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Kant and Nazism:

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by Soren Underdahl on 27 November 2013

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Transcript of Kant and Nazism:

The Categorical Betrayal of Humanity: Kant's Influence on
Nazism

Not just some intellectuals follow Kant.

In many ways, our average, everyday, "grandmother" morality comes from our duty.
Why Is This Important to You?
Adolf Eichmann
Nazi Eichmann
The Post-Nazi Eichmann
Fled to Argentina
Brought his wife and children from Germany
Told his wife who he was
Pretended he was his own cousin to his children
Interviewed with a journalist, exposing who he was
Captured by an Israeli group
Kidnapped and transported illegally from Argentina to Israel
"I meant by this that the principle of my volition and principle of my life must be such that it could at any time be raised to be the principle of general legislation..."
Eichmann's Defense
The Puzzle
Does Kant's Cosmopolitan, Universal Ethics allow for Nazi officers to excuse themselves from moral responsibility?

Or even excuse
Hitler?
Was Eichmann Correct?
Of course, like with most things, the answer is not quite so simple.
Duty Prevents Evil
Morality is not just some trivial or subjective matter.

Kant defended his Categorical Imperative to the last, giving many formulations and qualifications, but one flaw still stands out,
that of ultimate authority from the state.
This can not be ignored and is not underwritten by successful theories from Kant.
Conclusion and Implications
The Categorical Imperative
Not Emotional, Religious, or Utilitarian

“I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” -Kant

"...we shall take up the concept of duty, which includes that of a good will, though with certain subjective restrictions and hindrances..." -Kant

"...this worth is moral and incomparably the highest of all, viz., that he is beneficent, not from inclination, but from duty.” -Kant

Some of Kant's politics:
Kant's ideological influence extended to clarifying the Enlightenment, arguing for Cosmopolitanism and Progressivism, and creating a Deontological theory of Ethics. He was a leader of thought on Anti-Colonialism and Philosophy of Religion. His theories have created a basis for the UN, Existentialism, and many portions of current Medical Ethics theory.

Was in the RSHA unit and controlled the deportation and transportation of Jews throughout the late 1930's and 40's, including the trains that moved Jews into Concentration Camps in the Eastern areas
Born in 1906 in Germany
SS Officer with the rank of Obersturmbannführer
Rose through the ranks due to his 'expertise' on the Jews
He often stated that he had had many Jewish friends.
Eichmann could not stomach the extermination methods that he witnessed.
His dream goal was very close to Zionism, including being a proponent of the Madagascar Plan (the real one)
“...because these activities...at that time I had to live and act under compulsion, and the compulsion of a third person, during exceptional times...I meant by this… Kantian principle, to the extent that I am my own master and able to organize my life according to my volition and according to my wishes.”
"Killing people violently cannot be according to the spirit of the Kantian imperative, because in principle it is not something God-given."
"'True to the law, obedient, a proper personal life, not to come into conflict with the law.'"
Kant's Politics Suck
When Eichmann says he's using the "Little Man's" version of Kant, He is unfortunately using it correctly.
Kant was a little Racist sometimes
Some of Kant's little remembered works include the Anthropology, Cultural Geography, and an article titled "On the Different Races of Man"
Misunderstanding and the Radical Evil
One view is that Eichmann did not truly understand what Kant meant when he said to follow one's duty.

Hans Frank once said "Act in such a way that the Fuhrer, if he knew your action, would approve it.”

Kant does not promote blind obedience and condemns those who do not follow a true duty to mankind

Kant also has an idea of multiple types of evil, including demonic evil, which would apply to Hitler.

Arendt implies a new type of evil, called Banal (unoriginal) Evil.
“[Standing armies] constantly threaten other nations with war... And since the costs related to maintaining peace will in this way finally become greater... paying men to kill or be killed appears to use them as mere machines...which is inconsistent with the rights of humanity.” -Kant
Evil? More like Obedient.
“...demonic evil is a concept the reality of which Kant must deny if he is to maintain the analysis of the good will given in the Grundlegung.” -Ugilt and Lausten
The fact that Kant denies the ability for good or ill will to be taken into account, has left the Categorical Imperative open to the realizations of the Nazis.
The Categorical Imperative allows for duty to subsume any moral instinct, thereby ignoring any types of 'evil' (banal, demonic, or radical)
The Formalism of the CI can not be usefully applied to reality, despite that being it's main tenant.
"The reason a people has a duty to put up with even what is held to be an unbearable abuse of supreme authority is that its resistance to the highest legislator can never be regarded as other than contrary to law, and indeed as abolishing the entire legal constitution." -Kant
-Eichmann
Kant essentially allows for Dictators and is against any form of violent revolution or civil disobedience.
Do your Duty!... Even if your leader is Hitler....
Kant accounts for selfish actions in his 3rd formulation of the categorical Imperative, where he requires that the end, and there is an end, to all moral action is humanity itself.

Kant's Impact is clear. The Names of numerous influential intellectuals, scientists and Politicians come up upon a simple Google search of Kantians
P.F. Strawson, Simon Hope, Wilfrid Sellars, Christine Korsgaard, John Rawls, Max Weber, Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ramadan, and Albert Einstein
If Kant can let the Nazis in, what else is knocking at the door?
Recent scholarship has focused in part on the fact that Kant held a "black, white, red, yellow" conception of race, and was a pretty avid antisemite.
"The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in which a Negro has shown talents... So fundamental is the difference between these two races of man, and it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour." -Kant
No wonder the Nazis could use him!
Kant was a late 18th century German Philosopher who lived and taught in Konigsberg, Prussia
Yet, Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer in a trial that would lead to his execution, said in his defense: "I meant by this that the principle of my volition and principle of my life must be such that it could at any time be raised to be the principle of general legislation..."
Duty is a means.
See the full transcript