Kenneth Burke – The Rhetoric of Hitler’s “Battle” (1939)

The appearance of Mein Kampf in unexpurgated translation has called forth far too many vandalistic comments. There are other ways of burning books than on the pyre — and the favorite method of the hasty reviewer is to deprive himself and his readers by inattention. I maintain that it is thoroughly vandalistic for the reviewer to content himself with the mere inflicting of a few symbolic wounds upon this book and its author, of an intensity varying with the resources of the reviewer and the time at his disposal. Hitler’s “Battle” is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: If the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with a guaranty in advance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratification than to our enlightenment.

Here is the testament of a man who swung a great people into his wake. Let us watch it carefully; and let us watch it, not merely to discover some grounds for prophesying what political move is to follow Munich, and what move to follow that move, etc.; let us try also to discover what kind of “medicine” this medicine-man has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America.

Already, in many quarters of our country, we are “beyond” the stage where we are being saved from Nazism by our virtues. And fascist integration is being staved off, rather, by the conflicts among our vices. Our vices cannot get together in a grand united front of prejudices; and the result of this frustration, if or until they succeed in surmounting it, speaks, as the Bible might say, “in the name of” democracy. Hitler found a panacea, a “cure for what ails you,” a “snakeoil,” that made such sinister unifying possible within his own nation. And he was helpful enough to put his cards face up on the table, that we might examine his hands. Let us, then, for God’s sake, examine them. This book is the well of Nazi magic; crude magic, but effective. A people trained in pragmatism should want to inspect this magic.


Every movement that would recruit its followers from among many discordant and divergent bands, must have some spot towards which all roads lead. Each man may get there in his own way, but it must be the one unifying center of reference for all. Hitler considered this matter carefully, and decided that this center must be not merely a centralizing hub of ideas, but a mecca geographically located, towards which all eyes could turn at the appointed hours of prayer (or, in this case, the appointed hours of prayer-in-reverse, the hours of vituperation). So he selected Munich, as the materialization of his unifying panacea. As he puts it:

The geo-political importance of a center of a movement cannot be overrated. Only the presence of such a center and of a place, bathed in the magic of a Mecca or a Rome, can at length give a movement that force which is rooted in the inner unity and in the recognition of a hand that represents this unity.

If a movement must have its Rome, it must also have its devil. For as Russell pointed out years ago, an important ingredient of unity in the Middle Ages (an ingredient that long did its unifying work despite the many factors driving towards disunity) was the symbol of a common enemy, the Prince of Evil himself. Men who can unite on nothing else can unite on the basis of a foe shared by all. Hitler himself states the case very succinctly:

As a whole, and at all times, the efficiency of the truly national leader consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy. The more uniformly the fighting will of a people is put into action, the greater will be the magnetic force of the movement and the more powerful the impetus of the blow. It is part of the genius of a great leader to make adversaries of different fields appear as always belonging to one category only, because to weak and unstable characters the knowledge that there are various enemies will lead only too easily to incipient doubts as to their own cause.

As soon as the wavering masses find themselves confronted with too many enemies, objectivity at once steps in, and the question is raised whether actually all the others are wrong and their own nation or their own movement alone is right.

Also with this comes the first paralysis of their own strength. Therefore, a number of essentially different enemies must always be regarded as one in such a way that in the opinion of the mass of one’s own adherents the war is being waged against one enemy alone. This strengthens the belief in one’s own cause and increases one’s bitterness against the attacker.

As everyone knows, this policy was exemplified in his selection of an “international” devil, the “international Jew” (the Prince was international, universal, “catholic”). This materialization of a religious pattern is, I think, one terrifically effective weapon of propaganda in a period where religion has been progressively weakened by many centuries of capitalist materialism. You need but go back to the sermonizing of centuries to be reminded that religion had a powerful enemy long before organized atheism came upon the scene. Religion is based upon the “prosperity of poverty,” upon the use of ways for converting our sufferings and handicaps into a good — but capitalism is based upon the prosperity of acquisitions, the only scheme of value, in fact, by which its proliferating store of gadgets could be sold, assuming for the moment that capitalism had not got so drastically in its own way that it can’t sell its gadgets even after it has trained people to feel that human dignity, the “higher standard of living,” could be attained only by their vast private accumulation.

So, we have, as unifying step No. 1, the international devil materialized, in the visible, point-to-able form of people with a certain kind of “blood,” a burlesque of contemporary neo-positivism’s ideal of meaning, which insists upon a material reference.

Once Hitler has thus essentialized his enemy, all “proof” henceforth is automatic. If you point out the enormous amount of evidence to show that the Jewish worker is at odds with the “international Jew stock exchange capitalist,” Hitler replies with one hundred per cent regularity: That is one more indication of the cunning with which the “Jewish plot” is being engineered. Or would you point to “Aryans” who do the same as his conspiratorial Jews? Very well; that is proof that the “Aryan” has been “seduced” by the Jew.

