Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s 1930s Anti-Nazi Essays

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

The 20th century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), best known in the English-speaking world for his writings on human intimacy and personality, aesthetics, ethics, and the liturgy, was also an active and determined opponent of the National Socialist or Nazi movement from its early days in the 1920s.

When Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, von Hildebrand, who had a decade earlier been condemned to death by the first Nazi thugs, left the country, and eventually settled in Vienna, where he led, through his journal Der Christliche Ständestaat (the Christian Corporative State, a concept that drew its inspiration from Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno) and his partnership the soon-to-be-assassinated Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, an intellectual resistance to Nazism and especially to anti-Semitism, until von Hildebrand was again forced to flee Austria as Hitler’s Anschluss absorbed that country in 1938.

The recent publication in English of selections from von Hildebrand’s handwritten memoir as My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich has brought von Hildebrand again into the intellectual and cultural mainstream.

While reviews of My Battle Against Hitler have focused on von Hildebrand’s adventurous fight with and narrow escapes from Nazism, I urge readers to study his 1930s essays collected as a group in this memoir. While it is fun to learn how von Hildebrand and his friends tricked the Nazis into allowing his furniture to be shipped from Munich to Vienna after his flight from Germany, and sobering to read how many were taken in by the Nazis, it is better to read the focused, insightful, and passionate words of von Hildebrand written at the time against the steady advance of anti-Semitism and Nazism.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), once the teenage student paramour of philosopher and later sometime Nazi Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), achieved fame in 1963 with her coining of the phrase “banality of evil” in her Eichmann in Jerusalem. Yet von Hildebrand’s November 10, 1935 Der Christliche Ständestaat essay, translated as “The Danger of Becoming Morally Blunted,” contemporaneously described this blunting process as it was happening decades before Arendt. This essay alone is worth the price of My Battle Against Hitler, since it describes how moral compromise can weaken us all. The power of anti-Semitism as a moral anesthetic that deadens resistance to violent extremism is very much still at work today, whether in the Middle East, in Russia, or in First World cultural elites.

My compliments to John Henry Crosby, Alice von Hildebrand, John F. Crosby, and all those from the Hildebrand Project who spent the decade necessary to bring this book to English-language readers.

I understand that the Hildebrand Project intends to eventually post all the writings of Dietrich von Hildebrand online. I especially look forward to more Der Christliche Ständestaat essays, and especially to an English translation of his Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft: Untersuchungen über Wesen und Wert der Gemeinschaft, or The Metaphysics of Community.

The Hildebrand Project is worthy of our support!

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXII

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Those who know religious people and religious society in their contradictory complexity and feel betrayed by religion sometimes naively turn to science or to politics, without knowing scientific or political society to a similar point of complexity and betrayal.

No significant human endeavor is completely free from betrayal by its adherents. When one sees no such betrayal, one lacks deep knowledge of that given human endeavor.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Beyond Mixing Blanks With Bullets to Gain Moral Plausibility

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

The strategy of using doubt, misdirection, or confusion to make an unpleasant or immoral act plausible or palatable has a long history.

This strategy has been institutionalized in the practice of mixing blanks and bullets to arm the guns of members of a firing squad. No one firing their gun will therefore have moral certainty that they took another’s life. Each shooter has “deniability.”

A number of muddle-headed moralists have found acceptable a similar scheme that hides which third party insurance company actually pays for abortions. Participants in the insurance plans would not have moral certainty as to whether their dollars actually would pay for abortions, and this uncertainty would theoretically free insurance payers of direct responsibility for abortion.

Either of the above schemes breaks down morally when one considers that, in the case of an innocent person being brought to execution, each entire scheme is immoral from start to finish.

In the case of direct abortion, the one being executed is, prima facie, always innocent. Therefore, no mix of blanks and bullets among the insurance providers suffices to make such a system of hidden participation a morally acceptable system.

When faced with immanent execution of the innocent, the command from Leviticus holds:

Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake
(Leviticus 19:15).

But those who violate the right to life of others will not be content until they have reduced society to a state of complete moral compromise, perhaps because this is the only environment in which they feel their own views will be safe.

It is in this environment that some media gatekeepers guard against moral clarity and continue to sow confusion, lest virtue break out uncontrollably.

A devil better tempts us only after a devil confuses us.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Smell as Truth’s Revenge

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Upon the liberation of the Nazi death camps in WWII, Allied forces compelled nearby citizens in Weimar and other areas adjacent the camps to walk through them, and to confront the brutal reality of Nazi genocide, as documented in this film. Please notice, when viewing the film clip, the German townspeople shielding their noses.

The Allies were familiar with the recurrent human capacity for committed self-deception, and wanted to definitively break the Nazi propaganda-hold on the populace. One way to counter this self-deception, and it is still not a 100% guaranteed way, is to do what the Allies did: to force citizens to come to view–and to smell–first-hand the terrible results of their own political choices.

