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Hitler’s “favorite Jew”

Notes on:
Brigitte Hamann, Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship

Of Weininger: “a profoundly unhappy man of great integrity who perished of his own philosophy.”

Weininger’s moral climate: Jews were associated with the “sexual permissiveness glorified by Viennese modernism.” [See “Damned if we do…” for more on why.]

They were thought of as uncreative and parasitical, ideas documented in Richard Wagner’s essay, “The Jews and Music”. [We will have more to say about Wagner and anti-Semitism in a future post.]

LeRider emphasizes Weininger’s anti-Freudianism and his aversion to “pansexualism”. Weininger was unable to “come to terms with his sexuality” as evidenced in his abstinence and his consignment of sexuality to the “realm of pigs”. [J. S. Mill famously consigned pigs to happiness—at least as compared to Socrates. It struck Mill that nothing could better manifest happiness—if it was to consist exclusively of sensual pleasures—than a pig.

Freud, exposed in mid-career to Weininger, may have eventually come around to the latter’s position when he later posited a death instinct. But Weininger was a “pansexualist” of sorts, too, just not in the way Freud was. For both, sex drove human culture, but as metaphysical foundation for Weininger, not as instinct as Freud would have it.]

Thornton, Hamann’s translator, renders this passage from Weininger’s Geschlecht und Charakter,

The fact that a couple who really found one another forever and ever—Tristan and Isolde—walk into death rather than into the Bridal bed is also absolute proof of someone higher up above. [p. 320 in the German; cf. Sex & Character, part II, chap 11, par 650 in the Heinemann edition]

Women—as well as Jews, Negroes, Mongolians (i.e, Asians, generally), etc.—should not be given political power. Yet, Weininger said, they should not be suppressed. [But see Sex & Character, II, 14, par 982-3: Weininger does not say that they should not be given political power simpliciter; rather that they have not shown themselves to have desired it as much as Aryan men.* Weininger’s vision is that they should participate in activities becoming of rationally autonomous beings. But this can’t properly happen before they are prepared for and want it. A good deal of what he proceeds to describe is what would count as qualification. Nevertheless, he says, it is right that they should be emancipated even in the face of deficient appreciation for the privilege, if only for the sake of the educable humanity in them… Perhaps we detect paternalism here, but not racism or sexism in the conventional sense of the terms. Weininger is operating on the assumption—wrong as it turns out, but quite widespread even today, even among those who wouldn’t be caught dead in his intellectual company—that any worthwhile conception of the human is essentially bound up with autonomy and the dominant rule of reason. Men, especially the white men who defined the culture most familiar to him, represent in their ideals at least what it means to be fully human. (As I point out at length elsewhere, he was also very painfully aware of how much distance separated those ideals from their practice.) All other humanity is to be honored to the degree it approximates these ideals. Women and Jews—and probably other politically and culturally marginalized groups—are not to be neglected or oppressed but encouraged to foster in themselves these ideals. This cannot happen as long as they are in any state of enslavement, whether appreciated as such by themselves or not. If Weininger can be accused of anything vaguely unethical here, it is in thinking that what is good for the best is good for the rest. How often do we hear a common type of feminist, for example, suggest that it is not any inherent flaw or incapacity in men that makes for their general cussedness, rather a crippled enveloping social and political environment. Such an environment, which—it is usually taken as established—creates developmental social pathology in women, must operate similarly in men, right?

Two dubious premises infect this doctrine: first, that we know who “the best” are, and, second, that it follows that the less favored in the qualifying way would truly be served by what serves “the best”. We must be thinking here that it is fair that because I value something, and my taste is impeccable, you should have a share in it, too. It may be very kind of me to think so. But unless I inquire into and understand what you value before I foist onto you a fair slice of a pie whose flavor may leave you cold, it is not, for all my intentions, a kind act.

Investiture of autonomous reason is undoubtedly one of the highest and very few truly universal good things we can lay upon another entity capable in any degree of it. From this, however, it does not follow that there are not other equal or even superior kindnesses we may do each other. Finding out what these might be is the supreme ethical task, especially for those for whom the investiture is a cardinal value. Weininger cleared the path for this thought.


