The Cause of Hitler's Germany

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9780142181478: The Cause of Hitler's Germany

“A truly revolutionary idea... Clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned.”—Ayn Rand
Self-sacrifice, Oriental mysticism, racial “truth,” the public good, doing one’s duty—these are among the seductive catchphrases that circulated in pre-Nazi Germany. Objectivist author and philosopher Leonard Peikoff was Ayn Rand’s long-time associate. In The Cause of Hitler’s Germany—previously published in The Ominous Parallels—Peikoff demonstrates how unreason and collectivism led the seemingly civilized German society to become a Nazi regime.

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About the Author:

Leonard Peikoff is the preeminent Ayn Rand scholar writing today. He worked closely with Rand in New York City for thirty years and was designated by her as heir to her estate. He has taught philosophy at several places, including Hunter College and New York University. Dr. Peikoff is the author of The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out and The Cause of Hitler’s Germany. He grew up in Western Canada and now lives in Southern California. He also hosted the national radio talk show "Philosophy: Who Needs It."

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


As Ayn Rand indicates in her introduction, this book demonstrates how German philosophy led to Hitler and the Holocaust.

The Cause of Hitler’s Germany is about two-thirds of The Ominous Parallels, a book of mine first published in 1982. In the book, I intended a warning: If Americans continue to accept and act on the same philosophic ideas that led to the Third Reich, then America will have to follow a parallel course and suffer the same result.

The book, accordingly, studied American culture and history in as much detail as that given to Germany. Given our cultural state, however, I did not expect any such warning to be heeded or even heard, and it wasn’t. There is no improvement in the thirty years since, no change in the basic ideas ruling the United States (and the West as a whole). The Soviet Empire has collapsed, but the ideas of irrationalism, self-sacrifice, and collectivism still dominate and fuel murderous tyrannies, primarily now in the upsurging Middle East, but elsewhere, too.

Unlike The Ominous Parallels, this substantial portion of it is offered not primarily as a warning but rather as an explanation. 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 nonfiction analyses. But the artists and scholars still have no real explanation; they are no closer than they were in 1982 to identifying the fundamental roots of Nazism.

For this reason, I agreed with the suggestion of Dr. Michael Berliner that I bring out this reduced version of my book. It was Dr. Berliner who first thought of such a possibility, who initiated the project, and who oversaw the development of its various stages. He wanted a book that would focus only on the Nazi aspects: on their intellectual origins in German philosophy, and then on their manifestations in Weimar culture and, as a result, in the world of Hitler. My approach to discovering the cause of Nazism is, I believe, unique and worthy of special attention; I am hopeful that this time it may reach its audience. If we are to survive today’s world, some—and ever more—people must come to understand that abstract theory is what produces existential consequences, both personal and social.

Eleven of the sixteen chapters of The Ominous Parallels are included in this book. In omitting the other five chapters, I have eliminated a great deal: the material, analyzing our country’s decline into an intellectually Germanized culture, thereby showing how and why the mind of the Enlightenment gave way to religion, pragmatism, and nihilism, all of it expressed by the shrinking of “Americanism” in our public’s attitude, and by the ever-growing scale and power of our government. The solution, I argued, is to replace the philosophy of Kant and Hegel with the pro-reason, pro-individualism viewpoint of Ayn Rand.

I have made some minuscule changes to the original wording, cutting out a few lines here and there that refer to the omitted chapters.

Leonard Peikoff

Aliso Viejo, California

February 2013

P.S. If, after reading this book, you are interested in a broader and deeper discussion of the relationship between philosophy and culture/politics, I refer you to my latest book: The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out (2012). But this book is technical and requires some background, so read the one in your hands first.

From Ayn Rand’s 1980 Introduction to

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the first book by an Objectivist philosopher other than myself.

Perhaps the best recommendation I can give this book—and its author, Dr. Leonard Peikoff—is to say that it and he are not of today’s cultural mainstream. They will be part of tomorrow’s.

It is not necessary for me to prove that something is wrong with today’s world. Everybody—of any creed, color, or intellectual persuasion, old and young, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, foreign and domestic—senses that something monstrous is destroying the world. But no one knows what it is, and people keep blaming one another—with some justice.

