Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Nazi Conscience (2)

This is the second part of my review of Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, a study of the Nazi attempt to inculcate an ethnic and racial morality into Germans. The first part was in my previous post.


Youth politics
Koonz then moves on to “The Swastika in the Heart of Youth”, starting with a pointed quote from Hitler:
When an opponent says “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community (p.131).”
Of course, standing on the other side of the failure of Nazi (and Soviet) totalitarianism, we can see the limits to what can be done. And yet, and yet. Compare this famous passage from a 30 January 1939 Reichstag speech by Hitler:
Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
with this more recent statement by a former member of the Hitler Youth:
The denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace.
Consequently, whoever, even unknowingly, circumvents the institution of the family undermines peace in the entire community, national and international, since he weakens what is in effect the primary agency of peace. This point merits special reflection: everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace.
The tone of the Pope’s message (repeated in an abbreviated version in a homily) is much more elliptical than Hitler’s abusive rant, but the notion is the same—a vulnerable minority is castigated as a threat to the very basis of world peace. (The Catholic Church is in favour of the family in the way that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was in favour of the workers—it is in favour of the ones that do as they are told.) Messages directed at youth may have more resilience than one might expect.
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The Nazi regime put considerable effort into attempting to reach youth. Teachers and civil servants joined the Nazi Party at higher rates than did the general populace (p.133). Relatively few classroom teachers were sacked, but 15-20 percent of school supervisors and 60% professors in teacher education colleges were sacked (p.135), part of a fine sense of what matters in controlling education:
Nazi teachers, who themselves participated in subversive activities during the Weimar Republic, understood that expulsions and mandatory curricula could not control what teachers actually taught in their classrooms (p.136).
So active attempts were made to engage and convert teachers, to turn superficial, outward Gleichschaltung into deep, “inner” Gleichschaltung. This included providing a mass of materials to cover the interim period before new textbooks could be put together.

Various levels of resistance frustrated the ambitions of the Nazi activists. Catholic teachers defied instructions to remove crucifixes from classrooms. Some teachers were offended by incitement to ethnic hatred and racism, others lamented the loss of classroom autonomy, the replacement of female with male supervisory staff in girls schools, the anti-intellectualism of Nazi activists (and Hitler) with surveys finding very hostile attitudes to various Nazi figures such as ideologist Alfred Rosenberg. The ideological supervision also alienated teachers (Pp139-40).

When the rolls for new Party members re-opened in 1937, teachers were conspicuous by their absence, while the revival of the economy led to a severe shortage of teachers—Koonz suggests that teachers leaving the profession was likely a factor (p.140). The full racial hatred package faltered. The milder version of Nazi ideology celebrating ethnic revival was more palatable, spreading all the further for that reason: part of a shift in Nazi strategy to a more stealthy approach in selling the Nazi message. Thus, anti–Jewish messages would be slipped into texts framed in the sober language of science. Norse sagas linking honour to sacrifice and vengeance gradually displayed Christian morality tales. Examples and practice essays across the range of subjects would push Nazi ideas and preferred policies. As Koonz says of anti-Jewish messages in biological topics “its very lack of salience made it more effective than blatant racial hate” (p.144). It was the Volk rather than the Nazi Party which was celebrated. Self-sacrifice—for example, in charitable works—was extolled. The Golden Rule was re-interpreted in terms of being willing to sacrifice yourself for your racial comrades, to treat your racial comrades as you would want to be treated (Pp146-7). Gender separation of classes in educational institutions was used to reinforce the different roles in service of the Volk, while teachers were asked to identify students who might have “damaged genes” (p.147).

The sad reality was that the abolition of the ghetto and the integration of Jews into public institutions (such as public education) made them more vulnerable as individuals (in the way queer individuals always have been, though they have generally more capacity to hide). Personal contacts did provide an inconvenience for the preaching of hate (but not, in the end, a very effectual one).

Between emigration and concentration of Jewish students into Jewish schools, the number of Jewish students in public schools fell. In 1933, less than 60,000 Jewish students attended public schools (75% of all school-age Jewish children). By 1939, only 27% of the 27,500 Jewish children in Germany attended public schools (p.148). While many teachers displayed kindness or otherwise resisted the campaign of hatred, other teachers made the life of Jewish students miserable.

