February 21, 2007


Adolf Hitler: How the intellectual climate in Germany shaped the future Führer (Clive James, Feb. 21, 2007, Slate)

Respectably situated in Berlin's Motzstrasse, to the south of the Tiergarten, the Juni-­Klub, or June Club (the name breathed defiance at the Treaty of Versailles), was a '20s talking shop for ­right-­wing intellectuals concerned with revolutionary conservatism. The consciously oxymoronic idea of revolutionary conservatism had almost as many forms as it had advocates, who found it easy to mistake their dialectical hubbub for the clanging forge of a new order. Of the 150 members, 30 were present on the afternoon Hitler dropped in. They thought he had come to hear what they had to say, and they found out that he had no intention of listening to any voice but his own. Their scholarly qualifications counted for nothing. Best qualified of all was Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. Before World War I, Moeller had been a translator of Baudelaire, Defoe, De Quincey, and the complete poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, and had written essays on Nietzsche, Strindberg, and others. He knew Paris well and spent time also in London, Sicily, Venice, the Baltic countries, and Russia. For cultivation he was up there with Ernst Jünger, one of Germany's most gifted modern prose writers and likewise a revolutionary conservative.

As a kind of ­back-­to-­the-­future movement, revolutionary conservatism depended for its force on advocates who embodied established values. Moeller embodied learning the way Jünger embodied ­storm-­of-­steel militarism. Both had their rationale for a conservative revolution worked out in detail, with all the nuances duly noted. Possibly because of this meeting at the June Club, Moeller was the first to grasp that Hitler didn't care about any of it. Moeller's revolutionary conservatism was meant to safeguard the nation's ­Wesens-Urgestein (the original essential stone) from the corrosive encrustation of mixed blood. Nominally, the tainted blood he was most concerned about was the Latin blood of the German south. Some of Moeller's colleagues thought that Hitler might have picked up the dreaded southern infection from spending too long in Bavaria. But it hardly needs saying that Jewish blood was the real bother. If anyone is still looking for the linking factor between the resolutely thuggish Nazi movement and all those ­long-forgotten, highfalutin nationalist groups that superficially seem so much more refined, ­anti-­Semitism is it.

When, during World War II, Jünger finally allowed himself to find out exactly what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in the east, he was suitably devastated. But during the '20s it never seemed to concern him much that all the various nationalist groups always seemed to have this one characteristic, ­anti-­Semitism, in common. Not, of course, that it would have come to anything much if Jünger and the rest of the intellectuals had been left to themselves. It wasn't mass murder that they had in mind: just the purification and protection of the folk heritage, brought to the point of irreversible decay by the curse of liberalism. Moeller thought that Julius Stahl, the 19th-­century theorist of Prussian conservatism, was not conservative enough. Stahl was baptized a Lutheran, but he was Jewish. So the objection was racial, although Moeller would have resisted being defined as a mere racist. He had bigger ideas than that. The biggest of them was that liberalism was the real enemy. To the June Club's collective testament, he contributed a fragment of his forthcoming book, which he called "Through Liberalism Peoples Go to Ruin." The book, published in 1923, carried a title that would gain in resonance beyond his death: The Third Reich.

I have a copy of The Third Reich in front of me as I write. An ugly little volume bound in paper, it was put out in 1931 by a Nazi publishing outfit based in Hamburg. This particular example was first purchased by someone signing himself Wm. Montgomery Watt--presumably a Scot, because I found the book in a dust pile in the back of an Edinburgh ­second­hand bookshop. Watt underlined the same point over and over. It was the point Moeller couldn't help making: He got around to it whatever the nominal subject. The point was that Germany had never lost the war, except politically. Militarily, it had triumphed, and all that was now needed was a revolution in order to put reality back in touch with the facts. It just never occurred to Moeller that to say "Germany had never lost the war except politically" was like saying that a cat run over by a car had never died except physically. It never occurred to hundreds of thousands of present and future Nazis, either, but Moeller was supposed to be an intellectual. So was Jünger, whose book Der Arbeiter (also published by Nazi outfit) came with a resonant line of publicity material: "Jünger sees that bourgeois individualism, the cult of personality, the conceit of the ego all belong to the nineteenth century, and are now visibly melting before our eyes through the transformation of separate people into a collectivity." (Memo to a young student of cultural flux: When you buy old books, keep the wrappers if you can. Nothing gives you the temperature of the time like the puffs and quotations.)

All these finely articulated arguments were going strictly nowhere, because nobody in the Nazi hierarchy ever found much time to read them, and certainly Hitler never read a single line. What continues to matter, however, is not where the arguments were going but where they came from. They came from the same source that gave the chance of action to the thugs who used them as a warrant: the chaos, the dislocation, and the demoralization of a civil order.

