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Hitler's Philosophers

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
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    Hitler's Philosophers
    Book Description:

    Hitler had a dream to rule the world, not only with the gun but also with his mind. He saw himself as a "philosopher-leader" and astonishingly gained the support of many intellectuals of his time. In this compelling book, Yvonne Sherratt explores Hitler's relationship with philosophers and uncovers cruelty, ambition, violence, and betrayal where least expected—at the heart of Germany's ivory tower.

    Sherratt investigates international archives, discovering evidence back to the 1920s of Hitler's vulgarization of noble thinkers of the past, including Kant, Nietzsche, and Darwin. She reveals how philosophers of the 1930s eagerly collaborated to lend the Nazi regime a cloak of respectability: Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and a host of others. And while these eminent men sanctioned slaughter, Semitic thinkers like Walter Benjamin and opponents like Kurt Huber were hunted down or murdered. Many others, such as Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, were forced to flee as refugees. The book portrays their fates, to be dispersed across the world as the historic edifice of Jewish-German culture was destroyed by Hitler.

    Sherratt not only confronts the past; she also tracks down chilling evidence of continuing Nazi sympathy in Western Universities today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18375-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-ix)
  4. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  5. Acknowledgements (pp. xi-xi)
  6. Dramatis Personae (pp. xii-xiv)
  7. Prologue (pp. xv-xvi)

    While playing as children in our grandmother’s garden in Suffolk during the 1970s, my brother and I unearthed part of a skeleton. Buried at the end of an undulating path at the rear of the pretty pink thatched cottage, it lay hidden under layers of mud. Beside the skeleton we found crumbling red-brick steps leading down to a ruined air-raid shelter. Pondering the origin of the bones, we decided that they must belong to an air-raid victim and carried them triumphantly to our grandmother, who was topping and tailing gooseberries in the kitchen.

    My grandmother eyed the bones with suspicion...

  8. Introduction (pp. xvii-xx)

    For over seventy years the world has been preoccupied by the horror of Nazism: the rise of a tyrant of unparalleled brutality in Europe, the nightmare of the gas chambers and the atrocities of the Holocaust. In the decades since, many stories have been told, stories of collaboration, heroism, tragedy and betrayal. Almost no group of German people from the war years has remained untarnished by the stain of Hitler. Many civil servants, ordinary workers, doctors and schoolteachers, far from being innocent bystanders, have been disclosed as central to bolstering the power of the tyrant.¹ Artists and musicians have shamefully...

  9. Part 1
    • CHAPTER 1 Hitler: The ‘bartender of genius’ (pp. 3-34)

      During the early 1940s the Allied bombings wreaked revenge on the Rhineland, crushing Germany’s magnificent cities, and a scene unfolded on the scale of a biblical disaster. The quiet hum of a thousand distant planes was in stark contrast to the devastation they caused – over Cologne, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Freiburg and the Bavarian Alps, they hunted out and destroyed German civilization.

      Two decades earlier in 1923, on a quiet street in Munich in southern Germany, one man had summoned all this. ‘What does it matter if a couple of dozen of our Rhineland cities go up in flames. A...

    • CHAPTER 2 Poisoned Chalice (pp. 35-61)

      Hitler had set himself up as the ‘philosopher leader’ – but only in his own imagination. He had yet to convince anyone else. Ideas that he spouted from the authors whose names he dropped may have simply been the half-crazed imaginings of an ambitious and manipulative mind. Could the nation’s past thinkers really have said anything in preparation for Hitler’s fantasy? It hardly seemed plausible. Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche had better things to think about than pave the way for the ‘mighty happening’ of Nazism some hundred or more years later. To determine whether Hitler’s claims were anything other than...

    • CHAPTER 3 Collaborators (pp. 62-91)

      Water had accumulated in an enormous hole in the road, and this artificial lake reflected the surrounding landscape; bombed-out apartment blocks; craggy walls rising dramatically with blunt, jagged edges; rubble heaped on the streets. This looked more like a remote wilderness than the Unter den Linden boulevard in the centre of Berlin.

      Pedestrians, women in light summer dresses and men in bowler hats strolled down the road pulling luggage trolleys. A horse cart sat amidst them. Damaged cars were strewn along the gutter and burnt-out vehicles and wreckage littered the street. An old man stood watching curiously as people and...

    • CHAPTER 4 Hitler’s Lawmaker: Carl Schmitt (pp. 92-103)

      Hitler’s dream was coming true, for the conquest of the universities was well underway. He had provided the desecrating vision and the furious will, while his proxy Rosenberg, through Bäumler, Krieck and a myriad of other philosophers, had bulldozed democracy, ousted the Jews from academia and provided the ideologies of race and war. But it was not enough for Hitler just to convert the German mind; this was a political vision. Democracy was buried and a new world order was rising from its grave: tyranny. Hitler needed to enshrine this with the ultimate authority – law. To do this he...

