20. 'Professor NSDAP' — The Intellectuals And National Socialism
From Functionaries Of Totalitarian RulePart 3 of 'The Face Of The Third Reich' (1999)

I don't want any intellectuals! — Adolf Hitler

In every spiritual attitude a political attitude is latent. — Thomas Mann

'I say yes!' proclaimed Gerhart Hauptmann in spring 1933 in a public declaration. The upsurge of feeling that swept the nation and spread like an epidemic, sparing only those who stood very firm, let loose a wave of confessions of loyalty towards the new holders of power, in which the bitter protests and helpless disgust of those who were persecuted or actually driven out of the country went almost unheard. Faced with the thousands of spontaneous expressions of approval—fragments of a large-scale capitulation—one asks oneself in amazement what were the causes of the success which the blatantly anti-intellectual movement of National Socialism enjoyed among poets and thinkers. This success casts grave doubts upon the proposition that the high-ranking officers and big industrialists had shown themselves the weakest points in withstanding the regime's seduction and blackmail; for unquestionably

'National Socialism succeeded more rapidly and effectively in its assault on people's minds than in its seizure of political and social power.' (1)

Setting aside pure opportunism, all sorts of misapprehensions played a part in this strange alliance, and many people were quickly forced to realize that they had hallooed before they were out of the dark wood. But that deeper common element, which alone makes possible misapprehension in the field of ideas, was doubtless also present here, and Thomas Mann had good reason to write to Ernst Bertram:

'The last thing you can be accused of is having turned your coat. you always wore it the "right" way round.' (2)

This weakness and readiness to capitulate can be understood only against a background of complex motivations connected with the whole position and function of intellectuals in modern society, which again and again explains the susceptibility of these classes to totalitarian solutions. Among these motivations are the ambivalent attitude of intellectuals to power and their tendency to embrace utopian systems or ideological concepts per se. (3) Even more important in the present case was the pervasive uncertainty about values, opinions and truths which gave the face of the age an unmistakably pre-totalitarian look and was expressed, but at the same time threatened, by National Socialism. If the movement and later the regime was defined as 'the dawn of a new era' and a 'turning point in time', this was its own self-evaluation; yet there was a germ of truth in it. For National Socialism was a radical new departure yet with a history going back much further than the history of the NSDAP. It was not merely a ruthless exploitation of the fears of a nation which for the most part felt its loss of status, or the brilliant utilization of the nation's 'emotional distress' for its own ends; it was not merely its slogans which secured the mass influx into the movement; rather it was the whole anti-rational uproar that accompanied it from its sectarian beginnings to the triumphant mass hysteria of the later years and, exactly like its totalitarian counterpart on the left, exercised such a stupefying effect on large sections of the intelligentsia.

Thereby National Socialism laid bare phenomena of which the movement itself was in turn only a symptom: the most consistent expression in the field of political power groupings of a multiplicity of pseudo-religious longings, a need for fundamental certainty, intellectual discontent, and impulses to escape from practical intellectual activity into the more hospitable semi-darkness of substitute metaphysical realms. These motivations in turn were permeated by the longing of the intellectual, isolated in his world of letters, for solidarity with the masses, for a share in their unthinking vitality and closeness to nature, but also in their force and historical effectiveness as expressed in the myth of the national community. Fundamentally National Socialism represented a politically organized contempt for the mind. Of course, it was not on that account that the anti-intellectual types, the beerhall battle heroes and the thugs in the brown shirts, won the masses to it. On its fringes, and visibly in its ranks too, were members of the educated classes who for the reasons cited, but also out of self-hatred, destructiveness, or simply the irresponsibility that springs from a feeling of pointlessness, committed that 'high treason of the spirit' to which Ernst Junger confessed, not without pride (4) and made available to the movement scraps of ideology which it swallowed indiscriminately and with total disregard for logic. In spite of the almost exclusively recondite elements in such ideology, National Socialism was able to rely not merely upon the confused utterances of obscurely fantasizing eccentrics but also upon the authority of university lecturers, politicising lawyers, poets and literary-minded teachers. Its hostility to reason was intellectual, just as it was essentially a movement of failed intellectuals who had lost their faith in reason. (5) It was intellectuals above all who made possible that intellectual facade without which, in a scientific age, it is impossible to win over the petty-bourgeois masses: even the denial of reason must be presented in rational terms.

