The Justification of Genocide - The Nazi Weltanschauung - "Nazism 1918 -1945" by M.J. Thornton
In my book The Drama of Metaphysics: An Exploration into the Psychological Power of Worldviews, I explored the idea of belief systems being a type of world-unto-themselves in which we live. Each belief system is a type of alternate world, virtual reality, unto itself as reality, pure and unaltered, is so too far beyond human comprehension. This is not to say that nothing can be known about reality, but only that we need beliefs to give us some guidance in our life. Some beliefs are of course more reasonably grounded in reality than others. Here this chapter gets into one of the most parasitical belief systems to ever exist, that of National Socialism. Seemingly justified by 19th century atheistic philosophy and scientific Naturalism, it appears completely and utterly false within a century of its short existence.
Nevertheless, for those who we sucked into its grip, it provided a reshaped version of reality which sought to justify the most extreme actions. The author of this work, Thornton, begins to introducing the idea of "weltanschauung," or "view of life." These refers to these basic beliefs which provide the boundary or parameters of knowledge about the world we live in. The Nazi weltanschauung was one that embodied a type of anti-rationalistic exaltation of the will, a pagan lore and history, and pseudo-scientific theories of racial purification, creating the vile concoction that it was.
Just to be clear, I am not supporting any of these ideas. I am simply interested in the philosophy of worldviews and how they regulate people's actions.
Weltanschauung - A View of Life
Thornton begins chapter one looking at the Nazi "view of life." In twelve years the Nazis had swept the loyalty of the German people, had exacted a "...cost [of] nearly fifty million lives and material loss and human suffering beyond calculation." What exactly was Nazism? What kind of monstrosity could have such an effect on the world? As a body of doctrine, it was not as formalized as the Communists, having its roots in a type of German anti-intellectualism. 1 But this does not mean that there were not beliefs that justified their actions in their mind. "... they did hold opinions which provided a general basis and justification for their actions, and, in contrast to Fascism, these opinions preceded political action." These views made up the Nazi "view of life," or "weltanschauung." This weltanschauung is the lens through which we live and interpret our lives. In Thornton's words, "Indeed Hitler emphasized the importance of what he called Weltanschauung. Almost untranslatable, this words means 'a view of life.' It is the general outlook, or everyday 'philosophy', not closely based on rational thought, which most of us have."
As far as the development of this weltanschauung, Thornton makes it clear that while Hitler may have been an avid reader, he saw no reason to consider anything other than what he found helpful in asserting his doctrines, and thus clearly pick and choose from a wide assortment of sources. For example, they clearly pulled some ideas from Nietzsche, though not all of them. "Thus it is, for example, that although the ideas of Nietzsche have been regarded as one of the roots of Nazism, and the Nazis themselves were not averse to acknowledging such antecedents, only select anthologies of his work circulated in Nazi Germany. Hitler was not loth to see himself in the role of the heroic leaders of the masses, but Nietzsche's contempt for nationalism and his moderate attitude towards the Jews, were at variance with Nazi requirements and accordingly suppressed." 2
Developing the Nazi Lore
Thornton also acknowledges Alfred Rosenburg as one of the other minds behind Nazism, pulling from earlier thinkers like Comte de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. The Nazi weltanschauung was one of struggle. Struggle between the mystically pure volk (people) of the German soil, and those who were not. 3 It was this struggle that was good for the development of a greater humanity. Thus humanism would actually lead to the devolution of humanity. "The outstanding feature of the Nazi weltanschauung was its insistence on race, and it was a pattern of inter-racial struggle that Rosenberg re-interpreted history." It was this struggle between the higher Aryans and the lower bestial races that summarized history, and provided the impetus for the pathway into the future. 4
The Aryans were the original creators of culture, and in their dispersal to different parts of the world, had proceeded to build and bring civilization to the world. Of course, over time there was a crisis because of inter-breeding which diluted the Aryan beliefs and practices, as well as their blood. Christianity, especially, had undermined the Aryan race. Although, if there was anything good in Christianity, it was because of the Aryan influence. This type of reinterpretation of history did not seek or need to justify itself. Those who "knew" it to be true, "knew" it to be true. "The philosophy on which this view of history was based rendered it unassailable from the author's point of view. The idea of an absolute truth he rejected completely, claiming that his essential message would not be discredited '... if the enter historical proof were to be refuted at every point'. He believed that all mental and moral faculties were racial, so that the Aryan intuitively knows what the essential truth is for him. 'We think with our blood', was the answer to any critic seeking cogent argument based consistently on factual evidence."
