Zientkowski’s foreword to *Nietzsche and the Nazis*

Dr. Przemysław Zientkowski’s foreword to the Polish edition of my Nietzsche and the Nazis, translated into English. A PDF version is here, and the HTML version follows.

Foreword to the Polish edition of Stephen Hicks’s Nietzsche and the Nazis

By Przemysław Zientkowski, Ph.D.

nn-polish-cover-frontHistory teaches us that in politics—in order to reinforce the message, achieve the set goals and eventually justify all actions, including bloody terror—stable theoretical foundations are indispensable. People, when individually fed with ideas, will feel inward opposition to practical activities that are incomprehensible to them; put in opposition to the “authorities”, they will change their minds quickly and give in to manipulation. The authorities also often remain unaware of their role of cogs in a great machine of oppression, when, often posthumously, their ideas are interpreted according to a new and different reality and squeezed into stiff and tight frames of political doctrines or systems that are sometimes extremely different from their outlooks.

One of the more vivid examples is that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who bears the stigma of being the French Revolution’s initiator and, at the same time, its opponent. As Louis Philip points out in his diaries, the most zealous opponents of the great revolution in France and its advocates both admit unanimously that it was prepared for and led to by the works of Raynal, de Mably, Voltaire, and especially Rousseau[1].rousseau-ramsay The person of Rousseau is of particular importance since it allows us to point out certain light-heartedness in the author of The Joyful Wisdom. More than once did Nietzsche accuse Rousseau of preparing the revolutionary ideology, branding him severely as an impeller of the bloodiest farce that ever touched humankind. It is ironic, though, that not even half a century later Nietzsche himself became a victim of a perversity of history and was called an impeller of much bloodier, much more powerful “farce” that broke out 150 years after French Revolution.

The question of the role of Friedrich Nietzsche philosophy in the rise of Nazism has been asked many a time. It is undoubtedly the aftermath of propaganda activities that used the philosopher’s authority to support the origins and the functioning of the Third Reich[2]. While among the enthusiasts of National Socialism and Adolph Hitler himself there were only few philosophers, it is assumed that they justified the very fact of the existence of some theoretical, more specifically philosophical, foundations of the sinister ideology—the doctrine that could be inscribed into the strategy of creating the cult of German spirit and race.young-heidegger Martin Heidegger’s suggestive interpretation of Nietzsche works contributed much to its development, which not once led to mistaken identification of philosophy of the author of Beyond Good and Evil with Heidegger’s Nazi opinions, along with the manipulation of some facts from philosopher’s life.

It seems that appropriating of philosopher’s was provoked by his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Undoubtedly, she was motivated to use her brother’s philosophy because of her own unfulfilled ambitions.[3]

Nazi propaganda needed national heroes—geniuses like Friedrich Nietzsche. As a result, even though Hitler was not a special admirer of the author of Ecce Homo, he decided to recognize him as a symbol, one that might arise and reinforce religious feelings in people.[4] Symbolically “incorporating” posthumously the philosopher into the ranks of the nsdap-cover-full, in 1934 Adolph Hitler presided over the Weimar celebration of the 90th anniversary of philosopher’s birthday. After this celebration, one could find in all SS barracks a poster with a famous slogan from Nietzsche: “Praised be the one who makes us tough”. Another symbolic episode was lodging a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the crypt under the monument in Tannenberg, along with copies of The Myth of the Twentieth Century by Alfred Rosenberg and Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler.[5] A year later the Führer, as a guest of honor, was present at the funeral of the thinker’s sister. Consequently, in the after-war period, in legal and scientific circles—but mostly among philosophers—it was claimed that the aim of Nietzschean philosophy was to strengthen Nazi theory.[6]

However, there then appeared the first differences when interpreting the philosopher’s attitude, which later triggered a number of conflicts. There are the famous opinions of the main Nazi theoretician who said straightforwardly that “Nietzsche was an enemy of socialism, enemy of nationalism and an enemy of the race concept”; and an appalled professor Arthur Drews, in his article “Nietzsche als Philosoph des Nationalsozialismus?”, called the author of Beyond Good and Evil “an enemy of Germany and anything that is German”, “an individualist whose thought was contradictory to socialism”, and “an author who gave the Jews a visible place in his philosophy of politics”[7].BGE A number of works directly charge the philosopher with responsibility. One can mention E. Barker’s Nietzsche and Trietschke: The Worship of Power in Modern Germany or Polish manuscripts by S. Rozmaryn, U źródeł faszyzmu. Fryderyk Nietzsche.

