“IF THAT IS THE OBJECTION …, THEY SHOULD SAY SO”
Gadamer may be criticized for not publicly opposing the rise and rule of National Socialism in Germany in word or deed. If that is the objection Orozco and Waite wish to make, they should say so. The question then would be whether “political correctness” or plain old morality requires a man [or woman, we should add] to become a martyr (like Eric Bonhoeffer). Is it not possible for a person to conclude “prudently” (in the Aristotelian and not the Kantian sense) that it would be better to preserve not merely one's life and career, but also the lives and livelihood of one's family, friends and students, by trying to foster change from within, gradually, by means of persuasion rather than force? Such a prudent course of action might require one to remain silent at times or to deliver criticisms indirectly in a veiled manner. In his Philosophical Apprenticeships, Gadamer describes his own behavior during the Nazi regime very much in these terms, [emphasis added]
Ipse dixit appeal to Gadamer aside, as well as Gadamer's own disclaimers about Philosophical Apprenticeships, Zuckert is quite correct to demand, pre-scriptively, clarity about “the objection Orozco and Waite wish to make” and that they “should say so.” Leaving Orozco's response to her, of course, Waite says the following. His objection to Gadamer in this regard (keeping in mind the aforementioned caveats about not knowing apodeictically what he himself would have done) is this: The only acceptable ethical position with regard to National Socialism—before, during, and after 1933-was not accommodation and collaboration, no matter how critical from within it. The only acceptable ethical position was resistance at the risk of being killed.
Resistance does not necessarily lead to martyrdom, if one is not apprehended, or, in other situations, if one does not take it upon oneself (unlike Socrates or Jesus, who did). Being apprehended in Nazi Germany (or Stalinist Russia) was more dangerous than, say, in Fascist Italy or Spain, or in occupied France and elsewhere in Europe—where, however, it was sufficiently dangerous. And resistance in Nazi Germany was similarly more dangerous than in Stalinist Soviet Union or its satellites—though it was certainly dangerous enough there, too. Resistance against capitalism can be similarly dangerous today, particularly in “third-world” countries, but even hie et nunc. This is a very old and universal problem: “Cu’ dici la virita va ‘mpisu” (speaking the truth will get you hanged). We will return to Gadamer's position on martyrdom, but with all due respect to Zuckert's reference to the “martyrdom” of Eric Bonhoeffer (with whom Gadamer apparently associated), this is perhaps the worst example of resistance for her to mention in this context, common currency though it is.
In addition to other reasons why he is a very bad example, Bonhoeffer is best known today for the quotation that appears on T-shirts available in “alternative shops” in different versions, one of which begins: “They came for the communists [more commonly replaced by ‘socialists'], and I did nothing; they came for the trade unionists, and I did nothing; they came for the Jehovah's Witnesses, and I did nothing; they came for the homosexuals, and I did nothing,” and so forth. This series concludes with Bonhoeffer's own quite fitting epitaph: “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to protect me.” And so Bonhoeffer was murdered, but hardly as a legitimate “martyr”: by his own final admission, he was murdered as much for his (initial) collaboration as for his (too tardy) resistance. Too, returning to Zuckert and Gadamer, and to repeat, there are many/orws of death: there is physical death, as absolute physiological “limit condition” (at least for the atheists among us); but this is not (for some of us), the worst form of death, which might be psychological death (trauma), ethical and moral death (the secular version of Hell, no doubt), and so on. True philosophy, however else it is defined, is a matter of life and/or of death. Ethically, in philosophy as in politics, death (in all its forms) often has been and remains the only risk worth taking—both in those National Socialist circumstances and in these capitalist times. “Homo liber de nulla re minus, quam de morte cogitat, & ejus sapi-entia non mortis, sed vitae meditatio est” (The free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not on death, but on life) (Spinoza, Ethica, IVPGy).
To summarize and to speak even more bluntly, Waite's requested “objection” to Gadamer's relationship to “the rise and rule of National Socialism in Germany” is that Gadamer did not risk death and, if required, did not die. And, yes, this might well have meant taking both family and friends and all of philosophical hermeneutics, at least as we know it from Gadamer, with
Unseemly witticisms again to one side, however, it is immediately necessary to add that Waite's “objection” is made on extremely tenuous grounds, if indeed on any ultimate grounds at all, insofar as Waite has no certain way of knowing if this, his objection or consequent course of action, are, in fact, what he himself would have made or done at that time. In that sense his objection has no prescriptive force. In Lacanian terms, to repeat, Gadamer
And so it also is that Waite simply refuses to accept Zuckert's premise (itself part collaboratory, part resisting) that “Gadamer may be criticized for not publicly opposing the rise and rule of National Socialism in Germany in word or deed.” To which Waite emphatically responds: No, Gadamer may not be criticized on these grounds. “Criticism” in this case is surely irrelevant; what may be demanded, however, is opposition.
Quite apart from the fact that Gadamer himself not only did not “oppose” the “rise and rule of National Socialism in Germany in word or deed,” but instead, as one significant part of his response (his “dialogue” with National Socialism, as it were), explicitly embraced it, the fact is that no one can ethically “criticize” the past actions of another unless he or she knows what she or he would have done in similar circumstances, and this one simply cannot know, at least not apodeictically for times past. One can sometimes know, often with great difficulty, what one is doing in the present. And Zuckert is silent, in her response in this entretien preliminaire, about her own “criticism” of Gadamer in this matter. She is silent about what (she thinks) she might have done. Whatever she herself may think, however, her argument can be read to suggest that she thinks she may have done grosso modo what Gadamer did inasmuch as, for Zuckert,
The twentieth-century philosopher who opposes such “spiritual” warfare [sc. of the type “fostered” by Waite] is Hans-Georg Gadamer. Rather than merely criticize (or attack) others from our own vantage point, Gadamer insists, we must first try to see things their way. Rather than impose our interpretation or view, we must engage in a dialogue, the form of thought Nietzsche said was decadent and democratic, like Socrates, that philosopher of the “rabble.”
But let us not overlook one thing: Socrates was physically killed for his troubles, and Gadamer was neither physically killed nor otherwise “devastated.” And if neither Waite nor Zuckert can know what they themselves would have done in Hitler's Germany, then they can at least attempt to know, or they can refuse to know, what Gadamer did; they can deem this knowledge relevant, or irrelevant, to understanding his philosophy; and, on this basis, they can accept or reject the “reasonable philosophy” that Gadamer saved for its current posterity, its afterlife, its corps/es.
For his own part, Gadamer has spoken eloquently about death, to the extent that one can speak eloquently about what has been defined a priori as incomprehensible and unspeakable. Gadamer writes that “the incomprehensibility