Sunday, January 29, 2012

pseudoscience in naziland

Propagander | The Nazis did accomplish a remarkable series of scientific advances. Willy Ley explains, in part, how come. Nazi research science to have been strictly on the shotgun technique; if you shoot enough holes in the unknown, something's apt to drop in your lap. And the Nazis tried everything—anything, no matter how wild!

When things get so tough that there seems to be no way out, the Russian embraces the vodka bottle, the Frenchman a woman and the American the Bible.

The German tends to resort to magic, to some nonsensical belief which he tries to validate by way of hysterics and physical force. Not every German, of course. Not even a majority, but it seems to me that the percentage of people so inclined is higher in Germany than in other countries. It was the willingness of a noticeable proportion of the Germans to rate rhetoric above research. and intuition above knowledge, that brought to power a political party which was frankly and loudly anti-intellectual. The Nazis not only burned books they disliked, they also classified theoretical physicists with "Jews and Marxists."

Small wonder the pseudoscientists experienced a heyday under such a regime — but it would be a mistake to believe that these pseudosciences which l am going to describe, originated with the Nazis. They existed, and to some extent even flourished, before Hitler. But then they were hemmed in by the authority of the scientists—after Hitler had become Führer it was almost the other way round.

When speaking about German pseudoscience I am not thinking so much of the usual run of astrologers, fortune tellers, theosophers and devotees to occultism. Of course there was a theosophical society—or rather a few branches hurling noncompliments at one another—there were astrological magazines and presumably astrological societies. There were struggling clairvoyants, mostly struggling among themselves by way of the printed word and resulting lawsuits—I won't judge, but I should think that they should have known the outcome — and there was an occultistic magazine vainly trying to make peace and "advance the cause."

Representatives of all these groups existed in Germany before World War I and began to flourish during World War I. They kept flourishing during the inflationary period, received a slight setback during the few years of mild prosperity in the Twenties, and flourished again dur­ing the years leading up to Hitler. Under Hitler they did not do so well and some groups were even outlawed. If my information is correct, the astrologers found themselves among the outlawed groups, although everybody inside Germany as well as outside knew that Hitler and Himmler had a personal astrol­oger, reportedly a man whose name happened to be Führer, a Dr. W. Führer who also was "Plenipotentiary for Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics."

The pseudosciences I have in mind are not these internationally distributed permanent fads, but some which originated in Germany and while not completely unknown elsewhere, had a special appeal to Germans in about the same sense in which it might be said that the pyramidologists are a British prerogative.

Much of their appeal must have been based on semantic connotations; it is difficult even to translate the names of these "sciences" properly.

The most important of them were Pendelforschung — Pendulum Re­search, Hohlweltlehre — Hollow Earth Doctrine, and Welteislehre — usually abbreviated as WEL, translatable approximately as World Ice Doctrine. But before devoting any space to these more outstanding "achievements" I have to clean up a few minor but not less surprising matters.

In the days before the Nazis became important the term "Ariosophy" could be seen occasionally in some newspapers. Then, one day, there was a small ad, announcing a lecture on Ariosophy by a man whose name I forget. It was stated that he was a disciple of the founder of Ariosophy, Dr. Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. It was also stated that priests would not be admitted to the lecture.

The lecturer, who tried hard to look like Albrecht Dürer, the famous but long-dead German painter, began his lecture with the Statement that there were several human races but that skin color is not the most important criterion for distinguishing the races. Then he launched into an explanation of the hidden importance of language, saying that figures of Speech contain deep truths which, in everyday usage, are usually overlooked. People say, for example, "I can't stand that man's smell — remember, the lecture was in German, where that figure of Speech is used to express personal dislike for somebody, a dislike lacking specific rational reasons — well, that just indicates the otherwise forgotten fact that the various races have different smells, in short it ex-presses revulsion at the other man's race.

By that time the lecture had got around to the word Man —- in Ger­man Mensch — and he pointed out that there was a rare word manschen which means to mix—something unsavory—and with a long Jump from linguistics into the Bible manschen and Mensch were connected. Humanity, it turned out, was the result of a—forbidden—mixture of angels and animals. Each person has a small percentage of angel and a large percentage of animal. The races indicate roughly what the percentages are, a "true race" consists of indi­viduals of about the same percentage which seek each other out. Obviously any small Community is apt to harbor individuals of about the same "race"; pure Aryans, like, for exam­ple, the inhabitants of mountain villages in Norway, may. be as high as one per cent angel.

You can easily see how and where such dream-reasoning fitted into the Nzai philosophy; to my surprise no Party Group or Nazi Community ever erected a statue in honor of Dr. Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels — whose real name may have been Ignaz Donnerwetter.

The Ariosophers could at least quote a few Biblical passages in sup-port of their ideas—they stated that their founder had been a Catholic priest before "he saw the light." The next group was literally founded upon a novel. That group which I think called itself Wahrheitsgesellschaft — Society for Truth — and which was more or less localized in Berlin, devoted its spare time looking for Vril. Yes, their convictions were founded upon Bulwer-Lytton's "The Corning Race." They knew that the book was fiction, Bulwer-Lytton had used that device in order to be able to tell the truth about this "power." The subterranean humanity was nonsense, Vril was not, Possibly it had enabled the British. who kept it as a State secret, to amass their colonial empire. Surely the Romans had -had it, inclosed in small metal balls, which guarded their homes and were referred to as lares. For reasons which I failed to penetrate, the secret of Vril could be found by contemplating the structure of an apple, sliced in halves.

No, I am not joking, that is what I was told with great solemnity and secrecy. Such a group actually existed, they even got out the first issue of a magazine which was to proclaim their credo. (I wish I had kept some of these things, but I had enough books to smuggle out as it was.)