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James C. Kincaid


(Summer 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Myth of the State
Ernst Cassirer
Yale University Press, 12s 6d

This was the last book written by Ernst Cassirer, a distinguished philosopher who fled from Hitler’s Germany to the United States. Cassirer argues that the Nazi ideology involved a regression to the myth-making mentality of primitive man. The Nazi triumph meant the destruction of that tradition of rationality which he believed to have been central in Western intellectual life since the days of the Greek philosophers.

Cassirer deploys impressive analytical powers in a long exposition of the development of rational political philosophy from Plato to Hegel. This is interesting for its own sake, but throws little light on the nature of Fascism. Cassirer lacks the ingenuity of Professor Popper, who can look into The Republic and see foreshadowed the Third Reich.

The author comes closer to his ostensible theme in his examination of some of the 19th century versions of ideas that were later to form part of the Fascist ideology – the hero worship of Carlisle, the race doctrines of Gobineau, the deification of the State derived from misreadings of Hegel.

But after all this, it is a disappointment to find that the author offers no detailed analysis of the political faith of the Nazi Party. Moreover, at no point does he pose the key questions of how and why these lunatic notions of race and leadership came to dominate the intellectual life of an advanced nation. Cassirer was deeply versed in the history of Western philosophy, and in addition was a lifelong student of the irrational forces embodied in myth. But he seems unable to confront the Nazi phenomenon squarely. Maybe it was too near to home. More likely, Cassirer represents one of the points of collapse of the great Enlightenment tradition of political rationality.

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