Nazi education experimented with experiential teaching and sought to foster (racial) egalitarianism (Pp151ff). Heidegger’s enthusiastic embrace of Nazi education efforts is dealt with quite matter-of-factly (Pp155-6). Retreats and re-education camps were organised for teachers: something like two-thirds of teachers attended at least one regional retreat. A “folksy populism” which “fostered ethnic solidarity” and an “egalitarian ethos” was the organising principle, with retreats displaying a mixture of order and spontaneity (Pp157ff). In the end, Nazi pedagogy was one where:
the moral mandate was clear: honor the Fuhrer, expel aliens, sacrifice for the Volk, and welcome challenges (p.162).
A moral mandate that prepared the ground for larger Nazi purposes.

A racial law
Koonz then considers “Law and the Racial Order”. While Hitler moved decisively in a wide range of areas, between the April 1933 laws that imposed occupational quotas and the September 1935 Nuremberg laws there was a mass of hostile regulations but no comprehensive anti-Jewish race law (p.163). This misleadingly entitled “grace period” saw the consolidation of a consensus among Nazi policy makers. The struggle of the ethnocrats to bring some legalistic order to racial thinking is presented in such a matter-of-fact way that the underlying madness (and the black humour of it) is, if anything, more salient. Particularly the endless wrestling with how you define ‘Jew’, given that racial thinking required a hard-edged category that could not properly cope with the chaos of human diversity.

The operation of the ethnocrats Koonz characterises as “incremental radicalisation” (p.168). This followed from the logic of the thing, for the issue was to distinguish and separate Jews. The effect over time was to make such separation the salient public policy issue and to find ways to effect that. The final separation being, of course, extermination: if a people’s interaction with others is defined as “the problem”, then it is a problem that can only be finally solved by getting rid of them. A religious Jew-hatred could rely on conversion or expulsion. A racial Jew-hatred was left with only expulsion or slaughter.

The madness is even more salient when one considers that even the most expansive definition (one Jewish grandparent) led to a total of 800,000 Jews in the entire Reich, a tiny percentage of the 65 million population of the Reich (p.169). But, of course, that huge disparity generates its own logic: Jews “had” to be some “great corrupting threat” otherwise it was a small minority being monstrously brutalised and bullied by a huge majority—hence exactly the same logic is demonstrated in contemporary society in the dynamics of queer-hatred where they are castigated as some great corrupting threat.

Which is why contemporary accusations against queers replicate those against Jews: that they (or their quest for equality) undermines world peace (see above), are the gravest threat to the nation, are engaged in a conspiracy against Christianity and corrupt and pervert individuals and institutions. Republican Oklahoma state legislator Sally Kerns declared homosexuals a graver threat to the nation than terrorism or Islam:
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, OK, it's just a fact," Rep. Sally Kern said recently to a gathering of fellow Republicans outside the Capitol. "Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted, you know, more than a few decades. So it's the death knell in this country. " "I honestly think it's the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat,"
In the same month, the Catholic Bishop of Motherwell declared homosexuals were engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Christian values. That same-sex marriage would corrupt and pervert marriage and the family is a staple claim of opponents. For example, the Rev. James Dobson opining that:
Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.
In a 28 May 1999 article in The Age, Cardinal Pell wrote against:
”those who work to win recruits for homosexual practice” and told us that “a deep homosexual orientation often brings suffering, but acting this out generally brings greater suffering, particularly when accompanied by adult seduction”.
The recycling of the same accusations against a religious/ethnic minority and a sexual minority tells us that the accusations have nothing to do with the accused and everything to do with the world-view and logic of exclusion.

Indeed, the laws being pushed by Christian preachers and politicians in Nigeria and in Uganda are, in fact, more vicious towards queers than the Nurembourg Laws were to the Jews. Koonz’s grasp of the nature and patterns of Nazism as a moral order is precisely what makes her historical study so revelatory.

