Book Review: Hitler’s Theology – By Rainer Bucher

Hitlers Theology Bucher
Letter TThere aren’t many individuals in modern history more studied – or at least referenced – that Adolf Hitler. As we know from Godwin’s Law, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”

One of the areas which has received less attention in all of this discussion is the topic of Hitler’s theology. Many assume that Hitler was an atheist, others that he was a Christian, and others believe that it is irrelevant what his thoughts about the theological were. A sea’s worth of ink has spilled trying to discern what happened in Germany during the early part of the 20th century, but very little on the topic of Hitler’s theological system. Enter Rainer Bucher.

Mr. Bucher’s goal in this is not to argue against or disprove Hitler’s theological views, but merely to study what they were, and to furthermore study why many theologians (and philosophers and scientists in actuality) welcomed his views so enthusiastically.

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Book Review: On Liberty – By John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill On Liberty.pngletter-aAs stated by Mill the topic of On Liberty is the role society should take in interfering with the liberty of an individual, that is, the amount of power that society may legitimately exercise over its people.

The sphere of Mill’s inquiry is the system of a democracy, where the main danger to individual liberty is that of the “tyranny of the majority,” in which minorities are subjected to the whims of the majority such that the “weaker members of the community” are “preyed upon by innumerable vultures.” Mill’s argument is that “self-government” is not “the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest.”

Mill’s main thesis is that society and the governing bodies have no right to interfere with the liberty of thought, action or individuality in any person save when those liberties may cause harm to others; that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” This is to say that society is unable able to interfere with individuals unless they’re harming somebody, not including themselves – a person has every right to do harm to themselves and society may not intervene simply for the good of the individual.

Apart from this, Mill also believes that keeping away the “tyranny of the majority” is good not only for the individuals and the minorities, but for society itself as well; that the argumentation/discussion which leads from freedom of thought is pivotal in the development of the society and truth. It is only in this that societies can avoid stagnation and people can truly learn; they must be able to see both sides of the argument (from people who truly believe them) and the ideas must be allowed to clash, thus, “genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom.”

In arguing for freedom of expression Mill argues that because the opinions of the individual may be true (or at least contain some portion of truth) and because human fallibility makes it so there are none fit to judge whether the opinion is true anyway, full freedom must be granted; not only this, but because there are none fit to judge, [according to Mill] there is no absolute certainty.

This is all to lead into a sort of Hegelian system which Mill puts forth, noting that both sides of any argument generally only contain a portion of the truth and that it is only by bringing these two ideas together that the full truth can be found; a balance must be found between the ideas. The ideas must clash and in this clashing the synthesis between them will be found.

Overall Mill’s text is a good read even for people today. The ideas being presented are just as relevant now as they were during Mill’s time, such the fact that the voice of third parties is all but crushed in the U.S.’s two party system or the discussions over gay marriage, abortion, or even something as small as free speech zones on college campuses. All of these feed back into the issue being discussed by Mill, that is, how much power society should be able to wield over its members and just what is the nature and extent of our liberty.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.”

-“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

-“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

-“What was not wanted was that the rulers should be identified with the people, that their interests and will should be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will There was no fear of tyrannizing over itself.”

Specific Criticisms

From a secular standpoint I’m not sure how much can be critiqued of Mill’s ideas. From a Christian standpoint there are two chief issues which may be taken.

The first issue that may be taken is with the idea that ‘over himself the individual is sovereign.’ This is exactly the mindset which Scripture rails against and sets up as the original sin, to think that we are our own sovereigns, to usurp the sovereignty of God over his creations.

The second issue which may be taken is with lack of any solid judge for truth. Simply put, the Christian would argue that God is the standard against which we measure truth, and due to his immutability he stands as a very good standard by which to judge. There is still the factor of fallibility which Mill notes, however this is not to say that truth cannot be discovered or that no statements can be set as entirely false.

Book Review: Reflections on the Revolution in France – By Edmund Burke

 

Burke Reflections.pngLetter DDuring the late 18th Century the nation of France underwent a time of turmoil which is now known as the French Revolution. Many thinkers of the time gave their support to this revolution; one such thinker was Richard Price.

Edmund Burke‘s Reflections on the Revolution in France is written as a rebuttal to Price, as a defense of the English system of government, and in opposition to the ideas and practices of the French Revolution – whereas the supporters of the French Revolution believed in legitimacy through election Burke maintained support of monarchy, speaking out against those who base politics upon metaphysics and use abstract rights as a basis for political theory.

Burke’s basis for these positions lies in the thought that abstracts are incapable of accounting for all the nuances which are present in the political process, that what works in government is too circumstantial and subject to change for the ideals proposed by the theorists. Because of the way in which liberties change with time these liberties cannot be discovered and founded through abstract rules and doing so guarantees that a government basing its authority in these rights will not be sure of continuance.

Not only does Burke believe that politics are too nuanced for abstract principles to do them justice but he also argues that these metaphysical pursuits result in a certain moral blindness in which plots, massacres and assassinations become trivial matters, simply means to an end (thus accounting for the violence of the French Revolutions) – he designates this as a loss of chivalry by which France has lost its loveliness and thereby the desire to love it. Even more than moral blindness and a loss of chivalry Burke argues that popular rule creates an assembly of unqualified people, putting in power men that “never had seen the state so much as in a picture” and know nothing of the world or governing.

Burke alternative to all this is tradition, legitimizing government through those systems which are time tested and have been filtered through generations. For him it is only in those traditions that have been instituted by the forefathers and made sturdy over time that the government can be truly legitimized. As he says “people will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

If nothing else this treatise by Burke is an interesting look back into the mindset of the past, even more an interesting look into the philosophic progression which took Western civilization from a primarily monarchical system of rule to the representative systems of today. While in retrospect it may be easy to dismiss much of Burke’s thought he does manage to offer a compelling case for the authority of tradition.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may soon be turned into complaints.”

-“On this [abstract] scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order.”

-“There ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-informed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

-“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened [the Queen of France] with insult. But that age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of many sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone!”

Specific Criticisms

One point which may be brought up against Burke’s line of thought (though not against Burke himself, since the institution of democracy was too young for him to know any better) is the point that election does allow for professional politicians in similarity to the professional aristocrats which Burke admires.

An even greater point which may be brought up is that Burke is essentially begging the question in regards to governments versus abstract rights. He argues that politics are too subject to change to be based on stagnant abstract rights, yet he never actually makes it a point that politics must of necessity be this way. Somebody arguing against Burke only need point out that perhaps the reason they changed so much is because they had no solid basis other than tradition on which to rest; perhaps, if based upon something unchanging such as abstract rights, the issue of the changing nature of politics would be no more.