The edited journals of a fearless anti-Nazi philosophy professor and theologian in Munich reveal exceptionally brave activism and resistance.
A young convert to Catholicism, von Hildebrand (1889-1977) was the son of the neoclassical German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand and grew up in Italy before studying philosophy at the University of Munich, where he became a professor in 1919. In this memoir, written in the late 1950s and substantially edited and translated by Crosby and the team at the Hildebrand Project, he recounts his increasingly outspoken views about the rise of Nazism, which he believed was fundamentally opposed to Christianity. In his chronicles from 1921 to 1937, he delineates his growing alarm at the rise and violence of the Nazis and their tenets of nationalism, militarism, collectivism and anti-Semitism—views he openly expressed at conventions among his fellow Catholic theologians, who were frequently on the side of appeasement and collaboration. After Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, von Hildebrand was horrified to realize that “Bavaria had fallen into the hands of criminals,” and he also expressed what he saw as a deeply anti-aesthetic ideology of the Nazis: “a flat, gloomy and incredibly trivial world, a barren and ignorant mindset.” At the time, von Hildebrand’s students were impressed by his “intuitive power,” yet once Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, von Hildebrand realized he could not stay in Germany without making moral compromises. With his wife and son, he fled to Vienna, where he cultivated relationships with like-minded leaders such as Engelbert Dollfuss, the Austrian chancellor who resisted the Anschluss and agreed to help von Hildebrand start an anti-Nazi journal devoted to “the battle against antipersonalism and totalitarianism.” From Vienna, he and his family eventually fled to Toulouse, France, then New York in 1940. Crosby also includes several of von Hildebrand’s stringent essays from the 1930s.
Startlingly prescient words from a moral crusader during a perilous time.