The specific dignity of man is based on this, on his nature as theomorphic, as in the form and in the image of God. This is a basic complex of ideas we must start out with in order to critically investigate the defection from this complex. The defection at its core always takes the form of a loss of dignity. The loss of dignity comes about through the denial of the participation in the divine, that is, through the de-divinizing of man.
But since it is precisely this participation in the divine, this being theomorphic, that essentially constitutes man, the de-divinizing is always followed by a dehumanizing. One cannot de-divinize oneself without dehumanizing oneself–with all the consequences of dehumanization that we shall still have to deal with. Such de-divinization is the consequence of a deliberate closing of oneself to the divine, whether to the rationally divine or the pneumatically divine, that is, the philosophical or the revelational divine.
In both cases there occurs a loss of reality, insofar as this divine being, this ground of being, is indeed reality too; and if one closes oneself to this reality, one possesses in one’s range of experience less of this part of reality, this decisive part that constitutes man. In this sense we speak of a loss of reality.
Please understand that I am now giving only a series of concepts; their application will follow. We must then employ them so that we understand what it is we are really speaking of. Thus we can speak of loss of reality through de-divinizing and dehumanizing. The typical manifestations of this loss of reality are that the reality of man is put in the place of the lost divine reality, which alone grounds the reality of man, so that in place of the ground of being as the cause of being, man as the cause of being advances to the point of exaggeration in the idea that man must be the creator of the world.
We will later deal with this special German problem of rebellion, which has its roots in the Romantics. But I will here quote this one sentence of Novalis: “The world shall be as I wish it!”1 There you already have in a nutshell the whole problem of Hitler, the central problem of the de-divinizing and dehumanizing. However, with that the phenomenology of the defection from full humanity is not experienced. This is a problem that has always occupied human beings. How are these defections to be classified? How do they appear?
Let us first take the classical attitude toward the question, that not all men are fully man in Aristotle’s terms.2 In the Nicomachean Ethics [1095 B10-13] Aristotle falls back on Hesiod (that means, to the eighth century). For Hesiod, these insights still derive from what can be called common sense experience. I will quote this passage from Hesiod, which Aristotle later develops.
In the Works and Days, from verses 293 f., Hesiod classifies men into three groups: First, that man is the best, pan aristos, who himself considers or thinks through all things, who can advise himself, noese: The nous plays a part here. The second type is also good, an esthlos, who listens to the best, to the pan aristos. The one, however, who neither thinks (noe) nor listens, is a useless man.
So here you already have three types of men: the man who is in full possession of the nous and can advise himself, where, by nous is meant openness toward the divine ground of being; the one who, in case of doubt, has at least enough reason to listen to him who is in full possession of it; and the one who has neither the one nor the other and therefore is a useless fellow, who can also become a dangerous fellow.
The Aristotelian divisions follow this Hesiodian classification. The man in full possession of freedom is the man who has authority and lets himself be led by his own nous, by reason. Then there are the others, some who are still being educated, others who never get beyond certain educational levels, but at least are still approachable, insofar as they listen when a wiser man tells them what is right and what is wrong.
And then there is the third class, which he called “the slaves by nature.” Now what are we doing with this classification? An expression such as the Aristotelian “slaves by nature” can hardly be used for our purposes, for we no longer have slavery as a formal legal institution.
The Elite of Society Can Consist of “Rabble”
The Hesiodian expression of the useless man, the achreios, is not all that useful either. Aristotle’s slave by nature and Hesiod’s useless man belong–the latter at least partly–to a kind of social substratum, while our problem is that the useless man exists at all levels of society up to its highest ranks, including pastors, prelates, generals, industrialists, and so on.
So I would suggest the neutral expression “rabble” for this. There are men who are rabble in the sense that they neither have the authority of spirit or of reason, nor are they able to respond to reason or spirit, if it emerges advising or reminding them. Here we again approach the Buttermelcher Syndrome [a personality type described in Hitler and the Germans–ed ]: that it is extremely difficult to understand that the elite of a society can consist of a rabble. But it really does consist of a rabble.
