Oct 292009

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 7, “United They Fell” — a reference to Germans’ widespread agreement on important fundamentals despite often fierce political differences that were evident as they strove to create a new, constitutional republic. Topics we discussed included:
  • A tour of the political diversity in both means and ends that was present as Germans drew up their nations new, republican constitution: the four major groups forming two broad coalitions in the Wiemar Assembly — and the two paralleling major groups in the “street”.
  • How despite the seeming ideological diversity, all of the major groups battling to shape Germany’s new government nonetheless shared the same essential ideas in epistemology (anti-reason, mysticism), ethics (sacrificial, altruistic), and politics (anti-capitalist, collectivist). They argued fiercely, even violently, over more derivative matters: In the formal discussions of the Wiemar Assembly, in the end the marxist Social Democrats and their allies sought state control of the economy for the benefit of the lower classes — versus the conservative/monarchical Nationalists who sought state control of the economy for the benefit of the upper classes. And at the same time the major parties active in the “street” were more pure in their desired ends, and more direct in their means to achieving them: the Communists fought for an all-powerful state to determine the fate of individuals’ lives, versus the Free Corps who fought for an all-powerful ruler who would determine the fate of individuals’ lives.
  • And much more…

The chapter closes:

Wherever the German turned — to the left, to the right, to the center; to the decorous voices in parliament or to the gutters running with blood — he heard the same fundamental ideas. They were the same in politics, the same in ethics, the same in epistemology.

This is how philosophy shapes the destiny of nations. If there is no dissent in regard to basic principles among a country’s leading philosophic minds, theirs are the principles that come in time to govern every social and political group in the land. Owing to other factors, the groups may proliferate and may contend fiercely over variants, applications, strategy; but they do not contend over essentials. In such a case, the country is offered an abundance of choices — among equivalents competing to push it to the same final outcome.

It is common for observers to criticize the “disunity” of Weimar Germany, which, it is said, prevented the anti-Nazi groups from dealing effectively with the threat posed by Hitler. In fact, the Germans were united, and this precisely was their curse: their kind of unity, their unity on all the things that count in history, i.e., on all the ideas.

If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
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