The Jew of Linz by Kimberly Cornish

Hitler, Wittgenstein and their secret battle for the mind

298pp. Century £17.99

07126 79359

There are a few scientists who believe in the Loch Ness monster. The reason more do not, it is argued, is because it would be career suicide - those who want to pursue an academic career do not take what would be considered eccentric positions. Visionaries may have been considered mad in their day, but so were the genuinely mad, and few academics today would want to spend their careers isolated and reviled.

It is refreshing, then, to find Kimberly Cornish willing to don the mantle of the completely mad eccentric and write a book about Wittgenstein which has earned him universal condemnation and amongst academics and scholars. Is this condemnation justified? As it turns out, no. Not because his arguments are correct (although they may be more correct than he is given credit), but because so far no one appears to have understood the real point of the book. As we shall discover, Cornish is actually very clever at achieving his real aim, which isn’t anything to do with Wittgenstein.

But first, Cornish’s notorious claims about Wittgenstein. These occur in the opening chapters of the book, and consist of two basic charges: firstly that Wittgenstein and Hitler went to school together, hated each other, and played out this hatred for the rest of their lives; secondly that Wittgenstein worked for the Soviet Union and recruited many of the Cambridge spies. Without further ado, the arguments for these claims will now be listed.

Although it is generally accepted that Wittgenstein and Hitler went to school together, scholars do not believe they had anything to do with each other. Wittgenstein’s biographer Monk says "there is no evidence that they had anything to do with one another" (p.11). Against this, Cornish provides the following arguments:

A school photograph (shown on the cover of the book) shows Hitler and Wittgenstein standing next but one to each other.

The school had 329 pupils - not a huge school , and of a size when pupils would likely know each other.

They were the same age, although not in the same class, as Wittgenstein was a year ahead and Hitler a year behind the average (p.10).

A pupil records that Hitler called someone a "filthy Jew" who at the time did not realise he had Jewish ancestry, this description fits Wittgenstein.

In Mein Kampf Hitler recalls a Jewish boy "who was treated by us with caution, but only because various experiences had led us to distrust his discretion and we did not particularly trust him". Wittgenstein is well known for his "confessions" and his obsession to tell the truth, again making the link between Wittgenstein and Hitler at school.

Wittgenstein’s family was incredibly rich and powerful, hence Wittgenstein because of his family alone would have been well-known to the other pupils. However in addition Wittgenstein was a "small, unathletic, stuttering, homosexual, adolescent" (p.18) which means it is inconceivable Hitler could not have known Wittgenstein.

Both Hitler and Wittgenstein loved Wagner (p.12-14) and were both able to whistle large sections of his music. This common interest not shared by the other pupils again makes it likely they would have known each other.

Wittgenstein referred to other pupils as "muck" and spoke down to them using the term "sie" (p.18). It is on record that Hitler also referred to other pupils as "sie" (p.21) and this term was also used in later life by Hitler (p.22). Their both speaking in the same manner again points to a connection.

Both pupils were major figures of the twentieth century, it is likely that as children they would have stood out and hence be known to each other (p.18).

Wittgenstein had two homosexual brothers who had killed themselves. This would have made him widely talked about at the school (p.30), again showing Hitler must have known of him.

Wittgenstein’s family financially supported anti-Wagner artists and musicians. As a lover Wagner, Hitler would have known this and resented Wittgenstein for it.

The descriptions Hitler in later life gives of Jews actually fits Wittgenstein: the outward appearance of being european (p.23); bearing titles of nobility (p.23); being ‘court Jews’ (p.25); writing for the world press (p.27); spending the night in the Hotel Excelsior (p.30). Even Hitler’s laws defining who was a Jew (three of the four grandparents had to be Jews) seemed especially to be written for Wittgenstein (three of his four grandparents were Jews). This shows Hitler had Wittgenstein in mind when he pursued his war against the Jews.

Another reference Hitler makes to the Jews is "of German he possesses nothing but the art of stammering its language" (p.23) - Wittgenstein was a stammering Jew, hence again Hitler makes specific references to Wittgenstein into general attacks on the Jews.

Statically there few Jews at the school, hence Hitler’s references to Jews at the school make it more probably he was referring to Wittgenstein or had him in mind.