It is just the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the most tragic event—the war started by the Nazis—and there are still arguments over the treatment of the reputation of the author of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. On the one side are those accusing him of initiating Nazis ideas, and on the other side are those recognizing in him the one who, observing the convulsions of the falling German nation, diagnosed accurately what it would lead to.

There are no doubts that the book by Professor Stephen R.C. Hicks, whose Polish edition has just been published by Fuhrmann Foundation Publishing House, is a perfect part of the discourse. The author proves that the apotheosis of war in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy is not in the least his admiration of pure militarism. There is no shadow of doubt that Nietzsche described his own “war philosophy”. Exaggeratedly, in a very bold statement, we can call in this way the part of his literary output which refers to military conflicts.nietzsche-uniform-1864 Making an attempt to relate Nietzsche’s philosophy to one of the versions of fascism, which undoubtedly was a formal ideology of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), Hicks characterizes Nazism in such a way that it is at least partially congruent with the output of the author of The Dawn. There is no question that “something” of Nietzsche’s opinions can be consistent with Nazis theory. However, this “something”—more than misinterpreted “willpower”—will not in the least be the incitement to vile actions, for which Germany became infamous during World War II.

The author justly emphasizes that National Socialism, as described in detail by Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf, was not a philosophical doctrine in the strict sense. It was not an ideological system but a collage of various outlooks that together made up a goal, which was to take revenge for the lost war and a Treaty of Versailles that was unfair to Germany.hitler-fuhrer-full The concept was a conglomeration of views dating back to Old Germanic times—just like the leadership idea[8], the nineteenth-century theories of reborn neo-paganism, to irrationalism, collectivism, autocratic, and anti-liberal ideologies. In addition, the omnipresent spirit of Romanticism was forcing the primacy of feelings over reason, community over individuality, and nature over civilization. It was connected with pursuing freedom of national character, omnipresent myths about blood and race, along with admitting that the status of individuality is contractual, which resulted in rejecting the right to exist of “lower units”. Attempts to replace former names of national elements (population, area) with newspeak such as “living space” or “national collectivity”, the cult of Aryan race—and eventually social Darwinism, mass anti-Semitism, and bloody extermination policy. All those features cumulated in an immoral, sinister ideology of National Socialism, which resulted in its final product—war to an extent not known before, fought with an incredible momentum—both towards enemy soldiers as well as their women, children, and the elderly. A war, the assumed goals of which—“high and lofty”—even back then must have seemed unattainable. nn-front-cover-150px

How was this machine of terror triggered? How was philosophy involved? How much fault belongs to Nietzsche? That is what this book is about.

