,” which was Hum­boldt’s own, as well as that of “values,” has already been men­tioned.

But there are many others–Marxist and Hegelian, positiv­istic and scientistic, psychoanalytic and historicist, up to the most recent which Adorno has analyzed in his brilliant invective against The Jargon of Authenticity. I have already made reference to the syndrome of illiteracy which is the result of the destruction of the language.

The Idiom of Estrangement

In order to gain a sharper picture of the pneumopathological problem, let us make the assumption that the six points men­tioned are intended as a “program”: the German university has as its task to close men off narcissistically, to rob them of their spirit­ual orientation, to make them unfit for public life, to destroy the language, and to teach estrangement idioms.

Under this assump­tion, let us now pose a series of questions that together with their answers are intended to help clarify the structure of the problem:

1. Is the “program” that has just been sketched in fact the pro­gram of Humboldt? Obviously not–we must answer the question negatively. And just as obviously the program is not that of the speakers here today, who only too frequently when occasion arises quote from Humboldt’s Memorandum.

2. If the question, however, must be answered negatively, what then did Humboldt “really” mean or want? To this question no an­swer is possible, for Humboldt speaks in an idiom of estrangement, and the expressions that are used in such an idiom do not have a grip on reality. They create, rather, in opposition to reality, their own form of Second Reality. In an estrangement idiom nothing can “really” be intended or wanted.

3. Is Humboldt’s conception, then, since it doesn’t have a grip on reality, a harmless illusion? This question must unfortunately be answered in the negative. Indeed one cannot realize a Second Real­ity, but the spiritual closure within it is a real phenomenon and has an actual effect on reality.

In this regard the structure of the pneumopathological case doesn’t differ from that of the psycho-pathological: the delusions of a paranoid person also correspond to no reality, but the delusions are real and the actions of the paranoid enter into reality.

4. If, though, the “program” doesn’t adequately reproduce Hum­boldt’s conception, what exactly is it then? Is it anything more than a false interpretation? To this we would have to answer: An interpretation is an attempt to reproduce correctly the meaning of a linguistic expression. Interpretation in this sense as a relation be­tween linguistic expressions is only possible when both expres­sions have a grip on reality.

In this strict sense, therefore, the ex­pressions of an estrangement idiom cannot be interpreted at all. The “program” is thus not to be understood as an interpretation; rather, it is the description of the phenomena which emerge when the Second Reality of a Humboldt begins to have its effect in the real world.

The questions and answers have made clear the destruction of the xynon, the commonality in the spirit, is the root of the evil. If we accept an estrangement idiom uncritically as language, then we can accord no reality to a project expressed in such an idiom. When we understand the estrangement idiom critically as such, then the project will be seen as a symptom of a pneumopathological condi­tion.

When we make the results of the project explicit through ra­tional language, we construct a “program” that the speaker of the estrangement idiom will not recognize as the one he intended.

The Need for Public Discussion of Public Evil

Summing up, therefore, we must say: with the speaker of an estrangement idiom, rational, reality-related discussion is not pos­sible; and when the socially dominant public has the character of estrangement, rational planning and reform in matters of the spirit are extremely difficult.

For rational planning in this situation be­comes the task of changing the public consciousness through the activity of persuasion (peitho in the Platonic sense) so that the so­cial dominance shifts from the estrangement to the spirit. With such a shift, public opinion would create the pressures that would compel reform. The nature of the problem will perhaps not be im­mediately apparent, for life in the insane asylum of our time has become such a habit for many that they no longer react in a sen­sitive manner to the grotesque events on the public scene.

I will recall therefore, a few of the cases analyzed earlier: One person ap­peals to the gospel, and before you know it the Jews, the Aryans, and the good Lord himself all get mixed up with one another. An­other then quotes Goethe, and already the grammar goes haywire, the demons close in, and even Hitler begins to cross his eyes. Let these surrealistic summaries work their effect upon you, and you will begin to understand the immensity of the task.

Social processes that could effect a change in the nature of Ger­man public consciousness are no doubt under way, but their pace resembles a snail-like crawl. The metaphor here should draw atten­tion to the time factor, which for German society is of an urgency that cannot be overestimated. For the German estrangement from reality has already shaken the world twice in this century, and it doesn’t appear as if the world is inclined to let itself be shaken by Germany for yet a third time.

Do we want, therefore, to let things reach the point where German society becomes the matrix of a third catastrophe, which in all probability would be the last? I be­lieve that all of us in the universities, professors and students alike, should concern ourselves more intensely with this question. Since the heart of the evil is a pneumopathological condition of consciousness, the first step to recovery would involve making people aware of the evil and opening the situation up to public dis­cussion.

Making people aware of the evil through its diagnosis is the purpose which this lecture has intended to serve. The individ­ual can do no more. In Ezekiel 33 :7-9 we read of the watchman:

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warn­ing from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die; and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your soul.”

 

Notes

 1.Title for the rector of a German university. (The translator of this essay is Dr. Russell Nieli, who was assised by Paul Caringella, Thomas Hollweck, and Wolfgang Mann. Ed. of Vol 31 of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin.)

2. The title of an early work by Friedrich Nietzsche.

3. Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus (Stockholm, 1956), 484-86, 482-84. English translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter.

