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The art of allusion

The art of allusion
Hans-Georg Gadamer’s
philosophical interventions
under National Socialism
Theresa Orozco

On 11 February 1995 Gadamer reached the age of
ninety-five. The tributes that were paid to him were
justifiably numerous; in the Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung he was celebrated as ‘the most successful
philosopher of the Federal Republic’, placed even
before Jurgen Habermas, to whom the title of philosopher was awarded only with certain reservations. 1
The worldwide influence of Gadamer’s thinking is
closely connected with the reception of his principal
work, Truth and Method (1960). In 1979 Habermas
characterized Gadamer’s achievement as the ‘urbanization of the Heideggerian province’. The bridges
which Gadamer has built consist above all in an elaboration of Heidegger’s paradigm of understanding in
its application to hermeneutics; these bridges connect
philosophy with all those realms in which interpretative procedures are necessary, such as literary
studies, jurisprudence, theology and even medicine. 2

Conciliatory thinking
What is striking in the present reception of Gadamer’ s
work is the concentration on what Henning Ritter has
described as ‘conciliatory thinking which knows how
to conceal its hardness’ .3 The notion of conciliation is
generally explicated through reference to the third
section of Truth and Method. In what he terms the
‘ontological turn of hermeneutics oriented by the
guiding thread of language’, Gadamer develops a conception of language which comes close to the dictum
of the later Heidegger: that, properly understood, it is
not the individual subject but language itself which
speaks4 – with the difference, however, that Gadamer
introduces the model of dialogue as a sort of counterbalance. In short, Gadamer’s basic assumption is that

truth is disclosed in dialogical speech. Decisive here
is Gadamer’s reinterpretation of Socratic maieutics in
terms of an aleatory happening. This abstract
paradigm of a dialogical situation which encompasses
both the art of persuasion and an openness to the
opinion of the other possesses an enormous resonance
today.

In contrast, the conditions of hermeneutic understanding which first enable a successful accomplishment of understanding, as developed by Gadamer in
the second section of Truth and Method, have retreated
into the background. 5 In this section Gadamer pursues
a trenchant rehabilitation of a thinking which is
grounded in prejudices [Vorurteilen], and affirms both
the power of tradition (above all through the example
of the classical) and the unlimited validity of authority
and authorities. He defends this as a genuinely
conservative undertaking which does not need to be
argumentatively justified. 6 The subjective dispositions
through which this project is to be sustained are
‘affirmation, appropriation and care’ (265f.). Because
Gadamer regards ‘the self-reflection of the subject’ as
‘only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical
life’ (265), ‘the prejudices of the individual, far more
than his or her own judgements, constitute the
historical reality of being’ (261). Under these
conditions, understanding ‘is less to be thought of as a
subjective act’ than, in a way which carries associations with military practices, ‘as conscription into an
event of tradition’ (274f.; italics removed). On
Gadamer’s view, there is no ‘method’ for acquiring
this competence in understanding.

Finally, it is characteristic of the current reception
of Gadamer’s work that the emphasis has shifted

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

17

away from a thinking grounded in prejudices towards
a more comprehensive notion of pre-understanding
which is prior to every act of understanding. Through
selective and sometimes critical readings, Gadamer
has been drawn into dialogue with the school of
Anglo-American philosophy of language, theorists of
intersubjectivity such as Habermas and Karl-Otto
Apel, Richard Rorty in the USA, Jean Grondin in
Canada, as well as left-oriented hermeneutic thinkers
such as Gianni Vattimo in Italy and Emilio Lled6 in
Spain.

A look into the past
In what follows I seek to illuminate Gadamer’s philosophical writings during the period of National
Socialism by focusing on two important essays.7 In
light of the reception which has been awarded to
Gadamer’s thought there may seem something
provocative about the goals of this enquiry. Gadamer
himself has addressed the issue of his career under
National Socialism, both in autobiographical writings
and in recent interviews. The picture seems to be
clear and the relevant facts already known. In contrast
to his teacher and to various other colleagues,
Gadamer is happy to present himself in this context
as someone who was ready to accommodate himself
to circumstances. In several places he reveals that
although there was no question of his joining one of
the organizations of the National Socialist Party
because of the importance of remaining loyal to his
Jewish friends, he was nonetheless obliged to make
political concessions in order to advance in his career.

Ultimately, he was able tactfully to organize the situation to his advantage, and in 1939 he was called to a
chair in Leipzig. This took place, as he correctly
observes, ‘as a consequence of high politics’.8
This external accommodation in turn gave
Gadamer the opportunity to pursue philosophical
work in a spirit of pure ‘scholarship’ even under National Socialism. Unlike Karl L6with, Gadamer argues for a strict division between the scientific and
political domains. And this implies that there were
both accommodationists and Nazis who were otherwise thoroughly responsible scholars, such as Martin
Heidegger, Kurt Hildebrand, Erich Rothacker,
Wolfgang Schadewelt, Felix Kriiger, Helmut Berve,
Richard Harder and Gerhard Fricke. The claim to
‘scientific excellence’ provided the means by which
the academic community could constitute itself internally and at the same time insulate itself from the
influence of National Socialism externally. What this
view fails to take into account is that this appeal to

18

‘scientific excellence’ may well have been the very
form in which the knowledge and skills of the human
sciences could be employed in the service of National
Socialism. Today, Gadamer also emphasizes his
contacts with the ‘national conservative’ resistance to
Hitler. Together with other members of the Goerdeler
circle, to which he belonged in the last phase of
fascism during the war period, he shared an open
opposition to the Weimar Republic as well as admiration for Hitler’s foreign policies, which still
seemed highly promising during the so-called ‘Blitzkrieg’. Gadamer was not a Nazi and for this reason
he was elected Rector of the University of Leipzig by
the occupying Soviet powers in 1947. Later he transferred to the University of Frankfurt and finally, as
successor to Karl Jaspers, to the University of
Heidelberg, where he still lives today.