That of course is only the division derived from classical politics. We must now supplement this division–of those who have human authority, those who can follow authority, and rabble–with a whole series of other phenomena belonging specifically to the German National Socialist period. These phenomena are:
First, the stupidity that we have already repeatedly adduced. Stupidity shall mean here that a man, because of his loss of reality, is not in a position to rightly orient his action in the world, in which he lives. So when the central organ for guiding his action, his theomorphic nature and openness toward reason and spirit, has ceased functioning, then man will act stupidly.
You will remember that Professor Besson spoke of Hitler as an idiot, and I said that that is not entirely unjustified, if one understands by “idiot” the stultus in the technical sense. This phenomenon was always recognized in ancient civilizations. The fool, in Hebrew the nabal, who because of his folly, nebala, creates disorder in the society, is the man who is not a believer, in the Israelite terms of revelation.
The amathes, the irrationally ignorant man, is for Plato the man who just does not have the authority of reason or who cannot bow to it. The stultus for Thomas is the fool, in the same sense as the amathia of Plato and the nebala of the Israelite prophets. This stultus now has suffered loss of reality and acts on the basis of a defective image of reality and thereby creates disorder. For the moment, that is all on the question of stupidity. We will have more to say about it later.
A second point is closely connected with this stupidity: If I have lost certain sectors of reality from my range of experience, I will also be lacking the language for appropriately characterizing them. That means that parallel to the loss of reality and to stupidity there is always the phenomenon of illiteracy. In statistics we speak of illiterates as persons who cannot read or write. And the word has this meaning in other languages, too.
But in English, better than in German, we have worked out that a man can possibly read and write at the primary school level but still may be a totally stupid fellow who cannot express himself with regard to very wide ranges of reality, especially matters of reason and the spirit, and is incapable of understanding them. Such a man is an illiterate.
(The question is now, can one simply introduce the word “illiteracy” into German as Illiteratentum? I would hesitate to do so and would rather use the established German word Analphabetentum, extending this expression Analphabet to stupidity and to the deficient command of language through loss of reality, in terms of the English meaning of “illiteracy.”)
So there is illiteracy among people who are able to read and write very well, but who, as soon as it is a matter of understanding a problem of reason or of spirit, or questions about right action, of justice, are completely uncomprehending, because they “do not get it.” There the loss of reality can be noticed, which then also expresses itself in the deficient command of language.
There is also the very interesting case of Aldous Huxley, who expressly speaks of people who can read and write as the “Alphas” and “Betas.”3 They know the alphabet, but that is all. In Germany, in contrast to other Western societies, illiteracy–in this sense of the deficient command of language for the fields centrally important for action–runs through the elite. Not in the sense that all of the elite are illiterate–there are also in Germany very cultured people who have command of the German language; but the socially dominant popular literature that appears in public, including that by certain professors, is written by illiterates.
The Revolt Against the Spirit
In contrast to [simple] stupidity, we must now distinguish the higher, or intelligent, stupidity. I am still summarizing Robert Musil. The higher stupidity, he says, “presumes to accomplishments to which it has no right.”34 So here comes the element of presumptuousness, of hybris, of spiritual arrogance. Higher, or intelligent, stupidity is a disturbance in the equilibrium of the spirit.
The spirit now becomes the adversary, not the mind. It is not a defect of the mind as with simple people, but a defect of the spirit, a revolt against the spirit, which gives rise to saying or doing things against the spirit. Therefore this condition of higher stupidity is not a spiritual sickness in the sense of psychopathology, but something quite different.
We need here an expression not used by Musil but available in German analyses of the matter since Schelling. Schelling already used the expression “pneumopathology” for spiritual disturbances of this kind.35 This means the spirit is sick, not the soul in the sense of psychopathology: so, spiritual sicknesses, sickness of the spirit, pneumopathic conditions as opposed to psychopathic conditions. We will use this word more often, since [Percy E.] Schramm, for example, whom I will have to speak about later, continually tries to shift certain problems into psychopathology.
