People who shut their eyes to reality simple invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.
Adolf Hitler and Mein Kampf? Haven't these subjects been analyzed over the years ad nauseam? Well yes, but....
The Dublin Review of Books recently published an essay by Albrecht Koschorke entitled On Hitler's Mein Kampf: The Poetics of National Socialism. Koschorke himself almost offers a timid apology for bringing up the subject and even mentions “Godwin's Law,” which states, according to the Urban Dictionary, that the longer an online argument goes on and becomes more and more heated, the more likely someone will bring up Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The person invoking these names effectively forfeits the argument..
But Koschorke, a German literary critic, offers a compelling examination of the subject because of what he calls the “mounting radicalization” in our own time.
Here, in the United States for example, we could draw up a list of worrisome changes that are taking hold of American society. Some might include:
- Politicization of everyday life
- A disregard for the importance of 'truth”
- Devaluing of intellectual excellence
- Knowingly accepting outright lies from our leaders
- Vulgarization of society in general
- Scapegoating, immigrants for example, and Muslims in particular.
You could argue that many of these conditions have reared their head in the United States before, It's true. You could also say that some of these conditions have been with us from the very beginnings of the country, which Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, pointed out in the early 19th century. True enough.
Yet it is also true that they are collectively growing and spreading across America in 2017 and they are reasons to be concerned if we are at all interested in equity and a viable democratic republic (recognizing that some people aren't remotely interested). The intriguing—and important question—is always why did it happen and why does it continue to happen.
Koschorke states that it is important to understand 'the confluence of circumstances” that made national socialism in Germany possible in the 1930s.
Mein Kampf was published in 1924. Academic readers at the time considered it unoriginal, ludicrous, poorly written and simply rabid. It is all of these things and more. In college I managed to get through about 50 pages or so before tossing it into the wastebasket. The point, however, is that Hitler's intended audience was never academics. This was not his constituency.
Koschorke says of the book, “A menacing vacuum emanates from Mein Kampf—a license for adherents to react with a 'Just you wait' that bristles with lustful sadism.” For Koschorke, it is not that most people didn't read Mein Kampf or finished it, but that those who chose to wade though it entered into a kind of “secret society.” Perhaps most important in this closed circle was the nature of power. It was power that was contemptuous of any engagement with its opponents. Ultimately it was irrelevant whether one believed in Hitler's “literary” rants or more important in his far more mesmerizing public ranting and ravings. His followers knew what they wanted.
But who was Hitler's constituency according to Koschorke? Well, it wasn't the “scarcely literate or lower order of society.” For Hitler it was those with limited education and those who could be called the “failed” or “faltering.” Koschorke defines Hitler's constituency as those people who lived in a condition of existence “without predictability or security,” which in turn affected material or psychological well being. It was easier as time went by to blame the Jewish “conspiracy” and the Social Democrats for the failure of democratic institutions in Germany. By the mid-1930s it mattered little what anyone thought.
Numerous books have been written on the the rise of Fascism and Nazism, along with the assorted dictators that took power in the 1920s and 1930s. But certainly a loss of confidence in democratic institutions was a factor, a factor that can be seen spreading across the globe today.
Once you get beyond nationalism and making “holy mother Russia” great again, it's by in large a thug state, a kleptocracy. China, supposedly the new superpower is, as someone once described it, “capitalism in a Leninist cage.” Dismal as one can imagine. You can today go across the globe from India and Turkey to right wing nationalism in Europe and realize that democratic institutions and beliefs are under assault, exactly what occurred in Europe more than 80 years ago.
Here in the United States the slow unraveling leading to inequality and authoritarianism has been going on for a good thirty years. There is no guarantee this time for a “happy” ending.