There is an underlying grimness to Koonz’s exploration of the issues and processes involved in directing the policy of a modern state to deal with the problem of:
How could life be made intolerable for Jews in ways that met radicals’ expectations without alienating ordinary citizens. From 1933 through 1935, hundreds of memos and dozens of meetings debated possible answers. While appearing moderate, bureaucratic persecution turned out to be more pernicious than pogroms. Not only did its calm façade mislead victims into believing that the situation was less malign than it was, but policies backed by the state were far more thorough than sporadic violence (p.168).
One that mobilised over a million civil servants, tens of thousands of Nazi functionaries plus educators, lawyers, health care professionals and social worker with varying degrees of commitment to the Nazi project. Logic wrestled with obedience, reason with blatant ethnic particularism, citizen aversion to open violence with acquiescence in acts with the legitimacy of legality all resulted in a mass of inconsistencies foreign observers noted (Pp168ff). The lack of depth of feeling against Jews amongst the general German populace was a constant frustration that Nazi officials both wrestled and compromised with while seeking to inspire into deeper “racial feeling” (Pp178ff).

The result was a familiar conundrum to Nazi leaders:
unsanctioned anti-Jewish violence offended public opinion but moderation spawned disaffection among zealots (p.182).
Hitler’s solution was to preside over drift then suddenly—just before a scheduled Reichstag speech—he summoned three key policy makers to Nurembourg, ordered them to draft a comprehensive race law. They worked frantically, cobbled together some key paragraphs and, unable to agree on a definition of ‘Jew’, drafted four and left the decision to Hitler. Hitler referred to the laws only at the end of a meandering speech, attributed them to (Interior Minister) Frick and colleagues and asked Goring to read them—at which point Goebbels turned the radio broadcast to a march, so only the 500 or so Reichstag delegates in the hall actually heard the laws. But Hitler’s rejection of violence and endorsement of bureaucratic tactics was clear (Pp183-4).

He was, however, still wrestling with the problem of definition—specifically the issue of “mixed breeds”:
Hitler, as an ideologically driven autodidact, had little patience with ambiguity (p.185)
In internal policy discussions, Hitler nominated three solutions of emigration, sterilisation and assimilation but elaborated only on the third. The issue of trying to placate international opinion (particularly commercial ties) without creating too much frustration among Nazi activists continue to lead to various PR circumlocuations (Pp186ff).

Meanwhile, the ethnocrats wrestled with problems of definition under the new laws having discovered that, not only would they not be punished for their opinions, their opinions could actually influence policy (p.188). The process of enforcing the policy of racial separation became one for the orderly bureaucratic processes of the modern state: so orderly they attracted little outside notice and most of its practitioners suffered no ill-effects on their lives or careers when the Third Reich went crashing down. In the meantime:
ethnocrats accommodated themselves to a Nazi conscience appropriate to the tasks ahead. Old fighters and Hitler Youth destroyed Jews’ property: bureaucrats liquidated it. Over the next four years ethnocrats met the challenge as the term “liquidate” itself migrated from commerce in material goods to traffic in people (p.189).
What Koonz calls ‘the cold pogrom’ could be sold as an improvement, since outright violence decreased, which was reassuring to the general German public: a sign of Hitler’s sensitivity to public opinion.

Seeking respectability
So we come to “The Quest for a Respectable Racism”. Koonz makes the excellent point that the Reich Citizenship Law—part of the Nuremberg laws—by banning Jews from citizenship, imposed a civic death on them (p.190). The reduction in unsanctioned violence was helpful to the domestic and international image of the regime. But legality was accompanied by increased publication of anti-Semitic writings, reports and themes injected into public culture, giving ordinary Germans a framing in which to justify their own actions:
Germans made their peace with regulations against their Jewish fellow citizens … criminal laws became part of a mirage of law and order, and the perception gradually took hold that Jews were strangers in their own homeland (p.192)
Again, a pattern that occurs elsewhere—as revealed in philosopher Richard Mohr’s comment that:
unenforced sodomy laws are the chief systematic way that society as a whole tells gays they are scum.
“Unnatural”, “against God”, “enemy of the Volk” are just different ways of saying that your existence is an offence against some absolutely trumping moral authority against which no human claims have standing. In our own societies, Catholic theorists such as Finnis, George and Feser continue to produce works based on a view of “human flourishing” utterly uninterested in inconvenient human experience except as manifestations of aberration to be rejected. But these patterns go deep: it was a Jewish philosopher who was the source of the notion of purifying extermination entering Christian civilisation while St Augustine—in his theology of the Jews—was the archetypal theorist of dhimmitude, of fellow monotheists as people who were permitted to survive, but not thrive, with the ultimate aim being conversion.