Hitler actually refers to Wittgenstein in a speech following invasion of Austria, when he says "would that on this evening, some of our international seekers after truth whom we know so well could not only see the facts but later admit them to be facts". "Seekers after truth" is a reference to a philosopher whom Hitler knows well - Wittgenstein.

So in summary Cornish argues the Hitler and Wittgenstein must have known each other at school, there is plenty of evidence to show they must have hated each other, and Hitler in later life played out this hatred of Wittgenstein by projecting Wittgenstein’s characteristics onto Jews as a whole.

Wittgenstein spent a lot of time at Cambridge. He went there before the First World War, and returned afterwards. The common view is that Wittgenstein was non-political, interested only in philosophy. Cornish offers the following arguments against this.

Wittgenstein was offered the chair in Philosophy at Kazan University, Lenin’s old university (p.400). This would never have been offered to a non-Stalinist.

In 1922 Wittgenstein "fled to Russia" (p.42).

Bartley records that at the monastery where Wittgenstein worked in 1926, people remembered him as "a left-winger" (p.42).

Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929. Philby started at Trinity in 1929, Burgess in October 1930, Maclean in 1931 and Blunt was elected to Trinity in 1932.

All Trinity spies were homosexual, as was Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein was an early member of the "Cambridge Apostles" many of whom were communists, and all the spies were members (p.43). Wittgenstein was excommunicated in 1912 but this was revoked on his return in 1929 "certainly with communist support" (p. 44). All the Cambridge Apostles were under surveillance from Australia by AS10 (p.45).

Wittgenstein influenced a number of well-known Marxists such as Julian Bell (p.44) and Lettice Bell (p.45).

Wittgenstein and Blunt lived at the same hostel (p.45).

It is likely the "dispute over poetry" which led to many resignations from the Communist Party in Cambridge was Bell’s poem against Wittgenstein (p.47).

George Thompson describes Wittgenstein’s attitude to Marxism as "he was opposed to it in theory but supported it in practise" (p.48).

In 1934 Wittgenstein said to Rowland Hill "I am a Communist at heart" (p. 48).

Many of Wittgenstein’s friends were Marxists, e.g. George Thompson, Nichola Bachtin, Maurice Dobb and Piero Sraffa (p.48).

Piero Sraffa was a Communist Marxist whose opinion Wittgenstein valued above all others, and who Wittgenstein said was a major influence on him in Philosophical Investigations (p.45).

A.C. Jackson said "Wittgenstein’s politics were ultra-left wing, strong sympathies for Stalin and the Soviet Union" (p.49).

Rush Rhees records Wittgenstein records Wittgenstein’s support for the Soviet Union (p.49).

Monk notes Wittgenstein was taken to be a "Stalinist" (p.50).

Wittgenstein is on record expressing his support for Stalin in 1939 (p.51).

Wittgenstein’s students formed the nucleus of the Cambridge Communists (p.52).

The recruiter for the Soviet Union at Cambridge had to be there by 1929, was a Cambridge Apostle and was at Trinity - there are 13 possible candidates including Wittgenstein and of them Wittgenstein is the most likely name on the list (p.56).

Against the common view from friends that Wittgenstein was a left-wing, Marxist, Stalinist, one of Wittgenstein’s associates Fania Pascal writes that Wittgenstein’s views were "old-time conservative". However it is highly likely she was a Communist agent (p.72), and if Wittgenstein was working for the Soviet Union this would explain why she would write this.

Wittgenstein was a powerful influence on people (p.58) such as Malcom, Seale, McConville (p.59) - just the quality needed as a recruiter for the Soviet Union.

Rush Rhees records Wittgenstein speaking in defense of Communist party discipline (p.60).

Wittgenstein spoke from a left-wing perspective on Jarrow (p.61).

In 1935 Wittgenstein was still planning to live in Russia, a wish he had expressed in the 1920s (p.62).

Wittgenstein’s activities indicate he was finding out about British scientists working on the atomic bomb (p.64-65).

Wittgenstein was an acquaintance of leading Communist Maurice Dobb (p.71).

Wittgenstein learned Russian to become a Soviet Citizen (p.73).

Wittgenstein is again on record as expressing "strong sympathies for.. Russia" (p.73).

Blunt and Wittgenstein were both in Moscow together in 1935 (p.74), and at this time there were a number of Communists who sailed for Leningrad in 1935 (p.74).

