Monday, June 19, 2017
Eric Voegelin disappoints...
Eric Voegelin (1901-1985), an Austrian-German philosopher who fled Nazi Germany and eventually landed in America, wherein he made his home for the rest of his life, was a philosopher of history; but he was so much more than that description might conjure up to the layperson. His writings affected me deeply in my youth, and I went on to devour all his books and journal essays -- at least all I could track down. One that had eluded me all these years was titled, "Hitler and the Germans", a series of lectures he gave in 1964 to students in the Arts Faculty at the University of Munich, Germany. I finally got around to tracking it down on the Internet, and found a free pdf file of it (though this particular pdf is incomplete, I managed to track down a fuller file of it that supplied the missing chapters; though they -- I regret to say -- had no effect on my titular "disappointment").
It's amazing to contemplate that only 20 years prior to these 1964 lectures in which Voegelin, before an audience of German students and professors, searingly castigates not only Hitler and the Nazis but also German society for enabling their horrors -- he had to suddenly flee his own country of citizenship because the Nazi authorities were hunting him down, with the likely end of an execution or harsh imprisonment (his crime was to stand up for a Jewish colleague at the college where they both taught). His German wife, Lissy, whom he had married a few years before, stayed behind, but luckily was able to escape also, and reunite later on with her husband Eric in London (Voegelin recounts how when he dined with Lissy and her parents, their dining room wall had a portrait of the new German hero of the people, Adolf Hitler).
At any rate, I avidly awaited delving into these lectures. And I was not disappointed most of the time; indeed, as usual when I have read Voegelin, I was delighted and enriched at nearly every turn by his scintillating perspicacity. Then I made the mistake of remembering the related problem of Hitler and Christianity vs. Hitler and Islam. I already knew, from tracking down various quotes from Hitler's "Table Talks" that, contrary to the politically correct paradigm, Hitler was not "a Christian" in any meaningful, substantive sense, but only one on paper, so to say. In fact, those remarks recorded in the "Table Talks" indicate that Hitler despised Christianity, while he admired Islam. A couple of my previous essay go into this:
Hitler and Islam
Definitive Hitler quotes
So as I was reading along, and my eyes alighted upon the subtitle, "Hitler's Views on Religion" (part 16, pp. 124-128), I thought to myself, surely, in this small subsection, Voegelin will at least allude to Hitler's hatred of Christianity and admiration for Islam. Alas, that was not to be. Instead, Voegelin goes on at length in comparing Hitler's flavor of Christianity to some modern deformation of it popular in Germany among the "petit-bourgeois" liberals (while in his later chapters 4 and 5, "Descent into the Ecclesiastical Abyss: The Evangelical Church" and "Descent into the Ecclesiastical Abyss: The Evangelical Church", respectively, his concern is only to poke and prod with his surgical scalpel the various diseased tissues of modern Western -- mostly modern German -- Christianity). Most, if not all, of Voegelin's analysis struck me as spot-on; which made the odd lacuna of a complete absence of any mention at all of Hitler's contempt for Christianity and admiration for Islam all the odder -- particularly as Voegelin in his overall discussion of his subject sees fit to consult the "Table Talks" numerous times as useful. How he could actually write a subsection entitled "Hitler's Views on Religion" and utterly omit Hitler's contempt for Christianity and admiration for Islam rather caught my breath at the time. The most generous assumption one could make to explain this strange lapse in Voegelin's otherwise laser-like analytical eye would chalk it up to the general amnesia about Islam that has so curiously affected so many 19th and 20th century intellects of the West. The fact, however, that some did not forget how pernicious Islam is -- among them John Quincy Adams, Mark Twain, Carl Jung, and most notably Teddy Roosevelt -- makes it more difficult to excuse someone like Voegelin.
I've been disappointed by Voegelinians before on this subject, but never Voegelin himself. I suppose there is some small cold comfort in the fact that it was a sin of omission, not commission...