Adolf Hitler – philosopher, or theologian? (2 of 3)
|July 15, 2014||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
[These three posts argue, contrary to Rainer Bucher’s thesis in Hitler’s Theology: A Study in Political Religion (London: Continuum Books 2011), that Hitler’s use of religious-sounding language links him to German philosophy, not to theology. People who openly rejected the Bible’s authority and relied on human reason alone commonly used lofty god-words].
In only a few pages of Kant’s Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens we read of an “Infinite Being . . . the great Builder of the universe . . . the Divine Presence . . . the Deity . . . His Infinite Power . . . the revelation of the Divine Omnipotence” – such words were used by German philosophers who were in no sense conventionally Christian. People like Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Schopenhauer, and numerous lesser thinkers did not accept traditional Christianity. That a higher reality unknowable to reason unaided might nevertheless make itself known to us by revelation was incredible to them, as it is incredible to many today. Nevertheless, they were not materialists, and disdained materialism. They believed that there was a mysterious something above and beyond the world of ordinary experience, a transcendent reality, but insofar as it was attainable at all, it was attainable by human reason. The most we could know about it was accessible to the human mind unaided. This opened the door to many new ideas of a higher reality, all of which were merely human inventions, and many of which are perfectly compatible with Hitler’s concept of “the Almighty.”
If Hitler can be linked with this tradition, then we must speak not of Hitler the theologian, but of Hitler the philosopher. The second option will seem incredible to those who assume from the outset that Hitler could not possibly have had anything to do with any German philosophers as he was too far beneath them, but several points need to be considered before we confidently jump to hasty and pre-conceived conclusions. The first point is that those philosophers need to be taken off of their pedestals. They had many ideas no one would accept today. They greatly exaggerated the scope and power of speculative philosophy, and often made false and even foolish statements.
Secondly, the ideas of important philosophers were popularized over the decades and moved well beyond the limited confines of academic and professional philosophy. Their ideas were deeply influential on the culture at large, if in altered form, and readily available.
Thirdly, while many abstruse and technical aspects of their thought were far removed from Hitler and of no interest or use to him, some of their basic ideas were not at all hard to understand, and very easily adaptable to Hitler’s ends. He could sift through summaries, condensations, or even parts of original works, seeking – and finding – not understanding but only confirmation of his own ideas.
Finally, we should not underestimate the importance of philosophers that now seem obscure and remote to us. Their ideas became part of the popular culture and had an influence too many are unmindful of when they try to explain the origins of National Socialism. Kant’s idea that Judaism was not even a religion at all, that Jews had no concern at all for higher things but only sought material gain was integral to later secular and racial antisemitism. Hegel’s teaching that history was progress, and this progress was spearheaded by great nations and by great men – once the Greeks and the Romans, and now the Germans; that the world historical heroes were too far above the petty and trivial sufferings of ordinary people to worry about them; that the state was the instrument of a higher power and hence demanded the full allegiance of the people – these ideas were sweet music to the ears of Prussian militarists. An academic degree in philosophy was not necessary to grasp them either.
Fichte’s writing during the Napoleonic era “contributed to a huge upsurge of nationalist feeling ‘and went on being read by Germans throughout the nineteenth-century, and became their bible after 1918’” . His rational and philosophical conviction that the German people because of their purity had a unique bond with the mystical Absolute and this purity needed to be maintained for the German people to fulfill their mission of leading mankind on its upward path, and that the Jews were absolutely incompatible with Germany’s call to greatness and had no place in Germany – these earned him a high place in the Nazi pantheon.
 A lengthy excerpt of this work of Kant’s is found in Milton K. Munitz (ed.), Theories of the Universe: From Babylonian Myth to Modern Science (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1957), pp. 240-246. Kant has been called a “Protestant philosopher,” but no serious student of Kant will claim that he believed in the literal truth of the Bible. He was the epitome of “Enlightenment” rationalism and expressly rejected traditional religion.
 Peter Watson, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, The Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper Perennial, 2011), p. 196 (quoting Isaiah Berlin’s Freedom and Its Betrayal).