As a symptom of today’s cultural anxiety, observe the unusual interest in and the deluge of books dealing with Nazi Germany. Every sort of semi-plausible and wholly impossible theory has been offered in futile attempts to find the cause and explain the rise of Nazism. The failure of those explanations intensifies the quest: men seem to sense that the collapse of what had been a civilized country into such monstrous evil must be understood if we are to make certain that it will not be repeated. “We dare not brush aside unexplained a horror such as Nazism,” states Dr. Peikoff. If we do not know its causes, how can we be sure that our own country is not traveling the same road?

Dr. Peikoff answers these questions. He identifies the cause of Nazism. . . . He demonstrates that there is a science which has been all but obliterated in the modern world. “Yet this science determines the destiny of nations and the course of history . . . ,” he writes. “It is the science which had to be destroyed, if the catastrophes of our time were to become possible. The science is philosophy.

The non-modern (and non-old-fashioned) aspect of Leonard Peikoff’s book is the breadth of his vision and the stunning scale of his philosophic integration. He does not share the concrete-bound, college-induced myopia of those alleged philosophers who study the various meanings of the word “but” (the contemporary empiricists)—nor does he share the foggy stumbling and the floating abstractions of their predecessors (the rationalists). He presents the history of Germany’s philosophy, in telling essentials. . . . Then he presents the practical results—the way in which philosophic ideas direct the course and shape the particular events of the history of [the Weimar Republic], as reflected in politics, economics, art, literature, education, etc.

This last is the cardinal achievement of Dr. Peikoff s book. While today’s philosophy departments make it a loud point to proclaim that philosophy has nothing to do with practical life or with reality (which, they add, does not exist)—Dr. Peikoff shows to their mangled victims what philosophy is, what it does, and how to recognize its influence all around us. He gives a virtuoso performance of shuttling effortlessly between abstractions and concretes—keeping the first tied firmly to reality and thus illuminating the second. He shows that a nation brought up to regard the principles of duty and self-sacrifice as cardinal virtues will be helpless when confronted by a gang of thugs who demand obedience and self-sacrifice.

It is a tragic irony of our time that the two worst, bloodiest tribes in history, the Nazis of Germany and the Communists of Soviet Russia, both of whom are motivated by brute power-lust and a crudely materialistic greed for the unearned, show respect for the power of philosophy (they call it “ideology”) and spend billions of their looted wealth on propaganda and indoctrination, realizing that man’s mind is their most dangerous enemy and it is man’s mind that they have to destroy, while the United States and the other countries of the West, who claim to believe in the superiority of the human spirit over matter, neglect philosophy, despise ideas, starve the best minds of the young, offer nothing but the stalest slogans of a materialistic altruism in the form of global giveaways, and wonder why they are losing the world to the thugs.

As an example of why the cause of Nazism should be understood (but is not), I would like to mention a recent television interview with Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of West Germany. Asked to name his favorite philosopher, he answered—in a changed tone of voice, a stiff, solemn, deaf-and-blind, heel-clicking tone—“Marcus Aurelius. He taught that we must do our duty above all.” If he is typical of his country (and I believe he is), Germany has learned nothing.

The ineffable monster destroying the world is not an entity but a vacuum, an absence, the emptiness left by the collapse of philosophy. In that lightless emptiness, mindless men rattle frantically, bumping into one another, seeking desperately some way to exist on earth—which they cannot find without the tool they have discarded. This leads to phenomena such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, as Dr. Peikoff demonstrates.

If you do not wish to be a victim of today’s philosophical bankruptcy, I recommend The Ominous Parallels as protection and ammunition. It will protect you from supporting, unwittingly, the ideas that are destroying you and the world. It will bring order into the chaos of today’s events—and show you simultaneously the enormity of the battle and the contemptible smallness of the enemy.

The Ominous Parallels offers a truly revolutionary idea in the field of the philosophy of history. The book is clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned. Its style is clear and hard as crystal—and as sparkling. If you like my works, you will like this book.

As to my personal reaction, I can express it best by paraphrasing a line from Atlas Shrugged: “It’s so wonderful to see a great, new, crucial achievement which is not mine!”

