TRUTH AND POWER: EDUCATION UNDER HITLER
Truth is commonly defined to be information that is factual or in accordance with reality. However, past events indicate that it is possible for those in power to orchestrate a large scale manipulation of truth. The influence of power on truth can be explored theoretically through the disciplines philosophy and psychology. Subsequently, the real life application of these disciplines can be evaluated through historical evidence using the case study of education under Hitler’s Germany. This is relevant to those studying interdisciplinary because the manipulation of truth runs parallel with a strategy of cutting disciplines in education. Essentially, there is a relationship between seeing things narrowly, in one perspective, and being misled.
- 1 Philosophy: Foucault's view on Truth and Power
- 2 Psychology
- 3 History: evidence of manipulating truth
- 4 Sources
Philosophy: Foucault's view on Truth and Power
The philosopher Michel Foucault is relevant to the issue of power’s effect on truth because of his work on the creation of truth in a context of power. He presents two main arguments linked to this issue: the distinction and conflict between “event truth” and “demonstration-truth” and “inquiry”.
"Event-truth" and "Demonstration-truth"
In "Histoire de la Folie", Foucault distinguishes “event-truth” and “demonstration-truth” using the example of a psychiatrist diagnosing someone with madness. “Event-truth” is the truth of the sick man, the truth he reaches through his fight with madness. It is therefore not universal nor predictable for the psychiatrist. “Demonstration-truth” is the truth coming out of a structured, scientific reasoning based on proof. Foucault shows that with his diagnosis, the psychiatrist (the one in power) tries to replace the “event-truth” with the “demonstration-truth”, forcing his truth onto the other. This is an interdisciplinary conflict, as “demonstration-truth” is a consequence of scientific rationalism in some disciplines such as psychiatry. It cannot cope with the unpredictability and the scattered aspect of the “event-truth”. Those in power and their discipline (the psychiatrist) can control the demonstration and therefore impose a unilateral, monodisciplinary truth on an issue. Without an interdisciplinary approach, those who put the truth in place see their power and their control over those believing it increases. The power relationship between a teacher and a student is strongly linked to this concept. The "event-truth" is the truth the student discovers facing the unknown. The teacher has the power and the influence to construct the "demonstration-truth" on top of it.
Foucault sees "inquiry" (the act of acquiring truth) as a status of power, because the inquirer determines what is true and false through their own structure of reasoning. People who are forced to accept the inquiries of others are not empowered by the meaningful process of acquiring and authenticating knowledge, and are therefore easier to manipulate. This draws connections to psychology, because when the powerful (the inquirers) are the only source of truth, others can be conditioned to believe things that aren't necessarily factual.. This philosophical concept is also applicable to education, as the "inquiry" is done by the teacher and the educational system. Especially for younger children, students are taught facts without having the capacity to evaluate the truth on their own.
Conditioning in education through affects
Any form of power, has different physiological affects and biases available to it in order to impose their truth. The quality and quantity of this education depends on the form and content of the institution of power. First of all, the most basic tool are negative affects, such as fear or contempt. Questioning and criticism, or even revolt, are responded by radical systematic measures. Criticism is shifted from free-thought to negative and objective-looking causes, which suitingly contradicts the principle of falsifiability. Education is hence not rational and the possibility of acquiring the truth is disabled. The idea itself of opposition is then seen as an anomaly, which disables the possibility of consciously disagreeing with the power. If this is not enough, the systematic answer is violence, perpetuated not (always) by the power itself, but the people close to the "anomaly". If repeated, this situation is close to that of Pavlov's conditioning experiments. The result is constant self-consciousness, self-questioning, and anxiousness, until the individual's acts are conform to the power's expectations. However, the most advanced and spread affects are the family of positive affects. This is mainly rewards for good behaviour and adherence to the imposed truth. This uses the self-serving bias coupled with the Halo effect to anchor the teaching power as a caring and teaching figure, close to that of the father figure. Hence, all further propositions made by this figure, delegate of the truth for the institution of power, will be more listened to and convincing. The repeated situation, thanks to the confirmation bias, allows the newly convinced individuals to perpetuate this spread, building a frame for truth.