The chaos left folks groping for ideas, but the ones they grabbed on to came from the Rationalists generally and the Darwinists in particular, Medical Science Under Dictatorship (Leo Alexander, M.D., July 14, 1949, The New England Journal of Medicine)
Science under dictatorship becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy of the dictatorship. Irrespective of other ideologic trappings, the guiding philosophic principle of recent dictatorships, including that of the Nazis, has been Hegelian in that what has been considered "rational utility" and corresponding doctrine and planning has replaced moral, ethical and religious values. Nazi propaganda was highly effective in perverting public opinion and public conscience, in a remarkably short time. In the medical profession this expressed itself in a rapid decline in standards of professional ethics. Medical science in Nazi Germany collaborated with this Hegelian trend particularly in the following enterprises: the mass extermination of the chronically sick in the interest of saving "useless" expenses to the community as a whole; the mass extermination of those considered socially disturbing or racially and ideologically unwanted; the individual, inconspicuous extermination of those considered disloyal within the ruling group; and the ruthless use of "human experimental material" for medico-military research.

This paper discusses the origins of these activities, as well as their consequences upon the body social, and the motivation of those participating in them.

Preparatory Propaganda

Even before the Nazis took open charge in Germany, a propaganda barrage was directed against the traditional compassionate nineteenth-century attitudes toward the chronically ill, and for the adoption of a utilitarian, Hegelian point of view. Sterilization and euthanasia of persons with chronic mental illnesses was discussed at a meeting of Bavarian psychiatrists in 1931. By 1936 extermination of the physically or socially unfit was so openly accepted that its practice was mentioned incidentally in an article published in an official German medical journal.

Lay opinion was not neglected in this campaign. Adults were propagandized by motion pictures, one of which, entitled "I Accuse," deals entirely with euthanasia. This film depicts the life history of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis; in it her husband, a doctor, finally kills her to the accompaniment of soft piano music rendered by a sympathetic colleague in an adjoining room. Acceptance of this ideology was implanted even in the children. A widely used high-school mathematics text, "Mathematics in the Service of National Political Education," includes problems stated in distorted terms of the cost of caring for and rehabilitating the chronically sick and crippled, the criminal and the insane."


The first direct order for euthanasia was issued by Hitler on September 1, 1939, and an organization was set up to execute the program. Dr. Karl Brandt headed the medical section, and Phillip Bouhler the administrative section. All state institutions were required to report on patients who had been ill five years or more and who were unable to work, by filling out questionnaires giving name, race, marital status, nationality, next of kin, whether regularly visited and by whom, who bore financial responsibility and so forth. The decision regarding which patients should be killed was made entirely on the basis of this brief information by expert consultants, most of whom were professors of psychiatry in the key universities. These consultants never saw the patients themselves. The thoroughness of their scrutiny can be appraised by the work of on expert, who between November 14 and December 1, 1940, evaluated 2109 questionnaires.

These questionnaires were collected by a "Realm's Work Committee of Institutions for Cure and Care." A parallel organization devoted exclusively to the killing of children was known by the similarly euphemistic name of "Realm's Committee for Scientific Approach to Severe Illness Due to Heredity and Constitution." The "Charitable Transport Company for the Sick" transported patients to the killing centers, and the "Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care" was in charge of collecting the cost of the killings from the relatives, without, however, informing them what the charges were for; in the death certificates the cause of death was falsified.

What these activities meant to the population at large was well expressed by a few hardy souls who dared to protest. A member of the court of appeals at Frankfurt-am-Main wrote in December, 1939:

There is constant discussion of the question of the destruction of socially unfit life--in the places where there are mental institutions, in neighboring towns, sometimes over a large area, throughout the Rhineland, for example. The people have come to recognize the vehicles in which the patients are taken from their original institution to the intermediate institution and from there to the liquidation institution. I am told that when they see these buses even the children call out: "They're taking some more people to be gassed." From Limburg it is reported that every day from one to three buses which shades drawn pass through on the way from Weilmunster to Hadmar, delivering inmates to the liquidation institution there. According to the stories the arrivals are immediately stripped to the skin, dressed in paper shirts, and forthwith taken to a gas chamber, where they are liquidated with hydro-cyanic acid gas and an added anesthetic. The bodies are reported to be moved to a combustion chamber by means of a conveyor belt, six bodies to a furnace. The resulting ashes are then distributed into six urns which are shipped to the families. The heavy smoke from the crematory building is said to be visible over Hadamar every day. There is talk, furthermore, that in some cases heads and other portions of the body are removed for anatomical examination. The people working at this liquidation job in the institutions are said to be assigned from other areas and are shunned completely by the populace. This personnel is described as frequenting the bars at night and drinking heavily. Quite apart from these overt incidents that exercise the imagination of the people, the are disquieted by the question of whether old folk who have worked hard all their lives and may merely have come into their dotage are also being liquidated. There is talk that the homes for the aged are to be cleaned out too. The people are said to be waiting for legislative regulation providing some orderly method that will insure especially that the aged feeble-minded are not included in the program.