The sexual symbolism that runs through Hitler’s book, lying in wait to draw upon the responses of contemporary sexual values, is easily characterized: Germany in dispersion is the “dehorned Siegfried.” The masses are “feminine.” As such, they desire to be led by a dominating male. This male, as orator, woos them — and, when he has won them, he commands them. The rival male, the villainous Jew, would on the contrary “seduce” them. If he succeeds, he poisons their blood by intermingling with them. Whereupon, by purely associative connections of ideas, we are moved into attacks upon syphilis, prostitution, incest, and other similar misfortunes, which are introduced as a kind of “musical” argument when he is on the subject of “blood-poisoning” by intermarriage or, in its “spiritual” equivalent, by the infection of “Jewish” ideas, such as democracy.1

The “medicinal” appeal of the Jew as scapegoat operates from another angle. The middle class contains, within the mind of each member, a duality: its members simultaneously have a cult of money and a detestation of this cult. When capitalism is going well, this conflict is left more or less in abeyance. But when capitalism is balked, it comes to the fore. Hence, there is “medicine” for the “Aryan” members of the middle class in the projective device of the scapegoat, whereby the “bad” features can be allocated to the “devil,” and one can “respect himself” by a distinction between “good” capitalism and “bad” capitalism, with those of a different lodge being the vessels of the “bad” capitalism. It is doubtless the “relief” of this solution that spared Hitler the necessity of explaining just how the “Jewish plot” was to work out. Nowhere does this book, which is so full of war plans, make the slightest attempt to explain the steps whereby the triumph of “Jewish Bolshevism,” which destroys all finance, will be the triumph of “Jewish” finance. Hitler well knows the point at which his “elucidations” should rely upon the lurid alone.

The question arises, in those trying to gauge Hitler: Was his selection of the Jew, as his unifying devil-function, a purely calculating act? Despite the quotation I have already given, I believe that it was not. The vigor with which he utilized it, I think, derives from a much more complex state of affairs. It seems that, when Hitler went to Vienna, in a state close to total poverty, he genuinely suffered. He lived among the impoverished; and he describes his misery at the spectacle. He was sensitive to it; and his way of manifesting this sensitiveness impresses me that he is, at this point, wholly genuine, as with his wincing at the broken family relationships caused by alcoholism, which he in turn relates to impoverishment. During this time he began his attempts at political theorizing; and his disturbance was considerably increased by the skill with which Marxists tied him into knots. One passage in particular gives you reason, reading between the lines, to believe that the dialecticians of the class struggle, in their skill at blasting his muddled speculations, put him into a state of uncertainty that was finally “solved” by rage:

The more I argued with them, the more I got to know their dialectics. First they counted on the ignorance of their adversary; then, when there was no way out, they themselves pretended stupidity. If all this was of no avail, they refused to understand or they changed the subject when driven into a corner; they brought up truisms, but they immediately transferred their acceptance to quite different subjects, and, if attacked again, they gave way and pretended to know nothing exactly. Wherever one attacked one of these prophets, one’s hands seized slimy jelly; it slipped through one’s fingers only to collect again in the next moment. If one smote one of them so thoroughly that, with the bystanders watching, he could but agree, and if one thus thought he had advanced at least one step, one was greatly astonished the following day. The Jew did not in the least remember the day before, he continued to talk in the same old strain as if nothing had happened, and if indignantly confronted, he pretended to be astonished and could not remember anything except that his assertions had already been proved true the day before.

Often I was stunned.

One did not know what to admire more: their glibness of tongue or their skill in lying.

I gradually began to hate them.

At this point, I think, he is tracing the spontaneous rise of his anti-Semitism. He tells how, once he had discovered the “cause” of the misery about him, he could confront it. Where he had had to avert his eyes, he could now positively welcome the scene. Here his drastic structure of acceptance was being formed. He tells of the “internal happiness” that descended upon him.

This was the time in which the greatest change I was ever to experience took place in me.

From a feeble cosmopolite I turned into a fanatical anti-Semite,

and thence we move, by one of those associational tricks which he brings forth at all strategic moments, into a vision of the end of the world — out of which in turn he emerges with his slogan: “I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding off Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work”.

He talks of this transition as a period of “double life,” a struggle of “reason” and “reality” against his “heart.”2 It was as “bitter” as it was “blissful.” And finally, it was “reason” that won! Which prompts us to note that those who attack Hitlerism as a cult of the irrational should emend their statements to this extent: irrational it is, but it is carried on under the slogan of “Reason.” Similarly, his cult of war is developed “in the name of” humility, love, and peace. Judged on a quantitative basis, Hitler’s book certainly falls under the classification of hate. Its venom is everywhere, its charity is sparse. But the rationalized family tree for this hate situates it in “Aryan love.” Some deep-probing German poets, whose work adumbrated the Nazi movement, did gravitate towards thinking in the name of war, irrationality, and hate. But Hitler was not among them. After all, when it is so easy to draw a doctrine of war out of a doctrine of peace, why should the astute politician do otherwise, particularly when Hitler has slung together his doctrines, without the slightest effort at logical symmetry? Furthermore, Church thinking always got to its wars in Hitler’s “sounder” manner; and the patterns of Hitler’s thought are a bastardized or caricatured version of religious thought.

I spoke of Hitler’s fury at the dialectics of those who opposed him when his structure was in the stage of scaffolding. From this we may move to another tremendously important aspect of his theory: his attack upon the parliamentary. For it is again, I submit, an important aspect of his medicine, in its function as medicine for him personally and as medicine for those who were later to identify themselves with him.