The importance of Weininger in the development of moral theory is that he had no mundane ulterior motive in calling the bluff of the best moral thinking of his time. Recall, he would be dead soon. He gave every indication that he knew it. And he had no known personal motive to want us to hate women, Jews or anyone else. This is why we must read his every word with special gravity and why what he says is not comparable to what many of his contemporaries said even when he seemed merely to be parroting them or, worse, lending to what we are too facilely inclined today to call “stereotypes” an air of intellectual and moral integrity. Common opinion to the contrary, not all “sexists” are equal. Some of them may have something extremely valuable to teach us that can only be gotten from them. Most who call themselves philosophers write expecting to live long enough to revise their work, but not all. Wittgenstein reportedly told his students they should write as though they expected to be read a hundred years hence. He himself tried to hold himself to that standard—and published little. He was not merely being modest. He had at hand the example of Weininger to keep him in line. Weininger said what he had to say and quit the scene, leaving a wake whose puzzling impact only now, a hundred years later, is becoming clear.]

Weininger’s friend, Arthur Trebitsch suggested “morbus iudaicus,” the Jewish disease, as what killed him off.

His funeral was attended by Kraus, Zweig, and a 14 year-old Wittgenstein. Strindberg “penned an obituary”.

Weininger influenced “very different thinkers” including Musil, Trakl, Schönberg, Kafka, Canetti and Thomas Bernhard.

Weininger’s words were misused by anti-Semites, including Mussolini and Hitler. [Hamann, to her credit, seems to display a finer sense than is common of how Weininger was used and abused (as opposed to understood) by the infamous. Cf. “Close and closer readings” and “‘Rough sex,’ self-hate, and truth tables”]

In 1941, the latter approvingly repeated the opinion of his friend Dietrich Eckhart, that he had met only one decent Jew, Otto Weininger, who killed himself when he realized that the Jew lives on the corruption of other’s folkdom. [By “met,” of course, we take Eckhart and Hitler to mean “encountered the writings of”. Hitler first visited Vienna in 1907, four years after Weininger’s suicide.]

Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer reported:

The pertinent remarks in the writings of Viennese Jewish philosopher Otto Weininger were important to him [Hitler] as proofs of his own lines of argument. He often talked of this and similar fruits of his nightly reading.

Frank recalls that Hitler in 1937 said:

I am an innocent lamb compared to revelations by Jews about Jews. But they are important, these disclosures of the Jew’s most secret, always totally hidden qualities, instincts, and character traits. It isn’t I who say this, it is the Jews themselves who say it about themselves, about their greed for money, their fraudulent ways, their immorality, and their sexual perversions.

Hamann adds (her effort at historical projection, perhaps, getting the better of her here),

An allusion during a 1920 speech in Munich reveals at what length Hitler must have studied Weininger: in view of the Jewish danger, he said, it was crucial for every individual to start removing the Jew in himself, and I am very much afraid that this whole line of argument was developed by none other than a Jew himself. The audience’s response in the Hofbräuhaus was one of “amusement.” Hardly anybody would have understood that Hitler had alluded to Weininger. [Italics in original]

Hamann notes Hitler’s penchant for “bipolar theories”: masters and slaves, strong and weak, blond and dark people, valley and mountain, Christian and Jews, Masculine and Feminine, etc. [Thus, by implication, the superficial appeal of Weininger—though the abstraction, sophistication, and heterocosmic orientation of Weininger’s vision escaped him. The speech in the beer hall, however, almost gestures correctly: The bit about ridding ourselves of the Jew in ourselves. If Hitler, had truly gotten it, he would have stopped right there, in 1920, and begun by disposing of himself…

But Hitler is scarcely alone in being suckered by bipolarism. The better part of the commentary on Weininger even today is rich with it. The only things properly treated in that manner are concepts designed for the purpose: the principles of femininity and masculinity, for instance; not their manifestations in existing individuals. Even so, the real distortion is not indiscriminant bipolarism but the refusal to appreciate what is entailed by the polar opposites themselves: not that men and women are different in some degree, extreme or not, but what that would mean. Were we comfortable with that we would be less inclined to be partisan. Were we that, we would be better positioned to begin the business of defining with some authority the transcendent (i.e., genderless) human—an idea of which we have, for all the talk about it, still only the faintest notion.]

No amount of conversion or assimilation could save the Jews from being singled out for abuse: thus, it gave Hitler pleasure to see even converted Jews die of suicide and self-hatred.

[There is a dynamic here deeper and more far reaching than whatever this or that demagogue or humiliated people’s history throws together for its “amusement”. I have addressed the subject many times before but it is appropriate to restate it here…

Foundational to the moral development of at least half of humanity, the male half, is a requirement of self-scrutiny, an imperative that Weininger knew well—I believe, better than any philosopher in history. It fell to him to exercise it because he was able to clearly peg the reigning morality as largely a masculine affair. And he saw with equal clarity there was a reason for this. Because men need it to be this way. They will not function morally otherwise. It is not the fault of women that they do not feel this to be central to their sense of what is needed to survive and flourish. Theirs is a different moral universe with imperatives so distinct from those of men that we come to the conclusion that cross-gender communication on matters moral is necessarily treacherous and fraught with misunderstanding, more so and with greater consequences than in areas where miscommunication is more typically remarked. And since I believe no man can do justice to her side of the story, it is a hopeful sign (a very rare one) to see it is finally being related by women in our time.