'The spiritual preparation of the German revolution,' so Ernst Lunger, who had fostered it intellectually from the sidelines, wrote in 1953, 'was carried out by countless scientific works' and to these the German nation owed 'the undermining of the ideology of human rights upon which the edifice of the Weimar Republic was founded, as well as the destruction of belief in formal law, in dialectics and the intellect as such'. (6)

Such corrupting cultural and ethical criteria were the outcome of a long process reaching back far into the nineteenth century, in the course of which the mind turned away from itself in the name of a philosophy of life, of the will to power, of rough dynamic vitality, and continually renounced the European rationalist tradition. Generations of philosophers, historians, sociologists and psychologists had a hand in bringing the 'mind as the-adversary of the soul' into disrepute and replacing it by intuition, blood, instinct, to which it gave a status that inevitably raised stupidity to the level of an authority and produced a moral indigence, a 'defeatism of humanity' (7) such as had never been seen before. Yet this was not lamented as a retrogression or a loss, but enthusiastically acclaimed as the rebirth of creative life forces. This vehement anti-enlightenment, fed by romantic impulses, was a phenomenon common to the whole of Europe; names like Carlyle, Sorel or Bergson underline this and at the same time indicate some of the main lines along which this reversal in the history of ideas moved. But nowhere did this critique of reason so fully expand into a 'destruction of reason', nowhere was it carried out with such a seemingly vengeful thoroughness as in Germany, where it was possible for a widely read work to brand reason as a 'villainy' and a 'sacrilege' and where lamentations over the situation of the 'man enslaved by reason', over his 'cerebralization', met with approval. (8)

A combination of conditions peculiar to Germany combined to foster this process. Although Luther's extreme phrase 'the whore reason' — conditioned as it was by his own temperament, period and theological context—cannot justly be set up as a typical German utterance expressive of a constant opposition to the ethical norms of Europe as a whole, as has been attempted, it does at least indicate a long tradition of distrust of rational categories that has prevented the acceptance of reason as a self-evident authority. Reason has long remained curiously excluded in Germany, only half acknowledged and surrounded by an odour of profane superficiality.

One would have to go more deeply than is possible here into political and social conditions, and into the psychological structures which they produced and which in turn produced them, to grasp all the elements of this romantic basic attitude. Among such conditions was the centuries-old dilemma of German state organization which constantly fostered the idea of the 'Inner Reich' and, linked with it, the tendency to romantic dreaming and confused political emotions. Of particular importance, too, was the German conception of education, in which anti-social arrogance and flight from reality were so strangely combined. Further, there was the traditionally unbalanced relationship between spirit and power, and then the role of the country's poets and writers in society, from which they found themselves continually excluded so that they were forced to retreat into their own garrets, where they preferred to meditate upon the Last Things, since the first things denied them any possibility of influence and effect.

A Call To Embrace Madness
Even the crudest texts of that trend of the 1920s generally referred to as the 'Conservative Revolution' contain hints of this. The vehemently inflated, categorical tone, impervious to the lessons of reality, reveals traces of the deviation of a collective mind striving to escape from its nooks and crannies and provincial limitations into the 'eternal', a mind that wishes its thoughts on the political situation to be taken not as sociology but as a theological tract, not as analysis but as vision.

'The renewal of the German reality must spring not from the head but from the heart, not from doctrines but from visions [!] and instincts.'(9)

The old German dissatisfaction with the existing form of state, which enjoyed a frenetically over-intense relief during the brief period of the Empire and found itself thrown back upon its traditional positions in the Weimar Republic, emerged in countless shapes, and it was no more than a nuance when a few voices relieved the embittered metaphysical earnestness of the others by an affectation of cynical amusement. Common to all remained the ceaseless attempt, directed against the very foundations of the state, to discredit mind, ethics and humanity as from a loftier stand-point. In view of the dilution of life which leading intellectuals claimed to see on all sides, many of their followers were prepared to take part in the return to 'soulfulness', to the 'primordial-forces of life', to the 'sacred darkness of ancient times', and to join the chorus of those who scorned the mind as the 'most fruitless of illusions'. Anti-rationalist feelings were inflamed by the very reality of the Republic which, in its sobriety and emotional aridity, seemed merely to confirm the failure of rational principles and intensified doubt even further, as it intensified the susceptibility to 'new solutions'. Even Max Scheler, in an essay written towards the end of the 1920s, though dissociating himself from the fashionable contempt for the mind, interpreted the irrationalist movements of the period as 'a process of recovery', 'a systematic revolt of the instincts in the man of the new age against the former sublimation, against the excessive intellectualism of our fathers and the asceticism which they have been practising for hundreds of years'. (10) The victory of the Hitler movement was then widely construed as a final breakthrough in this process, in that National Socialism seemed—entirely in line with its own self-interpretation — to be ushering in a new era that would bring to an end the rule of reason and restore life to its primordial rights.