There is a “problem” in the parliament — and nowhere was this problem more acutely in evidence than in the pre-war Vienna that was to serve as Hitler’s political schooling. For the parliament, at its best, is a “babel” of voices. There is the wrangle of men representing interests lying awkwardly on the bias across one another, sometimes opposing, sometimes vaguely divergent. Morton Prince’s psychiatric study of “Miss Beauchamp,” the case of a woman split into several sub-personalities at odds with one another, variously combining under hypnosis, and frequently in turmoil, is the allegory of a democracy fallen upon evil days. The parliament of the Habsburg Empire just prior to its collapse was an especially drastic instance of such disruption, such vocal diaspora, with movements that would reduce one to a disintegrated mass of fragments if he attempted to encompass the totality of its discordancies. So Hitler, suffering under the alienation of poverty and confusion, yearning for some integrative core, came to take this parliament as the basic symbol of all that he would move away from. He damned the tottering Habsburg Empire as a “State of Nationalities.” The many conflicting voices of the spokesmen of the many political blocs arose from the fact that various separationist movements of a nationalistic sort had arisen within a Catholic imperial structure formed prior to the nationalistic emphasis and slowly breaking apart under its development. So, you had this Babel of voices; and, by the method of associative mergers, using ideas as imagery, it became tied up, in the Hitler rhetoric, with “Babylon,” Vienna as the city of poverty, prostitution, immorality, coalitions, half-measures, incest, democracy (i. e., majority rule leading to “lack of personal responsibility”), death, internationalism, seduction, and anything else of thumbs-down sort the associative enterprise cared to add on this side of the balance.

Hitler’s way of treating the parliamentary babel, I am sorry to say, was at one important point not much different from that of the customary editorial in our own newspapers. Every conflict among the parliamentary spokesmen represents a corresponding conflict among the material interests of the groups for whom they are speaking. But Hitler did not discuss the babel from this angle. He discussed it on a purely symptomatic basis. The strategy of our orthodox press, in thus ridiculing the cacophonous verbal output of Congress, is obvious: by thus centering attack upon the symptoms of business conflict, as they reveal themselves on the dial of political wrangling, and leaving the underlying cause, the business conflicts themselves, out of the case, they can gratify the very public they would otherwise alienate: namely, the businessmen who are the activating members of their reading public. Hitler, however, went them one better. For not only did he stress the purely symptomatic attack here. He proceeded to search for the “cause.” And this “cause,” of course, he derived from his medicine, his racial theory by which he could give a noneconomic interpretation of a phenomenon economically engendered.

Here again is where Hitler’s corrupt use of religious patterns comes to the fore. Church thought, being primarily concerned with matters of the “personality,” with problems of moral betterment, naturally, and I think rightly, stresses as a necessary feature, the act of will upon the part of the individual. Hence its resistance to a purely “environmental” account of human ills. Hence its emphasis upon the “person.” Hence its proneness to seek a noneconomic explanation of economic phenomena. Hitler’s proposal of a non-economic “cause” for the disturbances thus had much to recommend it from this angle. And, as a matter of fact, it was Lueger’s Christian-Social Party in Vienna that taught Hitler the tactics of tying up a program of social betterment with an anti-Semitic “unifier.” The two parties that he carefully studied at that time were this Catholic faction and Schoenerer’s Pan-German group. And his analysis of their attainments and shortcomings, from the standpoint of demagogic efficacy, is an extremely astute piece of work, revealing how carefully this man used the current situation in Vienna as an experimental laboratory for the maturing of his plans.

His unification device, we may summarize, had the following important features:

  1. Inborn dignity. In both religious and humanistic patterns of thought, a “natural born” dignity of man is stressed. And this categorical dignity is considered to be an attribute of all men, if they will but avail themselves of it, by right thinking and right living. But Hitler gives this ennobling attitude an ominous twist by his theories of race and nation, whereby the “Aryan” is elevated above all others by the innate endowment of his blood, while other “races,” in particular Jews and Negroes, are innately inferior. This sinister secularized revision of Christian theology thus puts the sense of dignity upon a fighting basis, requiring the conquest of “inferior races.” After the defeat of Germany in the World War, there were especially strong emotional needs that this compensatory doctrine of an inborn superiority could gratify.
  2. Projection device. The “curative” process that comes with the ability to hand over one’s ills to a scapegoat, thereby getting purification by dissociation. This was especially medicinal, since the sense of frustration leads to a self-questioning. Hence if one can hand over his infirmities to a vessel, or “cause,” outside the self, one can battle an external enemy instead of battling an enemy within. And the greater one’s internal inadequacies, the greater the amount of evils one can load upon the back of “the enemy.” This device is furthermore given a semblance of reason because the individual properly realizes that he is not alone responsible for his condition. There are inimical factors in the scene itself. And he wants to have them “placed,” preferably in a way that would require a minimum change in the ways of thinking to which he had been accustomed. This was especially appealing to the middle class, who were encouraged to feel that they could conduct their businesses without any basic change whatever, once the businessmen of a different “race” were eliminated.
  3. Symbolic rebirth. Another aspect of the two features already noted. The projective device of the scapegoat, coupled with the Hitlerite doctrine of inborn racial superiority, provides its followers with a “positive” view of life. They can again get the feel of moving forward, towards a goal (a promissory feature of which Hitler makes much). In Hitler, as the group’s prophet, such rebirth involved a symbolic change of lineage. Here, above all, we see Hitler giving a malign twist to a benign aspect of Christian thought. For whereas the Pope, in the familistic pattern of thought basic to the Church, stated that the Hebrew prophets were the spiritual ancestors of Christianity, Hitler uses this same mode of thinking in reverse. He renounces this “ancestry” in a “materialistic” way by voting himself and the members of his lodge a different “blood stream” from that of the Jews.
  4. Commercial use. Hitler obviously here had something to sell — and it was but a question of time until he sold it (i. e., got financial backers for his movement). For it provided a noneconomic interpretation of economic ills. As such, it served with maximum efficiency in deflecting the attention from the economic factors involved in modern conflict; hence by attacking “Jew finance” instead of finance, it could stimulate an enthusiastic movement that left “Aryan” finance in control.

