Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite

The Times reported last week that Mein Kampf is shortly to be reprinted in Germany, the first time since 1945.  The article itself was accompanied by a wholly gratuitous commentary from one Ben Macintyre, headed Illogical and evil nonsense – read, gasp at it and bin it.   That just about sums up the content of the piece.  Macintyre is not opposed to publication; he just blows a rather hysterical fanfare – ‘badly written’, ‘turgid’, ‘illogical’, ‘boring’, ‘evil nonsense’ and on and on.  Why bother reading it at all?  Macintyre has read it for you!    

Time, I think, for me to revive an earlier comment I made welcoming the prospect of the first new German edition since the fall of the Third Reich.  I knew the copyright, held by the state of Bavaria, which for long refused requests for republication, was scheduled to run out next year, a fact that I found quite pleasing.

Why was I pleased? To begin with I should say that, so far as I am concerned, the banning of books, books with a political message, no matter how repellent, is always wrong. But more to the point, Mein Kampf is an honest political statement, perhaps the most honest ever written by a politician. One only wishes that it had been taken more seriously at the time. It certainly was during the early days of the Cold War, when Western writers scoured the speeches of communist leaders, gathered and published with such dubious titles as Khrushchev’s Mein Kampf.

Hitler was eventually to recognise how unnecessary, how dangerously unnecessary the book had been as power became a realistic possibility, distancing himself from parts of the message in the early ‘moderate’ days of the Third Reich. He wrote a second book in 1928, this time focusing more directly on his foreign policy aims, which was buried during his days of power, only published after the war with the English title of Hitler’s Secret Book. 

You see, for Hitler the spoken was always more important than the written word. It’s virtually impossible to quantify but I would hazard that that while Mein Kampf may have converted thousands- and I do stress may - the speeches converted tens of thousands. Indeed, Mein Kampf is more likely to have discouraged any potential convert by its convoluted and rambling message. If racist and fascist groups promote it today it’s because it’s Hitler’s ‘book’, a kind of icon, not because it has any real political power, any proselytising power.

Publication was banned in this country for more than twenty years after the Second World War. Republication in 1969, in an edition edited by D. C. Watt, was opposed by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. It was opposed, I believe, by some Jewish groups. I can understand this. At the time the crimes of the Nazis must still have been raw in a lot of minds. Yes, it was understandable but misguided. Father bought Watt’s edition while he was still at school.  He told me that it was the dullest thing he had ever read, duller even than Cicero!

“Oh, that my enemy would write a book”, really is the guiding thread here. Well, he did, and it reveals much more about him than he ever intended, much more about his inner psychosis; reveals more about his intellectual and mental confusion than he could ever have imagined. That is the crucial thing. Publication in England was opposed by Jewish leaders. It’s a sign of how things have moved on, how understanding has grown, that publication in Germany has been backed by Jewish leaders.

Oh, I should also say that, contrary to Macintyre’s view and contrary to what you might have heard, Mein Kampf is actually quite readable if clumsy and ill-organised, the meanderings of a semi-educated high-school drop out.  You might very well read it; I doubt very much if you will gasp at it.  It’s unlikely to give you any greater insight than you already possess.  

15 comments:

  1. Hitler was the most direct and honest politician ever; To get the full benefit read it whilst listening to R.Wagner.

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    1. I just can't picture you doing either!

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  2. I much prefer memoirs to manifestos.

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  3. Ana, you are right on the point of unnecessary and fearful censorship when dealing with educated readers who can make their own minds up. You mention honest political statements, Adolf's fellow countryman, Jorg Haider is a figure you may find of interest.

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    1. Thanks, Richard. I'll look into him.

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  4. Yeah, I'd rather watch the DVD.

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  5. Hi Ana.

    Slightly off-topic, but what is your opinion of the description of Hitler as left-wing?

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    1. Hello Araminta. It's a pleasure to see you. :-)


      Well, the first thing to say, as I’m sure you know, is that the Nazis are traditionally considered to be of the extreme right, with their nationalism and their anti-Semitism. The socialism in the name of the NSDAP was never taken that seriously as a political doctrine, certainly not after 1928, when Hitler began to make overtures to big business.

      Still, thinking about the Nazi state and economy, business was more closely controlled, more subject to the diktats of policy, than it ever was under, say, the British Labour Party. Like Norman Tebbit, I personally prefer to see all statist parties, Nazi, Fascist, Socialist or Communist, of the left, understanding this to be the opposite of the libertarian right, all those who believe in the necessity of freedom.

      But there is a sense in which labels like left and right became quite meaningless in the face of twentieth century totalitarianism. Hitler was anti-Semitic, but so, too, in the end was Stalin. There is evidence that just before his death he was planning a fresh purge, one with a strong anti-Jewish element.

      Have you ever read Life and Fate, a brilliant novel by Vasily Grossman? If not I would refer you to an article I published in 2010 which touches on these points. I headed it The Grand Inquisitor (16 February, 2010)

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    2. Many thanks indeed, Ana for your comprehensive answer to my question.

      Yes, your first paragraph explains the traditional view and you have answered my question as to why this view has shifted. It is extraordinarily difficult to fit political regimes into neat labels of left and right, and attempts to do so are simplistic if not meaningless, as you point out.

      I haven't read extensively on "modern" history at all, but thank you for the recommendation and I will look at your article.

      Again, my thanks, and it always a pleasure to communicate with you.:)

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  6. Not been to your site for a while so thought that I would have a quick browse last night.

    In reference to one of your recent posts, I don't think that Lady Macbeth is portrayed as an equivocator by WS at all. She certainly regrets her actions ex post facto but there was surely no equivocation on her part prior to the event.

    Anyhow, different post and not relevant at all. On to the boy Adolf and 'Mein Kampf'.

    You say:- 'It was banned in this country for more than twenty years after the Second World War.' Are you absolutely sure about that?

    It's just that I sat Higher History in 1965 and I seem to remember being able to borrow and read a copy of said book from Perth County Library in 1964 as part of my studies.

    Went online and flicked through it again last night as a result of Araminta posting an enquiry elsewhere as to whether or not the Nazi Party was left wing.

    After all those years, your analysis that his book is 'the meanderings of a semi-educated high-school drop out'still works for me.

    The bit that I remember from nearly 50 years ago was his description of his reaction to meeting his first Hassidic Jew and the assertion that all Jews had to be expunged for being non-German. Chilled me then and chills me now.

    It's a worry that tonight I found what is now, for me, another chilling extract:-

    'The question of ‘nationalizing’ a people is first and foremost one of establishing healthy social conditions which will furnish the grounds that are necessary for the education of the individual. For only when family upbringing and school education have inculcated in the individual a knowledge of the cultural and economic and, above all, the political greatness of his own country – then, and then only, will it be possible for him to feel proud of being a citizen of such a country.'

    Salmond could have written that and probably will before 2014.

    On to up to date with your posts and I have been a total Daria fan since I first happened across her. Pure Dorothy Parker, in my opinion.

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    1. You too, John. :-)

      To take your second point first, you are absolutely right. What I should have said was that fresh publication was banned. The last British edition before 1969 was that of 1944. I’ve now amended the article.

      Did Lady Macbeth not equivocate with the king, with the other nobles and her dinner guests? We studied the play in third form, which is more than a few years ago now. I shall have to go back over it.

      Good point about fishy Salmond.

      I have a Parker anthology in my library which I’ve not as yet read. You intrigue me, so I shall turn to it soon. :-)

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  7. Two Alte Kämpfer! I'm honoured. :-)

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