Path: news.trends.ca!hub.org!fu-berlin.de!howland.erols.net!Supernews73!supernews.com!Supernews69!not-for-mail From: email@example.com (Halsey) Newsgroups: soc.culture.jewish.holocaust Subject: Goldhagen revisited Date: 11 Feb 1998 05:03:22 GMT Organization: All USENET -- http://www.Supernews.com Lines: 549 Approved: firstname.lastname@example.org Message-ID: <email@example.com> NNTP-Posting-Host: firstname.lastname@example.org Xref: news.trends.ca soc.culture.jewish.holocaust:2286 It is interesting to discover the scholarly critique of Goldhagen's book parallels so much of the criticism of it expressed in this newsgroup. This article can be found on the Jewish Communication Network http://www.jcn18.com/newstand/Neusner/hatehun.htm and I invite you to do so! Greetings Ruth Hype, Hysteria, and Hate the Hun The latest pseudo-scholarship from Harvard Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. N.Y., 1996: Knopf. 622 pp. $30. By Jacob Neusner A revised doctoral dissertation accepted for the Ph. D. at Harvard University in the field of Political Science, this hysterical book, full of pseudo-scholarship and bad arguments, calls into question the scholarly integrity of Harvard's doctorate. For the three named Doktorvater, Stanley Hoffmann, Peter Hall, and Sidney Verba, have accepted as a contribution to learning what in fact adds up to little more than a rehash of familiar anti-German prejudices, dressed up with a year of archival research on some special cases and problems. The work makes a classic error, by treating examples as proof of something beyond themselves. Goldhagen has once more documented the well-known fact that Nazism was wildly popular in National Socialist Germany. Who has doubted it for the last five decades? But then he has asked the world to conclude that Germany as a nation, through the whole of its history, practiced crypto-Nazism; Germany is singled out as uniquely anti-Semitic and possessed of an "eliminationist," "exterminationist" culture through all eternity. So Goldhagen's cases now are represented as probative of the character of German culture, as though conduct in the National Socialist period flowed naturally and inexorably out of a long history, to which Nazism wrote a mere footnote. Lest readers suppose I exaggerate the intellectual vulgarity, the sheer bigotry, of the matter, let me turn to specifics. Goldhagen's thesis is: "In the middle ages and the early modern period, without question until the Enlightenment, German society was thoroughly anti-Semitic," and, consequently, the Holocaust testifies not to the work of a single generation but to the worth of an entire country. Goldhagen never asks whether or not the same statement applies, too, to Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Rumania, Hungary, Austria, and numerous other territories in Europe. But everyone knows that it does. That is why, formulated in terms of a particular country as sinful beyond all others, such a statement about a particular "race" on the face of it is racist: the condemnation of an entire culture, people, and nation must be treated no differently. Let us not mince words: this is a book nourished by, and meant to provoke, hatred of Germany. Were its topic the Jewish people, its method--give a few cases, in a special situation, to characterize the whole in all times and places--would qualify for out-of-hand rejection as naked anti-Semitism of a gross and repulsive, intellectually contemptible, order. In my view, anti-Germanism differs in no important way. Right after the war the German message came through loud and clear: "We knew nothing, we saw nothing, we heard nothing, it was all done in secret." Nobody today entertains that proposition, which was self-serving and deceitful. No one claims that Germany before Hitler knew no anti-Semitism with the rest of Europe, important elements in German society--the clergy, the army, the universities for example, among many--maintained bitterly-anti-Semitic attitudes and adopted anti-Semitism as a philosophy and a program. But the same attitudes flourished everywhere else, and Goldhagen does not even pretend to undertake the work of comparison and contrast that would have rendered his thesis plausible. I have heard survivors of concentration camps debate with greater rationality and reason on whether Auschwitz was "worse" than Treblinka, or Buchenwald than Dachau. What Goldhagen asks us to believe is that Germany was uniquely anti-Semitic. Then, to prove his point, he simply ignores that anti-Semitism was an international political phenomenon, on the one side, and insists that what happened in the National Socialist period can be explained only in continuity with pre-Hitler Germany. That is a considerable claim, and one that, in my view, Goldhagen not only does not, but cannot, substantiate. For the work of comparison and contrast--German anti-Semitism in the National Socialist period compared with that prevalent it prior periods in German history, and, more