Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The 1935 Preface to Kant-Studien

When I was in Berlin in 2010, I spent some time in the Humboldt University library, looking through philosophy journals from the Nazi era, in connection with my interest in the extent to which German philosophers either embraced or resisted Nazism. (Summary version: about 1/3 embraced Nazism, about 1/3 rejected Nazism, and about 1/3 ducked their heads and kept quiet.)

The journals differed in their degree of Nazification. Perhaps the most Nazified was Kant-Studien, which at the time was one of the leading German-language journals of general philosophy (not just a journal for Kant scholarship). The old issues of Kant-Studien aren't available online, but I took some photos. Here, Sascha Fink and I have translated the preface to Kant-Studien Vol. 40 (1935), p. 3-4 (emphasis added):


Kant-Studien, now under its new leadership that begins with this first issue of the 40th volume, sets itself a new task: to bring the new will, in which the deeper essence of the German life and the German mind is powerfully realized, to a breakthrough in the fundamental questions as well as the individual questions of philosophy and science.

Guiding us is the conviction that the German Revolution is a unified metaphysical act of German life, which expresses itself in all areas of German existence, and which will therefore – with irresistible necessity – put philosophy and science under its spell.

But is this not – as is so often said – to snatch away the autonomy of philosophy and science and give it over to a law alien to them?

Against all such questions and concerns, we offer the insight that moves our innermost being: That the reality of our life, that shapes itself and will shape itself, is deeper, more fundamental, and more true than that of our modern era as a whole – that philosophy and science, which compete for it, will in a radical sense become liberated to their own essence, to their own truth. Precisely for the sake of truth, the struggle with modernity – maybe with the basic norms and basic forms of the time in which we live – is necessary. It is – in a sense that is alien and outrageous to modern thinking – to recapture the form in which the untrue and fundamentally destroyed life can win back its innermost truth – its rescue and salvation. This connection of the German life to fundamental forces and to the original truth of Being and its order – as has never been attempted in the same depth in our entire history – is what we think of when we hear that word of destiny: a new Reich.

If on the basis of German life German philosophy struggles for this truly Platonic unity of truth with historical-political life, then it takes up a European duty. Because it poses the problem that each European people must solve, as a necessity of life, from its own individual powers and freedoms.

Again, one must – and now in a new and unexpected sense, in the spirit of Kant’s term, “bracket knowledge” [das Wissen aufzuheben]. Not for the sake of negation: but to gain space for a more fundamental form of philosophy and science, for the new form of spirit and life [für die neue Form ... des Lebens Raum zu gewinnen]. In this living and creative sense is Kant-Studien connected to the true spirit of Kantian philosophy.

So we call on the productive forces of German philosophy and science to collaborate in these new tasks. We also turn especially to foreign friends, confident that in this joint struggle with the fundamental questions of philosophy and science, concerning the truth of Being and life, we will gain not only a deeper understanding of each other, but also develop an awareness of our joint responsibility for the cultural community of peoples.

-- H. Heyse, Professor of Philosophy, University of Königsberg


In the 1910s through 1930s, especially in Germany, philosophers tended to occupy the political right (including cheering on World War I and ostracizing Bertrand Russell for not doing so) -- deploying, as here, the tools of their discipline in the service of what we can now recognize as hideous views. Heidegger was by no means alone in doing so, nor the worst offender.

The political views of the mainstream 21st-century philosophical community are very different and, I'd like to think, much better grounded. It would be nice, though, if we had a more trustworthy method for distinguishing tissues of noxious rationalization from real philosophical insight.


For a transcription of the original German, see the Underblog.

For a fuller historical discussion of the role of Kant-Studien in the Third Reich, see this article (in German).

If you zoom in on the title-page image above, you will see that it promises two pictures of Elisabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, Nietzsche's famously antisemitic sister. The volume does include two full-page photos of her (though one appears to be merely a close-up of the other), alongside a fawning obituary of the "wise, gracious" Elisabeth.


Callan S. said...

if we had a more trustworthy method for distinguishing tissues of noxious rationalization from real philosophical insight.

An objective morality?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

That might help, Callan. Do you have one on offer?

Michel Clasquin-Johnson said...

Colour me cynical. If the Nazis had won, we would now be discussing the odious views of the opposite ⅓.

Callan S. said...


Sure! It's in my new book 'Things I wrote wot to make filthy lucre' - in all adequate book stores now!

I dunno - does it seem far out to describe it like each circle is a game and there are about seven billion circles out there, many of which overlap considerably, while others overlap little or not at all?

Thucydides said...

very interesting, eric.
May I request that you install one of those follow-by-email-post device in this blog?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks Thucydides. Not a bad idea. If Blogger makes it easy enough for me, I'll do it!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Very easy. Done. Thanks for the suggestion.

C E Emmer said...

A very useful and informative book on these very issues --- the question of the degree to which philosophers in Germany allied with the Nazi's --- is Hans Sluga, _Heidegger's Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany_ (Harvard, 1993).

The book description reads: "Heidegger's Crisis shows not only how the Nazis exploited philosophical ideas and used philosophers to gain public acceptance, but also how German philosophers played into the hands of the Nazis. Hans Sluga describes the growth, from World War I onward, of a powerful right-wing movement in German philosophy, in which nationalistic, antisemitic, and antidemocratic ideas flourished."

It has been digitized by De Gruyter:

C E Emmer said...

...and now I see that one of your links directs to a corrected version of the Kant-Studien article.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

[This comment was accidentally deleted, so I am pasting it below.]