Such clarity concerning the facts would seem to
render the questions I am pursuing here superfluous.

Nonetheless, the crucial problem from which I started
out was to arrive at a more substantial and exact
definition of the concept of ‘national conservatism’ by
focusing on those philosophers who belonged to the
so-called ‘black faction’. Despite the fact that these
philosophers entered into a clear and solid alliance
with the Nazis which endured almost until the end of
the Nazi period, it has long remained unclear exactly
what contribution this faction made to the consolidation and perpetuation of National Socialism. The
key to interpreting this contribution is not to be found
in the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July
1944. According to the self-understanding of the national conservative opposition, as articulated for example by Gadamer’s friend Eduard Spranger in 1947,
‘it was not National Socialism which led us into catastrophe but rather Hitlerism itself’.9 The studies
written for the project Philosophie im Deutschen
Fascismus (AS 165) are concerned with national
conservatives of an earlier generation – for example,
Nicolai Hartmann,lo Eduard Spranger, II and Theodor
Litt 12 – and they can help us to recognize different
modalities of fascism within the black faction.

It was in this context that I began to investigate
Gadamer’s texts from the period 1933 to 1945.

Amongst other things I came across interpretations of
Plato in which Nazism was never explicitly referred
to. Gadamer’s articles were entirely in keeping with
then current research and did not appear to represent
anything unusual. His goals did not extend to such
ambitious projects as the question of the meaning of
being or revolutionizing the discipline of philosophy.

As a young university lecturer he worked un-

assumingly on texts of ancient philosophy, above all
on a reading of Plato’s Republic. During the course
of my research, however, I discovered that this
reading was multi-layered, and this in turn opened up
a new way of looking at Gadamer’s writings of the
period.

My first concern was to reconstruct the connection
between what was said and the conte~t in which it
was written, to document what for us has now fallen
silent. Or, to put it in Gadamer’s own language, I
sought to establish the historical basis on which other
hermeneutic approaches could be developed and to
discover the fusions of horizon between past and
present which were possible at that time. In the course
of my investigations I was able to give more precision
to the often overgeneralized and inexact use of the
notion of ‘context’ through employing the concept of
‘relations of response’ to Plato. We can use this
concept to describe how in the process of fascization
various ideas were articulated through readings of
Plato: National Socialism was identified as a task
which had already been laid out in antiquity. These
ideas resonated not only within the domain of
academic discourse but also within other fields of
practice such as the National Socialist Party’s policies
on health, justice, education and art. 13
Around 1933, despite differences in interpretation,
there emerged a common point of convergence: the
destruction of the self-understanding of universalist
humanism. This expression signified the humanism of
European modernity and of Weimar classicism; above
all, that humanism which was articulated through the
ideals of the French Revolution. Disqualified as
‘apolitical’ under the cipher of aesthetic humanism
and identified with the ‘age of liberalism’, it became
the hegemonic critical target for the new reception of
antiquity. At the basis of the denunciation of the
Enlightenment as developed within the humanist
camp itself in opposition to the Weimar Republic lay
a new conception of law which aimed at strictly
controlling society, and attacked as ‘sophistic’ the old
human dream of a society based on self-determination
and autonomy. The process of fascization supported
an unparalleled project of bourgeois modernization, to
which not only radical technocratic modes of thinking
but also the humanist notion of ‘care of the soul’

made a contribution. It was on this front that the
interpretation of Plato was engaged. Alongside the
lecture which Gadamer gave in occupied Paris in
1941 in the service of foreign propaganda, and the
interpretation of Max Weber (1943), in which he
addressed the issue of modernizing National Socialist

policy on science and education in the face of
possible military defeat, it is the two interpretations
of Plato which particularly stand out amongst
Gadamer’s philosophical writings between 1934 and
1942. In what follows I shall restrict myself to a consideration of these two essays.

1933: responses to Plato’s Republic
Since we possess neither any systematic nor any
definitive investigations of the influence of fascism on
the interpretation of Plato in the German-speaking
context,14 a large part of my work consisted in
studying the Plato scholarship of the period through
the original sources. 15 Decisive for understanding
Gadamer’s work is the transformation of the humanist
image of Plato which had already taken place during
the Weimar Republic. The key features of this transformation can be summed up as follows:

1. Classical philology stepped into line with National
Socialist thinking, thereby bringing to an end the
conflict which had raged in the Weimar Republic
concerning the correct interpretation of Plato. Official
justification was provided by the work of Werner
Jaeger. 16 Whereas classical humanism had paradigmatically interpreted Plato as a poet and a metaphysician, and as the founder of the doctrine of ideas,
an association of philologist and philosqphers now
sought to propagate an alternative ‘political reading’

of Plato. In the course of this conflict of interpretation
new interpretative principles were developed.

2. The relative importance of the various texts in the
Platonic canon were subjected to a revaluation. Those
dialogues, dialogue passages and elements which are
concerned with metaphysics and the theory of ideas that is, those texts on which the traditional humanistic
interpretation of Plato developed by Schleiermacher
and Neo-Kantianism was based – no longer stood at
the centre of philological research. Instead, attention
was focused on the Republic, the Laws and the
Seventh Letter. The epistemological concerns which
had informed earlier readings of Plato receded into
the background. This shift of emphasis was justified
philologically inasmuch as the Seventh Letter, Plato’s
so-called political biography whose authenticity is
still disputed today, was declared to be an authentic
textual source. I?

