Nazi executioner judge: “Political correctness is worse than Nazi tyranny.”

The terrorist mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand two weeks ago has sent me back to my archives to retrieve my documentation of Anders Breivik’s extensive plagiarism of the writings of William S. Lind, et al.

Did I say “extensive” plagiarism? Breivik copied and pasted the whole 19,000 word pamphlet, making minor revisions here and there and deleting around 4,000 words that dealt with more arcane academic topics, such as Derridean deconstruction. Below is an example of the markup comparison of documents from Lind’s to Breivik’s, with insertions in blue and deletions in red:

At the end of Lind’s tract, he included a bibliographical essay “…as a guide for interested citizsens who want to learn more about the ideology that is taking over Western Europe and America.” One of the entries in that bibliography was The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories and Political Significance by Rolf Wiggershaus. Lind quoted a passage from the book’s “Afterword”

Since the publication in 1970 of his book The Poverty of Critical Theory, Rohrmoser has promulgated, in constantly varying forms, the view that Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer were the terrorists’ intellectual foster-parents, who were using cultural revolution to destroy the traditions of the Christian West. Academics such as Ernst Topitsch and Kurt Sontheimer, who saw themselves as educators and liberal democrats, followed in Rohrmoser’s footsteps. In 1972 Topitsch, a critical rationalist who was Professor of Philosophy in Graz, had stated that behind the slogans of ‘rational discussion’ and ‘dialogue free of domination’ there was being established at the universities ‘a distinct terrorism of political convictions such as has never existed before, even under Nazi tyranny’

What struck me as odd about the above passage was that “Rohrmoser” had no first name. At first, I suspected the passage was simply cut and pasted in without acknowledging that it was a quoted text. But the absence of quotation marks may have been simply an artifact of indent formatting lost during conversion to a web document. I was curious to find out Rohrmoser’s first name, which appeared in the sentence before the passage quoted by Lind:

Günther Rohrmoser was a social philosopher employed by [Hans] Filbinger, who, as a judge at a naval court martial during the last days of the Second World War, had pronounced a scandalous death sentence which he defended during the 1970s by saying that what was the law then could not be injustice today.

Hans Karl Filbinger was Minister President of Baden-Württemberg from 1966 to 1978. In October of 1977, in response to the kidnapping and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Red Army Faction, Filbinger gave a speech in which he blamed the teachings of the Frankfurt School for the terrorism. Such accusations, elaborated by academics such as Rohrmoser, Topitsch, Sontheimer and others became the basis for efforts to suppress student activism and the teaching of Critical Theory.

In 1978, Filbinger was accused of having presided — either as prosecutor or judge — over the executions of several sailors at the conclusion of the Second World War. The Wikipedia article outlines extenuating circumstances in his favor: several of the death sentences were in absentia and never carried out, others were commuted to prison sentences and in the one case that resulted in an execution he appears, according to the Wikipedia article,  to have been “filling in” for a prosecutor who had already asked for the death sentence. In In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics After Auschwitz, Wulf Kansteiner offered the following account of the outcome of the scandal:

With proper symbolic guilt management, none of these facts would have ended Filbinger’s career, but he committed two major public relations mistakes that made his resignation inevitable. First, Filbinger failed to reveal the full record of his service as a military jurist; the press found a total of four death sentences that listed Filbinger as an officer of the court and that he professed to have forgotten. Second, although Filbinger explained and defended his actions at length, he never apologized to his colleagues, his voters, or the relatives of the soldiers he had condemned to death. He failed to realize that legal innocence no longer amounted to historical innocence. Just because he had not committed any crimes in the eyes of the law did not mean that he could survive in the court of public opinion.

So it wasn’t the crimes Hans Filbinger committed — or didn’t commit — but the cover-up that disgraced him. Lind’s omission of the context for Wiggershaus’s discussion of Rohrmoser’s attacks on Critical Theory as the “foster parents of terrorism” deprives his readers of two crucial perspectives. The more sensational but ultimately trivial insight was the status of one of the accusers of the Frankfurt School as an actual Nazi who presided over at least one execution and subsequently tried to conceal his past.

But the more important aspect was the precedent in West Germany of the 1970s of a political campaign against Critical Theory orchestrated by high government officials. In addition to Filbinger, Franz Josef Strauss, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, and Alfred Dregger chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in the state of Hesse “promptly labeled the Frankfurt School a cause of terrorism.”

Jürgen Habermas gave a contemporaneous account of this assault on the Frankfurt School in an article that first appeared in Der Spiegel in October 1977 and was subsequently translated and published in the New German Critique. It is worthwhile to quote at some length from that article because illuminates an historical parallel that few Americans would be at all aware of:

As an undergraduate I was struck by the fact that such influential figures of the post-war generation, eminent men like Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, had made politically astonishing statements and had advocated unfortunate doctrines. The first, as chancellor of the University of Freiburg, had welcomed the Nazis’ seizure of power and exalted its significance metaphysically, while second had theoretically vindicated that state which Hitler created. After the war, neither of them considered an unequivocal political explanation or a public revision of their actions to be necessary.

These shocking examples – and they are, after all, just examples – sharpened my, sharpened our awareness of the consequences of the theoretical matters which we teach and write. They are not simply arguments which are absorbed by the scholarly process and then survive or dissolve within it. On the contrary, as published and spoken words, they have an effect on readers and listeners at the moment of their reception which the author cannot revoke or withdraw as if he or she were dealing with logical propositions. Now of course it would be absurd to subscribe to the author the unintended consequences of an author’s statements without considering the circumstances which surround them. It is, however, equally absurd to pretend that the ideological history of a work’s consequences are entirely extrinsic. There is only one pragmatic escape from this dilemma, and unfortunately it is not easily put into practice. An author’s awareness of this dilemma must sufficiently limit his teaching and writing: an individual should not succumb to the atmosphere of objective irresponsibility, nor should an individual expand moral accountability to such an extent that he or she is paralyzed by the fear of uncertain and unexplored areas. Then only silence would remain.

It is obvious that Strauss and Dregger want to intimidate us so that we shall seek refuge in this last alternative. Both obscure the fact that in the 1960s it was the left-wing professors who were especially and distinctly conscious of intellectual causalities. Instead Strauss and Dregger construct a scenario of objective responsibility in a manner which until now has only met with approval in the dominions of Stalinist bureaucrats.

Does William Lind take responsibility for the (presumably) unintended consequences of what he has written, given the dilemma framed above by Habermas? Lind does a weekly YouTube broadcast called traditionalRIGHT in which he gives his opinions on items in the news. On March 17, he discussed the mass murders in Christchurch. On March 24, he addressed an executive order signed by Donald Trump that would cut off federal funding from universities that inhibited the “free speech” of conservatives. I have listened to these segments several times and downloaded transcripts that I have read closely. I will present my summary and interpretation of them in a subsequent post.

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