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Holy moly, how did you guys find this?!

I have a busy morning, so I can't write all I would like, but I wanted to point out something that some here may not be aware of.

Jeshurun is actually an epithet for Israel. Quoting Robert Alter from The Five Books of Moses:

"Since the etymology suggests "straight", its use here is ironic, as the poem pointedly associates crookedness with Israel."

back later

Lots of interesting stuff. Thanks!

The stories about the obsessive submission to Authority (of any kind) are jaw-dropping. Things have changed a lot in Germany and Germans today do protest a lot against Authority. However, pretty much every foreigner living there that I met was struck by the still existing faith in Authority as final regulatory instance. As I said, things have changed radically but not completely.

It's interesting that this article appeared in a magazine originally edited by none other than H. L. Mencken, the great sage of Baltimore, a man of German background, and, in fact, a great Germanophile. The fact that such an article appeared in one of his magazines, even though he gave up his formal editing responsibilities in 1933, is no accident. He was a great man, and a great editor. Today, the pecksniffs he fought against his whole life have started a whispering campaign against him because of his manifest political incorrectness by the standards of the early 21st century. My advice is, read him and learn something. You may not agree with him, but, if you have any grey matter at all, you will learn something from him and be entertained by him.

Oh, poop, this is such a busy time of year......

First thoughts; Germans on this site have been more than generous in trying to educate the Americans here on the '68'ers'. They were the social forces that challenged the knee-jerk submission to authority and I wonder if that was at least in part how they claimed their moral authority.

For this post, I will address just the anecdotal evidence presented by the author: the hesitance/failure of one man to come to the aid of his own brother; and the dependence of another man on the police when his wife was being beaten.

When I first thought about the arguments presented in the article, I could not get from the arguments to the fact that German soldiers sent women and children to the gas. I could not go from these arguments to the film I saw of a German soldier taking an infant from its mother, throwing it up in the air, and bayonnetting the baby on the way down. (If this is difficult for German readers to read, the film I watched was taken by the German military. We have something here called The History Channel. All your propaganda films are public record in the U.S.)

But mulling it over I wonder if maybe this might explain at least part of it: When a man will not help his brother and a husband will not help his wife, have not they been dehumanized themselves? And if that is true, then how much easier must it be for them to dehumanize 'the other'?

lgf has a title "history doesn't repeat, it stutters"

I see a lotta parallels, actions and memes repeated by actors holding today's stage.

"There can be no justice in a land where the word of a witness cannot be impeached because he is an official."

Helian

I don't think I have ever read a more disappointing post from you. The literary heritage of the magazine (that apparently ended up being an anti-semitic rant box) is completely irrelevant.

Get in here and start kicking ass.

@Pamela

"I don't think I have ever read a more disappointing post from you. The literary heritage of the magazine (that apparently ended up being an anti-semitic rant box) is completely irrelevant."

Sorry, but I'll put in a good word whenever I can for an outstanding man who is currently under attack by the professionally virtuous. Among other things, they want us to believe that a man who hammered the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly and effectively in almost every issue of his magazine, at a time when the Klan was a power, and not just in the South, a man whom the troglodytes on Maryland's eastern shore tried to lynch because he fought lynching and humiliated the lynchers, was a "racist." No doubt he was a "racist" by the standards of the early 21st century. He was also a more effective fighter against racism than any of his ostentatiously virtuous critics. What happened to the Mercury after Mencken was dead, and long after he had any editorial control over it, is irrelevant. Sorry, Pamela, but my attitude towards Mencken isn't the only instance of my diversion from today's Conservative party line.

Great stuff to read. I will take it with me to my parents house: It is already Holy Night here.

Merry Christmas to David and Ray. Merry Christmas to all!

This weblog with all its postings and commentaries helped us to survive in Germany. :-)

Gabi and N. Hale

No simple answer to the complex set of contradictions that was H. L. Mencken, American iconoclast and independent thinker, and son of German immigrants, like another American I admire, Eric Hoffer.

“[a]mong the most intriguing aspects of Mencken is the number of paradoxes in the man. … this most famous twentieth-century opponent of “puritanism” was, in many respects, a puritan himself. He was famous as a South hater who, on more than one occasion, proclaimed himself a Southerner; a conservative who, in the 1920s, was lionized by liberals; a man who spoke of “niggeros,” “blackamoors,” and “coons,” yet (and this as a half Southerner) had black writers into his home as dinner guests and championed more African-American writers than any other editor of his time. He was…an apparent anti-Semite in much of his writing, both public and private, yet a man most of whose closest friends and associates for a time were Jewish, as well as one who gave a great deal of time and effort to helping individual Jews escape Hitler’s Germany. He was a reformer who hated the notion of reform. And he was the American writer of the twentieth century who would seem to be most nearly devoid of what Mark Twain called “the moral sense,” yet was a man always guided by fixed notions of right and wrong.” (Hobson, Mencken: A Life (1994), pp. xvii-xviii).