3. Advocates of this ‘politicized’ reading of Plato
made appeal to the so-called unwritten doctrine
which, according to the Seventh Letter (341, a-e) and
other sources, represents the essence of Plato’s phil-

19

osophy. Out of this secret doctrine they then sought
to derive new rules for philological inquiry which
went beyond what could be defended on the basis of
the textual material itself, and one to which they
believed they enjoyed access. 18
In this new interpretation emphasis was no longer
placed on the construction of a systematic conceptual
system. The hermeneutic key to Plato’s writings was
provided by his involvement in Attic politics. Plato’s
supposed biography was interpreted with categories
taken from Lebensphilosophie, with great emphasis
being laid upon Plato’s ‘decision’ to refound the state.

The most noted Plato scholars (in the tradition of
Ulrich v. Wilammowitz-Moellendorff) were Werner
Jaeger, Julius Stenzel, Paul FriedHi.nder, Heinrich
Gompertz, and, from the George circle, Kurt
Hildebrandt, Wilhelm Andrae, Kurt Singer and Edgar
Salin. It suited their purposes to depict Plato as a ‘philosopher of crisis’. Kurt Hildebrand maintained that
‘for us Germans’ Plato should be ‘a model of a saviour
in an age of dissolution and decay’. Plato’s Republic,
which was itself a response to the crisis of the Attic
polis, offered material on the basis of which the crisis
of the Weimar Republic could be projected back into
antiquity. Plato’s dream of restoring Attic aristocracy
by reforming it in the form of an authoritarian educational state was elevated to the status of a ‘spiritual
task’ .

As can be seen from the example of J aeger and
Hildebrandt, the ground for the subsequent fascization
of the interpretation of Plato had already been fully
prepared during the period of the Weimar Republic.

As the philological associations fell into line with
National Socialist ideas this interpretation then
became orthodox teaching: ‘Whereas our predecessors
saw Plato as a Neo-Kantian system builder and the
initiator of a highly revered philosophical tradition,
for our generation he has become the founder of the
state and the giver of laws.’ 19

The expulsion of the poets:

a lecture and its context
On 24 January 1934 Gadamer gave a lecture entitled
‘Plato and the Poets’ before the Society of Friends of
the Humanistic Gymnasium in Marburg. In this
lecture he set himself the task of ‘understanding the
meaning and justification’20 of Plato’s critique of the
poets in the Republic. For the members of the
cultural elite who had gathered to hear him speak,
this ‘represented the most difficult task confronting
the German spirit in its efforts to assimilate the spirit

20

of the ancient world’ (5). The difficulty of this task
resided in the fact that Plato’s critique of the poets
was carried out through an attack on the ‘art and
poetry of the ancients’ and so challenged just that
ideal domain which embodied the self-understanding
of German humanism.

Gadamer starts out by recalling the harmonious
character of this humanist ideal, in which Plato too
occupies a place. Plato is recognized as one of ‘the
greatest representatives of the poetic genius of the
Greeks’, ‘admired and loved like Homer and the
tragedians, Pindar and Aristophanes’ (5). By identifying Plato’s eminent status within the humanistic
ideal as envisaged by his audience, Gadamer finds a
starting point from which he can begin to rebuild this
ideal from within. Plato himself is represented as a
‘hostile critic of the art of classical antiquity’ (5). The
poetry he wrote in his youth, ‘he burnt … after he
became a pupil of Socrates’ (6) and he ‘condemned
Homer and the great Attic dramatists . .. to be
completely expelled from the state’ (5). The tension
generated by this conflict enables Gadamer to set the
hermeneutic circle of his lecture in motion.

Following Socrates, Plato turns against the ‘much
beloved Homer’ (6). He censors Homer in accordance
with the norms of a poetry which should work for the
state and recomposes the opening of the Iliad so as to
‘purify it of all direct speech’ (10). Plato the(eby
chooses ‘a deliberately provocative example’ (10),
since Socrates, through whom Plato speaks, must
struggle against his own deep-rooted sentiments and
attitudes. But Gadamer, too, thereby chooses a
‘deliberately provocative example’, for the ‘verses
known to all’ from the opening of the Iliad – learnt
by heart by entire generations of gymnasium students
– were a symbol of classical education.

Gadamer may well have disturbed his hearers by
demanding that they should bring this ‘monstrous
attack’ upon poetry and on Homer vividly to mind
rather than ‘pushing it away from us … into the
distant past of a unique historical period’. Gadamer is
concerned with the fact ‘that this decision also has
something to say to us’ (10). Were his audience not
suddenly confronted with the National Socialist
present, with its burning of books, and the censorship,
exile and persecution of poets and writers?

At no point does Gadamer directly mention the
fascist present. His lecture remains entirely on the
terrain of an interpretation of Plato. Plato’s measures
against the poets are to be understood through an
interpretation of the Republic. 21 In the first part of the
lecture Gadamer discusses the status of Plato’s

critique. Its full significance is derived from
the project of refounding the state. This new
state is to be an educational state. At its
centre Gadamer places the Platonic paidea,
the education of the youths to become its
guardians. These are the yout,hs who risked
corruption by the. poets because they lacked
‘the binding civil ethos which could secure
that poetry would have it~ ,Proper effect’

( 15). In the second part of the lecture poetry,
is rehabilitated in the ser¥ice of patriotic
ends. Here Gadamer discusses Plato’s
critique of imitation. Plato. develops a conception of art whose purpose is not to give
aesthetic pleasure but to strengthen the civil
ethos, as in the case of hymns. Fin~lly,
Gadamer presents Socrates, the critic of
myths, as the restorer of myth against the
Enlightenment.