But to return to men. Their self-scrutiny is and must be every bit as fierce as the masculine displeasure with existence: he is very powerfully attracted by destruction, by criminality, by the trashing of material existence for the sheer thrill of it…it is a barely disguised love of death. This alienation from the origin and force of life breeds in men the need for discipline and the creation of rules and laws to shape it, which can in turn rapidly escalate self-criticism into self-hatred. Compounding the sex-grounded sense of alienation, there may be the superimposition of group social and political isolation—the Jew among gentile, the racially distinguishable within an empowered assimilated mass, the defeated or oppressed or colonized embedded in an imperially privileged social superstructure… Even the white male will one day be in a position to feel this added reason to take himself down a few notches, to feel the bitter taste of self-hatred and—we mustn’t forget to add—its thrill, for that is how he will have to come to terms with it.]


Editor’s Notes

*Luno elsewhere writes that it is ironic that those who desire freedom so badly that they would kill for it may be the least able to handle it. While those for whom it is just one good among others (women, the oppressed, etc.) might make better use of it exactly because they are not so invested in it. The idea, for example, is implicit in his pronouncements to the effect that only women should be—in a civilized society—permitted possession of guns, etc.

A thread running through Hamann’s book is that Hitler’s anti-Semitism, whatever it eventually became, did not arise from some deep-seated personal resentment of Jews. Hitler seems to have started out only as anti-Semitic as the next person in his class and milieu: “Jews have money, some of them, enough of them, and they are not like us,…, and they must have taken it from us.” Early on Hitler even defended a few Jews he thought were unjustly treated. The resentment of the German-speaking working class, born of economic pressure from immigrant Slavs and conspicuously prospering Jews, was ripe for political exploitation. Hitler was above all politically ambitious and showed himself willing to make any scruple subserve that impulse, and eventually the idea solidified in him that the Jew was the perfect other on whom to focus the otherwise diffused rage of the populace and thus further his political career. (The Slavs, because they were less economically formidable, could be dealt with later.)

Luno often points out that Weininger’s hetercosmic motivations precluded any such mundane reasons for oppressing anybody. So while many still make much of the fact that Hitler read and “admired” Weininger, their aspirations could not have been farther apart. (See, for instance, par 357 in Sex & Character. Moreover, there are passages near the end of Karl Marx’s early essay “On the Jewish Question” that anticipate Weininger. Hitler could as easily have found what he wanted reading this other lapsed Jew, if we can imagine him poring over Marx…) The notion of anti-Semitism, extremely normal and widespread in cultures that hosted noteworthy Jewish segments prior to news of the Holocaust, altered completely after the Second World War. Maybe it hadn’t been the healthiest habit to have, but neither was smoking, and nearly “everybody” smoked. Hitler accomplished for the former what lung cancer did for the latter. What was once excusable became intolerable. When a thoughtful Jew, especially in Weininger’s day, said critical things about Jews (and to their credit there were no small number of them), we might better appreciate this by thinking of a Democrat or a Republican or a devout Catholic or deep-believer in any ideology or set of principles, who stands up to criticize what she or he perceives as corruption among those he or she cannot otherwise completely disaffiliate her- or himself from. An insider ought to have such privileges. If any ideology or belief system has anything going for it, its openness to heartfelt self-castigation must, at a minimum, be at its core… The purgative function of moral self criticism is, of course, a theme running throughout Luno.

So it should not surprise us to find him—who has made what he calls “philosophical hatred,” in its highest form self-directed, a pillar of his philosophy—so inspired by Otto Weininger. Luno is saying that a little bit of oppression goes a long way toward making its victims better people than their oppressors have any hope of being. Thus his uncharacteristically optimistic dictum, “One day we shall all attain the privilege of being Jews.” He thinks that will be a good thing.

Luno writes in the margin, “Weininger’s influence on Bernhard is new to me. I must pursue this. I have admired Bernhard, since long before ever hearing of Weininger.”

Posted by luno in anti-Semitism, philosophical hatred, Moral Consciousness, Weininger (Monday March 27, 2006 at 2:30 pm)

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