A Pox on your History
Deborah Hayden, Pox:
Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis (New York: Basic Books,
2003), 379 pp., $27.50
Reviewed by E. Michael Jones, Ph.D.
At some point during late 1967 or early 1968, I
decided that in order to complete a novel I was attempting to write, I needed
the help of a creative writing instructor. I had already shown some of the
stories I had written to Hiram Hayden, who was teaching at the Annenberg School
of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, but decided that I needed
advice on a weekly basis, and Hayden, who was at the end of an illustrious
career, wasn't available. That's how I met Bob Summers. He was an ad man turned
playwright who was, I would estimate, 20 to 25 years older than me. His most
famous play was The
Seeds in the Passes. It had been performed, which is accomplishment enough,
in both theaters and on TV. For the next year or so, we met on a weekly basis.
He was, as I remember, a sympathetic listener who always had something
encouraging and intelligent to say. We became friends. He introduced me to the
woman he was living with at the time, who had a dance troupe and had just had a
child by him. Bob was involved in fighting the city of Philadelphia's ill-fated
cross-town expressway at the time, a 10-lane monstrosity which was planned to
go down South Street in Philadelphia and would have permanently altered the
relationship between the center of town and the Italian and Jewish
neighborhoods to the south. As part of those efforts, he was also instrumental
in the founding of The Painted Bride, a coffee house ahead of its time in its
anticipation of the rebirth of boho South Street out of the ashes of the former
retail garment district. Bob scheduled poetry readings at the Painted Bride and
brought the same sympathy to that operation that he brought to the creative
Then, around 1970 his behavior began to change in a dramatic way. His actions became increasingly bizarre. He would withdraw all of his (and Joan's) money from the bank, kidnap his son, fly to California, put himself up at expensive hotels until his money ran out, then end up back in Philadelphia after someone sent him a bus ticket. On one trip back, he got off the bus in Iowa on a hot day and had a stroke. Deprived of the ability to speak, he settled into a depression as deep as his former elation had been high. He tried to kill himself a number of times and finally succeeded. He was discovered dangling from a pipe in the basement of a house where one of his friends ran a Philadelphia version of Esalen, which is to say, a place where sensitivity sessions and sexual contact were supposed to lead to new levels of consciousness.
I used to think it was Bob's ideas that drove him crazy. During the time I knew him, Bob had abandoned tradtional playwriting and had become a devotee of something he was calling psychodrama. I remember listening to him mention names like Moreno, Fritz Perls, and Julian Beck, whose troupe came to town and did Frankenstein, as the introduction to the concept he had for a new play. It was to be called "King of Tetch," as in "tetched in the head," and during the course of the play, Bob would go crazy on stage. In the end, he didn't need a play to crazy. He as going crazy anyway.
Since Bob was a playwright, I suppose he planned make money off of the inevitable. I remember thinking it was a crazy idea at the time, but it was a time when crazy ideas were at a premium and, besides, I knew other people who were going crazy at that time too. So I attributed his craziness to the Zeitgeist, and, behind all of the other figures Bob mentioned, I attributed the ideas that drove him crazy to Wilhelm Reich, who was undergoing his New York Times documented (or promoted) revival at the time. Bob was an eastern European Jew, who shared ethnic sympathy with Reich and Reich's project. South Street was a lot like Prague and Vienna immediately after World War I. Reich's theories had driven Reich crazy. Why shouldn't they have the same effect on Bob. Bob, I concluded as part of my education in the '70s, had acted out Reich's theories of sexual liberation and that had driven him crazy.
