the spinoza problem 斯宾诺莎的问题

> the spinoza problem 斯宾诺莎的问题

Irvin D. Yalom
Basic Books



  Time: 4 PM

  Place: A bench in the main corridor outside Headmaster Epstein’s office in the Petri-Realschule

  Upon the bench fidgets the sixteen-year-old Alfred rosenberg, who is uncertain why he has been summoned to the headmaster’s office. Alfred’s torso is wiry, his eyes grey-blue, his Teutonic face well-proportioned; a lock of chestnut hair hangs in just the desired angle over his forehead. No dark circles surround his eyes—they will come later. he holds his chin high. Perhaps he is defiant, but his fists, clenching and relaxing, signal apprehension.

  he looks like everyone and no one. he is a near-man with a whole life ahead of him. In eight years he will travel from reval to Munich and become a prolific anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic journalist. In nine years he will hear a stirring speech at a meeting of the German Workers’ Party by a new prospect, a veteran of World War I named Adolf hitler, and Alfred will join the party shortly a?er hitler. In twenty years he will lay down his pen and grin triumphantly as he finishes the last page of his book,The Myth of the Twentieth Century. Destined to become a million-copy best seller, it will provide much of the ideological foundation of the Nazi party and offer a justification for the destruction of european Jews. In thirty years his troops will storm into a small Dutch museum in rijnsburg and confiscate Spinoza’s personal library of one hundred and fifty-one volumes. And in thirty-six years his dark-circled eyes will appear bewildered and he will shake his head no when asked by the American hangman at Nuremberg, “Do you have any last words?”

  Young Alfred hears the echoing sound of approaching footsteps in the corridor, and spotting herr Schäfer, his advisor and German teacher,he bolts to his feet to greet him. herr Schäfer merely frowns and shakes his head slowly as he passes and opens the headmaster’s door. But just before entering, he hesitates, turns back to Alfred, and in a not unkind voice whispers, “rosenberg, you disappointed me, all of us, with your poor judgment in your speech last night. This poor judgment is not erased by having being elected class representative. even so, I continue to believe you are not without promise. You graduate in only a few weeks. Don’t be a fool now.”

  Last night’s election speech! Oh, so that’s it. Alfred hits the side of his head with his palm. Of course—that is why I am ordered here. Though almost all forty members of his senior class had been there—mostly Baltic Germans with a sprinkling of russians, estonians, Poles, and Jews—Alfred had pointedly directed his campaign comments entirely to the German majority and stirred their spirits by speaking of their mission as keepers of the noble German culture. “Keep our race pure,” he had told them. “Do not weaken it by forgetting our noble traditions, by accepting inferior ideas, by mixing with inferior races.” Perhaps he should have stopped there. But he got carried away. Perhaps he had gone too far.

  his reverie is interrupted by the opening of the massive ten-foot-high door and headmaster epstein’s booming voice, “Herr Rosenberg, bitte, herein.”

  Alfred enters to see his headmaster and his German teacher seated at one end of a long, dark, heavy wood table. Alfred always feels small in the presence of headmaster epstein, over six feet tall, whose stately bearing,piercing eyes, and heavy, well-tailored beard embody his authority.

  headmaster epstein motions to Alfred to sit in a chair at the end of the table. It is noticeably smaller than the two tall-backed chairs at the other end. The headmaster wastes no time getting to the point. “So, rosenberg,I’m of Jewish ancestry, am I? And my wife, too, is Jewish, is she? And Jews are an inferior race and should not teach Germans? And I gather certainly not be elevated to headmaster?”

  No response. Alfred exhales, tries to shrink further into his chair, and hangs his head.

  “rosenberg, do I state your position correctly?”

  “Sir . . . uh, sir, I spoke too hastily. I meant these remarks only in a general way. It was an election speech, and I spoke that way because that is what they wanted to hear.” out of the corner of his eye, Alfred sees herr Schäfer slump in his chair, take off his glasses, and rub his eyes.

  “oh, I see. You spoke in a general way? But now here I am before you,not in general but in particular.”

  “Sir, I say only what all Germans think.That we must preserve our race and our culture.”

  “And as for me and the Jews?”

  Alfred silently hangs his head again. he wants to gaze out the window,midway down the table, but looks up apprehensively at the headmaster.

  “Yes, of course you can’t answer. Perhaps it will loosen your tongue if I tell you that my lineage and that of my wife are pure German, and our ancestors came to the Balkans in the fourteenth century. What’s more, we are devout Lutherans.”

