"Allies in the Academy" (The Nazi Conscience, Ch. 3)
by Claudia Koonz
8 February 2005
[Chapter three of The Nazi Conscience, by Claudia Koonz. Belknap Press (Harvard), 2003]
We see the goal of philosophy in servitude...The Führer has awakened this will in the nation and has fused it into one single will. No one can be absent on the day when he displays his will! Hail! Hail! -- Martin Heidegger, Bekentniss der Professoren, 1933
Three months after Hitler was named chancellor, Karl Jaspers greeted his friend Martin Heidegger, who came to visit him in Heidelberg. In his memoirs, Jaspers recalled, "I went to Heidegger's room to welcome him. 'It's just like 1914...' I began, intending to continue: 'again this deceptive mass intoxication,' but when I saw Heidegger radiantly agreeing with my first words, the rest stuck in my throat . . . Face to face with Heidegger, himself gripped by that intoxication, I failed. I did not tell him that he was on the wrong road." Jaspers continued, "I no longer trusted his transformed nature at all. I felt a threat to myself in view of the violence in which Heidegger now participated."
Heidegger was not alone in being "gripped by that intoxication." The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who witnessed the tumult first-hand, wrote, "It is difficult for an outside observer who has not breathed the atmosphere in Germany to imagine the intensity of feeling which has accompanied recent events here." A modern democracy had been taken over by a party that only five years before had been a disreputable fringe movement that had attracted less than six percent of all voters. The achievement seemed scarcely credible.
Disbelief translated into the conviction that the Hitler phenomenon would die out quickly. British Ambassador Horace Rumbold had predicted that the educated elites would never yield. "The entire intelligentsia of the country, its scientists, writers, artists, the Bar, the Church, the universities, are with very few exceptions, ranged against this [Nazi] minority." In late March, Rumbold still believed they would hold out. "It was comparatively easy to convert the unemployed and the youth of both sexes, the peasants and small shopkeepers. It will be a much more difficult task to persuade the intelligentsia." Rumbold could understand that 850,000 citizens, in a nation of 65 million, had joined the Nazi Party. And given the chaotic political situation, it was not surprising that 17.3 million Germans would vote for Nazi candidates. But seasoned political observers could not imagine how intellectuals would be attracted to a politician who regularly made them the butt of his wisecracks -- ridiculing them as "eggheads" and "despondent weaklings" plagued with self-doubt. Why would tenured professors in German universities welcome the dictatorship of a man who had dropped out of school before finishing his secondary education, who at age 44 had never held a steady job except for four years in the military, and who had never been elected to public office? At least part of the answer to these questions may be found in the generational appeal of a resoundingly militarist movement. Paradoxically, the sudden embrace of Nazism by three distinguished academics who had not served in the Great War illustrates the immense appeal of a stridently masculine political movement among the very intellectuals Rumbold believed would hold out against Nazism.
The biographical trajectories of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, the political theorist Carl Schmitt, and the theologian Gerhard Kittel illuminate the sources of Hitler's popularity among highly educated Germans who had not supported the Nazis before January 1933. Having "converted" to Nazism, these three academics openly endorsed not only Hitler's dictatorship but his antisemitism as well. It is impossible to ascertain the mix of idealism, self-delusion, and opportunism that prompted each man to embrace Nazi rule. But being public intellectuals, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel left a paper trail that documents their early responses to the regime. Before 1933, these men had worked closely with Jewish colleagues and students; and, whatever prejudices they harbored, racism did not mark their scholarship. Within months of Hitler's takeover, however, they called for the expulsion of ethnic outsiders from the body politic. As widely admired professors with no prior record of supporting Nazism, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel enjoyed higher credibility than did sycophants like Alfred Rosenberg and Joseph Goebbels. Unlike most of the old fighters, who spewed coarse racism, these newcomers supplied the rudiments of Hitler's "rational" antisemitism which, before 1933, had been lacking.
The reactions of these three quite different men illustrate the ecumenical attractiveness of a charismatic force so plastic that listeners could fashion their own myths of the Führer. To Heidegger, Hitler was authenticity personified, to Schmitt he was a decisive leader, and to Kittel, a Christian soldier. The differences in their views of Hitler reminds us that the muddled doctrine denigrated as vapid by Hitler's opponents contributed to the resilience of the "Hitler myth." Three very different ideas of what constituted Nazism converged on one point -- the desire for moral rejuvenation of the Volk -- even as Nazi paramilitaries destroyed the civil society of the Weimar Republic.
Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel were born within a year of one another (and of Hitler) in 1888-1889. During the first world war, their generation had experienced the euphoria of national unity and heard the summons to sacrifice for national survival. Seventeen million men served in the military. Two million died, and four million were severely disabled. While their comrades served at the front, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel dedicated their immense talents to their academic careers, becoming respected Herr Doktor Professor at a relatively young age. They did not share the experiences of peers who returned from the trenches, as Erich Maria Remarque put it in All Quiet on the Western Front, "weary, broken, burnt out, rootless and without hope." But they encountered these men in their classes, and they mourned friends who had died in battle. Like most of their academic colleagues, they felt alienated from Weimar democracy and the modernist culture of the 1920s. Perhaps because they had not served in the trenches, the three professors looked on the German soldier with special awe. They admired the war hero and best-selling author Ernst Jünger (Heidegger and Schmitt counted him among their close friends) and despised Remarque's pacifism. Their academic prose bristled with bellicose metaphors and praise of strength, valor, sacrifice, and honor.