I still believe that. Deborah Hayden's book Pox, however, leads me to believe that the connection between Bob Summers and Wilhelm Reich may have been more than simply ideas having consequences. Both of them, I now believe were suffering from the same disease. Both Reich and Bob Summers went crazy at the end of lives dedicated to sexual liberation. Both of them probably died of complications arising from syphilis. William Osler could have had both Bob Summers and Wilhelm Reich in mind when he described the syphilitic as manifesting "a change in character . . . which may astonish the friends and relatives" and warned to watch for "important indications of moral perversions manifested in offenses against decency." Osler is talking about the final stages of syphilis, specifically paresis or general paralysis of the insane when the spirochetes which have been active all along since the period of initial infection finally succeed in destroying the brain. The most interesting aspect of the disease from a cultural point of view is the period "close to the onset of paresis," when, in Hayden's words, "mood shifts become more extreme as euphoria, electric excitement, bursts of creative energy, and grandiose self-reflections alternate with severe often suicidal depression. Delusions of grandeur, paranoia, exaltation, irritability, rages and irrational social behavior define the progression toward insanity. The patient may suddenly begin to gamble, go on absurd spending sprees, or imagine owning vast riches."
Bob was around 25 years older than me. That means that he was born around 1923; that means that he was 20 years old when penicillin was invented. That means that he couldn't have taken it as a cure until roughly four or five years later. By then, even if he had taken it, penicillin would have been too late to keep the disease from spreading to where it often did damage, namely, the brain. Because penicillin has all but eradicated the disease and most certainly has removed it as the central concern of whole cultures in the way that syphilis was at the beginning of the 20th century, the average doctor has lost his knowledge of the progression of the disease. This is a fortiori true of the man in the street. As a result, large areas of cultural history and biography are becoming increasingly incomprehensible to contemporary readers and thinkers.
Syphilis emerged into history at the birth of the modern era. It is most commonly described as having been brought back from the New World by Columbus. Hayden makes the case that Columbus, whose health never recovered after his first voyage and who heard angels speaking to him at the end, was himself infected with syphilis and died of paresis when the spirochete, the corkscrew shaped bacillus otherwise known as the pale treponema, destroyed his brain. Syphilis seems designed to spread maximal contagion. After a sore known as a chancre appears at the place of infection and then disappears, Syphilis seems to go away. Appearances, however, are deceiving, because, according to the testimony of the Center for Disease Control, "Syphilis remains in the body and begins to damage the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart , blood vessels, liver, bones and joints."
During the secondary phase of syphilis, after the disease seems to have disappeared, the victim complains of rashes and all sorts of vague maladies, none of which seems associated with the primary stage infection. In the tertiary or final stage, the disease often destroys the victim's heart, or in the case of paresis or general paralysis of the insane or dementia paralytica, his brain. Tertiary neurosyphilis, as I have already indicated, is the most interesting form of the disease from a cultural point of view. Just before the onset of paralysis, the sufferer is beset with delusions of grandeur, a sense of understanding everything, a sense that he is on the verge of some monumental discovery which will forever change the course of history, as well as a sense that some divine electricity is coursing through his veins. Since in this preliminary stage of tertiary syphilis, powers of expression are not impaired, a syphilitic who is also an artist may well produce a work of art that reflects this state of mind or, rather, this state of brain. Bob Summers felt that "King of Tetch" was just this kind of work. Wilhelm Reich felt that he had unlocked the secrets of the universe with the discovery of orgone energy, something that could now be accumulated in his orgone boxes, which would make power stations unnecessary. Hayden feels that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was composed under these circumstances, after syphilis had destroyed Beethoven's hearing and was in the process of destroying his brain as well. "Seid umschlungen Millionen!" The grandiosity of Schiller's poem is matched by the grandiosity of Beethoven's musical score, which, at least in terms of the Ode to Joy chorus, is based on a moronic melody (melody was never Beethoven's strong suit anyway), as the film Immortal Beloved makes clear. The brain of the syphilitic approaching general paralysis of the insane is like the light bulb that grows brighter just before it burns out completely. The syphilitic experiences, in Hayden's words,
"episodes of creative euphoria, electrified, joyous energy when grandiosity led to a new vision. The heightened perception, dazzling insights, and almost mystical knowledge experienced during this time were expressed while precision of form of expression was still possible. At the end of the 19th century, it was believed that, in rare instances, syphilis could produce genius."
During the period, preliminary to final decline,
"the syphilitic may be plagued by sensations of electric currents in the head, . . . and auditory hallucinations such as being serenaded by angels. This warning stage often has an explosive aspect, a sense of enormous contained energy, while the patient retains an ability to achieve the most rigorous control of expression. Syphilis is not suspected because of the extreme clarity of mind without dementia."
In the period from 1881 to 1882, Nietzsche wrote to his friends about how "Each cloud contains some form of electric charge which suddenly takes hold of me, reducing me to utter misery." The sense that some sort of divine electricity was running through his veins was so strong in Nietzsche's mind that he felt that he ought to be displayed at an electricity exhibition in Paris. In August 1881 Nietzsche wrote to his friend Peter Gay that he felt like a human lightning bolt, "like a zig-zag doodle drawn on paper by a superior power wanting to try out a new pen."
A feeling of boundless intellectual power accompanied the sense that electrical currents were flowing through his veins. On December 18, 1888 Nietzsche wrote to Carl Fuchs explaining that
"Never before have I known anything remotely like these months from the beginning of September until now. The most amazing tasks are as easy as a game; my health, like the weather, coming up every day with boundless brilliance and certainty. I cannot tell you how much has been finished-everything. The world will be standing on its head for the next few years: since the Old God has abdicated, I shall rule the world from now on."
The onset of the tertiary syphilis or dementia paralytica in Nietzsche's life is dated from January 3, 1889, when, upset at seeing a horse beaten in Turin, Italy, Nietzsche embraced the horse's neck and collapsed into madness. His writing days over, Nietzsche spent the next 11 years of his life, up until his death in 1900, under medical care, in and out of asylums for the insane. All of his most significant writings, including those in which Christ was deposed and Dionysos/Zarathustra/Nietzsche put in his place, took place in the period of creative euphoria that lasted from 1881 to 1889, when he felt the divine electricity that is the sure sign of the onset of paresis coursing through his veins.
"I am one of those machines that could explode . . . Each time I had wept too much the previous day while I was walking, and not tears of sentimentality but jubilation. I sang and talked nonsense, possessed by a new attitude. I am the first man to arrive at it."
The literary history of modern Europe, but most especially that of the 19th century, is littered with unacknowledged evidence of syphilis. The most famous example is Dracula. I am, as far as I know, the first one to argue that Dracula is about syphilis. Bram Stoker died of syphilis, something which his grandson acknowledges in at the end of his biography almost as an afterthought, as if it had no connection to Stoker's work in general and his classic Dracula in particular. I make the argument in the second part of Monsters from the Id, my book on horror.
Those who doubt that syphilis was on Stoker's mind, or what was left of it, at the end of his life would do well to read Stoker's last work, The Lair of the White Worm, the story of Lady Arabella, who, "while still a young girl . . . wandered into a small wood near her home, and did not return. She was found unconscious and in a high fever-the doctor said that she had received a poisonous bite, and the girl being at a delicate and critical age, the result was serious. . . .All hope had been abandoned, when, to everyone's surprise, Lady Arabella made a sudden and startling recovery. Within a couple of days she was going about as usual! But to the horror of her people, she developed a terrible craving for cruelty, maiming and injuring birds and small animals - even killing them."
The narrator concludes that "the foul White Worm," Stoker's term for the pale treponema, "obtained control of her body, just as her soul was leaving its earthly tenement-that would explain the sudden revival of energy, the strange and inexplicable craving for maiming and killing, as well as many other matters. . . it must have been something too ghastly for human endurance, if my theory is correct that the once beautiful human body of Lady Arabella is under the control of this ghastly White Worm."