Even Hannah Arendt revered Martin Heidegger. Had I been introduced to him, I would not have deigned to shake his hand, if only because of his treatment of Husserl, but Arendt may have been on a higher level of conciliation than I can reach.

But I diverge... or maybe not, for Arendt coined the phrase the "banality of evil," and that brings me to Pamela's question, "When a man will not help his brother and a husband will not help his wife, have not they been dehumanized themselves?" The sobering answer to that may be not that they are dehumanized, but all too human, because it is the tendency of most to obey orders from above and conform to mass opinion without much thought or reflection.

It is highly ironic that many Sixty-Eighters, reacting to the gray Adenauer years, questioning the moral lapses of their parents, yielded to knee-jerk anti-Americanism and regimented thinking, and supported the terrorist murder of innocents and paid homage to dictators. Calling themselves anti-fascist, on many regrettable occasions they have been fascists themselves.

Among the insults I have heard Americans called in Germany, there is none I like better than the leftist cliché "cowboy." We just recently read it in a post from a distressed woman, booted off this blog, apparently, for her language, which included puerile comments about participants' cockmanship, or lack thereof.

Call me cowboy, if you like: not what you picture, a reckless, irresponsible show-off, but a man of the open spaces who is determined to hold on to his freedom and to think and act independently, whether on a subway car in 1930's Berlin or in Germany right now.

Yes, ma'am. Call me cowboy. That's an honor.

Better John Wayne wearing spurs and Stetson than Gerhard Schroeder in Armani suits, smoking Cuban cigars.

@Paul
but Arendt may have been on a higher level of conciliation than I can reach.

I'll say. They had an affair when she was his student and she rekindled it for just a bit when she visited him after the war.

Oh, I forgot to ask a question I have. The story of The Cobbler of Koepenick - is that a true story or just a little cultural joke Germans tell about themselves?

Yes the cobbler of koepenick is a true story that happened 1906 in Berlin.

Ten Days afterwards, he was arrested, and sentenced to prison for four years.
The Emperor was so amused by the story that he pardonned him :)

Oh no Gunter! That's hilarious!

@ Pamela,

1. I'm with Helian on H.L. Mencken. I had the exact same thought as he when I read that this article appeared in the American Mercury in 1934. I'll recommend to anyone Mencken's Carnival of Buncombe for political writing that is just as valid and enjoyable today as the day it was published.

2. Mencken, like others in the past, was a contradiction when it came to his attitude about and actions toward minorities. In the end, all you can do is look at the sum total and decide. That's why I would put Mencken in the same category as Truman and Nixon; that is, men whose actions outweigh their private comments.

3. You can read about Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, the Captain of Koepenick (or as it was spelled in 1906, Coepenick), at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Voigt. I believe the more common title is the Captain of Koepenick or der Hauptmann von Koepenick. Anyway, what Bouton wrote is accurate enough. I've visited Koepenick countless times, as my wife grew up just east of Koepenick in Wilhelmshagen. I'll recommend the Rathskeller in Koepenickrathaus (same one that Herr Voigt visited one hundred years ago) if you like traditional cuisine. Their Berliner Eisbein is the best in the city, in my opinion.

4. I thought the most interesting part of Bouton's article was in regard to how willingly the Germans in the past have submitted to foreign conquerers. That behavior may still exist. A few times, I've observed to some German colleagues and friends that: a) an Iran that can wipe Israel off the map can also wipe Berlin off the map and b) Germany's biggest threat is her birthrate. I've always received the same response, which is a helpless shrug and comments to the effect that there is nothing that can be done. I doubt these reactions would surprise Bouton.

@Pamela

To my knowledge, Arendt did not resume her affair with Heidegger after the war. They did meet briefly. Supposedly, Heidegger told his wife afterwards that Arendt had been his "life's passion" and the inspiration for his work.

Their relationship is one example among many of how interwoven the lives of Jews and Germans were--and still are: a reason why Germans, should a second Holocaust occur, would suffer a blow to the heart of their culture.

There's no doubt that Arendt had thought long and hard about questions of reconciliation. Among others, she wrote: "Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer's apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell."

That's quite an insight, and at this time of year, it seems so appropriate.

I think, in particular, of these posts of mine here, as well as others', the hostility in them, a response to the hostility I, we, experience, originating in the darker undercurrents of German history and tugging us along... we must struggle against it.

Whichever side of the fence we are on, we should be courageous enough to withdraw from all our projections and, before facing the darkness in others, come to terms with the darkness in ourselves.