After remaining aloof from political engagement in the Weimar Republic, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel joined the throngs cheering the Nazi takeover in 1933. Although they were not among the 300 professors who signed a petition endorsing Hitler's rule in March, within two months all three had become Nazi Party members. They fell into a category that old fighters disparaged as "late bloomers" or "March victims" because they succumbed to Nazism only after the real battle was over. Nazi Party membership brought enhanced opportunities (such as funding for racial studies and job openings created by the purge of ethnically or politically "unwanted" individuals), but Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel, with their secure university professorships, did not need these advantages. Over the next several years, each of the three was disappointed in one or another aspect of Nazism, but none criticized Nazi policy or allowed his party membership to lapse. After 1945 all three disavowed the intensity of their faith in Nazism, but they never publicly regretted their support for Hitler or their embrace of a doctrine that was not only authoritarian and nationalist but genocidal.
As a boy growing up in a southwestern German village, Martin Heidegger's evident aptitude had won his teachers' attention. Financial aid from the Catholic Church enabled him to attend the rigorous Konradihaus boarding school on Lake Constance. In 1909, at age twenty, Heidegger entered the theological seminary in nearby Freiburg im Breisgau. Because of health problems, and possibly religious doubts, he withdrew from the seminary and prepared for an academic career. Dependent on the Church for financial support and yet beginning to question it as an institution, Heidegger pursued his studies. This was a tempestuous period, during which he became secretly engaged to be married, wrote poetry and literary criticism, and considered becoming a mathematician. Although he did not interrupt his scholarly career, his poems suggest he experienced and emotional crisis.
After the war, Heidegger would talk about having volunteered for military service in 1914. However, a university personnel officer looking for Heidegger's pension records during the 1920s failed to verify his claim, and later research revealed that after being conscripted in 1914 heidegger was deemed unfit for military service because of a weak heart and neurasthenia. Besides being scorned as "shirkers," such men were assigned to war-related jobs that kept them far from the troops so that their "mobilization psychosis" would not infect others. Heidegger's contribution to the war effort consisted of working for the censorship division of the local post office and serving briefly in a meteorological unit during the final months of the war.
Although students and professors in Freiburg formed an association to support the war effort, Heidegger seems scarcely to have noticed the war fever of the time, although upon learning of a close friend's death in battle, he dedicated his next monograph to his memory. As a man of short stature (about five feet, four inches) and apparently plagued by poor health, Heidegger stood at the sidelines. A former student recalled, "It seems to me that he was -- to use the common slogan -- not a 'soldierly type,'" whose failure to serve at the front "no doubt contributed to elevate the experience of the front-line soldier to the status of a heroic myth."
The war years were eventuful for Heidegger in personal terms. After breaking his secret engagement, Heidegger married Elfride Petri, a student at Freiburg who came from an affluent Protestant Prussian family. Soon after they were married, he renounced the Catholic Church but not his Catholic faith. Thanks to the endorsement of his mentor, Edmund Husserl, the young philosopher secured a post at Marburg University. Perhaps falling in with the mood of his veteran-students, Heidegger railed against the stultifying atmosphere of the hierarchical university structure. In the tradition of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard, he lashed out against its strictures; but unlike them, he remained within its protective walls. In his lectures on Plato as well as in passages of his 1927 masterpiece, Being and Time, Heidegger described his hopes for a revived university that could break free of complacency and incite a "spiritual renewal of life in its entirety." Renouncing the nihilism of many cultural critics, Heidegger searched for an authentic ground, a confrontation with mortality and conscience. Heidegger defined himself during these years as a "Christian theologian" (emphasis in the original) rather than a philosopher.
From all reports, Heidegger was a charismatic and unconventional professor. When Jaspers first met him in 1920, he was struck by his "urgent and terse manner of speaking." A graduate student recalled, "Heidegger cultivated an entirely different style with his students...We went on excursions together, hikes and ski trips." In his lectures he would pause to solicit students' reactions. He cast the student-teacher relationship as a battle or struggle between a wise elder and his questioning student. Though intensely masculine and competitive in academic settings, Heidegger's intimate letters from the 1920s brimmed with the overwrought and sentimental language of his student poetry.
When discussing philosophy, Heidegger dramatized his prose with terms like "struggle," "crisis," "upheaval," "following," and "leadership." He rendered his own life as a series of duels against Catholic dogma, philosophical convention, rugged ski trails and mountain paths, and academic hierarchy. As a young man, Heidegger had described evil as night, darkness, a yawning void. The "nothingness" terrified him, and yet it also lured him because, he believed, existence (Dasein) itself was born in night and nothingness. The daylight of culture transfigures the dark and enables individuals to rise to the good. As a philosopher, Heidegger pledged to "break free of the idols that everyone has and to which they habitually sneak away."
