In Defense of Martin Luther (part 5)
|October 12, 2011||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
2. Unclean language
3. Hostility to science and reason
4. Luther’s responsibility for later events in German history
5. Luther and German nationalism
a. Some misconceptions
b. Luther’s worldview
5 c. Modern nationalism
Luther cannot be reasonably linked to a much later nationalism. 19th-century Germans nationalists were obsessed with Luther only because he was a great German. They thus tried to adopt him for programs with which Luther had nothing in common.
The Reformation did not cause nationalism by sundering the unity of Catholic Europe. The popes had had many conflicts with secular rulers before 1517, conflicts in which rulers placed their national and dynastic interests above those of Rome. The emergence of the modern nation state was well underway long before Luther, and was the result of many causes – though the religious divisions subsequent to the Reformation did add more complicating factors to the European situation.
German nationalism and militarism in particular were influenced by some uniquely German factors, for example;
~ defeat and domination by Napoleonic France
~ secular philosophies which, following the decline of traditional religion, presented “a metaphysical view of the culture of each people as embodying an underlying specific force, spirit, or idea, incarnated in the particular Volk” (J.R. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought 1848-1914, chapt. 2).
~ an emphasis on national myths (again, replacing religion). To quote Burrow again, “Myth was not simply invention or falsehood, it was an alternative and deeper way of seeing life than that which science could offer” (Crisis of Reason, chap.2). These national myths were to replace traditional religious myths, increasingly derided as “Semitic, Mediterranean, and non-Germanic.”
~ concepts of the nation as an agent of spiritual progress (Hegel), with favored peoples like the Greeks, the Romans, and the Germans in the vanguard (Fichte).
~ Germany’s unification by Bismarck, greatly increasing its military and economic power.
~ swift and dramatic victories in wars with France, Austria, and Denmark, which inflamed pre-existing misconceptions of war as glorious and heroic.
~ the supposedly scientific justification of war as healthy, natural, and beneficial, a national contest for survival of the fittest that was merely another manifestation of life’s fundamental law of progress through conflict.
~ new concepts of the state, and of its leaders, as not being bound by any higher moral law other than victory. People who go on and on about Luther’s concept of obedience to the authorities by the way forget (or never knew, being ignorant of Luther) that Luther saw the earthly authorities as being themselves subject to higher, divine law, and obligated to operate within clearly defined limits. Modern totalitarianism emerged from a modern secular mindset. It could not have been conceived of in Luther’s day, and was not.
Napoleon is vastly more relevant to an understanding of modern nationalism than Luther – and Hitler visited the former’s tomb, not the latter’s. Hitler’s attitude toward Luther is easily seen in some comments in Hitler’s Table Talk, where he called the German translation of the Bible “deplorable” and stated that it would have been better if its “Jewish mumbo-jumbo” had never been rendered into German.
It is commonly said “Hitler quoted Luther!” – that Hitler quoted Torah as well, and used “an eye for an eye” to justify his invasion of Poland is not mentioned. Also, in Mein Kampf, the “logic” Hitler used to describe the Jewish menace came not from Luther, or from traditional religious anti-Semitism, but from Kant, H.S. Chamberlain, Schopenhauer, and others. Later German nationalists who praised Luther so extravagantly admired him only because he was German. Calvin had many of the same basic ideas but was of no interest to them – he was French.
If in Luther’s day someone had argued for Aryan supremacy he would easily have been recognized as a nut. Someone who tried to forcibly unite all the disunited German governments into one would have been tossed into some dungeon, if not executed. If someone had argued that people were nothing but animals and life was only a struggle for survival of the fittest he would have received no hearing, and would have been rejected by Protestants and Catholics alike. In my view, anyone who tries to link Luther to German nationalism is badly misinformed.
“But, Luther was a vicious anti-Semite who hated Jews, and who anticipated Hitler’s program with his recommendations that Jews be persecuted!” This false and simple-minded misrepresentation of Luther’s views will be discussed in the next blog or two (or three at most).