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Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump

hitlershandprint

Adolf Hitler’s hand print, taken at Hotel Kaiserhof, Berlin.

 

Marco Rubio was the first to warn us. In March, Little Marco admonished all Americans to scrutinize Trump’s hands before giving him their vote, hands which Rubio rather giddily alleged served as a signifier of the tycoon’s secret short-comings.

So look closely at those mitts and digits: the short, rather stubby fingers, the neatly polished nails, the fleshy palms, all immaculately bronzed, as if dipped in a fine shellac.

What are we to make of them? Is there a political precedent for such wonderfully manicured but physically diminutive political paws?

For purposes of edification, let us consult a little known encounter between two of the 20th century’s most consequential philosophers, one celebrated, one infamous.

The setting is Germany. The year is 1933. The scene is the Heidelberg house of Karl Jaspers and his Jewish wife and collaborator Gertrude. A guest is coming for dinner, an old friend and fellow phenomenologist who had just been appointed rector of Freiburg University. The meal is meant to be a celebration of their friend’s lofty new post.

The guest is, of course, none other than Martin Heidegger, author of the opaquely written but massively influential Being and Time. What Karl and Gertrude Jaspers don’t know, but will soon discover to their disbelief, is that their friend and intellectual sparring partner has just joined the National Socialist Germany Workers Party and arrives at their doorstep wearing a shiny Nazi pin on his lapel.

A debate between the two big brains soon erupts over a meal of Sauerbraten and potato dumplings. When Jaspers assails Heidegger’s pact with the Nazis, Heidegger waves his hand dismissively and ominously advises Karl and Gertrude that it is now time for “one to step in line.”

Jaspers counters: “But my dear friend, you can’t possibly mean that. It’s like 1914 all over again. The deceitful mass intoxication! What about the pursuit of knowledge, which the Nazis demean? What about education, which Hitler lacks and thus reviles?”

Heidegger cuts Jaspers off abruptly. “Education is irrelevant,” the moral philosopher of Nazism shouts. “Just look at his wonderful hands!”

Moral: the smaller the hands, the more fanatic the compensation.

Cautionary note: You might want to size up Hillary’s diminutive hands before you cast that fatal ballot.

Further Reading.

Karl Jaspers, “A Philosophical Autobiography,” The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers, ed. by P.A. Schlipp (Open Court, 1981).

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. (Other Press, 2016).

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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