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‘Tell a lie and find a troth’ – 6 Feb 2013 Reading Group

This entry was posted in Europe, Nazis on 6 February 2013 by

We discussed two texts today, Himmler’s Poznan speech and Francis Bacon’s ‘Of Simulation and Concealment’.

Himmler’s speech was interesting from a number of perspectives, including the fact that by openly discussing the Nazi aim to eradicate the Jews, Himmler in effect implicated all the SS members present in the conspiracy whether they had participated in it or not. Thus conspiracies have a tendency to suck people into them, as once it is revealed to you, you become legally liable to being incriminated simply because of your knowledge of it, whether or not you are an active agent in it (although this does raise the issue of the maximum size a conspiracy can be). Conspiracies are often conspiracies against other perceived conspiracies, which is the case here: the SS are conspiring against the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Another key point of a conspiracy is that the SS claim to be acting for the greater good of Germany (eradicate the Jewish conspiracy) that the majority of the population are not aware of, or not sufficiently strong to be able to act upon. Himmler attempts to paint the SS as retaining their dignity while carrying out a difficult – if necessary, on their account – act: that they do not steal from the corpses etc (which we actually know to be untrue). This is a way of retaining the moral high ground, in a way that suggests the Jewish conspiracy would not be so regarding.

Bacon’s essay allows us to think about the relation of transparency and opacity and its relation to action, and reminded me of Thomas Nagel’s excellent piece on ‘Concealment and Exposure’. Bacon raises the ‘trust paradox’, of how trust in a group is achieved by separating oneself out from another group who are not trustworthy, and how this trust is then a prerequisite for action.

To close some words of advice from Bacon to mediate: ‘The best composition and temperature, is to have openness in fame and opinion; secrecy in habit; dissimulation in seasonable use; and a power to feign, if there be no remedy.’