Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How could it happen? / 7 / German Idealism / Hans Grimm

"German" is taking on a whole set of new meanings, as I continue my readings.  Until recently, I had zero idea what was meant by "German Idealism", though I took a full-year course in "German Classicism" at the University of Alberta.  We studied works by Goethe, Schiller and Lessing.   These writers are not said to define German Idealism, but German Idealism and Fichte's and other's nationalism keep coming back to praising the heights of German accomplishment in all these thinkers and poets.  In fact even in my generation, Germans like to say that Germany is the land of thinkers and poets (Dichter und Denker--it alliterates in German).  We are proud of our metaphysical accomplishments as a culture.  We are smart and diligent.

Everybody has something to say about Kant, and I am not even going to pretend to be able to say anything inelligent about him.  I don't remember much about the Classicism course, except that it was conducted in German with only four students in it.  One was my pastor's wife, and so we made two Christians in the class, together.  There was a young man, who was struck by some female in Germany and returned to Europe during the second semester.  The fourth was a flamboyant, tall young blond, who loved to talk about skiing and wore fur coats.  As you can see it was an intimate class, and surly the University was not breaking even by putting it on.  No doubt some German foundation helped pay for it.

The professor was thoroughly imbued with the material he was teaching, and this is the point I want to make:  it seems to me that Idealism could be classified as a kind of religion.   While the professor did not show much antagonism against Christianity, he did make much of the problem of pain.  If there is a "God", why is there all this suffering in the world. ??? (i.e. there can't be a loving and omnipotent God.)  I was so naive as to give him a booklet I had on the subject, but I think  he liked me for giving him a little push-back.

But the great Goethe was truly a prophet to him, if not "god",  and the most sacred writing of all was  "Iphigenie auf Tauris".  Goethe towers over the wrecks of time.  Goethe the Great Spirit. --  And Others of course. -- But Goethe above all. -- I made the mistake of writing my paper on this favorite play of his, and having run out of time at the end of the semester, giving it only a moderate effort, spending only one afternoon in the library.  I remember receiving a 7 out of 9 on it, which is the worst mark I ever received on a paper.  Usually, I wear myself out looking up things and the papers all get good grades, even getting remarks that I am adding to the field of research with my opinions and conclusions.  (Obviously, I got addicted to these comments and keep on blogging crazy things, as you see. )  But the "Iphignenie auf Tauris" somehow did not receive the required fanaticism, by me. This I remember.

[One thing that has disturbed me in the past decade, is that my daughter in getting her first degree did not have to write any papers, at all.  What is the meaning of this?  How can you go through University and do no research?  They can even go to University without going to University.  They print out notes from the internet, and skip lectures.  There were more group projects and more interdisciplinary functions.  These were of disputable value.  I tried to defend them to her, but the group projects seemed doomed sometimes by the difficulty of a group effort by people of various abilities and nobody having any time to get together. Or else certain people out of quota faculties looked down on people in other quota faculties or those in non-quota faculties.  It seemed like a hierarchy was always looked for or needed.]

So much about paper writing, then and now.  I loved writing papers and it gave me a kind of high and a let-down when I was finished.  But, yes, there was the "Iphigenie auf Tauris."  I don't remember the significance of her except that she was significant.

File:Goethe Iphigenia in Tauris 1803.jpg

As little as I understand about Kant, remember about German Classicism or wrap my head around the concepts of German Idealism, we can see that in the 19th century the impact of it all was widely felt.  In reading about American authors last year, I saw that many of them were inspired by these writers, as well as by Napoleon's audacity and brilliance.  Certainly, also Napoleon keeps coming up as a touch-stone.  The German culture was said to be the highest in the world by some Americans, too, and some wanted to come live in Germany and immerse themselves in this high culture.  Lacking the German language skills several were deterred from their plans, though many Americans did come to Germany over the years and learned from the liberal attitudes in culture and religion.