This is because he has not mastered or understood that they are, not problems of psychopathology, but problems of pneumopathology, which are very well known and have been treated in detail from Plato to Schelling and up to the present by Musil and Doderer. But Schramm does not know that.
Now, to characterize this higher stupidity, a passage from Musil:
“This higher stupidity is the real disease of culture (but to forestall misunderstanding: it is a sign of nonculture, of misculture, of culture that has come about in the wrong way, of disproportion between the material and the energy of culture) [So, all these negations of genuine education.] and to describe it is an almost infinite task. It reaches into the highest intellectual sphere. . . .”
“Years ago I wrote about this form of stupidity that ‘there is absolutely no significant idea that stupidity would not know how to apply; stupidity is active in every direction, and can dress up in all the clothes of truth. Truth, on the other hand, has for every occasion only one dress and one path, and is always at a disadvantage’ [as opposed to this intellectual stupidity; of which the ideologies are the most flagrant examples].”
“The stupidity this addresses is no mental illness [he says once again] yet it is most lethal; a dangerous disease of the mind that endangers life itself.”36
So far Musil. But we need still further concretizations, so for this purpose I am choosing some passages, which, probably unintentionally, directly continue Musil’s discussion. I am drawing these passages from Carl Amery’s book Die Kapitulation oder deutscher Katholizismus heute, 1963.37 It does not immediately deal with the problems of Catholicism, for to characterize the problems of German Catholicism one must characterize those of the German spirit. And what is now said about the milieu refers to these problems.
This milieu is a general German problem, not a German Catholic problem. Amery says:
“The key word for the lower middle class system of virtues in Germany is Anstand. It is untranslatable, just like ‘decency’ or honnêteté, and it is (at least today) still more ambiguous and more difficult to define than these key words of foreign or past systems of virtue. What is German Anstand?”
“Let us first try to say what it was: It was the sum total of virtues adequate for the urban or rural middle class way of life. It included such things as [Now comes the enumeration, which coincides with Musil’s, as you will see. It included such things as] honesty, diligence, cleanliness, punctuality, reliability in service; mistrust of all excess and all iridescence, ambiguity, ambivalence; obedience to authority.”
So the well-behaved, upright citizen, who in Musil was the simple man, partly the simple stupid man too, who is in himself a quite sympathetic figure. Amery continues here, partly coinciding with Musil: “It is not difficult to see that this system really emphasizes none of the primary Christian virtues: neither faith nor humility, neither charity nor asceticism, are written large in this system of Anstand.”38
Now Amery here is geared to the Christian perspective. You could just as well say that none of the noetic virtues are present here either, the openness to the world, the philosophic openness, the ratio, and so on. None of these is to be found in the “propriety” [Anstand) of the bourgeois. He continues:
“Let us note again the virtues implied in the notion of Anstand: honesty, punctuality, cleanliness, dependability of service, diligence. It is not difficult to see that the whole lot can be called “secondary virtues”: virtues, therefore, which do not imply any ends in themselves [for the setting of goals is drawn from the sphere of reason and the spirit], but must be assigned to determined goals, in order to be positive.”39
Because when they are not determined by such goals, they could also be very negative. And he gives examples:
“I can appear punctually for service in the priest’s house or in the Gestapo cellar; I can be fastidious in writing about the “final liquidation of the Jews” or in social welfare work; I can wash my hands after an honest day’s work in the cornfield or after my activities in the crematorium of the concentration camp.”
“Thus Himmler [it is a famous passage of Himmler’s, which will be cited quite often] was able to boast of his murder-commandos [they were the murder squads sent in to wipe out the Polish civilian population], that they remained ‘decent’ in the midst of their difficult tasks. Himmler, of course, is not exactly a crown witness for moral or ethical affairs, but this crazy little observation throws light on one twist to the method.”40
When Spiritually Stupid People Take Control
To further clarify the matter perhaps, may I draw your attention to the fact that all of these things are obvious at the commonsense level. It is only in this peculiar petit bourgeois sphere of “propriety” that they will never be understood. It is obvious that if a big company were looking for a director, one might recommend for it someone who is industrious, punctual, in on time every morning and remains throughout the working day, who is diligent, can be relied upon, who keeps his promises, and so on.
