You cannot understand, because this world cannot be understood; such was the first part of the message broadcast to the prisoner by all the man-degrading, soul-destroying conditions he encountered, including the living standards incompatible with life, the rules without cause, the tortures without purpose—the conditions which no mind could take in or grasp, the conditions imposed because no mind could grasp them. And: you cannot understand, because you are nothing; such was the second part of the message.
The final product of the camps, one which the Nazis carefully shaped, was death. What the SS shaped was mass death without a murmur of protest; death accepted placidly by victims and killers alike; death carried out not as any kind of exception, not as an act of purposeful vengeance or hatred, but as casual, smiling, even homey routine, often against a background of colorful flower beds and to the accompaniment of lilting operetta music. It was to be death as a confirmation of all that had preceded it, death as a last demonstration of absolute power and absolute unreason, death as the final triumph of Nazism over man and over the human spirit.
“[T]he wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit,” declares Hitler in Mein Kampf; a man must “renounce putting forward his personal opinion and interests and sacrifice both. . . .”
The political implementation of “subservience to the Whole,” according to the Nazis, is subservience to the state—which requires of every German the opposite of self-assertion. Hence the ruling principle of Nazism, as defined by a group of Nazi youth leaders. The principle is: “We will.” “And, if anyone were still to ask: ‘What do we will?’—the answer is given by the basic idea of National Socialism: ‘Sacrifice!’”
Since the proper beneficiary of man’s sacrifices, according to Nazism, is the group (the race or nation), the essence of virtue or idealism is easy to define. It is expressed in the slogan “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz” (“The common good comes before private good”). “This self-sacrificing will to give one’s personal labor and if necessary one’s own life for others,” writes Hitler,
is most strongly developed in the Aryan. The Aryan is not greatest in his mental qualities as such, but in the extent of his willingness to put all his abilities in the service of the community. In him the instinct of self-preservation has reached the noblest form, since he willingly subordinates his own ego to the life of the community and, if the hour demands, even sacrifices it.
“Du bist nichts; dein Volk ist alles” (“You are nothing; your people is everything”), states another Nazi slogan, summarizing the essence of the Nazi moral viewpoint.
Kant is the first philosopher of self-sacrifice to advance this ethics as a matter of philosophic principle, explicit, self- conscious, uncompromised—essentially uncontradicted by any remnants of the Greek, pro-self viewpoint….
If men lived the sort of life Kant demands, who or what would gain from it? Nothing and no one. The concept of “gain” has been expunged from morality. For Kant, it is the dutiful sacrifice as such that constitutes a man’s claim to virtue; the welfare of any recipient is morally incidental. Virtue, for Kant, is not the service of an interest—neither of the self nor of God nor of others. (A man can claim moral credit for service to others in this view, not because they benefit, but only insofar as he loses.)
Here is the essence and climax of the ethics of self- sacrifice, finally, after two thousand years, come to full, philosophic expression in the Western world: your interests—of whatever kind, including the interest in being moral—are a mark of moral imperfection because they are interests. Your desires, regardless of their content, deserve no respect because they are desires. Do your duty, which is yours because you have desires, and which is sublime because, unadulterated by the stigma of any gain, it shines forth unsullied, in loss, pain, conflict, torture. Sacrifice the thing you want, without beneficiaries, supernatural or social; sacrifice your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self, because they are your values, your self-interest, your happiness, your self; sacrifice them to morality, i.e., to the noumenal dimension, i.e., to nothing knowable or conceivable to man, i.e., as far as man living on this earth is concerned, to nothing.
The moral commandment is: thou shalt sacrifice, sacrifice everything, sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, as an end in itself.
The Cause of Hitler’s Germany moves up to #20 on Amazon’s Best Sellers in Political Philosophy!
To this day, Nazism remains vivid in the public mind as the greatest evil in human history, and continues to be the subject or background of countless novels, films, and non-fiction analyses. But the artists and scholars of 2014 still have no real explanation; they are no closer than they were in 1982 to identifying the fundamental roots of Nazism.
This book does.
Available in paperback and Kindle formats.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Plume (November 25, 2014)
“If a man believes that the good is intrinsic in certain actions, he will not hesitate to force others to perform them. If he believes that the human benefit or injury caused by such actions is of no significance, he will regard a sea of blood as of no significance. If he believes that the beneficiaries of such actions are irrelevant (or interchangeable), he will regard wholesale slaughter as his moral duty in the service of a “higher” good. It is the intrinsic theory of values that produces a Robespierre, a Lenin, a Stalin, or a Hitler. It is not an accident that Eichmann was a Kantian.”
“What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 22
Cause of Hitler’s Germany is now on Twitter!
DR. PEIKOFF’S ANSWER TO “HOW COULD IT HAVE HAPPENED?” IS: “THE LAND OF POETS AND PHILOSOPHERS WAS BROUGHT DOWN BY ITS POETS AND PHILOSOPHERS.”
This book answers the plaguing question: How could it happen? How could ordinary people, seemingly decent Germans, turn into goose-stepping, Sieg-Heil-ing robots, eager to obey any orders, even to administer the “final solution”–the Holocaust?
This book answers those questions, and makes the rise of the Nazis finally intelligible. The cause, Dr. Peikoff demonstrates, lies in certain philosophic ideas–the anti-reason, anti-self, anti-freedom ideas that were already deeply imbued in German culture long before Hitler’s rise.
If one were to compile a list of the most fanatically anti-reason philosophers since the Renaissance, almost every top figure–Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Heidegger–would turn out to be German.
This is not to say that German culture produced evil philosophers. Just the reverse: Germany’s evil philosophers produced an evil culture. Men act on their ideas, and ideas originate somewhere. Fundamental ideas, ideas about morality, knowledge, reality, are originated by philosophers. The vast majority of people simply absorb gradually the ideas available to them in their culture. Thus, most people get their life-shaping ideas, indirectly, from the philosophers of their culture (with a time-lag for these ideas to seep down into the educational establishment, the media, the arts, etc.).
Dr. Peikoff’s answer to “How could it have happened?” is: “The land of poets and philosophers was brought down by its poets and philosophers.”
This is a fascinating, gripping book, exhaustively researched, but presented with a masterful prose style, not pedantic “scholarship.” It will change forever the way you think about ideas and history.
New York City
The release date has been set to November 25, 2014 for The Cause of Hitler’s Germany. You can pre-order the book now as a paperback or Kindle at Amazon.