The 1st Emergence from Hell -the Scholar Lays Intellectual Siege to the Zeitgeist

The account of my father, Rabbi Dr. William Weinberg continues below:  

The 1st Emergence from Hell -the Scholar Lays Intellectual Siege to the Zeitgeist

           My father had plenty of time, during his two years in prison, to further his intellectual insights into contemporary philosophy. Upon his release, he returned to Austria and  pondered what the future had in store.

           In the meantime, he penned his thoughts into a series of three articles on the position of Judaism as the " nay-sayer" of civilization, especially in contrast to the most popular intellectual trends of his day: Economic determinism as expressed in Marxism; Genetic determinism as expressed in Nazi Racism; Cultural determinism as expressed in Fascism; and psychological determinism as expressed in the depth psychology schools of Freud and Jung. Finally, in the second and third essay, he attacks the enthronement of instinctual drives in neo-Romanticism as expressed by D.H. Lawrence and Nietsche and culminating in the nihilism inherent in National Socialism-Nazism.

The title of the series, in German, is "Mut Zum Geist", "The Courage of the Spirit" as I have phrased it, but more accurately, "Courage to or for the Spirit." ."Geist" has greater implications than the English word " Spirit", which has only religious connotations. In German, it encompasses, as well, the whole realm of the mind, whether individual or collective, for humanity, or of an underlying "Mind " of the Universe. It requires courage to face the realm of values and ideals, Geist. Quite appropriately, this phrase appears later in the writings of Viktor Frankl, also a Holocaust survivor, the father of Logotherapy,  who emphasized the centrality of meaning in life and the need for moral courage.  It stands in contrast to the "Triumph of the Will" as hallowed in the adoration of Hitler by movie-maker, Leni Reifenstahl, in her propaganda film.

           His essays appeared in the Jewish Press Zentrale of Zurich. I had the first essay in my possession and the librarian of the Zurich Jewish Community , Dr. Yvonne Domhardt, sent me copies of the other two essays. I thank Prof. Michal Bodeman, University of Toronto, for his clarifications.

For the original essay as it appeared in 1937, go to
Translation of the Text from German:

The Courage of the Spirit

by        Dr. Wilhelm Weinberg (Vienna) Judische Press Zentrale , Zurich        June 18, 1937

                       "The Courage of the  Spirit !"

Editor's Introduction :

           Under this rubric we shall be presenting a series of essays. The author brings our attention to the nihilistic-destructive developments in our times against all that is spiritual ( Geistige)and seeks to reach a position whereby the Jew must stand in opposition. The title provides the underlying theme of the essays. The first essay bears the subtitle: Under the Sign of Fatalism. In this essay, he examines a cross section of the key themes of contemporary thought.

Under the Sign of Fatalism

           The Jewish Messiah-Idea implies a systematic plan and consciousness in the totality of the direction of humanity and in its cultural formation.  Our contemporary stream of thought has no room for such a concept nor ,indeed, for an idea of a conscious will nor for an idea guiding universal  developments .

           It has been an accepted thesis for decades within all trends of our culture that all events occur independently of human will.  Little and rarely does anything result from conscious thought.  Like the apparition that vanishes at the toll of the bell to usher in a new day, so all the values and ideals of mankind melt away, overpowered with unpitying might by the merciless hand of economic, biological, and historical Ananke (fate).  A  Moses must once again smash the Tablets of the Law, the central element of the Torah, for the Torah implies guidance, the pull of an absolute ground of meaning, and is as such in opposition to determinism.  


           The first to dethrone human will as the critical factor of history is economic theory which utilizes the most scientific of tools.  Karl Marx proved that human life is not determined by will and resolution but by the blind law of the deterministic power of economics which allows no resistance by any other force. Historic development, according to Marx, is determined by the economic condition, that is, that the path of a given society is set by the manner of production and the exchange of goods.  People do not shape their historic societal life through reason and free choice. It is just the opposite.  "The means of production of vital necessities absolutely controls the social, political, and intellectual life-process. It is not human consciousness that determines existence, but, on the contrary, it is the historical existence which determines the human consciousness."

           Even ideals are mere reflections of the condition of production.  This dethroning of the will as one of the consequential factors of history leads, therefore, to this fatalism: the Marxist theory of impoverishment, whereby a few will always be wealthier, others always poorer, and whereby the collective middle and artisan classes are unalterably driven to destruction.  Assuredly, after the prophesied apocalyptic collapse of society there will follow a new and better organized one   This too will not be the consequence of human will and its aspiration to justice; rather it will be the consequential development of the modes of production  independent of our will.

           (To prevent any misconceptions: We have presented Marxism in its mechanistic formulation. It is known that in Leninism it has found an activist interpretation. This is based on a statement by Marx,   "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point however is to change it.")


  Following the economic fatalism, there is the biological one, based on entirely different presumptions - the teaching of Racism, the teaching of the inequality and immutability of the human races. Hereby fatalism is presented in its unadulterated form. Beforehand it was God who arbitrarily distributed the destinies and who predestined one man to sainthood, the other to damnation. Today, it is hereditary blood.  There are talented and untalented races.  Only one race is called to take its place at the weaving loom of culture, the Aryan race, and in particular, the German. The others are condemned to unfruitfulness.  "Had it not been for the Germans, mankind would have sunk into eternal night" (Chamberlain). [Note-Houston Chamberlain, the theoretician of racism who anointed Hitler as the savior of humanity]

           The worthlessness of the other races is as unchangeable as a mathematical proof and as eternal as the law which regulates the path of our planets.  This is the will of destiny and it can not be changed by any human activity.

