“GADAMER AND NAZISM”
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford, 1962)
These preliminaries behind us, here is the first sample on the plate of what Zuckert herself “actually writes” that Orozco and Waite “actually write.”
Teresa Orozco accuses Gadamer of having written “Plato and the Poets” to justify Nazi suppression of liberal humanist education and “Plato's Educational State” to support national conservative efforts to reform the regime. Geoffrey Waite repeats her accusation in “Radio Nietzsche.” Whereas most twentieth-century readers of Nietzsche have unintentionally fostered his elitist politics by adopting a perspectivist reading, Waite charges, Orozco shows that Gadamer did so intentionally. In my view, there is little evidence to support either charge.
Leaving to one side what Orozco actually wrote, for her to repeat if she wishes, we are here condemned to remain with Waite. But perhaps some of us can take slight hope in the fact that the statement that “there is little evidence” (also with regard to what we will soon hear Zuckert calling the question of whether it is possible to “cite any statement, vote, or action by which Gadamer explicitly supported National Socialism”) does not actually say that there is “no evidence” or even that there is not “big evidence.” But before we become too hopeful, let us first turn to Zuckert's second mention of Waite in her response, since this provides the evidence for her just-cited statement that “Geoffrey Waite repeats her [Orozco's] accusation in ‘Radio Nietzsche.’”
In a footnote to his essay, Waite suggests that Gadamer may have had a rhetorical reason for remaining silent about the relation between his interpretation of Plato's Republic and the political circumstances in which he found himself. (Waite concedes that Orozco's case ispurely circumstantial.) [emphasis added]
Now here is part of what Waite “actually wrote” in his footnote (emphasis again added):
“Orozco has made a good circumstantial case …”
So it is that, for Zuckert, “a good circumstantial case” becomes “purely circumstantial.” What that Waite does indeed “concede,” however, as the same footnote continues, is that there is a partial problem with “the art of allusion” as defined by Orozco, and that Zuckert herself is implicated in it. Because of this very implication the reader may wish to consult that footnote in full, a footnote to which Zuckert evidently and “presumably”—to use one of her own key terms, as we will see—has no response (much as Gadamer “presumably” had no response to Strauss's charge of radical historicism and relativism).
Does Waite “actually write” anything to indicate that he “repeats” Orozco's specific accusations about why Gadamer wrote what he did in the Third Reich, namely, “to justify Nazi suppression of liberal humanist education and … to support national conservative efforts to reform the regime”? On the face of it, the important bone of contention (with Orozco and Waite gnarling noisily on one side, Zuckert silently on the other) is a methodological principle (i.e., not “truth,” necessarily, but in any case “method”): Was (and is) Gadamer some form of esoteric writer? There is evidence for this that is circumstantial (and, on the strong self-definition of esotericism, evidence here can be circumstantial only); whether this is good or bad evidence, it exists, and it is not purely circumstantial. One cannot ask this question (cf. “the piety of thinking,” ostensibly for Heidegger and for Gadamer) if one does not acknowledge even the existence of the great tradition of exo/esoteric thought leading from Plato to the post-Platonists, who most notably include, in Zuckert's view, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, and Derrida. Obviously space does not permit a full discussion of this tradition here, nor is such discussion required to get at its basic structure. But Zuckert has successfully occluded access to precisely this question. Why?
Although Zuckert does not appeal to what Waite “actually said” about the charge that “Gadamer was a Nazi” (to put it in the vernacular), if for no other reason than Waite does not “actually say” this, Zuckert successfully links Waite to Orozco here, nonetheless. Specifically, Zuckert writes, “Orozco does not (and presumably cannot) cite any statement, vote, or action by which Gadamer explicitly supported National Socialism.” One might ask what “presumably” means here. If Orozco could cite such evidence, then she would have? Or, that such evidence for explicit support does not exist and/or never existed, quite simply because Gadamer did not in fact “support National Socialism” by “any statement, vote, or action”? Again leaving Orozco's response to this problem aside (both that in her book, to which Zuckert does not allude, and in her current response to this specific charge), and because he is linked to this position, Waite will respond with six major, interrelated theses.
i) Whether or not Gadamer “was a Nazi,” is not the central issue. (The same goes for Heidegger, incidentally.) By his own not quite explicit admission,
In other words, Waite does not align himself with all of Orozco's argument and project. He does, however, align himself strongly not only with her right to be heard (which does not appear to be a given to at least some of the Gadamer industry; this festschrift is a major exception because of its willingness to let Orozco speak), but also, and more important, with the methodology Orozco is attempting to develop to analyze Gadamer and the history of philosophy generally (even though, again, Waite does not agree fully with her specific theorization and application of this methodology to the issue of National Socialism). In any case, however, let us be clear about one thing: It is Zuckert (even more than Orozco and certainly more than Waite) who has most explicitly broached the question of “Gadamer and Nazism.” So we have no choice but to take it seriously in this entretien.