Foucault, Psychology and the Infiltration of Racism
According to Foucault, micro and macro levels of power must work in conjunction with each other in order to affect an individual’s beliefs. Racism cannot be fully enforced or regulated by the state, so how does it deal with personal, informal interactions - the bonds and friendships that cut through the education and segregation enforced by sovereignty? There must exist two truths, subjective and objective, where the subjective truth is highly dependent on the views and opinions of ones peers, and the objective imposed by the state.
Goebbels famous statement, “propaganda can only be effective if it is broadly in line with preexisting notions and beliefs”, may explain how malleable the ideas and judgement of teenagers were under the Nazi regime. Areas of Germany which voted for anti-semitic parties before WW1 and where indoctrination was most effective are still more anti-semitic today. This suggests a social multiplier effect, whereby the opinions of past generations will influence the opinions of current generations, providing fertile soil for new anti-semitic ideas to be planted.
History: evidence of manipulating truth
Historical evidence can be used to evaluate the real life applications of the philosophical and psychological theories discussed above. When the Nazi Party (NSDAP) came into power in 1932, part of their agenda was to influence the education system to benefit their political ideals. This meant instilling certain subjective and objective truths in German youth through various means.
By 1939, most young people supported the NSDAP and many would denounce their parents and friends to law enforcement . This demonstrates the success of manipulating truth on a large scale through an education system.
Foucault and school curriculum during the Nazi period
Foucault’s work on how a person in power can replace “event truth” with “demonstration truth” is seen in the changes in curriculum during the Nazi period. Children’s personal views (“event truth”), or lack thereof, are replaced by nationalistic values (“demonstration truth”) imposed by their teachers. Syllabi for Geography and Politics were adapted accordingly to encourage a “fanatical devotion to the national cause”.
Teachers were also very strict and did not allow for inquiry beyond Nazi ideology. Students were punished for expressing their opinions or criticisms freely. This corresponds to Foucault’s ideas on controlling the boundaries of intellectual inquiry as an exercise of power.
Imposing subjective and objective truth
Objective truth during this period was systemically imposed by the state. The NSDAP set up the Nazi Teachers Association, which was compulsory for all teachers. Teachers were retrained to teach Eugenics and “Racial Science” objectively, providing what seemed like formal scientific evidence for Aryan supremacy.
Subjective truth was established by youth movements such as Hitler Youth. As opposed to an enforcement of truth by power, German youth felt peer pressure from friends in the same social status as their own. This may have been more convincing to children who had trouble accepting truth by authority.
Physical Education as a means to limit critical thought
Physical Education was changed from 2 to 10 hours a week minimum in primary schools . Boxing was a favourite of Hitler, arguing that physical fights are as worthy as, if not more than, intellectual fights. In fact, why need any intellectual fight when every German thinks the same? Then where is the need to understand what other people feel, think, study and work on? This is the confirmation bias at its extremum. One feels validated because others think alike, and when they don't, it is not seen as an opportunity for debate or even self questioning, but rather the consequence of a genetic or mental illness. The feeling of validation is unchallenged and therefore increased. In fact this educational policy probably comes from Hitler's own confirmation bias. Having fought as a soldier in the Great War, he accused the weak intellectuals for Germany's defeat. His solution was none other than the German Army, whose constitution and conditioning had to start at an early age. And this could not be achieved by teaching how to think about disciplines and their relations to one another. Their only relation allowed was with that of racial superiority of the German race. One famous example is that of the Mathematics problems which depict people with disabilities as a burden for the German society. Less known is the subject of History which could have been renamed "History of Racial Development". Disciplines were as such emptied of any other interpretation and purpose. The ability to make links between them was impossible.
- Blais, L. (2006). Savoir expert, savoirs ordinaires : qui dit vrai ? : Vérité et pouvoir chez Foucault. Sociologie et sociétés, 38(2), 151–163. https://doi.org/10.7202/016377ar
- Michel Foucault (1996) Truth and Juridical Forms, Social Identities, 2:3,341, DOI: 10.1080/13504639652213, https://doi.org/10.1080/13504639652213
- Lordon, F., (2010), Willing slaves of Capital
- Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power, page 221, Derek Hook http://simbi.kemenag.go.id/pustaka/images/materibuku/foucault-psychology-and-the-analytics-of-power.pdf
- Voigtländer N, Voth HJ. Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(26):7931-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491745/#r31
- Koch, H. W. (1996). The Hitler Youth: Origins and Development, 1922–1945. New York: Barnes and Noble. ISBN 978-0880292368.