           There can be no further development of the ungifted races since the hereditary characteristics have not changed over the centuries. "The environment cannot change particular variations of the races." (Eugen Fischer) [Note-Hitler's key scientist on eugenics and race]. The course of human history is independent of human will.  The driving force of historical-social world events is to be found only in the struggle of the higher races against the lower races.  Family, religion, and state are only manifestations of blood. There cannot be a concept of humanity as the encompassing unity of all races; so too there can be no universally binding human cultural value.  The worth of any given value is tied to blood and skull measurements and is therefore altogether relative.

           One must end this chapter on the race problem with a Jewish answer," I call upon heaven and earth as witness, that whether one is Jew or heathen, man or woman, free or slave, the Holy Spirit rests upon each one in accord with his merits." ( Tana d'bei Eliyahu. Ch.8)


           From the perspective of the study of intellectual developments, Spengler introduced fatalism into the perspective of his theory of the formation of culture. [Note-Oswald Spengler was a theoretician of the primacy of German civilization; however, he rejected Nazism] In his analysis culture is self-sustaining, independent of human willful influence, and free from any goal-orientation.  "Cultures flourish and people are transformed in their geographic locales into a folk.  They are not the shapers of but shaped by this culture."  Its development is intrinsically bound by law: like all living beings so ,too, cultures have their childhood and their blossoming, following which, without any hope, comes their dissolution. They are as bubbles of soap shaped by the straw in the mouth of a child; radiantly and iridescently they float up, linger awhile and vanish into nothingness. Just so cultures sprout forth from the branch of the Spenglerian deity of Fate  into a meaningless existence  and after a brief blossoming disappear just as meaninglessly and without a trace.

           Spengler does not recognize "mankind". There are only isolated cultures between which  no concept provides a bridge of understanding.  The members of one cultural circle can never comprehend the members of another cultural circle. Mankind as a whole has no unifying idea, no plan, no goal, no evolution.

           The total gruesomeness of such an organic fatalism has been thought through to its historical conclusion by Spengler: all happens as it must, as a blind "fate" has willed it.  "Unda fert nec regitur", the stream carries mankind not allowing any steering of the course. [Note-"One can ride the wave, but not make it", a favorite quote of the Iron Chancellor Bismarck, the father of the "Second Reich".]


           It is beyond the perspectives of this brief essay to prove that all realms of knowledge  are branded by the paralyzing tidal wave of fatalism and how they confine the room for play of the human spirit and will.

           We need, however, to examine depth psychology[ note-such as psychoanalysis].  We are cast down by the fatalism of Marx's modes of production, by hereditary blood racial teachings, by Spengler's organic culture.  Just so we are cast down by depth psychology which evolved out of medicine.  This is the fatalism of the subconscious, be it of the individual according to Freud or the collective according to Jung.  According to Freud the function of conscious thought in human endeavor is limited.  Past events are forcefully drowned into the subconscious which functions despite a controlling censor and forms our lives. Freud's individual subconscious is supplemented by Jung with a collective subconscious, which stems from   prehistoric strata in the evolution of our souls. This determines our mental bearing.  In contrast with this un - and sub - consciousness, our conscious knowledge is of little bearing. It is not the super-conscious, but the sub-conscious which has the power to shape the destiny of people and to give direction to the tendencies of one's life-formation.

           Indeed  the trap of fatalism is so varied and tightly wound that it leaves absolutely no room for action on the part of human will and consciousness.


           We draw the bottom line: All these intellectual circles cut right to the quick, and make cruel sport of ideological and activist factors and disprove the conventional lies.  The word "Ideology" is needed only as a contemptuous "taste", as Napoleon used it , only in passing.  In such an intellectual world, there is no room for a phenomenon such as Judaism  with its teleology based on an absolute ground of meaning.

            Judaism's theory of history is activist, the Jewish ethos is a willful ethos, the Jewish religion is outspokenly a religion of will. The originality of Judaism rests primarily on the point that the Bible, for the first time, inquired into the question of the sense and inner unity of all human history and conceived of the individual events of history as steps up to a meaningful and powerful world goal.  In contrast to nature , history, for us, is not a constant alternation,  constantly in flux, up and down in a mindless fashion.  It is the spirit which drives history in its development to even higher forms ,despite recurring set-backs :to an ethical humane elevating of human society.  We do not deny the law of reality which researchers have made clear but over and above this there is a law of the ideal; over and above the factual there is the truth.

           Goethe said, 'The whole world lies before us as a rock-quarry before the master-mason  who earns his name only when he puts this happenstance mass together with the greatest economy, purposefulness, and resoluteness in accord with his personal  original vision."  With these words Goethe posited the zeal for life of the man committed to action in direct contrast to the fatalist who sees the world as a wave which carries man aimlessly and without purpose without allowing him any means of steering.

            No! Humanity is not the disturbed dream of some sleeping deity and no mad chaos wildly swirled about by a happenstance. God created the world according to plan.  As a perceptive statement of the Midrash says, "He consulted the Torah before He began to create".  The duty of humanity in this world is prescribed in these brave words by an ancient Jewish philosophy of history: "Man is called upon to be God's co-worker in the act of creation. (Mechilta  Exodus 18:13).


           The same philosophical, spiritual and moral challenges face us today. Nazism is has been crushed, Racism has been shamed out of the living rooms of decent people, Communism has fallen, Freudianism no longer dominates therapy.

         However, new challenges to the human soul continue. Do our genes define us? Is our behavior controlled by some hormones in the brain? Are we constrained by our social class, never to move upward? Is some quark playing dice with our universe?

           As I read my father's essay, I recognize that it is up to us to act as God's co-worker in the act of creation.


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