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How Goethe Set the Scene for Scientism, and Worse

Goethe_(Stieler_1828).jpgYou might think that the culture that allowed Nazism had been fully examined already, but M. D. Aeschliman, the distinguished American critic living in Switzerland, describes in the new St. Austin Review (edited by Joseph Pearce) the ways that Germany from the Enlightenment onward developed a truculent secularism that encouraged the National Socialists. See “Dissociation of Sensibility: The German Tragedy Revisited.”

The most intriguing insight in this thorough essay is Aeschliman’s observation that Goethe set the scene in the 18th Century with his praise of art and science as substitutes for religion. Unmoored from faith, the devotees of “Kultur” and “Wissenschaft” (science, overwhelmingly materialistic and Darwinian) in the 19th and 20th centuries were ready allies of the anti-Semites and others who influenced Hitler. Aeschliman gives considerable credit to Dr. Richard Weikart (Discovery Institute Fellow and professor at Cal State Stanislaus) for his fine scholarship on the topic.

Aeschliman concludes that we are far from liberated from these pernicious pseudo-religions. Think of the people who effectively still worship either art or science, or both, and believe with an unchecked passion. Religious people have learned tolerance and mutual appreciation from the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and from the Holocaust itself. History can be humbling. Maybe the zealots of art and science could use a Reformation of their own.

Image by Joseph Karl Stieler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.