Philosophy can be dangerous. This may seem like an exaggerated claim, but ideas often become the basis of actions, and actions have impact. As such, we must consider philosophy in light of reality and not just theoretically. Benjamin Wiker, in his book, Ten Books that Screwed up the World, summed us this concept as follows, “Unfortunately, philosophers’ absurdities aren’t limited to classroom sophistry and eccentric speculations. They make their way into print and are thereby released upon the public. They can be, and have been, as dangerous and harmful as deadly diseases.” (1) Dietrich von Hildebrand was a philosopher who truly understood this concept. (2) Before the Third Reich came to power, Hildebrand saw the writing on the wall. He knew that the Nazi party’s platform was dangerous and deadly. Anti-semitism, eugenics, and nationalism could not be tolerated because they could not be condoned in actuality.
In order to really understand how this regime took power, we must examine the spirit of the time. Before World War II, Germany was in disarray. The German people felt that their country had been humiliated after the Great War. Their economy was damaged, their country was surrounded by threatening world powers, and their national identity was diminished. As Hildebrand stated in his article, “The Struggle for the Person”, the German people were looking for something objective, organic, and communal. Hitler supplied the antidote. He told the Germans that they were the superior race, chosen by nature to rule. The main reason that the Great War had been lost was due to the Jewish people. He claimed that Jews poisoned the German gene pool and dragged the race down the evolutionary slope. By banding together, Germans could reverse the plague the Jewish people brought upon them and rise up to become übermensch (over man). This was the promise Hitler presented to the Germans: to unite them under one flag, exterminate the cause of their problems, and make Germany great.(3) While the German people cheered, Hildebrand shuddered.
In order to uphold such horrific ideals, atrocities would have to be committed. To rid Germany of Jews, they would have to be rounded up and slaughtered. To create a stronger race of man, people with undesirable traits would have to be eradicated. And to be great, Germany would have to wage unprovoked war. These actions rejected the value of man and replaced spirituality with nationalistic pride. But even before the Nazis showed the world their cruelty, they were identifiable as evil on the basis of what they valued. Hildebrand was one of the few who recognized this.
As stated by John Henry Crosby in the book, My Battle with Hitler, “He [Hildebrand] fought at the level of first principles...He did not think that the time for examining first principles was past; he did not think that making fundamental distinctions was irrelevant to the needs of the time.” (4) For Hildebrand, it was paramount to point out and eradicate the corrupt philosophies of the Nazi party. We must use Dietrich von Hildebrand as our example. We must consider the practical influences of ideas before we claim them, and not get swept up in idealism. A modern example of this is materialism. When a person rejects the spiritual realm, they must then admit that there is no reason to discipline themselves. If a person is merely a body, then there can be no life after death. As such, materialists must cater to the body, as that is the only way to fully live. In this way, denying one’s self becomes abhorrent. The person seeks only pleasure, and cannot tolerate pain or discomfort, because there is no reason to do so. This is an example of a philosophy that does not translate well into reality. By using practical reasoning to identify realistic consequences, we may identify flawed philosophies before they translate into bad actions.
- Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books that Screwed Up the World, 1
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler
- Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books that Screwed Up the World
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler, 245-246