The youthful iconoclast subjected the academic world as well as conventional philosophy to withering criticism. Several years later, one of Heidegger's students observed that the "power of the fascination that emanated from him was partly based on his impenetrable naturer...only half of him was an academic. The other, and probably greater, half was a militant and a preacher who knew how to interest people by antagonizing them." In his lectures, Heidegger expressed the hope that a "'trinity of priests, soldiers, and statesmen" would save the nation. His sense of impending crisis did not take on partisan shadings in the lecture hall, but it appears that after 1931 he began to admire Hitler. A guest at one of Heidegger's weekend outings with his students recalled his wife's favorable remarks about Nazism and added that Heidegger doesn't understand much about politics, and that is probably why his detestation of all mediocre compromises leads him to expect great things of the party that promises to do something decisive...to oppose communism." In 1929 the philosopher exhibited over racial prejudice -- as far as records reveal, for the first time -- in a letter to the Ministry of Education complaining about "the growing Judaization" of university life.
Within weeks of Hitler's appointment as chancellor, Heidegger joined a committee formed by Ernst Krieck, the ardently anti-intellectual Nazi educational theorist. Shortly afterward, Heidegger spoke out forcefully against the "homelessness of blind relativism" and called for "German scholarship that was informed by its ethnical responsibiltiy for truth." To Jaspers he wrote, "One must involve oneself...A philosopher's duty is to act as a participant in history." In April Heidegger was nominated for the post of rector of Freiburg University, an honor for which he campaigned with the approval of local Nazi leaders. In part because colleagues with Jewish ancestry and leftists did not attend the election meeting, the vote for Heidegger was overwhelming. Heidegger set out to use the rectorship as a steppingstone to further participation on a national level.
One of Heidegger's first public lectures was a eulogy for the Nazi martyr Leo Schlageter, whom Hitler also admired. Like Heidegger, Schlageter had been raised in the Black Forest and had studied at the Konradihaus. On the tenth anniversary of Schlageter's execution, Heidegger memorialized the youthful martyr's "hardness and clarity" and imagined how the rugged local landscape had sustained him as he faced death "alone and abandoned by his Volk." In sermon-like cadences, Heidegger asked the audience to allow his memory to "stream through them."
On the day after his Schlageter eulogy, the new rector delivered his inaugural address. Those in attendance received not only invitations but instructions explaining when to shout the Nazi greeting, "Sieg Heil!" and the text of the Nazi marching anthem, the "Horst Wessel Lied" -- much as worshippers might receive guides to a Sunday service. The professors filed in, resplendent in their academic robes. Decidedly untraditional was the large complement of brown-shirted Nazis. Heidegger, dressed in an open-collar shirt and hiking knickers, issued a resounding "call to arms, an intellectual summons" and ordered and enthusiastic "stepping-into-line with the times." Heidegger's joy at the demise of what he saw as Weimar's superficial democracy was reflected in the word "essence" (Wesen), which punctuated his speech -- as in "the essence of truth," the "primordial essence of science," a "will to essence," and a "kind of knowing that has forgotten its own essence." His syntax was as fuzzy as his emotions were clear. In martial cadences, Heidegger called for "spiritual legislation" to "tear down barriers between departments and smash the stagnation and falseness of superficial professional training." His speech was redolent with forceful language -- "overthrow," "danger," "relentless clarity," "discipline," "last-ditch stand," and "force." Old assumptions would be "shattered." Students and faculty would form a "battle community" that fused labor, power, and knowledge.
Heidegger celebrated the "blood-bound strength, the power that most deeply arouses and most profoundly shakes the existence of the Volk." His audience could not have misunderstood the racial innuendo when he contrasted the "primordially attuned" spirit (Geist) with the "empty cleverness," "noncommital play of wit," and "the boundless drift of rational dissection." His only direct quotation came not from philosophy but from Carl von Clausewitz's On War. Calling for a sweeping curricular reform, Heidegger proposed that work camps and military service should have equal academic weight with the traditional arts and sciences. The young applauded wildly. The professors barely clapped.
Jaspers, sitting in the front row, was among the unenthusiastic. After a festive reception, the two friends conversed about national and intellectual life. Later Jaspers, aghast at his friend's enthusiasm, asked, "How can so uneducated a man as Hitler rule Germany?" "Education is quite irrelevant," Heidegger responded. "Just look at his wonderful hands." The remark might seem entirely out of character for a distinguished philosopher, except for the fact that Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had endowed Hitler's hands with iconic status in mass-market publications. His comment suggests that Heidegger, the lofty thinker, had imbibed the popular culture of the day. Then Jaspers asked Heidegger how he could put up with the Nazis' antisemitism. Wasn't The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion sheer nonsense? Evasively, Heidegger spoke about a "dangerous international conspiracy." Jaspers concluded sadly, "Heidegger himself appeared to have undergone a complete transformation."
Over the summer, Heidegger worked on university reform with a national commission in Berlin and lectured in support of Nazism at major universities. At a public lecture in Heidelberg, Heidegger joined Carl Schmitt and the Nazi Party's racial expert, Walter Gross, in a summons to "struggle." In October Heidegger led his non-Jewish male graduate students (most in Nazi uniforms) on a five-day knowledge retreat at his mountain cabin. Heidegger signed his letters "Heil Hitler!" He asked his Jewish students to find other mentors and cut off their financial aid. When his own mentor, Husserl, who was Jewish, died in 1937, Heidegger did not attend the funeral or send a condolence card to his widow.
