Schopenhauer & HitlerGuillaume Durocher
Part 1 of 3
I recently came across a collection of Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings entitled Essays & Aphorisms. It really is wonderful stuff, ruthlessly realistic, insightful, and often very droll. On topics as diverse as vanity, women, journalism, books, and much else, Schopenhauer provides an endless stream of wit and wisdom. A taster:
The art of not reading is a very important one. [. . .] [Y]ou should remember that he who writes for fools always find a large public. – A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: For life is short. (210)
Schopenhauer is considered one of the greatest German philosophers, but in contrast to most of the latter his writing has the merit of being (mostly) very approachable and clear.
Schopenhauer did not write much on politics and there seems to be relatively little comment on his political views. Nonetheless, he was very obviously a man of the Right, if for no other reason than he was intimately convinced of the fundamental inequality between men. Schopenhauer repeatedly stresses, often very amusingly, the intellectual and cultural mediocrity of the average human being. One example: “judgment, a quality of which most people possess about as much as a castrate possesses of the power to beget children” (224).
While Schopenhauer rails against false pretensions of equality, he also urges indulgence and generosity for one’s lessers and indeed with all fellow creatures. Consequently, he is withering on democracy and even suspicious of press freedom. He argues very eloquently for what is today called Reaction and, in particular, government by a paternalistic national autocrat and an enlightened aristocracy. In this article, I would like to highlight quotes most relevant for the Right today.
Schopenhauer’s most influential student was without question Adolf Hitler. Conversely, Hitler cited Schopenhauer above all among his philosophical influences. This is no small thing if one bears in mind the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s assessment of Hitler as “the most philosophical . . . conqueror the world has ever known.” Lance Corporal Hitler kept Schopenhauer’s enormous The World as Will and Representation in his knapsack throughout the First World War and later was able to quote the philosopher’s works from memory. As German Führer during the Second World War, Hitler would, whenever illustrating the quality of genius, repeatedly refer to the example of Schopenhauer.
Indeed, I was personally struck by the uncanny similarity between parts of Hitler’s style and Weltanschauung, and that of Schopenhauer. There are some very marked apparent differences, as we shall see, but many of Schopenhauer’s views plainly provide at least some of the sturdier philosophical foundations for National Socialism. One cannot presume to think what Schopenhauer would have made of his self-appointed student, he may well have been appalled. Nonetheless, we can say that through Hitler Schopenhauer became, perhaps despite himself, one of the philosophers with the greatest world-historical impact.
This article will then present Schopenhauer’s political views and allude to Hitler’s political action, in a kind of dialogue between master and student. I emphasize: Schopenhauer provides powerful arguments for all men of the Right regardless of one’s take on German National Socialism.
Indeed, Schopenhauer is particularly relevant for White Nationalists and the European Right insofar as he, unlike Hitler, had a self-consciously European rather than narrowly German identity. Schopenhauer’s judgments are far more concerned with Europe rather than Germany: the positive and negative effects of Christianity in Europe, the ill of European feminism, the European balance of power as evidence of man’s savagery, and so on. He praises the use of the Latin language for creating “a universal European learned public” and for allowing Europeans to directly commune with “Roman antiquity [. . .] the entire Middle Ages of every European land and modern times down to the middle of the last century” (228). He laments the rise of national languages as “in all Europe the number of heads capable of thinking and forming judgments is moreover already so small that if their forum is broken up and kept asunder by language barriers their beneficial effect is infinitely weakened” (228). Schopenhauer was a Good European.
From Buddhism to Hitlerism: The Double-Edged “Will-to-Life”
The religion most in line with Schopenhauer’s philosophy is probably Buddhism, which he had studied. Schopenhauer’s basic philosophical method recalls Buddhist meditative techniques: Simply be, contemplate your own existence, the feeling of your bodily functions, your flickering thoughts, the chaotic vortex of your consciousness. From this, and his own philosophical readings and high-level dialectics, Schopenhauer produces, almost intuitively, astounding insights. For your own self, which you know through your lived experience, is of the same stuff as the rest of the universe.
