Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dancing around the black hole

The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.
Walter Benjamin, Thesis on the Philosophy of History, 1940

There was once a Lutheran who was arrested by the Nazis and put into a holding cell with a bunch of Jews headed for Auschwitz. The man protested that he was not a Jew, he hated Jews, in fact. He was a Lutheran. He was born a Lutheran. The Nazis replied that his mother was a Jew and so he was a Jew. No, he replied with passion, my mother converted to Christianity long before I was born and she married a Lutheran and she raised me a Lutheran and she was a Lutheran. No, the Nazis replied, she was a Jew. And so the man found himself in the gas chamber with a chamber load of Jews as the gas was being dropped into the chamber. As he drew his last breath it finally dawned on him, "oh, my God, I'm a Jew!"

All his life he thought that he knew who he was. He was a German and a Lutheran and he hated Jews. At the very last moment of his life he discovers that he is a Jew. He realizes that on some level this fact was fundamental to who he was and what his destiny was to be. He cannot now go back and live his life over and he has no future, so what benefit is his final insight?
Binyamin Mehler, Meditation on Benjamin, (2009)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Haeckel Controversy

Daniel Gasman has written two books on Ernst Haeckel. First, his 1971 The Scientific Origins of National Socialism which examines the Monist roots of National Socialism and his 1998 study, Hackel's Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology, which extends his analysis by examining Haeckel's influence on French and Italian fascism.

Gasman's work was widely accepted, if not fully appreciated. Now comes Professor Robert Richards to turn Gasman on his head. Where Gasman contends that Haeckelian Monism is significantly different from Darwinian evolutionary theory, Richards argues they were substantially the same. Where Gasman contends that Haeckel was an antisemite, Richards argues he was a friend of the Jews. Where Gasman contends that Haeckel was a proto-Nazi, Richards argues he was hated by the Nazis. Some observers have commented that the debate is about ego's rather than issues; that the debate between Gasman and Richards has become vitriolic and personal and therefore not fit for public consumption. But that view ignores the underlying significance of what is at stake. This is not about Dr. Gasman's or Professor Richards' reputation, although, both are clearly at stake. If Gasman is right, if his criticisms of Richards are sound, Richards reputation and integrity will be called into question. If Richards is right, Gasman's life work becomes a misguided attempt to malign a man who ought to share the stage with Darwin as one of the great heroes of modern science.

But beyond that and far more important is how we end up understanding fascism, the single most pernicious political and social ideology of modern times. Taken in this light, ISAR believes that Richards obscures and Gasman illuminates.