C E Emmer said: By the way, you might be interested in the following article:

"Die Kant-Studien im Dritten Reich"
by George Leaman and Gerd Simon
Kant-Studien 85:4 (1994), pp. 443-469.

Abstract: This extensively documented article examines the publishing history of "Kant-Studien" during the years of the Nazi dictatorship. The article provides a detailed account of the work of the German philosophers who transformed the journal into a sophisticated instrument of Nazi cultural propaganda, and situates their efforts within the larger context of pro- Nazi philosophical activities in Germany. The article also presents a hitherto unknown volume of "Kant- Studien" (Band 42, Heft 1 - Jg 1941/42) and provides a brief account of the journal's post- war resurrection.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanksm, C E! We have similar tastes, since those are two of my favorite pieces on the topic! Have you seen Leaman's Heidegger im Kontext? It has brief bios of every single philosopher during the Nazi period, including the extent to which they collaborated or resisted. I did a brief quantitative analysis here:

C E Emmer said...

No, Eric, I was not aware of that book, which sounds like a logical supplement to the Sluga volume. I assume you're familiar with the story about Jonas and Ebbinghaus, then? Just in case you're not, I'll place it here. I think you'd find it of interest!

In Marburg I paid another visit as well. Bultmann said to me, “Didn’t you also study with Julius Ebbinghaus at one time?” In fact I’d enrolled in a lecture course and a seminar given in Freiburg by the Kantian Ebbinghaus. That was after my agricultural interlude. We’d even locked horns. He was a pugnacious orthodox Kantian, who’d found his way back from Hegel to the true font of wisdom, to Kant. I couldn’t help having a rather critical attitude toward him, for he had no patience with any opinion that diverged from Kant’s, and he was a somewhat overbearing but extraordinarily sharp, clear, and precise interpreter of Kant’s theories. “You should go and see him,” Bultmann told me. “He’s one of the people whose behavior was really magnificent.” It so happened that a few days earlier I’d read in a German newspaper an account of a radio address by Julius Ebbinghaus in which he discussed the question of German guilt. And in words that revealed great moral fortitude. I still remember his saying that in the war Germany had sinned against the key principle of Kant’s political ethics, formulated in his essay “On Eternal Peace,” to the effect that nothing should be done in a war that would render it impossible to achieve peace later. Ebbinghaus argued that Germany had placed itself outside the international community of laws — quite [147 | 148] an unpopular position at the time. He maintained that the Allies couldn’t be expected to do the Germans the favor of concluding a peace treaty with them. “We’ve gambled away any right to a peace treaty.”*
We greeted one another cordially, and I expressed my admiration for the strong stand he’d taken during the Nazi period, for Bultmann had told me that he’d remained uncompromising even at a time when you couldn’t speak so freely. Ebbinghaus then said something I’ll never forget: “Yes, Jonas, but I want to say one thing: without Kant it wouldn’t have been possible for me to survive this period.” It was as if a Christian had said, “Without Jesus Christ I wouldn’t have been able to do it.” At that I suddenly saw clearly what it means to live by one’s philosophy. Such steadfastness reduces Heidegger, the far more important and original philosopher, to a nonentity. What the Kantian had grasped, and the existential philosopher hadn’t, was that philosophy also imposes the obligation to live and behave in a way that can withstand public scrutiny. Later, on my trips to Marburg, I visited Ebbinghaus many times. He never dropped the role of the Kantian, still trying to teach me things I hadn’t learned properly. One time, when I was invited to give a philosophical lecture in Marburg, Ebbinghaus was in the audience, ancient but sturdy as ever, a small man who stood ramrod-straight, with blazing eyes and blistering speech. He walked Lore and me to the railroad station. From the platform, when we were already in our compartment, he said through the open window, “Jonas, what I wanted to tell you was this: if you’d paid better attention in my Kant seminar, you wouldn’t have said some of the things you did in your talk yesterday.” It sounded as though he thought I wasn’t a hopeless case — if only I’d listen to him. He was a one-track thinker, in a certain sense limited, who never looked back once he’d chosen Kant. But in his own way he was an admirable man.

Hans Jonas, _Memoirs_, edited and Annotated by Christian Wiese, translated from the German by Krishna Winston (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2008), pp. 147-148.

*Note 13: Julius Ebbinghaus, _Zu Deutschlands Schicksalswende_ (Frankfurt/Main, 1946).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for posting that, C.E.! I hadn't heard the story, actually. One of these days I'd like to really bone up on the period and do it right.

I do have one empirical analysis of current U.S. philosophers which suggests that ethicists who favor deontological ethics behave about the same as do other ethicists, and that ethicists as a whole behave about the same as do other academics:

Of course, it's a different thing to be a ramrod-straight pure Kantian. Not a lot of those, I think, in my data set.

C E Emmer said...

Another parallel to your question about the ethics of ethicists (for research) might be the question, how much did philosophers/ethicists in the US support the occupation of Iraq (which violated the basic principles of just war theory / the Geneva Conventions)? or --- harder to get data on, perhaps --- the United States' use of torture?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting questions, though I prefer to look at cases where there is more historical distance and a kind of womp-you-over-the-head retrospective obviousness. Besides Nazism, another good case might be slavery in the 19th c. U.S. The beautiful thing about Leaman's Heidegger im Kontext is that by getting every single philosopher into the database, one can make quantitative and comparative judgments instead of weaker judgments like "some".