How strange that a man nourished by the Buddha could in turn inspire the Führer! Although perhaps Buddhism and Hitlerism have some similar assumptions, despite their radically different conclusions. Both seek to put the individual in harmony with the cosmos: Siddhārtha Gautama and Schopenhauer urge denial of the individual will and thus realization of one’s unity with the universe, whereas Hitler demands the individual submit to Nature and her laws (including, where applicable, serving to a National Socialist state itself dedicated to the laws of Nature).
From his meditations, Schopenhauer came to believe that the world was in a sense made of “will,” the will-to-life or life-force, that is, the striving of every being to exist. The world can only exist, that is, be perceived, if there is a being to perceive it, and that being can only emerge and exist through a relentless will-to-life. While this may seem rather esoteric, the practical insight Schopenhauer drew from this astoundingly prefigured Darwin’s later theory of evolution. Schopenhauer believed that all beings were defined by their will-to-life, that is, had adapted themselves for the specific purpose of survival and reproduction, citing the sex drive as the most obvious example of this.
Where Schopenhauer and Hitler apparently most radically differ, is on the attitude one must take with regard to the will-to-life and the world. Schopenhauer, as in Buddhism, posited the will needed to be overcome, and only by emancipating oneself from it could one achieve ethics or philosophy, in a word: Enlightenment. The hope for a positive outcome in this world was futile and men should welcome their rejoining their original state as part of the universal will: When we die, we become what we were before having been born.
On these grounds, Schopenhauer opposed both Judaism (a truly wretchedly cruel and materialist religion in his eyes) and Greco-Roman Paganism (too practical, too naïve, too worldly). He therefore also considered the rise of Christianity, a world-rejecting and ascetic religion like Buddhism, to be salutary, even though he was also quite critical of that faith. These views also led Schopenhauer to make some of the most (in)famous arguments in defense of anti-natalism and suicide. Men are weak, wretched, unequal things, thus we should above all be indulgent with one another.
One is struck at how radically these views depart from those of Hitler’s, who shared Friedrich Nietzsche’s embrace of the will and of optimism, along with his contempt for Christianity and slave morality. Hitler, in a rare occurrence, said Nietzsche was superior to Schopenhauer specifically in this respect:
From him [Schopenhauer] I learned a great deal. Schopenhauer’s pessimism, which springs partly, I think, from his own line of philosophical thought and partly from subjective feeling and the experiences of his own personal life, has been far surpassed by Nietzsche.
Did Hitler distort Schopenhauer’s thought or merely embrace one of its possible interpretations? I do not know what end Schopenhauer thought the world should have but, as a moralist, I doubt he would be content with all life, including human life, simply dying off. If one must give a goal to human life, Schopenhauer suggests achieving consciousness by denying the will.
From here, Hitler can easily take over: Consciousness can only be achieved by higher beings (chimps cannot philosophize, nor can the stupid and venal majority of mankind), therefore one must create a higher humanity by breeding and cultivating her best elements.
Parts of this kind of reasoning are evident in Schopenhauer’s assessment of women. In this age of censorship, even a powerful, well-connected Jew like Larry Summers has faced persecution for commenting on psychological differences between men and women, despite the fact that these have been amply documented by scientific research. Schopenhauer’s writings on women have his trademark ruthless realism. Putting things a little curtly, he believed that women were perfectly evolved to reproduce the species by instinctively exploiting their husband for protection resources. Women then have a very restricted mental universe compared to men (“mental myopic”). Women being more down-to-earth and intuitive, men should seek female advice. But, like Hitler, Schopenhauer argued that as a result of their character women should be politically and personally subordinate to men. Civil equality with men had led to “unhappy women, of which Europe is at present full” (89).