Still, all these thoroughly agreeable qualities naturally do not qualify the man to be the director of a big company but are the qualities one would value, perhaps, in a bank messenger, and the like. The danger now is always this, that when a society is in such disorder as German society was, that the bank-messenger type, in himself a thoroughly honorable and decent type, arrives at the top and wreaks havoc as the National Socialists did, like a Himmler, for example.
So the problematic is always in the structure of the society–how a society can be so organized that these peculiar kinds of simplicity and stupidity will not become politically effective, let alone become socially dominant and determine the society. Rebellion also belongs to the negative qualities, which Amery is particularly interested in. The citizen is against disorder. You certainly know how the Scholl siblings came to their end, since, when they threw those leaflets down, a university porter pursued and caught them, not because he was a National Socialist, but because he felt disturbed that his clean assembly hall was messed up with scraps of paper. So, the people are against disorder.
Amery says that:
“rebellion can take on a material or an intellectual form–both are highly suspect to the bourgeois. Intellectual revolt, he feels, is bound to lead to the mockery and unmasking of what is near and dear to him. [That is, to the loss of the social values of his milieu; for, at this level of secondary virtues, no great achievement can be accomplished in a society. So if anywhere there is an intellectual revolt against them, he feels that he is in danger, because he will, as a result, be ridiculed.]”
Material revolt, however, may lead not only to scratches on the sideboard but to the loss of the thing itself. The rebel is the enemy absolutely speaking and any measure taken against him is eo ipso justified:
“The [short-lived] Soviet Republic in Munich in 1919 shot about a dozen victims; the white liberators several hundreds, guilty and innocent. I have still to discover a history book for young people in which this proportion is objectively estimated. [A very interesting problem, how the petit bourgeois reacts, if he is disturbed in his comfortableness, by an idea, for example.]”
“People think the same way about the French Revolution, and even about any brawl in Schwabing or elsewhere. Resentment is directed first against the idea of revolt as a voluntary initiative (an act of violence without clear orders from superiors) [That is a very important point. In general, where initiative is taken, whether of the intellectual or active type, the petit bourgeois goes wild.] and, secondly, against the attack on virtues which experts anyway describe as ‘quality.'”41
So if one says about any of these low-quality romantic oleographs that that is what it is, then he becomes very angry, for the possession of such pictures is now part of the furnishing of the home and part of the culture. So here too you have concretized the more specific German case. It is the problem of the simple man, who is a decent man as long as the society as a whole is in order but who then goes wild, without knowing what he is doing, when disorder arises somewhere and the society is no longer holding together.
Nothing is as characteristic as one of the scenes that was played out in the course of the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt, when one of the accused there who had mass murder on his conscience said, with genuine anger and indignation, that this was surely very long ago and that it was really mean that the evening of his life should now be soured. That is the citizen par excellence. A proper man, father of a family, punctual official, and so on, but, if he is not kept under control, a murderous beast.
Criminal Stupidity in a Disordered Society
To these concretizations of stupidity by Musil and Amery I must now add one more, which is treated by neither of them, and that is the consequences of stupidity when they come to the surface in a disturbed society and become socially relevant. For under these circumstances stupidity can have those disorganizing consequences that we know from National Socialism. That is the point at which stupidity–because it harms not only the one who is stupid but also other human beings (in this case millions of human beings, who through it were brought into misery and were murdered)–must in this specific social circumstance be called criminal stupidity.
That is to say, stupidity is not criminal in itself, but it can become criminal through social circumstance. So whoever as a stupid man, in a place in society where he has no business to be, gives orders or tries to instruct others is criminally stupid; and because of that he becomes a criminal, even if he himself does not understand this at all. There is now a whole series of studies of this criminal stupidity, and you should really know them in detail. Every student of political science should read them.
