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Leo Strauss: German Nihilism

Leo Strauss: German Nihilism

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Published by avitechwriter
German Nihilism
Graduate

355

Faculty

of

Political

and

Social Science

New School for Social Research, 66 West 12 Street, New York, N. Y.

General Seminar: Experiences

of

the

Second World War

February 26,

1941

German Nihilism
I.
a

Leo Strauss

The

questions:

(a) What is

nihilism?

(b) How far

can nihilism

be

said to

be

specifically German German
can nihilism

phenomenon?

II. It

is

a phenomenon much

broader than National Socialism.
type of

be described provisionally as th
German Nihilism
Graduate

355

Faculty

of

Political

and

Social Science

New School for Social Research, 66 West 12 Street, New York, N. Y.

General Seminar: Experiences

of

the

Second World War

February 26,

1941

German Nihilism
I.
a

Leo Strauss

The

questions:

(a) What is

nihilism?

(b) How far

can nihilism

be

said to

be

specifically German German
can nihilism

phenomenon?

II. It

is

a phenomenon much

broader than National Socialism.
type of

be described provisionally as th

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Published by: avitechwriter on Feb 19, 2010
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03/07/2013

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German
Nihilism
355
Graduate
Faculty
of
Political
and
Social
ScienceNew
School
forSocial
Research,
66West
12
Street,
New
York,
N.
Y.
General
Seminar:
Experiences
of
the
Second
WorldWar
February
26,
1941
German
Nihilism
Leo
Strauss
I.
The
questions:
(a)
What
is
nihilism?
(b)
How
far
can
nihilism
be
said
to
be
a
specifically
German
phenomenon?
II.
German
nihilism
is
aphenomenon
much
broader
than
NationalSocialism.It
can
bedescribed
provisionally
as
the
passionatereaction
of
a
certain
typeof
young
atheist
to
the
communist
ideal.
III.
The
nihilism
of
the
young
and
the
positivism
of
the
old.
IV.
The
nihilistic
meaning
of
the
term
"wave
of
the
future."
V.
Nihilism
is
defined
as
the
rejection
of
the
principles
of
civilization
assuch.
VI.
German
nihilism
rejects
the
principles
of
civilization
as
such
in
favor
of
war
and
of
warlike
ideals.
VII.
German
nihilism
is
aradicalized
form
of
German
militarism.
VIII.
One
of
the
roots
of
German
militarism
is
moralism.
IX.
The
present
Anglo-German
war
is
a
waraboutprinciples.
German
Nihilism
1.
The
questions:
What
is
nihilism?
And
how
far
cannihilism
be
said
to
be
a
specifically
German
phenomenon?
2.
German
nihilism
is
thegenus,of
which
National
socialism
is
the
best-
known
species.
 
356
Interpretation
I.
The
ultimate,
non-nihilistic
motive
underlying
German
nihilism.
3.
The
inseparable
connection
of
morality
and
the
closed
society:
the
moralprotestagainst
the
principle
of
modem
civilisation.
II.
The
situation
in
which
that
non-nihilistic
motive
led
to
nihilism.
4.
German
nihilism
is
the
reaction
of
acertain
type
of
young
atheist
to
the
communist
ideal
orprediction.
5.
On
the
affinity
of
youth
to
nihilism,
and
the
nihilisticconsequences
of
the
emancipation
of
youth.
6.
On
the
affinity
of
progressivism
to
nihilism:
progressivism
leaves
the
aim
undefined;
it
therefore
opposes
an
indefinite
No
to
the
given
order.
III.
What
is
nihilism?
Andhow
far
can
nihilism
be
saidto
be
specifically
Ger
man
?
7.
Nihilism
is
the
rejection
of
the
principles
of
civilisation
as
such.
Civil
isation
is
the
consciousculture
of
human
reason,
i.e.
science
and
morals.
8.
Nihilism
in
the
sense
defined
is
characteristic
of
present
day
Germany
rather
than
of
any
other
country.
9.
German
nihilismrejects
the
principles
of
civilisation
assuch
in
favor
of
war
and
the
warlike
virtues.
10.
German
nihilism
is
therefore
akin
to
German
militarism.
1
1.
German
nihilism
is
a
radicalized
form
of
German
militarism,
and
that
radicalization
is
due
to
the
victory
of
the
romantic
opinion
concerning
the
modem
development
as
awhole.
12.
German
nihilism
is
related
to
the
reaction
to
the
modem
ideal
which
is
characteristic
of
German
idealist
philosophy:
morality
of
self-sacrifice
and
self-denial
vs.
morality
of
self-interest;
courage
is
the
only
unambig
uously
non-utilitarian
virtue.
13.
German
idealism,
while
opposing
Western
philosophy,
claimed
to
be
a
synthesis
ofthe
modem
ideal
with
the
pre-modem
ideal;
that
synthesis
did
not
work;
the
influence
of
German
idealism
made
the
acceptance
of
the
modem
ideal
impossible;
the
Germans
had
to
fall
back
on
the
pre-modem
ideal:
that
is
tosay,
on
the
pre-modem
ideal
as
interpreted
by
German
idealism,
i.e.,
as
interpreted
in
apolemic
intention
against
the
enlighten
ment;
and
therefore:
ona
modem
distortion
of
the
pre-modem
ideal.
14.
The
modem
ideal
is
of
English
origin:
the
German
tradition
is
a
tradi
tionof
criticism
of
the
modem
ideal.
While
the
English
found
a
working
amalgamation
of
the
modem
ideal
with
the
classical
ideal,
the
Germans
overemphasized
the
break
in
the
tradition
so
much
that
they
were
ultimatelyled
from
the
rejection
of
modern
civilisation
to
the
rejection
of
the
principle
of
civilisation
as
such,
i.e.,
to
nihilism.
The
English
gentlemen
as
an
im
perialnation
vs.
the
German
Herren
as
anation
of
provincial,
resentful
fanatics.
 
German
Nihilism
357
GERMAN
NIHILISM.
LECTURE
TOBE
DELIVERED
ON
FEBRUARY,
26,
1941.
1.
What
is
nihilism?
Andhow
far
cannihilism
be
said
to
be
a
specifically
German
phenomenon?
I
amnotable
to
answer
thesequestions;
I
can
merely
try
to
elaborate*
them
a
little.
For
the
phenomenon
which
I
am
going
to
discuss,
is
much
too
complex,
andmuch
too
little
explored,
to
permit
of
an
adequate
description
within
the
short
time
at
my
disposal.
I
cannot
do
more
thanto
scratch
its
surface.
2.
When
we
hear
at
the
present
time
the
expression
"German
nihilism,"
most
of
us
naturally
think
atonce
of
NationalSocialism.
It
must
however
be
understood
from
the
outset
that
NationalSocialism
is
only
the
most
famous*
form
of
German
nihilism
its
lowest,
most
provincial,
most
unenlightenedandmost
dishonourableform.It
is
probable
that
its
veryvulgarity
accounts
for
its
great,
if
appalling,
successes.
These
successes
maybe
followed
by
failures,
and
ulti
mately
by
complete
defeat.
Yet
the
defeat
of
NationalSocialism
will
not
neces
sarily
mean
the
end
of
German
nihilism.
For
that
nihilism
has
deeper
roots
than
the
preachings
of
Hitler,
Germany's
defeat
in
the
WorldWar
and
all
that.
To
explain
German
nihilism,
I
propose
to
proceed
in
the
following
way.
I
shall
first
explain
the
ultimate
motive
which
is
underlyingGerman
nihilism;
this
motive
is
not
in
itself
nihilistic.
I
shall
then
describe
the
situation
in
which
that
non-nihilisticmotive
led
to
nihilistic
aspirations.
Finally,
I
shall
attempt
to
givesuch
a
definition
of
nihilism
as
is
not
assailable
from
the
point
of
view
of
the
non-nihilisticmotive
in
question,
and
on
the
basis
ofthat
definition,'
to
describe
German
nihilismsomewhatmore
fully.
3.
Nihilism
might
mean:velle
nihil,
to
will
thenothing,
the
destruction
of
everything,
including
oneself,
and
therefore
primarily
the
will
to
self-destruc
tion.
I
am
toldthatthere
are
human
beings
who
have
such
strange
desires.
I
do
not
believe,
however,
that
sucha
desire
is
the
ultimate
motive
of
German
nihil
ism.
Not
only
does
the
unarmedeyenot
notice
any
unambiguoussigns
of
awill
to
se-//*-destruction.
But
even
if
such
a
desire
weredemonstrated*
to
be
the
ultimate
motive,
we
still
should
be
at
a
loss
to
understand
why
that
desire
took
on
the
form,
not
of
the
moodcalled
fin
de
siecle
or
of
alcoholism,
but
of
militarism.
To
explain
German
nihilism
in
terms
of
mental
diseases,
is
even
less
advisable
than
itis
to
explain
in
such
terms
the
desire
of
a
corneredgangster
to
bump
off
together
with
himself
a
couple
of
copsand
the
fellow
whodouble-crossed
him;
not
being
a
Stoic,
I
couldnot
call
that*
desire
amorbid
desire.2
The
fact
of
the
matter
is
that
German
nihilism
is
not
absolute
nihilism,
desire
for
the
destruction
of
everything
including
oneself,
but
a
desire
for
the
destruction
of
something
specific:*
of
moderncivilisation.
That,
if
I
maysay
so,
limited
nihilism
becomes
an
almost*
absolute
nihilism
only
for
this
reason:
because
the
negation
of
modem
civilisation,
the
No,
is
not
guided,
or
accompanied,
by
any
clear
positiveconception.

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