“Hitler won the war” and I said “What do you mean?” He said, “He was defeated militarily but his spirit has penetrated into our society. A society that legalizes the murder of the innocent is doomed.”
This was a conversation between Dietrich von Hildebrand and his wife Alice von Hildebrand. This ominous message was the topic of the last talk Dietrich von Hildebrand gave. It was given in Orange, California shortly before his death.
However foreboding these words of the wise Dietrich von Hildebrand may seem, they were not meant to discourage or dispirit the present day American. Quite the opposite in fact. These are not words of despair coming from the mouth of a defeated warrior. Dietrich von Hildebrand meant to morally awaken us with his bold messages, reminding us of the harsh realities of evil. If our society is doomed like Hildebrand says, this means we no longer have the luxury to sit by idly and watch it decay (as if we ever had this luxury). Hildebrand’s words are as clear as they are serious. He is calling us to action, action motivated by love.
Dietrich von Hildebrand’s memoirs, My Battle Against Hitler, recently published by the Hildebrand Project, can most accurately be described as a handbook for the modern day patriot. While reading through his memoirs, it was not his fight against Nazism, or his value philosophy which struck me the most. What truly captivated my attention was the person of Dietrich von Hildebrand. Amidst the evils of national socialism, amidst the persecution and ridicule he underwent, and even amidst the attempts on his life, Hildebrand never stopped passionately loving his country. It was love which motivated his outspoken behavior, and the public stance he took against evil. Hildebrand was the model patriot, not due to a zealous love of state, but a zealous love of goodness, truth, and beauty. Hildebrand could recognize an inherent goodness within his beloved Germany which he believed was worth fighting for.
However, casually acknowledging this great man and his noble outspokenness is not enough. What is needed is a revival of patriotism and heroism in the here and now. An awakening of men and women who take a public moral stance against the public evils which our current society has embraced. The Christian patriot, modeled after Hildebrand, adheres to the party of truth, and pledges his allegiance to a nation under God. We need to de-stigmatize the unpopular idea of the outspoken Catholic and redefine what it means for a Catholic to engage in the heated battle fields of politics. Hildebrand explains this endeavor concisely, “rather than politicize Catholicism, one must instead Catholicize politics (pg. 281). It is not a love for politics which Hildebrand promotes in his memoirs, rather it is a love for truth which compelled him to make his voice heard.
As the movement of national socialism became seemingly inevitable many Germans including many Catholics became disheartened and retreated from the political scene. Among those who grew silent were priests, bishops, and many of Hildebrand’s friends.
Hildebrand replied to the hesitation of quiet Catholics with an irrefutable point which I believe no human being, Catholic or not, then or now, can argue with: “...it is utterly impossible to expect Catholics to be indifferent to politics at a time when the debates in the political sphere concern not just political issues but fundamental beliefs about the meaning of existence” (pg. 281).
There was never a greater need to defend the principles upon which our country was founded. Hildebrand is calling us to action...to fight the good fight against evil...to Catholicize patriotism. We can not turn a blind eye to politics when “fundamental beliefs” are being contested, and the murder of the innocent legalized. We must not loosen our grip on our freedom. Our freedom to oppose the evils which have seeped into our beloved nation. We must not lose our capability to detect these evils which spread write under our nose. Alice von Hildebrand warns us, “The moment you lose the moral sense, you’re lost.”
Therefore, I ask you to take up the book My Battle Against Hitler and use it as a handbook for your conscience, and as a field guide for the inevitable battles we shall face together in the ethical and moral arenas to come.
Quotes: Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich (New York: Crown Publishing, 2014) 281.