Despite the textual immanence of
Gadamer’s reading of Plato, his audience
must have been all too aware of the fascist
present with its censorship, persecution,
exile and expatriation. When this lecture was held in
January 1934, the burning of books, the symbolic
high point of the ‘action against the non-German
spirit’, had taken place only six months before.

Taken as a whole, the lecture and its context are
rich with interdiscursive implications and allusions.

Together they provide a hermeIeutic horizon which
is congruent with the ideal self-understanding of National Socialism as a political decision to ‘renew’ the
state after the ‘decay’ of the Weimar Republic. Drawing explicitly on the politicized reading of Plato
which valued his thought as a ‘resolute expression of
decision … directed against the entire political and
spiritual culture of his age’ (12), rather than emphasizing his status as a ‘metaphysician of the theory of
ideas’ (12), Gadamer chose to discuss the theme of
the expulsion of the poets – a theme which seemed to
be given in advance by the times.

When Gadamer demanded of his educated and
cultured audience that they respect the expulsion of
the poets as a decision made within the framework of
the founding of the state, he indirectly attacked the
reservation and scepticism about the burning of books
which was widespread amongst the humanist elite. The
burning of books was not only an action against the
so-called enemies of the state, but also affected authors
who belonged to the cultural bourgeoisie itself. Alongside books by Marxists, pacifists and left-wing
intellectuals such as Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Tucholsky,

Carl von Ossietzky, Erich Maria Remarque and Franz
Kafka, flames also consumed the works of writers like
Thomas Mann, Friedrich Gundolf, Arnold and Stefan
Zweig, and the Catholic pacifist Friedrich Wilhelm
Foerster. Parallel with the attack against tpinkers on
the Left there was also a second front of ‘action against
the non-German spirit’ . In Goebbels’ language, the socalled aesthetic humanism of the enlightened liberal
bourgeoisie revealed an attitude of ‘non-involvement’

and ‘standing to one side’. In this respect, the burning
of books could be understood as a warning against
‘inner emigration’ .

In Alfred Baeumler’s inaugural lecture, which was
originally planned as a speech to accompany the
burning of books, the critique of the ideal of a
harmonious personality and of the ‘aesthetic attitude’22
entertained by the highly educated took on a key role.

Baeumler’s critique of the personality ideal of the
cultured reappears – in almost exactly the same
words 23 – in Gadamer’s lecture. His interpretation of
Plato’s notion of paidea is directed against the
‘humanist ideal of the “harmonious personality'” (18).

Gadamer seeks to make this critique of aesthetic
humanism plausible to his humanist audience by
constructing it out of their most coveted cultural
sources. He makes Plato’s paidea into ‘the opposite
of that which the Greeks themselves and we as their
humanist successors conceive under the terms
“education” and “culture'” (18).

21

As can be shown in greater detail, Gadamer
constructed an interpretative framework for the contemporary situation in Germany which, at the same
time, allowed Plato’s critique of the poets to be
understood in a manner which simultaneously
articulated the self-understanding of the present. As a
result, the passages in which Gadamer, together with
Plato, argues for the unconditioned validity of authority over and against the sophistic conception of the
laws of the state can be seen as a grave and unambiguous response to National Socialism in the
period of its consolidation. Central here is the demand
for a new paidea which was called upon to shape the
youths into the guardians of the new state and to help
them to resist the seductions of the sophistic spirit to
which they may be exposed. In this way, a new form
of subjectivity was to be developed which – without
the recognition of basic human rights – was to bring
the interior of the state into agreement with its
external form. This achievement can only be made
visible, however, when the meaning and scope of the
topos of the sophists (or the sophistical), as well as
the critique of the Enlightenment, is understood not
only in terms of the history of ideas but as a concrete
and stigmatized way of representing the enemies of
the state under National Socialism.

By drawing upon all the available material, in
which Gadamer’s voice is but one amongst many, we
can establish the following points:

1. The genesis of this multiform interpretation of
Plato was not determined by extra-academic impulses
or by some sort of Weltanschauung, but arose at the
centre of academic discourse itself and was unconditionally asserted as part of the scientific canon.

Popular interpretations of Plato drew upon these
approaches and sought to make them productive in
their own way.

2. At the same time, however, certain interpretations
of Plato’s Seventh Letter and of Plato’s unwritten
secret doctrine secured exclusive access to the truth
for the academic elite under National Socialism. By
identifying hidden ‘reserves of meaning’ in the
Platonic material, they were able to distinguish their
own reading from the ‘simple message’ contained in
the popular image of Plato. 24

3. The topos of interpreting the Republic as an ideal
task which is yet to be fulfilled allowed the possibility
of conceiving new ways of actualizing this task under
National Socialism as it developed through its various
stages. This is something which can be shown in an

22

exemplary way in the case of Gadamer. The
traditional reading of the Seventh Letter as an expression of Plato’s disappointment at the impossibility of
realizing his project of a proper ordering of the state
could be functionalized in a new way with the occurrence of ‘processes of disappointment’ over certain
unwelcome developments under National Socialism.

