“Whatever definition we may give of the term public opinion, only a very small part of it originates from personal experience or individual insight. The greater portion of it results from the manner in which public matters have been presented to the people through an overwhelmingly impressive and persistent system of information.” Sadly reading this today one might think it came from a media expert, maybe an IT guru looking at the internet as a tool of consent. One might be surprised that the person who wrote this was the author of Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler.
In part of my ongoing education in the non-fascist life as presented in Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus I began rereading certain works on fascism itself. I know Moishe Postone has a complete talk on Anti-Semitism of this period: here and here. Others such as Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism will remind us:
Fascism is supposed to be a reversion to paganism and an archenemy of religion. Far from it— fascism is the supreme expression of religious mysticism. As such, it comes into being in a peculiar social form. 1
Reading Mein Kampf I felt as if I were reading a modern twisted update to ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli, but one not meant for Monarchs but rather as a Handbook to future dictators. One sees below his knowledge of populist uprisings and how one can effectively manipulate the affective emotional aspects of crowds:
“The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force. All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people. In no case have great movements been set afoot by the syrupy effusions of æsthetic littérateurs and drawing-room heroes.
“The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of glowing passion; but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others. It is only through the capacity for passionate feeling that chosen leaders can wield the power of the word which, like hammer blows, will open the door to the hearts of the people.
“He who is not capable of passionate feeling and speech was never chosen by Providence to be the herald of its will. Therefore a writer should stick to his ink-bottle and busy himself with theoretical questions if he has the requisite ability and knowledge. He has not been born or chosen to be a leader.
“A movement which has great ends to achieve must carefully guard against the danger of losing contact with the masses of the people. Every problem encountered must be examined from this viewpoint first of all and the decision to be made must always be in harmony with this principle.
“The movement must avoid everything which might lessen or weaken its power of influencing the masses; not from demagogical motives but because of the simple fact that no great idea, no matter how sublime and exalted it may appear, can be realized in practice without the effective power which resides in the popular masses. Stern reality alone must mark the way to the goal. To be unwilling to walk the road of hardship means, only too often in this world, the total renunciation of our aims and purposes, whether that renunciation be consciously willed or not.” (Chapter 3 p. 25)
Reading the above one sees the master manipulator, the sociopathic intelligence hard at work: cold, reptilian, dispassionate, cruel. Hitler knew how to dispassionately evoke passion in the masses, to sway them with rhetoric and channel their desires into performative arts of spectacle and pageantry. Let’s not be fooled, he was both intelligent and learned, a man who knew just exactly what he sought to do and was willing to manipulate anyone to gain his objectives.
As a child he knew he had a gift of speech, able to debate and argue, win friends and was even a ringleader in his school. He didn’t get along well with his father who wanted him to become a government functionary. Instead Hitler wanted to be a painter or architect. Both his father and mother would die when he was in his teens. He’d live for years in poverty, studying the destitution around him, understanding the truth of this cycle of endless exclusion and hatred. He’d learn of the Trade Unions or the new influx of union organizers, of Marx, and the Social Democrats. Vienna became for him a think-tank, a sort of human zoo where he studied the sociology of the various political and cultural aspects of this late Empire in its final decadence. He would read and study Marxism and also become convinced during this period of anti-Semitism which was heavily marketed among reactionary presses of this era. He would learn how to be effective with the various propaganda systems, learn how they moved or failed to move the masses. Vienna was his training ground for future dictatorship. He would become more and more convinced of his nationalism, his racial superiority, his destiny. Reading Hitler himself one realizes that his hatred of both Marxism and the Jews became a central dictum of his life in Vienna: “Knowledge of the Jews is the only key whereby one may understand the inner nature and therefore the real aims of Social Democracy. The man who has come to know this race has succeeded in removing from his eyes the veil through which he had seen the aims and meaning of his Party in a false light; and then, out of the murk and fog of social phrases rises the grimacing figure of Marxism.” (Chapter 2 p. 23)
In this statement we find already a precursor for his final solution: “The Pan-German Movement would never have made this mistake if it had properly understood the psyche of the broad masses. If the leaders had known that, for psychological reasons alone, it is not expedient to place two or more sets of adversaries before the masses since that leads to a complete splitting up of their fighting strength they would have concentrated the full and undivided force of their attack against a single adversary. Nothing in the policy of a political party is so fraught with danger as to allow its decisions to be directed by people who want to have their fingers in every pie though they do not know how to cook the simplest dish.” (Chapter 3 p. 31) Of course the Pan-German’s were fighting against the Catholic Church and the State at the time and failed. But in many passages before and after one sees him setting the stage for his ultimate scapegoat. His hatred began with the Social Democrats. Then his discovery that behind it was Marx a Jew. His immersion at the time in reading the propaganda of right-wing anti-Semites only reinforced this whole aspect of his hatred.