The German economy was aggressively “Aryanised”: partly through confiscation and boycotts and partly by the levers the new regulations gave to unscrupulous competitors. A steadily increasing acquiescence in Jews-as-irrevocable-others took hold of public and private life, leaving Jews more and more isolated.

Professors had been disproportionately supporters of the Nazi takeover and scholars stepped into the silences from Hitler to produce material “demonstrating” the danger than the Jews represented. The academics found that every discipline was being asked for what it could contribute:
Writing in 1951 about life in the Soviet sphere, Czeslaw Milosz described the moment at which intellectuals in a totalitarian regime realize that they must not merely offer generic praise but also swallow its nonsensical dogma … “in its entirety” (p.195).
A moment that came to the scholars of Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s when they realised that their research agendas were expected to conform to biological explanatory themes. The operation of Gleichschaltung in academe under the Nazis is much the same as pc-progressivism operates in much (though not all) of contemporary academe. As Koonz writes:
But denunciation meant exclusion from benefits, not prison (p.196).
Ironically, this was in the context of Heidegger’s thought being dismissed by Party apparatchiks as useless for National Socialism. Academic research included examination of the terrain (both human and physical) of the projected path of German lebensraum (p.199).

Koonz’s discussion of the spread of racial thinking in academe is reminiscent of the spread of postmodernist though in contemporary Western academe. The same mixture of genuine talent and careerist mediocrities, of scholarship producing jargon-despoiled nonsense that was nevertheless treating perfectly seriously by large numbers of people.

Much of what went on under the Nazi regime was much the same as under any Leninist regime, with the focus on ‘race’ rather than ‘class’ (so targeted at a much smaller percentage of the population). Since the Nazi regime was largely indifferent to ownership, the change was less dramatic, and the power of the regime less total, than in a Leninist takeover.

If the Jews were a danger due to their corrupting influence, then their social and physical isolation was not enough: their influence in the realm of ideas also had to be combated. Walter Frank expressed the dilemma:
The Jew is of alien blood and, as such, the enemy. There can be no German Jews. There are, however, millions of German Protestants and German Catholics living out the tradition of the Jewish people (p.207).
But if one was going to reject founding ideas—such as the liberal principles underpinning much law—then new principles had to be found, adopted and integrated. Scholars scoured archives for anti-Jewish ordinances and evidence of Jewish malfeasance while conferences and publications sought to “de-Judaizize” religious faith (Pp212ff).

This was not mere show: Nazi scholars and scholarship was taken seriously at the time. Alas, the facts did not turn out to be easily marshalled into racial “science” (Pp215-6). Koonz takes us through these empirical failures and their failure to derail the enterprise. One technique was simple ignorance—so Heidegger would lament the poor quality of Nazi scholarship in his own discipline, but laud it in others of which he knew little (p.216)—again, a pattern not unheard of in our own time. Another was faith what it was just “part of the process” of developing a new intellectual paradigm. Besides, as long as one did not contradict racial dogma or challenge Hitler’s authority, academics had considerable intellectual freedom. The rare purge victim generally involved sexual, not intellectual, pretexts (Pp216-7).

However much of an intellectual failure it was in the end, this scholarly industry nevertheless had its effects:
The apparently objective stereotypes about Jewish nature produced by antisemitic research contributed to Germans’ clear conscience as they decided not to return a Jewish friend’s greeting, not to shop at Jewish-owned stores, not to shelter a neighbor whose property was Aryanised, or not to comfort an ostracized Jewish pupil (p.218).
Again, anti-queer activism is assiduous in trying to generate “scientific” support for its claims for somewhat similar purposes (without anywhere near the same level of state support, however).

Koonz concludes with examples of how this “respectable” anti-Semitism produced alibis for Germans after the war—they had nothing to do with all the violence and killings—while its notions of a malevolent Jewish identity clearly persisted, as she demonstrates from quotes from “respectable” Germans decades after the end of the Nazi regime (Pp218ff).


This review will be oncluded in my next post.

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