Never once, throughout his book, does Hitler deviate from the above formula. Invariably, he ends his diatribes against contemporary economic ills by a shift into an insistence that we must get to the “true” cause, which is centered in “race.” The “Aryan” is “constructive”; the Jew is “destructive”; and the “Aryan,” to continue his construction, must destroy the Jewish destruction. The Aryan, as the vessel of love, must hate the Jewish hate.

Perhaps the most enterprising use of his method is in his chapter, “The Causes of the Collapse,” where he refuses to consider Germany’s plight as in any basic way connected with the consequences of war. Economic factors, he insists, are “only of second or even third importance,” but “political, ethical-moral, as well as factors of blood and race, are of the first importance.” His rhetorical steps are especially interesting here, in that he begins by seeming to flout the national susceptibilities: “The military defeat of the German people is not an undeserved catastrophe, but rather a deserved punishment by eternal retribution.” He then proceeds to present the military collapse as but a “consequence of moral poisoning, visible to all, the consequence of a decrease in the instinct of self-preservation . . . which had already begun to undermine the foundations of the people and the Reich many years before.” This moral decay derived from “a sin against the blood and the degradation of the race,” so its innerness was an outerness after all: the Jew, who thereupon gets saddled with a vast amalgamation of evils, among them being capitalism, democracy, pacifism, journalism, poor housing, modernism, big cities, loss of religion, half measures, ill health, and weakness of the monarch.


Hitler had here another important psychological ingredient to play upon. If a State is in economic collapse (and his theories, tentatively taking shape in the pre-war Vienna, were but developed with greater efficiency in post-war Munich), you cannot possibly derive dignity from economic stability. Dignity must come first — and if you possess it, and implement it, from it may follow its economic counterpart. There is much justice to this line of reasoning, so far as it goes. A people in collapse, suffering under economic frustration and the defeat of nationalistic aspirations, with the very midrib of their integrative efforts (the army) in a state of dispersion, have little other than some “spiritual” basis to which they could refer their nationalistic dignity. Hence, the categorical dignity of superior race was a perfect recipe for the situation. It was “spiritual” in so far as it was “above” crude economic “interests,” but it was “materialized” at the psychologically “right” spot in that “the enemy” was some-thing you could see.

Furthermore, you had the desire for unity, such as a discussion of class conflict, on the basis of conflicting interests, could not satisfy. The yearning for unity is so great that people are always willing to meet you halfway if you will give it to them by fiat, by flat statement, regardless of the facts. Hence, Hitler consistently refused to consider internal political conflict on the basis of conflicting interests. Here again, he could draw upon a religious pattern, by insisting upon a personal statement of the relation between classes, the relation between leaders and followers, each group in its way fulfilling the same commonalty of interests, as the soldiers and captains of an army share a common interest in victory. People so dislike the idea of internal division that, where there is a real internal division, their dislike can easily be turned against the man or group who would so much as name it, let alone proposing to act upon it. Their natural and justified resentment against internal division itself, is turned against the diagnostician who states it as a fact. This diagnostician, it is felt, is the cause of the disunity he named.

Cutting in from another angle, therefore, we note how two sets of equations were built up, with Hitler combining or coalescing ideas the way a poet combines or coalesces images. On the one side, were the ideas, or images, of disunity, centering in the parliamentary wrangle of the Habsburg “State of Nationalities.” This was offered as the antithesis of German nationality, which was presented in the curative imagery of unity, focused upon the glories of the Prussian Reich, with its mecca now moved to “folkish” Vienna. For though Hitler at first attacked the many “folkish” movements, with their hankerings after a kind of Wagnerian mythology of Germanic origins, he subsequently took “folkish” as a basic word by which to conjure. It was, after all, another noneconomic basis of reference. At first we find him objecting to “those who drift about with the word ‘folkish’ on their caps,” and asserting that “such a Babel of opinions cannot serve as the basis of a political fighting movement.” But later he seems to have realized, as he well should, that its vagueness was a major point in its favor. So it was incorporated in the grand coalition of his ideational imagery, or imagistic ideation; and Chapter XI ends with the vision of “a State which represents not a mechanism of economic considerations and interests, alien to the people, but a folkish organism.”

So, as against the disunity equations, already listed briefly in our discussion of his attacks upon the parliamentary, we get a contrary purifying set; the wrangle of the parliamentary is to be stilled by the giving of one voice to the whole people, this to be the “inner voice” of Hitler, made uniform throughout the German boundaries, as leader and people were completely identified with each other. In sum: Hitler’s inner voice, equals leader-people identification, equals unity, equals Reich, equals the mecca of Munich, equals plow, equals sword, equals work, equals war, equals army as midrib, equals responsibility (the personal responsibility of the absolute ruler), equals sacrifice, equals the theory of “German democracy” (the free popular choice of the leader, who then accepts the responsibility, and demands absolute obedience in exchange for his sacrifice), equals love (with the masses as feminine), equals idealism, equals obedience to nature, equals race, nation.3

And, of course, the two keystones of these opposite equations were Aryan “heroism” and “sacrifice” vs. Jewish “cunning” and “arrogance.” Here again we get an astounding caricature of religious thought. For Hitler presents the concept of “Aryan” superiority, of all ways, in terms of “Aryan humility.” This “humility” is extracted by a very delicate process that requires, I am afraid, considerable “good will” on the part of the reader who would follow it:

The Church, we may recall, had proclaimed an integral relationship between Divine Law and Natural Law. Natural Law was the expression of the Will of God. Thus, in the middle age, it was a result of natural law, working through tradition, that some people were serfs and other people nobles. And every good member of the Church was “obedient” to this law. Everybody resigned himself to it. Hence, the serf resigned himself to his poverty, and the noble resigned himself to his riches. The monarch resigned himself to his position as representative of the people. And at times the Churchmen resigned themselves to the need of trying to represent the people instead. And the pattern was made symmetrical by the consideration that each traditional “right” had its corresponding “obligations.” Similarly, the Aryan doctrine is a doctrine of resignation, hence of humility. It is in accordance with the laws of nature that the “Aryan blood” is superior to all other bloods. Also, the “law of the survival of the fittest” is God’s law, working through natural law. Hence, if the Aryan blood has been vested with the awful responsibility of its inborn superiority, the bearers of this “culture-creating” blood must resign themselves to struggle in behalf of its triumph. Otherwise, the laws of God have been disobeyed, with human decadence as a result. We must fight, he says, in order to “deserve to be alive.” The Aryan “obeys” nature. It is only “Jewish arrogance” that thinks of “conquering” nature by democratic ideals of equality.

This picture has some nice distinctions worth following. The major virtue of the Aryan race was its instinct for self-preservation (in obedience to natural law). But the major vice of the Jew was his instinct for self-preservation; for, if he did not have this instinct to a maximum degree, he would not be the “perfect” enemy — that is, he wouldn’t be strong enough to account for the ubiquitousness and omnipotence of his conspiracy in destroying the world to become its master.

How, then, are we to distinguish between the benign instinct of self-preservation at the roots of Aryanism, and the malign instinct of self-preservation at the roots of Semitism? We shall distinguish thus: The Aryan self-preservation is based upon sacrifice, the sacrifice of the individual to the group, hence, militarism, army discipline, and one big company union. But Jewish self-preservation is based upon individualism, which attains its cunning ends by the exploitation of peace. How, then, can such arrant individualists concoct the world-wide plot? By the help of their “herd instinct.” By their sheer “herd instinct” individualists can band together for a common end. They have no real solidarity, but unite opportunistically to seduce the Aryan. Still, that brings up another technical problem. For we have been hearing much about the importance of the person. We have been told how, by the “law of the survival of the fittest,” there is a sifting of people on the basis of their individual capacities. We even have a special chapter of pure Aryanism: “The Strong Man is Mightiest Alone.” Hence, another distinction is necessary: The Jew represents individualism; the Aryan represents “super-individualism.”

I had thought, when coming upon the “Strong Man is Mightiest Alone” chapter, that I was going to find Hitler at his weakest. Instead, I found him at his strongest. (I am not referring to quality, but to demagogic effectiveness.) For the chapter is not at all, as you might infer from the title, done in a “rise of Adolph Hitler” manner. Instead, it deals with the Nazis’ gradual absorption of the many disrelated “folkish” groups. And it is managed throughout by means of a spontaneous identification between leader and people. Hence, the Strong Man’s “aloneness” is presented as a public attribute, in terms of tactics for the struggle against the Party’s dismemberment under the pressure of rival saviors. There is no explicit talk of Hitler at all. And it is simply taken for granted that his leadership is the norm, and all other leaderships the abnorm. There is no “philosophy of the superman,” in Nietzschean cast. Instead, Hitler’s blandishments so integrate leader and people, commingling them so inextricably, that the politician does not even present himself as candidate. Somehow, the battle is over already, the decision has been made. “German democracy” has chosen. And the deployments of politics are, you might say, the chartings of Hitler’s private mind translated into the vocabulary of nationalistic events. He says what he thought in terms of what parties did.

Here, I think, we see the distinguishing quality of Hitler’s method as an instrument of persuasion, with reference to the question whether Hitler is sincere or deliberate, whether his vision of the omnipotent conspirator has the drastic honesty of paranoia or the sheer shrewdness of a demagogue trained in Realpolitik of the Machiavellian sort.4 Must we choose? Or may we not, rather, replace the “either — or” with a “both — and”? Have we not by now offered grounds enough for our contention that Hitler’s sinister powers of persuasion derive from the fact that he spontaneously evolved his “cure-all” in response to inner necessities?


So much, then, was “spontaneous.” It was further channelized into the anti-Semitic pattern by the incentives he derived from the Catholic Christian-Social Party in Vienna itself. Add, now, the step into criticism. Not criticism in the “parliamentary” sense of doubt, of hearkening to the opposition and attempting to mature a policy in the light of counter-policies; but the “unified” kind of criticism that simply seeks for conscious ways of making one’s position more “efficient,” more thoroughly itself. This is the kind of criticism at which Hitler was an adept. As a result, he could spontaneously turn to a scapegoat mechanism, and he could, by conscious planning, perfect the symmetry of the solution towards which he had spontaneously turned.

