Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 2 - "The Horror of Hitlerism"

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

In the latter part of 1934, Korzybski had been busy writing. In September, he worked on and sent out a letter to co-workers like Kendig and Trainor. The letter emphasized the extensional practices he felt people must make habitual in order to apply his work. (Kendig, who recognized the letter’s importance, later included it in Korzybski’s Collected Writings.) (1) 

He also intended to finish the “Outline of General Semantics”. He planned to present it at the Ellensburg Congress and then use it for further publicity. For this purpose, he had sent drafts of it to some of his friends for editing, including Philip Graven. Korzybski’s reaction to some of Graven’s comments, related to the topic of “Hitlerism”, demonstrated some of Korzybski’s concerns about the state of the world at the time. It may also partly explain his further falling away from the already strained relationship with Graven.

Throughout 1934—though under the gaze of foreign governments and the international press—Germany, in its second year under Nazi rule, had further descended into barbarity. On June 30, in “the night of the long knives”, elite SS storm troopers, who had pledged their special loyalty to Hitler, murdered Ernst Roehm and the other leaders of the SA Brown Shirts, a Nazi party militia that had formed from the street thugs who had served Hitler during his rise to power. When President Paul von Hindenburg died in August, Hitler became President of Germany as well as Chancellor. The German military establishment, which had been concerned about encroachments on their leadership by Roehm and the SA, seemed assuaged by Hitler’s purge of them. Every German soldier was asked to swear an oath of personal allegiance to Hitler. His power seemed complete.

In the meantime, political opponents, Jews, Romany (Gypsies), and other German ethnic minorities, the mentally ill, and mentally retarded, as well as overt homosexuals, among others, were beleaguered by increasingly harsh Nazi laws. German Jews remained the special targets of the Nazi government. Seven to eight percent of the German Jewish population had already fled the country by the end of the year. Like the kind of semantic (evaluational) infection Korzybski had written about in Science and Sanity, antisemitism—including government-sponsored discrimination against Jews—had become widespread throughout not only Germany, but Eastern and Central Europe, including Poland. Alfred had followed the news of all this and felt deep concern, making references to the problems of Hitlerism and Germany in his “Outline” draft— references which Graven found objectionable.

As already noted, Korzybski had long felt an almost indefinable sense of connection with Jews and Jewish culture. This connection became clearer earlier in the year, when he read an article that appeared in the Spring 1934 issue of the American Scholar, “The Essence of Judaism” by Hans Kohn, a Prague-born, Jewish historian and political scientist then teaching at Smith College. The article presented a bold contrast between Hellenism, the static, ‘space’ orientation of Greek civilization (more or less equivalent, in Korzybski’s terms, to ‘aristotelianism’) and Judaism, the dynamic, ‘time’ orientation of Jewish civilization. To Korzybski, the Nazis represented an extreme example of the first. Whereas, the orientation Kohn depicted as ‘the essence of Judaism” seemed to Korzybski like what he was aiming for with ‘non-aristotelianism’. He had already recommended the article to Graven in August 2 and referred to it again in a letter to the psychiatrist on September 29, partially quoted below:
...I know you associate often with people who praise Hitler. [In 1934 America, this was by no means an anomaly, and Graven’s German-speaking wife apparently had strong positive feelings towards the new German regime.] But also you do not read carefully reports from the world (I DO STUDY THEM). Hitler happens to be a sick man,...on his nerve[-]shaken masses he has succeeded of imposing his conditions. Even now Germany is a victim of this illness as the world enmity and fear will doom them as an outstanding nation. They base their whole movement on falsified ‘science’. I write about it because one cannot profess Gen. Sem. and not perceive the horror of Hitlerism. You know he hates the Jews. All of us as persons have perfect right to select their friends, but these personal attitudes should never be generalized. This issue is fundamental for us and between us. PLEASE read carefully in the American Scholar, Spring, 1934 an article by Kohn ‘The Essence of Judaism’. With some revision of language what he says is profoundly true, but applies not only to Jews but many individuals in every nation...Remember please the issue is sharp either ‘space-binding’ etc., Greek and animalistic, or ‘time-binding’, Gen. Sem. and human and sane. We are up against these issues dear Philip, it is better to be forewarned. (3)

On October 10, Graven wrote back to Alfred:
To put it mildly, I do think your comments regarding Hitler were exceedingly biased, unfair, unkind. He merely represents a reaction to gangster diplomats of Europe. Look what they did to our Wilson. It is regrettable to hear you voice such jingoist petty politics. (4) 

Korzybski responded quite mildly to his friend but firmly reasserted his position about the unique semantic (evaluational) status of the Nazis, who seemed to him to be consciously but perversely using linguistic, evaluational manipulations (propaganda) to further their pathological political aims. The two men discussed this and other business in letters over the next month. Finally, on November 15, Korzybski wrote to Graven, that among his other editorial helpers with the “Outline” draft, “...all approved the inclusion of the German tragedy in it (really human tragedy).”
Dear Philip you do not want me to be scientifically dishonest. I would feel this way if I would disregard one [of] the most serious tragedies on human record. I know through personal connections and friends you feel differently...As the author of G.S. I have a further vision, quite clear which as yet is not explained in writing, as it is extremely long to write, but the movement of Hitler...[is] definitely culturally retrogressive, anti-semantic, anti-world culture, etc., a very long list, and in all honesty, I as a student of individual and group behaviour cannot disregard this...What I will do however is change the term ‘hitlerism’ which may be considered by some ‘offensive’ and make a serious human sentence out of it, which could not be considered ‘offensive’ or anything else,...(5)

Korzybski had deferred to his friend by taking some of the ‘juice’ from his article (probably to its detriment). Nonetheless, Graven still seemed offended, asserting without irony: “I must accuse you of talking sheer rubbish whenever you open fire on the Germans and poor little [H]itler...I do not believe you can be fair to the Germans in one sentence, nor in a chapter...”(6) Graven didn’t seem open to reconsidering his stand.

By the following year (1935), after he began his intensive period as an itinerant lecturer, Korzybski had stopped giving way to Graven’s opinion. He was beginning to make public his views about Hitler and Germany—even predicting a second world war. In August 1935, while he was in Berkeley giving a three-week seminar at the Williams Institute, a local paper carried the following story:
Count Sees Germans As Menace To Peace 
“A sick nation of 66,000,000 people led by a sick man will plunge the world into another war!” 
Thus Count Alfred Korzybski, world-renowned “human engineer,” now lecturing at Williams Institute in Berkeley, characterizes Germany and her Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, and predicts another conflagration as the result of Germany’s determination to turn backward on the path of human progress.  
The distinguished Polish scholar whose recent book, “Science and Sanity,” is acclaimed by many of the world’s foremost scientists as the last word on “the true nature of man,” analyzes Germany’s persecution of the Jews in psychological terms:  
“The Jews have always had a sense of the time process. They were dynamic, drivers, time-binders. Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein—all were conscious of the fourth-dimensional time-world.  
“Hitler is avowedly Aristotelian, and in constant opposition to Jews because of a fundamental antagonism. The Greek or Aristotelian, was a static orientation. 
“Einstein was the first to catch up with the modern world. Germany which considers itself scientific, disowns him!”...(7) 

The following day this short follow-up piece appeared in the same newspaper:
This open expression of views, unpopular at a time when most Americans seemed isolationist, would have made it more difficult for Alfred to avoid discussing the topic with his friend. And as time went on, he became even more vociferous. By 1937, he was more urgently sounding the alarm against Hitlerism, publicly suggesting that concerned psychiatrists ought to get involved in fighting it—a theme he would continue to develop.(8) Perhaps not surprisingly, the frequency of Alfred’s correspondence with Graven gradually dwindled until the two friends eventually ceased having contact. Graven’s early attitude toward Hitler seemed to have demonstrated something Korzybski noted in the “Outline”, and which he often repeated elsewhere: “...even one identification, can ruin a human life, a science, or a social, etc., system.”(9) Or a friendship.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. “Letter to Co-Workers”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 729–735. 

2. AK to Graven, 8/16/1934. AKDA 30.199. 

3. AK to Philip Graven, 9/29/1934. AKDA 30.164. 

4. Philip Graven to AK, 10/10/1934. AKDA 30.156–159. 

5. AK to Philip Graven, 11/15/1934. AKDA 30.134. 

6. Philip Graven to AK, 11/23/1934 AKDA 30.130. 

7. “Count Sees Germans As Menace To Peace”. Oakland Post-Enquirer, 8/9/1935. AKDA 2.792.

8. “Hitler Called “Sick Boy”; Rulers’ Mental Test Urged”. Asbury Park, New Jersey Evening Press, 11/24/1937. AKDA 2.877. 

 9. “An Outline of General Semantics”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 213. 

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