Schopenhauer however added that women’s propensity to deceive and manipulate their husbands was completely justified on evolutionary grounds:
To take care of the propagation of the human race nature has chosen the young, strong, and handsome men, so that the race shall not degenerate. This is the firm will of nature in this matter, and its expression is the passion of women. In antiquity and force this law precedes every other: So woe to him who sets his rights and interests in the path of this law: Whatever he says or does they will, at the first serious encounter, be mercilessly crushed. [. . .] Women [. . .] are usually less troubled by their conscience [when deceiving their husbands] than we suppose, because they are aware in the darkest recesses of their heart that in violating their duty to the individual they are all the better fulfilling their duty to the species, whose rights are incomparably greater. (84)
Did Hitler not preach submission and embrace of “the firm will of nature”? Did he not also assuage his conscience with the knowledge that his necessary cruelty towards others was “all the better fulfilling [his] duty to the species, whose rights are incomparably greater.” As such, all sacrifice was justified for the sake of the national community (Volksgemeinschaft). As the National Socialist slogan put it: “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz” (“The common good before the private interest”).
I must say I do have trouble disentangling the paradoxes posed by the Buddhist/Schopenhauerian doctrine of denial of the will (does one not will the denial itself?). In any event, Schopenhauer recognized that as a practical matter the will must be embraced in everyday endeavors, including politics:
[I]n affairs of state, in war, in finance and business, in intrigues of every sort, and so on, the will must first of all, through the vehemence of its desire, compel the intellect to exert all its energies so as to track down all the reasons and consequences of the affair in question. Indeed, it is astonishing how far beyond the normal measure of its energies the spur of the will can drive a given intellect in such a case. (157)
Was not animating the will-to-life among his followers and his nation – invoking their patriotic and indeed spiritual feelings so as to endure effort and sacrifice to achieve great, almost superhuman deeds – Hitler’s fundamental gift and the foundation for all his work? Hitler told Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and a Danish SS commander on February 22, 1942: “It’s an immense relief for a man whose business is to breathe life into a movement not to have to bother about affairs of administration.” Hitler was notorious, both as Party leader during the Kampfzeit and as German Führer in peace and war, for demanding “the impossible” from his followers . . . and thus often actually achieving this.
Schopenhauer defines poetry as “the art of setting the imagination into action by means of words” (159).
I believe Hitler then can safely be said to have been a follower of Schopenhauer. Hitler embraced rather than denied the will. Perhaps the closest thing to meditation which he undertook were his long stays in his beautiful Bavarian mountain retreat in Obersalzberg. It was there, Hitler claimed, that “[a]ll my great decisions were taken,” including the most momentous decisions of war and peace. Hitler surrendered to rather than denied the will-to-life, but this was in keeping with his role as a statesman rather than a philosopher like Schopenhauer. And as a statesman, he was inspired not merely to contemplate Schopenhauer’s philosophy, but to actually spread and apply many of his doctrines throughout the world.
1. Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (London: Penguin, 2004).
2. “The true national characteristic of the Germans is ponderousness,” Schopenhauer notes (208).
3. Lest I seem misleading, here is Trevor-Roper’s full quote on Hitler: “the most formidable among the ‘terrible simplifiers’ of history, the most systematic, the most historical, the most philosophical, and yet the coarsest, cruelest, least magnanimous conqueror the world has ever known.” Hugh Trevor-Roper (ed.), Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversation (London: Enigma Books, 2000), xlii.
4. Citing from Martin Bormann (ed.), Hitler’s Table Talk (Ostara Publications, 2012), Schopenhauer is cited as the kind of genius (along with Kant and Nietzsche) the Jews would eliminate if they ruled Germany (38), as the only writer of the past generation with enough genius to perhaps be entitled to reform the German language (151), as among “the greatest of thinkers” (again with Kant and Nietzsche) honored with busts in the library of Linz (310).
5. Hitler’s however was not a petty-bourgeois nationalism seeing the German state as an end in itself. Rather he saw German nationalism as legitimate only in the service of a higher “Idea,” namely, the building of a world power in order not only to defend Germany’s right-to-life but also to create a higher humanity, based on the latter’s highest Nordic/Germanic elements.