Wittgenstein had family connections with Russia (p.76-77).

Wittgenstein died on April 28th, 1951. Burgess and Maxlean defected Friday, 25th May 1951. Burgess returned to Cambridge on May 19th to "tidy up some loose ends" then defected. This indicates Wittgenstein’s death prompted the defections.

Wittgenstein wanted to work on a collective farm in the USSR, but was told to carry on his work as he was making a "useful contribution" (p.81).

These arguments are typically seen as what the book is all about. These opening chapters were the ones printed in the Sunday Times serialisation of the book, and are what are picked up on in reviews of the book. However "refutations" of the arguments tend to be based on pouring scorn on how "obviously" absurd the conclusions are, rather than engaging with the arguments themselves. To go back to the Lock Ness monster analogy, there was a Channel 4 documentary recently about scientists who believe the evidence supports the likelihood of a Loch Ness monster, and the scientific arguments supporting the theory were explained. Yet those who don’t believe in the monster will rarely if ever refute the evidence, instead they will argue that since the conclusion is "obviously" absurd there must be something wrong with the argument somewhere, but they have no interest in identifying where. The same appears true for Cornish’s arguments about Wittgenstein. Reviewers say the conclusion is obviously wrong (Cornish’s claims have been described as "outrageous") so the arguments must be wrong. Other comments have been that Cornish is wicked to suggest such things about Wittgenstein and that he hasn’t read enough books in German to have an opinion. One reviewer even said Cornish did not provide a shred of proof that Wittgenstein was the principle Soviet recruiting agent at Cambridge, and that his claims were all based on his psychological profiling of Wittgenstein and Hitler fighting a secret battle. Philosophy Now readers have now seen the arguments for themselves and can decide if there is anything in them.

As we said at the beginning, these opening chapters of the book are not actually what the book is about. In a sense these chapters are the "bait" to get people reading a philosophy book, which is what the rest of the book is. There is a long and honourable tradition of authors being creative and imaginative to get their books more widely read. Most scholars now accept that a number of letters attributed to St Paul in the New Testament were actually written by someone else, but who used St Paul’s name to increase their readership ("authorship" wasn’t as fixed a concept then as now apparently). More recently an article appeared on the internet in which the author of the C++ computing language apparently reviled the language in an "unpublished interview". In fact the "interview" was a total fabrication, but if the real author had written an article "what I don’t like about C++" how many would have read it? Very few. Instead he puts his arguments into the mouth of the very author of C++, and they are read by thousands. Cornish is clever enough to know if he wrote a book on his "no ownership" theory of language it would not have a wide readership. If he says this "no ownership" theory was taught by Wittgenstein, learned and twisted for his own ends by Hitler, and actually needs Cornish to explain it all in great detail for the rest of the book he has the book reviewed in every paper and even serialised in the Sunday Times. This is not to say his arguments about Hitler and Stalin are bogus, it is not to say the pseudonymous letters in the New Testament aren’t deeply spiritual, it is not to say the arguments in the internet article on C++ aren’t perfectly valid. Kimberly Cornish has been creative and imaginative to increase his audience because he has combined a perfectly reasonable bit of historical detective work with a presentation of his philosophical views. What is curious is that no one appears to have noticed what he has done! All the reviewers happily read through a book at least half of which is pure philosophy and think they have just read some bizarre historical theories. A spoonful of sugar perhaps.

Since I have revealed the book to have some philosophical content perhaps it is only fair to comment on it. Cornish does go into some detail to explain his ideas and it does not do him justice to put them in just a few sentences, however it is possible to give a flavour of what he is interested in. Cornish argues that Western views of the mind have seen them in very individual, ownership terms. Coming from Australia, Cornish says he is more interested in a broader, social understanding of the mind - indeed a mystical even magical view of the mind. He takes seriously experiences of being able to "leave the body" and presents a theory which explains how medicine men can see what is happening many miles away, or witch doctors can put a curse on someone and kill them. He calls this theory the "no ownership" theory of mind and believes its theoretical framework can be developed from Wittgenstein’s ideas. The theory is as different as the format of the book, and a challenging way of understanding our place in the world.

If you’re looking for a book which offers history, politics, magic and philosophy, try The Jew of Linz. Nothing about the Loch Ness monster though.


John Mann

19th June 1998

2527 words