Karla Poewe, as a religious anthropologist, argues in her book that National Socialism was a political religion.  The religiosity of it seems to me, now, to begin much earlier than in the Weimar Republic and its post-war difficulties.  The fact that German Culture was becoming deified and becoming a spiritual confession in opposition to Christian confessions, was a factor in moving people from a Biblical understanding, toward the feelings of Romanticism, the sublime "feelings" of which became a substitute for traditional religion.  This began much before the 20th century. (!)

As a result, those people with the means and leisure to indulge in creativity and exploration of the sublime and aestetics, might aspire to being genuises.  Whereas, the common man, who had to dedicate himself to work and family and found his spirituality in the written word of the Bible and church community became viewed as something lesser.  And certainly, also, peoples of other countries were becoming viewed as something lesser. Inspiration was now to come from tough, hero figures or heroines.  These figures did not come from biblical sources, they came from various mythologies.

To summarize, we cannot blame Goethe for National Socialism, nor can we totally lay it at the doorstep of any of the other thought systems.  However, we can see how some of the ideas contributed to the rise of National Socialism, racism, and a kind of religious ideology.  For proof we bring in one more individual to quote from Karla Poewe.  He is the author  Hans Grimm.  (We see that Wikipedia doesn't have too much material on him, unfortunately.)

Grimm wrote hugely popular stories and thus greatly influenced people in the pre-WW II period.  He even organized annual conferences for national poets.  He was an agnostic from the start and never tried to combine Christianity with Nationalism.  Poewe says he wrote with an "amazing psychological efficiency."  "According to Grimm, human fortunes are determined by luck, time, fate, and, above all, by the country (that is, its history and its imperial reach) into which one was born."  (p. 144)  "... German salvation [after Versaille] was to come, however, not from God but from the 'fount of the power within the Volk' (Grimm 1931).  That is what 'Third Reich' meant--a fount of power expressed by its best poets.  He meant from poets and writers like him.   Grimm's merciless pessimism, which he expresses in all his books, is intended to inspire people, as perculiar as it might seem to fight the fight that fate has thrown at them. "  (p. 145, Grimm in Poewe.)

He had spent time in Southern Africa and was distressed by the fact that Germans overseas lived in other people's colonies but did not have their own space to develop themselves.  In addition we read this in Poewe:  "The English attitude toward Germany, perceived as it was as an unwelcome rival that must be elimitated, shocked him to the core, and he remained pathetically obsessed with English-German relations throughout his life." (p. 146)

As an aside, Grimm wrote against Thomas Mann, as the Mann brothers were considered to be writing for "civilization", as opposed to "culture".  "Grimm regarded Thomas Mann as a civilization-writer (Zivilationsliterat) rather than a 'voelkisch' writer.  With the term Zivilisationsliterat Grimm accused Thomas Mann of the same thing of which Thomas Mann had accused his brother Heinrich Mann after the First World War.  At that time Thomas Mann was in fact a Conservative Revolutionary while Heinrich Mann was liberal  [--I pick this up here because we are also examining the life of the Mann brothers.]  Because the goal of civilization-writers was the democratization and thus de-Germanization of Germany, Thomas Mann in effect accused his brother and others who wrote in his vein of being against nationalism and anti-German.  Hans Grimm accuses Thomas Mann of insensitivity and an inflated sense of self-importance that he could only have acquired in America.  With this in mind, and in the context of his usual litany of worries related to the protest years (1918-1932), Hans Grimm also listed the 'clumsy self-importance of Jews'... and the 'intrusion of Jews into key intellectual positions'. "  (Poewe, p. 151).