One of the older classic studies of criminal stupidity is Shakespeare’s King Lear. That is an excellent study. Then from the ’20s there is Meyrink’s Des deutschen Spießers Wunderhorn [The German Bourgeois’ Enchanted Horn). In it there is a study entitled “Tschitrakarna, the Refined Camel,”42 where the refined camel gets involved with ordered legal procedures with the gangster animals in a due process of law. Because of that it is destroyed and then torn apart; then the raven, who is one of these gangster animals, cries, “Yoohoo, silly ass!”43
You should remember this “yoohoo, silly ass” each time you think about the upright citizens who agreed with the Enabling Law44 for Hitler. That was Meyrink. A more recent study is the one I already mentioned by Frisch, Biedermann und die Brandstifter.
So we have a whole series of studies of this phenomenon of criminal stupidity, which arises from the fact that the criminally stupid man brings misfortune not only on himself but on millions of other people too. For these functional consequences of his stupidity, determined by his social position, he is obviously fully responsible.
There is a sentence I will continually draw your attention to, as I have already done in many lectures: There is no right to be stupid. It is not one of the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Especially, of course, in modern times, where the consequences could be terrible.
The Appetite for Power Replaces Reason and Spirit
And now I would like to treat the matter systematically, particularly the problem of the higher stupidity. So how are we getting hold of the concepts we must employ to grasp a phenomenon like Schramm, for example? We started from the loss of reality through dehumanization. There a sector of the reality–that is, of man’s relation to God, His presence under Divine Being–is lost and replaced, deliberately (that is always a kind of revolt) by His will.
Now here one encounters a problem, that again we just do not have in modern German–in other languages we do–the expressions to differentiate between what “will” in the classical and Christian sense is, and what “will” in revolt against God is. In the classical and Christian sense, the will, the voluntas, is always and only the rationally ordered will.
This means that wherever the power of existence (Existenzmacht) joins forces with reason and spirit, there is the “will.” Where power of existence separates itself from reason and spirit, we do not speak of will, in the classic Christian vocabulary, but of concupiscentia or of libido.
The expression “libido” has become very popular through psychoanalysis. But it is the general expression for existence-powerful desire that is not ordered by reason or spirit. A very large part of what is called German idealistic philosophy from Fichte up to the present must always be so understood that when the author in question speaks of will, one has to put in place of the word “will” the expression “libido.”
When Nietzsche speaks of the will to power, then he intends the libido; he is still aware of that. “Libido” is the Pascalian expression toward which he orients himself. That is relevant for understanding Schramm’s problem when he tries to characterize Hitler as a particularly strong-willed man. There is no willpower in Hitler at all. He had absolutely no will of any recognizable kind, that is, an existence that was ordered by reason or spirit. But he did have an extraordinarily existence-intensive libido, and he maintained this up to the end.
He apparently was able to do so simply because any reasonable and spiritual order was radically absent in him, and there was, so to speak, no further possibility of escape for him. So, in Hitler a radical libido, which had fully separated itself from reason and spirit. Now, that is enough on the question of libido and the loss of reality through dehumanization; but the matter goes further than this.
Man remains man in full reality, even when he loses reason and spirit as those parts of reality that help him to order his existence; he does not cease to be man. And there is no point, as is still so often done, in accusing Hitler of inhumanity; it was absolute humanity in human form, only a most remarkably disordered, diseased humanity, a pneumopathological humanity.
Such a man’s image of reality, therefore, although defective, has not lost the form of reality; that is, he is still a man, with the full claim to make statements of order, even when the ordering force of orientation toward divine being has got lost–even then–except that he puts a pseudo-order in place of the real order.
So reality and experience of reality are replaced by a false image of reality. The man, thus, no longer lives in reality, but in a false image of reality, which claims, however, to be the genuine reality. There are then, if this pneumopathic condition has occurred, two realities: the first reality, where the normally ordered man lives, and the second reality, in which the pneumatically disturbed man now lives and which thus comes into constant conflict with the first reality.