Przemysław Zientkowski, Ph.D.
Chojnice, Poland


[1] Compare Ludwik Filip, Pamiętniki z czasów Wielkiej Rewolucji, translated by W. Dłuski, Warszawa 1988, p. 221.
[2] The most important are mentioned by Mirosław Żelazny. Those were Alfred Baeumler—author of such papers as: Nietzsche der Philosoph und Politiker (1937), Nietzsche als politischer Erzieher (1935), Nietzsche und der National Sozialismus (1939), Heinrich Härtle—author of a well-known dissertation Nietzsche und der Nationalsozialismus (1937), and Alfred Rosenberg—author of Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930). A meaningful interpretation of Nietzsche’s works by Martin Heidegger causes the thoughts of the two thinkers often to be identified. More about that in M. Żelazny, Nietzsche. Ten wielki wzgardziciel, Torun 2007, pp. 206-220.
[3] In spite of her brother’s strong disagreement, she married Bernhard Förster, who already in the Wilhelmine era became famous as a zealous advocate of anti-Semitism. As a result of his racist activities, he was forced to leave Germany. Together with his wife he went to Paraguay to settle there a neo-German racist colony. The undertaking proved to be unsuccessful and ended with Bernhard’s suicide in 1889. Desperate and full of hatred towards those people because of whom her husband killed himself, Elisabeth returned to Germany and took care of her seriously ill brother. Soaked with the ideas her had husband defended until the end of his life, she never stopped implementing them in life.
[4] Thomas Mittmann claims that it was then that Hitler suggested erecting the philosopher’s monument in Weimar, on which he spent 50 thousand marks. It signifies the great respect the Führer had for the philosopher. Compare T. Mittmann, Vom ‘Günstling’ zum ‘Urfeind’ der Juden. Die antisemitische Nietzsche – Rezeption in Deutschland bis zum Ende des Nationalsozialismus, Würzburg 2006, p. 103.
[5] B. Taureck, Nietzsche und der Faschismus. Eine Studie über Nietzsches politische Philosophie und ihre Folgen, Hamburg 1989, p. 80.
[6] Although there is no doubt that the Nazis’ appropriating Nietzsche was based on selective reading, often manipulated and out of context, one cannot deny that some elements assimilated by Nazis were actually present in Nietzsche philosophy. At least, this is what the Nuremberg Tribunal admitted when symbolically accusing Fichte, Hegel, as well as Nietzsche. According to Rosa Sala Rose, in the prosecution’s opening speech, the French prosecutor Francis de Menton, emphasizing that it was not his intention to connect Nietzsche philosophy with brutal primitivism of Nazism, still claimed that “Nietzsche is among those ancestors to whom Nazism justly refers to as it was him who first compactly criticized values of humanism, and besides his vision of dominance of people gifted with unlimited power over masses announced Nazi regime. (…) Morality of immorality, the consequence of the purest Nietzsche’s doctrines admits destruction of each and every conventional morality as human’s most important duty”. Compare. R.S. Rose, Krytyczny słownik mitów i symboli nazizmu, transl. Z. Jakubowska, A Rurarz, Warsaw 2006, p. 166.
[7] A. Drews, Nietzsche als Philosoph des Nationalsozialismus?, “Nordische Stimmen“, 1934, pp. 172-179. Cited after R. Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, Cambridge 1999, p. 300.
[8] It has its legal and political justification: “Nazism in the nation theory meant breaking up with a concept of legal positivism, in which the standard of conduct is law. Carl Schmidt claimed that sovereignty of authorities’ decision is above law. Since the political act is more important than legal standards, the leader is not any more restricted in his actions. In a Nazi country the leader’s will is a law”. J.Derek, Nazizm [in:] M. Siwiec (ed.) Słownik myśli społeczno-politycznej, Bielsko-Biała 2004, p. 450.

[More information here about the editions and translations of Nietzsche and the Nazis.]

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Cineas and the meaning of life

PyrrhusPyrrhus, the great Greek general, is off to conquer the world — Italy, Sicily, Libya, Carthage, and beyond. Cineas, his eloquent adviser and ambassador, asks him: What will you do after you conquer the world? Pyrrhus answers that he will take his ease. Cineas replies, Then why not take your ease now?

Paraphrasing from Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, pp. 337-ff.

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Double insult — Rousseau and the French

Trevor-RoperHugh Trevor-Roper was known for his biting polemical style. In a youthful fellowship essay he described Rousseau’s Confessions this way:

“a lucid journal of a life so utterly degraded that it has been a bestseller in France ever since.”[1]

Of course, Confessions has also sold well in the English-speaking world (I see at least eight editions available at Amazon), as well as in other languages.

Even so, one must admire a good two-birds-one-stone zinger when one comes across it.

[1] Quoted in Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography, Axios Press, 2012, p. 370.

rousseau-houdon-louvreRelated at this site:
Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment. Rousseau’s collectivism and statism. Rousseau and the French Revolution. Rousseau’s five children and Who is the most loathsome philosopher in history?

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Two high-profile plagiarism cases — and two questions

Chris Hedges and Slavoj Žižek.

bart-simpson-plagiarizeFirst question: If you’re a leftist, is plagiarism a bad thing? Left philosophy tends to argue that “knowledge” is a social product, that individuals are products of social circumstances, what’s yours is mine, and so on.

Second question: WTF? These are both smart guys. They know they can think for themselves and crank out lots of words. So why on earth would they do it?

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Kostyło on postmodern dialectic of social care

P.Kostylo (2)A fascinating article by a Polish philosopher, Professor Piotr Kostyło of the University of Casimir the Great. (Courtesy of the publisher, here is a PDF of Kostyło’s article.)

Kostyło notes that this generation of postmodern thinkers seems to have turned against state-provided welfare programs. The usual left-right debate over welfare is between those who argue that welfare spending is inadequate and should be increased and those who argue that it incentivizes bad behavior and should be reformed. So the postmodern position is interesting because it is radically different.

Michel Foucault and Lech Witkowski are taken as representatives of postmodernism, whose “clear message” is that “the weakness of social care is not this or that institution or feature of the people engaged in it; its fundamental weakness is the very fact that it exists and is still maintained.”[34, italics added] foucault-hands

So a question: How did the postmoderns, who typically are on the left politically and so, one might expect, should be in favor of expansive government, come to reject the government provision of social welfare?