6. I am struck at a parallel between Schopenhauer’s technique and that of Alain Soral. Both, contra the false objectivity of scientific positivism, draw upon their lived experience to inform their world-view. But whereas Schopenhauer’s technique is meditative, Soral’s is combative (not withdrawing to contemplation, but learning from his struggles against the unjust masters of this world).
7. Conversation of May 16, 1944. Bormann, Table Talk, 310.
8. For instance, Schopenhauer recognized in nature deeper wisdom than the reason of men: “the intellect [. . .] is mere bungling compared with what proceeds directly from the will as thing in itself and is not communicated through an idea, of which the works of nature are an instance” (212).
9. Bormann, Table Talk, 139. Schopenhauer also comments on how unbearable mundane duties and interruptions are to a man of genius.
10. U.S. General George S. Patton similarly said: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
11. Bormann, Table Talk, 70.
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Richard Mikuláš hrabě Coudenhove-Kalergi a pravda o jeho plánu
An excellent essay on an excellent topic! Although the Penguin anthology is fine, I would recommend going on to one of the many collections of his essays, (some of which are actually chapters from his metaphysical magnum opus, The World as Will etc.), that seemed to have been extremely popular with the reading public, to judge from the number of editions and their ubiquity in used bookstores and Amazon.
In particular, The Wisdom of Life (usually bound with Counsels and Maxims) is Schopenhauer unplugged, or unbuttoned, giving out his advice on how to live (he admits, something of hypocritical act for someone who ultimately counsels the extinction of the Will), along the lines of Epicurus, Horace or Baltasar Gracián’s Art of Worldly Wisdom (which he translated into German as well!). It takes off from his (in)famous deduction that life swings from pain (hunger, let’s say) to boredom (well, we’ve eaten, what now?) and so permanent happiness is just an illusion, that leads to more pain. What to do? Read the book and find out!
“For your own self, which you know through your lived experience, is of the same stuff as the rest of the universe.” This, of course, was his solution to Kant’s problem of how to know the noumenon: we ARE the noumenon — the Will — and so can simply observe ourselves.
Buddhism and National Socialism: I have at home a little pocket sized book put out by the Reich that is a little compendium of spiritual wisdom for soldiers, I think, which mixes quotes from Hitler, Meister Eckhart, Buddha and the Bhagavad Gita. Evola, of course, lauded early, Pali Buddhism (“real” Buddhism, for him) for its martial features (and origin: Prince Gautama!), and let’s not forget the role of Zen from the samurai to the Japanese WWII military. In his book Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival, Godwin gently broaches the possibility of an fascist asceticism or “Nazi spirituality.”
What’s the title of that pocket-size booklet you mention?
I will dig it out of my archives and provide the title, as it seems to be of interest here. Likely this evening. For now, here is an interesting piece on Himmler: The Nazi Hindu, which also mentions Schopenhauer (briefly):
“IB TIMES: Is it true that Himmler always kept a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in his pocket and read passages from it every night?
MR. & MRS. TRIMONDI: Yes, this is true. In fact, it has been well documented by Felix Kersten, his Finnish masseur, that Himmler liked to indulge in philosophical monologues in his presence. The Reichsführer SS called the Gita a “high Aryan Canto.”
Kersten also reported that Himmler read the Vedas, especially the Rig-Veda, the speeches of the Buddha, and the Buddhist “Visuddhi-magga”. Himmler made frequent references to karma, especially when he was talking about providence.
He also believed in reincarnation: “With one life life is not finished. What good and bad deeds a man has done has an effect on his next life as his karma.”
I like to add that the book “Freund Hein” is supposed to be written by Himmler under the pen name Wulf Sörensen.