The cure for the unhealthy
condition of the state: Gadamer
in the SS state
Gadamer’s essay ‘Plato’s Educational State’ was published in 1942 as part of a collection of texts whose
purpose was to document the contribution made by
classical philology to the ‘human sciences as part of
the war effort’. In the intervening period Gadamer
had become firmly established as a professor in
Leipzig. In 1977 he himself described this text as ‘a
sort of alibi’25 without providing any further explanation. In fact, Gadamer adopts an unexpected tone in
this essay. He appears to resist becoming caught up
in the general enthusiasm generated by the triumphal
march of the German military forces. The posture of
‘German strength’ which had informed the lecture on
Herder, given in 1941 to imprisoned French officers,
is no longer in evjdence. Instead, Gadamer takes up a
pensive attitude and appears to want to direct a word
of warning to the ‘present’ through a reading of plato.

The theme which is treated under the title of ‘Plato’s
Educational State’ is the unsuspicious, familiar
postulate of the ‘philosopher king’; that is, the idea
that ‘the philosophers lead the rulers and the rulers
are taught by the philosophers how to rule’ .26 This
theme, however, harbours a certain explosive force.

Gadamer presents Plato here as someone who is
disillusioned with the dictatorship which has taken
over from Athenian democracy. He quotes whole
passages from the Seventh Letter in which Plato raises
impassioned complaints at the general moral decay
under the rule of ‘tyranny’. In order to put an end to
this decay Plato advocates ‘a reform of unheard of
proportions’ (317). For Gadamer, it is the Plato who
criticizes and admonishes the tyrants of Athens and,
through Socrates, seeks to show them the way to
reform who provides the guiding thread by which the
Republic is to be interpreted. 27 The shift of emphasis
involved in this image of Plato is remarkable.

Gadamer’s Plato of 1934 was someone who had made
the expulsion of the poets and the education of the
guardians into a condition of the founding of the state.

The hermeneutic horizon within which Plato is now
presented is ‘the decay of the state under tyranny’.

The contemporary horizon for this reading of Plato
was given by the restructuring of the National Socialist ruling apparatus which took place at the start of
the war. The apparatus of repression was built up and
the SS state began to take shape. With the
deterioration of the war situation this reorganization
allowed the ideological forces of cohesion on the
‘inner front’ to slacken and the ideological incorporation of the individual to break down.

The general change of mood was not restricted to
the conservative and academic elites. Within the
philosophical domain there was a proliferation of
proposals for an inner reform of fascism based on
readings of Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli and Frederick
the Great. The cases of Eduard Spranger,28 Hans
Freyer29 and Carl Schmitt30 belong here. Almost all
the projects which became philosophically effective
in 1933 sought to establish a normative foundation for
developing various conceptions of an ideal fascism.

Against the background of the destabilizing effects of
the war, these projects consequently served to procure
stability and order. This can be elucidated by looking
at the model of society which Gadamer sought to
distil from the Republic.

Under the heading of ‘dikaiosyne’ (a term which is
translated as ‘Gerechtigkeit’, or ‘justice’) Gadamer
opposes, as he had in 1934, the idea of the Platonic
state, the state as ‘an order of classes’ (326), to the
concept of tyranny and the sophistic conception of the
state. Dikaiosyne is used to describe government in
the form of the general interest. Ideally, the rulers
should use their competence in planning and leadership unselfishly – that is, for the good of all, rather
than in the service of their own interests. The military
uses its weapons in defence of the whole. For the rulers
and those that are ruled, however, the ‘state as a whole’

(327) presents itself in a different way. Because their
special competence resides in leadership, the rulers
have a position in the ‘division of labour’ which binds
them immediately to the ‘universal’: ‘Every form of
work is indeed there for the use of all who need it.

Nonetheless, the work of a political leader or a warrior
is not merely a technical skill like any other but is
immediately related to the interest of the state as a
whole’ (327). If in this way, in a formulation which
Gadamer takes up from Hegel,3J ‘the universal
prevails’ (329), then the rulers can rely upon the
‘sophrosyne’ or virtue of those who are ruled to
guarantee that their decisions will meet with agreement. In opposition to real, ‘tyrannical’ fascism,
Gadamer describes an ideal fascism, a stratified
community of the people brought about through the

‘reconciliation of the three classes to form a single
unity’ (328).

The system of government which Gadamer derives
from Plato’s ideas is only conceivable as an authoritarian state with a highly centralized concentration of
power. He clearly rejects the conception of ‘democratically’ formed decision-making procedures: ‘The
disruption of this order of the classes is the real
political misfortune, that is, the destruction of the
structure of government as this became visible in the
decay of the Attic democracy’ (327). The concentration of power in the hands of the ‘governing
classes’ has its price: there is no guarantee, no internal
power, which can prevent the ‘governing classes’ from
establishing a tyrannical government. There is a permanent danger that the governing class will succumb
to the ‘temptations of power’ and that the ‘order of
the state will be destroyed’ (329). In regard to this
problem, Plato’s doctrine of the soul can be seen as a
doctrine of how the state can become diseased through
the actions of its rulers. The form of ‘legality’ (324)
transforms the power of leadership into the ‘legal
force of the state’, and its government into the
‘administration of the power of the state’ (326). Such
government is legitimate government which is able to
survive situations of crisis without transmuting into
tyranny. Since it occupies a position in the soul of
those it rules over, it can count on their ‘inner attunement’, even ‘in proximity to possible discord’ (329).