Lady Arabella then seduced the Lord of Castra Regis, Edgar Caswell, who in turn also came under the power of the white worm:
"She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers, and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim figure in animal delight. Then she lay down on the sofa-to await her victim! Edgar Caswell's life blood would more than satisfy her for some time to come."
Stoker shared the view of his contemporaries that syphilis ruined the blood, an idea which would have far-reaching consequences in a Darwinian universe where all human and cultural traits were transmitted biologically. Hitler, a fan of Dracula movies, would put these beliefs into devastating effect years later.
Once Edgar Caswell falls under the spell of Lady Arabella and the white worm, he starts to manifest the same symptoms that Nietzsche described to his friends. He becomes especially sensitive to "electrical disturbance in the sky and air." Caswell, Stoker continues, "felt the effect of the gathering electric force. A sort of wild exultation grew upon him, such as he had sometimes felt just before the breaking of a tropical storm." As with Nietzsche, the sense of electricity in body accompanies a feeling of megalomania in the mind:
"The most usual form of monomania has commonly the same beginning as that from which Edgar Caswell suffered-an over-large idea of self-importance.. . . Every asylum is full of such cases-men and women, who, naturally selfish and egotistical, so appraise to themselves their own importance that every other circumstance in life becomes subservient to it. The disease supplies in itself the material for self-magnification. . . . It is such persons who become imbued with the idea that they have the attributes of the Almighty - even that they themselves are the Almighty (My emphasis)."
Like Ben Franklin, the Promethean hero of the Enlightenment, Edgar Caswell decides to fly a kite during an electrical storm, connecting the Nietzschean idea of becoming the god he killed with the Enlightenment infatuation with electricity as the elan vital. Both ideas, according to Stoker, are really just manifestations of the pathology of syphilis:
"I want you, if you will be so good, to come with me to the turret roof. I am much interested in certain experiments with the kite, which would be, if not a pleasure, at least a novel experience to you. you would see something not easily seen otherwise.
Either there was lightning afar off, whose reflections were carried by the rolling clouds, or else the gathered force, thought not yet breaking into lightning, had an incipient power of light. It seemed to affect both the man and the woman. Edgar seemed altogether under its influence. He spirits were boisterous, he mind exalted. He was now at his worst; madder than he had been earlier in the night. . . . To him it seemed that these manifestations were obedient to his own will. He had reached the sublime of his madness; was he not in his own mind actually the Almighty, and whatever might happen would be the direct carrying out of his own commands."
The dramatic prelude to the onset of dementia paralytica raises all sorts of interesting questions about the relationship between the mind and the brain. Even more interesting are the questions it raises about the history of ideas, specifically, an idea like the Enlightenment and Nietzsche's use of it to spread atheism. Did mankind reach some sort of maturity when it began to ascribe to natural phenomena like electricity the attributes formerly attributed to God? Or was this assault on God in the name of electricity really just a manifestation of incipient dementia paralytica? Both Stoker in the already mentioned work and Thomas Mann in Doktor Faustus entertain the latter idea. Adrian Leverkuhn, the main character in Doktor Faustus, is a combination on Nietzsche and Arnold Schoenberg. Leverkuhn is a composer who sells his soul to the devil in order to create sounds no one has ever heard. The payoff comes at that burst of creativity that can only be achieved by neurosyphilis. Mann knew Peter Gast and was familiar with the rumor-launched, it must be said, by Nietzsche himself-that Nietzsche had deliberately infected himself with syphilis as a student in 1863. Both Stoker and Mann take Hayden's thesis to its logical conclusion: what goes by the name of modernity is really tertiary syphilis. Since modernity was born in rebellion, and since rebellion invariably took a sexual form in an age when syphilis was rampant, it's not hard to see how modern rebellion against God, Christ, and His Church would lead to dementia. Syphilis was simply the mechanism that assured that this would happen. Great modern texts, like Nietzsche's later works, where God is declared dead and man put in his place are really just euphoric manifestations of venereal disease.
