Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eugen Dühring: economist, philosopher's punching-bag, rabid anti-Semite

Eugen Dühring (1833-1921) was a blind German scholar who became a Dozent at the University of Berlin despite his social-democratic leanings and who attained his academic reputation as an economist. His book Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Socialismus, first published in 1871, is still regarded as a notable economic history from that time.

Eugen Dühring (1833-1921)
Dühring's writing on economics was well-regarded by August Babel, the long-time leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), and his writing had a significant influence on the SPD in the second half of the 19th century. By the late 1870s, his works on economics, politics and philosophy drew heavy criticism and scorn from both Friedrich Engels and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Engels skewered Dühring's ideas in a series of articles in the social-democratic press in 1877 and 1878 which were published in 1888 as the book Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, better known as Anti-Dühring. Nietzsche attacked him in various passages of his writing. Dühring seems to have been the main socialist philosopher with whom Nietzsche was familiar. Much of his scorn at socialism was presumably more particularly scorn for Dühring. Nietzsche also regarded the activist anti-Semites of his day, of whom Dühring became one in the 1880s, as pretty much the lowest form of human life. Outside of his reputation in the branch of economic history, Dühring is mainly remembered today through the attacks made on him by Engels and Nietzsche.

Gerd-Kalus Kaltenbrunner in "Eugen Dühring," Zeitschrift für Relgions- und Geistesgeschichte 22 (1970), describes the surprising range of Dühring's influence, but with special emphasis on his darker legacy of political anti-Semitism, especially from his the time of his book Die Judenfrage als Racen-, Sitten- und Culturfrage (1880) to the end of his life. Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), whose "revisionist" socialist views made him the main Social Democratic leader opposed to the official Marxist views of the SPD in the late 19th and early 20th century, was significantly influenced in his thinking by Dühring's earlier work. (After the First World War, Bernstein affiliated with the antiwar left faction that split off as the USPD, the Independent Social Democratic Party.) Dühring's positivist scientific theories were highly regarded by the influential physicist Ernst Mach.

Kaltenbrunner also observes that Dühring's ideas from a phase of his work in which he advocated utopian socialist communities had a direct influence on the Israeli Kibbutz movement through Theodor Hertzka (aka, Hertzka Tiavar, 1845-1924), author of Freiland. Ein sociales Zukunftsbild (1890) and Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943).

There's no question that Dühring's teachings and followers in the period after 1880 contributed to the climate of anti-Semitism and the formation of political anti-Semitic ideas that manifested themselves in anti-Semitic political movements like those of Adolf Stöcker, founder of the Christian Social Party in Berlin, and the far more successful Karl Lueger in Vienna.

But it's difficult to evaluate the actual influence of Dühring himself in that mix. Not that we should deny him the well-deserved dishonor of being a famous and influential anti-Semitic agitator and theorist. It's just that intellectual influences are complicated to trace historically, especially for a political movement like the National Socialists for whom ideology as such was not a central concern. Kaltenbrunner cites several examples of anti-Semites around and during Nazi rule in Germany praising Dühring's service to the anti-Semitic cause. Kaltenbrunner also argues that Dühring's role in that enterprise has been underappreciated in the scholarship on National Socialism, the kind of arguments of which academics seeking to show the originality of their research are fond. But George Mosse in Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (1978) [German: Die Geschichte des Rassismus in Europa; 1985] also argues that both Dühring's writing and his influence in the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP) founded in 1904 were important influences in Hitler's National Socialist movement.

The DAP is described in some detail by Andrew Whiteside in "Nationaler Sozialismus in Österreich vor 1918," Viertejarhshefte für Zeitgeschichte 9/4 (Oct 1961), which Kaltenbrunner cites. This was a Party representing Germans in the Czech portions of the Habsburg Empire in the near-powerless Imperial Parliament in Vienna. It also became a notable presence in Linz, Austria, the city where Hitler grew up, competing directly with the Social Democrats for working-class voters but with strong anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist themes. Following the examples of Stöcker and Lueger, the DAP combined anti-Semitism with issues borrowed from the Social Democratic movement to appeal to working-class voters. Dühring's thinking was influential in the DAP. But its most important leader was Walter Riehl, who was an effective public agitator and organizer. Another important secondary leader was Rudolf Jung, who later became part of the Nazi SS. From Whiteside's account, Jung's influence on the Party's public ideology seems to have loomed larger than Dühring's.

But Whiteside claims it was Dühring who first articulated the ideological mix adopted by the DAP. But he also writes, "Gleichwohl kann dieser nicht als 'Vater' ihrer Ideologie gelten, da er in vielen Punkten dem Programm der Nationalsozialisten widersprach." (At the same time, he cannot be considered the "father" of their ideology, because he contradicted the National Socialists [here the DAP is meant] on many points.) He observes that they accepted Dühring’s rejection of class struggle and adopted his general ideas of how labor contracts should be used in politics. But, he writes, the Austrian DAP’s position on major questions "war nicht viel mehr als eine Misachung von Opportunismus und Interesselosigkiet." (not much more than a mixture of opportunism and lack of interest)

But some historical connections of the DAP with Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) are direct. In 1918, the DAP became the DNSAP (Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei; German National Socialist Workers Party), a name very close to that of the NSDAP. When Anton Drexler in 1919 formed the tiny Party that Hitler would soon join and re-name the NSDAP, it affiliated itself with the Austrian, Czech and Polish sections of the DNSAP. The Austrian branch of the Party in the 1920s adopted the leadership of Hitler and merged itself into the NSDAP.

So Dühring's work had some kind of effect on the thinking of Hitler and the Nazi Party, largely mediated through Riehl's DAP/DNSAP. But the direct effect of Austrian anti-Semitic leaders and agitators in early 1900s like Karl Lueger, Georg Heinrich Ritter von Schönerer and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels was more significant in shaping Hitler's particular perspective.

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