Tuesday, January 31, 2017

9. Prophecies of the Antichrist

Chapter 10 gives backstory. The next chapter of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer, is called "Interlude." My reviews of the first nine chapters were:
1. In this chapter, Heiden interrupts the flow of the story to go back and give some of the German backstory. Good approach, not to begin with this material, as we might have become bored before we came to the story. But his style does ask us to live with partial glimpses that he only fills in later.

The thread of the chapter, it seems to me, is Napoleon, Hegel, Wagner, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Chamberlain.

2. Heiden argues that the single greatest event of German history was Napolean's (1769-1821) breaking of the thousand year German empire and its restructuring into its modern sub-states. "Napoleon I brought to Germany the idea of democratic Caesarism, of the conspirator who makes himself tyrant by the abuse of democracy" (213). He may defeat the Holy Roman Empire, but there is something enamoring about him. Many of the German states switch to his side.

"From France, Germany learned the secret of the new patriotism: organized freedom" (214). Napoleon does not want to rule France, Fichte (1762-1814) said. Napoleon must rule the world. And if he cannot be ruler of the world, he does not want to exist.

"Oppressed Germany admired her oppressor and almost forgave the tyrant his tyranny because of its immensity" (215). "Napoleon became the embodiment of human Titanism, a demigod who had set out to build the Tower of Babel, a hero, a model of intellect and will."

3. This was the genesis of destruction for Germany, Heiden believes, a change of direction. The idealists before Napoleon--Kant (1724-1804), Goethe (1749-1832), Schiller (1759-1805), Fichte--were great believers in liberty and the equality of all human beings. They believed in equality by virtue of education. This liberal, optimistic view of humanity would steer in a somewhat darker direction after Napoleon.

4. So Hegel (1770-1831) still sees history moving in a clear direction, but we probably cannot say that it is necessarily a better one. Hegel has witnessed Napoleon riding into Jena. When he sees Napoleon, "he felt as though he had seen the 'world spirit on horseback'" (213). What is the world spirit? It is the direction in which history is headed. For Hegel, history is the unfolding of an evolving world spirit, which manifests itself supremely in the state.

The French Revolution had proclaimed the rights of humanity. But this right channeled itself in Germany into the right of man to have his own nationality. Germans have a right to have a German nation. Germany had reached a point of pride in its intellectual history. It reached back into the Norse legends to find its own destiny.

"In 1848, the Nationalist Movement of the German intellectuals flared into revolution. The best brains in the land assembled in Saint Paul's Church in Frankfort on the Main, to found a German Reich and give it a democratic constitution; a minority demanded a republic. The princes were helpless, for a time even intimidated by bloody uprisings in Berlin, Vienna, and other cities; reactionary ministers were driven from the country; the people seemed victorious" (219).

5. Richard Wagner (1813-83) road the wave of these times. In May of 1849, as the revolution was playing out, he climbed on the steeple of the Church of the Cross in Dresden, dropping notes about troop movements to those below. The Prussians were marching on the city to quell the rebellion against authority. That morning, he had snuck into the Prussian camp and passed out leaflets to the soon to be advancing soldiers, reminding them that they were all Saxons and shouldn't be fighting against each other.

When heavy shots were made toward him, he refused to get down, saying, "I am immortal!" (209). His operas would express the pure human longing for power despite chaos and disaster, singing of the movement forward of this longing without fear of bullets. "His best, or at least his most popular, music transforms the curse of power into a glamorous song; and destruction--the inevitable fate of unbridled power--resounds in it with tragic beauty. Love of overwhelming disaster--that is his haunting leitmotiv" (210).

Wagner was also extremely vocal in his anti-Semitism.

Hitler would visit the wife of the late Wagner in 1923 in Bayreuth, Bavaria. Wagner's ailing son-in-law was there, of whom we will soon speak, an Englishman named Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

6. Enter Karl Marx (1818-83). "Ever since Hegel, the entire West had been permeated by a belief in the necessary and meaningful course of history" (220). History has a trajectory. History has a destiny.

Marx turned Hegel upside down and made that destiny an economic destiny. "Economics becomes destiny" (220). After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the forces of "Bolshevikism" that wanted to play themselves out in Europe were the major source of fear. Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of those who want to seize power or manipulate the people. It often is more self-destructive than the supposed threat from which it means to protect.

The fear of the out of control common person brought resistance to democracy among some German intellectuals. Heinrich Heine, who had been zealous for democracy and socialism in his youth, turned on these ideals: "In their mad intoxication for equality, they would destroy everything that is beautiful and noble on earth and unleash their iconoclastic rage on art and science... The kings vanish, and with them the last poets... The barren work-a-day sentiment of the modern Puritans will spread over all Europe like a gray dusk, foreshadowing rigid winter" (221).