In autumn of 1933, Heidegger and eight internationally respected German academics contributed brief statements to an elegant booklet justifying Hitler's leadership. In a pugnacious question-and-answer format, Heidegger took on critics. Was Nazism a "return to barbarism....the dawn of lawlessness...a smashing up of tradition? NO!" Nazism stood for order. Did Hitler act from dishonest motives? Again, "NO." "It was not ambition, not avarice for glory, or blind stubbornness and striving, but only the pure will to be responsible to ourselves...that commanded our Führer to leave the 'League of Nations.'" Against the worn-out democracies, Heidegger praised the "manly self-reliance" of the new regime and looked forward to the "eruption of a refined youth that has turned back to its roots." Their commitment to the state "will make this nation hard against itself."
Heidegger, who in the 1920s had defined himself as a Christian theologian in search of authenticity, saw in Hitler the embodiment of the ethnic regeneration for which he had longed. Karl Löwith, who had studied with Heidegger in the 1920s, compared this longing for authenticity to Carl Schmitt's admiration for a decisive leader. In August 1933 Heidegger suggested to Schmitt that the two collaborate. "The gathering of the spiritual forces, which should bring about what is to come, is becomign more urgent everyday." Little appears to have come of the proposal, but Heidegger's invitation suggests an affinity between the two. Like Heidegger, Schmitt embraced conflict in his theoretical works, praising Thomas Hobbes's affirmation of struggle as the very essence of society. In supporting the Third Reich, Schmitt condemned diversity because a monolithic Volk could more successfully compete against rivals than a factionalized state. Widely acclaimed as being among the two or three most original political theorists of the twentieth century, Schmitt's public enthusiasm for Nazism and his obdurate refusal to recant after 1945 have vexed admirers and detractors alike.
Schmitt, like Heidegger, had grown up in a provincial Catholic home; but unlike Heidegger, who was raised in a predominantly Catholic region, Schmitt lived in heavily Protestant Westfalia. As a law student, his concern about the moral condition of contemporary society found an unusual outlet in biting satires of pompous intellectuals, published in an antisemitic Bavarian periodical. Collaborating with a friend who was Jewish, Schmitt lampooned modern culture, with its "Jewish" parvenus and other stereotypes, in the kind of "polite" antisemitism common throughout Western Europe. In contrast to the turgid academic prose fashionable at the time, Schmitt developed a staccato and lucid style that in later years he dubbed "dada before its time."
When war broke out in 1914, Schmitt, who at age 27 had a secure civil service job and a major academic examination to prepare for, did not enlist. After passing his exams and finishing his third monograph, he volunteered in February 1915, and during basic training secured a desk job with the army's legal divisio in Munich. Later, Schmitt would reminisce about a fall from a horse while serving in an elite equestrian regiment; but his account has not been documented. Some have wondered how he so quickly attained junior officer status and how a rather short man from northwestern Germany could have served in the honor guard in the first place.
While (in his words) "the European world tore itself apart" and was laid waste by "the material and metaphysical ravages of war," Schmitt plunged into the bohemian subculture of Schwabing in Munich and mingled with avant garde authors, expressionist painters, and dada artists. He corresponded with Eugenio Pacelli (later Pius XII) and hte pacifist Henri Barbusse, attended lectures by the social theorist Max Weber, and wrote literary criticism. He also cultivated his acquaintance with the Serbian-German poet Theodor Däubler, who was known for his uncouth manner, immense bulk, and slovenly dress. In Northern Lights, his hyperbolic 1,200-page poem, Däubler's verbal cascades evoked not only Dante, Goethe, Nietzsche, ancient Persian lore, and Biblical imagery but also Wagnerian opera and avant-garde painting. Schmitt distilled Däubler's nearly impenetrable verse into a terse 66-page essay that explicated its poetic battles between knights and dragons, sun and moon, forces of light and darkness. Uncovering the essential messages beneath Däubler's teeming prose, Schmitt perceived a terrible striving for unity. Referring to the ancient Persian myths in Däubler's saga, Schmitt wrote words that could have applied to Germany in 1916. Instead of striving for unity, "the Volk pushes itself on, instinctively wanting to submit and letting itself be whipped."
Schmitt blended aesthetics and ethics with his loathing for modernity, which to him meant crass materialism. Never, he resolved, would he settle into bourgeois life -- a hollow world of "traffic, technology, organization...[in which] people are interested in everything, but enthusiastic about nothing." Without religion to teach people to differentiate between good and evil, secular culture left them adrift among warring forces. "In place of the distinction between good and evil there appeared a sublime contrast between utility and destruction." Schmitt (who later described himself as a katechon, Greek for "a force that holds the anti-Christ at bay) searched for transcendent virtue. During his Schwabing years, he fell in love with and married Pawla Dorotic, a Viennese woman who claimed noble Serbian descent and shocked even Schwabing artists with her emancipated ways. The young husband took the unusual step of adding her surname to his own, publishing under the name Carl Schmitt-Dorotic.