important, German anti-Semitism contrasted with the anti-Semitism of other countries--simply is not done. But without comparison and contrast, all of Goldhagen's fulminations against German culture--a distinctively-German mode of Jew-hatred--lose all purchase on reality. That is why I find astonishing that so shoddy and poorly-argued a dissertation should have won for its writer the doctoral degree at Harvard University, a reputable center of learning, where, we surely have reason to expect, rigorous and critical learning, objective argument, above all the recognition that a case or an example on its own proves nothing, supposedly prevail. Essentially what we have is a set of allegations, with episodic evidence to illustrate them. But to allege is not to demonstrate. Only rigorous argument, resting on the formulation also of a counter-argument in a null-hypothesis, can serve. A single example suffices to show the quality of argument characteristic of the Goldhagen dissertation. I shall now prove, in his way, that Germany was and is less anti-Semitic than Poland, then and now.  When I was student-assistant to Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great theologian of Judaism, he told me that when, in the later 1930s, he took the train from Warsaw to Berlin, he always felt a sense of relief upon crossing the border from Poland into Germany. Poland, he said, pursued its anti-Semitic attitudes and policies far more bitterly and nastily than anything he experienced in National Socialist Germany, until he was expelled as a foreign national. And  if that does not prove the point, my own experience, wearing a skull cap in an international Roman Catholic religious processional in Warsaw in 1989 does: I found myself jeered, and, unless the bystanders were jeering Cardinal Glemp, walking beside me, I am sure it was because I was marked as a Jew (and a Rabbi!). In many visits to Germany, I never encountered such a thing. Not only so, but  in 1971 the Israeli ambassador to Austria told me that, in the National Socialist period, Austria was much more uniformly anti-Semitic than Germany. His words echo in my ear even now: "In every city in Germany, Jews survived, somewhere, somehow, with Christian help. But in Vienna, so far, we have are three stories that prove--in the manner of Goldhagen's interminable, but hardly probative, massing of evidence--that Poland was and is more anti-Semitic than Germany, and so was Austria. To accept such proof based on examples and random episodes, readers have, of course, to suspend not their critical capacities but their very power of reasoned judgment: to take two anecdotes as ample evidence. Those who wish to believe will believe. And so too with Goldhagen, who in a long and much-footnoted dissertation appeals to nothing more than the will to accept as scholarship was is nothing other than an indictment of an entire country and nearly the whole of its population. Nothing in the evidence or argument of this work proves commensurate to its thesis. But much in the work suggests that we have hate-the-Hun-propaganda masquerading as serious scholarship (including some rather murky writing that invokes commonplaces phrased in impenetrable social scientific jargon). Ordinarily a dissertation is supposed to tell us something we did not know. But Goldhagen's Harvard dissertation alleges as new the proposition, "ordinary Germans were animated by antisemitism, by a particular type of antisemitism that led them to conclude that the Jews ought to die a most significant...source of the perpetrators' actions." But who can find surprising such a commonplace, and from what history of anti-Semitism in this century is that observation omitted? Everyone knows that Germany harbored a long history of anti-Semitism. But so did France and England, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, Russia, and Rumania. It is a commonplace that German troops were welcomed by East European Jews as friends and liberators from the much more virulent and dangerous anti-Semitism of the collapsing Czarist regime (not to mention that which was to come under the Communists!). Everybody knows that German Jews fought and gave their lives for Germany; the pictures of German troops observing the Day of Atonement during the siege of Strassburg in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 are widely circulated (among many). While German Jews' love of German culture may have been unrequited, it also calls into question the notion that that culture at its foundations was pervasively and incurably and blatantly anti-Semitic. Matters were simply more complicated. But here German culture is represented as uniquely and incorrigibly and inexorably anti-Semitic. Does Goldhagen deny that all of Europe at the same time competed for honors in the Olympics of Jew-hatred. On which page? Germany is further alleged to have been characterized only or mainly by anti-Semitism, which is a gross misrepresentation of a complex and