Hayden does not mention Wilhelm Reich in her book. Syphilis is not mentioned in Reich's official biography either. The probability that Reich had syphilis and that he died from its effects, however, is overwhelming. Reich visited prostitutes regularly as a student in the brothels of the Austro-Hungarian empire during the first decade of the 20th century. Hayden claims that the rate of syphilitic infection in the general population of Vienna at this time was anywhere between 10 and 20 percent. From an actuarial point of view, that meant that Reich, simply by patronizing brothels as often as he did, had a more than 50 percent chance of contracting syphilis. Those numbers soared after World War I. Prostitution at a time when there was no cure for the disease concentrated the disease in a way that made it improbable that men who visited prostitutes, especially regularly, would not get the disease.
Then there is the evidence from Reich's later life. Reich died in 1957 in the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania after being convicted of fraud for selling orgone boxes. Reich's fixation on orgone energy alone is now pretty universally taken as an indication of his insanity. The sense among those about to enter the tertiary phase of neurosyphilis that they are somehow conduits for divine electricity makes this explanation more plausible in Reich's case. Reich's fixation on energy was most probably a sign that the onset of paresis was near. In the last months of his life, he was convinced that President Eisenhower was sending military jets over the prison to assure Reich of his concern. He also felt that a large financial grant from the "Rockerfellows" was imminent. Everyone who has read Reich notices a disjunction between his early and later work. The Reich revival trumpeted in the New York Times in 1970 could only retain an aura of plausibility by deliberately ignoring his later writings on the orgone boxes. No one, however, has put syphilis forward as the simplest explanation of what happened to him.
Hayden gives some explanation of why the suppression of syphilis happens so frequently in biography. Biographies-and Reich's case is no exception in this regard-are generally written by devotees, people who are inspired by the subject's work. If the work is a function of syphilis, the devotee has based his life on an illusion. "The reluctance to attribute a shameful disease like syphilis to a great person," is understandable according to Hayden, because of "the danger that the work will in some way be linked to the disease," and as a result "an oeuvre" would be "tainted and denigrated." Fears like this "contribute to sparse references to syphilis" in biographies. Add to that the general ignorance about a disease no longer as threatening as it used to be and you end up with large biographical lacunae. Claude McKay, author of Home to Harlem and initiator of the Harlem Renaissance, contracted syphilis in Berlin in the early '20s, but his biographer missed that fact, even though McKay wrote poems about it. There is no indication that the syphilis proceeded to McKay's brain; however, the thought that it jeopardized his work is never far away.
Nietzsche is a good case proving the same point. For some inexplicable reason, there is still controversy over whether Nietzsche had syphilis, in spite of an unmistakable symptomology and accounts from people like his friend Peter Gast, who claimed that Nietzsche told him that he deliberately infected himself with syphilis by having sex with a prostitute. The reluctance to accept the fact is a reflexive defense of the ideas that Nietzsche promoted. Those who see Nietzsche as the prophet of man's emancipation from a tyrannical God are not going to be receptive to Stoker's idea that the delusions of grandeur necessary to any theory of rebellious atheism are really just a sign that the onset of paresis is near. Were Nietzsche's ideas on the will and its relationship to the intellect the logical consequence of the Reformation's denigration of reason? Perhaps. But the ideas were pushed into the form Nietzsche gave them by the grandiosity which neurosyphilis' attack on the brain engendered in the mind.
If Nietzsche's defenders can stall a case as obvious as his in the court of literary and historical opinion, imagine the uproar that would be generated by claiming 1) that Abraham Lincoln had syphilis and 2) that the disease affected his conduct of the Civil War. Hayden claims that Lincoln contracted syphilis as a young man and that he infected his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, causing the insanity that plagued her at the end of her life. Does that mean that the sacred cause of the Union was a function of tertiary syphilis? Hayden is ambivalent on the issue, both in particular and in general. At one point she calls syphilis "a disease that would change the course of history" (p. 5). But by the end of her book, she seems less willing to make such claims. "If I expected to come to grand philosophical conclusions about how syphilis drastically changed culture," she writes in her epilogue,
"I was soon humbled by realizing that the challenge of this project was not to speculate about the effect of syphilis on a life's work, or even to come to a firm conclusion for or against a diagnosis in the contentious cases (impossible anyway in the space of a short chapter). Instead, the task at hand was to assemble the clues into a recognizable, repeatable pattern that would open the question to debate. . . ."