When the war ended and Communist revolution broke out in Munich, Schmitt abandoned bohemian Schwabing and divorced his wife. In 1924 he remarried and broke with the Church. Thanks to his colleague and friend the economist Moritz Julius Bonn, he obtained a teaching position in Munich, where he became known for the taut logic and lucid style of his lectures and writings. With his Schwabing phase behind him, the young professor epitomized the well-dressed, stiff but cordial German professor. Although he had mocked Jewish culture as a youth, nothing suggests that Schmitt evaluated individuals in terms of their ethnic background. In 1928, for example, he dedicated one of his most important books, Constitutional Principles, to the memory of Fritz Eisler, a Jewish friend from his student days who had died in battle in 1914.
In lucid monographs, Schmitt shrewdly diagnosed the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy. He denounced as hypocritical the claim that elected leaders stood above the conflict. The purported neutrality of the state served only to mask the endemic struggle for power among enemy interest groups. For Schmitt, the very idea of universal rights embodied in the league of Nations was anathema because it produced a cacophony of contending values and claims. Similarly, in domestic politics, pluralism produced so many opinions that, in a crisis, when only decisive action could save the day, disputatious politicians wasted precious time in fruitless debate. As he watche dthe paralysis of Weimar politics during the world economic crisis, he accused politicians of being so contentious that they would rather allow their nation to collapse than cut off debate.
Human history, Schmitt insisted, originated wtih Cain and Abel, not Adam and Eve. Unlike conventional political theorists, who thought in terms of static political forms, Schmitt located the "political" in the give-and-take of concrete power struggles. Just as aesthetics distinguishes between beauty and ugliness and ethics divides good from bad, "the specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy." In an often-quoted phrase written after 1945, he declared, 'Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are." According to the political theorist Leo Strauss, Schmitt's writings in the 1920s already showed signs of a love of conflict that would become more obvious during the Third Reich.
In 1932 Schmitt had an opportunity to apply his theory of absolutism to a political crisis that developed as the result of a reactionary coup d'état in Prussia. The forceful arguments in Schmitt's legal brief defending the coup attracted Hermann Göring's attention. Upon learning that Hitler had become chancellor, Schmitt noted merely, "Irritated and yet somehow relieved." Several colleagues in the Prussian government swore allegiance to Hitler and urged Schmitt to do the same. On May 1 Schmitt wrote, "I became a P.M. [party member] 298,860. Since the end of April 1933 I have been active with the Cologne group. There was a long line. I had myself registered like many others."
Within days of Schmitt's joining the Nazi Party, on the night of May 10, Nazi students at all German universities burned books by Jewish authors. Schmitt cheered them on in an article for a regional National Socialist newspaper. He rejoiced that the "un-German spirit" and "anti-German filth" of a decadent age had been burned out and urged the government to annul the citizenship of German exiles (whose books were burned) because they aided the "enemy." "Writing in German does not make Jewish authors German any more than counterfeit German money makes the forger German." In a style reminiscent of his youthful satires, Schmitt sneered that anyone who appreciated Jewish authors was unmanly. "Our educated grandmothers and aunts would read, with tears in their bourgeois eyes, verses by Heinrich Heine that they mistook for German." Schmitt had only one criticism of the book burners: they had consigned too few authors to the flames. Instead of burning only "un-German" writers' books, they should have included writings by non-Jewish authors who had been influenced by Jewish ideas in the sciences and professions (in which, he alleged, Jewish influence was both strong and pernicious). As a savvy newcomer to Nazi politics, Schmitt may have intuited that outspoken racism was a way to demonstrate the depth of his commitment to the movement, or he simply may have felt free to express prejudice when it was no longer taboo. Whatever his motives, a distinguished professor's endorsement of book burning contributed to Hitler's bid for respectability.
Schmitt's next contribution was a cogently written pamphlet for general readers, State, Volk, and Movement: The Threefold Division of Political Unity, in which he justified Hitler's dictatorship in theoretical terms. First, he defined politics itself as the battle between ethnic friend and foe. Schmitt succinctly branded political liberalism and "asphalt culture" (code for Jewish influence) as a weakness that only the "ruthless will" of a decisive Führer could eliminate. Second, he asked what Nazi society would look like. Its two constituent qualities were "homogeneity" and "authenticity." In place of squabbling politicians, German power would impose a single ethnic will. Avoiding the term "Jew" and using "non-Aryan" sparingly, Schmitt celebrated the "essential sameness" and "homogeneity" which unified ethnic Germans in the new community. The imperative that all citizens be gleich (which means both "same" and "equal") vindicated the expulsion of Germans with Jewish ancestors from public institutions. The demand for homogeneity, he wrote, evoked a "deeper" meaning than administrative "Nazification" (Gleichschaltung). He welcomed "the purification of public life of all non-Aryan, essentially foreign elements so that....coming generations of Germans will be pure... No alien type can interfere with this great and profound, but also inner -- I would almost say intimate -- process of growth... Our most important task is to learn how to distinguish friend from enemy... [We must] cleanse public life of non-Aryan, foreign elements. With democracy crushed, Schmitt called for an ethnically pure nation.