"One of Grimm's most self-aware ideological statements about what Germans in the 1920s and 1930s were up to was given in 1935 before a German-American audience in new York.  Grimm started his talk by raising a question that he thought Americans might ask, namely:  what was the nature of the belief in humanity that Germany, in an uncertain time, was trying to turn into a useful and duty-inspiring reality?  The belief was, said Grimm, 'that the competent have more right than the incompetent, that the orderly have more right than the disorderly  that the healthy have more right than the sick, that the gifted have more right than the ungifted, that the innovator has more right than the imitator... that these rights come from a man's gifts, achievements, and duties.'  And what is the other faith, the one opposed to the above, asks Grimm.  'The other faith puts the masses before the Volk, class before nation, the dull before the gifted, the weak before the strong, the ignorant before the learned, the tired before the energetic...'  Then Grimm asks a third question that he imagined German-Americans might wish to have answered, namely, why Germans, who were once renowned for their universalism, had come to this new belief.  His answer is revealing. 'My listeners, when we Germans in Germany lost the Word War, when the guilt for the war was put solely on us without trial, when no state in the world had pity on us, when Wilson's fourteen points were ignored, when the hunger blockade was continued, when Versailles came, when the stupid injustice of Memel happened and the heavy injustice of Upper Silesia, when the Ruhr occupation occurred, then the other faith became attractive to the masses.'  The other faith was clearly Communism.  It even won over some achievers (Leitungsmenschen) who were by nature deeply opposed to it... in Germany today under difficult circumstances we are leading the battle for the mind [Geisteskampf] in the direction of emphasizing the responsibilities of achievers but also their privileges, responsibilities of the healthy but also their privileges, and responsibilities of the gifted but also their preferential rights'.  Grimm considered this elitism to be part of Nordic nature or of the rights of gentlemen (Herrenrecht) [Brigitte says:  I might not say "rights of gentlemen" for "Herrenrecht".  A gentleman connotes something benign.  A "Herrenrecht" is more assertive, something like what Grimm is saying here:  the right of the superior or stronger to lord it over the inferior.]  Beyond his untranslatable rhetoric, Grimm simply showed that Communism was warded off by National Socialism and the latter was but a form of hard-nosed social Darwinism.  Grimm recognized the motive of revenge and destruction in Communism but not in National Socialism."  (Poewe, pp. 152,153)


Hans Grimm.

(In checking the internet for Hans Grimm, I co-incidentally came upon an Alois Grimm, another Roman Catholic victim of National Socialism, a priest and patristic scholar.  He was killed in 1944.

On 12 August 1944, Roland Freisler stripped Father Grimm of all civil rights and privileges damnatio memoriae and sentenced him to death for two counts of undermining the fighting spirit of the German Wehrmacht and for defeatism. Reflecting on his sentence, Grimm wrote: "The hour has come, I am going home into eternity. In a few hours, I will stand in front of my Judge, my Redeemer and my Father. It is God’s will, to be done everywhere. Don’t mourn over me, I am returning home, you have to wait. I give my life for the kingdom of God, which knows no end, for the society of Jesus, for the youth and religion of our home land".[3] Father Alois Grimm was hanged at the age of 57 on 11 September 1944 in the Brandenburg-Görden Prison.

The horror of it all is hardly fathomable.)

It seems we have strayed somewhat from the point, but perhaps this is the point.  From Kant, via Lessing and Goethe, to Fichte and Grimm, we have an assertion of a "German" spirit, which borders on the religious, and which competes with Judeo-Christianity.  In fact, it is irreconcilable with Christianity and as with Lessing's famous dastardly ditch, there is no common ground, even though some people struggled for it.  We shall know them by their fruits.  And certainly National Socialism was the most evil fruit that anyone hardly could have imagined beforehand. 

The pride of race, nation and culture, philosophy, language of poetry, heroes and sagas, over and against other human beings, resulted in a cult of  "Germanism" vs. a worship of the Lord and King of the Universe, laid in a humble manger.  It is obviously not a wholesome affair.  Germanism did see some parallels in Jewish history and the Old Testament.  However, the Old Testament always foreshadlowed the redemption of all nations. 

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