It has been a while since I read it, but it was a book that left a good feeling of a connection to the world. “Freund Hein” ist Friend Hein, a name of Death as a friend. This, as other writings of the period, leaves a feeling of a deep, satisfying meaning of our passing through the circle of life; slow, heavy is the build-up, with an interwoven knowledge of a humanly fulfillable purpose of our existence.
Never heard of that, will have to look out for it.
James J. O’Meara:
It’s a great resource.
> a little pocket sized book put out by the Reich that is a little compendium of spiritual wisdom for soldiers
What’s it called? Any English translation?
Tod und Unsterblichkeit : aus indogermanischem Weistum
[nach diesem Titel … Tod und Unsterblichkeit im Weltbild indogermanischer Denker.]
Author: Kurt Schrötter; Walther Wüst
Publisher: Berlin-Dahlem : Ahnenerbe-Stiftung-Verl., 1942.
Edition/Format: Print book : German : 2 Aufl
85pp Cloth 12mo. According to the bookseller, “Poems and short prose pieces from the Upanishads through Greeks and Romans and ending at the pinnacle, one would suppose, with Hitler.” Published by the Ahnenerber itself, without which what would the History Channel do for content? Even more impressive, it’s part of the “SS-Bibliothek.” Collect them all! Also according to the bookseller, online cataloging shows only 5 copies worldwide, so I guess this is the 6th, although who knows how many others are in private hands.
Greg: a Counter-Currents translation project?
Thank you for that information!
This topic is right up my street, I look forward to the rest.
The notion of Will, if sometimes overstated by the Germans, seems relatively absent from modern English philosophy.
Are there any exceptions? There could not have been an Empire without a high regard for Will or something very similar.
Freud, in particular, totally ripped off Schopenhauer. And whereas Schopenhauer always stressed his own indebtedness to Buddhism, Freud never had the good grace to acknowledge Schopenhauer.
It should perhaps be noted that Arthur Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, is a severely abridged edition of the two-volume Parerga and Paralipomena, which has been translated by E. F. J. Payne.
I’m sceptical of Hollingdale’s translations because of how closely he worked with post-war Jew and professional sanitiser of Nietzsche’s views, Kaufmann.
Schopenhauer here!… Er… E tu, Brute?…
Some thoughts on this beloved topic:
1. When one discovers Schopenhauer one is so amazed by this guy, by how well he writes, by the wonderful things he teaches, by how smarter one becomes by reading just a few pages of him, that a natural question comes to mind: WHY SCHOPENHAUER IS GIVEN THE SILENT TREATMENT?
2. Schopenhauer anticipated not only Darwin but Freud too. Nevertheless few people who know who Freud was know about Schopenhauer or that he anticipated him. So Jews have all the interest in keeping mum about him…
3. Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), the “national poet” of Romania was a disciple of Schopenhauer. In his philosophical poems (WITH LIFE’S TOMORROW TIME YOU GRASP…, EMPEROR AND PROLETARIAN, GLOSS, SATIRE I, A DACIAN’S PRAYER and others) he tried to expose Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Eminescu wrote also patriotic poetry and was a nationalist intellectual and an “anti-Semite”. So the same contradictions like in Hitler.
Here is a gem of Eminescu’s patriotic poetry:
DOINA by Mihai Eminescu
From the Dniester to the Theiss Foreigners have spread like lice;
All Romanians complain:
Breathing’s pain and life’s a bane.
From Khotin down to the sea Muscovites make all folk flee;
From the seashore to Khotin
They waylay us with a grin;
From the Danube to the North
Creepy vermin have come fort;
For your lives they lie in wait
Twisting your love into hate.
Up on hilltops, in the valley,
Aliens forever rally;
Safely through a mountain pass.
Poor Romanians have no chance,
Like to crawfish they advance!
They toil hard, but nothing earn,
Autumns bring them no return;
Summers, springs are scarcely theirs,
To their land they are not heirs.
From Suceava to the South
Foes pour from a dragon’s mouth-
Hordes that nest, bring ills and drought;
As they come by road and rail
Even songs die in the dale;
All the songsters fly afar:
Alien corn is black as tar.
