Lessing, Theodor

(1872-1933)
   cultural philosopher; as pacifist, Jew,* and intellectual, epitomized the "outsider" in Weimar society. Born in Hanover, he passed a troubled youth in a conflict-ridden home. Since his father was a physician, he initially pursued studies in medicine, but after preliminary exams in 1894, he temporarily refocused on literature. He discovered a talent and pub-lished articles and poetry, establishing himself in 1895 with an introduction to Oskar Panizza's drama Das Liebeskonzil. Through Ludwig Klages* he formed a troubled relationship with the (Stefan) George* Circle. In 1899, after receiving assistance from his maternal grandfather, he took doctorates in philosophy and medicine. A brief conversion to Protestantism* expired in 1900 when the anti-Semitism* of some acquaintances provoked Lessing, himself an erstwhile anti-Semite, to reembrace Judaism. He taught from 1902 at a private school in Hau-binda, where the school's anti-Jewish stipulations forced his resignation in 1904. Upon finding a position with a private school in Dresden, he joined the SPD and became engaged in trade-union* activities. In 1906 he went to Gottingen to study philosophy with Edmund Husserl.* After completing his Habilitation, he became Privatdozent in 1908 at Hanover's Technische Hochschule. A physical disability forced Lessing's assignment to hospital duty during World War I; the ordeal made him a pacifist. Shortly after the November Rev-olution* he helped found a Volkshochschule (university extension) in Hanover, where in 1922 he became ausserordentlicher Professor. In 1925 he sparked bedlam by publishing a pamphlet critical of Hindenburg.* Denounced by the Deutsche Studentenschaft* and threatened with violence, he swapped his pro-fessorship in 1926 for a research post and devoted himself to private inquiry. His probe into the roots of Germany's political problems immersed him in sev-eral controversies and established him among the Republic's most hated indi-viduals. Increasingly drawn to Zionism, he published Jüdische Selbsthass (Jewish self-hate) in 1930; the book berated assimilation and rebuked Jews who aspired to "kill the Jew within themselves."
   Lessing's early writings advanced positions akin to nineteenth-century ide-alism; he remained Schopenhauer's disciple throughout his life. But by 1910 the nature of his cultural criticism had changed. Attracted by social issues, he promoted temperance, international understanding, and women's* emancipation. His ideas, labeled "need-philosophy," accentuated need as the cornerstone of all human activity.
   Lessing fled to Czechoslovakia upon Hitler's seizure of power. Deemed an enemy by the NSDAP, he was tracked down and murdered in August 1933 by SD (security service) agents.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Josephson, Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders; Liptzin, Germany's Stepchildren; Marwedel, Theo-dor Lessing; NDB, vol. 14.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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  • LESSING, THEODOR — (1872–1933), German philosopher. Lessing was born in Hanover as the son of a prosperous physician and read history, philosophy, and medicine at Bonn and Munich. He converted to Lutheranism in 1895 as a student in Freiburg. From 1898 he turned… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

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