It is only against this background that the widespread wave of approbation which, immediately after 30th January 1933, rolled towards the new regime is comprehensible. It was by no means only those names established as 'folk', 'nationalist', 'conservatives' or 'authoritarian' who expressed their expectations in the same high-flown terms as Hans Friedrich Blunck, who proclaimed

'Humility before God, honour to the Reich, the golden age of the arts'. (11)

As early as 3rd March three hundred university teachers of all political persuasions declared themselves for Hitler in an election appeal, while the mass of students had gone over to the National Socialist camp considerably earlier. As early as 1931 the party, with 50 to 60 per cent of the votes, enjoyed almost twice as much support in the universities as in the country as a whole. The dominant influence of rightist tendencies was as evident in the teaching staff as in the self-governing student body, which was largely controlled by the Union of National Socialist German Students (NSDStB). It was no less noticeable on Langemarck Day, regularly celebrated from 1927 onward with nationalistic excesses and a lack of feeling for the tragic nature of the events, than in the style and speeches of the student congresses, the last of which, in summer 1932, was held significantly in a barracks. (12) In May 1933 a collective declaration of support for the new regime was made by the professors. This was accompanied by a welter of individual expressions of approval, some of them linked with concrete demands, such as those advanced by the well-known cultural sociologist Hans Freyer, who wanted the universities to become more political in keeping with the new spirit. On the eve of the popular elections of 12th November well-known scholars and scientists like Pinder, Sauerbruch and Heidegger called for an understanding attitude towards Hitler's policies. (13) An 'Oath of Loyalty by the German Poets to the People's Chancellor Adolf Hitler' was signed among others by Binding, Halbe, Molo, Ponten, Scholz and Stucken. Almost everyone invited to do so placed himself at the disposal of the regime, which was out to woo recognition and secure a list of decorative names, and which here and elsewhere concealed the aims of the National Socialist revolution behind a general screen of nationalism. The list included Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Gustaf Grtindgens, Heinz Hilpert and Werner Krauss. This fatal willingness to serve was paralleled by the ease with which the new holders of power overran existing institutions, such as the Prussian Academy of Poets. Undoubtedly many of those who entered into the pact could claim honourable motives; but more courageous was the attitude of Ricarda Huch, who resigned from the new Academy of the Arts on the grounds that her Germanness was not that of the government. (14) Faced with this mass conversion, Hitler issued in September 1933 a warning against those who

'suddenly change their flag and move into the new state as though nothing had happened, in order once again to have the main say in the realms of art and cultural policy, for this is our state and not theirs'. (15)

While the new rulers almost had to defend themselves against the influx of new supporters, comparatively few coercive measures were required, and finally all the cultural officials of the regime had to do was to set the institutional seal upon a spontaneous toeing of the party line over wide areas of the intellectual field. Only during a brief phase in a few universities did the well-tried combination of 'spontaneous expressions of will' from below with a subsequent administrative act from above have to be employed to create the necessary order, which was inseparably linked with the leadership's concept of power and of the Third Reich for which they were consistently working. For never was there the slightest doubt about the leadership's determination to extend strict control to the cultural sphere in particular.

The aim of this first period was defined by Reich Minister Frick in the words:

'An end must be put once and for all to this spirit of subversion that has gnawed for long enough at Germany's heart.' (16)

Chief among the measures adopted to this end were the mass introduction of new professors into the universities, the suppression of unwanted artists by forcibly preventing them from working and legally banning their work, and the most spectacular gesture of resolute hostility to the intellect: the burning of some 20,000 so-called un-German writings in the public squares of German university towns to the accompaniment of SA and SS bands playing 'patriotic airs'. These measures were supplemented by the immediate establishment of the Reich Chamber of Culture, which organized everyone working in the artistic and journalistic fields into seven separate chambers in order, as Goebbels put it with cynical frankness, to relieve creative people of that 'feeling of forlorn emptiness' and give them the consciousness that the state was holding 'its protective hand' over them. (17)

Side by side with this, writers and artists were harassed and subjected to regulations that systematized the random interferences of the first phase. The victims, gradually realizing what was happening to them, had no authority before which to state their case save their own secret diaries. Within those weeks no fewer than 250 writers left Germany, giving the cue for a process of unparalleled cultural wastage whose after-effects can still be felt. Others withdrew and fell silent out of disgust and helpless anger. But no gesture of indignation, of joint self-assertion, could be observed, and consequently whatever resistance was offered went unnoticed by those who found themselves put to the test individually and looked about for examples of how to act. Admittedly, totalitarian regimes care little about the disrepute into which their violation of the human spirit brings them. But if only for the sake of their own reputations one would have expected literature and science to make such a gesture. Many of those who had stayed behind, Blunck, Benn, Baumer, Hauptmann, Molo or Seidel, and now occupied official positions in the academies and at official banquets, had friends among the emigrants; they were all, as one of them later recalled, one great community. (18) But the nationalist intoxication swept away such feelings, and where official intellectuals did not avert their eyes in embarrassment from the many tragedies of the outlawed and expelled, they mocked them in the full consciousness of their fine illusions.

