Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Heideger's Junker tradition

I decided to spend some time thinking about what Heidegger’s “Tradition” might be, that is, the place back there in Germany’s history where one should go to achieve Heideggerian authenticity.   I decided to look in A. J. P. Taylor’s The Course of German History.
Taylor wrote this book in 1944.  He published a new edition in 1961 and explained in his preface that he only corrected a few factual errors and left the book largely unchanged.  Taylor bucked current thinking during his career.  Or, to give him credit, he thought things through for himself and hang those who took offense.  Taylor was a notorious Germanophobe.  He explains in his 1961 preface that the occasion of his book was the rejection of a previous work on the Weimar republic because of its being “too depressing.”  He did some further study and this book contains his conclusions.
He wrote on page 7, “The Germans were enthusiastic for a demagogic dictator and engaged [in] a war for domination of Europe. But I ought to have shown that this was a bit of bad luck, and that all Germans other than a few wicked men were bubbling over with enthusiasm for democracy or for Christianity or for some other noble cause which would turn them into acceptable allies once we had liberated them from their tyrants.  This seemed to me unlikely.  I therefore went further back into German history to see whether it confirmed the argument of my rejected chapter; and this book is the result.  It was an attempt to plot the course of German history; and it shows that it was no more a mistake for the German people to end up with Hitler than it is an accident when a river flows into the sea, though the process is, I daresay, unpleasant for the fresh water.”
Taylor describes the “ascendancy of France, 1792-1814,” as an important milestone for the Germans.  On page 33-34 he writes, “In Germany those who desired liberal reforms did nothing to promote their own cause; they waited passively, though querulously, to be liberated by the French, and the force which gave Germany the career open to [their] talents was not the force of the German peasants, but the force of the French peasants in its organized form of the French Army.  The German liberals had no agrarian programme and no sympathy with the propertyless masses, whom they despised as obscurantist and reactionary; nor had they any feeling that liberal institutions needed to be fought for and defended . . .   In the twenty years between 1794 and 1814 . . .  most of western Germany received the benefits of the French Revolution – freedom of enterprise, equality before the law, security of property and of the individual, cheap efficient administration.  But the Germans received these benefits without any exertion of their own . . . .”
“These great reforms were liberal, but they were French.  A startling consequence followed.  French interference in Germany stirred into patriotism the natural resentment against the interference of strangers.  Most educated Germans (themselves a tiny class) welcomed the benefits imposed by the French; a few, however, began to parade a German nationalism, the sole quality of which was hostility to French rule.  But French rule was synonymous with liberal reform.  Therefore German nationalism took on from the start an anti-liberal character.  To desire the career open to the talents or a rational and ordered system of government was to be pro-French and therefore unpatriotic.  All the evils of the old order, the drill sergeant and the Junker, came to be regarded as essentially German. . . .”

COMMENT:  Heidegger would undoubtedly think it was unfair of me to impose the Germanophobic Taylor on his location of Cultural authenticity, but I can’t help but notice that Heidegger himself was anti-liberal.  Would he have identified with the “tiny class” of “educated Germans” during this period.  He did have a fondness for Holderlin who was of this tiny class, but I can’t help but suspect a fondness for the Prussian Junker as well, the spirit of whom flowed down the river toward the sea of World War II.  In Heidegger’s longing for a “great leader” he would have had the Prussian Junker tradition in mind surely.  He later saluted smartly and held his arm out in emulation of Prussian Junker enthusiasm, and I can’t see Holderlin in this enthusiasm – maybe later when he came to his senses.
            As an aside, I was reminded of the French anti-Americanism that followed our liberation of France from Germany after 1944.  Yes there were those who like the “tiny class” of “educated Germans” saw the value of the Anglo-American liberation.  But there was also the mindless Junker-type reaction against the “foreigner” who was in their land.   When one encounters Europeans biting the hands that rescued them, one is inclined to take a Jacksonian stance and say, “see!  We should have stayed out of that European war as well.” 
            Engaging in a Niall Ferguson “counterfactual” one wonders what would have become of the Third Reich if the Germans had won.  Would they have gone on attempting to conquer the world?  Or would they like the USSR have decided a Cold War was the best compromise they could make.  The Anglo-Americans would have had atomic weapons first, but the Germans could have obtained them as quickly as the USSR did.  Would they have risked the destruction of their hard-won Lebensraum? 
            Then too, we recall that Hitler didn’t believe those who followed him would be as relentless as he was.  He thought the next generation would be much softer than he was.  That is not an unreasonable expectation in light of the Soviet experience.  On the other hand, the Prussians had a tradition of being willing to die for honor.  The equivalent of the Cuban missile crisis might have turned out very differently if the Germans had won.

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