The Nazi concept of "race" or "scientific anthropology" was a loose one, but certainly considered the Aryans as being "fair, blue-eyed, tall and long-headed. Its personal characteristics included among others, honor, courage, love of freedom, and a spirit of scientific research." The anti-thesis of this was considered to be the Jews. 5 This mythical concept of race was once that Hitler considered to be primary to national boundaries or other more recent classifications of people today. Thornton includes a quote from Hitler which is very telling. In Hitler's own words: "'The conception of the nation is meaningless. We have to get rid of this false conception, and set in its place the conception of race. The new order cannot be conceived in terms of the natural boundaries of the peoples with an historic past but in terms of race that transcend these boundaries. ... I know perfectly well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race, but you, as a farmer, cannot get your breeding successfully achieved without the conception of race. And I as a politician need a conception that enables the order which has hitherto existed on historic bases to be abolished, and an entirely new and anti-historic order enforced and given an intellectual basis. ... With the conception of race National-Socialism will carry its revolution abroad and re-cast the world.'"
The Volk and the Fuehrer
Here we then can see the importance of the volk or Aryan people in Hitler's eyes. They were meant to rule. The government was there to uplift and serve them. The Nazis were an expression of the collective will of the volk, which always takes precedence. 6 Hitler believed that the volk could only be served when the people's will could be expressed in one leader who truly understood the Aryan spirit. Democracy, free speech, open debate, voting ... these things could not give true expression to the volk's will. They would only sow seeds of doubt and confusion. There needed to be "unity" and coherent direction. Therefore, Hitler set up the Fuehrer system in which the leaders of different parts of the government would listen to the people, but they themselves would give the true and final expression of it in their decision. "Theoretically the Fuehrer was held to be the personification of the spirit of the Volk, which may lie dormant, or be mislead, for centuries, but is eventually made manifest in the person of its leader."
7 Between Hitler and the people were a set of chosen leaders who were given specific roles to complete, most notably the indoctrination of the people into the Nazi weltanschauung.
Similar to the concept of volk was the concept of "Lebensraum," or "living space." If there are no valid boundaries set up by countries, then who has claim to any particular land? Well, in the Nazi weltanschauung, the Aryans must take over the lands of Europe and Eastern Europe to unite the Germanic peoples. They had a theory of "Geopolitik," in which they believed that the world was made up of three fundamental islands. The main one, the "World-Island" was Europe, Africa, and Asia. Australia and America were lesser islands. Whoever controlled the World-Island ruled the others. 8 "A natural process of selection was held to destroy the weak or non-expanding state. Vigorous states would naturally expand, and fixed frontiers therefore had little significance; they could never be more than the front line of an advancing army. It was mainly as propaganda, to make the Germans 'space-conscious', that these disruptive sentiments were used." What about those who were conquered in the process of Aryan expansion? Well they could be used, along with the natural resources, to bolster the Germans, allowing them to keep their high standard of living. Essentially they would become a type of slave. 9
This discussion also leads to a fundamental distinctions between Nazism and Communism. If volk is central to Nazi ideology, the unity of the people expressed through the fuehrer, then Communism's view of history as class struggle must not be allowed to infect its people. Communism involved an international movement of class revolution, whereas National-Socialism supported only the state and required a unity or cooperation between government and worker. 10 "... it has been suggested that Nazi propaganda attracted the working class to it by using the nation as a utopian replacement for the classless society."
Within the literary expression of the German volk were expressions of a hero, a leader who would emerge from the soul of the volk and lead it to purification and victory. "Romanticism tended also to exalt the hero figure who from time to time emerged from the soul of the Volk to perform deeds of great valour. Even further back lay the legend of the heimliche Kaiser, the hidden Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, the greatest ruler of the Medieval Empire. That he lay sleeping, and would return when Germany lay stricken, to lead her back to glory, was a pagan tradition still not dead." 11
Irrationalism of the Nazi Weltanschauung
The Nazis (Thornton mentions drawing from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) did not value the logical coherence of reason. Rather, they favored intuition, a sense of right given to them through their racial heritage. They favored the expression of the striving will towards racial purity, not some rationalistic framework to guide them. Thornton expressed this beautifully at the end of the chapter, so I will quote it in full here:
"...More closely associated with science was a second strand of irrationalism. It derived from the biological discoveries that reason has a naturalistic origin in organic evolution, and that scientific method included the use of assumptions which are not rationally apparent but could be used as conventions on which to base further experiment."
In so many words, that which is most real and fundamental is not what is logically or rationally known. Rather, man is nature. Man is the driving force of striving, of his will to live and survive. Therefore, society can and should be reflective in its structure of this deeper human reality. "Irrationalism was first directly applied to society and politics by the French socialist, Georges Sorel, in his Reflections on Violence, published in 1908. He sought to discredit Marxism, and used Bergson's 'life-force' to remove from it any theory of social change through rational causes; and he used the concept of intuition to provide a philosophy of revolution. For Sorel, social philosophy became a myth, which concept he never completely defined. In effect it was as kind of vision which would inspire followers of a cause. It was in this sense that Rosenberg used the word myth, and the meaning which Hitler put into weltanschauung is virtually the same thing. It is a vision, a view of life, that is completely intolerant of any other, and which fights its opponents ruthlessly and without scruple. Such in essence, was the idea of Nazism." 13
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