'If the fulminations of world opinion strike us because we have ostensibly betrayed freedom, we can only smile wryly as they do who know the facts,'

Wilhelm Schafer declared in a speech in Berlin under the self-confidently ironic title 'Germany's Relapse into the Middle Ages'. And while Rudolf G. Binding in his 'A German's Answer to the World' defended the expulsions on the grounds of the national interest and stated:

'Germany this Germany — was born of the furious longing, the inner obsession, the bloody agonies of wanting Germany: at any price, at the price of every downfall,' (19)

Borries von Munchhausen justified the same process with the words:

'Once more the corn is being thrashed on the threshing floor of the world — what does it matter whether a few handfuls of golden grain are lost when also the chaff is swept out, the holy harvest will be kept safe! Germany, the heart of the nations, is prodigal like all true hearts.'

And when the newspaper Der Nationalsozialist proposed the deportation of all non-folk poets and writers, Die Tat raised its voice in approval (20).

These and many other declarations revealed not least the perpetual dehumanizing effect of literary activity. The burning of the books did not greatly worry those who from their desks, with an artistically contrived shudder, had cast whole universes into the flames or had celebrated struggle, 'delight in everything that can destroy', as the typical mark of a heroic nationalism. (21) Emigration or persecution had no message for a writer accustomed to conjuring up cosmic catastrophes and lauding, for example, the

'splendid day when the Mont Pelees will smother these fertile settlements with their lava and the oceans will silently submerge this mud of amelioration'.

Often the terrorist lived cheek by jowl with the aesthete, and at the beginning of the Third Reich Gottfried Benn reflected that everything which had made the West famous had come into being in slave states, and commented that history is 'rich in combinations of the pharaonic exercise of power with culture.' (22)

The story of the Third Reich clearly demonstrates the contrary. Rarely was a government's cultural ambition higher; never was the result more provincial and insignificant. The self-confident prophecies of the initial phase about 'an unheard-of blossoming of German art', a 'new artistic renaissance of Aryan man', gave way, in a retrospective assessment undertaken by Goebbels after five years of National Socialist cultural policy, to much more modest formulas, as when he states that literature is working, 'thoroughly cleansed, in great agony towards new light'. (23) Hitler, with the impatience of the failed artist, had already arrogated to himself the highest authority in artistic questions, and in his speech on the Enabling Act had already set the heroic and the racial criteria as the obligatory norms for artistic creation. In numerous subsequent outbursts, comparable in their furious exasperation only to his later anti-semitic utterances, he had proclaimed the end of 'November art', of the 'trifling with art and destruction of culture', threatened to have 'cultural Neanderthalers' either placed in medical custody or imprisoned for fraud, and ordered their 'artistic stammerings', these 'international artistic scribblings' in German museums, the 'abortions of an impertinent, shameless arrogance', to be delivered to destruction. (24)

What took the place of the banned works, in spite of all the verbose embellishments, was nothing more than a projection of the artistic prejudices of the German nationalist man in the street, who now saw his intellectual backwardness and cultural narrow-mindedness sanctioned by the state itself as healthy common sense — a martial Biedermeier art which, despite generous aid, remained hopelessly caught in the narrowness of its own pre-suppositions, even if it celebrated lavishly organized triumphs every year in the House of German Art. The ambitious artistic efforts of the Third Reich never passed beyond classical imitations to an original aesthetic, although it the Reich Party Congress of 1933 Hitler had already enunciated the motto 'through ideological renewal and the consequent racial purification, to find a new style of life, culture, and art'. The project got no further than the principle of negative selection, as was vividly demonstrated in the fields of painting and sculpture by the admission procedure for the Munich art exhibitions presided over by Hitler himself.

