14 December 2007

The White Rose

You may recall that C.R. Dodds in the introduction to his 1959 Clarendon Plato volume on the Gorgias, remarks that his experiences in the fight against Nazism in the Second World War convinced him of the timeliness and relevance of Plato's thought in that dialogue.

Recently I found striking confirmation that Dodds was correct, in my studies of the group, Die Wiesse Rose, "The White Rose". The White Rose, as you may know, consisted of students at the University of Munich, all in their early 20s, aided by a philosophy professor and specialist in Leibniz' theodicy, named Kurt Huber, who courageously wrote and distributed flyers in opposition to Nazism in 1942 and 1943.

The leaders of the White Rose were caught and arrested on February 18, 1943, and then were interrogated, hastily tried, and executed by guillotine four days later. These 'final days' are well captured in a 2005 film about one of these executed students, Sophie Scholl: Die letzen Tage ("The Final Days of Sophie Scholl").

After seeing the film and wanting to learn more, I came upon the book, The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943, which contains primary source documents, such as the actual flyers of the group, and a brief memoir by Inge Scholl, a surviving sister of Sophie.

In her memoir, Inge describes how her brother Hans (who was the original instigator and main leader of the group) formulated his idea of resisting through reflecting on Greek philosophy. Here is that passage which provides some confirmation of Dodds: "Hans was aware that beauty, esthetic pleasure in existence, and his passive growth to manhood were no longer enough, that these could no longer insulate him from the dangers of the times. He felt that there was at bottom an acute emptiness and that there were no answers to his difficult, profound, and disquieting questions; not in Rilke and not in Stefan George, not in Nietzsche nor in Hölderin. But he was sure that his honest search would lead him along the right path. Finally, by strange detours, he made the acquaintance of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Socrates..."
And this was the beginning of his turn of thought.

As for the flyers of the White Rose, they make interesting reading. But only one philosopher is mentioned and quoted at length in one of them. Can you guess who?

I'll give you some help. It is neither Marx, nor Heidegger, nor Nietzsche, nor Carnap.

Sophie Scholl