The Moral Failure of Mathematician Alexander Grothendieck

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“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty…like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” – Bertrand Russell

… by  Jonas E. Alexis

 

GROTHENDIECK-obit-master180Alexander Grothendieck, who died last November, was unquestionably a brilliant French mathematician. We are told that that his father was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. The New York Times declares that his father was :

“An anarchist who fought against the czarist government. He was captured by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and eventually escaped to Western Europe. Along the way he lost an arm.”[1]

When Grothendieck’s father met his future wife, she was already married to a man by the name of Alf Raddatz. Right after he introduced himself to Raddatz, Alexander Tanaroff, Grothendieck’s father, proceeded to tell him the bad news: “I will steal your wife.”[2]

And so he did.


Grothendieck, within a short period of time, became a widely recognized mathematician. Yet his mathematical powers, we are told, gradually faded away in the 1970s and 80s,

“partly due to the sense of social justice that impassioned his parents, who were anti-Fascist activists during the Spanish Civil War.





“Since 1988 Grothendieck has lived in relative seclusion in a small village at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains in France, where as he wrote in a memoir, ‘The Key to Dreams’:

“‘I am indebted to my father for having inculcated in me a solidarity with the most underprivileged people, a powerfully held, lifelong belief.’”[3]

During the last years of World War II, Grothendieck was housed in La Guespy Children’s Home, “a refugee orphanage at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a town in south-central France, later named among the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for shielding Jews in Nazi Europe.”[4]

Grothendieck wrote in his memoir:

“We were mostly Jews, and when we were warned in advance (by local police) that Gestapo roundups would occur, we went to hide in the woods for a night or two, in little groups of two or three children, without fully realizing that it was a matter of life and death. The region was full of Jews… and many survived due to the solidarity of the local population.”[5]

The World War II led Grothendieck to despise the academic environment, and he gradually shifted his academic work to social justice. Soon, he began to shelter illegal foreigners, which was a crime back in 1977 in France. Grothendieck, then, began to take up political arms:

“He launched an unsuccessful campaign against the law, first at his then-academic home of the University of Montpellier, and wrote to five leading scientists asking for their support; none replied.”[6]

Grothendieck told Roy Lisker, an American mathematician and anti-war activist, “I’m not a mathematician anymore…I now devote my days to the transcriptions of my dreams.”[7]

downloadI really sympathize for Grothendieck, for personal experiences sometimes carry huge emotional luggage. Who has not been carried away by emotion in one way or another?

Yet while I understood Grothendieck’s emotional view, I historically and intellectually could not side with him. Therefore, he was almost certainly alone.

First of all, Grothendieck seemed to have been either historicaly lazy or dishonest, for over the past fourteen years alone, there has been an explosion of scholarly studies on the events leading up to Nazi Germany. And the bad news is that those studies are not in Grothendieck’s favor.

For example, Albert S. Lindemann’s Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews methodically argues that “Anti-Semitism” is much more complex than what we have been told by the Holocaust establishment.

Lindemann in particular denounces Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners as “far more questionable and simplistic.” Goldhagen, Lindemann continues, “typically ignores, or is ignorant of, evidence that contradicts his by means of original reading of German history.”[8]

Goldhagen seems to have deliberately forged the evidence. When a number of scholars began to realize that he manipulated the sources, Goldhagen moved to something he probably knew best: he wanted to sue those scholars.[9]

As we have repeatedly argued in the past, some German intellectuals and academics began to rise against Jewish intellectuals during the 1930s precisely because those Jewish intellectuals started to denigrate the German culture and its moral framework.

For example, in 1868, Jewish historiographer Heinrich Graetz wrote a letter to Moses Hess, Karl Marx’s collaborator, saying,

“I am looking forward with pleasure to flogging the Germans and their leaders—Schleirmacher, Fichte, and the whole wretched Romantic school.”[10]

Moving on to 1902, a Viennese Jew by the name of Solomon Ehrmann envisioned a future in which “all of mankind will have been jewified and joined in union with the B’nai B’rith.”[11]

When that happens, “not only the B’nai B’rith but all of Judaism will have fulfilled its task.” According to Lindemann, for Ehrmann, “Jewification equaled enlightenment.”[12]

Then moving on to the early 1930s, Berlin was virtually transformed into a whore city. We know for certain that the Dreadful Few were largely responsible for this,[13] and it is quite sad that Grothendieck did not delve into the past to discover those complex historical facts.


Lastly, Grothendieck could not say in good conscience that he was fighting for a good cause precisely because he seemed to have excluded other historical suffering in his ideological analysis. Why did he not mention Stalin’s extermination? Did the peasants during the Soviet reign deserve to die and face starvation by the millions?

The Bolshevik crimes were so horrible that Winston Churchill, a flaming Zionist who “was all his life a bundle of contradictions”[14] and who previously supported Stalin wholeheartedly in order to literally eradicate the Germans during World War II, finally wrote a note to Republican Senator Styles Bridges urging him to,

“Persuade President Harry Truman to launch a nuclear attack which would ‘wipe out’ the Kremlin and make the Soviet Union a ‘very easy problem’ to deal with…

“The FBI document shows Churchill’s belligerence towards Britain’s former wartime ally ran so deep that he was prepared to tolerate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Soviet civilians in a nuclear strike.”[15]

If Grothendieck had some serious moral backbone and clarity, he would have looked at all the major pain and suffering committed in the twentieth century and realized that he was just one star in the midst of a billion galaxies.

In short, I am not quite confident that Grothendieck passed the historical and moral examination. He should never have abandoned mathematics for social justice.


[1] Bruce Weber and Julie Rehmeyer, “Alexander Grothendieck, Math Egnima, Dies at 86,” NY Times, November 14, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Benjamin Ivry, “Alexander Grothendieck, Brilliant Jewish Mathematician, Dies at 86,” Jewish Daily Forward, November 14, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Albert S. Lindemann, Esau’s Tears: Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), x.

[9] See for example Norman Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (New York: Holt, 1998).

[10] Quoted in Lindemann, Esau’s Tears, 141.

[11] Ibid., 331.

[12] Ibid.

[13] See for example Edward J. Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery, 1870-1939 (New York: Schocken, 1983).

[14] Geoffrey Wheatcroft, “Imperial Son,” NY Times, August 15, 2014.

[15] Daniel Bates, “Winston Churchill’s ‘bid to nuke Russia’ to win Cold War – uncovered in secret FBI files,” Daily Mail, November 8, 2014.

Author Biography
Read Jonas Alexis’s latest posts here >>>

Jonas E. Alexis has degrees in mathematics and philosophy. He studied education at the graduate level. His main interests include U.S. foreign policy, history of Israel/Palestine conflict, and the history of ideas. He is the author of the new book Zionism vs. the West: How Talmudic Ideology is Undermining Western Culture. He teaches mathematics in South Korea.
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