rich political culture. Let me (as a Harvard alumnus, class of 1954) show what I think takes place in this book by giving another case of the same mode of argument by appeal to a handful of examples--but now having to do with the standards of excellence demanded at Harvard for a doctoral dissertation. Ought we not to argue that the very corrupt character of intellectual life at Harvard University defines the precondition for the acceptance of such remarkably overblown rhetoric for a doctoral degree? Should we not speculate--with a suitable array of episodic examples to prove our case--that an institution full of ambitious, bitter, prestige-hungry, headline-hunting careerist, academic entrepreneurs alone can account for such a travesty of learning? Here is a Harvard professor and the Harvard-educated son of a Harvard professor--the very chosen, the elect, the prince of the realm: does he not reveal the quality of the entire aristocracy of scholarship that Harvard tells us it supplies to the USA? No, I do not think any reasonable person can agree that he does. But were we to mount such an argument and conduct such a speculation, then we should replicate the mode of argumentation that fills and disgraces the pages of this work. That is, lots of cases, but no comparison with the quality of work in Political Science at Chicago or Berkeley or Cologne or Frankfurt! So much for bad argument. But when we come to logic, Goldhagen's case proves still worse. For he maintains that, since the Germans in the National Socialist period perpetrated such monstrous deeds, as Goldhagen says, "its [the Holocaust's] commission was possible...because Germans had already been changed." Post hoc, ergo propter hoc! Because one event follows another, the earlier has caused the later. Goldhagen's very formulation ought to have embarrassed his teachers in elementary logic (if they still teach logic at Harvard). For surely his recapitulation of the simple logical fallacy described in the words, post hoc, ergo propter hoc, should have alerted his teachers. Everyone knows that causation is more complex and that explanation demands more nuanced and searching analysis. Raising an objection on the spot, some august dignitary ought to have asked, "Mr. Goldhagen, would you not agree with me that your argument consists of little more than the discredited, post hoc, ergo propter hoc!" That small but telling objection might have served to protect Harvard from the disgrace involved in its bestowing a doctorate on work of such pretension and violent emotion, a work lacking rigorous argument altogether. But then Goldhagen's one-sided and simple-minded characterization of German culture, not in the National Socialist period in particular, but over all time in general, must be set aside as simply lacking in all logical rigor. A generation ago the brilliant historian, Stephen Hackett Fisher wrote the classic, Historians' Fallacies, spelling out the stupidities of poor argument that make a laughing stock of historical scholarship. He owes us now a sequel, on political science. To exculpate Goldhagen's Harvard teachers, we must suppose that the three Doktorvater must have been sleeping on a long summer afternoon, when their young doctoral candidate (perhaps to wake them up, more likely just to impress them) insisted, "We must substantially rethink important aspects of German history," since no serious professor can expect a newcomer to the life of learning, however brazen, to establish himself with his first book as the revolutionary genius to reinvent a field of learning. And, as a matter of fact, the consensus now has established, Harvard's Dr. Goldhagen cannot take his place among the major historians of Germany, with his extreme and impressionistic judgment of pre-National Socialist Germany. For, unless at Harvard (where they exact deference for the opinions of the great professors and their sons) merely making an allegation serves as adequate proof for what is alleged, we must wonder why the responsible professors did not demand systematic and informed evidence and argument for that allegation. The book should contain numerous chapters of analysis of existing data on Pre-Nationalist Socialist German history and social life, notjust a shallow potted resume of standard textbook knowledge. Further, we must ask, where is the argument to the contrary, the null-hypothesis to test the hypothesis against contrary data, that any serious social scientist will require as part of the presentation of a solemn dissertation? And enough said to remove the work from the shelves of reputable social science, which prefers testing a hypothesis to merely shouting it long and loud enough to prevail. Yet another massive failure in a work claiming to describe German culture awaits attention. If as Goldhagen insists, Germany was permanently poisoned by an indelible heritage of anti-Semitism, then how do account for the Germany that from 1945 has taken its place as a major power in world