As if he were speaking to a specific audience of pupils he’ll say: “The art of leadership, as displayed by really great popular leaders in all ages, consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention into sections. The more the militant energies of the people are directed towards one objective the more will new recruits join the movement, attracted by the magnetism of its unified action, and thus the striking power will be all the more enhanced. The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to the one category; for weak and wavering natures among a leader s following may easily begin to be dubious about the justice of their own cause if they have to face different enemies.” (Chapter 3 p. 33) This and this alone gives us the reasoning behind his use of the Jewish people as both cultural and religious enemies that he’d need to arouse the German folk to his banner. He needed an enemy, and he’d found one. One gets a feeling as one reads this that there is no emotion, no sense of guilt, irony, humor in this man; that, in fact, one is reading the work of an alien being, a machinic creature who has withdrawn into the inhuman core.
As we see in this passage: “The Pan-German Party was perfectly right in its fundamental ideas regarding the aim of the Movement, which was to bring about a German restoration, but it was unfortunate in its choice of means. It was nationalist, but unfortunately it paid too little heed to the social problem, and thus it failed to gain the support of the masses. Its anti-Jewish policy, however, was grounded on a correct perception of the significance of the racial problem and not on religious principles. But it was mistaken in its assessment of facts and adopted the wrong tactics when it made war against one of the religious denominations.” (Chapter 3 p. 34) For Hitler it was always about the purity of the German race, nothing else. He wanted a Utopian world – a Pan-German world. So for him the enemy was not the Catholic religion, nor even the Jewish religion per se; it was the race of the Jewish people.
As he says to end that chapter:
“Vienna was a hard school for me; but it taught me the most profound lessons of my life. I was scarcely more than a boy when I came to live there, and when I left it I had grown to be a man of a grave and pensive nature. In Vienna I acquired the foundations of a Weltanschhauung in general and developed a faculty for analysing political questions in particular. That Weltanschhauung and the political ideas then formed have never been abandoned, though they were expanded later on in some directions. It is only now that I can fully appreciate how valuable those years of apprenticeship were for me. … That is why I have given a detailed account of this period. There, in Vienna, stark reality taught me the truths that now form the fundamental principles of the Party which within the course of five years has grown from modest beginnings to a great mass movement. I do not know what my attitude towards Jewry, Social-Democracy, or rather Marxism in general, to the social problem, etc., would be to-day if I had not acquired a stock of personal beliefs at such an early age, by dint of hard study and under the duress of Fate.”
So it was this whole complex of the early life of poverty, his first hand experience of the Trade Union conflicts, the discovery of Social Democracy and its literature, his discovery of the cultural hegemony of the Jewish people in Vienna, and behind it all the work of the one major Jewish man who stood as a symbol for this Social vision he hated: Karl Marx. Sadly this is a history that we don’t much want to face, but we must if we are to learn not to repeat it again. When I look around me and see all the issues around the world and the economic problems, the decadence and decay of the global empire of neoliberalism, etc., it terrifies me to think what type of being might be even now studying all this and abiding his time to repeat the gesture of hate. Let us hope such things do not and will not ever come to pass again.
1. Reich, Wilhelm (2013-07-02). The Mass Psychology of Fascism: Third Edition (Kindle Locations 143-147). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.