The expression, “rub their noses in it” remains to this day one of the firmest expressions of disproof and refutation. Smell triggers memory, and rarely can ever be forgotten.

History is filled with recumbent and attractive myths built upon self-deception, sometimes bolstered by outright cynical lies by political and intellectual leaders. Holocaust deniers, be they Neo-Nazi punks or heads of state like the current leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provide but a few examples. The dead, now buried, cannot readily be smelled without significant spadework. So new liars and deceivers arise with each new demographic cohort.

American (both North and South) and European intellectuals, revolutionaries, and radical labor activists for generations have clung to the false promises of Marxist-Leninist government, despite the voluminous documents and criminal evidence released to the world after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the Russian Gulags, of Robert Conquest on the Stalinist genocide and politicide in the Ukraine, of former French communists in their Black Book of Communism, the relentless and thorough vivisection of Marxism by philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, and the complete moral and historic discrediting of the late New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, who to his and to that newspaper’s everlasting shame, knowingly hid the deaths of millions caused by Stalin in the Ukraine in the 1930s.

But despite its resounding historical failures and crimes, Marxism-Leninism is alive and well as a recurrent fantasy in academia, in journalism, in arts, letters, and film, in labor (despite the role of US Big Labor in supporting Solidarnosc), and among trendy theologians. To these true believers, the Gulags and famines, the Maoist democides of the Cultural Revolution, and the Cambodian killing fields were but mere aberrations in theory and practice, not the true Marxism-Leninism of which they themselves are surely capable. Undoubtedly the failures of Stalin and Mao must have been due to the Russian and Chinese culture or character, these true believers assume, not their own pristine theory.

Latin America, to its misfortune, remains the legacy Marxist-Leninist’s own sandbox of choice for post-fascist fantasy football, more so for some their intellectual playground for “praxis,” translate please as high-minded meddling and social engineering. From the capitalist experimentation by US drug companies with Puerto Rican women to test the dosage levels of newly generated birth-control pills (some reportedly died) in the early 1960s, to the more recent moral and cultural support given to the late dictator Hugo Chavez by Bill Ayers, Sean Penn, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., misguided beneficent “praxis” on Latin America’s behalf abounds.

It is thus in the opening of graves–and in the smelling of them– that some of history’s most uncomfortable truths, and some of humankind’s most significant hopes, can be found.

Neither is it accident that some of the most determined anti-abortion activists are among those close enough to aborted babies to have smelled them, be they those who have encountered dumpsters of abortion debris, or the nurses who have been faced with the dilemma of an aborted baby surviving, and then forced to be neglected to death (a public policy earlier supported by Barack Obama about which, to use a polite euphemism, he has been less than forthcoming), or worse, intentionally terminated.

Pro-life, anti-abortion activists have for decades tried to force images of abortion into the general consciousness. But only until recently, with the Kermit Gosnell trial, has the stench of abortion as well reached the public. This trial has led prominent pro-choice writers, like veteran journalist Roger Simon, to rethink their positions on abortion.

While the smell of death rarely loses its repugnance (a term recalled recently again by physician and ethicist Leon Kass), the force of smell declines with repeated exposure. It is thus possible for a physician to deliver babies in the morning and abort them in the afternoon, a situation described by the late Bernard N. Nathanson, MD, who only stopped aborting after thousands of cases, upon quiet and persistent reflection after viewing a sonogram of an abortion.

While the English word “odious” is often associated with repugnance as if to a bad smell, it comes from the Latin word for hate.

One of the most olfactory of writers, and the person who coined (with some help from the brilliant translator Maria Boulding, OSB) the term “truth’s revenge,” in citing the memorable line of Publius Terentius Afer, “Veritas odium parit,” or “truth engenders hatred,” was St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote:

cur autem veritas parit odium et inimicus eis factus est homo tuus verum praedicans, cum ametur beata vita, quae non est nisi gaudium de veritate, nisi quia sic amatur veritas ut, quicumque aliud amant, hoc quod amant velint esse veritatem, et quia falli nollent, nolunt convinci quod falsi sint? itaque propter eam rem oderunt veritatem, quam pro veritate amant. amant eam lucentem, oderunt eam redarguentem. quia enim falli nolunt et fallere volunt, amant eam cum se ipsa indicat, et oderunt eam cum eos ipsos indicat. inde retribuet eis ut, qui se ab ea manifestari nolunt, et eos nolentes manifestet et eis ipsa non sit manifesta. sic, sic, etiam sic animus humanus, etiam sic caecus et languidus, turpis atque indecens latere vult, se autem ut lateat aliquid non vult. contra illi redditur, ut ipse non lateat veritatem, ipsum autem veritas lateat. tamen etiam sic, dum miser est, veris mavult gaudere quam falsis. beatus ergo erit, si nulla interpellante molestia de ipsa, per quam vera sunt omnia, sola veritate gaudebit.