This is the meaning of Hitler’s diatribes against “objectivity.” “Objectivity” is interference-criticism. What Hitler wanted was the kind of criticism that would be a pure and simple coefficient of power, enabling him to go most effectively in the direction he had chosen. And the “inner voice” of which he speaks would henceforth dictate to him the greatest amount of realism, as regards the tactics of efficiency. For instance, having decided that the masses required certainty, and simple certainty, quite as he did himself, he later worked out a 25-point program as the platform of his National Socialist German Workers Party. And he resolutely refused to change one single item in this program, even for purposes of “improvement.” He felt that the fixity of the platform was more important for propagandistic purposes than any revision of his slogans could be, even though the revisions in themselves had much to be said in their favor. The astounding thing is that, although such an attitude gave good cause to doubt the Hitlerite promises, he could explicitly explain his tactics in his book and still employ them without loss of effectiveness.5

Hitler also tells of his technique in speaking, once the Nazi party had become effectively organized, and had its army of guards, or bouncers, to maltreat hecklers and throw them from the hall. He would, he recounts, fill his speech with provocative remarks, whereat his bouncers would promptly swoop down in flying formation, with swinging fists, upon anyone whom these provocative remarks provoked to answer. The efficiency of Hitlerism is the efficiency of the one voice, implemented throughout a total organization. The trinity of government which he finally offers is: popularity of the leader, force to back the popularity, and popularity and force maintained together long enough to become backed by a tradition. Is such thinking spontaneous or deliberate — or is it not rather both?6

Freud has given us a succinct paragraph that bears upon the spontaneous aspect of Hitler’s persecution mania. (A persecution mania, I should add, different from the pure product in that it was constructed of public materials; all the ingredients Hitler stirred into his brew were already rife, with spokesmen and bands of followers, before Hitler “took them over.” Both the pre-war and post-war periods were dotted with saviors, of nationalistic and “folkish” cast. This proliferation was analogous to the swarm of barter schemes and currency-tinkering that burst loose upon the United States after the crash of 1929. Also, the commercial availability of Hitler’s politics was, in a low sense of the term, a public qualification, removing it from the realm of “pure” paranoia, where the sufferer develops a wholly private structure of interpretations.)

I cite from Totem and Taboo:

Another trait in the attitude of primitive races towards their rulers recalls a mechanism which is universally present in mental disturbances, and is openly revealed in the so-called delusions of persecution. Here the importance of a particular person is extraordinarily heightened and his omnipotence is raised to the improbable in order to make it easier to attribute to him responsibility for everything painful which happens to the patient. Savages really do not act differently towards their rulers when they ascribe to them power over rain and shine, wind and weather, and then dethrone them or kill them because nature has disappointed their expectation of a good hunt or a ripe harvest. The prototype which the paranoiac reconstructs in his persecution mania is found in the relation of the child to its father. Such omnipotence is regularly attributed to the father in the imagination of the son, and distrust of the father has been shown to be intimately connected with the heightened esteem for him. When a paranoiac names a person of his acquaintance as his “persecutor,” he thereby elevates him to the paternal succession and brings him under conditions which enable him to make him responsible for all the misfortune which he experiences.

I have already proposed my modifications of this account when discussing the symbolic change of lineage connected with Hitler’s project of a “new way of life.” Hitler is symbolically changing from the “spiritual ancestry” of the Hebrew prophets to the “superior” ancestry of “Aryanism,” and has given his story a kind of bastardized modernization, along the lines of naturalistic, materialistic “science,” by his fiction of the special “blood-stream.” He is voting himself a new identity (something contrary to the wrangles of the Habsburg Babylon, a soothing national unity); whereupon the vessels of the old identity become a “bad” father, i. e., the persecutor. It is not hard to see how, as his enmity becomes implemented by the backing of an organization, the role of “persecutor” is transformed into the role of persecuted, as he sets out with his like-minded band to “destroy the destroyer.”

Were Hitler simply a poet, he might have written a work with an anti-Semitic turn, and let it go at that. But Hitler, who began as a student of painting, and later shifted to architecture, himself treats his political activities as an extension of his artistic ambitions. He remained, in his own eyes, an “architect,” building a “folkish” State that was to match, in political materials, the “folkish” architecture of Munich.

We might consider the matter this way (still trying, that is, to make precise the relationship between the drastically sincere and the deliberately scheming): Do we not know of many authors who seem, as they turn from the role of citizen to the role of spokesman, to leave one room and enter another? Or who has not, on occasion, talked with a man in private conversation, and then been almost startled at the transformation this man undergoes when addressing a public audience? And I know persons today, who shift between the writing of items in the class of academic, philosophic speculation to items of political pamphleteering, and whose entire style and method changes with this change of role. In their academic manner, they are cautious, painstaking, eager to present all significant aspects of the case they are considering; but when they turn to political pamphleteering, they hammer forth with vituperation, they systematically misrepresent the position of their opponent, they go into a kind of political trance, in which, during its throes, they throb like a locomotive; and behold, a moment later, the mediumistic state is abandoned, and they are the most moderate of men.

Now, one will find few pages in Hitler that one could call “moderate.” But there are many pages in which he gauges resistances and opportunities with the “rationality” of a skilled advertising man planning a new sales campaign. Politics, he says, must be sold like soap — and soap is not sold in a trance. But he did have the experience of his trance, in the “exaltation” of his anti-Semitism. And later, as he became a successful orator (he insists that revolutions are made solely by the power of the spoken word), he had this “poetic” role to draw upon, plus the great relief it provided as a way of slipping from the burden of logical analysis into the pure “spirituality” of vituperative prophecy. What more natural, therefore, than that a man so insistent upon unification would integrate this mood with less ecstatic moments, particularly when he had found the followers and the backers that put a price, both spiritual and material, upon such unification?