4. The quotation is from Friedrich Schiller’s Die Braut von Messina, Act III, lines 2004-2007.

5. All these German phrases, whose alliterative aspect cannot be reproduced in English, come from Heidegger’s writings. Their meanings, even for the informed German reader, are often highly dubious. The Anwesen des Anwesenden might be translated as the “presence of that which is present”; the Dingen des Dings as the “thinging of the thing”; the Nichten des Nichts as the “nothinging of the nothing”; and the zigenden Zeichen des Zeigzeugs as “the pointing sign of the pointing implement.”–Trans. (The quotation if from Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann [Frankfurt-am-Main, 1977],104-105.–Ed.)

6. Haken-Kreuzweg. This is a play on words in the form of an allusion to the preceding Heidegger text. Hakenkreuz (literally hook-cross) is the German term for swastika, the dreaded symbol of the Nazis. Kreuzweg is the German term for cross­roads or intersection and was used by Heidegger in the previously quoted passage from Being and Time.

7. From the opening lines of Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

8. The late Martin Niemöller was a Lutheran minister who led the clerical op­position to Hitler’s attempt to control the German Protestant church. He showed great courage in his opposition to Nazi policy in this regard, and for his efforts, spent eight years in Hitler’s concentration camps. Niemöller was, however, as Voegelin suggests here, a man of great moral and intellectual confusion. He had been a sup­porter of the Nazi party from the mid-192os onward, and even after his imprison­ment, after Hitler had launched the German nation into war, he offered to volunteer as a submarine commander in the service of the Third Reich. Although he criticized publicly the Nazis’ attempt to bar ethnic Jews who had converted to Christianity from official positions in the church, he never opposed the Nazi policy of anti-Semitism as such.

9. Ein NS-Functionär zum Niemöller Prozess, in Vierteljahrshefte zur Zeitge­schichte, IV (1956), 307-15.

10. A reference to July 20, 1944, the date of the attempt on Hitler’s life. In the wake of the. abortive plot, many courageous Germans were hunted down and killed by the Gestapo.

11. Alfred Delp, Zwischen Welt und Gott (Frankfurt, 1957), 97, 101; Delp, In Angesicht des Todes (Frankfurt, 1963), 143.

12. P. E. Schramm (ed.), Hitlers Tischgespräche (Stuttgart, 1963), 118.

13. A reference to Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a German zoologist and materi­alist philosopher who did much to popularize philosophical materialism and the doctrine of evolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.–Trans.

14. Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York, 1964).

15. Schramm (ed). Hitlers Tischgespräche, 119.

16. Ibid., 118.

17. Ibid., 29.

18. An honorary order of merit formerly maintained by the German government to award those in various fields who had made distinguished contributions to Ger­man society.

19. Voegelin often uses the terms substance and substantial in an older sense to mean spiritual reality (cf. Giordano Bruno).–Trans.

20. Heimito von Doderer, Die Daemonen (Vienna, 1956), 581.

21. Mann, Doktor Faustus, 478.

22. The image evoked here is that of the passion of Christ.

23. Mann, Doktor Faustus, 644

24. Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was a prominent German philologist, diplomat, and man of letters, who did much to stamp the character of German nine­teenth-century higher education. He was a minister of education in Prussia from 1809 to 1810, during which time he helped to found the University of Berlin. He was also instrumental in reorganizing the system of publicly supported secondary schools or Gymnasiums.

25.  Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirk­samkeit des Staates zu bestimmen (1792; Werke, I [Darmstadt, 1960]), 61.

26. Ibid., 64.

27. Ibid., 65.

28. Ibid., 67.

29. Ibid., 106.

30.  Ibid., 107.

31. Voegelin, it should be explained, is not necessarily objecting to any of these terms by themselves, but to the meaning they take on within the context of Hum­boldt’s writings.

32. Humboldt, Ideen zu einem Versuch, 114.

33. Recollections or reflections.

34. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Über die innere und äussere Organisation der wissenschaftlichen Anstalten in Berlin (1810; Werke, VI [Darmstadt, 1964]), 255.

35. A piling-up of enormous amounts of worthless, undigested data.

36. Humboldt, Über die innere und aussere Organisation, 257.

37. Ibid., 255.

38. In October, 1962, Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine, ran a cover story on Germany’s defense preparedness which was highly critical of the policies of Franz Josef Strauss, the conservative defense minister. The article reflected an in­sider’s knowledge of German and Allied military matters, and dealt with defense issues in considerable detail. As a result of this article, the Der Spiegel offices in Bonn and Hamburg were raided by officials of the German government, with the publisher and leading editors of the magazine being arrested and evidence gathered for alleged treasonable action regarding the disclosure of official military secrets.

The raids touched off a wave of protest in Germany, with most intellectuals coming to Der Spiegel’s defense. In subsequent court action, the charges against the Der Spiegel personnel were dismissed. As a result of the Spiegel-Affäre, there was a shake-up in Konrad Adenauer’s cabinet, with Franz Josef Strauss being forced to re­sign as defense minister.

39. The phrase inner emigration was used to describe the actions of those anti-Hitler Germans who were forced to live in Germany during the period of the Third Reich and who tried, as best they could, to disengage themselves psychically from the collective insanity that was going on all around them.

 

This excerpt is from Hitler and the Germans (Collected Works of Eric Voegelin 31) (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999)

Eric VoegelinEric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin (1901-85) was a German-born American Political Philosopher. He was born in Cologne and educated in Political Science at the University of Vienna, at which he became Associate Professor of Political Science. In 1938 he and his wife fled from the Nazi forces which had entered Vienna and emigrated to the United States, where they became citizens in 1944. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Notre Dame, Louisiana State University, the University of Munich and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. More information about him can be found under the Eric Voegelin tab on this website.

Back To Top