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 10.23.34, from http://www.stoa.org/hippo/text10.html, accessed 4/21/13

I’ve posted Augustine’s Latin above so his extensive word-play can be seen even by those readers not conversant with his Latin.

Here is the late Dame Maria Boulding, OSB’s translucent rendering of the passage above, which I’ve paragraphed for easier apprehension:

Why, though, does “truth engender hatred,” why does a servant of yours who preaches the truth make himself an enemy to his hearers (John 8:40; Galatians 4:16), if the life of happiness, which consists in rejoicing over the truth, is what they love?

It must be because people love truth in such a way that those who love something else wish to regard what they love as truth and, since they would not want to be deceived, are unwilling to be convinced that they are wrong.

They are thus led into hatred of truth for the sake of that very thing which they love under the guise of truth.

They love the truth when it enlightens them, but hate it when it accuses them (John 3:20; 5:35).

In this attitude of reluctance to be deceived and intent to deceive others they love truth when it reveals itself but hate it when it reveals them.

Truth will therefore take its revenge: when people refuse to be shown up by it, truth will show them up willy-nilly and yet elude them.

Yes, this is our condition, this is the lot of the human soul, this is its case, as blind and feeble, disreputable and shabby, it attempts to hide, while at the same time not wishing anything to be hidden from it.

It is paid back in a coin which is the opposite to what it desires, for while the soul cannot hide from truth, truth hides from the soul.

Nevertheless, even while in this miserable state it would rather rejoice in truth than in a sham; and so it will be happy when it comes to rejoice without interruption or hindrance in the very truth, upon which depends whatever else it true.

The Confessions of Augustine, translated by Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, 1997, Hyde Park, NY, New City Press, pg. 201; now also available in a second edition with Bibliography, and a critical edition from ignatius.com

It is no accident that early in the development of the field of psychology that scientists claimed Augustine as one of their own. For in his description of the reluctant human apprehension of truth, Augustine went beyond the theory of cognitive dissonance to a theory of self-deception based upon a paradoxical fear of truth as truth unfolds. It is our very selves that must change when we learn the truth. And as long as we hide from the truth, truth also hides from us.

It is thus very useful to truth to open the mass graves of the persecuted and even of the aborted, and not only to look, but to smell, to remember, and to speak. As Augustine noted, speaking truly of such things brings hate. We should not fear to continue this speech of truth, and to conquer this hate.

Christ, who wept outside the grave of Lazarus, about to be raised, was then warned of the smell, but stepped forward to show us that there is more than the smell of death that meets us when we seek for and speak the truth.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Anthony O. Simon

Friday, November 30th, 2012

After again reading of and about Jacques Maritain’s classic book Man and the State–required for anyone at all serious about social justice–my thoughts turned to Anthony O. Simon, the son of Yves R. Simon, Maritain’s student and later faculty colleague at both Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.

Yves Simon was the dissertation supervisor for my late uncle Robert S. Schorsch, who jumped into Normandy on D-Day as a Lieutenant in the US Army 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, shortly after completing his doctorate in philosophy at Notre Dame. Robert died in combat soon thereafter at Eerde, Netherlands on September 24, 1944 during Operation Market Garden.

My late father and Tony Simon kept in touch over the years because of this family and scholarly connection. I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Simon on several occasions, and in sharing ideas. I just read Tony’s obituary from August, 2012, and regret that only now I have learned of his passing. May he rest in peace.

Anthony O. Simon’s work in preserving and promoting Yves R. Simon’s writings, many of which would simply have never made it to print without Tony, and his participation in Maritain scholarship as well, have advanced the cause of democracy, philosophy, Catholic studies, and social justice especially leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Because the ideas of great philosophers do move the world, this persistent and quiet service by Anthony O. Simon, like the children and grandchildren of Thomas More, who similarly saw irreplaceable works into print over the course of two generations, will prove to serve humanity well.

When I think of these great ones who have passed, and their legacy waiting to be yet rediscovered in books quietly waiting on the shelves or online, and waiting to be put into action in the world, I think again of these words spoken by a friend of Jacques Maritain who learned so much from him:

“Il suffit de rappeler que le sang de millions d’hommes, que des souffrances inouïes et innombrables, que d’inutiles massacres et d’épouvantables ruines sanctionnent le pacte qui vous unit, en un serment qui doit changer l’histoire future du monde: jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre! C’est la paix, la paix, qui doit guider le destin des peuples et de toute l’humanité! ”

“It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all humanity!”

(servant of God Paul VI at the UN, 10/4/65)

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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