My thesis is that this ideal of an authoritative
government represents a reaction to the ‘tyrannical’

transformations which fascism underwent during the
war. Gadamer’s call for ‘a cure for the unhealthy state’

is closely related to the various proposals for providing the National Socialist system and its military
policies with a ‘new’ basis, as these were developed
within the upper ranks of the government, military and
business. Proposals for an inner reorganization of the
state were not limited to the Pots dam faction of National Socialism, whose plans for transforming the
‘Fiihrer’ state into an ‘enlightened’ monarchy resulted
in the military puts ch of 20 July 1944. An impetus
for reform was also generated from within the N ational Socialist Party itself. Paradigmatic here is the
critique which was openly articulated by Hans Frank,
one of the foremost lawyers of the National Socialist
Party.32 From the example of Frank’s attempt to curb
the development towards tyranny we can see the range
and variety of social forces which informed Gadamer’s
interpretation of Plato. In stark contrast is the option
pursued by Carl Schmitt, who in 1938 sought to
legitimate the establishment of a total police state

23

through recourse to the work of Hobbes. Whilst both
the national conservative opposition and certain
factions within the National Socialist Party sought to
discover a way of securing the relationship between
‘the leadership and the people’ by respecting the
’emotional and psychological constitution of the
individual’, Schmitt outdid these suggestions amongst which Gadamer’s is to be included – with
his model of tyranny.

In summary, the results of this investigation reveal
the way in which Gadamer was able to identify with
the national conservative faction of National Socialism
without, however, publicly declaring his opposition to
its more popular forms. The contemporary relevance
of his interpretations of Plato enabled him to construct
bridges which allowed various connections to be drawn
without ever needing to state them explicitly. The
hermeneutic art of allusion which Gadamer invokes
in his critique of Carl Schmitt’s interpretation of
Hamlet is also relevant to Gadamer’s own work: ‘In
fact, the reality of a play is constituted by leaving an
indefinite space around its theme.’ 33
In the end, we can agree with Jan Ross’s
evaluation that ‘Gadamer’s virtuoso ability’ consisted
‘in adapting the subject of thought to altered circumstances and, above all, to the circumstance of
permanent change’ .34 After 1945 a new interpretation
of Aristotle was being called for by means of which
civil society could be reconstituted out of the ancient
polis, and here, too, Gadamer discreetly took part. 35
If, as Ross claims, it is ‘Gadamer’s secret’ and at the
same time ‘his dangerous inheritance to have
smuggled the great philosophical tradition from Plato
to Heidegger into the home of the prosaic Bundesrepublik’ ,36 then this secret demands a new reading of
Truth and Method, one which finally begins to examine more closely the origin of such smuggled goods.

For with this work the hermeneutic experience garnered by Gadamer under National Socialism finally
attained the prominent status of a theory of interpretation with a claim to universality.

Translated by Jason Gaiger

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

Notes
Translator’s note: The two principal texts discussed by
Orozco (,Plato and the Poets’ and ‘Plato’s Educational
State’) are translated by P. Christopher Smith in Hans-Georg
Gadamer, Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical
Studies on Plato, Yale University Press, New Haven CT and
London, 1980. Since both these essays are quite short, it did
not seem necessary to provide a cross-reference for each
reference to the German original.

1. Ross (‘Schmuggel. Gadamers Geheimnis’, Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, vol. 11, no. 2, 11 February 1995)

24

10.

11.

accords philosophical predominance to Gadamer alone
on the grounds that Habermas has ‘made too much of a
mark in the social sciences and in political debates for
him simply to be called a philosopher’. By this
criterion, however, Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachian Ethics and Hobbes’s Leviathan would all
forfeit their status as philosophical texts.

See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Uber die Verborgenheit der
Gesundheit. Aufiitze und Vortriige, Frankfurt am Main,
1993.

Henning Ritter, ‘Konziliantes Denken. “Der Philosoph
Hans-Georg Gadamer wird neunzig”‘, Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, vol. 10, no. 2, 1990, p. 27.

Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs zur Sprache, Frankfurt
am Main, 1959, p. 243.

‘The goal of all attempts at reaching understanding is
agreement concerning the subject matter. Hence the
task of hermeneutics has always been to establish
agreement where there was none or where it had been
disturbed in some way’ (Wahrheit und Methode.

Grundziige einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (1960),
TUbingen, 1986, p. 276; subsequent page references
appear in parenthesis in the text).

It was Jiirgen Habermas who critically questioned this
hermeneutic postulate, thereby initiating a debate which
introduced the ‘claim to justification’ as the ineliminable foundation of a theory of interpretation.

These case studies form part of a larger work,
Platonische Gewalt. Gadamers politische Hermeneutik
der NS-Zeit, Argument Verlag, 1995, in which I
undertake an ideological analysis of Gadamer’s philosophical interventions in important aspects of National
Socialism.

Philosophische Lehrjahre. Eine Riickschau, Frankfurt
am Main, 1977, p. 57. Research into the circumstances
of Gadamer’s call to Leipzig reveals that he was
promoted in place of the university’s preferred choice,
the NSDAP candidate Theodor Haering, an ordinarius
lecturer in TUbingen, on the insistence of Professor
Heinrich Harmjanz, who was the minister responsible
for the social sciences section (Department W6) in the
ministry of education. Gadamer’s name occupied
second place on the list, even before that of the SS
‘echelon candidate’ Hans Lipps (see J.Z. MUller, The
Other God that Failed. Hans Freyer and the
Deradicalization of German Conservatism, Princeton
NJ, p. 319). Control of Department W6, which to all
intents and purposes was ‘already something like an
SS post’ (Helmut Heiber, Waiter Frank und se in
Reichsinstitut fiir Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands,
Stuttgart, 1966, p. 649), was given to the SS lobbyist
Harmjanz in 1937.

Cited in Peter Dudeck, ‘Kontinuitat und Wandel.

Wissenschaftliche Padagogik im Nachkriegsdeutschland’, in W.H. Pehle and P. Sillem, eds, Wissenschaft
im geteilten Deutschland. Restauration oder Neubeginn
nach 1945?, Frankfurt am Main, 1992, p. 68.

