Sunday, April 14, 2013

A. N. Wilson's take on Hitler

Whatever Mr. Wilson writes about, he illuminates—Jesus and St. Paul for example. When I discovered that he had also written a book about Hitler, I read it wondering how he could have found something new and illuminating to say about that demonic character. Well, he did find something new to say about Hitler, something new and wrong-headed. Hitler, he says is the "cloven hoof of the Enlightenment. . . . He believed in a crude Darwinism as do nearly all scientists today and as do almost all 'sensible' sociologists, political commentators and journalistic  wiseacres. He thought that humanity in its history was to be explained by the idea of struggle, by the survival of the fittest, by the strongest species overcoming the weaker. Unlike the Darwinians of today, Hitler merely took his belief to its logical conclusion. Hitler's crude belief in science fed his unhesitating belief in modernity." It's surprising to hear such stuff coming from Wilson, who it seems is a more fervent and dogmatic Christian than I'd expected. It's not that Wilson is wrong in what he says about Hitler; it's irrelevant. Ww2 was a continuation of ww1, so that's where one has to start. When you do that you start with the fact that Germany hated the Enlightenment and in this she had deep affinities with the reactionary doctrines of Joseph de Maistre. This is something that a great historian such as Wilson ought to have been aware of.

Here is how the high-minded German philosopher and theologian Ernst Troeltsch, writing in 1922, tried to explain what had been at stake for Germany in 1914 when she forced an only too willing France and Britain to go to war:

The peculiarity of German thought, in the form in which it is nowadays so much emphasized, both inside and outside Germany, is primarily derived from the Romantic Movement... Romanticism too is a revolution, a thorough and genuine revolution: a revolution against the respectability of the bourgeois temper and against a universal equalitarian ethic: a revolution, above all, against the whole of the mathematico-mechanical spirit of science in western Europe, against a conception of Natural Law which sought to blend utility with morality, against the bare abstraction of a universal and equal Humanity. Confronted with the eruption of West-European ideas of Natural Law, and with the revolutionary storms by which they were accompanied, Romanticism pursued an increasingly self-conscious trend in the opposite direction of a conservative revolution. In the spirit of the contemplative and the mystic, the Romanticists penetrated behind the rich variety of actual life to the inward forces by which it was moved, and sought to encourage the play of those forces in a steady movement towards a rich universe of unique and individual structures of the creative human mind.

What he doesn't say is that the ruling classes in Germany wanted above all to preserve their power and privileges and hated England not only because she had the empire that Germany coveted, but especially because England—even the England of Downton Abbey and all that—had a degree of parliamentary democracy that Germany hated and feared. WW 1, therefore, was from the beginning aimed at England.  Belgium, for example was to be annexed in order that Germany might have—in addition to the industrial resources of the country—a position on the English Channel from which to harass and threaten English shipping and sea-power. Anyone interested in this subject should consult Germany's Drive to The West: A Study of Germany's Western War Aims During the First World War by Hans W. Gatzke, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966).

[See also my remarks on Troeltsch's theory of German Romantic thought, 3-24-2008; also, As Germany Saw It, 3-21-2008.]

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