The expressions “first reality” and “second reality” were coined and worked out by Doderer and are to be found throughout all his writings. They were already used by Musil in his Man without Qualities, a man who also lives in the second reality and thus comes into conflict with the first. The consequence of living in the second reality is, exactly, conflict with the first reality, which indeed is not canceled by the fact that I make for myself a false idea of it and live according to it. Now the consequences of this conflict can be classified according to the two principal categories, contemplation and practice.
In contemplation, the most important manifestation of the conflict between second and first reality is the construction of a system. Since reality has not the character of a system, a system is always false; and if it claims to portray reality, it can only be maintained with the trickery of an intellectual swindle. I have already spoken on this matter with regard to the specific cases of Marx and Nietzsche,45 but it is found wherever there is a system.
Since this intellectual swindle is inherent in the conflict between second and first reality and in system construction, the will to swindle naturally originates here. The man is indeed pneumopathic, he is sick in spirit, and the matter can now become complicated by the fact that he is aware of this swindle, as is very clear, for example, in Nietzsche, who speaks explicitly about this problem. He constantly suffered from the fact that he swindled, because he knew what reality was from Pascal’s case.
The constant debate between Nietzsche and Pascal is stimulated precisely by his recognition of genuine reality in Pascal and his knowledge of himself as having a false idea of reality and that he constantly lived in this tension between the image of the swindle he is pursuing and the reality he admires in Pascal.46
In practice, the consequence of the conflict between second and first reality is, not the intellectual swindle, but the lie. The lie becomes the indispensable method because the second reality claims to be true, and since it constantly comes into conflict with the first reality, it is necessary to lie constantly: for example, one holds that the first reality is quite a different one from what it actually is, or that the second reality is most horribly misunderstood.
The result of this conflict of the lie in the practical sphere is the phenomenon of compact honesty at an intellectually less differentiated level. While on the intellectually more highly differentiated level of contemplation Marx or Nietzsche were still aware that they were swindling, there is no longer talk about swindling at the level of the swindling petit bourgeois.
Instead he simply lies, and indeed with such a good conscience that he brings about this phenomenon of compact honesty and those other phenomena we saw the last time in those passages from Karl Kraus. So compact honesty is the result that so disconcerted Kraus–when these conflicts between second and first reality occur at a relatively low intellectual level.
2. Voegelin discusses these texts in The World of the Polis, vol. 2 of Order and History (1957; Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 140, and in Plato and Aristotle, 301-2.
3. See Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (London: Granada, 1983), passim, on “Alphas” and “Betas,” the most intelligent of the still thoroughly controlled operatives in Huxley’s anti-Utopian novel, as contrasted with “Epsilons,” the selectively bred proletariat, suitable only for manual labor.
34. Musil, “On Stupidity,” 283 (translating Musil’s schlichte as “simple” rather than “straightforward” as in Pike and Luft).
35. On this attribution, see Eric Voegelin, letter to Theo Broersen, February 24, 1976 (Eric Voegelin Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, box 8, file 44), in which he recalls encountering the term during his intensive Schelling studies thirty years earlier and writes that he is now unable to locate the passage: “I refer to it only, because I do not want to be accused by some Schelling scholar of having pinched the term without acknowledging its authorship.”
36. Musil, “On Stupidity,” 283-84.
37. Carl Amery, Die Kapitulation oder deutscher Katholizismus heute (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1963). The translation by Edward Quinn, Capitulation: The Lesson of German Catholicism (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967), is used here.
38. Ibid., 29-30.
39. Ibid., 31.
41. Ibid., 36-37.
42. Gustav Meyrinck, “Tschitrakarna, das vornehme Kamel,” in Des deutschen Spießers Wunderhorn (Munich: Albert Langen,1913), 2:26-33.
43. Ibid., 33.
44. Bill passed on March 23, 1933, by the German Reichstag that enabled the German government for the period of four years to enact law without the consent of the parliament.
45. See Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Chicago: Regnery, 1968), 22-40. Originally published as Wissenschaft, Politik und Gnosis (Munich: Kösel, 1959).
This excerpt is from Hitler and the Germans (Collected Works 31) (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004)