Well, did syphilis change the course of history, or not? Is this disclaimer at the end of the book a failure of nerve on Hayden's part, or is it a disclaimer imposed by one of the Whiggish historians at Basic Books, added to ensure that there will be no eye-rolling when neocon reviewers read the book?
Not surprisingly, the best test case for Hayden's theory that syphilis changed the course of history is Adolf Hitler. The best indication that Hitler had syphilis is his own writing, namely, Mein Kampf. (I have already stated my case in Monsters from the Id. Dracula is about syphilis. The first Dracula movie was made in Weimar Germany around the same time Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. Germans were worried about syphilis. Hitler capitalized on their fears by associating syphilis with the Jews. Jew, vampire and syphilis are integral parts of one threatening Gestalt at the heart of Mein Kampf.) David Irving claims that Hitler did not have syphilis based on the results of one Wasserman test. But David Irving has also admitted that he has never read Mein Kampf. If the internal evidence of an autobiographical text has any significance, then the obsessions which get expressed in Mein Kampf give a clear indication that Hitler had syphilis, that he probably contracted it from a Jewish prostitute, and that he extrapolated from that experience a theory of race hatred that would, in Hayden's terms, change the course of history. Hitler, according to Hayden:
"begins the syphilis section in Mein Kampf by blaming Jewish newspapers for spreading poisonous ideas, using a metaphor: "This poison was able to penetrate the bloodstream of our people unhindered to do its work, and the state did not possess the power to master the disease." . . . Hitler saw the Jew: "the cold-hearted, shameless, and calculating director of this revolting vice traffic in the scum of the big city . . . . The relation of the Jews to prostitution and, even more, to the white-slave trade, could be studied in Vienna as perhaps in no other city of Western Europe, with the possible exception of the southern French ports. If you walked at night through the streets and alleys of Leopoldstadt, at every step you witnessed proceedings which remained concealed from the majority of the German people." Leopoldstadt was a congested Jewish community where syphilis was rampant. (p. 266)."
Hitler concludes the syphilis section of Mein Kampf by claiming that "The struggle against syphilis and the prostitution which prepares the way for it is one of the most gigantic tasks of humanity." The failure of leadership in the Weimar Republic led to the "syphilization of our people." As a result, "the question of combating syphilis" becomes a national defense issue. It is "the task of the nation" because "Everything - future or ruin - depended upon the solution to this question."
Hitler was later embarrassed by his frankness in talking about syphilis. He would later tell Hans Frank, his lawyer, that the syphilis section of Mein Kampf was "too self-revealing." As a result, mention of the disease disappeared from his public discourse, but not from his private concerns. In 1936 Hitler hired Theo Morell, a noted syphilologist as his personal physician, something which caused consternation, according to Albert Speer, among the high level Nazis surrounding Hitler. Hayden feels that Hitler "chose Morell, a syphilologist for the simple reason that he feared the progression of syphilis."
No one can diagnose a corpse, much less a corpse whose whereabouts are unknown, but anecdotal evidence gathered from people who knew Hitler during his student days in Vienna around 1908 reinforces the textual evidence for syphilis one finds in Mein Kampf. London syphilologist T. Anwyl-Davies struck up a conversation with two men, who after learning his occupation, "confessed that they had both been infected with syphilis when they were youths, and added that their compatriot Hitler had been as well."