Once this happy “unity” is under way, one has a “logic” for the development of a method. One knows when to “spiritualize” a material issue, and when to “materialize” a spiritual one. Thus, when it is a matter of materialistic interests that cause a conflict between employer and employee, Hitler here disdainfully shifts to a high moral plane. He is “above” such low concerns. Everything becomes a matter of “sacrifices” and “personality.” It becomes crass to treat employers and employees as different classes with a corresponding difference in the classification of their interests. Instead, relations between employer and employee must be on the “personal” basis of leader and follower, and “whatever may have a divisive effect in national life should be given a unifying effect through the army.” When talking of national rivalries, however, he makes a very shrewd materialistic gauging of Britain and France with relation to Germany. France, he says, desires the “Balkanization of Germany” (i. e., its breakup into separationist movements — the “disunity” theme again) in order to maintain commercial hegemony on the continent. But Britain desires the “Balkanization of Europe” hence would favor a fairly strong and unified Germany, to use as a counter-weight against French hegemony. German nationality, however, is unified by the spiritual quality of Aryanism (that would produce the national organization via the Party) while this in turn is materialized in the myth of the blood-stream.

What are we to learn from Hitler’s book? For one thing, I believe that he has shown, to a very disturbing degree, the power of endless repetition. Every circular advertising a Nazi meeting had, at the bottom, two slogans: “Jews not admitted” and “War victims free.” And the substance of Nazi propaganda was built about these two “complementary” themes. He describes the power of spectacle; insists that mass meetings are the fundamental way of giving the individual the sense of being protectively surrounded by a movement, the sense of “community.” He also drops one wise hint that I wish the American authorities would take in treating Nazi gatherings. He says that the presence of a special Nazi guard, in Nazi uniforms, was of great importance in building up, among the followers, a tendency to place the center of authority in the Nazi party. I believe that we should take him at his word here, but use the advice in reverse, by insisting that, where Nazi meetings are to be permitted, they be policed by the authorities alone, and that uniformed Nazi guards to enforce the law be prohibited.

And is it possible that an equally important feature of appeal was not so much in the repetitiousness per se, but in the fact that, by means of it, Hitler provided a “world view” for people who had previously seen the world but piecemeal? Did not much of his lure derive, once more, from the bad filling of a good need? Are not those who insist upon a purely planless working of the market asking people to accept far too slovenly a scheme of human purpose, a slovenly scheme that can be accepted so long as it operates with a fair degree of satisfaction, but becomes abhorrent to the victims of its disarray? Are they not then psychologically ready for a rationale, any rationale, if it but offer them some specious “universal” explanation? Hence, I doubt whether the appeal was in the sloganizing element alone (particularly as even slogans can only be hammered home, in speech after speech, and two or three hours at a stretch, by endless variations on the themes). And Hitler himself somewhat justifies my interpretation by laying so much stress upon the half- measures of the middle-class politicians, and the contrasting certainty of his own methods. He was not offering people a rival world view; rather, he was offering a world view to people who had no other to pit against it.

As for the basic Nazi trick: the “curative” unification by a fictitious devil-function, gradually made convincing by the sloganizing repetitiousness of standard advertising technique — the opposition must be as unwearying in the attack upon it. It may well be that people, in their human frailty, require an enemy as well as a goal. Very well: Hitlerism itself has provided us with such an enemy — and the clear example of its operation is guaranty that we have, in him and all he stands for, no purely fictitious “devil-function” made to look like a world menace by rhetorical blandishments, but a reality whose ominousness is clarified by the record of its conduct to date. In selecting his brand of doctrine as our “scapegoat,” and in tracking down its equivalents in America, we shall be at the very center of accuracy. The Nazis themselves have made the task of clarification easier. Add to them Japan and Italy, and you have case histories of fascism for those who might find it more difficult to approach an understanding of its imperialistic drives by a vigorously economic explanation.

But above all, I believe, we must make it apparent that Hitler appeals by relying upon a bastardization of fundamentally religious patterns of thought. In this, if properly presented, there is no slight to religion. There is nothing in religion proper that requires a fascist state. There is much in religion, when misused, that does lead to a fascist state. There is a Latin proverb, Corruptio optimi pessima, “the corruption of the best is the worst.” And it is the corrupters of religion who are a major menace to the world today, in giving the profound patterns of religious thought a crude and sinister distortion.

Our job, then, our anti-Hitler Battle, is to find all available ways of making the Hitlerite distortions of religion apparent, in order that politicians of his kind in America be unable to perform a similar swindle. The desire for unity is genuine and admirable. The desire for national unity, in the present state of the world, is genuine and admirable. But this unity, if attained on a deceptive basis, by emotional trickeries that shift our criticism from the accurate locus of our trouble, is no unity at all. For, even if we are among those who happen to be “Aryans,” we solve no problems even for ourselves by such solutions, since the factors pressing towards calamity remain. Thus, in Germany, after all the upheaval, we see nothing beyond a drive for ever more and more upheaval, precisely because the “new way of life” was no new way, but the dismally oldest way of sheer deception — hence, after all the “change,” the factors driving towards unrest are left intact, and even strengthened. True, the Germans had the resentment of a lost war to increase their susceptibility to Hitler’s rhetoric. But in a wider sense, it has repeatedly been observed, the whole world lost the War — and the accumulating ills of the capitalist order were but accelerated in their movements towards confusion. Hence, here too there are the resentments that go with frustration of men’s ability to work and earn. At that point a certain kind of industrial or financial monopolist may, annoyed by the contrary voices of our parliament, wish for the momentary peace of one voice, amplified by social organizations, with all the others not merely quieted, but given the quietus. So he might, under Nazi promptings, be tempted to back a group of gangsters who, on becoming the political rulers of the state, would protect him against the necessary demands of the workers. His gangsters, then, would be his insurance against his workers. But who would be his insurance against his gangsters?

