Germany’s debt toward Ancient Greece

Simona Forti, Gabriella Silvestrini and Carlotta Cossutta (Università del Piemonte Orientale, Vercelli)

From Romanticism onwards, the German feeling of a debt to Hellenic culture takes on an ambivalent meaning. On the one hand, Ancient Greece represents the greatest culture that ever existed, and to which the West owes the features of its soul. On the other hand, Germany is ‘the’ heir who must repeat the Greek achievement, paying off the debt. This sub-project focuses on a specific legacy of this ambivalent inheritance: one which stems from the George-Kreis and is taken on by Nazi-Anthropology concerned with the so-called ‘Spiritual Racism’. The research will focus on authors who tried to read Plato as the real ancestor of the German Volk, Rasse, Staat. The intention is to challenge a widespread but all-too-simple positivist and evolutionist picture of German racism. Shedding light on these mostly neglected philhellenic authors does not mean to detect totalitarian elements in classic culture or in Plato’s theory, or to interpret Nazism as a necessary outcome of the Western philosophical tradition. But it does question the idea that Nazism constitutes a sudden break in the noble history of Western culture originating from Greek thought. Through the analysis of these racist texts and their proclaimed debt toward Greece, this work will point out the ambivalences that connect some of the assumptions of our philosophical tradition to Nazi culture.

Simona Forti’s sub project:

This project will analyze the different meanings of the appeal to the idea of “soul of Europe”, choosing among the many references those exemplarily more conflicting: from Nazi philosophical anthropology, that ‘settle’ its debt with Greek thought and Platonic theories in a paroxysmal manner referring to the virtue of a soul of the race that is most Greek then the Greek soul, to the German-language works – and that address the German philosophy – of some dissenting members of the East, first of all Jan Patočka, which open to a nomadic and anarchic notion of soul, according to which the debt not only of Germany, but of the whole of Europe is not payable because it is always already constitutively ‘in debt’.

Carlotta Cossutta’s sub project:

This project will analyze the relationship between German philosophy and Greek tragedy in the Twentieth Century to investigate different philosophies of history The German reception of Greek tragedy have developed at least two conceptions of history: one ecstatic and one dialectic. Follow two of the trajectories that these conceptions of history have taken during the twentieth century can be used to highlight two different ways of managing and thinking about the relationship with the Greek tragedy and the debt that goes with it, offering some ideas to also investigate the political outcomes.