culture? Everyone knows that of all the countries that were party to the Holocaust, those most guilty, the Germans, also have most thoroughly addressed the Holocaust, repaired such damage as could be remedied, and undertaken to build for themselves a political culture as free of racism and anti-Semitism as exists in the world today. No country has done more to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, and none makes a more systematic effort to educate new generations in those lessons. France has yet to address the complicity of its own government in the Holocaust; its police, not German ones, rounded up the Jews. The Netherlands produced out of its population a higher proportion of Nazi Party members than any country in Europe. Everyone knows that the USSR denied the Jews even the manifest right to claim they had been singled out for special handling. Austria happily calls itself Hitler's first victim, as though no one saw the movies of the wild reception Vienna gave him in the Anschluss. In all of Europe, as Judith Miller showed in her One by One by One, only Germany has frankly examined its past, expiated its built through acts of genuine atonement, and acknowledged its enduring shame, much as we Americans acknowledge the enduring shame of slavery That is why the new Germany also has built upon granite foundations uncovered in the hidden heritage of the old, a heritage that survived the National Socialist period. After all, Adenauer was a German, but Hitler, an Austrian (once more to argue from a single case!). True, the damage done by the National Socialist period to the enduring institutions of the country required long decades for reconstruction; in my experience at Tuebingen, Frankfurt, and Goettingen I learned that the universities have not fully recovered. But Germany in a half-century overall has accomplished that reconstruction. It has acknowledged its heritage of shame, but it has removed from its shoulders the burden of guilt for deeds that the current generation did not do and would not repeat and has repudiated in every possible way. Now how are we to explain that fact--which even Goldhagen acknowledges, if grudgingly, in a sentence or so? For if Germany were as Goldhagen wishes us to think it was, irremediably, irrevocably tainted at the very roots of its culture and politics, then whence the sources for regeneration and renewal that, manifestly, have found ample nourishment in the country and its culture from 1945? I do not think we can explain Germany from 1945 onward without uncovering in pre-National Socialist Germany--whether in 1848, whether in Weimar--alongside the abundant sources of murderous political culture. The consensus of learning has concluded that National Socialism competed with other political traditions, vanquished them, and ruined Germany. That seems to me a much more plausible picture than Goldhagen's, which, if adopted, leaves us unable to make sense of today's Germany. Here too, then, a reputable university doctoral committee would expect to read Goldhagen's well-researched, carefully-reflected-upon discussion of the competing political traditions of a complex society; they would want to press the candidate to account for National Socialist success in other ways, besides the way he has taken, which is to indict a country and its culture in such a manner as to leave inexplicable its entire history beyond the war. If Germany were the reprobate, retrograde culture that Goldhagen says it is, then how are we to explain the character of German youth today? I miss the chapters on that problem in his long discourse. If this were a dissertation in political science, then the problems of analysis of continuity and change would have replaced the (truly depressing) narratives of cases and episodes. Goldhagen appears to have presented his dissertation to the wrong department. But why the department secretary did not send him to the right building no one knows. That is why it is not enough for Goldhagen to present chapters on pre-National Socialist anti-Semitism. As I said, he has also to tell us about the same anti-Semitism elsewhere and about the Germany that, while characteristically anti-Semitic, won the loyalty of its Jewish citizens and saw them reach the highest levels of society, whether Bleichroeder with Bismarck, or Warburg and Rathenau in Weimar. Goldhagen has taken a complex country and represented it in a simple and one-sided way. That is why he cannot explain what happened before and after National Socialist times and why to make his case he must ignore what was happening in that same period in other countries. In 1920 few predicted what would happen two decades later, and those who did--the visionary Zionist, Jabotinsky, for instance,--warned of mass murders not in Germany but in Poland. The country he wanted to evacuate first was not Germany but Poland. National Socialism drew upon one deep source of European culture; anti-Semitism was general and international, not particular