Otto Weininger (April 3, 1880 – October 4, 1903) was an ethnically Jewish philosopher and protocel, who lived in Vienna-then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He is mainly known for his work primarily focused on gender philosophy, "Sex and Character" (German: Geschlecht und Charakter) published in 1903. He developed a theory of gender based on secretions of the gonads, anticipating the later scientific discovery of the sex hormones. He conceived of gender as being comprised of two essences, male and female, with each individual having elements of each within themselves to a greater or lesser degree, though Weininger consistently disparaged the feminine essence in his writing. The work also concerns Weininger's insights into the relationship between the sexes and the character of women.
Weininger was staunchly opposed to what he saw as "Jewishness" (which he saw as a negative force inherent in everyone to a greater or lesser degree) and converted to Protestant Christianity. He was also an influence on the National Socialist movement, Gerald Steig, an Austrian writer, called Sex and Character "the psychological-metaphysical prelude for National Socialism, including its variants." Weiniger is widely regarded to have internalized elements of anti-Semitic discourse.
Beliefs[edit | edit source]
Weiniger was strongly opposed to anything Jewish and feminine. He claimed higher values and thought are unattainable for women. The more feminine a woman, the more she merely embodies vapid horniness. Only through a man, a woman is brought to life by second hand. Both Jews and women, he believed, are solely sexuality, body and matter, lacking a soul, morality and sexual modesty. He claimed Jews needed to overcome this by becoming more masculine.
Weininger's conception of 'Jewishness' was more holistic than the cruder biological definition used by the Nazis, with Weininger ultimately claiming the Jews are amoral and lacking true free will, like his depiction of women. Thus Weininger conflated what he saw as the negative aspects of "The Jewish Spirit" with what he perceived as the negative aspects of femininity. Though he ultimately denied either true agency.
He believed all barriers should be taken away from androgynous women to assert themselves in art and science, but that an all encompassing "women's movement" would drag too many women into it that have not much real capability or interest in male spaces. He argued the only women who truly value and were capable of being emancipated were masculine women, androgynous, perhaps lesbian types. Weininger was also critic of the laws that existed throughout Europe that criminalized homosexual acts, calling for the penalties to be reduced, or for the laws to be abolished altogether, mainly stemming from his complementary view of sexual attraction, and view of homosexuality as largely hereditary.
He saw that female sexual liberation would force most women, who he perceived as naturally not having much interest in academic or creative fields-beyond attracting men, and expressions of vanity-to write and study. That female entrance into male spaces by non-androgynous women would mostly become an expression of vanity and attention seeking. Although, he saw that most of the women without real interest in art or science would follow the androgynous women's call for liberation by lashing out at their husbands and, if they are young, at their mothers. He also stated clearly that while, in his view, it was possible for a man to "descend" to the level of women, he had never known of a woman—however masculine she may be—that was not fundamentally still a woman in nature. This meant that, in his view, women were "incapable of genius".
He also believed in telegony, though he claimed that it was very rare, and only found in cases where a woman finds her "absolute sexual complement" in a man. Another belief Weininger held in opposition to many contemporary scientists was the existence of physiognomy, which Weininger hoped would be rehabilitated as a science.
Reception of his work[edit | edit source]
His work was popularized by his sensational (at the time) suicide. Parts of his work (namely, his antisemitism and his comparison of Jews with what Weininger saw as the negative aspects of the female spirit) were promoted and selectively quoted by the Nazis, while they decried Weininger personally, due to his Jewish racial background. Adolf Hitler reportedly stated that "I only knew one decent Jew and he committed suicide...", quoting the "spiritual father of National Socialism", Dietrich Eckart, whose work shows clear influence by Weininger, particularly in his echoing the call of Weininger for "Aryans" to resist the encroachment of psychological "Jewishness" from within.
His book was also praised by other major figures of the far-right, the Italian reactionary philosopher Julius Evola fêted Weininger as: "The author who, in the most violent way, has attacked feminism, egalitarianism, the cult of woman, and the romantic myth of love, proclaiming the absolute spiritual and moral heterogeneity of the two sexes and the decided inferiority of femininity with respect to true virility [...]"
The notable Swedish artistic polymath and socialist, August Strindberg, listed Weininger with a series of eminent men who had similarly negative views of womenhood and femininity, describing his work as such: "Otto Weininger, having discovered the treachery when he was twenty, did not wait for the revenge but left the scene. [...]"
The feminist writer Germaine Greer heaped praise on portions of his work, though she disagreed with Weininger's claim that women lack ego and self-awareness. Others also interpreted his work in a feminist light, with one of these dubbing Weininger "arguably one of the greatest feminists of all time—there being probably no person in all history who has argued so strongly for the right of every woman to independence and self-determination, or argued so persuasively for her true freedom from the dictates of both men and other women." However, his work is also frequently praised and cited by masculinists, some of whom have been dubbed male supremicists.
