On Wiemar Intellectuals

Lessons of the Past

Stephen Walt: I had some wonderful professors as an undergraduate who were quite inspirational. But the one moment I remember was in my junior year. I was studying overseas. I was actually at the Stanford program in Berlin. And Gordon Craig, who was a historian at Stanford – a quite distinguished historian of German history – was doing a lecture to our class about Weimar, Germany. And it was about what intellectuals had done in Weimar, Germany, which was basically to behave in a completely irresponsible way. They disengaged from politics. They started worrying more about art and other things as opposed to caring about real affairs. And he basically said, you know, part of the reason we got the Nazis; and part of the reason we got Hitler; and part of the reason we got World War II was that the intellectuals in Weimar, Germany abdicated their social responsibility. And I was, at that point, trying to decide whether or not to go to law school or go do graduate work in political science. And I remember thinking, you know, that there was a role to . . . to play as an intellectual, but remaining engaged in politics. And that . . . I remember that being sort of the moment which I decided I was going to graduate school and not to law school.

Recorded on: 10/8/07

 

Walt learned early on that Wiemar intellectuals behaved irresponsibly by disengaging from politics.

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