  Alfred nods slowly.

  “And yet you called me and my wife Jews,” the headmaster continues.

  “I did not say that. I only said there were rumors—”

  “rumors you were glad to spread, to your own personal advantage in the election. And tell me, rosenberg, the rumors are grounded in what facts? or are they suspended in thin air?”

  “Facts?” Alfred shakes his head. “Uh. Perhaps your name?”

  “So, epstein is a Jewish name? All epsteins are Jews, is that it? or 50 percent? or just some? or perhaps only one in a thousand? What have your scholarly investigations shown you?”

  No answer. Alfred shakes his head.

  “You mean that despite your education in science and philosophy in our school you never think about how you know what you know. Isn’t that one of the major lessons of the enlightenment? have we failed you? or you, us?”

  Alfred looks dumbfounded. herr epstein drums his fingers on the long table, then continues.

  “And your name, rosenberg? Is your name a Jewish name also?”

  “I’m sure it is not.”

  “I’m not so sure. Let me give you some facts about names. In the course of the enlightenment in Germany . . .” headmaster epstein pauses and then barks, “rosenberg, do you know when and what the enlightenment was?”

  Glancing at herr Schäfer and with a prayer in his voice, Alfred answers meekly, “eighteenth century and . . . and it was the age . . . the age of reason and science?”

  “Yes, correct. Good. herr Schäfer’s instruction has not been entirely lost on you. Late in that century, measures were passed in Germany to transform Jews into German citizens, and they were compelled to choose and pay for German names. If they refused to pay, then they might receive ridiculous names, such as Schmutzfinger or Drecklecker. Most of the Jews agreed to pay for a prettier or more elegant name, perhaps a flower—like rosenblum—or names associated with nature in some way, like Greenbaum.even more popular were the names of noble castles. For example, the castle of epstein had noble connotations and belonged to a great family of the holy roman empire, and its name was often selected by Jews living in its vicinity in the eighteenth century. Some Jews paid lesser sums for traditional Jewish names like Levy or Cohen.

  “Now your name, rosenberg, is a very old name also. But for over a hundred years it has had a new life. It has become a common Jewish name in the Fatherland, and I assure you that if, or when, you make the trip to the Fatherland, you will see glances and smirks, and you will hear rumors about Jewish ancestors in your bloodline. Tell me, rosenberg, when that happens, how will you answer them?”

  “I will follow your example, sir, and speak of my ancestry.”

  “I have personally done my family’s genealogical research back for several centuries. have you?”

  Alfred shakes his head.

  “Do you know how to do such research?”

  Another headshake.

  “Then one of your required pregraduation research projects shall be to learn the details of genealogical research and then carry out a search of your own ancestry.”

  “one of my projects, sir?”

  “Yes,there will be two required assignments in order to remove any of my ****** about your fitness for graduation as well as your fitness to enter the Polytechnic Institute.After our discussion today,herr Schäfer and I will decide upon another edifying project.”

  “Yes sir.” Alfred is now growing aware of the precariousness of his situation.

  “Tell me, rosenberg,” headmaster epstein continues, “did you know there were Jewish students at the rally last night?”

  A faint nod from Alfred. headmaster epstein asks, “And did you consider their feelings and their response to your words about Jews being unworthy for this school?”

  “I believe my first duty is to the Fatherland and to protect the purity of our great Aryan race, the creative force in all civilization.”

  “rosenberg, the election is over. Spare me the speeches. Address my question. I asked about feelings of the Jews in your audience.”

  “I believe that if we are not careful, the Jewish race will bring us down.They are weak. ?They are parasitic. The eternal enemy. The anti-race to Aryan values and culture.”

  Surprised by Alfred’s vehemence, headmaster epstein and herr Schäfer exchange concerned glances. headmaster epstein probes more deeply.

  “It appears you wish to avoid that question I asked. Let me try another line of discussion. ?e Jews are a weak, parasitic, inferior little race?”

  Alfred nods.

  “So tell me, rosenberg, how can such a weak race threaten our allpowerful Aryan race?”

  As Alfred tries to formulate an answer, herr epstein continues, “Tell me,rosenberg, have you studied Darwin in herr Schäfer’s classes?”

  “Yes,” Alfred responds, “in herr Schäfer’s history course and also in herr Werner’s biology course.”

  “And what do you know of Darwin?”

  “I know about evolution of the species and about the survival of the fittest.”

  “Ah, yes, the fittest survive. Now of course you’ve thoroughly read the old Testament in your religion course, have you not?”