    • CHAPTER 5 Hitler’s Superman: Martin Heidegger (pp. 104-126)

      Hitler’s dream seemed to be accomplished. Racism, tyranny and war were the new intellectual landscape, and philosophers had provided razor-sharp ammunition for the entire project. What more was left to achieve? In fact, there was one element still missing from the universities, and until this was in place the fantasy was incomplete.

      Rosenberg, Bäumler and Krieck, along with the other philosophers of the Reich, were dominant within Germany, but beyond its borders they had no reputation. Across Europe and the rest of the world they were either shrouded in obscurity or dismissed as mere Nazi hacks. The Führer was piqued....

  10. Part 2 Hitler’s Opponents
    • [Part 2 Introduction] (pp. 127-128)

      From 1933 and for the remainder of the decade Hitler’s dream was realized. By transforming himself into the ‘philosopher’ Führer, convincing the country of his genius, and sifting the past for its poisonous strands of thought, Hitler had paved the way for a new reality to underpin his world order. The German mind was his. Most of the institutions of education, the universities, their teaching, research and the tranche of philosophers within them, supported his vision. Racism, war and tyranny were studied, endorsed and enshrined in law. And the ultimate glory was provided by a charismatic genius.

      Meanwhile, the targets...

    • CHAPTER 6 Tragedy: Walter Benjamin (pp. 129-159)

      One of the Jewish literati unfortunate enough to witness the first rampages of the Nazis was an extraordinary figure.

      Winter in Berlin, 1933. A well-dressed family in warm coats walked across one of Berlin’s many grey cobbled streets. Two young girls wearing beautifully polished shoes, thick woolly tights and woollen hats pulled down over their ears, carried large bundles as if they were about to embark on a long journey. They walked, one with the mother, the other with the father, the parents clasping their daughters’ hands so tightly that you could see the fingers of the little girls turn...

    • CHAPTER 7 Exile: Theodor Adorno (pp. 160-188)

      Benjamin’s plight was just one example of a great intellectual destroyed by the Nazis. Persecution, poverty, flight, suicide, all these were common enough experiences for those hounded by the Third Reich. However, although in great danger, not all the German-Jewish philosophers lost their lives under Hitler. Some managed to escape their homeland and as books went up in a crackle of flames, a few lucky individuals found sanctuary abroad.

      Theodor Adorno was one such person. Like Benjamin, he was quirky and charming. With equal intellectual insight and sensitivity, he was however, on the surface at least, a lot less of...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Jewess: Hannah Arendt (pp. 189-206)

      Back in 1933 Hitler was recasting the streets of the German nation in his own image. Amidst all this turmoil, some German Jews such as Walter Benjamin would flee, others such as Theodor Adorno were preparing for the worst, while many simply continued as best they could. The young Jewess Hannah Arendt, like Benjamin and Adorno, was destined to become a legendary figure. She would emerge as one of the leading political thinkers of her generation. Her oeuvre would eventually include classics of the twentieth century and her dedication to the Jewish cause, which would later become controversial, was only...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Martyr: Kurt Huber (pp. 207-228)

      Hitler’s dream was to extend his rule not just with force but also with the mind. He would impose his ideas, such as they were, upon the German people. And he appeared to have succeeded. As the 1930s progressed, all Jewish philosophers and other Jewish academics were eradicated from the universities. Exiled, hunted down or dead, all those deemed alien or in opposition to the Nazis had been removed. Edmund Husserl had been swept away along with Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt and countless others. By the end of the decade, Hitler, through Alfred Rosenberg, had accomplished his dream....

    • CHAPTER 10 The Nuremberg Trials and Beyond (pp. 229-263)

      After a decade’s rule, Hitler’s dream appeared to have been realized. Rosenberg, Bäumler, Krieck and the other Nazi collaborators had a tight hold over the universities, while opponents such as Benjamin, Adorno, Arendt and Huber had been ousted, silenced or killed. The programme to dominate the German mind had been well established.

      The Reich, however, was not to last for a thousand years. Had Kurt Huber and Walter Benjamin survived another few years, they would have witnessed Europe descend under a thick blanket of carnage. In the early winter of 1945, when the sun would ordinarily have been low in...

  11. Epilogue (pp. 264-265)

    I began this story with a memory. A memory of playing as a child in our grandmother’s garden in Suffolk in the 1970s. There we unearthed part of a skeleton which had lain buried at the end of an undulating path at the rear of the garden for years. I began, too, with a memory of my grandparents’ stories about the Second World War, and recalled an ethical dilemma presented before us students during a medical lecture: Should we use information gained from medical experiments conducted by Nazis upon the Jews, even if this could save lives?

    In philosophy, many...

  12. Notes (pp. 266-285)
  13. Bibliography (pp. 286-294)
  14. Index (pp. 295-302)


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