In literature selection was entrusted to a censorship apparatus with wide powers. It caught and suppressed everything that had helped the country's literature to a new world reputation, and cleared the way for a dull poetry of blood and soil. This was the breakthrough of a pseudo-romantic undercurrent in German literature that had always existed but had never before achieved significant recognition; now, however, its productions gained recognition, along with the resentment of the unsuccessful, with the whole weight of state support. Shutting itself off from the world, proud of the narrowness of its own chosen realm, totally lacking in urbanity and intellectual receptiveness, this cult pursued its twilight and its earthiness, not with the sensibility, the poetic anguish and artistic refinement of German Romantic literature, but with a stubbornly defensive nationalism. Its neurotic relationship with the modern world narrowed its view and made it primitive; it was always the German fields, the German forest or glistening snow-capped peaks that were played off against the urban scene, the philistine existence of peasants was played off against metropolitan civilization, the cult of Wotan against the conveyor belt, the ways of the Northmen against present-day social structures. It was with a false inwardness that it meditated upon essentials behind shuttered windows: plough, sword, and then in the evening happiness under the linden tree. No complicated psychological analysis is required to demonstrate the affinity between such 'inwardness' and totalitarian thinking. It will be enough to take a glance at a history of literature (25) and list the titles of the works of Max Jungnickel in chronological order: Sorge (Care), 1913; Peter Himmelhoch, 1916; Jakob Heidebuckel, 1917; Der Wolkenschulze (Mayor of the Clouds), 1919; Michael Spinnler, 1925; Rutschins Mauseloch (Journey down a Mousehole), 1929; and then in 1933, Goebbels; in 1935, Junge lacht ins Leben (A Lad Laughs at Life); in 1938, Mythos der Soldaten (Myth of the Soldiers); in 1939, Commando der Erde (Commando of the Earth); and finally in 1940, Fliegende Grenadiere (Flying Grenadiers).

Iron and inwardness, this was the combination Goebbels had in mind when he asked for a 'steely romanticism' (26). With this went the demand for the corresponding 'human attitudes', as expressed in the desire of the men in power, once more stressed by Goebbels, 'to breed a new type of German artist' or 'to create a new type of university teacher'. (27) The direction of these efforts became clear when a 'soldierliness of the spirit' was spoken of, when poetry was described as 'fighting power', scientists were referred to as 'comrades in the science services of the German nation', and 'muster rolls of authors' were introduced, 'comradeship evenings of the department of poets'. (28) The aim was to organize the arts and sciences in military categories so as to make them emphatically aware of their service function, in such a way that movements of individual revolt or scepticism became acts of desertion, which, in a nation with an ingrained respect for the military, was always regarded as especially heinous. The final stage of this policy was the elimination of all distinctions between poet and soldier in a nation welded into a single block, as glorified in the extravagant style of Reich Theatrical Controller Rainer Schlosser:

'Not: here poet and thinker, there soldier and politician, but: proud brows beneath steel helmets, high hearts in armour, and when the time comes to fight, German souls in the trenches.' (29)

The leading example of the soldierly spirit in the ideological field, at least until 30th June 1934, was the SA. There was talk of 'SA men of the mind', and while Goring and Rosenberg set up the artistic sense of the 'healthy SA man' as an aesthetic criterion (30). Rebellious art critics were told to emulate Horst Wessel and 'march in Adolf Hitler's brown battalions' in order 'to know better about German art today'. (31) so that 'the German scholar alienated from the people may soon belong to the past', Professor Ernst Storm, later Rector of the Berlin Technical University, held up Hitler in his role as Supreme Commander of the SA and Chief of Staff Ernst Rohm as models 'for every German university lecturer'. On 1st December 1933 the Reich Leader of the German Students' Union and the National Socialist German Students' Union, Oscar Stabel, intimated that

'the time is not far off when there will be no room in German universities for men who are too genteel to take their place in the community of the SA'.

As though in support of this, the Prussian Minister of Education the same day issued a regulation making

'the completion of ten weeks' service in the Labour Corps or SA a condition for obtaining a teaching certificate'. (32)

To the institutional regimentation of the universities there was quickly added their material organization. It was Hitler's conviction that the idea of a free science subject to no outside direction was 'absurd', that in the scientific as in the moral sense there was no truth, indeed that fundamentally science had, as he put it, a 'devastating' effect, because 'it leads away from instinct'. (33) Solicitous educational civil servants and also numerous university teachers, immediately set about spreading these ideas in the academic field. The efforts to put an end to the rule of intelligence are documented in the grotesque outbursts of an anti-intellectualism that was finally to come out into the open. 'Intelligence, what does that include?' asked the Bavarian Minister of Education, Hans Schemm. His answer was:

'Logic, calculation, speculation, banks, stock exchange, interest, dividends, capitalism, career, profiteering, usury, Marxism, Bolshevism, rogues, and thieves.' (34)

And while the idea of scientific objectivity — in Hitler's view a

'slogan coined by the professors simply in order to escape from the necessary supervision by the power of the state'

— was damned in a flood of directives and pamphlets as a symptom of a bourgeois-liberal epoch, the historians, for example, found themselves called upon

'to see German history only with German eyes, with the eyes of the blood';

the Nobel Prize winner Philipp Lenard on the 550-year jubilee of Heidelberg University issued his unspeakable views on 'Aryan physics'; Professor Walter Poppelreuther glorified Hitler as a 'scientific psychologist'; and Professor Reinhard Hohn elevated the concept of the national community 'to the fundamental principle of science'. (35) The list could be prolonged almost indefinitely and would include the names of jurists, doctors, theologians, political economists. Germanists and musicologists.

Undoubtedly those who argued in this way did not do so against all conviction; for even the betrayal of reason takes place in its name, since man remains dependent upon reasons. The mechanics of 'misguided thinking' have been analysed in relation to the Communist world, though here the phenomenon takes place on an altogether more rigorous plane. However, even under National Socialist rule the sacrificium intellectus was given many opportunities for ideological evolution, especially during the initial phase with its manifold illusions. From the medieval idea of the Reich or the notion of the state evolved from German idealist philosophy to the expectation of an imminent consummation of Bismarck's Reich, the National Socialist seizure of power was accompanied by the most varied and often violent historical apologia, such as later enjoyed a remarkable revival in the process of 'revising' German history that took place during the upheavals of the post-war years. The ideas aroused by the anti-rationalist writings of the pre-totalitarian phase were now seen as manifested in current events, ideas related to the revolution of instinct, blood, primordial vital force against the rationalist and Western 'asphalt world'. Common to all these visions was the basic feeling of a long-awaited political advent, whose time had now come. It was from these visions that the measures involved in the process of seizing power, as well as individual behaviour, drew their ideological justification. Harshness, arbitrariness and the demand for obedience, for example, could be justified by reference to such semi-mythological concepts as order, Prussianism or Germanic democracy; pusillanimous silence, the closing of the eyes to violence, could be glossed over by notions of duty and self-discipline—concepts of exceptional weight for the ordinary German; or excessive nationalism could be interpreted and exalted as the reawakening of Germany to the historical present after sleeping for centuries and lapsing into a 'dullard's cosmopolitanism'. Over and above this the enthusiastic acclamations always contained an element of that peculiar German conception of destiny to which submission had been demanded since time immemorial. Objective knowledge was renounced, as the evidence cited above shows; and the renunciation was demanded and imposed in the name of the national community, whose realization after age-old divisions in any case carried sacred significance in the country's tradition of political ideas. The state was acknowledged to possess not merely a historical but also an absolute right to trample on venerable standards, such as the objectivity of scientific thinking, so that acts which turned out to be betrayals of the human mind looked at the time like service to historical greatness.

At the same time many who capitulated more quietly, or sought to make their peace with the men in power, were also motivated by the illusions and dreams that permeated the nation as a whole, effectively fostered by the new masters. Among these were various universal if vague ideas of renewal; the usurped role of 'defenders of the West against Bolshevism'; and even, along with other tendencies in the German and European history of ideas which, grossly falsified and perverted, were confidently claimed for the National Socialist cause, the very idea of the 'Third Reich', which contained a magical promise that had existed for centuries. All impulses of any effectiveness were absorbed into the National Socialist philosophy, which, within a certain overall framework, was largely left by the leadership to its own devices. Surprisingly enough the inconsistency of this philosophy, far from pointing up its essential spuriousness, actually constituted its specific attraction for many intellectuals. By giving free play to all nationalist, conservative or popular revolutionary ideas, it was largely whatever imagination at any given moment demanded of it. And those in whom the mechanism of self-deception broke down found their readiness to accept illusions reinforced by the terrifying example of what happened to those who attempted to assert themselves. Public defamation, surveillance by the party and the Gestapo, denial of the right to publish, could be seen to descend upon anyone who drew upon himself the disfavour of the authorities and was thereby rendered 'undesirable'. Finally it must be pointed out that here, as always in times of upheaval characters were revealed and their most objectionable side laid bare: opportunism, ruthless ambition and intrigue triumphed in astounding careers. Thomas Mann noted in the pages of his diary in June 1933:

The abysmal wretchedness of men is at times amazing. The Simplicissimus artists who declared that they had never shared the paper's outlook and had merely been led astray by Heine.The Berlin sculptor who, for the sake of his professorship, or some other aspect of his career, admitted that his wife was a Jewess, but claimed that for five years he had had nothing to do with her.The German newspapers—horror. (36)

The oath of allegiance which the times demanded from every intellectual disclosed a deeply confusing situation. Only in those who fell silent, and in the emigrants, did there seem to live on some conviction that the spirit demands a readiness to make sacrifices from those who claim to be its representatives. The right to make mistakes is certainly fundamental, and there is nothing reprehensible about mistakes in themselves. It is also true that 'intellectual freedom and a sense of cultural values have never before been put to such a test'. (37) But what was revealed during those years was more than a mistake, and that 'unforgettable failure fatal to the honour of the German mind', of which Thomas Mann spoke, (38) was more than the result of a brief state of intoxication brought about by hands with the power to mislead. The weakness of the intellectual will to assert itself is comprehensible only on the basis of a prolonged corruption of all politico-moral values To be sure, here too only a minority consistently followed National Socialism and its leadership; above all, the later evolution of the regime sobered many who had experienced exalted emotions at the beginning. And it was just this refusal of lasting adherence that aroused Hitler's reiterated rancour against the 'intellectual classes'. He declared in his speech to the German press on 10th November 1938:

Unfortunately we need them; otherwise we might one day, I don't know, exterminate them or something like that. But unfortunately we need them.' (39)

Almost more staggering were the countless half-pacts with the National Socialist leaders, the attitude of those prepared to back any theoretical anti-intellectualism, who evidently persuaded themselves that barbarism was divisible and finally saw in National Socialism the degeneration of their folk, anti-rational ideals of a rebirth of the soul or whatever it might be. These were people like the literary historian and poet Ernst Bertrand who, during the first days of May 1933, set out to remove from the lists of works to be burnt the books of his personal friends Thomas Mann and Friedrich Gundolf, and after succeeding in this wrote happily that now he could participate in the solemn auto-da-fe' and actually had a poem to the flames, specially written for the occasion, read out in public. (40) Such behaviour, which is more horrifying than the believed idiocies uttered by Philipp Lenard or Reinhard Hohn, reveals something more than the dilemma of a scholarly mind specialized exclusively in its own narrow field and, lacking any idea of it own social position, remaining stubbornly in a state of political tutelage. It also shows up the comprehensive failure of a bourgeois educational ideal which was ostensibly 'un-political' but in reality always submissive to authority and willing to enter into a pact with authority. This is the source not only of the 'readiness of the bourgeois spirit in Germany to be politically misled', (41) but also of the lack of civil self-confidence and courage which plunged characters into such a discouraging twilight during this period. 'If only life would at last stop demanding solutions from us,' Gerhart Hauptmann exclaimed with his eyes on the moment of decision before which he was placed and which he repeatedly sought to evade. (42)

Finally, any inquiry into the causes and responsibility for the failure of the educated classes continually leads back to that crisis of consciousness whose protracted preparatory phase reached its climax in the infectious spiritual climate of the 1920s. Every intellectual knows an occasional temptation to fall for the charlatan; in each there lives an urge to the Black Mass, a desire to

'turn the world of the spirit upside down with an intellectual gesture, to interchange the signs that mark its whole system of relationships, as the practical joker switches all the shoes outside the doors of hotel rooms during the night'. (43)

But when the charlatans and 'practical jokers' suddenly appear in droves and, not with the gesture of ironic detachment but the mien of dark wisdom, as though they were continually holding anguished converse with angels, then everything points to one of those crises of the spirit that precede politico-moral catastrophes. A culture whose mouthpieces, to the applause of the majority, had long since become the spokesmen for the defamation and negation of everything upon which this culture rested could no longer credibly oppose its own destruction. The Expressionist poet Hanns Johst, later President of the Reich Chamber of Writers, went to the heart of this crisis when he made the hero of one of his dramas say that he released the safety catch of his Browning as soon as he heard the word 'culture'; (44) fundamentally, everyone did. F. G. Junger wrote:

'Every new screw in the machine-gun, every improvement in gas warfare, is more important than the League of Nations.'

Stefan George stated:

'We see in every event, every age, only a means to artistic stimulus. Even the freest of the free could not manage without the ethical blanket — we have only to think of the concepts of guilt and so on [!] — which has become to us quite worthless.' (45)

Symptoms of the same condition showed in the contempt for man seen in literature and art, the brutality of style and expression which ran parallel with the mania for twilight and darkness, the delight in barbarism, downfall, myth and cynicism which were not confined to the political right. Looking back, as one who was for a time part of all this, Franz Werfel confessed in terms that are probably not universally valid but certainly largely apply to the situation at that time:

'There is no more consuming, impudent, mocking, more devil-possessed arrogance than that of the avant-garde artist and radical intellectual who are bursting with the vain hankering to be deep and obscure and difficult and to inflict pain. To the accompaniment of the amusedly indignant laughter of a few philistines we inconspicuously heated up the hell in which mankind is now frying.' (46)

Keyed as they were to a mood of downfall and destruction, artists, writers and intellectuals as a whole failed to see that the culture which they were slandering included everything upon which their existence as artists, writers and intellectuals rested, and many eventually acclaimed the victory of National Socialism precisely because of the possibilities of barbarism and chaos which it brought with it — to the terror, as they thought, only of a 'cowardly and well-fed bourgeoisie'.

Too late they realized that the terror was directed against all of them. Many paid terribly for their blindness. To others, however, fate was kind: the consequences of what they had so emphatically called into being were not forced upon them. They merely fell silent, cowered in a corner, and remained untouched, while noting with secret bitterness the rule of the mob, the barbarisation of public life, the path to war and chaos- and found that this was not the mob, the barbarism, the chaos which they had once called down upon civilization. With some justice Hitler complained of them:

Today the old wives of the literary world are everywhere croaking at me, charging me with 'betrayal of the spirits ! And they themselves have been betraying the spirit to this day in their fine phrases. So long as it was just a literary pastime, they prided themselves on it. Now that we are in earnest with it, they are opening wide their innocent eyes. (47)

It may be surmised that something of this astonishment was to be seen in Edgar Jung's eyes when the myrmidons of the SS broke into his home at the end of June 1934. Only a few months previously had he pointed out to those caught up

'in the notions of the constitutional state' and unduly perturbed 'by certain acts of violence' that 'violence is an element of life' and 'a nation that has become incapable of employing violence must be suspected of biological decline'. (48)

The story of the withdrawal of power from the intellectuals in a country is always the story of voluntary relinquishment, and if resistance is called for, it is mainly resistance to the temptation to suicide. Thomas Mann asked in 1930 whether it was possible at all, in an old, mature, experienced, civilized nation that had intellectual and spiritual exploits behind it like Germany, to impose the anti-mind, primitivism, complete national simplicity. In essence the answer was there before the question was asked, even if it was only later, in the conditions of totalitarian rule, that its definite character became clear, along with the realization that the frontier of what man is capable of is boundless. The guilt of intellectual radicalism in helping to bring about National Socialism lies in the way it prepared public opinion for the regime's excessive claims in all fields, in its expulsion of reason, its devaluation of the image of man, its scorn for all those who still recognised truths or moral standards and its consistent denunciation of all ethical principles, these being presented under the guise of a fresh, undismayed, undeluded feeling for life. This is an incontestable fact, regardless of such questions as whether an intellectual attitude can be held responsible for what happens when that same attitude is fraudulently distorted and actually put into practice. 'Everything romantic stands in the service of other, unromantic energies,' wrote Carl Schmitt in 1925, involuntarily giving himself away. (49)

There were exceptions, men who took no part in the one trend or the other, either before or after 1933. The sculptor Ernst Barlach, the poet Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, the painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Pestered by petty officials, they saw themselves faced with 'slow strangulation', as Barlach wrote. (50) There was the not inconsiderable minority of scholars and scientists who fought hard to preserve the integrity of research and teaching: the historian Friedrich Meinecke, the philosopher Kurt Huber, the scientists Otto Hahn and Werner Heisenberg. And if what the regime was vouchsafed, instead of the expected cultural successes, was only impoverishment and stagnation, it remained so far behind the rest of the world in the military sciences, on account of the expulsion of the intellectual elite as well as the well-founded refusal of the country's leading specialist scientists to swear the oath of loyalty, that this was not the least among the factors that helped to seal its fate. (51) The anti-intellectualism that played a leading part in its rise was equally important among the causes of its downfall.

The poetic justice of this may satisfy the retrospective observer, it was little comfort to contemporaries. The unfortunate Oskar Loerko summed up the martyrdom of his experiences in the Third Reich—his pain at the undignified situations into which he was constantly forced, his bitterness at the conformity and opportunism of his friends, his despair at the boastful meanness of those in power—in the words:

'There is a disgust in the world that reaches beyond death and will last to eternity.' (52)
« NEXT » « Part 3 » « The Third Reich » « Library » « Home »