Kostyło then tells an intellectual-history story that begins in the Enlightenment, one key feature of which was a belief in human progress, including the belief that poverty was not a normal or inevitable state but rather a solvable problem. But, Kostyło argues, the Enlightenment came in two major versions, the British and the Continental, and each version sought to solve the problem of poverty differently.

The British approach (Kostyło highlights Lord Shaftesbury and Adam Smith) was more empirical, experimental, and individualist. By contrast, the Continental (Kostyło highlights Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot) was more rationalist, theory-driven, and collectivized.

The philosophical differences drove dramatic differences in practice. For the British, the issue was not, abstractly, “the problem of poverty” but, particularly, “the poor person.” The right action was not a generalized, one-size-fits-all recipe but an individualized and personalized effort tailored to the particular circumstances.[35] As a result, the British tried many approaches experimentally.

By contrast, the Continental-French approach focused on “something abstract — the common good of humanity.” Kostyło quotes Rousseau’s articulation of this principle in Émile. While compassion and pity may properly motivate care for the poor, Rousseau argued that:rousseau-rock

“To prevent pity from degenerating into weakness, it must, therefore be generalised and extended to the whole of mankind … For the sake of reason, for the sake of love of ourselves, we must have pity for our species still more than for our neighbour.”[36]

From Rousseau to the French postmodernists such as Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard is a story that unfolds over 200 years, and Kostyło sketches how the abstract theory in practice led to the impersonal, bureaucratized, top-down behemoth that has both failed to improve the lot of the poor, demoralized those who work in the system, and alienated its intellectual advocates — as well as those who, like the postmodernists, now want to reject the behemoth totally.

As a step in the direction of reform, Kostyło rightly points out that intellectual reform is the first step, and he accordingly calls for a re-consideration of the British Enlightenment — especially he calls for Continental thinkers to consider it seriously, as the British Enlightenment is much less known on the continent.

Kostyło tells the story smartly and compactly, along the way covering Marx, Hegel, the Frankfurt School, and Gertrude Himmelfarb. I recommend the article to you for the details.

Piotr Kostyło. 2011. “Postmodern Dialectic of Social Care.” Social Problems in Polish Pedagogy after 1989, Bydgoszcz, Wydawnictwo UKW, s. 32-46. With permission from the publisher, here is a PDF of Professor Kostyło’s article.

My Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Book information page at my site or the book via Amazon.

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Filosofia e um Século de Guerra

Filosofia e um Século de Guerra

Stephen R. C. Hicks
(Tradução e revisão de Matheus Pacini.)

A filosofia tem uma reputação de ser abstrata e difícil: o que pode certamente ser. Ela possui, também, uma reputação por não ser prática: o que é mentira. Hoje, então, quero lhe dar uma razão para acreditar que a filosofia faz diferença no mundo em que vivemos.

war-shEm primeiro lugar, vamos considerar o século XX, que foi um século de guerras. Aqui está um lista das principais guerras do século XX:

1º Guerra Mundial – começou em 1914 e terminou em 1918.

2º Guerra Mundial – começou em 1939 e terminou em 1945.

O que essas duas guerras têm em comum é que a maioria das grandes potências mundiais estava envolvida, e que muitas pessoas morreram.

A Guerra Fria é geralmente datada de 1947 a 1991, com o colapso da União Soviética. Às vezes, é datada de 1946, com o famoso discurso de Churchill sobre a “Cortina de Ferro”.

A Guerra da Coréia – começou em 1950 e terminou em 1953.

Logo depois, a Guerra do Vietnã, que certamente permanece na mente dos norte-americanos, de 1959 até 1975.

Próximo passo: considerar quem lutou em cada uma dessas guerras.

Vamos voltar à 1º Guerra Mundial. Do lado dos Aliados, nós temos a Grã-Bretanha. Nós temos a França. Com a Grã-Bretanha, temos a participação da maioria dos países da Comunidade Britânica (Commonwealth): Canadá, Índia, Nova Zelândia e assim por diante. Um pouco mais tarde, os Estados Unidos entra no conflito.

Do outro lado, temos as chamadas Potências do Eixo. Lideradas pela Alemanha, temos o Império Austro-húngaro e, mais a leste, o Império Turco ou Otomano.