“Was Gadamer a Nazi?” Well, the answer to this question, as is appropriate in the relativist system, is precisely “a matter of ‘interpretation,’” or, more simply put, of definition. If, for example, formal membership in the Nazi Party is one (partial or sole) definition, then the answer is both no and yes. “But that is only half the story. Let us look at it more fully,” as we heard Socrates saying—beginning with the “actually said,” or rather done.
Gadamer was not a member of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), he was a member of the NSLB (National Socialist Teachers Union). Founded in 1927, the NSLB was officially classified by the NSDAP as its “connected organization” (angeschlossener Verband). Membership in both the NSDAP and the NSLB was voluntary, and the party leadership of
Membership in the NSLB was by charter open and limited to ‘jeder un-bescholtene Lehrer und sonstige Erzieher, der das 18. Lebensjahr vol-lendet hat und arischer Abstammung [ist]” (every respectable teacher and other educator who has completed the eighteenth year of his life and is of Aryan decent). In other words, the basic criterion was racialist and racist. By his own free choice (but not subsequent admission after the war), Gada-mer was a member of NSLB in “Fachschaft i: Lehrer an Hochschulen” (Professional Association i: Teachers at Universities). Too, Gadamer had previously been a supporter or adherent (Anhanger) of the ultra-right-wing, and racist, German National People's Party (DNVP). Hans-Georg Gadamer's NSLB card number was 254–387.
Gadamer joined the NSLB on August i, 1933, as did at least two other philosophers who later became famous. (In March the first concentration camp had been built at Dachau near Munich, initially for communist and socialist political prisoners, as was reported in the press.) For the philosophical cadre, August 1933 was an early date to join. Gadamer's teacher and mentor Heidegger waited until December i, 1933, though, unlike Gadamer, he was additionally to join the NSDAP (publicly on May i or 3, 1933, though having committed himself in secret several years earlier). But most philosophers waited until 1934 to join either organization. The other two philosophers joining the NSLB on the same date as Gadamer were Hugo Fischer and Arnold Gehlen. Fischer left the NSLB two years later to the day (August i, 1935) and eventually emigrated over Norway to England; after the war he returned to take a professorship at Munich. Like Heidegger, Gehlen joined the NSDAP, and, like Gadamer and Heidegger, remained
In response, then, to one part of Zuckert's statement, if membership in a political party can be construed as its “explicit support,” and surely this is one plausible definition, then Gadamer's membership in the explicitly racist NSLB, officially affiliated with the NSDAP, certainly can qualify as at least one “action by which Gadamer explicitly supported National Socialism.” To be sure, to say this is not yet to say anything about what this support means, either for Gadamer or for philosophical hermeneutics, nor even whether this support can be deemed a good thing or a bad thing ethically or morally. So far we remain exclusively at the level of what Zuckert likes to call the “actual.”
Turning to another part of Zuckert's statement—the matter of voting—one can note that in November 1933, Gadamer joined other philosophers who were members of the NSLB, some of whom were also members of the NSDAP, to sign the “Bekenntnis der Professoren an den deutschen Univer-sitaten und Hochschullen zu Adolf Hitler und dem nationalsozialistischen Staat” (Declaration of faith of professors in the German universities and colleges in Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist state). This declaration explicitly supported a single list of NSDAP candidates (Einheitsliste) for the immediately upcoming elections to Parliament (Reichstag), as well as Germany's definitive withdrawal from the League of Nations and all its internationally binding principles. This declaration was signed on the eve of the plebiscite on November 12, 1933, which granted carte blanche to, and established the legality of, each and every decision made by Adolf Hitler. Again pace Zuckert, Gadamer thus voted to disallow any one else from voting in Germany except for NSDAP candidates. In this way of voting, too, Gadamer explicitly supported and legitimated Hitler's one-man rule and its decisionistic legality.
