I had not been intending to write anything on the ‘liberation’ of Auschwitz. Firstly, I was not paying attention to the fact that it was the 70th anniversary yesterday. Secondly, even if I had known beforehand, (a) there were Soviet Gulags and it would seem insensitive to focus on just one of the horrors of WWII, and (b) the idea that ‘evil’ ended in the world after WWII only serves to perpetuate the misery of many people who can be justifiably bombed, sanctioned, stigmatized, economically targeted, and tortured, if they are not ‘free’ enough. For example, more bombs were dropped in the Vietnam war than were dropped throughout WWII. No disrespect is meant to the survivors or dead of the National Socialist concentration camps, by the way.
Today is one day after the anniversary. Because I have something of interest to say about the so-called ‘liberation,’ which was just a by-product of an invasion, I think it’s worthwhile to air it.
Oft-repeated myths such as that of good people not acting when events like Auschwitz were occurring are bland and give no insight. National Socialist concentration camps and Soviet gulags occurred because of (a) the very deep longing that people possess for absolute freedom and (b) the equally deep longing for sharing this absolute freedom with others, which is intended to culminate in a shared, equal, absolute, freedom.
These longings come from Christian theology, a theology secularized after the 16th century, but are not Christian concepts per se. Concepts like communism go as far back as the Church Fathers and the Stoics. But the political currency of theology, i.e. applying ideas of freedom and equality to affairs of state, gained ground during the Enlightenment.
Philosophers envisioned freeing man via government. Yet it was an oppressive vision. If Rosseau had merely stopped when he had said ‘Man is … everywhere in chains’ and not wanted to force people to be free in Du Contrat Social – building his theory upon the former fact, rather than the latter prescription which was a product of the General Will – things may have been different. Later, Hegel and then Marx sought to use history or economics as their springboard to absolute freedom and equality.
Anarchists like Proudhon saw the basic flaw in state-sponsored freedom, however. Government and law are essentially repressive. Anyone who accepts communal existence and order accepts restrictions, i.e. the chains of Rosseau. The Anarchist solution was to have no government. Their absolute freedom was self-consistent. Even though it seems unworkable, no government Leviathan is generated.
For everyone else, government is a prerequisite. For many, the pragmatic application of government is enough. Yet for others, the chimera of absolute freedom and equality is irresistible. How is this going to come about, however?
Carl Schmitt, in his inquiries into dictatorship (a book of the same name was published in 1922) seized on a modern interpretation of the dictatorial office. A dictatorship in classical thought gets the members of a political order from A to B. Dictatorship has a purely pragmatic purpose and the dictator can do what he wants to do in order to restore order. Dictatorship does nothing other than solve a present danger and is disbanded quickly without any laws being changed in the interim.
In the modern world, Schmitt identified ‘sovereign dictatorship.’ This is a different animal to ‘commissarial (classical) dictatorship,’ but is also aimed at a purpose. Yet it is not predicated on a limited mandate. It is predicated on getting the members of society to certain abstract goals by any means for any period of time.
Jews, the paradigm of bourgeois society for the National Socialists, and those like the Kulaks in Soviet Russia, stood in the way of liberation. They were inherent enemies of the sovereign dictatorship. Their removal was necessary for an era of absolute freedom and absolute equality. This, the chimera of absolute liberation, is the explanation for the brutality of that period. Dictatorship was merely its vehicle.
In conclusion, if we do not wish to be Anarchists (in spite of their self-consistency), any ideas of absolute freedom and equality must be seen as dangerous and intellectually flawed. Freedom and equality are relative values. Someone is free within a strict, legal order. Someone is equal with others but only within a strict, legal order. Maybe we should even go further and question the whole doctrine of self-realization within an absolutely liberated political order.
Currently, I am researching a book on Carl Schmitt. Any comments or suggested corrections to this post are welcome. I have already authored one book Mysteries of State in the Renaissance. My Amazon page is here.
Cover Photo: Nuremberg Rally from “Bundesarchiv Bild 102-04062A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-04062A / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-04062A,_N%C3%BCrnberg,_Reichsparteitag,_SA-_und_SS-Appell.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-04062A,_N%C3%BCrnberg,_Reichsparteitag,_SA-_und_SS-Appell.jpg