Paul, IIRC it was in a letter to Mary McCarthy that Arendt wrote about her seduction of Heidegger during her visit - a one night stand that she seemed to think of as a form of revenge. I'll see if I can find the book. But it's been at least ten years since I did the Arendt/McCarthy book tour, so I'll have to double check.

Arendt was never an observant Jew, but forgiveness is very much a part of the culture. A slightly different slant than what one finds in Christianity tho'. In Christianity, the emphasis is on the wronged person's obligation to forgive. In Judaism, the person who committed the wrong is obligated to ask for forgiveness. Yom Kippor is the holiday dedicated to just that.

But in both religions, the need to forgive one's self is addressed as something separate. In Judaism, we talk about acts of atonement. In Christianity, well, I'm not sure - the Catholics have confession but the other sects? All of which is a roundabout way of saying I think Germans really need to start forgiving themselves. There is indeed a spell that needs to be broken.

Ambrose Wolfinger

I'm not argueing with Helien - or you - about Mencken, only stating that I think that discussion is so off-topic as to be irrelevent to the thread. That's all.

I've always received the same response, which is a helpless shrug and comments to the effect that there is nothing that can be done

Nihilism, pure and simple. We have the problem over here also. The new head bishop of the Episcopalian Church, a woman whose name I must find forgettable as I can't remember it, gave an interview recently.
She was asked about the dwindling membership roles. Her explanation was that because Episcopalians have a higher level of education than members of other denominations, they deliberately under breed so as not to use more of the Earth's reasources. This is not faith, this is The Cult of Gaia.

Last year I went to the funeral of a friend who was not religious, but his widow felt there should be some such component for tradition's sake if nothing else. So, a minister from the Unitarian Church did the honors. There was a lot of blather about 'The Spirit of Life and Love', but never were the words 'G-d', 'Jesus', 'Christ' or even 'amen' spoken.

When I later commented about that to a friend, she snorted, "The only time you will ever hear the words 'Jesus Christ' uttered in a Unitarian quote unquote church is when the janitor falls down the stairs."

This is not to say that I think everyone has to believe in G-d. I don't. I know more than my share of atheists who understand quite well the civilizational strengths that the Judeo-Christian ethic has given Western Civilization.

Nihilism, collectivization and totalitarianism are not among them.

Hi -

I studied philosophy in Freiburg (1981-1986) and did a lot of work with von Hermann, who was functionally Heidegger's last student.

We talked about Heidegger and Husserl at some length, as I was going to do my PhD thesis on exactly that relationship. Didn't do for a lot of reasons.

The Husserl family is still in Freiburg and has never, ever, ever forgiven Heidegger for what he did. Nor will they ever.

Heidegger himself was horribly embarrassed by what happened. To a certain extent he is to blame; in a different extent, he was used by the National Socialists to achieve their ends.

Fundamentally, Heidegger betrayed his teacher and mentor in order to ensure that the University got a maximum of money and support from the new regime. This was done in an opportunistic manner, and Heidegger was, bluntly, naive and stupid for believing that he could stay out of politics and simply do his beloved research and support his students. He gave several speeches where his naive political ideas of German uniqueness was given public airing, resulting not only in the public parading of his naivete, but also the abuse of his office and reputation by the National Socialists in order to further their own goals.

Like I said, the Husserl family has never forgiven Heidegger. Heidegger and Husserl met before Husserl's death, but there is no record of the conversation that I am aware of: just the report that Husserl gave him the tongue-lashing of his life, and that Heidegger was forever ashamed for his actions, but never willing to acknowledge how badly he had behaved. Heidegger in his personal life was a bit of a bully, especially with his women, and I can well imagine Arendt sleeping with him out of a sense of curiousity and also to be in control: after all, she chose to do so, and never ended up as a one of his conquests.

And if you don't think that there's isn't a lot of this in philosophy, you've never been a philosophy grad student... :-)

John

JohnF

JohnF

In her end notes on a paper titled "What is Existential Philosophy?" Arendt writes a bit about Heidegger's behavior. Get this:

...that this entire mode of behavior has such exact parallels in German Romanticism that one can hardly believe them to result from the sheer coincidence of a purely personal failure of character. Heidegger is really (let us hope) the last Romantic-an immensely talented Friedrich Schlegel or Adam Muller, as it were, whose complete lack of responsibility is attributable to a spiritual playfulness that stems in part from delusions of genius and in part from despair."

Read that again. Ok, now read it again.

Look at what she just did to Heidegger. She absolves him of any moral responsibility by consigning him to the Romantics, for whom she had little regard, and while crediting him with talent, his lack of true genius gets him off the hook.

Castration.

Whatever happens, don't ever let them give you to the women.

I was a philosophy major and very good friends with the wife of one of the profs (from the Netherlands who was good friends with Husserl)- she hired me to teach a pass/fail beginning course in her high school. I got the real skinny on Sartre and Simone. Truly appalling people.

