"Anti-Enlightenment": National Socialist educators' troubled relationship with humanism and the philhellenist tradition

Presented at an international conference on ‘Post-Classicisms’, University of Cambridge, 17 June 2013.

This paper aims to examine more closely some of the ways in which scholars and educators under National Socialism attempted to construct a model of philhellenism for the ‘Thousand Year Reich’ which explicitly defined itself as descended from, yet opposed to, earlier manifestations of the phenomenon, especially as personified by Enlightenment figures such as Winckelmann and Goethe.

These Nazified authors tended to see the ‘great’ eighteenth-century philhellenists as providing an important legacy on which the National Socialist Weltanschauung could draw, yet, at the same time, they often vociferously decried their intellectualization of philhellenism, and their ‘blindness’ in terms of racial theory.

The paper will also consider the ways in which National Socialist educators often attempted to turn the ideal of the Humboldtian Gymnasium on its head, proclaiming instead a return to the true, ‘living’ spirit of the original Greek gymnasion.

An article based on this talk has now been published in Publications of the English Goethe Society 82(3), 2013, pp. 193-207.