1Hitler also strongly insists upon the total identification between leader and people. Thus, in wooing the people, he would in a roundabout way be wooing himself. The thought might suggest how the Fuhrer, dominating the feminine masses by his diction, would have an incentive to remain unmarried.

2Other aspects of the career symbolism: Hitler’s book begins: “Today I consider it my good fortune that Fate designated Braunau on the Inn as the place of my birth. For this small town is situated on the border between those two German States, the reunion of which seems, at least to us of the younger generation, a task to be furthered with every means our lives long,” an indication of his “transitional” mind, what Wordsworth might have called the “borderer.” He neglects to give the date of his birth, 1889, which is supplied by the editors. Again there is a certain “correctness” here, as Hitler was not “born” until many years later — but he does give the exact date of his war wounds, which were indeed formative. During his early years in Vienna and Munich, he foregoes protest, on the grounds that he is “nameless.” And when his party is finally organized and effective, he stresses the fact that his “nameless” period is over (i. e., he has shaped himself an identity). When reading in an earlier passage of his book some generalizations to the effect that one should not crystallize his political views until he is thirty, I made a note: “See what Hitler does at thirty.” I felt sure that, though such generalizations may be dubious as applied to people as a whole, they must, given the Hitler type of mind (with his complete identification between himself and his followers), be valid statements about himself. One should do what he did. The hunch was verified: about the age of thirty Hitler, in a group of seven, began working with the party that was to conquer Germany. I trace these steps particularly because I believe that the orator who has a strong sense of his own “rebirth” has this to draw upon when persuading his audiences that his is offering them the way to a “new life.” However, I see no categorical objection to this attitude; its menace derives solely from the values in which it is exemplified. They may be wholesome or unwholesome. If they are unwholesome, but backed by conviction, the basic sincerity of the conviction acts as a sound virtue to reinforce a vice — and this combination is the most disastrous one that a people can encounter in a demagogue.

3One could carry out the equations further, on both the disunity and unity side. In the aesthetic field, for instance, we have expressionism on the thumbs-down side, as against aesthetic hygiene on the thumbs-up side. This again is a particularly ironic moment in Hitler’s strategy. For the expressionist movement was unquestionably a symptom of unhealthiness. It reflected the increasing alienation that went with the movement towards world war and the disorganization after the world war. It was “lost,” vague in identity, a drastically accurate reflection of the response to material confusion, a pathetic attempt by sincere artists to make their wretchedness bearable at least to the extent that comes of giving it expression. And it attained its height during the period of wild inflation, when the capitalist world, which bases its morality of work and savings upon the soundness of its money structure, had this last prop of stability removed. The anguish, in short, reflected precisely the kind of disruption that made people ripe for a Hitler. It was the antecedent in a phrase of which Hitlerism was the consequent. But by thundering against this symptom he could gain persuasiveness, though attacking the very foreshadoiuings of himself.

4I should not want to use the word “Machiavellian,” however, without offering a kind of apology to Machiavelli. It seems to me that Machiavelli’s Prince has more to be said in extenuation than is usually said of it. Machiavelli’s strategy, as I see it, was something like this: He accepted the values of the Renaissance rule as a fact. That is: whether you like these values or not, they were there and operating, and it was useless to try persuading the ambitious ruler to adopt other values, such as those of the Church. These men believed in the cult of material power, and they had the power to implement their beliefs. With so much as “the given,” could anything in the way of benefits for the people be salvaged? Machiavelli evolved a typical “Machiavellian” argument in favor of popular benefits, on the basis of the prince’s own scheme of values. That is: the ruler, to attain the maximum strength, requires the backing of the populace. That this backing be as effective as possible, the populace should be made as strong as possible. And that the populace be as strong as possible, they should be well treated. Their gratitude would further repay itself in the form of increased loyalty.

It was Machiavelli’s hope that, for this roundabout project, he would be rewarded with a well-paying office in the prince’s administrative bureaucracy.

5On this point Hitler reasons as follows: “Here, too, one can learn from the Catholic Church. Although its structure of doctrines in many instances collides, quite unnecessarily, with exact science and research, yet it is unwilling to sacrifice even one little syllable of its dogmas. It has rightly recognized that its resistibility does not lie in a more or less great adjustment to the scientific results of the moment, which in reality are always changing, but rather in a strict adherence to dogmas, once laid down, which alone give the entire structure the character of creed. Today, therefore, the Catholic Church stands firmer than ever. One can prophesy that in the same measure in which the appearances flee, the Church itself, as the resting pole in the flight of appearances, will gain more and more blind adherence.”

6Hitler also paid great attention to the conditions under which political oratory is most effective. He sums up thus:

“All these cases involve encroachments upon man’s freedom of will. This applies, of course, most of all to meetings to which people with a contrary orientation of will are coming, and who now have to be won for new intentions. It seems that in the morning and even during the day men’s will power revolts with highest energy against an attempt at being forced under another’s will and another’s opinion. In the evening, however, they succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will. For truly every such meeting presents a wrestling match between two opposed forces. The superior oratorical talent of a domineering apostolic nature will now succeed more easily in winning for the new will people who themselves have in turn experienced a weakening of their force of resistance in the most natural way, than people who still have full command of the energies of their minds and their will power.

“The same purpose serves also the artificially created and yet mysterious dusk of the Catholic churches, the burning candles, incense, censers, etc.”


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