Among the critics of Weininger, the German-Jewish Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch claimed that Weininger's writings were motivated by "the most vehement misogyny known to history". When presented with the work by Weininger, Sigmund Freud refused to recommend publication, and advised Weininger to spend "ten years" gathering empirical evidence for his assertions, to which Weininger responded he would rather spend ten years writing ten books. Nancy Harrowitz and Baraba Hyams collected a series of (mainly highly critical) academic responses to Sex and Character in their book Jews And Gender. Responses to Otto Weininger.
Weininger's biographer, David Abrahamsen, summarized the view of Weininger's work in Europe briefly after his death as such:
The man came as a meteor and disappeared as suddenly. It was only when he had passed that his ideas started to sparkle, electrifying the world. Some regarded him as a biologist, others as a psychologist, still others called him a mystic. Though generally considered a realist, he was at the same time strongly suspected of dealing in fantasies. He was praised for his invincible logic and attacked for his crusade against women. He was full of contradictions. His name became the signal for dispute and controversy in a thousand cities.
Suicide[edit | edit source]
Some claim that Weininger suffered from a deep melancholy much of his life, although a friend of his dismissed this, saying that Weininger's melancholy became stronger only in the last stages of his life. He exhibited some traits that indicated he was possibly neurodivergent, but personality traits similar to those who have this condition (being perceived as asocial, introversion, obsession etc.) are also said to be very common among geniuses throughout history. Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist, described an encounter with Weininger as follows:
"He always looked like one does after a thirty-hour train ride, dirty, tired, wrinkled, He walked crookedly and embarrassed, as if pressing himself against an invisible wall, and his mouth under the thin mustache was somehow tormentedly crooked. His eyes (his friends later told me) should have been beautiful: I have never seen them, because he always looked past me (even when I spoke to him, I did not feel his gaze for a second): all this I understood later as stemming from an irritated feeling of inferiority, that Russian villain feeling of the self-tormented."
Otto Weininger committed suicide by gunshot at the age of 23. He likely died a virgin. His suicide in the same hotel room where Beethoven died, seen as romantic by many, sparked a number of copycat suicides in Vienna. Upon Weininger's death, a close friend and colleague of Otto Weininger described him as being very intelligent, but also very ugly.
Quotes[edit | edit source]
A superior woman is still infinitely inferior to that which, at least potentially, exists in the lowest of men.
No men who really think deeply about women retain a high opinion of them; men either despise women or they have never thought seriously about them.
The well-known phrase, “Women have no character,” really means the same thing. Personality and individuality (intelligible), ego and soul, will and (intelligible) character, all these are different expressions of the same actuality, an actuality the male of mankind attains, the female lacks."
Woman does not wish to be treated as an active agent; she wants to remain always and throughout—this is just her womanhood—purely passive, to feel herself under another's will. She demands only to desired physically, to be taken possession of, like a new property.
How can I accuse woman after all, for serving man? Man wants nothing other than her. There is no man who would not be happy when he exercises sexual effect upon a woman. Hatred against woman is always only the not yet overcome hatred of one's own sexuality.
Whether a man holds suicide to be permissible or always impermissible, can be characteristic as to whether he is in fact shallow or deep at heart.
Talent is hereditary; it may be the common possession of a whole family (eg, the Bach family); genius is not transmitted; it is never diffused, but is strictly individual.
Genius is either inverted crime or inverted illness (especially inverted insanity)
The dog is that criminal which continually seeks to refute the other to justify himself (barking!). He can only do that by being slave to a master.
It is certainly true that most men need some kind of a God. A few, and they are the men of genius, do not bow to an alien law. The rest try to justify their doings and misdoings, their thinking and existence (at least the menial side of it), to some one else, whether it be the personal God of the Jews, or a beloved, respected, and revered human being. It is only in this way that they can bring their lives under the social law...
Influence on Nazi Germany and beyond[edit | edit source]
Otto's influence can arguably be seen in the superficiality of Nazism. National Socialist Germany believed wholeheartedly in physiognomy and stereotyping, that ones outer-appearance largely reflected one's inner appearance. Thus German citizens were constantly putting on a show for each other. By posturing as artistic, even when they weren't, and displaying a male obsession with conforming to traditional chad aesthetics.
Today, physiognomy and stereotyping has become a fairly large part of 4chan and tumblr culture, particularly 4chan where various stereotypes were created based on casual analysis of superficial physical qualities.
References[edit | edit source]
- Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue: The Aesthetics of Fascism (Apr., 1996), pp. 245-252