Spranger was still able to identify ‘much that was
irreproachable, indeed praiseworthy, in National Socialism (ibid., p. 69), such as the ‘Reichsberufwettkampf’,
the ‘Arbeitsdienstpfiicht’ and the ‘NS Landjahr’.

See Wolfgang Fritz Haug, ‘Nicolai Hartmanns Neuordnung von Wert und Sinn’, in Deutsche Philosophen
1933, edited by Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Hamburg, 1989,
pp. 159-87.

See Thomas Laugstein: ‘Die protestantische Ethik und

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

20.

21.

22.

der “Geist von Pots dam” . Sprangers Rekonstruktion des
Ftihrerstaats aus dem Prinzip personlicher Verantwortung’, in Deutsche Philosophen 1933, pp. 29-68.

See Thomas Friederich, ‘Theodor Litts Warnung von
der “allzu direkten Methoden”‘, in Deutsche Philosophen 1933, pp. 99-124.

Some of the results of this research are drawn together
in my essay ‘Die Plato Rezeption in Deutschland urn
1933‘, in I. Korotin, ed., ‘Die besten Geister der
Nation ‘. Philosophie in Nationalsozialismus, Vienna,
1994.

In the standard work on research into Plato in the
German-speaking context, Ernst Moritz Manasse
(Bucher uber Platon. Bd I. Werke in deutscher Sprache,
Ttibingen, 1957) reviews all the editions of the relevant
literature after 1945 and yet more or less completely
excludes consideration of the obvious relations which
they bear to their historical context.

This short outline is based upon accounts of the Plato
scholarship of the period, which, studied in detail,
reveal a more differentiated picture. For a fuller discussion, see Orozco, ‘Die Plato Rezeption in Deutschland urn 1933’.

Volker Losemann, Nationalsozialismus und Antike,
Hamburg, 1977, p. 86.

It is not necessary here to go into the still undecided
question as to whether this biography is genuine or
fake. Of central interest, however, is the role this
biography played in transforming the principles on
which philological investigations into Plato were
conducted. The volume Das Problem der ungeschriebene Lehre Platons (Darmstadt, 1972), edited
by ltirgen Wippern, contains a number of contributions
in which the attempt to reconstruct Plato’s unwritten
doctrine draws upon a far more complex set of sources.

Leisegang (Die Platondeutung der Gegenwart, Karlsruhe, 1929, p. 50) documents this through the example
of Kurt Singer (a member of the George circle): ‘The
conclusions to be drawn from demonstrating the authenticity of the seventh letter, the fact that Plato himself
said that he did not write down his real doctrine, the
attempt to discover this doctrine in the utterances of
his pupils and by re-interpreting the later dialogues in
light of these utterances – all this was simply pushed to
one side by Singer with a magnificent gesture of superiority. However, we have no idea on what factual
knowledge or on what personal research this rejection
is based.’

Werner Jaeger, ‘Die Erziehung des politischen
Menschen und die Antike’, Yolk im Werden 3, 1933,
p.46.

Plato und die Dichter, Frankfurt am Main, 1934, p. 5
(reprinted in Griechische Philosophie II. Gesammelte
Werke, Bd. 5, Ttibingen, 1985); subsequent page references appear in parenthesis in the text.

It is this immanence which allows Gadamer to make
recourse to this text again on other occasions; by
interpreting Plato’s work from an atemporal standpoint
he is able to disregard its historical features. This is
particularly clear in his polemic against Karl Popper
(,Platos Denken in Utopien’, in Gymnasium. Zeitschrift
fur Kultur der Antike und humanistische Bildung, 90,
1983, pp. 434-55).

‘Antrittsvorlesung in Berlin. Gehalten am 10. Mai
1933‘, in Alfred Baeumler, Miinnerbund und Wissenschaft, Berlin, 1934, p. 131.

23. This is not to say that Gadamer is quoting Baeumler
directly. Nonetheless, this coincidence is not wholly
contingent. It demarcates an identical critical front. The
ideal of the harmonious personality was derived
polemically from a formulation of Schiller’s and was
widely used under National Socialism as a cipher to
criticize the ‘apolitical intellectual’. Gadamer’s employment of this term represents a classic example of what
Michel Pecheux has termed a ‘cross-discourse’.

24. In the Introduction to Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit
([1931132, 1940] Frankfurt am Main, p. 201) Martin
Heidegger indicated his own approach to the question
of Plato’s secret doctrine: ‘The “doctrine” of a thinker
is that which remains unsaid in what is said, that to
which man is exposed in order that he might expend
himself on it.’ Heidegger’s modem interpretation of the
analogy of the cave addresses the reader by mobilizing
both the hermeneutic force of the esoteric and a notion
of truth as something which can only be revealed.

Manfred Frank (Stit in der Philosophie, Stuttgart, 1992,
p. 64) has described this phenomenon in a very clear
way: ‘What can be “shown” in the utterances of philosophy but cannot be “said”, that is, what remains silent
– can always remain silent profoundly.’ Devoted
disciples are attracted by the realm of the unspoken in
that they imagine themselves to be among to the select
few who stand in the presence of a truth which can
never be grasped discursively.

25. Philosophische Lehrjahre. Eine Ruckschau, p. 74.

26. ‘Platos Staat der Erziehung’, in H. Berve, ed., Das neue
Bild der Antike, Leipzig, 1942, p. 317 (reprinted in
Griechische Philosophie II. Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 5,
pp. 249-61); subsequent page references appear in
parenthesis in the text.