In further response to Zuckert's request to know about any “statement, vote, or action by which Gadamer explicitly supported National Socialism,” at least one case is freely admitted by Gadamer himself. Gadamer was one of a small handful of philosophers allowed to travel abroad during the Third Reich, including during World War II: he gave lectures in Florence (January 1940), Paris (May 1941), Prague (June 1943), and Lisbon (March-April 1944). The other philosophers given this relatively rare privilege and sign of trust included fellow members of the NSLB, some of whom were also in the NSDAP, but also some who were in neither organization. Of these trips, Gadamer has stated: “I did not fail to recognize that one was thereby being misused for foreign propaganda,” adding, “for which often someone politically innocent [ein politisch Unbescholtener—that word again] was precisely the right man” (PLi 18). Although Gadamer does not explicitly say
Gadamer is also on record as having said in 1990, “whoever went into the Party [NSDAP], in order to keep his position or to gain one, and then as a teacher of philosophy practiced reasonable philosophy, is ten times preferable to me than, say, people like [Oskar] Becher or [Hans] Freyer, who were not in the Party but who talked like the Nazis.” Ten times can be quite a lot (more than zero but less than, say, a thousand); but is then a collaborator X times worse than a “true believer”? This is an old question and, as they say, the jury is still out on it. But why Gadamer's quantitative distinction in the first place? Is vociferous “symbolic” support of NSDAP any better or worse (and how many times?), in principle or effect, than actual support of the racist DNVP or actual membership in the officially affiliated and also racist NSLB or other forms of collaboration with the NSDAP? As Gadamer himself states, some of the most heinous and vocal advocates of National Socialist principles were not members of the NSDAP, of which he was not a member; nor, presumably, as he does not suggest, of the NSLB, of which he was a member.
The equally, if not more, important issue, however, is whether Gadamer's teaching—qua his statements and actions, including the preservation and development of philosophical hermeneutics during the Third Reich-qualifies as what he calls “reasonable philosophy.” Teaching (and only “after all else is said and done”) is what matters most in Gadamer's oral/aural tradition, in which “it is impossible for what is written not to be disclosed. That is the reason why I have never written anything about these things, and why there is not and will not be any written work by Plato…. As soon as you have read and reread this letter, burn it” (Plato, Second Letter 3i4b-c). But this, too, in his own terms and in Zuckert's, is “a matter of ‘interpretation,’” as we will see. Though apparently this cannot be a matter for “dialogue” with Gadamer himself (or with Zuckert), but only a matter of contestation. But before addressing this pedagogic question (“teaching as resistance”) at the appropriate time later, a brief excursus is necessary for historical and theoretical perspective.
An appropriate epitaph (by Thomas Laugstien) has been given to the attempt of all German philosophers in ‘“inner emigration’: during the Third Reich to preserve ‘authentic philosophy’”: “It reproduced itself in the consciousness that, in the philosophical sphere, one was permitted to do what one wanted. But what one wanted above all was what one was permitted to do.” But it should also be stressed that the same can be said for the situation of philosophers (and others) living under all forms of capitalism, two
In conclusion to his reply to a would-be—only somewhat aggressive—interlocutor in the Library of Living Philosophers volume, Gadamer writes:
I thank the author for her intensive dedication to the problems she takes up. But I would like to add the request that one should first presume that one did not understand the other properly when one believes that one can find contradictions everywhere in the opinion of the other.
The soundness of this advice aside (which seems to follow one basic Strauss-ian heuristic, though not necessarily the Zuckertian principle of the “actually said”), and aside also the way the qualifiers “first” and “properly” beg important hermeneutic questions, we can at least note that this response is at once descriptive, if one assumes that the critic in question has in fact done what Gadamer says she has done, and prescriptive, insofar as it tells that critic what to do. “Properly,” posits as its precondition the distinction between “proper” and “improper”—a distinction that relativism cannot draw. (This may mean, of course, that Gadamer, in this one case at least, was not a relativist; but it may also mean that he was an exo/esotericist.) This simultaneously constative and performative response establishes what the limits of any dialogue for Gadamer have been, are, and will be. It produces a hermeneutic circle, or tautology, in which no alternative, exterior position is
And in his reply to another would-be—and much more aggressive—critic writing in the same Library of Living Philosophers volume, Gadamer tells her, in effect, that she should not have analyzed one of his texts (Philosophical Apprenticeships), which she analyzes from a feminist perspective that emphasizes the way Gadamer and philosophical hermeneutics refer to women, as well as to the way both might relate to “Nazism.” Gadamer recommends that this critic should have analyzed two other texts instead: his autobiographical sketch in the Library of Living Philosophers volume, and his essay “Die politische Inkompetenz der Philosophic” (The political incompetence of philosophy). Gadamer goes on to indicate how the latter text should, indeed must, be “actually read.” “In the essay ‘Uber die politische Inkompetenz der Philosophic,’” Gadamer states, “I illustrated with Plato and Heidegger what I myself think about the relation between philosophy and politics. With modesty, I lay claim to the same incompetence.” In other words, we should accept an author's word about a subject when that author proclaims that he (in this case) is incompetent about that subject and we should not attempt to analyze it ourselves—the subject here being the Gadamerian relation between philosophy and politics. Now if, as Zuckert writes in “On the Politics of Gadamerian Hermeneutics, “philosophical dialogue and textual hermeneutics are essentially ethical,” as “Gadamer argued from the beginning until the end of his career, because they entail respect for the integrity and independence of the other, not only in the initial attempt to understand but also in the peaceful, nonviolent character of the accord or agreement at which the dialogue aims,” and if the ethical has to do with the political (as the naive reader may have thought, and as not a few philosophers have argued over the centuries), then to declare oneself “incompetent” in the political is simultaneously to declare oneself incompetent in the ethical (as many have also thought and argued). For example, from a neo-Spinozist, neo-communist perspective, not only is it the case “that the relationship between philosophy and politics is such that each implies the other,” but also that “the dilemma which would lead us to distinguish between ‘speculative’ philosophy, on the one hand, and philosophy ‘applied’ to politics, on the other, is not simply meaningless, it is the principle obstacle to achieving wisdom.” If this is true, the very basis of Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics—notably, its self-admitted “incompetence” in politics, and its entailed, ostensible respect for the other and nonviolence—would all be undermined radically. But, again, so far this is only potentially a truly “devastating charge” against Gadamer and his entire philosophical position.