Hi Pamela -

Ouch. "...delusions of genius and in part from despair."

Part of my thesis would have shown that Heidegger's Sein und Zeit owed so much more to Husserl than Heidegger would have been willing to admit, and that his later philosophy was terribly flawed due to his romanticism, whereas Husserl, as mathematician first and philosopher later, was the true master.

:-)

And Heidegger did despair, but less of his own failings and much more of how he was either fatally misunderstood or despaired of the stupidity of his public and the inability to understand how noble, truly noble, the Germn soul was. He preferred the friendship of the local farmers and the wisdom of the "Stammtisch" to intellectual honesty, and I think his work after the war wasn't much besides coasting on his fame and reputation.

And the parallels of German Romanticism and its ties to some of the most virulent anti-Americanism are well hidden and deep: German romanticism is fundamentally a long-term problem of the German psyche and collective soul, such as it is.

And the French existentialists really were appalling folks, appeasers and useful idiots along the lines of Fonda and a significant portion of the US left.

JohnF

JohnF
And the parallels of German Romanticism and its ties to some of the most virulent anti-Americanism are well hidden and deep

Good point. The dominant strain of German romanticism imbued the term Volk with concepts that were, are, and ever will be, completely alien to Americans.

To this day, I don't think most Americans hear what Germans heard when Hitler used the term. Quite cleverly, I might add.

And regarding Sartre and Simone -

I had just read her book and was talking to my friend about it when she just got exasperated. "Look, it's all a pack of lies. Jean-Paul is one cruel SOB, she's a sniveling hypocrite who pretends not to care. She became trapped in an abusive relationship for the needs of her own ego." (My friend was a shrink.) Her contempt had nothing to do with the politics, but much more with the personal.

And writing this now, the Clintons come to mind.

JohnF.

Quick question. The paper I cited "What is Existential Philosophy?" was apparently published in 1946. The editor's note I have ("Essays in Understanding 1930-1954") says Arendt wrote in the American (not the German) edition:

Finally, it has been rumored that he [Heidegger] has placed himself at the disposal of the French occupational authorities for the re-education of the German people.

Do you know if that rumor is correct?

Hi -

That's a tad complicated: at the time, Heidegger was effectively persona non grata with the university and the French occupying Freiburg. He didn't "place himself at the disposal" but rather was working his way back into the good graces of the university. Part of that was a willingness to basically agree not to expound on the virtues of "Germanness" as he had under the National Socialists. But to put himself at the disposal?

Only in the most limited of senses...

And nice call on the Clintons... :-)

@Pamela

"I think Germans really need to start forgiving themselves. There is indeed a spell that needs to be broken."

Yes. "Vergangenheitsbewältigung," coming to terms with the past, must include reconciliation.

I knew and loved a German woman, when a student, in the seventies, a leftist. When she was six, while vacationing with her parents on a beach in the Netherlands, a man, hearing her speak German, strode up to her and slapped her in the face. She told her parents, but they, she said, only looked at her sadly.

The irony is that her father, a minister, had once spoken unfavorably of the Nazis from the pulpit, and suffered subsequently.

My relations with the woman ended, among others because of her politics, and because of her bitterness, pessimism, and hatred. I thought of her when recently reading the lines:

"Ich fang an, müd zu sein des Sonnenlichts,
Ach, stürze gleich der Weltenbau zu nichts."

Coming to terms with the past means not only overcoming the stigma of Nazi crimes but also the despair and hopelessness bequeathed to Germans born after the war. The obviously false choice is denial of the past, the more subtle, also false one surrender to shame and despair.

As for the role of religion, I don't believe that a clear conscience can be coerced either by religion or state. It's up to Germans themselves, as individuals.


@JohnF

"And the French existentialists really were appalling folks, appeasers and useful idiots along the lines of Fonda and a significant portion of the US left."

I hope you're excluding Albert Camus.

Like Orwell and Koestler, he saw through the "historical necessity" cited by French communists in their defense of Stalinists, and criticized "fellow travelers" at considerable risk to himself. Later, it was no surprise that the French leftists of 1968 rejected Camus as too moderate and anti-communist.

His dismissal of leftist utopias and analysis of terrorism remains valid today.

@Paul
She told her parents, but they, she said, only looked at her sadly.

Unbelievable. If her parents made her feel like she deserved that, it's no wonder she grew up pessimistic. BTW, I went looking for my Hannah Arendt books to confirm that Heidegger relapse. Those books were nowhere to be found. Then I remembered - I never owned them. I borrowed them from the library! HA! Amazon loves me, tho' and they should be here in a few days.

JohnF, thanks. That makes more sense. Arendt wrote a snide piece about him as a fox that spent so much time in other people's traps he actually thought they were burrows.

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