Ayn Rand

New York, November 1980

1 The Cause of Nazism

Here is the theory:

“It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole . . . that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual. . . .”

“This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture. . . . The basic attitude from which such activity arises, we call—to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness—idealism. By this we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men.”

These statements were made in our century by the leader of a major Western nation. His countrymen regarded his viewpoint as uncontroversial. His political program implemented it faithfully.

The statements were made by Adolf Hitler. He was explaining the moral philosophy of Nazism.1

And here is the ultimate practice (as described by William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich):

“The gas chambers themselves [at Auschwitz] and the adjoining crematoria, viewed from a short distance, were not sinister-looking places at all; it was impossible to make them out for what they were. Over them were well-kept lawns with flower borders; the signs at the entrances merely said BATHS. The unsuspecting Jews thought they were simply being taken to the baths for the delousing which was customary at all camps. And taken to the accompaniment of sweet music!

“For there was light music. An orchestra of ‘young and pretty girls all dressed in white blouses and navy-blue skirts,’ as one survivor remembered, had been formed from among the inmates. While the selection was being made for the gas chambers this unique musical ensemble played gay tunes from The Merry Widow and Tales of Hoffmann. Nothing solemn and somber from Beethoven. The death marches at Auschwitz were sprightly and merry tunes, straight out of Viennese and Parisian operetta.

“To such music, recalling as it did happier and more frivolous times, the men, women and children were led into the ‘bath houses,’ where they were told to undress preparatory to taking a ‘shower.’ Sometimes they were even given towels. Once they were inside the ‘shower-room’—and perhaps this was the first moment that they may have suspected something was amiss, for as many as two thousand of them were packed into the chamber like sardines, making it difficult to take a bath—the massive door was slid shut, locked and hermetically sealed. Up above where the well-groomed lawn and flower beds almost concealed the mushroom-shaped lids of vents that ran up from the hall of death, orderlies stood ready to drop into them the amethyst-blue crystals of hydrogen cyanide. . . .

“Surviving prisoners watching from blocks nearby remembered how for a time the signal for the orderlies to pour the crystals down the vents was given by a Sergeant Moll. ‘Na, gib ihnen schon zu fressen’ (‘All right, give ’em something to chew on’), he would laugh and the crystals would be poured through the openings, which were then sealed.

“Through heavy-glass portholes the executioners could watch what happened. The naked prisoners below would be looking up at the showers from which no water spouted or perhaps at the floor wondering why there were no drains. It took some moments for the gas to have much effect. But soon the inmates became aware that it was issuing from the perforations in the vents. It was then that they usually panicked, crowding away from the pipes and finally stampeding toward the huge metal door where, as Reitlinger puts it, ‘they piled up in one blue clammy blood-spattered pyramid, clawing and mauling each other even in death.’”2

The Nazis were not a tribe of prehistoric savages. Their crimes were the official, legal acts and policies of modern Germany—an educated, industrialized, civilized Western European nation, a nation renowned throughout the world for the luster of its intellectual and cultural achievements. By reason of its long line of famous artists and thinkers, Germany has been called “the land of poets and philosophers.”

But its education offered the country no protection against the Sergeant Molls in its ranks. The German university students were among the earliest groups to back Hitler. The intellectuals were among his regime’s most ardent supporters. Professors with distinguished academic credentials, eager to pronounce their benediction on the Führer’s cause, put their scholarship to work full time; they turned out a library of admiring volumes, adorned with obscure allusions and learned references.

The Nazis did not gain power against the country’s wishes. In this respect there was no gulf between the intellectuals and the people. The Nazi party was elected to office by the freely cast ballots of millions of German voters, including men on every social, economic, and educational level. In the national election of July 1932, the Nazis obtained 37 percent of the vote and a plurality of seats in the Reichstag. On January 30, 1933, in full accordance with the country’s legal and constitutional principles, Hitler was appointed chancellor. Five weeks later, in the last (and semi-free) election of the pre-totalitarian period, the Nazis obtained 17 million votes, 44 percent of the total.

The voters were aware of the Nazi ideology. Nazi literature, including statements of the Nazi plans for the future, papered the country duri...

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