National Socialism and the Problem of Relativism

In The Emergence of Relativism: German Thought from the Enlightenment to National Socialism. London, New York: pp. 233-251 (2019)
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The aim of this chapter is to clarify the meaning and the use of the concept of relativism in the context of National Socialism (NS). This chapter analyzes three aspects of the connection between relativism and NS: The first part examines the critical reproach that NS is a form of relativism. I analyze and criticize the common core of this widespread argument, which is developed in varying contexts, was held in different times, and is still shared by several authors. The second part investigates the ideological debate among Nazi philosophers themselves concerning whether NS is indeed a form of relativism. I focus on the epistemological consequences of Nazi anthropology and analyze both its relativistic tendencies and the strategies used to reject relativism. In contrast to the received view, I argue that Nazi philosophers attempted to overcome both absolutism and relativism. The third part investigates the academic debate on relativism during NS, using the example of the prize question on relativism that was announced by the Prussian Academy of Science in 1936. By examining the academic approaches to the problem of relativism, I also address the question of how broader philosophical debates were related to the core of Nazi ideology. Academic philosophers took the self-understanding of Nazi philosophers seriously. They saw the shared aim of overcoming relativism as an opportunity to collaborate with NS. The brief conclusion summarizes the findings of the chapter. I conclude that, in the context of NS, critics, ideologists, and academics understand and use the concept of relativism in the same way.
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Archival date: 2019-05-20
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