In opposition to the universalist moral beliefs of both his Catholic upbringing and his neo-Kantian training, Schmitt worked out a theory of justice bound to the Volk, not to legal codes. Every ethnic community develops the legal values appropriate to its "blood and soil" (Blut und Boden). In Schmitt's view, authenticity, defined as allegiance to one's Volk, accounted for more than abstract universals as the basis of morality and the law. Schmitt expected the political leadership to enforce moral behavior among its ethnically homogenous subjects. Although he rarely mentioned Hitler by name, Schmitt left no doubt about the identity of the forceful leader whome he expected to cleanse society (not just the state) of corrosive elements. Despiste Schmitt's embrace of struggle, he welcomed the end of conflict in German political life. After years of corrosive political wrangling, ethnic Germans once again lived within an overarchign trinity, which he described variously as "heart, brain, and feelings" and "understanding, soul, and intellect." Schmitt (who had written a monograph entitled Political Theology) envisioned a political sphere so vast and so absolute that it resembled medieval Catholicism.
The pentimento of Schmitt's (and Heidegger's) formal philosophy reveals traces of religious devotion -- expressed as a dream of ethnic wholeness that could stave off corrosive modernity. Gerhard Kittel developed an antisemitic theology that complemented Schmitt's political theory and Heidegger's philosophy. Kittel had grown up in an academic family. Although his monographs were forgotten soon after his death in 1948, his authoritative ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament remained a key research tool for decades. Like Heidegger and Schmitt, Kittel as a student had been drawn to philosophical polarities. Although other Protestant theologians, like Emanuel Hirsch and Paul Althans, also embraced Nazism, only Kittel placed his erudition so squarely in the service of antisemitism.
Kittel grew up in Leipzig and, following in his distinguished father's footsteps, studied Protestant theology. Having completed his Ph.D. and post-doctoral studies on Jewish society at the time of Christ, Kittel was 26 when war broke out in 1914. While lecturing at the University of Kiel, he served as Navy chaplain and wrote a commentary on "Jesus as Pastor" in which he praised Jesus for rejecting a rabbinical life of textual exegesis and instead becoming a minister (Seelsorger) among his Volk. In 1917 Kittel accepted a position at the University of Leipzig, where his father had just been appointed rector. Like Heidegger and Schmitt, he did not see active duty at the front.
In his research, Kittel explored the similarities between Jewish texts and Christian parables, miracles, moral commandments, and folk sayings. His enthusiasm for the Hebrew Bible reflected his father's liberalism but, like many academics in his generation, Kittel felt alienated from the Weimar Republic. As a student and young professor, he belonged to the reactionary German Christian Student Movement and edited a monograph series that reconciled Christianity with ethnic traditions. Like Schmitt and Heidegger, Kittel grappeled with philosophical oppositions -- in his case, the tension between piety (which he associated with faith) and learning (which he linked to reason). During the 1920s Kittel wrote several monographs dedicated to reconcilign Christianity and Judaism and compiled his theological lexicon. Despite poor health, he attended international conferences in Stockholm, London, and Vienna.
More than other Biblical scholars at the time, Kittel encouraged Jewish-Christian collaboration and took the unusual step of studying at two rabbinical institutes because, as he said, "All Christian culture and all Christian ethics have their roots in the moral consciousness of Old Testament piety." In his dissertation he had thanked a mentor who was a Jewish scholar, and he dedicated a book in 1926 to a recently deceased Jewish colleague. Criticizing his colleagues' antisemitism, he urged "the members of our theological guild...to accept Rabbinic scholarship as integral to our studies -- and not treat them, as we do now, like rare and often awkward birds." Let us, he wrote, "work hand in hand" together. Although his alleged philosemitism angered some Christians, Kittel insisted that Jesus not only belonged to the Jewish "Volk, nationality and religion" but that his ethics, the heart of his teachings, grew directly out of Jewish culture. Judaic theology provided, in Kittel's metaphor, the very "fountain from which Our Lord drank."
Liberals welcomed Kittel's open-mindedness in a generally conservative field. As a Christian theologian, he took the superiority of Christianity over Judaism for granted, but he dismissed as pointless the sterile debates about the relative merits of either tradition. In 1929 Kittel defined the relationship between Christian and Jew along four axes, three of which were positive ("heritge, Old Testament origins, and inner roots"). The fourth, "fundamental opposition," did not engage him until 1933, after which time he forgot the first three.
In June 1933, within weeks of joining the Nazi Party, Kittel reversed his views of the "Jewish Question" at the fiftieth anniversary of the Christian association he had joined as a university student. Confessing to a "certain unease" when the topic of antisemitism came up, Kittel described how educated elites would observe random signs of Jewry's pernicious influence. But, because they lacked an analytic framework within which to grasp the maneing of what they saw, they would only make trivial jokes. the time had come for these sophisticates to heed the blunt antisemitism of Volk wisdom. In his disjointed preamble, Kittel acknowledged that hostility to Jews might seem immoral. Christ, after all, not only commanded "humane" treatment of all people but preached the gospel of brotherly love. Kittel spoke out boldly to quiet the antisemite's "guilty conscience."
