In any process of cognition, according to Kant, whether it be sense experience or abstract thought, the mind automatically alters and distorts the evidence confronting it. It filters or structures the material it receives from reality, in accordance with a set of innate and subjective processing devices, whose operation it cannot escape. The world that men perceive, therefore—the world of orderly, spatiotemporal, material entities—is essentially a creation of man’s consciousness. What men perceive is not reality “as it is,” but merely reality as it appears to man, given the special structure of the human mind. Thus for Kant, as for Plato, the universe consists of two opposed dimensions: true reality, a supersensible realm of “things in themselves” (in Kant’s terminology), and a world of appearances which is not ultimately real, the material world men perceive by means of their physical senses.
Aside from the actual murders, this was the most lethal feature of the camps: that most prisoners could not accept the reality of what they saw, they could not reconcile the horror with life as they had once known it, and yet they could not deny the evidence of their senses. To such men, the camps lost all connection to life on earth and acquired a kind of metaphysical aura, the aura of being not human institutions in Europe, but “another world,” an impossible world, like a second, supernatural dimension of existence inconceivable in itself yet wiping out the first. The concentration camp seemed to its inmates to be a dimension which is at the same time a foolish nightmare and true reality; a dimension which cannot be, yet cannot be escaped; a dimension which is not, but which also, terrifyingly, is. It was a world of A and non-A.
By the nature of what went on behind the barbed-wire fences, the concentration camps to most inmates represented in essence, a universe which violates the basic law of existence, the Law of Identity.
In presenting this theory [of logic, Nazi philosopher Lothar] Tirala gives no indication of the nature of Aryan logical principles (nor does any other Nazi). His concern is to denounce, not to define. What he denounces is Aristotelian logic….
Aristotle, Tirala writes, is emphatically not an Aryan. Aristotle
was physically (according to reports) and spiritually (on the basis of his writings) to be judged a representative of the race which is not capable of producing science: his Western soul is conformable to the magical world-picture. This soul cannot understand the questioning of the Aryan spirit.
By rejecting the Law of Identity, [the anti-Aristotelean] repudiates all cognitive standards, claiming the right, based on his “logic,” to endorse any contradiction he feels like, whenever he feels like it. Logic thus becomes a subjective device to “justify” anything anyone wishes. Logic, “Aryan logic,” becomes a Nazi weapon: in the beginning was the Führer, who created the principles of inference.
In the Nazis’ attack on logic, all the major elements of their irrationalist epistemology—dogmatism, activism, pragmatism, relativism, subjectivism—blend and unite. Qua dogmatist, the Nazi holds faith to be superior to logic. Qua activist, he dismisses logic in favor of action. Qua pragmatist, he is free to endorse contradictions, provided they “work.” Qua relativist, he rejects the absolutism of the Law of Identity. And, qua subjectivist, the Nazi simply wipes out logic by giving its name to his random, “Aryan” feelings. These theories may differ somewhat. The conclusion to which they lead does not.
Hegel is a post-Kantian Platonist. Taking full advantage of the anti-Aristotelianism sanctioned by Kant, Hegel launches an attack on the root principles of Aristotle’s philosophy: on the principles of Aristotelian logic (which even Kant had not dared to challenge directly). Reality, declares Hegel, is inherently contradictory; it is a systematic progression of colliding contradictions organized in triads of thesis, antithesis, synthesis—and men must think accordingly. They should not strive for old-fashioned, “static” consistency. They should not be “limited” by the “one-sided” Aristotelian view that every existent has a specific identity, that things are what they are, that A is A. On the contrary, they owe their ultimate allegiance to a higher principle: the principle of the “identity of opposites,” the principle that things are not what they are, that A is non-A.
Hegel describes the above as a new conception of “reason,” and as a new, “dialectic” logic.
You cannot understand, because this world cannot be understood; such was the first part of the message broadcast to the prisoner by all the man-degrading, soul-destroying conditions he encountered, including the living standards incompatible with life, the rules without cause, the tortures without purpose—the conditions which no mind could take in or grasp, the conditions imposed because no mind could grasp them. And: you cannot understand, because you are nothing; such was the second part of the message.
The final product of the camps, one which the Nazis carefully shaped, was death. What the SS shaped was mass death without a murmur of protest; death accepted placidly by victims and killers alike; death carried out not as any kind of exception, not as an act of purposeful vengeance or hatred, but as casual, smiling, even homey routine, often against a background of colorful flower beds and to the accompaniment of lilting operetta music. It was to be death as a confirmation of all that had preceded it, death as a last demonstration of absolute power and absolute unreason, death as the final triumph of Nazism over man and over the human spirit.
“[T]he wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit,” declares Hitler in Mein Kampf; a man must “renounce putting forward his personal opinion and interests and sacrifice both. . . .”
The political implementation of “subservience to the Whole,” according to the Nazis, is subservience to the state—which requires of every German the opposite of self-assertion. Hence the ruling principle of Nazism, as defined by a group of Nazi youth leaders. The principle is: “We will.” “And, if anyone were still to ask: ‘What do we will?’—the answer is given by the basic idea of National Socialism: ‘Sacrifice!’”
Since the proper beneficiary of man’s sacrifices, according to Nazism, is the group (the race or nation), the essence of virtue or idealism is easy to define. It is expressed in the slogan “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz” (“The common good comes before private good”). “This self-sacrificing will to give one’s personal labor and if necessary one’s own life for others,” writes Hitler,
is most strongly developed in the Aryan. The Aryan is not greatest in his mental qualities as such, but in the extent of his willingness to put all his abilities in the service of the community. In him the instinct of self-preservation has reached the noblest form, since he willingly subordinates his own ego to the life of the community and, if the hour demands, even sacrifices it.
“Du bist nichts; dein Volk ist alles” (“You are nothing; your people is everything”), states another Nazi slogan, summarizing the essence of the Nazi moral viewpoint.