Viennese Philosophy in the Shadow of Nazism

Oct. 21 2020

In the aftermath of World War I, the city of Vienna was no longer the capital of the sprawling Hapsburg empire, but of the small country commonly referred to as “rump Austria.” Yet it remained a thriving center of cultural and intellectual life. One particularly influential example was the Vienna Circle, an interdisciplinary group—its best-known member was the mathematician Kurt Gödel—interested in the relationship between language and philosophy. Deeply influenced by the Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself a Christian of Jewish descent, the group consisted of both Jews and Christians, but was understood to be somehow “Jewish.” Adam Kirsch, reviewing a new book on the circle, The Murder of Professor Schlick, explains:

Moritz Schlick, who turned to philosophy after earning a doctorate in physics [was the group’s leader]. . . . Schlick’s death had nothing to do with his ideas; he was killed by a psychotic former student, Johann Nelböck, who had been stalking and threatening him for years and finally shot him, in June, 1936, on the steps of a university building. But what happened next . . . was indeed shaped by what the Vienna Circle had come to represent in the ideological frenzy of interwar Austria.

No sooner had news of the crime broken than the nationalist, anti-Semitic press began to extenuate and even to praise it as a blow against degenerate Jewish thought. Schlick was accused of damaging “the fine porcelain of the national character” and of embodying Jewish “logicality, mathematicality, [and] formalism,” qualities inimical to “a Christian German state.” One writer urged that the murder should “quicken efforts to find a truly satisfactory solution of the Jewish Question.” Nelböck, at his trial, played to this sentiment, claiming that he had killed Schlick for ideological reasons.

In this deranged atmosphere, no one was deterred by the fact that Schlick was not Jewish but, rather, a German Protestant. Some of his defamers probably didn’t know this, but others simply didn’t care, since in their eyes Jewishness wasn’t defined only by religion or ethnicity. It was also a mind-set, characterized by the modernism and liberalism they saw as sources of spiritual corruption.

The great rival of Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle at that time was Martin Heidegger, who, in Kirsch’s words, “wanted to make philosophy more like poetry, whereas the Vienna Circle wanted it to be more like math.” He was also “an enthusiastic Nazi.”

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Anti-Semitism, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Nazism, Philosophy, Vienna

Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy