This book is in two parts. The first contains exerts from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s memoirs, in particular covering the period of his life from 1921 in Germany until 1938 when he fled Austria to escape the Nazi invasion. The second part of the book is a collection of essays and articles written by von Hildebrand, largely of pieces opposing Hitler’s National Socialism.
The memoirs only contain a few extracts from the 1920s, and in particular from 1921-1923. He was strongly against Hitler, and his National Socialism, and fled his home in fear of his life in 1923 when Hitler attempted to gain power, before returning when that was unsuccessful.
The book picks up again in 1932, as the Nazi movement was continuing to grow strongly, and follows von Hildebrand fleeing Germany again in 1933 as Hitler takes power. After a short time in Italy, von Hildebrand settles in Austria where he establishes a journal, with support from Chancellor Dollfuss, called “The Christian Corporative State”. Until 1938 von Hildebrand publishes this journal with the primary goal of fighting against the ideas of National Socialism, as well as keeping busy with his job as a professor, writing books, and travelling Europe giving lectures.
After he moves to Vienna, we follow him as he builds a group of like-minded friends around him, as well as building connections with the politicians such as Dollfuss. However, things get more difficult after Dollfuss is assassinated, and the tolerance and relationship with Nazi Germany grows. It is interesting in this time to see von Hildebrand’s view of Mussolini. While he hates Fascism, he finds it a lesser evil than Nazism, as it does not contain the same element of racism, and he also appreciates Mussolini’s support for Austria after Dollfuss’ assassination. The memoirs also show von Hildebrand’s great frustration with the Church, which did not recognise the danger of Hitler, and seemed happy to stay out of things so long as he paid lip service to respecting them.
The memoirs end with von Hildebrand fleeing Vienna in March 1938 as the Nazis invade, escaping just in time, as he was high on the Nazi’s arrest list. While not covered in this book, he ended up in France, and then again had to flee from the Nazis again in 1940, before eventually reaching New York.
The second part of the book is a collection of essays and articles that von Hildebrand wrote. These are largely on different aspects of his argument against National Socialism, including one essay on the different loves for ones country, and how these result in Patriotism and or the evils of Nationalism. He also writes strongly against anti-Semitism, a topic that features frequently in his memoirs, as he hated this racial element of National Socialism.
For me, the most interesting of the essays was “The Danger of becoming Morally Blunted”, which he wrote in 1935. Here he talks first about habit and how habit can be helpful, for instance in getting used to suffering, but then moves on to how habit can be a great danger. In the first instance this can be because we get used to the good things, such that we do not appreciate them, when instead we should always rejoice and be thankful for the beauty in nature, or music. In a worse way, habit may get us accustomed to poor morals, to sin or evils. In particular he highlights his frustration that people are getting used to National Socialism and forgetting the evil they have and are perpetrating, for example in the many murders they have committed, and in their racism. So he call us always to be aware of the evil that must be fought against.
Overall, this is a very interesting book on a character I knew nothing about before. As well as giving insights into von Hildebrand, and being impressed by his strength and determination in fighting against National Socialism, it also gives another aspect on the build up to WWII, and of the inability of so many people to see the danger of Hitler to the whole of Europe, which von Hildebrand saw early on.