27. Gadamer’s various interpretations of the Seventh Letter
reveal the variety of possible readings to which this
letter is exposed. In the texts of 1934 and 1942 he
discusses the first part of the letter, in which Plato
provides a narrative account of his political and philosophical development. Gadamer’s influential article
‘Dialectic and Sophism in Plato’s Seventh Letter’,
dating from 1964, contains a shift in emphasis in so far
as he devotes his attention to that part of the letter in
which Plato addresses the question concerning ‘the
means by which knowledge comes about’ (,Dialektik
und Sophistik im siebten Platonishen Brief’. Vortrag
gehalten vor der Heidelberger Akadamie der Wissenschaften, Philos.- Histor. Klasse, Abh. 2. Heidelberg
(1964), in Griechische Philosophie I, Gesammelte
Werke, Ttibingen, 1985, p. 92). This essay is a
meticulous philological treatise which is radically
different from the pieces discussed above in its mode
of presentation, style and form of argument. It is also
interesting because Gadamer discusses the political
reading of Plato at a markedly discreet distance. In the
tradition of the Ttibingen school of classical philology,
he writes: ‘We are concerned to investigate the
responses of Aristotle and his contemporaries [to the
dialogues – T.O.]. The more we engage with Plato’s
philosophy in this way, the more one-sided seems the
approach to Plato’s dialogues which was pursued in
Germany in the first half of this century. Either the
“political Plato” was pushed to the fore, as in the work
of Wilamowitz, FriedIander and – in an extreme form
Hildebrandt. Or, with reference to the
Existenzphilosophie of the twenties, prominence was

25

28.

29.

30.

31.

given to the “existential Plato” and the doctrine of ideas
was stripped of its dogmatic form’ (ibid., p. 91).

See Thomas Laugstein, ‘Die protestantische Ethik und
der “Geist von Potsdam”. Sprangers Rekonstruktion des
FUhrerstaats aus dem Prinzip personlicher Verantwortung’, in Deutsche Philosophen 1933, pp. 6lff.; and
Philosophieverhiiltnisse im deutschen Faschismus,
Hamburg, 1990, pp. 6lff.

See MUller, The Other God that Failed, pp. 267ff.

See Martin Hinicke, ‘Die “AbgrUndige Wissenschaft”
vom Leviathan. Zur Hobbes-Deutung Carl Schmitts im
Dritten Reich’, Zeitschrift fur Politik 3, pp. 401-15.

It remains an open question whether Gadamer sought
to indicate his proximity to the Kieler school with this
discreet reference. According to Bernd RUthers
(Entartetes Recht. Rechtslehren und Kronjuristen im
Dritten Reich, Munich, 1994, p. 43), this school did
not regard the state as ‘a mere instrument of power for
the party or for a “movement”’ (ibid.). In the tradition
of Hegelian modes of thought, the state was ‘bound up
with the incarnation of the idea of the ethical as a
superpersonal form of “law” whose central content they
sought to define in a national and racist way. The very
notions of general law, penal law and individual rights
represented normative limits upon the holders of power
because of their connection with objective and
fundamental legal values (justice, ethical life ). The idea
of the state and of “right” could not be instrumentalized
at will. Nonetheless, the recourse to Hegel and to
German Idealism could, theoretically, set limits to the
misuse of the law and the state in the despotic
arbitrariness of the administration of the law and the
employment of the police’ (ibid.). Laugstein has also
drawn attention to the functionalizing of the Hegelian
universal within this school: ‘the Hegelian discourse of

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CJ

32.

33.

34.

35.

36.

the “universal” in which everything individual knows
itself to be sublated was ideally suited to consecrating
as a higher necessity the removal of the basic rights of
the individual’ (Philosophieverhiiltnisse im deutschen
Faschismus, p. 175).

Martin Broszat (Der Staat Hitlers, Munich, 1983, pp.

412f.) documents a statement made to the minister of
justice by Frank’s representative in the National
Socialist luristenbund on 22 August 1935. There he
expressed ‘serious concern about the state of legal
protection in Germany’ (ibid.). He referred to the fact
‘that the refusal of legal support in cases of preventative
detention’ by the Gestapo stood ‘in contradiction to the
natural sense of law of the northern peoples’ and
‘encouraged calumny’. Further, ‘the activities of the
Gestapo -like the Russian Tscheka – w[ere] outside of
the sphere of law’ and ‘purely despotic’. Frank later
took a leading role in the genocide of the Jews. He was
condemned to death by the Nuremberg military
tribunal.

‘Exkurse 11’ (1960), in Ergiinzungen und Register zu
Wahrheit und Methode, TUbingen, 1986, p. 380.

Gadamer criticizes Schmitt’s discussion of the play’s
contemporary political relevance, arguing that Schmitt
sought ‘to read Hamlet like a roman-it-clef (ibid.,
p. 379). Gadamer maintains programmatically that,
‘The more that remains open, the more freely the
process of understanding succeeds, that is, the process
of transposing what is known in the play into one’s
own world and, of course, into the world of one’s
political experience as well’ (ibid., p. 380).

‘Schmuggel. Gadamers Geheimnis’.

Gadamer provided the introduction and commentary for
a translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics which was
published in 1948.

‘Schmuggel. Gadamers Geheimnis’.

the normal and the pathological
A conference in honour of the memory of Georges Canguilhem
Sponsored by Economy and Society and History of the Present

Themes include
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Saturday 14 September 1996

the new genetics and pathology

9.15 – 5.30

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full fee – £35 (including tea, coffee
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Conference programme, registration forms and registration:

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Speakers include
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26

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