Here one sees what "euthanasia" means in actual practice. According to the records, 275,000 people were put to death in these killing centers. Ghastly as this seems, it should be realized that this program was merely the entering wedge for exterminations for far greater scope in the political program for genocide of conquered nations and the racially unwanted. The methods used and personnel trained in the killing centers for the chronically sick became the nucleus of the much larger centers on the East, where the plan was to kill all Jews and Poles and to cut down the Russian population by 30,000,000. [...]

It is rather significant that the German people were considered by their Nazi leaders more ready to accept the exterminations of the sick than those for political reasons. It was for that reason that the first exterminations of the latter group were carried out under the guise of sickness. So-called "psychiatric experts" were dispatched to survey the inmates of camps with the specific order to pick out members of racial minorities and political offenders from occupied territories and to dispatch them to killing centers with specially made diagnoses such as that of "inveterate German hater" applied to a number of prisoners who had been active in the Czech underground.

Certain classes of patients with mental diseases who were capable of performing labor, particularly members of the armed forces suffering from psychopathy or neurosis, were sent to concentration camps to be worked to death, or to be reassigned to punishment battalions and to be exterminated in the process of removal of mine fields.

A large number of those marked for death for political or racial reasons were made available for "medical" experiments involving the use of involuntary human subjects. From 1942 on, such experiments carried out in concentration camps were openly presented at medical meetings. This program included "terminal human experiments," a term introduced by Dr. Rascher to denote an experiment so designed that its successful conclusion depended upon the test person's being put to death. [...]

Under all forms of dictatorship the dictating bodies or individuals claim that all that is done is being done for the best of the people as a whole, and that for that reason they look at health merely in terms of utility, efficiency and productivity. It is natural in such a setting that eventually Hegel's principle that "what is useful is good" wins out completely. The killing center is the reductio ad absurdum of all health planning based only on rational principles and economy and not on humane compassion and divine law. To be sure, American physicians are still far from the point of thinking of killing centers, but they have arrived at a danger point in thinking, at which likelihood of full rehabilitation is considered a factor that should determine the amount of time, effort and cost to be devoted to a particular type of patient on the part of the social body upon which this decision rests. At this point Americans should remember that the enormity of a euthanasia movement is present in their own midst. To the psychiatrist it is obvious that this represents the eruption of unconscious aggression on the part of certain administrators alluded to above, as well as on the part of relatives who have been understandably frustrated by the tragedy of illness in its close interaction upon their own lives. The hostility of a father erupting against his feebleminded son is understandable and should be considered from the psychiatric point of view, but it certainly should not influence social thinking. The development of effective analgesics and pain-relieving operations has taken even the last rationalization away from the supporters of euthanasia.

The case, therefore, that I should like to make is that American medicine must realize where it stands in its fundamental premises. There can be no doubt that in a subtle way the Hegelian premise of "what is useful is right" has infected society, including the medical portion. Physicians must return to the older premises, which were the emotional foundation and driving force of an amazingly successful quest to increase powers of healing if they are not held down to earth by the pernicious attitudes of an overdone practical realism.

What occurred in Germany may have been the inexorable historic progression that the Greek historians have described as the law of the fall of civilizations and that Toynbee has convincingly confirmed--namely, that there is a logical sequence from Koros to Hybris to Ate, which means from surfeit to disdainful arrogance to disaster, the surfeit being increased scientific and practical accomplishments, which, however, brought about an inclination to throw away the old motivations and values by disdainful arrogant pride in practical efficiency. Moral and physical disaster is the inevitable consequence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2007 2:53 PM

Intelligent Design = Hitlerian euthanasia

Posted by: Roderick at February 21, 2007 5:32 PM

W. Montgomery Watt was a Professor of Near Eastern Languages at Edinburgh University, a remarkly prolific translator and scholar of Arabic.

I'm surprised that Clive James has never heard of him.

Posted by: H.D. Miller at February 21, 2007 6:05 PM

Anyone know why the sudden spate of interest in Hitlerism is rampant in the land? I mean other than as a prototype demon with which to compare Bush.

Posted by: erp at February 22, 2007 8:07 AM