2ª Guerra Mundial: novamente, de um lado temos a Grã-Bretanha, a maioria dos países da Comunidade Britânica (Commonwealth) e os Estados Unidos. De outro lado, novamente, temos a Alemanha e, dessa vez, seus aliados são a Itália e, mais a leste, o Japão.[1]

Seguimos para a Guerra Fria, que se estendeu por muitos anos na segunda parte do século XX. Os dois países em conflito são os Estados Unidos e a União Soviética (URSS).

Avançamos para a Guerra da Coréia, que começou em 1950. Essa guerra é entre a Coréia do Norte, com apoio de bastidores e, às vezes, explícito da China e da União Soviética. Do outro lado, temos a Coréia do Sul, explicitamente aliada aos Estados Unidos.

Agora focamos na Guerra do Vietnã. Aqui, novamente, temos o norte contra o sul. O Vietnã do Norte, com apoio da China e da União Soviética. O Vietnã do Sul, com o apoio dos Estados Unidos.

Agora, vamos considerar os países do lado esquerdo da lista – isto é, aqueles que foram e ainda são aliados no decorrer do século XX – e pergunto: “Que tipo de sistema político-econômico utilizam?”

war-alliesDesse lado, os países são: Estados Unidos, Grã-Bretanha, Canadá, Austrália, Nova Zelândia, França e assim por diante. O que eles têm em comum é defendem o sistema capitalista de livre mercado e são democráticos e republicanos.

Agora, vamos considerar as nações do lado direito da lista. A Alemanha, em 1914, era um império autoritário, da mesma forma que o Império Austro-húngaro e o Império Otomano. war-axisNo advento da 2ª Guerra Mundial, a Alemanha era um regime nacional socialista. Sua aliada, a Itália, era um regime fascista, e o sistema político japonês naquela época era um regime militarista, autoritário.

Se nos focarmos na Guerra Fria, o principal inimigo dos Estados Unidos é a União Soviética. Essa é uma guerra – “fria” – todavia de influência global, e a União Soviética é um regime comunista ou um regime internacional socialista.

Se nos focarmos na Guerra da Coréia, a Coréia do Norte queria se tornar comunista e estava sendo apoiada pela China e pela União Soviética.

Seguimos para a Guerra do Vietnã, que começou em 1959 e se intensificou na década de 1960. O Vietnã do Norte queria se tornar comunista e estava, novamente, recebendo apoio da China Comunista e da União Soviética.

Em poucas palavras: o que temos é, de um lado, um grupo de países mais ou menos comprometidos com o capitalismo de livre mercado e formas de governo democráticas e republicanas. Do outro lado, temos um grupo de países mais ou menos comprometidos com formas de governo autoritárias, nacional-socialistas, internacional-socialistas, também conhecidas como formas de governo comunistas e/ou fascistas.

Agora, vamos refletir sobre a teoria do capitalismo de livre-mercado, democracia e republicanismo: quem são os grandes nomes, do ponto de vista intelectual, por trás do desenvolvimento e defesa dos princípios teóricos envolvidos nesse tipo de sistema político-econômico?

johnlockeObviamente, muitos nomes podem ser mencionados, mas três dos mais importantes nesse quesito são John Locke, Adam Smith e John Stuart Mill. Coloco os três no mesmo patamar. John Locke é famoso por seu forte argumento baseados nos direitos naturais em prol de um sistema político democrático/republicano de livre mercado.adam-smith-50px John Stuart Mill é famoso por seu argumento utilitário em prol de um tipo de sociedade liberal capitalista. Adam Smith, é claro, é o grande nome envolvido no desenvolvimento da primeira geração de economistas de livre mercado com a sua obra A Riqueza das Nações, publicado em 1776.

Agora, vamos refletir sobre o outro lado. Quando pensamos no socialismo, comunismo e outrasmarx-50x61 formas mais autoritárias de governo, quais são os grandes nomes, do ponto de vista intelectual, que estão associados ao desenvolvimento daquelas ideias no mundo moderno? Novamente, muitos nomes podem ser mencionados, mas três dos mais importantes a serem mencionados são Georg Hegel, Karl Marx e Friedrich Nietzsche.nietzsche_50x57 Hegel escreveu na primeira metade do século XIX, Marx escreveu na metade do século XIX e Friedrich Nietzsche escreveu na parte final do século XIX.

Agora, façamos a seguinte pergunta: O que John Locke, Adam Smith e John Stuart Mill têm em comum? Duas coisas. Os três são ingleses e os três são filósofos. Os três são parte de um grande movimento de intelectuais que dominaram a filosofia e a vida cultural britânica – e, consequentemente, daquelas nações que foram influenciadas por ela – no início do século XVII até o final do século XIX.