Like the well-trained theologian he was, Kittel categorized and numbered his opinions. He identified three varieties of antisemitism: the "harmless," the "vulgar," and the "unsentimental." The "harmless" antisemitism" of a bygone liberal era -- espoused by effete intellectuals, artistis, and liberals in snobbish cultural circles -- was actually not at all trivial because these "degenerate" literati had caused the "Jewish problem" in the first place by welcoming Jews into their midst. They would tell "insider" jokes about "circumcision and other rituals," but their casual antisemitic banter did not dissuade them from marrying Jews or, as he put it, allowing a "large dose of Jewish blood" to mingle with ethnic German blood. Kittel disparaged the second type, vulgar antisemites, because their emotional but ignorant hatred produced only empty bombast.
The third approach, founded on "ice-cold reason" and erudition, offered the only hope of averting the Jewish peril. Kittel ridiculed empathy with Jews as the "sickness of sentimentality" and claimed that expulsion had been inspired by reason, knowledge, and love. "God's commandment to love does not mean he wants us to be sentimental." The time had come for a stern and masculine order. Kittel approvingly paraphrased a remakr by the Nazi ideologue Gottfried Feder that "only those who have totally mastered the Jewish question are entitled to make public pronouncements." After over a decade of toiling in academe, Kittel placed his Hebrew erudition at the service of the new ethnic state.
Kittel listed four approaches to the Jewish question: "utter extermination" (Ausrottung), Zionism, assimilation, and historically grounded segregation. He rejected the first. "Extermination by force cannot be seriously considered. If the Spanish Inquisition and tsarist pogroms had failed to exterminate Jews, Germany in the twentieth century certainly would not succeed. Zionism also would fail because Palestine was so small and already inhabited by Muslims. Besides, he added, the desert environment would require hard physical labor, which Jews found distasteful. The third solution, assimilation, constituted the very worst option because Christians could not defend themselves against Jews whom they could not recognize, and Jews, who could never really be at home, would feel permanently alienated from their heritage as well as from their adopted culture.
Kittel advocated a fourth option, relegating Jews to what he called permanent "foreign status," whereby Jews who were citizens in 1933 would live in Germany as permanent aliens. Dismissing a geographical ghetto as unworkable, he proposed de facto cultural and economic expulsion. The "outcasts" would live in the dominant society but be treated in every respect as inferiors. In Kittel's terms, citizens with Jewish ancestors (no matter what their religion) would have to act liek obsequious "guests" who carefully avoided offending their "hosts" and clearly identified themselves as Jews to avoid deceiving non-Jews.
To illustrate his position, he used the case of a hypothetical Italian conductor at the Bayreuth Festival who returned to Italy at the end of the opera season. But Jews, because they had no home to go to, remained and "infected" their hosts. Without using the word "parasite," the metaphor beneath his unctuous tone was obvious. But in case readers missed the subtext, he promised if a "guest" in Germany did not behave properly, then "we will mercilessly show him to the door."
Presenting himself as a fearless tribune of a truth so stark that few dared to express it openly, Kittel used his knowledge of a contemporary Jewish intellectual culture to discredit Judaism. He cited works by Jewish theologians Martin Buber, Hans Joachim Schoeps, and Joseph Carlebach as evidence of the purported inner emptiness of both liberal and orthodox Judaism in a secular age. Pirating the self-criticism of Jewish intellectuals like Franz Werfel and Alfred Döblin, Kittel disparaged both orthodox and reformed Judaism -- the former as sterile and the latter as inauthentic. Turning the responsibility for their plight back on Jews, Kittel claied that two thousand years of religious separatism had created an irrevocably nomadic Jewish "race" that threatened Christians and offered no solace to Jews. "Although at first glance it might appear un-Christian," Kittel insisted on the ultimate morality of his solution. Using a question-and-answer format, he asked: Was it immoral to expel people who had done no wrong? No, because anti-Jewish laws applied to collectives, and individual Jews should not take punishment personally. Recognizing the pain Christians with Jewish ancestors would experience when they lost rights that their great-grandfathers had enjoyed, Kittel acknowledged that victims might perceive sudden ostracism as unjust. But he reiterated that on balance and in the long term, Christians and Jews would be better off.
As a theologian who openly acknowledged the anguish that stigmatized people would suffer, Kittel calmed the consciences of Christians who worried about the most central ethical issue. For centuries, Christian missionaries had called on Jews to accept Christ as their Savior. To faithful converts and children of converts, he now emphasized: "With total and unmistakable clarity, the Church must make it clear that baptism does not affect Jewish identity...A converted Jew does not become a German but rather a Jew-Christian." To rationalize this betrayal, Kittel used two analogies, one sexist and one racist. Quoting Saint Paul, Kittel compared Jewish and German Christians to males and females who were equal in Christ's sight despite their differing roles and status. His second parallel came from missionaries in China, India, and the United States who never expected their converts to integrate into European society. Like former slaves in the American South, Jew Christians (Judenchristen) would develop their own ethnically appropriate denominations. "A full Jew Christian is in every respect as completely authentic as I am, but he cannot, for particular reasons, function in German parishes." One day, he explained, every "ethically principled Christian" would understand the benefit of these measures, and the "finest among the Jews" would also concur. Insisting, "Of course, it is not correct to say such demands are anti-Christian," he assured readers that it was "not heartless to impose these restrictions" as long as Jew Christians behaved with "love, wisdom, and tact."
A swift and thorough cleansing, Kittel reasoned, would inflict less pain than piecemeal separation. Unlike moderates who wanted to banish Jews only from certain occupations such as the media and civil service, Kittel insisted that Jews be driven out of every conceivable public pursuit because Jews would use any connection to the Volk as a foothold form which to expand their influence. Kittel made it clear that he expected Jews to follow the example of the Italian conductor and exit when their "guest status" expired. By leaving the timing of their departure to Jewish Christians, Kittel displaced responsibility for expulsion from Nazi persecutors to their victims. But Kittel also admonished ethnic German Christians, "We must not become soft. We must not allow the continuation of conditions that have proven a failure for the German and the Jewish peoples," even though Jews would suffer "relentless hardships and extreme consequences." He admitted that "an unusually large number of Jews will find themselves in severe need and must physically starve... Fine, noble, and educated human beings will break down mentally and collapse because their profession has been destroyed and their source of income has vanished." Kittel assured Christians with troubled consciences that affluent international Jewish welfare agencies would surely come to the rescue. Unlike Heidegger and Schmitt, who seemed oblivious to the personal pain caused by persecution, Kittel confronted it directly with ethical arguments that rationalized the Jews' short-term pain in the interests of Christians' long-term benefit. For him, the continued "pollution" of ethnic German blood constituted so obvious a danger that moral hardness was the order of the day.
The first printing of The Jewish Question sold out quickly, and a storm of criticism broke over Kittel. The racism of just one scholar of Kittel's stature, in moderates' view, outweighed dozens of tirades by vulgar antisemites like Streicher and Rosenberg. With a degree of restraint that defies imagination, Martin Buber rebuked Kittel for "defaming Judaism and Jews." Despite Buber's excessively courteous tone, Kittel responded that comparing Jewish and Christian traditions was like "comparing fish and birds." The Hebrew Bible itself validated the concept of "guest status" for outsiders. How, he asked indignantly, could Buber fail to appreciate how deeply he respected Buber's Biblical translations? With each round of criticism, Kittel became more self-righteous. When The Jewish Question went into a second edition, he included Buber's letter and his own vehement rebuttal. Kittel only altered one line of his original text. Besides ruling out "extermination" on pragmatic grounds, he added "on Christian grounds."
The personal and political trajectories of Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel reflected the values of a generation of middle-class German men. Like so many of their peers, these Doktor Professoren welcomed ethnic solidarity in a time of political confusion, economic dislocation, and cultural pluralism. In their lecture halls and scholarship they had expressed a vague longing for a harmonious community. After watching politics from the sidelines, these three powerful thinkers cast their lot with a former front-fighter who represented stridently masculine values and ethnic authenticity. It is a mark of the success of Hitler's public persona that Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel not only fell in with the mood of ethnic solidarity in 1933 but elaborated their own very different versions of what might be accomplished. Succumbing to the atmosphere of battle -- against Communism, cultural decadence, and Jews -- they embraced a virile ethos.
In early 1933 the Nazi revolution galvanized the energies of these three public intellectuals as no other civic concern had. Having apparently distanced themselves from the war fever of 1914, they enthusiastically enlisted in the second nationwide mobilization of their generation. To explain their commitment, they celebrated the heroic values that elevated the community over the individual, instinct over reason, authenticity over rationality, and hardness over empathy. Against the Enlightenment faith in universal humanity, they embraced a biologized hierarchy of human value that placed Aryan over Jew and Slav, genetically healthy over "congenitally damaged," and male over female. In Hitler they perceived the rebirth of a heroism that they had scarcely acknowledged before.
Schmitt, Heidegger, and Kittel rendered a vital service to Hitler and his band of political upstarts. In 1933 Nazi leaders had not yet found an effective formula for popularizing their radical antisemitism among non-Nazis. Violence often provoked sympathy for the victims, boycotts inconvenienced and angered consumers, and the vile slogans of the Nazi press offended educated elites. Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel supplied a restrained alternative to the old fighers' rage against Jews, or Judenkiller, that neither Hitler nor his deputies could have provided. Throughout 1933 Hitler preached veritable sermons to over 20 million radio listners in which he glorifed the ethnic revival but said barely a word about Jews. At this critical juncture, while Hitler himself was silent on the subject, Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel stepped in to translate the Nazis' crude slogans and repellant images into intellectually respectable justifications not only for dictatorship but also for antisemitism.
The ready complicity of well-educated members of the middle class saddened those colleagues and friends who were expelled from circles they had trusted. A contemporary, Joseph Levy, commented bitterly that he and his Jewish friends had not been surprised that most Germans' welcomed Nazism, "but we would have expected more courage, more integrity, from the intellectuals...What became of their neighborly love, their humanity?" To their well-educated peers -- precisely the people most likely to have Jewish friends and colleagues -- Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kittel provided the moral basis for the scores of antisemitic restrictions that followed the April boycott. They advanced the values of the Nazi conscience in their praise of a communitarian ethnic uptopia. Each, in his own way, contributed to the redefinition of courage as the capacity to harm the vulnerable without shirking, in the name of the Volk.