Hitler as Philosophe: Remnants of the Enlightenment in National Socialism

Hitler as Philosophe: Remnants of the Enlightenment in National Socialism

Hitler as Philosophe: Remnants of the Enlightenment in National Socialism

Hitler as Philosophe: Remnants of the Enlightenment in National Socialism

Synopsis

Birken challenges the conventional wisdom that Hitlerism was a revolt against Western values. Utilizing Adolph Hitler's major writings, speeches, and recorded conversations, this path-breaking study in intellectual history delineates the relationship of Nazism to other European ideologies, both past and present. National Socialism, Birken maintains, was nothing less than an attempt to create a metaphysical foundation for the German nation-state after both the Frankfurt Assembly and the Bismarckian pseudo-Reich had failed to do so. In this context, Hitler can be seen as the last great exponent of the Enlightenment tradition that glorified fraternity. However, by grounding German nationalism in race, Hitler sent his country on a path toward destruction in the Second World War. Birken closes with the warning that our current failure to provide a post-modern substitute for nationalism invites the reassertion of the Enlightenment obsessions of nation and race. Speculative and far-reaching, this book will stimulate the current debate over nationalism and will be of interest to students of politics and the social sciences as well as German history buffs.

Excerpt

The resurgence of racial nationalism has raised, once again, the question of Hitlerism and its place within Western civilization. As booted skinheads rampage their way through Mitteleuropa and politicians like Vladimir Zhirinovsky hoist the banner of neo-fascism, Hitler's ghost seems to proclaim triumphantly, "See, I was right after all." At a time when intellectuals are moving toward a globalist relativism, nationalist passions continue to survive on a popular level in the most virulent form. While a complacent intelligentsia speaks of a new world order, ethnic conflict everywhere bubbles up from below.

Ironically, I have also been guilty of underestimating the significance of nationalism. While my first book, Consuming Desire: Sexual Science and the Emergence of a Culture of Abundance, 1871-1914, showed how twentieth-century consumerism represented the extension of the key values of liberty and equality to their furthest limit, that study was utterly silent about the equally important value of fraternity. Not only did Consuming Desire completely ignore the subject of nationalism; it also ignored the important question of national variations in Western thought. Exemplifying the complacency of the postmodern intellectual, I was uninterested in those nationalist ideologies that had managed to survive into a post-nationalist world. But since 1988 and the publication of my first book, I have undergone a profound intellectual revolution, and for two reasons. In 1989, I was hired at Ball State University to teach intellectual history. My job also included a commitment to give a course on the history of modern Germany, a subject that up to then had left me cold. My newfound teaching duties inevitably led me to reconsider the so-called "German Question" and thus the problem of nationalism as a whole. At the same time, the unification of Germany . . .

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