Agora, vamos fazer a mesma pergunta para o outro grupo: O que Georg Hegel, Karl Marx e Friedrich Nietzsche têm em comum? Os três são intelectuais alemães e os três são, novamente, filósofos. Karl Marx, é claro, é muito conhecido por ser um economista e um filósofo político, mas seu PhD foi em filosofia, e ele desenvolveu uma filosofia para fundamentar seu sistema político-econômico. A formação de Friedrich Nietzsche foi em filologia clássica, mas ele é mais famoso por seu trabalho filosófico que trata de vários aspectos da vida.

É por tudo isso que a filosofia importa. Para compreender a história do século XX com todas as suas guerras é necessário destacar a importância dos debates filosóficos que ocorreram nos séculos anteriores. Por um lado, temos um grupo de nações que adotaram e aplicaram o tipo de sistema filosófico desenvolvido por Locke, Smith, Mill e outros intelectuais. Em oposição a ele, temos um grupo de nações que adotaram um sistema político baseado nos trabalhos filosóficos de intelectuais alemães do século XIX tais como Hegel, Marx e Nietzsche.war-chart-full

No decorrer dos séculos XVIII e XIX, ocorreu um debate filosófico aberto sobre várias questões – e, em grande parte, os filósofos britânicos e alemães seguiram caminhos distintos.

Nos países onde a filosofia britânica foi adotada, instituições políticas democráticas e republicanas, de livre mercado, se desenvolveram. Nos países onde a filosofia alemã foi adotada, tipos de sistemas mais socialistas, comunistas e autoritários assumiram o controle. A filosofia foi traduzida em prática politicamente, e esses sistemas políticos opostos então se digladiaram repetidamente ao longo do século XX.

John Maynard Keynes certa vez disse: “Homens práticos, que se acreditam isentos de qualquer influência intelectual, costumam ser escravos de algum economista já falecido”.[2]

É verdade, John Maynard Keynes. Homens práticos são quase sempre influenciados por intelectuais e, especialmente, economistas.

Mas me permita distorcer um pouco essa citação e dizer que atrás dos economistas e dos filósofos políticos estão os filósofos. No longo prazo, a filosofia, quando aplicada, a filosofia sempre faz a diferença.

* * *

[1] See my “More on philosophy and war: the Soviets in WW II” for why I did not include the Soviet Union in either list for WW II.
[2] John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Chapter 24.

Fonte: Original post in English. Original video at Youtube and StephenHicks.org. PDF of this Portuguese translation.

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Why are philosophers stupid about politics?

In a portrait of the philosopher George Santayana, literary essayist Joseph Epstein asks a question about philosophers:

“What is it about the study of philosophy that tends to make brilliant minds stupid when it comes down to what are known as actual cases? Consider Martin Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the four great names in twentieth-century philosophy: the first was a Nazi, the second died certain that America was responsible for all the world’s evil, the third was a Stalinist long after any justification for being so could be adduced, and the fourth lived on the borders of madness most of his life. Contemplation of the lives of philosophers is enough to drive one to the study of sociology.”[1]

That list gives one pause. Thoughts?

Source: Joseph Epstein, Essays in Biography, Axios Press, 2012, p. 52.

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How great artists become great — Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky

From Igor Stravinky’s Autobiography:

“For me, as a creative musician, composition is a daily function that I feel compelled to discharge. I compose because I am made for that and cannot do otherwise.Stravinsky,I Just as any organ atrophies unless kept in a state of constant activity, so the faculty of composition becomes enfeebled and dulled unless kept up by effort and practice. The uninitiated imagine that one must await inspiration in order to create. That is a mistake. I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspiration; quite the opposite. It is found as a driving force in every kind of human activity, and is in no wise peculiar to artists. But that force is only brought into action by an effort, and that effort is work.”

Stravinsky quotes Tchaikovsky from one of his letters: “Since I begantchaikovsky-kuznetsov-200x261 to compose I have made it my object to be, in my craft, what the most illustrious masters were in theirs; that is to say, I wanted to be, like them, an artisan, just as a shoemaker is …. [They] composed their immortal works exactly as a shoemaker makes shoes; that is to say, day in, day out, and for the most part to order.”

How great artists become great (Michelangelo, Beethoven).
More on how great artists become great (Liszt).
Yet more on how great artists become great (Rodin).

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