to Germany. The success of National Socialism--so historians except Goldhagen concur--marked a special situation and not the inevitable outcome of the general traits of German, and only German, culture. And that special situation was indeed brought about by a particular concatenation of events and personalities that brought the Nazis to power in Germany. Then they did turn the entire enterprise of the country to their purposes, staining the future history of the country--but only in that measure that future generations would affirm and continue Nazism. But they have condemned and outlawed it. To treat Germany as the sole venue for "eliminationist anti-Semitism" requires us to ignore the rest of Europe, on the one side, and to dismiss as an important basis for explaining what happened the actualities of the National Socialists and their history from World War I onward: a special case, to be explained within the framework of its time and place, not a remote times. In this context, we must wonder, what of the systematic destruction of Judaism by the Communists in exactly the same time? For while they preserved the Orthodox Church to serve their purposes, they rooted out the practice of Judaism in the USSR as thoroughly as Germany would hunt down and kill Jews. How does anti-Judaism fit into the picture? In my view, it complicates matters, and so is best omitted to make the case Goldhagen wishes to make. Rehearsing dreadful, but familiar cases of brutality beyond all rational purpose, Goldhagen sets forth as his thesis that "eliminationist antisemitic German political culture...was the prime mover of both the Nazi leadership and ordinary Germans in the persecution and extermination of the Jews and therefore was the Holocaust's principal cause." Framed in that way, the thesis emerges as both unexceptionable and also unexceptional; no one can find it surprising. For two generations, now, the argument, "we heard nothing, we knew nothing, we saw nothing," which I heard in Frankfurt in 1953 as a young Oxford student come to see with my own eyes the people who had done such things. Today's Germans know better. What goes wrong, then, is that, along the way, the thesis of Germans' broad and enthusiastic complicity in mass murder extends its reach and turns into an indictment of an entire country and its history and culture, as though National Socialism were the inevitable outcome instead of a special situation. It is to that incubus, taking over what is otherwise a perfectly ordinary historical narrative, that I strenuously object. My objection is because the dissertation proves much less than it alleges. It demonstrates that Nazism penetrated into the deepest layers of German life, that many Germans, at some points surely a majority, supported the National Socialists, and that Germany in that time united in support of its leader's program. But the dissertation then does not prove what it sets out to demonstrate, which is the inevitability of the Holocaust in Germany and no where else, the peculiar traits of German life and culture rendering Germany the unique and sole venue for such an event. As I said, a dissertation meant to prove that point would have included long and thorough studies aimed at the international comparison of anti-Semitism, in theory and in practice, in culture and in politics, in all of the countries that adopted that philosophy as a principal medium for social organization and expression, not just Germany. Why then has so obviously meretricious and shoddy a piece of research gotten for its author not only a Harvard doctorate but also a huge audience? For we have to explain not only the work but also its remarkable reception. Part of the answer derives from the sheer genius of Knopf as a mass-marketer, its power through heavy advertising to secure prominent reviews in prominent bastions of opinion-mongering. But the book gains its notoriety not so much from its medium as from its message. To frame that message, let me cite a saying I heard from my grandmother, who came to the USA at the end of the nineteenth century from Volhynia Province in Belarus. In her homely Jewish language, she would say, "Oifn yenems tuchus iz gut zu schmeisen," that is, it is a pleasure to beat up on someone else's behind. And whose better than Germany's! The market for this book is comprised by those many people, who simple answers to complex questions, who would rather blame Germany than explain an entire civilization poisoned by Jew-hatred; who would rather explain the Holocaust away as a mere chapter in German culture than explain it in such a way as to account for its unique qualities within the history of humanity. The counterpart, in the USA, represents the South as uniquely racist, when, in fact, racism against blacks marks every region, while the South, for its part, like Germany in its context, today forthrightly confronts and deals with its special heritage of black chattel-slavery, segregation, and economic subordination. This