Shadows of the thorns alone
Now adorn the Christians’ home!
Homeland suckles us like mothers,
Woods are the Romanians’ brothers.
But they bend, felled by the axe;
Springs dry up, and waters lacks-
Woods are poor, the country’s poor!
He who fawns on foreigners
May his heart be torn by curs;
Waste and ruin strike his house,
People crush him for a louse.
Mighty Stephen, princely bloom,
Lie no longer in your tomb!
Leave the liturgy and prayer
To the abbot’s pious care;
Leave the priests and monks to look
After relics, saints, the Book.
Have them ring th’alarum bell
Day and night – an endless knell –
So the Lord may grant your dream
That your folk you may redeem.
Come and stand up from your mound!
When we hear your bugle sound
All Romanians rally round;
If you blow your battle trump
To a man Moldavia’ll jump;
If you give a second call
Woods shall help you, raise a wall!
If you sound it once again
Aliens shall die in pain
In the mountains, hills and plain –
May they be endeared by crows
And by gallows in thick rows!
Written in about 1880 it was banned during communist times at the request of USSR because of the fist and fourth verses…
4. Romanian thinker Emil Cioran (1911-1995) is interesting to mention here. He has the same Weltanschauung as Schopenhauer’s. In his youth, before 1945, he was an admirer of Zelea Codreanu and his Legionnaires. Jews cannot forgive him for that. He wrote a fascist manifesto- “The Transfiguration of Romania” 1936. His more lengthy essays (post 1945) are worth reading and reviewing – “History and Utopia”, “The Fall into Time” , “The Evil Demiurge”. They have political insights and are written as if Schopenhauer lived longer and continued his gossiping of humanity. He rejected his fascist youth as a folie de jeunesse but avenging Jews do not believe this crap. In “The Temptation to Exist”, 1956 he wrote an essay on Jews, “A People of Solitaires”, that was considered a praise by the stupid Jews until they discovered that it was the same stuff from “The Transfiguration” but with different wording…LOL.
Again, a “Schopenhauer” that in his youth wanted “to change the world”. But his youth ended with the defeat of Fascism so we, and the Jews, will never know…
5. Maybe I will continue tomorrow… Yawn.
I think anyone approaching Schopenhauer for the first time should read The World as Will and Representation before the essays. The latter will seem needlessly pessimistic and morose without knowing the system from which they sprung. Even in context Schopenhauer’s pessimism and his insistence on denial of the will-to-life may seem needless. Saying that the Will is blind and evil, saying that it strives for this and that– all of that talk applies contingent, phenomenal, and anthropomorphic attributes to that which is beyond the phenomenal. Surely the Will, the thing-in-itself, should be seen as neither blind nor not-blind, neither striving nor not-striving, etc., regardless of how some aspects of the Will’s objectification in phenomenal reality may seem to us.
I think that denial of the will-to-life can be a path to happiness for some, but if Schopenhauer can accept contemplation of art as a lesser path, why exclude an informed affirmation a la Nietzsche and his followers? The example of Theravada vs Mahayana here is really quite apt, I think. The latter accept the Four Noble Truths, but they also affirm samsaric existence. Nietzsche was Schopenhauer’s Nagarjuna.
I would like to offer an opinion on the idea of overcoming the Will. My interpretation is that as you stated the Will gives rise to conciousness in higher beings. The Will could be said to convert itself into conciousness. The will ultimately is seeking to transcend itself through conciousness which is able to comprehend the selflessness and determined nature of itself thereby creating the epiphenomenon of detachment and acceptance similar to the insight of the stoics. Nietzche’s comprehension of the eternal return allowed the same transcendental perspective on the endless striving of the will. The Will reaches a position of rest in the conciousness of determinism and endless repetition thereby perceiving that from a special perspective nothing ever changes and nothing new under the sun ever comes about. This is the perception of stillness in endless struggle.
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