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.
- We explored how “the first truly modern culture” in the world emerged, more accepting of contemporary-everything: the “Weimar culture,” shaped by the “free spirits” of the German Republic, the avant garde in the humanities, sciences, commentary, journalism, and so on. A key question to answeris: what is “modernity” is in this sense? What principle unites Kaiser, Kandinsky, Schoenberg, Mann, Barth, Freud, Heisenberg?
- Touring the culture, Peikoff started with literature (“art is the barometer of a culture, and literature is the barometer of art”). The prominent philosophical novel by Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain) was characterized by a contemporary as the “saga of the Weimar Republic.” “To a country and in a decade swept by hysteria, perishing from uncertainty, torn by political crisis, financial collapse, violence in the streets, and terror of the future — to that country, in that decade, its leading philosophical novelist offered as his contribution to sanity and freedom the smiling assurance that there are no answers, no absolutes, no values, no hope.” It was a hit that resonated with the culture.
- Turning to poetry like that of Rainer Maria Rilke, a Christian mystic admired across the board, as well as Kafka, Peikoff finds them offering “nightmare projections of nameless ciphers paralyzed by a sinister, unknowable reality.”
- Turning to the philosophy of Existentialism and Martin Heidegger, it underscores existence being unintelligible, reason invalid, man a helpless “Dasein” — a creature engulfed by “das Nichts” (nothingness), in terror of the supreme fact of his life: death and doomed by nature to “angst,” estrangement, futility. Heidegger’s works rejected any systematic defense of his ideas and were praised as the “intellectual counterpart of modern painting.”
- In contrast to Heidegger’s rejection of religion and God, the avant-garde theologians tried to reconceive these in modern terms — “Avant-garde religion, in short, consists in ditching one’s mind, prostrating oneself in the muck, and screaming for mercy.”
- Next was the new psychology with the psychoanalysis of Freud. In the name of science it leaves us “Caught in the middle between these forces — between a psychopathic hippie screaming: satisfaction now! and a jungle chieftain intoning: tribal obedience! — sentenced by nature to ineradicable conflict, guilt, anxiety, and neurosis is man, i.e., man’s mind, his reason or “ego,” the faculty which is able to grasp reality, and which exists primarily to mediate between the clashing demands of the psyche’s two irrational masters.” More generally, the “new science — like the new philosophy, the new theology, the new art — becomes instead a vehicle of the willful, the arbitrary, the subjective.”
- Finally, touching on sociology, political science, education, art historians, social commentators, philosophers… and even physics and math, we find everywhere that “The notion of ‘reason enthroned’ disappears into myth, and the rational man collapses…”
- In sum, we find that what is new and distinctive across the board is Nihilism: hatred of values and of their root, reason — this, Peikoff contends, is the essential that underlies, generates, and defines “Weimar culture.”
- How Peikoff traces Nihilism as a cultural force back to Kant’s philosophy.
- How this new culture compares and contrasts with other eras of mysticism — and how Peikoff’s framing of it in this book relates to the way he is framing similar phenomena in his new DIM Hypothesis work (forthcoming).
Peikoff summarized the results, social and political: