Relativism in the Context of National Socialism

In Martin Kusch (ed.), Routledge Handbook to Relativism. New York, London: pp. 114-123 (2019)
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The aim of this chapter is to clarify the use and meaning of the concept of relativism in the context of National Socialism (NS). Section 1 examines the critical reproach that NS is a form of relativism. I analyze and criticize the common core of this widespread argument which has dominated discussions about the topic up to the present. Section 2 sketches the general debates on relativism before and during NS. I show that fascist thought could be associated with both relativism and anti-relativism. In contrast to the received view, I argue that Nazi intellectuals regarded relativism as problem, and presented NS as the overcoming of relativism. Subsequently I turn to two major philosophers who connected their philosophy with NS. Section 3 investigates Bruno Bauch’s (1887–1942) nationalist philosophy. I show that he linked his concept of the nation with an objectivist value theory intended to oppose all kinds of relativism. Section 4 turns to Erich Rothacker’s (1888–1965) cultural anthropology. I argue that the revision of his philosophical views in the 1930s was accompanied by a political turn towards NS and a withdrawal from relativism. The brief conclusion (Section 5) summarizes the findings of the chapter. I conclude that, in the context of NS, relativism is mostly used in a pejorative sense.

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Johannes Steizinger
McMaster University


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