In the mid-'60s, Simon Wiesenthal met a Munich city councilman who told him that Hitler was a syphilitic. He had gotten the information from Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, who had known Hitler during the '20s. Dr. Edmund Ronald claimed that he met a young doctor from Graz whose father had treated Hitler for syphilis. During the '20s, Hitler had consulted Professor Spiethof, a specialist for venereal disease at the University of Jena. Wiesenthal, as a result finds, the theory plausible:
"everything that is officially known about Hitler's psychological and physical health fits in with the syphilis theory: it would explain why he avoided women; the trembling of his right hand would be entirely in line with the clinical picture of syphilis. . . . As a criminal investigator, however, I would say that two sources at a considerable distance from each other have nevertheless come up with clues which conform astonishingly well. Clues, which, if it were a criminal case, would induce me to follow them up."
Wiesenthal, however, does not follow up the clues. He simply lets the story die, perhaps because he has more important things to do or perhaps because he sees the political implications that flow from Hitler's syphilis. The story died, in other words, not so much because there was no evidence to support the theory, but because it would have been inconvenient to the two groups which were most interested in Hitler research: the Nazis and the Anti-Nazis. The Old Nazis, according to Wiesenthal, "bridled at the image of a syphilitic paranoiac as the greatest leader of all time" because "this would have besmirched their idol." But the Anti-Nazis were just as opposed to the same sort of investigation because they were "afraid that an enormously complex pattern of events might suddenly be reduced to the pathological degeneration of a single individual instead of being seen as the sickness of a whole society." Wiesenthal concludes by saying that he "can see no other reason why the question of whether or not Hitler had syphilis has received so little attention from serious historical researchers."
As if to substantiate his suspicions, Hayden quotes Ron Rosenbaum, who "cries foul" when Wiesenthal tries to link the Holocaust to a Jewish prostitute. Rosenbaum rightly cries foul because Hitler's syphilis is a threat to the entire foundation of what Norman Finkelstein has called "the Holocaust industry." No writer has profited more from that industry than Daniel Goldhagen, and Goldhagen's theory of the Holocaust needs another kind of Hitler, certainly not one infected with syphilis by a Jewish prostitute. Hitler, in Goldhagen's view, symbolizes, depending on which book of his you read, the murderous deeply anti-Semitic hatreds of 1) the German people in general (not the Nazis) and/or 2) the murderous deeply anti-Semitic hatreds of the Catholic Church. In Hitler's Willing Executioners, Goldhagen tells us that the German people were "pathologically ill . . . struck with the illness of sadism . . . diseased . . . tyrannical, sadistic," "psychopathic'' (HWE: 397, 450, quoting a "keen diarist of the Warsaw Ghetto"), in thrall to ''absolutely fantastical . . . beliefs that ordinarily only madmen have of others . . . [prone] to wild, 'magical thinking''' (HWE: 412) (cf. Norman Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth [New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998], p. 10).
Goldhagen takes his thesis a step further by saying that anti-Semitism has no relationship whatsoever to Jewish behavior:
"The existence of anti-Semitism and the content of anti-Semitic charges . . . are fundamentally not a response to any objective evaluation of Jewish actions . . .anti-Semitism draws on cultural sources that are independent of the Jews' nature and actions'' (HWE: 39, emphasis in original)."
Finkelstein and Birn refer to Goldhagen's "almost comically circular argument" against the Jews: "Goldhagen concludes that the Germans' Ahab-like loathing of the Jews originated in their loathing of the Jews." It doesn't take a genius to realize Hitler contracting syphilis from a Jewish prostitute would undermine fatally the argument that the Holocaust was caused by a demonically anti-Semitic German people. Other people have noticed the same thing.
The same holds true for Goldhagen's more recent attempts to hold the Catholic Church responsible for the Holocaust. In "Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and the Holocaust: What Would Jesus Have Done?" which appeared in the January 21, 2002 of The New Republic, Goldhagen claims that the Catholic Church is responsible for Hitler's genocide against the Jews. "Why," Goldhagen wonders, "is anti-Semitism often accorded but a marginal place in Western history . . . as the property of some small sect called the Nazis," when, in fact, "the main responsibility for producing this all-time leading Western hatred lies with Christianity. More specifically, with the Catholic Church."
