Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Karl Heinzen -- Excerpt From Der Mord


M (1931 poster from Fritz Lang film)

      Yesterday, something compelled me to reach for the book The Terrorism Reader, ed. Walter Laqueur and Yonah Alexander (New York, Meridian Books, 1987), and review Karl Peter Heinzen's (b.1809-d.1880) famous 1849 essay Der Mord (Murder), which Laqueur describes as "the most important ideological statement of early terrorism".  I hadn't read either the Heinzen piece or another of the essays found in the same section of the book, Sergey Nechaev's Catechism of the Revolutionist, written in 1869, for quite some time, but I think they are both essential works that need to be read in order to understand key aspects of the world we are now living in.  Both are deeply disturbing and terrible in their power and clarity.

The Zurich Atheism Dispute, 1846 cartoon/caricature (Heinzen depicted third from left)

      Fuller accounts of Heinzen's life are available and quite interesting, but Laqueur briefly notes: that "Heinzen's extremist ideas were opposed and sometimes ridiculed by many of his radical contemporaries, including Marx and Engels, who singled him out for attack, because for all of his radicalism, he was not a socialist.  Like Weitling, Heinzen emigrated to America after the revolution of 1848-1849, where he edited various German-language newspapers.  He died in Boston ('the only civilized place in America') in 1880".  Heinzen is buried in the Forest Hills Cemetary in the Jamaica Plains section of the city where, notably, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were cremated following their executions in 1927.  It is interesting to note, as Wikipedia does, that in addition to his political writings and poetry, Heizen also wrote a number of comedies.

Heinrich Himmler

From Der Mord

We must call a spade a spade.  The truth must out, whether it seems amiable or terrible, whether it is dressed in the white of peace or the red of war.  Let us then be frank and honest, let us tear away the veil and spell out in plain speech what the lesson is which is now being illustrated every day before our eyes in the form of actions and threats, blood and torture, cannons and gallows by both princes and freedom-fighters, Croats and democrats; to wit, that murder is the principal agent of historical progress.

      The egoists begin the murdering and the men of ideas reply in kind.  Twist and turn as they may, neither party can escape either murdering or being murdered, and the "ultima ratio" of both is quite simply the obliteration of their enemies. 

Prussian needle-gun, A, needle-bolt; B, B, is the lock for drawing the needle-bolt back, C, C, is the chamber, also tubular, in which is fixed the needle-guide d; c, knob; f, inclined edge; D, trigger; g, spring; h, catch.


      A wide variety of names have been coined for the art of obliterating one's enemy.  In one country they have him put to death "legally" by an executioner and call it the death penalty; in another they lie in wait with stiletto blades behind hedges and call it assassination; in another they organize obliteration on a grand scale and call it war.  Examined in the clear light of day, these various appellations appear for what they are, entirely superfluous, being all expressions of what is fundamentally one and the same thing, and whether I am executed or assassinated or torn to pieces , the end effect is the same.  I am dispatched to the other world and this dispatching to the other world was the purpose of my enemy.  No clear-thinking, rational person can accept the hair-splitting distinctions by which certain methods of obliterating the enemy are justified and others condoned:  such distinctions rest on the theological and legal fictions and do not in any way alter the facts of the matter, which are that in each case it is purely and simply a question of obliteration one's enemy.

Maxmilien Robespierre, Death Mask, 1794

      We maintain, in conformity with the fundamental principles of humanity and justice, that any voluntary killing of another human being is a crime against humanity, that no one under any pretext whatsoever has the right to destroy another's life and that anyone who does kill another or has him killed is quite simply a murderer. But against our enemies, with their executioners and soldiers, their laws of "high treason", and their inquisitions, their cannons and needle-guns, their shrapnel and Congreves, we are able to achieve previous little with our humanity and our ideas of justice, and merely to claim in some places that an inquisitor or a general is as much a murderer as any bandit or partisan would only to convince ourselves that we may quite "legitimately" be done away with.

Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert, M, 1931

      Let us be practical, then, and call ourselves murderers as our enemies do, let us take moral horror out of this great historical tool and just examine closely whether perchance our enemies may claim a special privilege in the matter of murder.  If to kill is always a crime, then it is forbidden to all; if it is not a crime, then it is permitted equally to all.  Once one has overcome the objection that murder is per se a crime, all that remains is to believe one is in the right against one's enemy and possess the power to obliterate him.  Simple logic as much as the facts of history compels this conclusion.  We do not desire any killing, any murder, but if our enemies are not of the same mind, if they can justify murder, even going so far as to claim a special privilege in the matter, then necessity compels us to challenge this privilege; and it is no great step from this necessity to becoming Robespierre and to the adoption of Robespierre's role, condemning hundreds of thousands to the scaffold in the interests of humanity.

Congreve rockets

      We take as our fundamental principle, taught us by our enemies, that murder, both of individuals and the masses, is still a necessity, an unavoidable instrument in the achievement of historical ends.

Heinzen tombstone, Forest Hills Cemetary, Jamaica Plains, Boston


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