But one thing should be crystal clear to anyone attempting to enter into a dialogue, and in that sense an ethical or political encounter, with Gadamer
With regard to ethics specifically, as Zuckert correctly notes, even the most cursory reader of the self-described politically “incompetent” Gadamer's extensive oeuvre will encounter an extensive, lifelong preoccupation with the subject—in terms of both interpreting the history of philosophy from at least Plato on, and the application of this preoccupation to current topics, including his aforementioned way of responding to critics who attempt to penetrate into his Horizontverschmelzung from some imagined exterior. What, then, about the ethics of “the politics of Gadamerian hermeneutics”?
In terms of an ethics that is nonprescriptive, and as such more properly described as “ethology,” Gadamer in his (part collaborative, part critical) relationship to “Nazism” was simply refusing “to cede to his desire,” understood as the only cogent ethical imperative. And there is not a damn thing anyone can do about this fact, including hopelessly attempting to enter into dialogue with it. Which is not to say, however, that Gadamer's position cannot, should not, be combated. In Marx's terms, this is the very definition of “criticism” when confronting an objectionable “content.” “Criticism dealing with this content is criticism in hand-to-hand combat, and in such a fight the point is not whether the opponent is a noble, equal, interesting opponent, the point is to strike him.” But the problem, here, is this: whether or not Gadamer is “noble” or “equal” is hardly at issue; philosophical hermeneutics remains obviously “interesting”—but interesting also in the sense
As paraphrased by no less an authority than Zuckert, in her response to Orozco and Waite, “Gadamer had obvious practical reasons to mute his criticism of the brutal power politics of the party in power; he had no ‘practical’ reason (beyond the ethical imperatives of friendship and decency) to mute his support.” Much is at stake in the parenthetical remark. But in any case Gadamer refuses to, cannot, and arguably should not, practice friendship and moderation with those who are his enemies. Like Kant's categorical imperative and Spinoza's attempt to elicit the rational core of ethics from Jewish-Christian Scripture, the Christian injunction “Love your neighbor as thyself” is radically problematized, not merely by who “thyself” often in fact is (psychologically, one is often one's own worst enemy), but also by the fact that this option is simply unavailable to oneself if it transpires, as it often does in history, that the same neighbor is about to kill you (excepting the case of consistent pacifists) or has killed you (in all cases).
So it is, then, to leap backward and forward in the argument, that Zuckert and Gadamer demand dialogue and moderation but i) refuse it in some cases, and 2) encounter those who refuse dialogue and moderation, at least on Gadamerian terms. All of which, however, only disproves that dialogue and moderation are universal principles in fact, and only suggests that, perhaps, they should be—but not necessarily in our current world. Again, we reach only the level of the tu quoque and an “aporia”—not as the beginning of complex inquiry but as its simple termination.
Gadamer's theory of the relationship between ethics and friendship, and mutatis mutandis of the relationship between philosophy and politics (disingenuous disclaimer of “incompetence” aside), seems to run aground or adrift on his collaboration-cum-resistance with what has been, and what announced itself from its inception to be, what is arguably—alongside fascism—the most successful, least friendly and philosophico-political regime in human history (as Zuckert affirms). But that regime (Waite would argue) is not merely what we call “The Third Reich,” or “Nazi Germany.” For it is also that regime's subtending “discursive practice” (at once philosophical, political, ethical, cultural, and psychological, as well as economic) that is capitalism. Which assertion, however, certainly does not, or should not, entail that the historically longest sustained attempt to oppose capitalism, namely a more or less Stalinist socialism in one country (the former Soviet Union and its satellites), was itself either fully friendly or fully anticapitalist. Focusing here only on the former point, to say that millions of inmates of the Gulag were the victims of a system that differed from Nazi Germany and the millions of its inmates and that in the former their incarceration was sensu stricto illegal and in the latter legal—this is a pathetically weak argument to make either to all those inmates and corpses (and who, in both systems, ineluded