Forget for a moment that Goldhagen's attack on the Church as the source of anti-Semitism contradicts the thesis of Hitler's Willing Executioners, which saw "ordinary Germans" as its source. Both theories would be jeopardized if Hitler had syphilis, especially if, as Wiesenthal and others contend, he contracted it from a Jewish prostitute. That would mean, among other things, that Hitler's anti-Semitism has nothing to do with either the German people or the Catholic Church, whereas Jewish involvement in pornography and prostitution does have something to do with it. It also points out that prostitution has had dire consequences in history. In Poland between the wars, to cite a related instance, Cardinal Hlond criticized Jewish involvement in pornography and prostitution and was later demonized as an anti-Semite for his efforts. It would also mean that the final solution, if by that we mean, carrying out the directives of the Wannsee conference, was a symptom of tertiary syphilis, one that other Nazis felt was crazy in light of more pressing needs.
"In February 1942," Hayden writes, "Hitler publicly made one of his most alarming pseudoscientific statements. He said that the discovery of the Jewish virus was one of the greatest revolutions undertaken in the world, comparable to that of Pasteur and Koch in the past century. How many disease are traced back to the Jewish virus? Hitler railed: health will be regained only when we eliminate the Jew." Hitler's anti-Semitism found its source in syphilis, every bit as much as Baudelaire's misogyny did.
If indeed, Hitler had syphilis, the final solution finds its source not in the German people or the Catholic Church, but in Hitler's diseased brain. Like Nietzsche's writings attacking God, the final solution becomes the symptom of a syphilitic brain enjoying a brief moment of deluded grandeur and clarity before slipping forever into dementia paralytica. Mein Kampf, according to Anwyl-Davies, "expressed Hitler's need for vicious revenge." The Final Solution, analogous to Nietzsche's final assault on God, simply proposed a way of implementing that need for revenge in a way that was completely consistent with the state of mind produced by the onset of tertiary syphilis: "It would not be enough for such a revenge to be aimed at the single member of Jewish society who had infected him: the entire race had to be persecuted in castigation." That's Anwyl-Davies formulation of the biological dynamic behind the Holocaust, and Anwyl-Davies felt that Hitler had syphilis. Hitler's anti-Semitism, in other words, finds its source not in congenital anti-Semitism but in syphilis, and syphilis, in turn, finds its source in moral decadence, specifically prostitution. The fact that Jews were heavily involved in both prostitution and pornography returned to haunt them in a way that no one could have suspected at the time, and in a way that no one has been allowed to articulate ever since.
This review was published in the October, 2003 issue of Culture Wars.
Jewish Nazis, an e-book by E. Michael Jones. The Believer, a film about Danny Balint, an orthodox Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi, won the 2001 Sundance film festival Grand Jury Prize. It's based loosely on Daniel Burros, a neo-Nazi who committed suicide in the 60s after the New York Times exposed him as a Jew. When Danny Balint is called by a Times reporter, he gives an eloquent articulation of anti-Semitism. Judaism "is a sickness. . . . The real Jew is a nomad and a wanderer. He has no roots and no attachments. He universalizes everything. All he can do is buy and sell and manipulate markets. Its all mental. Marx, Freud, Einstein: what have they given us? Communism, infantile sexuality and the atom bomb. They want nothing but nothingness, nothing without end." Balint penetrates to the heart of Judaism, understanding that the Jew worships Nothingness. If Hitler is chief Nihilist of the 20th century, he is chief rabbi of the religion that worships "nothing but nothingness, nothing without end," attaining that position by default when the Catholic Church stopped working for conversion of the Jews. $2.99. Read More/Buy
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