This is the inheritance of both the communist and the fascist alike. They both bequeath to the people a world without beauty or truth for its own sake.

7. Germany turns dark. Hegel may have set the stage for inevitable trajectories, but his contemporary, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) would sent the tone of that trajectory. For him, the center of all things is blind will, the desire, the urge. For Hegel, the movement toward world spirit was rational, a thing of the mind. For Schopenhauer, human urges and desire, human will "lay at the base of all happenings in nature, and since it could never achieve fulfillment, its existence was suffering without end" (222). "Every human life as a whole shows the qualities of a tragedy, and we see that life, in general, consists only of hopes gone astray, thwarted plans, and errors recognized too late." The great acts of history are just an accumulation of crimes and follies (223).

He was ignored during his life, but "over the succeeding generation his philosophy of death swept like a tidal wave.

8. This late eighteenth century Germany was the time of many of Wagner's operas. Wagner "took a polemical, partisan stand on all controversial issues of his time" (225). His theme is "a great epic about the decline and death of nobility in this world." "The exalted values of an earlier day perish in the rising flood of mediocrity."

This late 1800s context was a time of "constant readiness for a new war" (227). The curse of this generation was that it was a "war civilization." It is during this time that the Prussian state rises, the second German reich, so to speak. In 1866, the Prussian part of Germany waged a victorious war against the other part of Germany and called it unification (226). In 1871, the King of Prussia was crowned German Emperor.

This was the time of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In his early days, he wrote of the Superman who lived in a realm "beyond good and evil." This leader, this Antichrist, was not distracted by those who said, "you shouldn't do this or that." For Nietzsche, Christianity was a slave morality, a philosophy invented by the weak to try to get the strong not to oppress them. But the Ubermensch invented the right and wrong that the herd of other intellectuals followed.

Ironically, Nietzsche in his later life cursed the nationalism of the Prussian reich, as well as race hatred. His work was unfortunately edited after his death to foster the kind of environment from which Hitler rose.

9. The end of the chapter focuses on Houston Chamberlain (1855-1927). He was born an Englishman, spent the first twenty-five years of his life in France, and ended his life a German. He married the daughter of Wagner, and his thinking was thoroughly Wagnerian.

His chief contribution was a book called The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, which made him world famous. King Wilhelm II of Prussia wrote, "It was God who sent your book to the German people and you personally to me" (233).

While Wagner believed that the downward course of the world could not be stopped, he believed it could be halted. The German people, because of her cultural genius, could experience a temporary regeneration. Chamberlain, coming to Germany from elsewhere, was more optimistic that a "higher race could and must be bred" (234).

For Chamberlain, race was not by blood. Humankind created race. The kinship of this kind of race was a matter of affinity and culture. "The genesis of extraordinary races is invariably preceded by a blood mixture" (235). In other words, people of different blood come together to create a master race. So for him, the Aryan race was something to be created: 1) discover good "material," 2) nature will select the fittest, 3) mix these superior individuals together, 4) breed within that group.

Chamberlain had no room for the weak. This artificial selection must not be sentimental ("slave morality"). He writes, "The exposure of sickly children was one of the most beneficent laws of the Greeks, Romans, and Teutons" (2235).

Obviously any true democracy was thus a weakness because it allowed the illegitimate to vote and have voice. Public opinion, for him, was made by idiots or malicious traitors.

10. Chamberlain was convinced that the German people were the best ones to engineer this Aryan race. Germany was best gifted to organize all political life by scientific principles. It was gifted at practical systematization at the "planned co-ordination of all the parts of every productive unit." World domination cannot come through mere power. It needs to be a new type of power, resting on intellectual and moral foundations, "a scientific policy of genius" (241).

Chamberlain, weak himself now in 1923, had almost given up hope for such a state. But his meeting with the young Hitler renewed his hope. Democracy had come too late to Germany. The treaty at the end of World War I did not seize the opportunity to set up a world democracy. As we have seen, disaffected soldiers from the war became hit squads and an underground army. Disillusionment and despair gave birth to moral chaos.

"Democracy did not act in its hour; and so the Antichrist acted" (245).


David Drury said...

You understood this chapter much better than I, so I really needed this post (wish I had it when i read the book nearly 10 years ago)

Great post summarizing and outlining. Thanks!

Ken Schenck said...

It took some processing to reorganize it. I think he may assume a lot for a non German audience.