  “Yes, in herr Müller’s course.”

  “So, rosenberg, let’s consider the fact that almost all of the peoples and cultures—dozens of them—described in the Bible have become extinct.right?”

  Alfred nods.

  “Can you name some of these extinct people?”

  Alfred gulps: “Phoenicians, Moabites . . . and edomites.” Alfred glances at the nodding head of herr Schäfer.

  “excellent. But all of them dead and gone. except the Jews. The Jews survive. Would not Darwin claim that the Jews are the fittest of all? Do you follow me?”

  Alfred responds in lightning quick fashion, “But not through their own strength. They have been parasites and have held back the Aryan race from even greater fitness. ?ey survive only by sucking the strength and the gold and wealth from us.”

  “Ah, they don’t play fair,” headmaster epstein says. “You’re suggesting there is a place for fairness in nature’s grand scheme. In other words, the noble animal in its struggle for survival should not use camouflage or hunting stealth? Strange, I don’t remember anything in Darwin’s work about fairness.”

  Alfred, puzzled, sits silently.

  “Well, never mind about that,” says the headmaster. “Let’s consider another point. Surely, rosenberg, you’d agree that the Jewish race has produced great men. Consider the Lord, Jesus, who was Jewish-born.”

  Again Alfred answers quickly, “I have read that Jesus was born in Galilee, not in Judea, where the Jews were. even though some Galileans eventually came to practice Judaism, they had not a drop of true Israelite blood in them.”

  “What?” headmaster epstein throws up his hands and turns toward herr Schäfer and asks, “Where do these notions come from, herr Schäfer?If he were an adult, I would ask what he had been drinking. Is this what you are teaching in your history course?”

  herr Schäfer shakes his head and turns to Alfred. “Where are you getting these ideas? You say you read them but not in my class. What are you reading,rosenberg?”

  “A noble book, sir. Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.”

  herr Schäfer claps his hand to his forehead and slumps in his chair.

  “What’s that?” headmaster epstein asks.

  “houston Stewart Chamberlain’s book,” says herr Schäfer. “he’s an englishman,now Wagner’s son-in-law. he writes imaginative history: that is,history that he invents as he goes along.” he turns back toward Alfred. “how did you come upon Chamberlain’s book?”

  “I read some of it at my uncle’s home and then went to buy it at the bookstore across the street. ?ey didn’t have it but ordered it for me. I’ve been reading it this last month.”

  “Such enthusiasm! I only wish you had been so enthusiastic about your class texts,” says herr Shäfer, gesturing with a sweep of his arm to the shelves of leather-bound books lining the wall of the headmaster’s office. “even one class text!”

  “herr Schäfer,” asks the headmaster, “you’re familiar with this work,this Chamberlain?”

  “As much as I’d wish to be with any pseudo-historian. he is a popularizer of Arthur Gobineau, the French racist whose writings about the basic superiority of the Aryan races influenced Wagner. Both Gobineau and Chamberlain make extravagant claims about Aryan leadership in the great Greek and roman civilizations.”

  “They were great!” Alfred suddenly interjects. “Until they mixed with inferior races—the poisonous Jews, the Blacks, the Asians. Then each civilization declined.”

  Both headmaster epstein and herr Schäfer are startled by a student daring to interrupt their conversation.The headmaster glances at herr Schäfer as though it were his responsibility.

  herr Schäfer shifts the blame to his student: “If only he had such fervor in the classroom.” he turns to Alfred. “how many times did I say that to you,rosenberg? You seemed so uninterested in your own education. how many times did I try to incite your participation in our readings? And yet suddenly today here you are, set on fire by a book. how can we understand this?”

  “Perhaps it is because I never read such a book before—a book that tells the truth about the nobility of our race, about how scholars have mistakenly written about history as the progress of humanity, when the truth is that our race created civilization in all the great empires! Not only in Greece and rome, but also egypt, Persia, even India. each of these empires crumbled only when our race was polluted by surrounding inferior races.”

  Alfred looks toward headmaster epstein and says as respectfully as possible, “If I may, sir, this is the answer to your earlier question. This is why I do not worry about the hurt feelings of a couple of Jewish students, or about the Slavs, who are also inferior but not so organized as the Jews.”

  headmaster epstein and herr Shäfer again exchange glances, both of them now, finally, appreciative of the seriousness of the problem.This is no mere prankish or impulsive teenager.

  headmaster epstein says, “rosenberg, please wait outside. We shall confer privately.”