is a let's-be-beastly-to-the-Boche book, and that explains its commercial success. Without the emotionalism, the sweeping anger, the righteous indignation at the deeds of dreadful people (then, and who knows about now?), this book would have sold its allotted 5,000 copies and gone into oblivion. For it changes no accepted views and establishes no new ones. It lays no claim to art or elegance of expression. Its passion derives from the simple, natural emotions of horror and empathy with the suffering of poor victims. These are then not elevated and deepened but preserved in the form of contempt for such awful, hateful people. But that is not the people who did the deeds and approved them but for the German people--past, present, and then who knows? That forms the book's subtext on those pages on which it is not explicit in the text itself. Contempt for the Huns, like Jew-hatred, is endemic, if not epidemic, and a work that validates prejudice against an entire culture by the apparatus of scholarship, that appeals to bigotry against a whole people through all of its history by inflammatory language, above all that makes life simple and easy by explaining complicated facts in simple and easy ways--such a work, whether directed against Germany or against the Jewish people will find its audience. Indeed, if so august a body as the American Political Science Association conferred upon a dissertation so riddled with bad arguments and dubious demonstrations of undemonstrable propositions, we must find the reason not in a rational assessment of the quality of work but elsewhere. And where might that be? Just now, when Britain found itself unhappy with the European Community's handling of the crisis afflicting its cattle industry, the old hate-Jerry prejudice gushed upward, and the Germans once more became "the Boche" and "the Huns," and Prime Minister John Major could claim for himself, if not the mantel of Churchill, then at least the dress of Thatcher. That is why, also, the thoroughly legitimate and honorable project of memorializing the Holocaust and recording what happened in it in works like this shades over into a condemnation not of National Socialist Germany then but of Germany before, then, and always. The Holocaust then finds its explanation in the irrationality that that is, anyhow, how the Germans are. That bigoted judgment once more makes the explanation of radical evil simpler than it ought to be. How satisfying to feel such self-satisfaction--to give thanks that I have not been made like him. When, on Easter, the Passion Narratives resound in the Churches, with "the Jews" identified as the evil actors in the condemnation and murder of Jesus, Christians over the centuries have found difficult the distinction that sets apart for condemnation those people in that generation, then and there, but that treats as unblemished by the ancient deed all later generations of Israel, the Jewish people. That is how, nurtured every day for 2,000 years, anti-Semitism transformed into a massive, mythic construct the calamitous deeds of a handful of people in a specific place at a determinate time. Anti-Germanism differs in no important way, when the Holocaust is used as a weapon to discredit Germany through all time, instead of the Germany at that time and in that place. That is why, in my view, if the methods and modes of argument that define Goldhagen's book were to produce a comparably-argued and equivalently-documented book about the Jews or about Harvard University the work would not win either the audience Goldhagen has gotten for himself--let alone acceptance in fulfillment of the requirement of a doctoral degree and even a dissertation prize. -------------- A specialist in the history of Judaism, Rabbi Dr. Jacob Neusner is Distinguished Research Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and Professor of Religious Studies at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Among research institutes, he is also Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He holds six honorary doctorates, from the Universities of Cologne and Bologna in Europe, Chicago, Rochester, Tulane, and St. Louis in the USA, and a dozen academic medals, including those of Columbia University, Ebo Akademi in Finland, and College de France. He was Buber Professor at the University of Frankfurt in 1991 and Von Humboldt Research Professor at the University of Goettingen in 1995. In 1977 he delivered lectures in honor of Tuebingen University's 500th anniversary and received the medal commemorating that occasion. All rights reserved to Rabbi Dr. Jacob Neusner 1997 This article can be found on the Jewish Communication Network http://www.jcn18.com/newstand/Neusner/hatehun.htm Goldhagen revisited -- ---- Holocaust-history.org is the home for soc.culture.jewish.holocaust, the only moderated Usenet newsgroup for scholarly and informative discussions about the Holocaust.
Site Map ·
What's New? ·
Home · Site Map · What's New? · Search Nizkor