If you want to control the minds of the citizenry and the ideas to which they are exposed, then make sure you take over their institutions of higher education.
That’s one of the lessons of a fascinating exhibit, “The Vienna Circle: Exact Thinking in Demented Times,” now showing at the University of Vienna’s Main Building. The Vienna Circle was a group of renowned philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists active during the early decades of the last century, and the University was their home. But when the threat posed by the Nazis became ever more pronounced in the 1930s, many leading scholars who did not see eye-to-eye with the German leadership took flight.
Any commitment to academic freedom was swept aside. The University and its denizens would conduct themselves accordingly, with periodic reminders issued by Nazi leaders to stay in line.
University officials dressed the part. So much for a proper suit or a cap & gown. The photo above shows the new University Rector addressing colleagues in a lecture hall.
Of course, the remaining faculty got into the act, too. Those who stayed were the true believers, as well as those who wanted to convey that impression out of an instinct to survive. The stakes included your freedom (such as it was), safety, and livelihood.
In short, we see what happens when virulent political and economic forces deny academic freedom and responsible speech in our universities. The example of 1930s Europe may seem extreme, but it doesn’t take much to start going down that slippery slope.
Note: The photos are snapshots of exhibit displays curated by Karl Sigmund and Friedrich Stadler, taken on June 18.